Country Boredom, Country Fun
jane sanders illustration
Every once in a while, when I hear about the exciting, fun-filled adventures of some friend in the city, I feel a twinge of envy.
My last gig before farm wife, you see, was as a single 20-something magazine writer in Atlanta. In those days I sometimes patronized trendy nightclubs and hot restaurants and chic gallery openings. Going shopping or to a movie was as simple as driving down the street. Because of my job, I got tickets to concerts and sporting events. Now and then I rubbed shoulders with some of the city’s elite. I interviewed a few celebrities. A famous actor had dinner at my apartment one night.
But don’t let me paint too glamorous a picture of my Atlanta years, however, because I also spent many a Saturday night watching Fantasy Island with my cat. And yes, I happily waltzed away from all that to spend the rest of my life with the farmer I love. I wouldn’t trade our happy life for all the press passes on the planet. But still, there are those times when I am forced to acknowledge that entertaining oneself in the country can, shall we say, stretch one’s imagination to the limits.
Boredom is the only possible way to explain –– or at least excuse –– some of the more unusual activities that have passed for recreation around here.
I’m thinking about stuff like Harvey and the electric fence.
Back when we dairy-farmed, we were forever trying to keep livestock from getting loose. With some 200 cows of all sizes and a few miles of fence always in need of mending, jailbreaks were routine. Generally speaking, mischievous younger cows (or “heifers”) and electric fences were the most dangerous combination. All it took to put an electric fence out of commission was a fallen limb on top of the wire or a clump of too-tall weeds growing beneath. The more adventurous heifers learned pretty early on how to tell whether the wire was hot by sniffing it or touching their noses to it. (Farming Rule No. 12: Cows are only smart when you don’t want them to be.) If the fence was dead, crossing over to the greener side of life was a simple matter of jumping the wire. To say that Harvey took these escapes personally would be an understatement. They drove him to madness.
Once, after he’d spent the better part of the day rounding up some escapees and repairing the faulty fence, I heard him on our porch. First, I detected the sound of ice being dumped into an ice chest. Then the creak of the porch swing. I had almost forgotten he was out there until I started hearing little hoots and shrieks of laughter. Finally, my curiosity got the better of me.
“What on earth is going on?” I stepped out to ask.
“You know those heifers that get out every day?” he replied. “Well, I just fixed the fence, and I turned the juice up as high as it’ll go. So I’m sitting here drinking a beer and watching them sneak up and touch the wire. It’s hilarious!” He hollered down the road in the direction of the Houdini heifers: “Try to get out now, damn ya!” (For the record, the voltage was not high enough to injure the cows yet high enough to inspire some very animated reactions.)
And then there were those summer afternoons when I would hear a persistent “thwap, thwap, thwap” on the side of the house. After a while, Harvey would stick his head in the front door and announce proudly: “I just killed 122 flies.” Oh, well, it was cheaper than golf. And it didn’t require special shoes.
It’s not always easy, but somehow we manage to keep ourselves amused out here in the boonies. Entertaining out-of-towners, on the other hand, requires a little more creativity. In years past, we were known to take guests on excursions to visit our buzzard roost, which was located, conveniently enough, next to the cow cemetery in the woods. Assuming our visitors didn’t get in their cars and drive away as fast as they could after that, we might also take them to see the town hoarder’s place. His yard was stacked high with old cars and abandoned school buses full of junk. One could only imagine –– or not –– how cluttered the inside of the house must look.
The buzzards and the hoarder are gone now. But they have been replaced on our “must-see-to-believe” tour by a local church leader’s country estate. I’m trying to be diplomatic here, but I’m sorry, it’s not just anywhere you can see a 10-foot- tall metal rooster, a life-size gorilla and a bucking bronco in the front yard of a seriously overdone mansion.
Yes, such dubious pleasures provide countless hours of family fun out here in the sticks, yet few can compare to our adventures with the potato gun.
Several years ago, Harvey took a notion to build a potato gun. It was basically a hand-held cannon made from PVC pipe fittings and a barbecue grill striker. Using a ramrod, he would shove a potato far down into the long barrel of the gun. Then he unscrewed a cap on the chamber, sprayed in a few quick shots of canned ether, replaced the cap and pulled the trigger on the striker. The payoff was a thunderous “KABOOM!” and the goofy thrill of watching fresh produce streak across the sky.
Harvey’s potato gun, needless to say, was also a huge hit with our guests. Nobody was more stoked than my four sisters’ husbands. Most of them lived in the suburbs where firing off loud and dangerous weapons was frowned upon, even if they were utterly ridiculous loud and dangerous weapons.
One late September weekend, my large family rented a house together on Navarre Beach. Harvey brought along the spud missile, and it was not long before most of the family was out on the beach giddily launching potatoes into the Gulf of Mexico.
That convinced Harvey that a potato gun would be the perfect gift to bring for my family’s annual game of Dirty Santa when we gathered for Christmas in Birmingham. He laid out a brand-new state-of-the-art prototype. He painted it fire-engine red with yellow flames on the barrel and dubbed it The TermiTater. As predicted, the TermiTater was the hot item at our family Christmas game.
Afterward, someone suggested we go outside and see what that bad boy could do. My parents lived in an apartment complex then in a congested part of town. There were a few acres of woods out back, however, next to the playground. It was nearly dark, so the playground was empty when we arrived.
Harvey and my brothers-in-law took turns firing the TermiTater high into the woods. They could tell it had some serious kick, but because of the woods, they couldn’t tell exactly how much. So, being inquiring minds and all, they decided to conduct an experiment on the playground’s basketball goal.
Everyone stood there waiting to see a potato explode on impact with a basketball goal. As it turned out, we had seriously underestimated the TermiTater. The potato not only didn’t explode; it didn’t even slow down. All we ever saw was the gaping hole it blew in the backboard on its way to the ozone. Approving expletives were uttered.
Shocked looks were exchanged. Then we did the only thing responsible adults who had accidentally vandalized someone else’s property with a potato gun could do. We giggled and ran like crazy. We later heard we just missed the cops, who were responding to reports of gunshots in the apartment complex.
I try to remind myself of times like those whenever I find myself wishing we had more to do out here in the country. And if I’m being honest with myself, I’ll confess that blowing stuff to smithereens with a Yukon Gold is a lot more fun than drinking wine with a sitcom star, any day.