In the spring of 1951 I got a bicycle for my eighth birthday. It was a red Schwinn bike that had belonged to my Uncle Bill, my mother’s youngest brother. I admired him immensely. He was a soldier serving at an American Army Base in Germany and no longer needed the bike. After we wheeled it out of the haymow where Grandpa had carefully stored it, Dad gave him $10 to save for Uncle Bill. Then we loaded the bike into the trunk of the Plymouth and drove home.
I was excited but also a bit apprehensive. I was eight years old, didn’t know how to ride a bike and had short legs. When we got home, Dad offered to teach me how to ride. After I fell over a few times I refused to get back on the bike, so Dad got on to show me that it really was possible to keep it upright. Even Mom came out and demonstrated her skill on a two-wheeler.
It would have been easier learning to ride if the road in front of the house had been paved. Our driveway wasn’t very long, and when I got to the rutted sand and loose gravel I was in trouble. However, after a few days and a number of scrapes and bruises, my skill improved. Soon I was riding the quarter mile down to where Phipps Road ended at U.S. 63.
My usual method of stopping was a controlled fall, and starting was also a challenge. Since I could not hold the bike upright and get a leg over to the pedal to start riding, I positioned the bike next to the front steps, climbed on the bike and pushed off. There were, of course, no front steps along the highway. After pushing the bike home a couple of times, I loaded an unsplit block of firewood into my wagon and pulled it down to the highway. A day later I hauled one down to the bridge at the river, a quarter mile in the opposite direction.
With a half mile of road to ride on, I was in heaven. Our neighbors had front steps, so I could visit Gus Gauch, Mr. and Mrs. Hagberg and my friend, Bob Hanus, who lived with his parents just beyond the bridge. By September I no longer needed steps or blocks. I may have had a growth spurt that summer, or maybe I just learned how to tilt the bike, get my leg over the crossbar and push off with enough speed that I almost always managed to stay upright.
I also learned that my Schwinn was actually an all-terrain vehicle. The balloon tires were ideal for riding across fields, of course, but I also rode it on the trail to the garden and even through the garden until I was told to stop. I rode it on the footpath along the river used by trout fishermen and raced across pastures, dodging rocks and cow pies and bouncing over fallen tree limbs.
When I turned ten, I was allowed to ride on the highway into Hayward. By then I had a basket mounted to the handlebars which made it possible for me to run errands for Mom when she needed something from town. The shoulders along 63, though it was a U.S. Highway, were not very wide, but I squeezed as far to the right on the pavement as I could, and I never had any close calls. Perhaps I should thank the drivers, the slower speeds that most people drove and the fact that we didn’t have cell phones to distract us.
I’m pretty sure that I first rode my bike to Grandma and Grandpa Hopp’s farm when I was eleven. I had been spending a week or two with them every summer since I was eight or nine years old and looked forward to my “vacation” all year long. Grandpa had a small herd of dairy cows that he milked twice a day by hand. I was especially impressed that he could squirt milk into the cats’ mouths as they sat begging near him. When he had finished milking, I would help carry the buckets up to the milk house where Grandpa strained the milk and stored it in milk cans in the cooling tank for pickup by the milkman who also delivered butter and cheese.
It was a little over eleven miles from our home to Grandma and Grandpa’s, and my mother worried that I would “get run over.” I worked out a route that put me on town roads with little traffic except for the final three or four miles on a county highway, which was, as I explained, the distance I rode into Hayward. My father did not seem very worried in any case, and my mother approved the route when I promised to be very careful.
I had only two problems in the four years that I made the trip. The first year I learned that deep sand at the bottom of a steep hill would make me take a header. On the second or third trip a front axle broke and I had to walk the last two miles. Grandpa and I called my father at work from a neighbors’ phone. Dad brought out an axle and the tools to repair the otherwise trusty Schwinn. Incidentally, that road is paved now, but I still think about walking my bike down the hill and pushing it through the sand whenever we drive it.
A few moments from those summer weeks at Grandma and Grandpa’s are still fresh in my memory. I remember waking up one morning when it was just getting light. Grandpa must have made a noise as he was getting dressed, so I pulled on pants and joined him in the kitchen. As we drank our morning coffee (mine heavily laced with milk), I asked him how he woke up every morning without an alarm clock. He answered, “I just wake up when it starts to get light. I like to watch the sun come up.”
I made him promise to get me up every morning, and he was true to his word. After coffee we would go out, open the chicken coop and let the ducks and geese out of their sheds so they could get busy eating bugs and weeds. Then we would sit on the steel lawn chairs and watch the hummingbirds at Grandma’s flowers and the acrobatics of the barn swallows and purple martins as they caught breakfast on the wing while we waited for the cows to come walking through the pasture on their way to the barn.
When I asked, Grandpa explained that the cows came to the barn because they wanted to be milked, that their udders started feeling full and they knew it was time, but sometimes the cows did not show up for the morning milking. That always meant that they had gotten through the fence and couldn’t find the way back.
The pasture was mostly woods with some small clearings where Grandpa had cut trees for firewood, and there was a larger meadow by the ponds where moonshiners had cut fuel. The cows did a good job of keeping things clear, so it was easy walking.
We would follow the fence until we found the problem. It was always where a dead tree had fallen over the barbed wire and pulled down a post.
We would listen for the bell on Bossy, the head cow. It didn’t take long before we found the herd in the forest and guided them back to the opening in the fence. After milking and breakfast I would help Grandpa put in a new post and splice the wire.
My grandfather loved to read, and he was interested in lots of different things. I remember reading Zane Grey novels, mysteries and books about history and geography. But most of all I loved Grandpa’s collection of The National Geographic Magazine shelved on the porch. When he built the house, Grandpa included a stone porch on the north end. The stone walls, about five feet high, were topped with screen panels.
As I read about faraway places, the fresh air carried the smells of pines and flowers and the screens let in the songs of birds, the chattering of squirrels and the raucous conversations of the chickens, ducks and geese. It was a marvelous place to read about ancient civilizations, beautiful islands, temples and palaces, castles and people living in the jungles of South America and Africa. Like many boys my age, I saw my first female breast in a National Geographic photograph illustrating an expedition to Equatorial Africa. I was fascinated.
Not too fascinated to skip meals, however. When Grandma called, Grandpa and I came. It was not fancy food. Grandma was a meat and potatoes cook, but she baked great bread and cookies and, with Grandpa standing in for an electric mixer, wonderful cakes. “Three hundred strokes, pa,” she would tell him, and he would sit at the table cradling the mixing bowl and whipping the batter with a big wooden spoon.
My Aunt Dorothy preserved this recipe she got from Grandma. I probably ate a few slices of this meatloaf before I tackled the dessert.
1 1/2 lbs. hamburger
1/2 lb. pork sausage
2 slices bread
1/4 cup milk
1 large egg
1/2 medium onion (3 inches diameter)
1/2 cup green bell pepper
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp. seasoned salt or equivalent
Grind of black pepper
1 or 2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1/2 – 1 cup water
Preheat the oven to 350º.
Clean and chop the onion into a quarter inch dice. Do the same for the green pepper. Remove the papery outer skin of the garlic cloves and mince them.
Tear two slices of bread into pieces and put them in a mixing bowl. Soften the bread with enough milk to make a paste. Add the vegetables, egg, salt and meat and mix everything together.
Pack the meat into a casserole or loaf pan and bake, uncovered, for about an hour or until a fork stuck in the top of the loaf doesn’t bring up any red juices. Pour off any fat.
Mix a can of cream of mushroom soup with a half cup of water and pour it over the meatloaf. If you want more gravy, use two cans and a cup of water. Bake an additional fifteen to twenty minutes.
Serve with bread, potatoes and any other vegetable of your choice.
The amount of onion and green pepper is not specified, and my guess is that Grandma put in enough of both to be noticeable but not enough to overwhelm the flavor of the meat and gravy. I think I remember eating this when I was a kid and being suspicious about the green chunks. Mom did not put peppers in her meatloaf.
The original seasoned salt was Lawry’s, and that is probably what Grandma used. Today there are dozens of different varieties and brands of seasoned salt. If you have one you like, use it in this recipe. We don’t have seasoned salt in our spice racks, so we improvise for recipes calling for it. A half teaspoon of salt with a grind of black pepper, a little turmeric and paprika with dashes of onion and garlic powder and-voila!-you have seasoned salt. I also added a little extra black pepper to the recipe.
The recipe says to form the loaf in a three quart casserole. We don’t have one, so I decided to try putting the meat in a standard bread loaf pan. I packed it firmly into the pan, and the resulting loaf was excellent. If you do it this way, you will have room for only one can of soup.
Aunt Dorothy noted that this is a “nice change from traditional meat loaf.” An understatement: This is a different but delicious meatloaf. Peas, carrots and cranberry sauce all go well with it.