These late days of summer vacation bring a touch of boredom to many school-age children.
It was about this time during the summer of '59 when my friend Joel invited me to a weekend visit at his cousin's farm in Zelienople. The opportunity to get out of the city even for a short weekend was the lift we both needed to break the monotony of late summer days.
I was picked up early Saturday morning and eagerly joined Joel and his older brother Tom in the back seat of their mother's big Mercury. Joel prided himself on his extensive knowledge of cars and informed me that this car had a four-barrel carb and dual exhaust. I wasn't quite sure what all that meant but a "Wow" tumbled out of my mouth as we thundered away.
We threaded our way through the streets of Pittsburgh's North Side heading for Route 19, the main north-south traffic route through Western Pennsylvania at that time. We reached the highway just outside the city limits as the big Mercury powered up to cruising speed.
There were straight stretches of roadway where we played leap frog with slower cars. The solid white dividing line would change to a dashed line, with passing permitted, but there were many hills as the road became more of a roller coaster than a highway.
Joel's mother would mumble under her breath when we would become trapped behind a truck trying to pull its load up those long hills. She would look for a dashed line and a clear passing lane and punch that accelerator to the floor.
The front end of that big Mercury would lift as power was transferred to the rear wheels, and off we would go. We all cheered her on as we flew by and then prayed we could get back into our lane before the oncoming traffic reached us.
Air conditioning and power windows were not standard items in those days, so we rolled the windows down to let in nature's air conditioning. Fruit and vegetable stands were frequent sights along the busy highway, and those smells along with that of fresh-cut hay filled the car with country fragrance.
• • •
Joel and I were still enjoying the ride when his mother pulled into his cousin's driveway. After greeting everyone, Joel's cousin offered to give us a tour of the farm. He was our age, and the three of us were off, running through fields of hay and wheat.
We chased a herd of sheep and walked through the straight corridors of a cornfield, feeling small among the tall stalks. We stepped cautiously through the cow pasture as those huge animals watched us watching them. They seemed curiously bothered by our trespassing, but their tails continued swishing and their chewing remained constant.
Soon we heard the bell ring for dinner, and we all ran to the big farmhouse where all of the women had cooked a big family meal. We were ordered to wash up and be seated for the dinner prayer. After the prayer, there were multiple conversations going on at the same time as plates of food were passed from one member to another.
When the conversation died down, Alan's father asked how I liked the farm tour. I replied that I had never been to a farm before but found everything exciting. I did ask a question about why the cows were always chewing, even when their heads were raised above the grass.
He leaned back in his chair and told me in a slow, deliberate tone that the cows are females, and, "As you can witness here in this room today, females' jaws are always flapping."
This comment brought a quick slap across his shoulder from Alan's mother and a rout of laughter from everyone at the table.
That was my first and best time at a farm family's dinner table. The next day we were assigned to help work at the farm's vegetable stands that hugged the shoulder of the busy highway. We filled baskets with fresh vegetables and fruits and set them out for display as travelers stopped on their way to and from their destinations.
I can still remember the smells of all of those farm products and the great time we had that weekend. My time at that farm still dances in my head from time to time when I catch a whiff of fresh vegetables and see a field of farm animals.
Alan Meyers of Robinson, a retired construction superintendent and union carpenter, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The PG Portfolio welcomes "Storytelling" submissions and other reader essays. Send your writing to email@example.com; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein may be reached at 412-263-1255. First Published August 31, 2012 4:00 AM