Ode: Life before smartphones, internet and color TV

Oct 25, 2017

An Iowa farm boy explores the edges of safety and imagination.


Credit Ally Karsyn

I stood by the wall, staring at the rosy sunset. From my post, I could see the fires burning at the neighboring plantations. The whole company was ready for what came next. They had gathered around, saying anything that would fill the time until our fates were determined.

Sergeant Pepper and his company patrolled the perimeter. By the sound of his orders, he also knew that as darkness fell, the end grew near. Corporal Puddles and Private Charlie followed the orders, but their minds were somewhere else.

Captain Brownie was at the motor pool, getting transportation ready for fight or flight. Our intel couldn’t give us a clear count on the enemy. We didn’t know if our orders were to attack, fight to the last man or retreat. We only knew that our time was almost up.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Lieutenant Marty up in Willow Tree Lookout. He is one cool cat no matter what the situation. He always looks so aloof even when peril surrounds us. Today was no different. He was up there, sunning himself like he was a beach drinking a mint julep. Our eyes met and he nodded his head towards me as if to say, “I’m with you. We are brothers in arms, and we will fight to the last man!”

I straightened my helmet and puffed out my chest to show my company that I was in charge and that fear had no place here. We would survive the coming onslaught just like we had before.

We were ready to leap into action. We all stared at the setting sun as it battled with the moon for space in the sky. But when the last glow of daylight retreated under the horizon, we knew the jig was up.

The command post door flew open and agitated voice rang out.

“You kids get to bed! I’m not going to tell you again!”

It was mom, and we knew by that tone, the evening was over. Another summer day on the farm had ended.

Perhaps, I should describe my platoon. It was my two little brothers, my little sister and me. Out on the farm, our imaginations ran wild and so did we. There wasn’t much to do inside the house. We had a black and white TV. It only got two fuzzy channels, so we spent our time playing outdoors.

The wall I described at the beginning was the white picket fence that kept us safe from farm machinery and animals. Until you were of a certain age, you couldn’t leave the yard.

Sergeant Pepper, Corporal Puddles and Private Charlie were our dogs. They kept the livestock in and always barked when they heard a strange car come down the half-mile driveway. I spent countless hours with those dogs and had many adventures with them—real and imagined.

Captain Brownie was our overweight Welsh pony. He was about as gentle as a kitten. The four of us kids would get on his back and try to get him to run. We would be bouncing along with our legs sticking straight out—too short to wrap around his fat body. When one of us would fall off, Brownie would stop, turn his head and look at the fallen until you got up and got back on. And then away we would go again.

The most interesting member of the troop was Lieutenant Marty. I called him one cool cat because he was a cat. But he had kind of an identity crisis. He thought he was a dog. He loved to go hunting. His favorite perch was on my shoulder so he could see where the prey landed, and he’d go fetch it. He would chase cars with the dogs, too, making make believe barking sounds with the rest of the pack. I guess he was a transspecies or something. But none the less, he was part of our troop.

To me, home seems like a place where I feel safe or where good memories exist. I feel fortunate that my childhood was full of imagination and adventure.

Now, just seeing kids playing with their dogs or playing pretend games where they are the heroes of their stories, it takes me back to those summer nights out on the farm. I can look at the western sky—watching the colors change at sunset, feeling the humidity wrap around me like a security blanket—and I can journey home to a pleasant memory.

I didn’t raise my two daughters on the farm, but I tried to make sure that they had plenty of opportunities to daydream and use their minds to build positive memories with their surroundings like I did.

Recently, my daughter Angela called me from Texas and said, “Guess where I’m going, Dad?”

Certain that I knew, I said, “A Weird Al Yanukovych concert.”

I was wrong.

She said, “I’m going to watch Sandlot at a park with the dogs.”

For the next two hours, she sent me pictures from the film that meant something to us. And just like that, we were home.



Ode is a storytelling series where community members tell true stories on stage to promote positive impact through empathy. It’s produced by Siouxland Public Media.

Our next show is Friday, December 1 at ISU Design West in downtown Sioux City. We’ll have live music by Jessica Zepeda, starting at 7 p.m., followed by stories about “Holiday Joy & Mayhem.” Tickets are $10 in advance; $15 day of show.