Note: This is Part 3 in the series of Growing Up Kansas
It’s not every day that six little country kids in Kansas have UFOs show up in their backyard and scare the bejesus out of them.
During the late sixties, there was an uptick in UFO sightings across the U.S. There was also an uptick in the use of LSD. I’m not saying that the two are tied together, but the universe does have a cause-and-effect correlation.
However, we six little kids stuck in a drafty old two-story house for a few weeks each summer were LSD free. The closest we ever got to getting stoned was sniffing the old Schnapps and Jack Daniels bottles thrown in the ditch by passing tourists. We roamed the ditches along Highway 54 looking for pop bottles to cash in at the grocery store but found a disproportionate number of whiskey bottles. After three good snorts of Schnapps one day, we swore of alcohol forever.
Back to the aliens. You might think I digress, but after years of contemplation, light has illuminated my darkness with an epiphany; the UFO showed up the same day as we snorted the Schnapps; I told you there was a correlation.
Six little kids intuitively knew better than to hang inside Command Central all day when the Three Generals were lurking about. We hit the back door shortly after breakfast with packed lunches and crawled back in at dark. We did this not so much for the fresh air and adventure as self-preservation. To be near the Three Generals meant that one was quickly forced into slave labor or, as was the case for us boys, held responsible for all things wrong in the world. The girls stayed inside more than we, but they were always the most-highly-favored-among-men-and-angels. Always.
I’m not saying the girls were from the devil, but we did not share the same lofty opinion of them that, say, the Three Generals or the Commander-in Chief and his Secretary of War. Ah, you haven’t met these two yet?
The Commander-in-Chief was my Dad; the Secretary of War, Tom, was his son-in-law and father to half of the six miscreants. They were married to two of the Three Generals. Nepotism in the ranks always creates disorder in the chain of command, but things were what they were. One of the Three Generals didn’t have a husband at the time and emptied her frustrations with the adult male species on the juvenile male species; namely, us.
The Commander-in-Chief and the Secretary of War were normally gentle giants who graced our presence with wisdom, justice, and mercy. The Three Generals were like BB guns annoying you with stinging shots, but the Commander and Secretary were the Howitzers. However, they, like us boys, left the house as soon as breakfast was over for various hunter-gatherer activities.
Some days we extended our outside activities into sleeping outside depending on the degree to which we annoyed the Generals during the day. We didn’t have fancy tents or sleeping bags, but we did have The Cabin and The Shed.
The Cabin was a little shack my Dad dragged home from the oilfield. Dotted around the oilfields of Kansas beside grasshopper-looking pump-jacks were little 12’x12’ buildings called doghouses. I don’t know how, but Dad managed to place one along the hedgerow north of the house about 50 yards. That was as close as he would ever get to his dream of living in a cabin in the mountains. A little potbelly wood stove tucked in the corner and an old bed, chair, and nightstand made it a comfy little place.
The three girls slept in there when they wanted because, well, they were the most-highly-favored-among-men-and-angels so they got whatever they wanted. Always. We boys, on the other hand, got the Shed.
The Shed was a lean-to on the back of the garage. It was a 15-degree sloping roof that extended ten feet north of the garage. That’s where the boys camped out; the girls got The Cabin; the boys got The Shed.
The Shed had two inherent problems:
- It had no roof because, well, it was a roof to something else.
- It had a fifteen-degree slope. I woke up one morning with legs dangling over the edge from the knees down.
Had we a tent, we would have happily spent every summer night in it. But the thought of sleeping in the open on the ground gave us the heebie-jeebies. We blamed it on the grass and chiggers, but our secret fears were being dragged off by the coyotes, poisoned by spiders, or waking up to a rattlesnake curled up between our legs.
I’ll be honest; there are various interpretations of the following events depending on which of the six little kids you talk to. I maintain mine is the closest to the truth and the others are simply revisionist historians.
Country folks were abuzz over UFO sightings. The party line hummed as upright citizens who would never get near LSD or Schnapps would recount, in church so it had to be true, stories of UFO sightings. If Old Roy Brenner said he saw a UFO, then UFOs were a matter of fact and not just the fodder of conspiracy theorist. Old Roy Brenner would never be arrested for being a conspiracy theorist. The only time he ever got in trouble with the law was for driving too slow. He’s the reason for minimum speed limits in Kansas. Even Amish buggies passed Old Roy on his way to church.
The three girls, those-most-highly-favored-among-men-and-angels, were sleeping in The Cabin and we used baling wire to anchor us to the top of The Shed to keep from rolling off. Jeff, our field general, posed a curious question that roused us from our slumber; I wonder if we can hit The Cabin from here with a rock?
We cut ourselves loose from the baling wire and crawled down the lattice at the corner of the garage. Yes, that same lattice that we were NOT supposed to crawl up or down. A triangular appendage at the front corners of the garage, they started narrow at the ground level, then widened to two-feet in the eight-foot vertical span; they looked like ladders. Dad created them as artistic pieces to adorn our little garage on the prairie but we boys made the case that real art included both form and function; if it looked like a ladder then it should be climbed like a ladder.
We shinnied down the lattice, grabbed a few small rocks, and climbed back on The Shed. Sure enough, we could hit the cabin. After pelting it a few times, the girls hollered at us and asked if we were the ones making the racket.
We learned early to deny and make counteraccusations. We told them they were hearing things, wondered why they woke us up from our deep slumber, and barked at them to get back to bed.
Had we boys been the sharpest saws in the toolbox, it would have dawned on us that the Commander-in-Chief, his Secretary of War, and the Three Generals were sleeping inside the house with their windows open. They, of course, could only hear our male voices, not those-most-highly-favored-among-men-and-angels. We would have done well to heed Napoleon’s wartime admonition not to wake up China because, once you did, the sleeping giant would devour all.
Like all wars that escalate, ours reached a feverish pitch when Jeff employed the trusted battlefield tactic of diversion; he yelled that he spotted a UFO. Jeff was the oldest and strongest, so Kendall and I followed him like any good lemming running into the sea. If he claimed he saw a UFO, then by Jove, we all saw a UFO. Bored little country kids have an intense imagination that leads them to frequently end up at the altar during the call to repentance.
Over forty years later, I remember being much braver that night than for which I stand accused in family folklore today. Yes, I was the first to reach the lattice, but I reasoned that I was going to run to The Cabin and save the girls. A gallant lad I was; my gentlemanly nature on display even in adolescence.
Poor little Kendall. He was the youngest and more vulnerable to trauma. Jeff bailed, I bailed, but Kendall was paralyzed on The Shed, a wailing mass of hormones so over stimulated by his hypothalamus that he didn’t know whether to fight, flee, or wet himself so he just stood there blubbering.
By this time we had all moved from the early stages of stationary panic into running-faster-than-a-speeding-bullet stage of panic. The girls were screaming, Kendall was crying, I was calling the Sherriff, and Jeff was screaming, “they’re coming closer!”
Then the Commander-in-Chief and the Secretary of War woke up. From deep in the bowls of Command Central, we heard the Secretary roar out the open-window something about boys and noise and beatings and for-crying-out-loud-do-you-know-what-time-it-is.
The Commander-in-Chief was also the spiritual father of the clan that was part Scotch, part Irish, and three snorts Schnapps. By the time I came along – the last of six kids – age and perceived failure of raising my other five siblings had mellowed him. But this night, he stormed out of the house and hollered, “Well, Judas Priest!” In my Dad’s world, that was as close to cursing and blasphemy as he ever got; the grass died where he spit that night.
We boys were marched off to the Siberian concentration camps after that to spend the rest of the summer in hard labor on a chain gang. We kept praying the UFO would show back up; we were ready to be captured.
The photo is an original of mine, taken in the Flint Hills of Kansas, just south of Cassoday.