©Poems of R.F.Mueller- Other Times, Other Thoughts
GROWING UP, TWO AMERICAS
Product of Two Americas,
there was that Franklinesque bustle
I learned to hate, began to separate out
in the first pinioned and tortured frogs
of my childhood companions;
through endless Sunday afternoon
softball games in "Uppertown"
where I scudded the sidelines
in boredom and longed for
the cool swamp hummocks;
the church picnics left in the early afternoon;
the automatic revulsion at filling station radios
blaring schottisches and polkas' mesmerizing rhythms;
and always in the background of everywhere
"It's a fly ball to left field,"
followed by the hissing roar
of a thousand patriots of burgeoning exploitation.
And the cars, the cars.
As a small boy somehow already looking askance
at those first Lincoln Zephyrs
whose streamlines awed my companions;
fixing my gaze instead
on the mystery they never saw,
the green sentinel cuesta
over fields whose blandness and practicality
I could never forgive.
While others dreamt of shiny Fords and Chevies
carrying them to big city futures
gilded with tinsel thirties romance
or neatly girded fields full
of International Harvester wonder machines,
I dwelt on various versions of civilization's demise,
of deserted, weather beaten farms,
trees reclaiming fields,
and grass-grown highways
leading to ghost towns-and in the distance,
the drumbeat of the wilderness returning.
Home was my uncle's small farm (20 acres with ~3 dairy cows, chickens, a few hogs) just to the north of a small concentration of dwellings , businesses and a railway station known as "Lowertown." The larger population and commercial center known as "Uppertown", which also contained the school and church I attended, lay at a slightly higher elevation less than a mile to the south. I walked this distance to school. The "swamp" here is part of the Manitowoc River headwaters, comprised also of marshlands (now donated to the State as a preserve), which lay just northeast of my home, and partly on our land. I and friends used to catch large Snapping Turtles (Chelydra serpentina) in these marshlands for sale to local saloons for soup. On one occasion I confined a large turtle overnight in a washtub with a covering of planks and a small boulder as a weight. But in the morning it was gone! Later I also ran a trapline in this marsh for Mink (Mustela vison) and Muskrat (Ondatra zibethica), a pursuit viewed with mixed feelings, but one that yielded sorely needed cash. The "cuesta" referred to is the Niagara Cuesta, a prominent cliff of Silurian limestone, that curves for many miles across the region and which lay about a mile to the south. Toward the southwest its cliff line closely parallels the shoreline of Lake Winnebago. Despite my general aversion to ball, I frequently played softball and football with boyhood friends in Lowertown and, less frequently, in Uppertown.