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And then we climbed on the roof...

I was headed down the road with three grandchildren when we smelled that summertime gift of rural roads, a dead skunk.

Everyone made the appropriate noises, opened windows, and gagged a little. To change the mood I said, “Hey, let’s all sing that dead skunk song.”

“There is no dead skunk song, Papa.”

“I beg to differ,” I said. For some reason, I find my grandchildren don’t believe me as often as they should. I blame society today.

Granddaughter Two couldn’t find the song on my phone, so I had to pull over and take over the search. A couple minutes later, Loudon Wainright III sang:

“Crossin' the highway late last night He shoulda looked left and he shoulda looked right He didn't see the station wagon car The skunk got squashed and there you are…”

I didn’t have time to teach them the whole song, but we’ll work on it more the next time they’re in the car, in anticipation of the next road trip they take with their parents.

Culture doesn’t invent itself, people. It’s lucky I’m willing to put in the work to educate the next generation.

We had some visitors last week, a couple of grandnieces who brought their parents along on a visit from a big city. Lovely young women - intelligent, accomplished, they speak a couple languages, and navigate more than one city’s subways. But they don’t know much about farms.

I was happy to fill them in a little bit, and because there’s no sense in going halfway, I also filled the role of bad influence.

Every kid needs a bad influence, and trust me, they’ll find one. The best you can hope for is a bad influence with a few scruples.

I didn’t teach them to swear or spit – two important life skills, but their parents are perfectly capable of showing them. Still, we did a certain amount of zooming around on the 4-wheeler. I might have sensed some parental concern from afar when I put them behind the wheel, since they’re about a decade away from having a driver’s license.

I’m not a complete idiot. We were in super low gear, on flat open ground, a quarter of a mile from the closest road. The level of actual risk was pretty low, but the perceived risk, when it’s your foot on the accelerator and your hands on the steering wheel, was pretty high. It’s a ratio I like with children – giving them responsibility young, but rigging the odds so the consequences of failure are low.

I’ve been fixing some trim on the house and had a ladder leaning against the porch roof. I helped them both climb the ladder and we snuck across the roof over to another porch, under which their parents were sipping a cup of coffee. They looked like ninjas, if ninjas wore unicorn t- shirts and had blonde ponytails. The littlest girl was carrying my big camera and she got a fantastic closeup of her mother’s face when she looked up and saw her precious children looming over her head. Their giggles of delight were the best thing to happen to me in quite a while.

About twenty years, ago my brother-in-law came to visit with a twelve-year-old boy in tow. The child had suffered some trauma – I don’t remember what – and my brother-in-law had been looking after him. He’d taken him to ball games, gone camping, bought him more than his share of ice cream…really had gone the extra mile trying to help him mend. The boy climbed up in the combine cab and I let him drive it around the yard. It was six digits worth of equipment with a seat 12 feet in the air and a 25-foot grain header on the front. The risk level was similar to the 4-wheeler – we were in the middle of the yard and top speed for the gear he was in was a little over one mph. When we finished, he went into the house, threw his arms wide and said, “This is the BEST DAY OF MY LIFE!”

My brother-in-law, who’d been spending weeks trying to make the kid’s life a little brighter with no response what-so-ever tried not to hold a grudge, but I’m not sure he succeeded. His mistake was trying to be a good influence.

Sucker. Being a bad influence is where the fun is.

Copyright Brent Olson 2019

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