And no, I’m not talking about Disneyland. In fact, I’ve never been to Disneyland (or Disneyworld, for that matter). That’s not to say I’ve never SEEN it. After all, growing up watching Disney each weekend, every once in a while, you would get a feature about the park or, in the case below, plans for a new park.
But, for me, the happiest place on earth wasn’t an amusement park. For me, the happiest place on earth was a farm about a half hour’s drive from our home in Flint: the home of my Aunt Georgia and Uncle Neil just outside of Lapeer, Michigan.
Now Aunt Georgia did not always live out in Lapeer. Originally, she lived in a small house near Averill Avenue in Flint. However, Aunt Georgia and Uncle Neil owned property out in Lapeer, and they had plans to build a house on it.
The property was quite large. Even the aerial shot that was taken does not show the full extent of it.
You can see on the right side that train tracks ran along side the property. The road that Aunt Georgia lived on ended at the tracks and her driveway began on the other side. The tracks at that point were up a small hill; there was no warning signal for the crossing. You would have to drive onto the hill enough to look both ways, and then cross over. Sometimes in the winter, it was too slippery for the car to cross and so you’d have to park and walk to the house (which was also up a hill, so it wasn’t easy if it was slick). I can remember at least once where we had to stay the night because we got snowed in. Of course, I didn’t mind.
The seasons were always beautiful out there. Autumn was always a wonderful time to be visiting. Fall color in their woods was able to be seen from the house, and a walk on the property allowed you to see the variety of the season.
I spent many nights with Aunt Georgia in November. Uncle Neil liked to go hunting up North on weekends during deer season, and Aunt Georgia preferred not to stay alone. She would ask me to come stay for a few days, and of course, I would. During those visits we would sit for hours in her living room and talk of many things, including family and family history. My biggest regret is that I didn’t think about writing any of it down at the time. Aunt Georgia was the family historian, and between her and my Aunt Jeanette, I learned quite a bit, but much of it is locked away in memory that I cannot access.
In Spring, things would begin to bloom. On the hillside, a garden would be planted. Typically, there would be corn, green beans, tomatoes, and carrots. One year, Aunt Georgia put in some grape vines, and after a few years, she yielded Concord Grapes. There were also some fruit trees on the property. There was one apple tree in particular that I remember. It was old and eventually died off. I seem to recall that out of the dead stump a seedling came up. I seem to recall us calling the old one ‘the pregnant tree’ because of it.
In Summer, everything was green and beautiful. Aunt Georgia also kept a flower garden which made use of an old feature on the property.
As you can see, animals were a big part of life on the farm. I can always remember my Aunt Georgia having a dog, even from before when she lived in Flint.
When my Grandpa Taylor died, he had owned a dog called Yeller (he looked a little like the dog in the movie “Old Yeller“). Walter, if I remember right, was a stray, as was, I think, Nickla.
Litska was another matter. Litska was a retired show dog. Her owners asked Aunt Georgia to take her because they were working with their newer dogs. Even a retired dog needs to be put through its paces now and again, and they knew Aunt Georgia would give the dog both the structure and attention needed. Every one of my Aunt’s dogs were well-trained. She took each one to obedience training, and I remember watching her work with each one. I learned a lot of things from her by observation that I eventually used in training my own dogs. I can still hear her praising the dogs. ”Very nice!” she would say in an approving tone, and work time would end with a rub behind the ears, or a good petting. Even Felicia, the cat, was trained. She would not come onto the furniture unless called, and even then, I believe the only furniture she was allowed onto was Aunt Georgia’s chair. She also had taught her to sheath her claws when she was on people. A soft tap on her paw if the claws came out was enough to get her to bring them back in. Only the cat was indoors full-time. The dogs, with the exception of Rags, all slept outside. They had their dog houses or kennels, of course. However, in Winter, if it was bad outside, the dogs were brought in. They were all well-behaved, and it was nice having them in with us. However, dogs and cats were not the only animals on the property.
I think the horses were one of my favorite things on the property. When I wasn’t with Aunt Georgia, I would be out with the horses. I would pull grass and clover for them, I would talk to them and pet them, and on occasion, I was able to go to the corn crib and bring them corn, or give them apples that had fallen from the tree. There were five in all. Goldie was the oldest, and I believe was mother of both Shannon and Sand. She later had Kelly. The fifth was a pony that was a Shetland/Welsh mix called Toby. Toby is the only one I ever ‘rode’ (which my uncle leading me around). He could be an ill-tempered beast; even Aunt Georgia called him a ‘booger’ on more than one occasion.
The horses had a lot of property to range on. There was a large pond that was always a fixture on the property. The fenced area allowed them to range between several fields.
We had a lot of fun at the pond, too. There was an old raft made of oil drums and wood that floated around out there for several years. My brother and I would swim out to it and the jump off. The bottom of the pond was in places mucky with silt, so it wasn’t that great to come out. I think we sometimes had to wash our legs off with the garden hose before we could go into the house.
Uncle Neil built a small dock later. Usually, he had a cane pole sitting next to it, so it was easy to get some bait (he usually had some worms he’d dug up already), and go out and fish. Even as kids, we used to fish at the sides of the pond, but growing up didn’t make fishing less fun.
You can see I was having a good time in this picture, and why not? I was at my Aunt Georgia and Uncle Neil’s farm; for me, the happiest place on earth.