While I’m pausing to think about old friends, let me tell you about another one who recently passed from the scene: Joe Robberson.
Joe was part of my childhood, a friend from the distant past. When my family moved back to Springfield from Ajo, Arizona in 1945, World War II had just ended and servicemen and women were coming home in droves. There was virtually no place to rent or buy in town. My dad’s partner in their new business — a concrete block manufacturing plant — found us a cabin on a horse ranch owned by Jim and Julia Robberson. The place was located on Oak Grove Lane which was then slightly out of the city.
What we rented had been built as a temporary shelter for the construction crew that built the Robbersons’ magnificent horse barn. It had no electricity and heat was provided by a little potbellied coal stove. There was a tiny living room, a kitchen with a well pump mounted to the sink for water, and a glassed in porch that served for a bedroom. The linoleum flapped when winter winds blew under the door. Mom pasted newspaper across the windows to cut down on the cold air that seeped in around the frames. The privy was out back. We took baths in a washtub on the kitchen floor. We kept milk and meat cool in a small ice chest.
But that barn! A true work of art. The Robbersons worked hard to raise and train blue ribbon winners, which they entered in any horse show of note in the area. I can almost hear now Jim and Julia standing at the oval track a few yards outside our cabin, yelling blue-laced encouragement or criticism at their teenage daughter, JuJu, as she trotted endlessly around the track running various horses through their gaits.
Joe was slightly younger than I and his brother Jim was a couple of years older. The three of us played together quite a bit, as two third graders and a fifth grader would. The loft of that barn was filled with bales of hay. On one occasion we spent hours up there shoving bales around to form a fortress to protect us from imaginary attack. The air became saturated with hay dander floating like snow in the sunlight that slanted through the loft door. Being a sufferer from hay fever, I spent the night wheezing, my eyes swollen to slits, my nose dripping like the pump in the kitchen. And the next day Mr. Robberson made us climb back up the ladder and put everything back the way we’d found it.
Jim and Joe loved to pester the monster sow that lived in a pen behind the barn. The floor was usually more mud than dirt, churned up by the beast’s sharp hooves and watered by her sloppy eating and toiletry habits. The boys loved to climb on the fence and taunt that pig until she flew into a charging, squealing rage and my heart would pound from the sheer malevolence in her eyes.
On tamer occasions we explored the surrounding fields. Visited cows in the pasture. Crawled on and under Helen, a particularly patient retired horse who seemed to understand the antics of little boys.
Later on my family moved to town and Joe and I went our ways.
Well, that was then. Jim and Julia Robberson would be gone by now. I don’t know about JuJu. I think that Jim became a doctor. The Robberson house and barn are gone. The land we all lived on near the corner of Oak Grove Lane and Catalpa road, is a housing development. No trace of former life and times remains.
And now Joe is gone. We tend to pull our past with us, don’t we? Recycle it? Think about this or that piece of our history, like so many steps in a path? Not all of those times on Oak Grove Lane were comfortable, but they became part of me and influenced me in ways that environment always influences young people. I wouldn’t trade them, except maybe for that privy out back.