The Prairie Spy

Alan “Lindy” Linda

The  number 80 has always been around me. It shows itself in some quite different ways.

One of the first ways it appeared to me was in the size of the farm in Iowa in which I grew up. It was the “home” 80, because the “homesteaded” 80, where my great-great-grandfather first landed, was about a mile and a half away. 

“Over on the 80” became the general first words I heard after I got to be 10 or 11 years old, and capable of operating a tractor. As in: dad would say, “Take the WC Allis over to the 80 and drag (in Minnesota, we “harrow,” not “drag,” I found out.) that piece I just planted,” my dad might say. Down the road I would go, quite proud to be thought responsible enough and old enough to be trusted with a tractor by myself.

Here’s a story connected to “the 80,” back in the late fifties, when tractors began to increase in size, dad purchased a Farmall 400 gas-powered tractor. A short time after that, in the spring, he filled the gas tank full, took two full five-gallon cans of gas, hitched up a three-16’s plow to that tractor, and went over to the 80, quite early in the morning.

He came walking back into the yard before lunch. The Farmall 400 drank it all. It became known them, and is known now, to be a gas  guzzler. It went back to the dealer shortly after that.

80 is important in my life now because on our way to Canada, back in ‘73, we bought this 80 I live on now. As you can see, that number seems to stick around.

I suppose my next encounter with the number 80 was on a test paper I got after I went to town school, after graduating from country school, where I really don’t think Miss Martin the teacher numbered our efforts in quite the same way. The 80 on that paper was from a freshman English course, and due to my always inflated belief in my relationship with the English language, I always thought I did much better than that. ( I still have that inflated belief, I guess.) Butting heads with English teachers over the useage and definition of certain words was something of a hobby of mine.)

The next 80 appeared as a goal, when I tried to get dad’s 1949 Chevy to go that fast, a goal which one could only attain if the downhill stretch was long enough. The soon-to-be failure of several component parts on that car coincided with my getting my driver’s license. 

Luckily for me, dad just thought the car was getting old and weary. It was. (Who was I to abuse him of that notion.) It might have been old and weary, but that didn’t stop me from trying to reach 80 every chance I got.

Both my brother and I finally saw that number with a 1948 Studebaker, which had an overdrive, a feature which we thought admirable. We tried for 80 every chance we got, until one day, as we were pulling out of the farm driveway, a tie-rod end fell off, and the car just veered itself off into the ditch. After that, 80 appeared to be mostly talked about as a part of past history.

80 percent. 80 acres. 80 miles per hour.

It was about 80 miles to Mason City, Iowa, where I went to the junior college there, and two years of electronics. That was an exciting thing to do, and Mason City was an exciting place to be in the sixties. I learned to play guitar and tenor sax there, and played in some pretty elementary first-attempt rock and roll bands. We made up for our overall lack of musical depth with a lot of enthusiasm. I think there were several times that the band got paid 80 dollars, but there were also times when we got paid less.

Over the years, and with the speeding tickets to show for it, I’ve believed that highway speed limits should be 80 miles per hour. I still see a lot of people who apparently believe that, judging by the many who go by me, because I am now poking–due to some legal fees–along at 70. 

My first job up here in New York Mills in 1973 paid about 80 bucks a week, which doesn’t seem like much now, but in the early 70’s was just enough which, along with getting paid about 80 dollars a night for each of us in the band, got the 80-acre farm payment paid quite nicely.

And now the last 80 made itself known at my last birthday party. 80 times around the sun. Huh. Amazing. It’s both a comfort to see it finally arrive, and a relief that I made it. I look around and see those of my friends who didn’t make it. I feel quite fortunate.

  The human body has 206  bones, 80 of them are mine, and they don’t agree that they’re real happy about being this old. They don’t like mornings, and they complain constantly about the first hours of the day. They eventually get limbered up, and quit being so contrary.  They love going to bed at night, so they can wake up and complain again.

Oh, and I have about 80 apple trees, which are a constant reminder each year that things can go year after year and still blossom and produce.

They’re somewhat like me, you know? They like sunshine. They like rain. I sometimes wonder whether or not they like me, but each year they survive a winter, and leaf and bloom, I like them a lot.

I don’t have an ending for this column.

That’s good, right?