Looking back, it’s hard to believe the stuff we imagined, the stuff we did, and the stuff we got away with while growing up in a rural area. On a farm, ranch, or small town with easy access to the country, the sheer variety of opportunities are unimagined in the cities. Opportunities for education. Opportunities for fun. Opportunities for trouble!
In my story, “Waiting For a Comet,” part of TAP’s new anthology, THIS SUMMER STORM, twelve-year-old Jo Harper takes full advantage of her country setting to help justice prevail. It’s the kind of mystery I imagined growing up on a northeast Nebraska farm in the ‘70s. And, in looking back over the story, some of Jo’s adventures aren’t so far removed from my own.
Here’s something that directly influenced a scene in “Waiting for a Comet.”
When I was eight or nine years old, I was obsessed with dinosaurs. Fact is, I knew I’d grow up to be a famous archeologist, somebody who discovered heretofore unknown species of lightning bugs in amber and thunder lizards in rock. To do that, I knew I’d have to read up on the subject, so I checked out every library book about dinosaurs I could find. But more important, I knew I needed to get crackin’ in the field. There’s just no substitute for hands on experience.
My grandpa’s cow pasture became an untapped sea of Jurassic-age treasure. Under the dry bluestem I knew I’d find a million fossils. In the banks of the wandering crick, I was sure to locate a footprint or twelve. At the very least I hoped for a collection of Indian arrowheads. When I heard that a hunting guide along the Niobrara river, twenty miles north, had discovered the remains of a wooly mammoth (a creature the local Ponca tribe called Pasnuta), my dreams reveled in newfound credibility.
And then one day: the mother-lode.
My friend Greg and I discovered a near complete skeleton. Small and bleached white, a perfect specimen preserved there on the flaking mud floor of the crick. Consisting of a skull, a rib cage and a couple long “dog bones,” it was just small enough for two kids to manage, and we drug it off to my fort.
We argued about it. Was it a baby Tyrannosaurus? Maybe a little Stegosaur? Greg even suggested it might be a Pterodactyl. We simply hadn’t yet found the wings. We spent the afternoon setting up our display. We invited my parents and grandparents to the newly christened “Museum Wing” of the fort. We even charged admission (a quarter).
I don’t know what the grown-ups expected. My mom, I think, figured we had set up a display of our plastic model toys. My grandpa probably thought we found some old tree limbs.
Nobody figured on us finding the remains of a baby calf that had gone missing in the early spring. But that’s what we had. And after a round of “Pee-ewws” and then, “Where did you find it?” we were driven up to the house and into the bath tub for a serious scrubbing.
The best part in looking back is remembering how on one level I knew the rack of old bones wasn’t a real dinosaur, and yet…on another level, convincing myself that maybe it was. What if? Why not? Then what?
Those three questions led to plenty of nonsense on the farm. But they also led to plenty of wonder.
They still do!