Jeb Monge column: Airport offered variety of pleasures to boys
The good old airport was an important part of our lives growing up in Tracy. There were only one or two planes that used it. The runways were grass and were not mowed too often.
The guys and I enjoyed going out there when the spring snows were melting. That is the only time the creek had enough water to flow. Even then the creek was only a foot deep. It started west of the Airport Road, which we called it. The road was blacktop and really got hot in the summer, but in the spring it was no problem.
Bill and I met at my place. Then we walked down Emory to Third where we met Doc and Curt. We walked north out to the creek which was on the south edge of the airport. A farmer had a fenced-off area the creek meandered around. There were cows and trees. Of course, we smelled the manure but that didn't matter.
We spread out along the creek. A couple of us were on the west side of the road where the creek started. Two others knelt down next to the creek on the airport side. Our imaginations went wild. My dog, Rex, sometimes joined us. He enjoyed jumping in the water and taking drinks of the cold fresh fluid. We floated leaves and twigs and watched them travel north and east.
One time, my imagination turned a leaf into a canoe where Rex and I jumped into it and traveled miles away. We met Sioux Indians who were riding across the plain and later soldiers from Fort Snelling. All of our trips were filled with thrills and joy. Like when Curt and I made our venture down to the Seven-Up plant, we always felt safe on our trips. As I mentioned before, I have carried that great feeling with me throughout my life.
One year when I was in college, I came back for pheasant season. My youngest brother, Dave, (he was six years younger than I and had just completed rifle training) wanted to go hunting with me. So, the two of us walked down past the highway and past the Fay Hatch's dairy out into the field.
We had a cocker spaniel then. His name was Butch. Butch was 11 and had gotten fat. Dad loved to give him potatoes and gravy when we were eating. I know that is a no-no, but we were not concerned about all of that stuff in those days. That's for my grandchildren to worry about. I will never turn down a good roast beef dinner with potatoes and gravy.
Well, Butch followed us out to the highway, and he kept coming out into the field. I told Dave that he would be long gone, running home, once he heard the first shot. We walked north and east toward the airport. Butch was a natural rover, and he did not run home when we shot. He got us a couple of nice shots and two good birds by the time we got to the Airport Road. Occasionally, his tummy got stuck as he was going over a furrow, but he rocked back and forth and away he went again.
Then we crossed over to the airport, and Butch scared up a couple more birds. A couple of times he got a little too far ahead of us and the shots were not good. But the bugger gave a great day of hunting. We completed our tour in an hour and had some great hunting to boot.
A few years later, Dave and I inherited a Boxer/Lab mix. He had been well-trained.
Our first experience with him was hunting south of Tracy. He would hunt with only one of us. He started with me and got a pheasant up a little too far away. I turned to my right, shot and only got tail feathers. The dog stopped. His name was Mike. Mike stopped, turned and gave me the dirtiest look. It was like he was saying: "I worked my tail off and got you a shot, and you couldn't even hit him." A moment later he went over to Dave who was about 30 yards to my left and hunted for him.
Another time that weekend, we went out to the airport again. We didn't have any luck with pheasants, but Mike saw a jackrabbit and literally ran the poor thing down. I have never seen such magnificent hunting in my life. Complete focus and powerful energy to boot.
The airport was used by us many times. A bunch of us guys went out to Bobby's farm which was right across from the airport. We all jumped on horses and rode across the road around the runway.
Bobby was a trickster. He picked out a special horse for me. It was light brown and beautiful. He told the guys to watch me. He knew the minute I hit the saddle, the horse would buck and take off like lightning.
I don't know how I hung on, but I did. Bobby had a good time watching my terror.
This exercise has been a treat for me. I knew I had a great childhood, but just imagine that we had fields, creeks, dogs and horses aplenty to enjoy.
Plus we had a bunch of great friends. When I read the Headlight Herald now, I can see what a great time those kids are having even today.
I have received mail from a few people and that has added to the joy. Last Saturday, I received a letter from Allie Mae Jette Lang who was my babysitter. Her family lived across the street, and she walked over to babysit all of us boys. Plus she worked for Mom helping to clean the house while Mom was teaching piano lessons. She married Dave Lang who was a terrific singer, and whom I admired. When I was in high school, she said she knew when Dave was coming for his piano lesson because he was always singing as he walked down the street. She said I was the only other person who did the same thing.
Allie Mae told me a little about her life after Tracy, and she said she too had a wonderful time growing up back "home."
After five decades or more, we all think of Tracy as home. What a treat to have this kind of personal history.
Jeb Monge also writes Area Voices blogs at jmonge9839.areavoices.com and jmonge9838.areavoices.com.