By Larry Rettig (LarryR) on April 20, 2019

Best friends


My two best friends in our village as I was growing up were Jack and Ralph.  Jack was a year older than I and Ralph was 2 years younger.  There were no children my age in the village.




You’ve already met Jack as my drinking buddy in the duck blind escapade.  He was also my smoking buddy.  Jack knew where his big brother kept a carton of cigarettes and helped himself to a pack now and then, when no one was around to see him.  He’d let me know when he had pilfered a pack, and we would head to the Gräwel, hiking far enough away from the village so that no one could see us.


That strategy fell through one day as we were puffing away near a dead tree.  Off in the distance we saw someone approaching on horseback.  The only person regularly on horseback from our village was an employee of the Middle Amana Farm Department.  One of his duties was to check pastures, fields, and cattle.  What to do with our cigarettes?!


Conveniently, the dead tree had a hole in the trunk about waist high.  We snuffed out our cigarettes against the trunk and threw them in the hole.  With great nonchalance, we began making conversation.  Anything would do: nonsense words, odd sentences, hand gestures.  We stopped and waved a greeting as the horseman approached.


“What are you boys up to today?”  “Just out enjoying a warm spring day,” Jack responded.  We chatted a bit more and then he rode off to continue his appointed rounds.  We could only hold our guffaws so long.  As we burst out laughing, Jack suddenly stopped, turned to me, and said, “Look at the hole!”


Smoke was drifting out of it in billows.  One of us had not snuffed out his cigarette completely.  The dry, rotted interior of the trunk had caught fire!  Surely our horseman must have seen it.  That he didn’t say anything put us forever in his debt.  He could have reported our guilty secret to our parents, but chose not to, as neither set of parents ever spoke of it.


We turned our full attention to the smoking tree.  Somehow we had to put out the fire.  I already envisioned a headline in the local paper:  “Underage Boys Set Woods on Fire While Smoking.”  We tried to peer into the hole despite the smoke.  No flames were visible, so that offered us at least some relief.  We ran to the Gräwel, scooped up wet sand with both hands, and tossed it into the hole.  After four or five trips the smoking stopped.  The Gräwel had saved the day.


Jack and I began to hang out at the Colony Inn restaurant in the village of Amana whenever we could catch a ride with a friend old enough to drive a car.  We soon saw for ourselves that a rumor we had heard was actually true.  The proprietor of the Colony Inn did, indeed, sell cigarettes to underage boys.


As a result, the Colony Inn became a popular gathering place on weekend evenings.  The bar area was separate from the restaurant.  It had booths and a very popular jukebox.  We would chat, smoke, and play cards.  Losers were expected to feed the jukebox.


As a sophomore, I morphed into somewhat of Jekyll-and-Hyde existence.  By day I was the chief nerd in high school with the highest GPA in his grade, and by night I was, in the vernacular of the time, a “hood.”  Hoods wore their hair in DAs (short for duck’s ass), a reference to the way our hair was combed at the back of our heads.  Hoods wore white tees with a pack of cigarettes rolled up in the left sleeve.  When they wore regular shirts, they turned up the collar in the back.  Hoods had dual mufflers on their cars, once they were old enough to own and drive one.  The louder, the better.  Hoods frequented the Colony Inn.


Hoods also had drag races.  These required a relatively long, straight stretch of road, preferably without a lot of traffic.  The racers would line up side by side, one vehicle in each lane.  At the agreed-to signal, the drivers would “floor it” and “peel out.”  Dual mufflers roared, tires squealed, and the race was on.  The first vehicle to the finish line was declared the winner and had bragging rights until sometime later he was beaten by someone else.


Imagine my surprise and great delight when my father came home from work one day, driving a 1957 Olds.  Dual mufflers. Check.  Largest engine custom installed in the smallest body.  Check.  Stabilizer bar.  Check.  And it was pink.  His excuse was that the car was for me.  But I knew better.  Dad was a teenager at heart when it came to cars.  Back in 1939, he had purchased a brand new Buick, one of the fastest family cars on the market at the time.  He claimed it would do 90 mph.  He raced a Packard owner who claimed he could beat Dad.  Dad won by a nose.


We lived only about three blocks from where Dad worked, but he always drove the Olds to work and back.  “Drove” was an understatement.  When he came home he would speed down the gravel road leading to our house.  Just before he got to our driveway on the right, he would cram the steering wheel sharply to the right, causing the rear end of the Olds to slide sideways, perfectly aligning the car with our driveway.  Only sometimes he miscalculated and ended up in a shallow ditch.  A favorite pastime among neighbors was to lay bets as to whether Dad would successfully make the turn or end up in the ditch.


At night and on weekends, the car was mine.  Alone or with friends, I would cruise the seven villages.  The car was an absolute chick magnet.  The girls dubbed it the “Pink Sex Wagon.”  (Um, not that anything untoward ever transpired inside it!).  With that big engine in that small body, I could peel out better, longer, and louder than anyone else.  And I accomplished that without even flooring it!

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About Larry Rettig
"An enthusiastic gardener for over 50 years, my first plant was a potted Ponderosa Lemon tree ordered from a comic book ad at age 15. I still have it, and it’s still bearing lemons! My wife and I garden on 3/4 of an acre, both flowers and vegetables. Our garden, named Cottage-in-the-Meadow Gardens, is private and is listed with the Smithsonian Institution in its Archives of American Gardens. It is also on the National Register of Historic Places. We garden organically and no-till. Our vegetable garden contains a seed bank of vegetables brought to this country from Germany in the mid-1800s by my ancestors. My latest book, Gardening the Amana Way, is available at Amazon.com.

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