My life in Rudyard is a collection of memories mostly related to winter and the third grade and of course, riding with my dad and other truckers when ever possible. My teacher was a young black woman who during the school year got married to an Air Force pilot stationed at Kinchelo AFB. She was a great teacher who celebrated each child’s birthday by sending a couple of us kids to a nearby store to pick up her order of cupcakes, cookies, and other party supplies which she paid for out of her own pocket. She also was a very encouraging teacher who spent quality time with each student not only for bookwork, but also for arts and each child’s individual dreams for the future.
Mrs. McDonald drove home my fathers teaching that skin color made no difference, but that each individual should be judged by their own qualities. I sometimes wonder what happened to her, and hope that her life was as happy as she made all of us who were blessed to have her for a teacher. I remember the day that her fiancé came to class in his dress blues and proposed to her in front of all of us. She launched herself into his arms and they kissed and swung around just like you see in the movies. We were all so happy for her and went absolutely nuts clapping our hands and hollering so loud, that many nearby teachers came to see what the commotion was about.
The only classmate’s name that I remember is Douglas Douglas III. But my best friend was Randy. He looked like Lou Diamond Phillips when he played the son of Lucas McCain of “The Rifleman” TV series. They lived at the top of valley just south of town on old US-2 in a big Western ranch style home that had a big double fireplace that separated the dining room from the living room. One of his chores was to help feed and water the many Shetland ponies that his father and grandfather raised. I was not allowed to help as they believed that only the men of the family should take care of their work horses. The closest I ever got to them was in the winter, when the road was icy. His father and grandfather would each take a team of 10-12 ponies shod with Ice-Cleats and pull the school busses up the steep hill out of the valley. Everyone on the bus had to QUIETLY get out and QUIETLY make our own way up the hill on the opposite side of the road. Then the bus was pulled up and we QUIETLY got back on. We were warned to NEVER talk to or try to touch the ponies as they were WORK HORSES not pets!!!
The next time we visited Rudyard about 12 years later, I noticed that they had filled in most of the valley and it is now just a dip in the road. And Randy’s home was empty and up for sale. I wonder whatever happened to him and those magnificent horses.
Ah yes, winter in the U.P. What a wonderous time for a child. However the school was never closed on count of snow. If you lived in or near town, you were expected to be there. We only lived about 1.5 miles away and when we rode the bus we were the first ones to be picked up and the last ones to be dropped off. So it didn’t take John and I long to decide to walk to and from school on the nice days. But when we got stuck on the bus in a blizzard until 9p.m. we decided to walk every day. I remember walking down the road with the wind and snow blowing so hard it was leaving small drifts wherever you put your foot down. When you looked back the way you came you could see a line if mini-drifts down the road.
I had never seen a county truck with a snow-blower attached to the front instead of a plow before, and before winter was over, the snow was so deep that all you could see of them going by our house was the yellow flashing light on top, behind a plume of snow. Many times my dad had to remove the small high window in the bathroom and boost John through it so he could shovel and chip ice away from the front door so we could get out of the house. And then we all had to shovel the driveway and find the car. That is except for my little sister Mary and newborn sister Carol. And when the electricity went out we used to sit by candle and kerosene lamp light and go through old family photo albums or read the new set encyclopedias dad had bought us. During one storm we ran out of LP gas and electricity and dad used a metal ashtray and some sand and kerosene to heat the baby bottles and our food. He even rebuilt the transmission of the old ’57 Ford Fairlane in the kitchen during one storm.
We had a young couple as neighbors, who rented the upstairs of the farmhouse. I don’t remember much of our landlord except that he was an old grouchy man. But Stan and Sandy became part of the family, we often had picnics together at a nearby park. Stan worked at the Air Force Base and Sandy stayed home and took care of their 2 year old daughter and their baby son. One morning we were woken up by Sandy’s frantic screams for help, it seams that their daughter had gotten out of her crib during the night and found her dads supply of .22 caliber rifle shells and swallowed some. Mom and dad offered to baby-sit while they took her to the base hospital. The Dr. told them to let nature take its course and let them pass, but warned them to keep count and make sure she didn’t fall until all of the bullets passed. During the wait she somehow managed to fall down the stairs and caused even more alarm. However everything finally worked out in the end (pun intended). After we moved back to Cass City we kept in touch, and one day about 5 years later, Sandy showed up at our house with the kids. Her and Stan had gotten a divorce after he had become an abusive alcoholic. She moved down here to Quanicasee near Bay City. After she remarried we lost contact with her.
There was a small cheese factory just down the road from us that we children visited often, and got to see the process of making cheese. And a little farther down the road was the family of another truck driver named Ollie Sprunger who we visited often too. There was a flowing well that was piped into a stock tank that he kept live suckers in. So when he wanted fresh fish all he had to do was reach in and grab them. Of course it was quite a game for us kids too.
Yup, life was fun in the YOOP.