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Revised 24 January 2010
This is the Elk Horn Locker Plant as it was when we lived in the little apartment on the side. The car in the photo is probably the one we drove in this story. The little building you see on the side was our ice house, which kept our blocks of ice for the old fashioned ice box. It was our job to empty the ice pan when it got full and woe the one who failed to remember as they got to mop up the water. The chute in the back is where the cattle were driven into the building to be slaughtered. The little house was not ours, but each Spring, their entire back yard was full of lillies of the valley, which flowers inspired lillies in the snow, one of my poems shown elsewhere.
My parents owned an old Buick in our earlier years. The driveway of the lockerplant is quite like the roads in our area. When dry, they were dusty and full of ruts. When it was wet, they were a quagmire upon which to drive.
The Midwest is at its most beautiful when the nourishing spring rains lavish their bounty on the fields. It is a time when odd little wild flowers bloom in distant meadows, when farmers prepare the ground for the sowing of their future and where baby lambkins frolic with the calves and little horses.
The Midwest, however, is not at its best when those nourishing rains turn the roads to a river of mud, or the rains gush in such great torrents that one cannot see where they are going. Road building in the farmlands is not so much a question of expediency as it is a matter of politics. A point in fact would be the roadways between the two towns, 15 miles in either direction from Elk Horn, to which we had to drive to obtain the goods that were not available locally. (which was just about everything.)
Since I am aware that not many of you have ever visited Elk Horn, ever looked it up on a map, or ever cared that it existed at all, I must explain myself. Elk Horn was in Shelby County. Harlan was the county seat of Shelby County. Harlan was located 15 miles away, at one end of the spectrum. Atlantic, on the other hand, was in Cass County, with most of the roads leading to that tiny mecca, lying still within the county of Shelby. Since having people shop in Harlan meant that revenue and tax money stayed on Shelby County, and since having people shop in Atlantic, meant revenue and tax money went over to their biggest competitors (Atlantic actually having the superior selection of shops), the County Powers-That-Be decided to spend their tax road dollars in paving the road only to Harlan. The road to Atlantic was a mixture of gravel and mud and only became paved road at the county line. As a result, when the torrential rains of spring fell upon the earth to bathe the friendly flowers, it turned the Atlantic road to slurry.
By now, I have come to the opinion that many of you have never experienced the joys of driving on a soggy, slippery Iowa mud road. And so I shall instruct you on a couple of do's and don'ts. First of all, if you don't have to drive in the mud---don't. If you must drive in the mud, and you feel yourself losing control of the direction in which your vehicle has chosen to go,with, of course, no means of changing its mind, do not slam on the brakes to stop yourself. And finally, should you make the mistake of doing so and find yourself slithering down the roadway in every direction except the one intended and should your vehicle suddenly decide to play spin the driver, my father always told us to turn into the direction of the spin and the car will finally catch on and go back the way you intended. . .or so they say.
On one particular muddy, but sunshiny afternoon, mother decided she absolutely had to make a trip to Atlantic, either because she could not meet her need locally or perhaps because she was simply suffering a severe case of cabin fever after the rains. At any rate, we made our trip to Atlantic in relative safety and were happily wending our way home, albeit occasionally meandering to the left or right in accordance to the mud pits and the ruts. As we topped one particularly long and steep hill, the car suddenly took upon itself that the view before it was in dire need of change and so we swerved sharply to the left. Now mother spent most of her life in the city and in fact much of it in California, where paved roads were commonplace and the drivers already crazy and so to be excused. She panicked when the little car refused to follow her commands and immediately slammed on the brake to teach it a lesson......wrong!
Suddenly, we were spinning like a top on our way down the hill as she punched levers, attempted to pump the brakes and swore in a most unladylike manner at the steering wheel, which was refusing to cooperate. The car lurched to the other side as swiftly as it had swerved in its original direction and mother's wits entirely escaped her. Instead of turning into the swerve as dad had always instructed her, she blatantly swung the wheel in the opposite direction and in retaliation and much to our amazement, we found ourselves rapidly descending the remainder of the hill, going sideways and enjoying a scenic tour of the wildflowers in the neighboring field with looks of abject horror on our faces as we pictured them finding the remains of our mangled bodies in the ditch below.
But the Good Lord looks after fools and foolish women and it was with blessed relief when we stopped dead at the bottom of the hill, the following one being too steep for the car to climb without the assistance of our motor. And from that day forward, when mother found herself in need of important goods or a country drive in the rain, we dutifully drove to Harlan, using the proper path of pavement rather than the less enticing mud paths to Atlantic.
Indeed, it seems that it was intended all along that we should support our local shop keepers and as we all can now plainly see, the road to Harlan was paved with good intentions.