One Sunday afternoon many years ago, my cousin and I decided to take a trip through the woods.
You see, my two sets of grandparents lived roughly on either side of those dense trees.
There are two ribbons of pavement heading north out of Stratford, the small community that lies in the far Southwest portion of Hamilton County and lying just across its imaginary boundary with Webster County.
The pavement on Stratford’s east side winds its way northward in the direction of the small unincorporated settlement of Homer, dipping down a large hill that carries the pavement over the Boone River.
The road on the town’s west side, heads north before veering sharply west over the Des Moines River.
Before one reaches the Des Moines, however, a gravel road with the name of Xavier heads north and winds a path before it, too, crosses the Boone River just beyond where it flows into the larger Des Moines River.
Just off the “east” county road at the top of the hill after crossing the Boone River, Grandpa and Grandma Haglund made their home at the west end of a winding gravel road. The area is now part of a wildlife refuge and the road ends at a parking area. When I was a child, however, the dead-end road ended at my grandparents’ old wooden home.
My mother’s parents, Charlie and Hattie Knox, lived off what is now Xavier Avenue, beyond the historic Vegor’s Cemetery. After a series of sharp turns, the road straightens to the north. It’s now gone, but my grandparents’ house was the first one you’d come to after driving through those turns.
To a 10-year-old boy, it was obvious the two houses were almost directly east and west from one another. But, then, a 10-year-old boy’s sense of direction is probably off by a long-shot.
On one particularly warm summer Sunday, my cousin Jim – about my same age – and I were playing kids’ games on the old Haglund farmstead. Sometime after dinner we decided to walk through the woods to visit my Knox grandparents. It seemed like a great idea to a couple of boys.
With no sense of direction except that our destination was the other side of the woods and with little common sense, we headed off. Neither of us had any true sense of direction and soon after we entered the dense woods, we were lost.
We couldn’t find our way back. We certainly had no idea where we were going. We just kept walking.
I just knew that, sooner or later, we’d come upon some familiar territory. I knew, for example, that my Grandpa Knox’s farm included a wooded area separated from Grandpa Haglund’s wooded area by a farm field. Once we found that 80-acre plot, I assured my cousin, we’d come to our destination.
So, we kept walking.
After what seemed like about an hour, but was longer we later learned, we finally came out of the woods. However, we came out not at my Grandparents’ farm, but another one that was near the Boone River and about two miles south of our intended destination.
It might have been a bad situation, but in those days it was almost as if everyone knew everyone else and this particular farm belonged to Ed and Fay Nemechek, whose son, Dale, was married to my mother’s younger sister, June.
“What are you boys doing here?” Ed asked us gruffly. “Well,” I said, “we were walking to Grandpa Knox’s house and got lost.”
Not too many folks, at least in rural Iowa at that time, had telephones. I know there was an old crank-dial phone on the wall at the grandparents Haglund’s house, a party line. But, Grandpa Knox didn’t have a phone and neither did the Nemechek family.
But, all was not lost.
Ed was kind enough to load my cousin and I in his old car and haul us up the road to Grandpa and Grandma Knox’s house.
Normally, my grandparents on both sides of the family were welcoming folks. On this day, however, we received a chilly reception. I knew we were in trouble, but at least we were in trouble with folks who knew us well.
Our journey ended when my uncle Jack loaded us in his pre-World War II auto and hauled us back across country to our concerned parents. We didn’t get a smiling “welcome home” hug, but a quick swat on the behind and a long lecture about walking off through the woods on our own.
I guess on that day, at least, I learned that my sense of direction wasn’t something that would land me in the scout’s hall of fame. I also learned that taking off through the woods for a Sunday afternoon visit wasn’t something that would be repeated.
The swat on the rear brought momentary pain, but the lecture was a long one, too long for a 10-year-old would-be scout.