Looking back, I’ve always been drawn to historical fiction. I know this comes from growing up on a farm. My Grandfather’s brothers and cousins all lived within a two-mile radius from us. Everyone helped each other. During these group efforts of farm work, there was always plenty of time for gossip. I always gravitated toward my Grandfather, my Great Uncle Laverne, and my Great Uncle John. I always thought they were the best storytellers.
What is historical fiction exactly?
The Historical Novel Society defines this genre as:
To be deemed historical (in our sense), a novel must have been written at least fifty years after the events described, or have been written by someone who was not alive at the time of those events (who therefore approaches them only by research).
Most of the stories told to me growing up were G to PG-rated. Maybe ventured toward a PG-13 rating by the time I got older (usually for language). One of my favorite stories was told to me first by my Grandfather, my Great Uncle Laverne, then my Dad last year. This story always ended the same and varied only by the point of view. Coming at this story if it were fictitious would be labeled as historical fiction because I was neither alive at the time and had to approach it through research. Whereas my Dad and Grandfather and Great Uncle would bristle at the definition because they lived during this time.
My Dad said he was seven or eight. My grandfather said he was ten. Great Uncle Laverne only referred to my Dad as ‘when he was a little cuss’ (‘cuss’ changed to ‘shit’ when I was older). My Great Grandmother Mamie who had retired and moved into town at this point, still came out to assist with the farm work. There was a particular ram that had taken a terrible dislike to her and anyone that wore a dress. This was the late 1950s or early 1960s (depending on who was telling the story), so every woman pretty much wore a dress. This ram had a particular animosity toward my Great Grandmother Mamie. Uncle Laverne had suggested she had ‘done something’ to the ram. What exactly she had done was never explained. The worst instance involved Great Grandma Mamie while she was milking. The ram waited until she was bent over. He butted her right into the barn wall and busted out her front teeth.
‘THE LITTLE CUSS’
My Dad was ornery. This was something he never grew out of. He knew the reputation of the ram and liked to goad it for fun. Sometimes he would go in the pen, antagonize it enough so it would put its head down and charge him. My Dad would make a game out of it waiting as long as possible to jump out of the pen so the ram hit the fence instead of him.
One early spring day, (this varied too, Dad said spring, Laverne, and my Grandfather always said summer) my Grandmother announced she was going to have a picnic on the front lawn and would be inviting all of her friends from Circle (this is what the Lutheran women called their organization at church). She made a point of making sure my Dad understood that he was to be on his best behavior.
No matter how many times I heard this part, I always thought it was a rather foolish thing for my Grandmother to do. She would have been better off saying nothing. My Dad, being his ornery self — took this as a direct challenge to her authority.
My Dad watched from the barn while he was doing his chores while my Grandmother and Grandfather set up the tables and chairs. All the food. The shiny cars began to snake down the lane and park in the grass. Women exited their cars in their finest hats and dresses. An idea began to formulate in my Dad’s brain. Something mischievous. Maybe even a little evil. But hilarious none the less.
He waited until he finished his chores. He did his usual batting to get the ram riled up. When he knew the ram was good and mad, he let it loose.
The ram didn’t hesitate. He ran straight for the group of ladies. My Grandmother saw him first and screamed. The other ladies scrambled up out of their chairs. Some of them fell. When they attempted to get back up, the ram in a fit of joy, knocked one lady in the rear then another.
My Grandmother never found the incident amusing. My Dad thought it was hilarious. He knew he would get the belt for what he did, but he hadn’t cared. It was so worth it to see the ladies looking like a bunch of bright dominos getting knocked down over and over again. My Grandfather said it was one of the hardest times he had to discipline my Dad. My Grandfather never admitted this to him, but he had laughed just as hard if not harder at the chaotic scene caused by his mischievous son and his devilish ram.
In the late 1980s I asked my Grandfather whatever became of the ram. My Grandfather paused for a minute, then offered me the usual response to the fate of any animal on a farm. They ate him. But he didn’t taste very good, he had said. The meat was too tough.