Farm Hockey

The farm version of everything exists: from God to work to clean enough. Marriage also comes to mind, which is why I didn’t reveal to my prospective mother-in-law I was interested in being a farmer. Not a chance of even getting to first base. Not even the chance at a sacrifice fly ball; probably not even get to hold the bat. Baseball also comes to mind because farm ball doesn’t require nine players, or six; two suffice if abetted by a couple dogs. The game is probably closer to cricket which explains why we carried the bat to first base, that was farther away from home plate than regulation first base. The rule being if the throw got to home before the batter, the batter was out unless they hit the ball back into fair play which is why you carried the bat. Problem being you were running home on the first base side so the ball was coming in from your off-side, so we learned to bat left handed. You were also out if the dog got to the ball before the runner reached first base. For night games we dusted the ball using barn lime, not so much as to put the dog off but enough to provide an initial contrail. We tried soaking the ball in kerosene and lighting it but kerosene on a ball flying through the air doesn’t burn that bright, aviation gas was better but hard on the balls, but so was the dog. We tried rubbing alcohol, didn’t burn bright enough to see until the outfield was on fire.

Farm hockey was about the same animal as farm baseball. Town hockey is played on an ice rink with pucks and regulation sticks with regulation skates and regulation helmets and pads. Never did seem right wearing all that padding, the result being more penguin theater than hockey. Our “rink” did leave something to be desired, such as smooth, the biggest difference between their ice and our ice. Ours required no Zamboni, the pond south of the barnyard would not have done a Zamboni any favor either, since it didn’t look like ice you’d want to put in your Coca-Cola, it already was the color of Coca-Cola. The barnyard drained downhill explaining the pond in the first place, dependent on augmentation by snow, rain or sleet, the January thaw determined how big our rink was to be and how closely it resembled Coca-Cola. Unlike normal ice ours tended to be three dimensional, a characterization not standard to regulation rink. Mindful of roofing shingles, that rippled, our rink didn’t take kindly to ice skates.

Farm hockey was galoshes, standard issue eight buckle galoshes, was considered cheating to actually buckle them. I don’t know why but that was the rule, same as fish sticks at hot lunch every Friday, we didn’t know why that was either. Could have told them they’d ruin the Great Banks fishery off Labrador doing that every Friday when it coulda been hot dogs. There isn’t that much difference between a fish stick and a hot dog. And hot dogs don’t even have to go near an animal to taste like hot dogs, same as Mama’s meatloaf.

No helmets, no padding, no bullet-proof mittens, though choppers aren’t a bad idea since we didn’t use a puck. Garth Whittaker charged two bucks for a regulation puck at the Sport Shop with no discount for farmboys which there ought be since our two dollars came harder than two dollars by a paper route. Don’t have to clean up after a paper route with a six-tine fork, or take a shower before school after a paper route.

We used a number six rock. Number ten rocks were two-handed rocks. Number four rocks were window chuckers; I probably ought not admit this because I don’t know the statute of limitations on windows, probably fifty years, worse than bank robbery I’m sure. Rocks number one and two were slingshot size, remarkably good at windows. And cats. And semi-trailers. Sheriff Ketchum’s squad car worked Highway 54 every Friday night. He didn’t take kindly to us potting trucks with number two rocks, said we should shoot speeders instead; anything less than 3 seconds between the power poles was speeding. Gave us a stop watch for the purpose. The Illinois plates never figured out how come every time they got a speeding ticket there was another dent in the car.

We numbered rocks for the same reason brassieres come in letters of the alphabet though I never quite understood why they didn’t go all the way through the letters instead of doubling up when the foothills left off. After number ten you’re talking stone picking which is a farm sport, but never caught on enough to form regular leagues if that is still my hope.

Instead of hockey sticks we used broom handles because the chance of getting a good wood on a number four stone with a broomstick is slight, to the benefit a rock isn’t so blame lethal. Bib-overalls provided the protection we needed, and two stocking caps.

Ours was a democratic game, the uniforms didn’t cost anything, no Zamboni, no skates, when the cousins from town came we played with a baseball but our dog too well trained to the ball tended to horn in. Soaked in diesel fuel we played at night, no lights anywhere except that flaming ball going back and forth. Was hard on the balls. Can’t very well set a rock on fire, we tried. Wrapped one with burlap and string soaked in diesel and that worked. Better than playing hockey with a puck, in the dark this little meteor flashing back and forth accompanied by the oddest sound of chimes ringing under a winter sky so bright Orion cast a shadow. As farmkids know, better than hockey.

Justin Isherwood is an award-winning writer, a Wisconsin farmer, humorist, author and contributor to numerous collections and publications including: Badger CommonTater, Isthmus, and Newsday. He is an essayist for the radio program, BookMarks & Art, airing on a CBS affiliate in central Wisconsin. His books include: Christmas Stones & the Story Chair, Book of Plough, and most recently, Farm Kid.