One part of every day on the southern Illinois dairy farm of my youth was inviolate: the noon nap; nearly everyone took one.
We didn’t rest very long, just 30 minutes or so, because the farm work never rested long. The naps, however, were as integral a part of our farm routine as the big noon dinners they followed. Even my great Uncle Honey napped.
Long-time readers might remember Honey, my father’s uncle. After retirement from a career of grinding the gears on his milk delivery truck in town, Honey came to the farm daily for 15 years to, as it turned out, bend, burn or break nearly everything he touched.
In fact, any silage chopper, pecan tree, sickle mower, plow, field cultivator, rotary mower, barbed-wired fence, hay baler, telephone pole, barn door, parked car, fuel tank, or cow that had the misfortune to be in Honey’s path usually left the encounter with a scar, dent, twist, bruise, break or bandage to mark the occasion.
The great irony to all this iron-bending was that Honey was as mild-mannered as buttermilk. His pulse never topped 60. Even after he had plowed out the second telephone pole of his short farming career Honey was as calm as if he had just peeled a potato.
He had the opposite affect on hired men and Holsteins. A simple tractor drive-by or pasture walk-through by Honey caused both to instinctively locate the nearest cover, should mayhem ensue.
Fire, too, was a Honey hallmark. Although he never smoked anything, he was never without a little box of strike-anywhere matches that he found cause to strike everywhere.
Tree stumps, seed corn bags, straw piles, diesel fuel he poured down ground hog holes, barns: All were touched, and torched, by Honey and his matches.
Honey was such a firebug that my father often paused during the day just to look around for smoke. Seeing none worried him as much as seeing some. None meant that Honey had either broken an implement, or died in the attempt; seeing some meant that something of ours or the neighbors’ — sometimes both — was ablaze.
Despite his gift for destruction, Uncle Honey napped like a baby — a round-tummied, just-fed baby — on the back porch off our kitchen. Since the big porch faced north and was screened, neither sun nor bugs interrupted the rest that arrived quickly and settled deeply.
His nap routine was as scripted as a Shakespeare play. After a heaping helping of everything for dinner, Honey would grab the sports section of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat and make for the webbed, chaise lounge on the porch.
Once in the chaise, Honey skimmed the sports section’s front page, then The Benchwarmer column by the Globe’s long-time sports editor Bob Burns.
Not long into that reading, however, the paper would begin a slow descent. It might bob upwards once or twice as drifted downward but soon — within a minute, two at the most — it covered Uncle Honey’s face and chest like an ink-stained blanket.
Fifteen minutes later, and as noiselessly as he had slipped into slumber, Honey would awaken. After a moment to catch his bearings, he would rise and survey the barnyard as he reached for his straw hat.
Unlike my father who always removed his work shoes upon entering my mother’s kitchen, Honey was never unshod so he was through the screen door as soon as his hat hit his mostly bald head.
It only took a stride or two for him to set a slow course for whatever tractor and implement was being punished by his presence that day. And everybody, from my father drinking a post-nap cup of coffee in the kitchen to the sleepy hound under the soft maple tree, would keep an wary eye on him as he did.