We weren’t what magazines would one day call “early adopters” of technology.
We lived in Minnesota’s St. Croix river valley on a ragged forty-acre farm, a rolling patch of corn and pasture land with a sagging red barn and stands of maple trees, which we tapped each spring for syrup.
We tried raising hens for eggs but lost control of them, allowing them to lay in bushes and woodpiles. The eggs brought forth roosters which grew up vicious and murdered one another in the yard.
We owned an old iron tractor, a Farmall M, whose long, bent gearshift I could barely budge, but most of our farm work was done with Belgian horses using implements bought in Wisconsin’s Amish country. They hulked in their stalls like tanks at feeding time, bowing their great heads to reach the trough.
One summer evening when I was sixteen, the larger, more dominant member of the team adjusted its footing and pinned me against a wall, compressing my lungs against my spine.
“That was life,” I remember thinking. “Now you die.” Then the horse shifted back, my flattened ribs expanded, and just like that my last breath became my first.
It was all my father’s doing. He believed our family should live simply.
Like many men of a certain romantic temperament in the 1970 -- men who wore moustaches, owned hiking gear, had grown up reading Kerouac, and liked red wine – he’d decided the world was too mechanized, too soft, too detached from the animal self and from the earth.
A chemical engineer and patent lawyer, a graduate of an Ivy League university, he could afford this dreamy backward step into non-profit intimacy with the land. Leviathan draft horses cost a lot to keep and trips to Wisconsin to haggle over seed drills burn a lot of gas, and time.
Conditions inside our house were less austere than they were in the farm yard. My mother insisted.
She had a dishwasher and a new microwave, though we used it infrequently, fearing radiation. Our TV was a black-and-white Philco, a dying brand, but one weekend a Sony color model appeared.
My father, a former college football player, wished to watch the Rose Bowl in its full splendor. But that was where he drew the line.
No air conditioners. No stereo. Heat from a wood stove with claw-shaped feet.
Sometimes I sat beside it in the winter and gazed out the window at the steaming horses, the violent, demonic roosters, the outhouse we used when the toilet clogged or broke, and cursed my father for trapping us in time.
I resolved to charge forward once I was on my own.
Come and get me, progress.
And it did.