These days, with so many kids being raised by step, single or surrogate parents, it is difficult to define what constitutes a normal family. It is increasingly unusual to find two people who met, got married and raised their own personal children to adulthood without some kind of laboratory procedure or court-ordered visitations.
    When I was growing up, my buddy, Steve, and I were lucky enough to have two full sets of parents. Our other mom and dad were my next-door neighbors, Al and Lorraine Warnes.
    Al and Lorraine were childless but made up for it by boarding Steve at their farm during the summertime. Because of this, I spent much of my boyhood summer vacations at Al and Lorraine’s place. I was thus exposed to a disciplinary system which was much more relaxed than the one at home.
    For instance, Steve and I might decide to build something. We were always building things. Tree houses were a favorite project, although we never actually completed one.
    Our endeavor usually began with borrowing the necessary tools and materials. This was never a problem at Al and Lorraine’s farm. Al might notice us walking off with armloads of boards, nails and barbed wire (to keep away marauding girls) and would ask what we were up to. After explaining we were going to construct a treetop mega-fortress and live on bird’s eggs and apples, Al would simply smile and say, “OK. Just put things back when you’re done.”
    And, that was that. No lectures about asking before borrowing, no harangue about the inherent dangers of mixing heights with gravity; just a vague suggestion we put stuff back.
    I remember working on one of our projects and seeing Al drive by on his Farmall “H.” Al affected the most relaxed posture I have ever witnessed – perhaps a bit too relaxed. He would often drive his tractor (even in road gear) with his legs crossed at the thighs. Al was wiry and was able to do this with ease. As we watched the slouching figure pass by, Steve put into words what we were both thinking: I want to be just like Al when I grow up.
    Lorraine frequently groused about Al’s total lack of fear when it came to avoiding hazards around the farm.
    “That’s why we don’t have any children,” she would fume from the kitchen counter as she poured Al another cup of coffee. “I’ve already got too much to worry about with this big kid.”
    Al would toss us a sly wink and clown around until he made Lorraine laugh. Even though we were boys, Steve and I could tell Al and Lorraine loved each other very much.
    Time and childhood flew by and before I knew it, I was engaged to be married. At my wife-to-be’s bridal shower, Lorraine gave my betrothed a heavy-duty rolling pin. My wife thanked Lorraine for the thoughtful gift but said her baking skills were minimal.
    “Who said anything about using it for baking?” retorted Lorraine in her no-nonsense manner.
    She hefted the rolling pin and swung it with all the might her 90 pounds could muster.     “That’s how you use a rolling pin. He gets out of line and pow. Right upside his head.”
    I lost the rolling pin shortly after our honeymoon lest my wife take Lorraine’s advice seriously.
    Fate follows its own quirky path, often leaving us to wonder why. Nobody could fathom why Lorraine was fated to suddenly pass away following a brief illness. After her funeral, everyone in the neighborhood agreed we had best keep an eye on Al since Lorraine was no longer around to do so.
    Our neighbor Kenny reported he had dropped in at Al’s farm one summer morning. Al was nowhere to be seen even though both of his vehicles were parked in their usual spots. Kenny began to get a sinking feeling. But, then he heard a racket from above, and there was Al shingling his barn.
    Kenny hollered at Al that he should get down, that an 85-year-old man had no business up there on that barn roof. Al replied that he had taken precautions, having tied one end of a rope around his waist and the other end to a post on the opposite side of the barn.
    Al eyeballed the rope and mentally recalculated its length. He then hollered down at Kenny, “But if you drive by and see me dangling, I’d appreciate it if you’d stop and cut me down.”
    Some things never change. For example, I still want to be like Al when I grow up. Although I am pretty sure he never did.
    Jerry is a recovering dairy farmer from Volga, S.D. He and his wife, Julie, have two grown sons and live on the farm where Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded over 110 years ago. Jerry currently works full time for the Dairy Star as a staff writer/ad salesman. Feel free to E-mail him at: jerry.n@dairystar.com.