A Child’s World of Animals

Childhood on the Ranch

Victor Davis Hanson // Private Papers

 Part Two

Was my Dad a militarist? Hardly. He was a farmer and junior college administrator, who hated war and swore to me once when I turned 18 and waited for my lottery number: “No one in this family ever volunteers and no one is ever going to refuse the draft.” I nodded.

We crawled, ran, and ran through acres of grapevines, plum trees, and majestic walnuts—squirrels, possums, hawks, crows and snakes everywhere. The town was still almost three miles away. If we saw a turtle or perch caught in the pipeline, as he washed down from the Sierra, we were told to “Put the poor fellow back where you got him.” 

I, a few times, dove into the July stagnant pond to catch bull frogs and usually ended up with ear and sinus infections at Doc Nielsen’s office in Fowler. He looked cross and then jabbed me with a shot of penicillin in one of those reusable steel injectors. Sixty years later the sinus surgeon who drilled my passages out said, “Man, you have the narrowest sinus passages I’ve ever seen.” No kidding…

At seven my twin and I were human retrievers. My dad shot doves and quail (always in season and in limit). Doglike we scrambled to “fetch” them back. Once we climbed under the neighbor’s barbed wire. He was a lunatic and bully. Once he just happened to be out hunting himself at the same time and pointed a shotgun at us as we tried to find a downed dove. He  screamed at us (the “twinnies” my grandmother dubbed us two) to “get the hell off my property, you trespassers, before I blow you to smithereens.” 

We skedaddled back to our side of the fence sans the doves and yelled to dad, “That guy wanted to shoot us.” Big mistake. Dad was then about 36. He  was 6’3”, 210 lbs. of muscle, a big Swede  who was said to have been a good boxer by his friends. 

After 40 missions in a B-29 over Japan, just 15 year earlier, he didn’t much care about his own safety and had sort of a terrifying WTF nihilist courage to go to the limit if wrongly crossed. In a second, I guess he thought he was back on mission 33 to Kobe or crash landing on Iwo, and so  stalked over with his 12 gauge, pointed it at the bully, “So you got a gun pointed at my two boys. Ok I’m not six like them, so let’s see who is a brave man now.”

The neighbor, well, put this way, he just left. Said nothing and left. And the only time we ever heard of him again was when he stuffed nasty notes in our dogs’ collars if they strayed over when his bitches were in heat, like “Hey Hansons, chain up this dog—or else.” Some tough guy…

We took off home ahead of dad and sobbing ratted our hero out to mom (some gratitude for our deliverance)—the housewife Stanford JD whom the neighbors ridiculed with “all that education and still home in that little house with those kids.” 

We thought at least she might sympathized with our melodrama. No such luck. She smiled! Smiled no less! And she said “Well, glad that was over. But served that criminal right, terrorizing you 6-year-olds. And what a fool he was to cross your dad.” 

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22 thoughts on “A Child’s World of Animals”

  1. Your Dad’s view on war was very similar to my Dad, who flew 20 missions as a Ball Turret Gunner in a B-17 before shot down and spending a year in Stalag 17. I had three brothers. He wanted us to have no part of war, but if drafted we would go and serve. I had one stubborn brother who defied him and enlisted but luckily spent 2 years in Germany instead of Vietnam. Dad was proud of his service but would not wish that experience on anyone.

  2. Gary Netherton

    Thanks VDH. Love hearing about your growing up years. Interesting to hear about how things were in those days in the west. Such a different period than today – and not always for the better. Keep the stories and anecdotes coming. The way you know people is to hear their stories.

  3. Great memories. Your Dad sure sounded like my Dad, who was in General Patton’s Army, part of D-Day invasion, Battle of the Bulge and many other horrific battles of WWII. He had a moral compass, a strong sense honor and profound integrity. We grew up to know right from wrong. I miss him. He was a good man who loved his family and loved America. He would be so angry at these Socialists idiots. I am glad he is not alive to witness all this insanity.

  4. Victor, I love these stories about your ranch and especially your childhood. They bring back a lot of memories of a simpler time….I’m about a year younger than you so I can relate to the simpler times. I grew up in the rural suburbs of Atlanta, although not on a ranch, there were plenty of what we called horse farms and small cattle farms around, a creek with all sorts of critters with wild bamboo growing everywhere. The made great spears when you carved out a point with a boy scout knife.
    I was the oldest of 7 and my mother used to say “unless there’s blood, I don’t want to hear about it”.
    Have you considered an autobiographical book?

  5. I greatly enjoy farm life.
    I sent Victor an email but must be using the wrong address. Can you sent me an email address that I can sent him information.

  6. June L. Thaxton

    Victor, I could listen to you talk all day long and have spent several hours on your podcasts and reading your articles. You have taught me so much and have given me so much hope that our country will probably be OK. This story you have shared is priceless. Thank you for your contribution to the education and encouragement you offer your readers. You are a Rock Star to me. You should consider donating your brain to science. Thank you.

  7. Gordon Rowell

    Mr Hanson,
    I truly enjoyed A Child’s World Of Animals article.. It harkens back to a time that should be cherished and appreciated. I am younger than you (61), but can still relate to the memories your article brought back. I miss those days of running around in my small town neighbor hood with my friends and siblings. Unfortunately, my children never had that freedom due to where we live today. This past summer I took my family to Bass Lake and passed by Selma. I wanted to stop by and just say hello but did not want to impose. I just wanted to tell you you are my hero.
    Thank You for all of your work, you are the voice for the common man.

  8. Oh, VDH, you are a National Treasure – second only in my heart to our dear departed Rush~but to learn there are TWO of you!!! What I wouldn’t give to listen to your family conversations.
    I truly enjoy ALL of your articles, but this new series is precious. Thank you for the little peak into your early years.

  9. Gay Anne Donahue

    Thank you for another installment from A Child’s world of Animals. Have you ever considered writing an autobiography. I know you have a new book coming out in the fall but please keep doing more from A Child’s World of Animals. Sincerely, Gay Anne Donahue

  10. Michael Pearl

    Thank you, Dr. Hanson, for this brief, poignant look at your history. And, in case you were wondering, yes, there is most definitely a market for your (auto)biography. =o)

  11. Michael Waldmeier

    The America that I knew too!
    You commented previously about the “revolutionaries” will end up destroying themselves too. This applies to the successful Mayor of Tübingen, Boris Palmer, who asked someone he knew if a specific soccer player had been hired to meet a quota of blacks. The Green Party went ballistic.

  12. Philip Mayner

    Not relevant to this article but some thoughts I would love to hear your perspective on:-
    Why did Florida cease to be a swing state? Before the voting in 11/2020 all the talking heads were talking how the election came down to Florida. After the 2000 election Florida revamped their voting systems and procedures so as to avoid the spectacle of Bush v Gore. Before the election Bloomberg committed to spending $100M to defeat Trump in Florida (which indicates to me that the democrat machine believed it came down to Florida). I assume he actually did spend the $100M and it turned out to be another bad investment on his part. It seems as if the Florida changes to improve the voting systems and procedures seem to have functioned without incident in 2020 and I don’t believe anyone claims Florida was stolen and all that money didn’t swing Florida which is an indication that he was very popular. Maybe the democrats ought to thank Trump for running the most above board election and not allowing the Russians from throwing it for him as claimed they did in 2016 (or failing as a dictator to stop it) whereas Obama couldn’t protect the election of the most qualified candidate ever (until presumably the basement dwelling parking lot attendant ran). It seems the only way to claim to election was clean and fair is to assume it was a massive vote against Trump because the parking lot guy never seemed to campaign. It is a testament to the media and big tech that they had to smear Trump for his personality (whereas Biden shows himself to be a very nasty person and seems to be an actual racist who is good at the penance/indulgences game). It was vital to keep voters ignorant about the truth in order to make this election result happen (even if there is not overt massive cheating). The fact that big tech was happy to suppress/warp the news and the media is ok with lying and calling people racist etc without facts makes the country feel more like an oligarchy controlled by some of the least enlightened people (most of the computer programmers that I have worked with are not the most well rounded people hence the geek moniker) and yet they feel they can be the moral and news arbiters.
    Sorry to ramble but I do love your opions.
    So not the angry reader

  13. Mike Gleespen

    Thanks for writing this. I really enjoyed it, as well as Part I. I hope you will write more remembrances about your family life as a youth. They are very honest and sweet, and remind me of the good times I had as a kid roaming around fields and towns without any adult supervision.

  14. Somehow all those okies never killed each other. What you forgot to mention was that this was all happening in death heat. I know because I went to high school in Merced and picked peaches in that heat. Your old neighbor learned some good lessons from your father. That said, the only dispute I’ve ever had with my neighbors is with their **$%&ing dogs. And I love dogs. Have one myself.

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