Captain Cal
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Posted by Secoura on: 06:21 AM, 10/18/22
There weren’t a lot of children’s shows that I could watch when I was growing up.  We lived in an isolated Nebraska farming community so there was no cable television, and satellite TV was too expensive according to my parents. We had a DVD player and the postal service managed to get the Netflix DVD’s to us.  Remember when Netflix would mail out DVD’s?  My parents had internet access at their job to order the DVDs.  The movie theater in town was only open on Saturdays for two showings, and they just ran old movies that were at least 30 years old so Netflix was worth the money to them. 

That’s not to say that we were cut off from the civilized world.  We had the required radio to get weather alerts and there was an aerial antenna on the roof that received three channels - ABC, CBS and NBC.  If the weather was clear we could get the channel out of Colorado that carried FOX.  Sadly, on Saturday mornings there were no cartoons; the channels carried the local farm report instead.

There was one odd channel that didn’t carry any network programming and only seemed to be on the air for a few hours between Friday night and Saturday morning.  My parents worked odd hours and weren’t ones to get up early on weekends so I was free to watch television until the sun came up Saturday.

Maybe it was a community access channel.  At the ripe old age of six I didn’t really understand how channels work, but there didn’t seem to be any commercials or network logos. I don’t remember even a title card identifying the show so I couldn’t tell you what the name of it was. It was always just a guy in a cornfield, lit by what looked to be the headlights of a tractor. I don’t really remember what he looked like, but I remember his voice.  “Hey there, it’s Captain Cal!” he would start each show, always using a sing-song tone.  Then he would stand there talking about all the magical creatures that lived in that cornfield.  Elves, fairies, unicorns, griffins, and even talking puppies and kittens, all waiting in the cornfield for a boy or girl brave enough to venture out there in the moonlight.  He always said the magic only happened at night when the moon was shining high overhead.

Remember, I was only six.  I still believed in Santa Claus and cooties.  I also lived in a place where the main reason for locking your door was so the wind didn’t blow it open. The biggest crime I can remember happening was someone keying a new car at the Ford dealership. This was autumn of 2000, when there was less to worry about. I don’t think I even knew what ‘stranger danger’ was at that point because there weren’t any strangers.  The only danger to my safety was that the cornfields were massive and it was easy to get lost among the rows of stalks that were twice my height.

I wanted so much to meet the elves, the talking kittens, and all of the other wonderful things that Captain Cal promised were waiting for me, and finally I decided that I would be brave and risk the dark.  I can clearly remember Captain Cal holding up a little kitten and saying that she was so lonely and just wanted me to come and find her. I crept to the door and undid the slide bolt, opening the door and stepping onto the wooden porch in just my nightshirt.  It was cold and damp, and so dark that I could barely make out where the rows of corn started.  Countless days exploring the property had given me a pretty good memory of where things were so I made my way to the cornfields that I loved to run through during the day. At night in bare feet, those same cornfields were not much fun to wander in.  I was cold and quickly lost my sense of direction with only moonlight to see by.  I soon began to cry as I walked the row, believing I would be lost forever. 

“Kitty!” I called out.  “Kitty, I’m here but I’m lost and I’m scared.  Kitty, are you here?”

This happened about four months after selective availability had been switched off for GPS, and the new accuracy meant farm equipment began to be more automated.  Joe had purchased one of the tractors that could be programmed to follow GPS coordinates, running day and night without a driver and even able to cut patterns for a maze.  The software would send a message to a pager if the sensors detected anything in its path and shut the tractor down.  The only reason he had been there at such an early hour on Saturday was because he got a message on the pager that the tractor was stopped.  After finding nothing around the tractor he walked across the field towards our house, afraid that one of the neighbor’s horses had gotten loose and been hit and injured.

On the way towards the house he found me curled up on the ground.  I had managed to get close enough to the end of a row that my pink nightshirt caught his eye.  I remember him picking me up and carrying me back to the house, yelling for my parents as he sat me down on the sofa. I told them about Captain Cal and the show that was on every Friday night, and how he talked about all the wonderful, magical creatures that came out at night to play in the cornfield.  They were angry with me, but they were mostly scared.  The sheriff even came to the house, and he listened while I repeated everything I could tell him about the show and Captain Cal.  He said it must have been a pirate broadcast.  I didn’t know what that meant at the time, but after that night I never saw that show again.  My parents took to unplugging the television and making sure that I was in bed instead of staying awake until sunrise.

In time the memory faded since it seemed to be a case of “no harm done”.  I eventually believed it had just been my overactive imagination or a weird dream that led me to venture out that night in search of a kitten.  I was 24 and living in Colorado when my parents decided to sell the property to one of the commercial farms.  I came home to help them pack up and reminisce about my childhood home.  My dad joked that in all the years the land had been in the family, only about one-third of the 1,240 acres had ever been used.  Only so much land could be irrigated when you were only allowed one well for water and land that can’t be irrigated isn’t worth clearing.  My friends had referred to it as the “back woods” and we often dared each other to venture beyond the tilled ground and see what the overgrowth was hiding.  None of us were ever brave enough or stupid enough to. 

Now that the opportunity to see what was back there was disappearing, I decided to join my dad when he said he was taking the truck out there to get a look.

The tilled land ended at a line of pine trees and beyond them we found a heavily wooded area overgrown with trees, brush and bushes that were home to a few raccoon dens and at least one coyote that we saw.  There was also an old hunting blind that had to have been there for close to a century.  It faced a section of the pine trees that offered a clear view of the cornfield since one of the pines had for whatever reason been cut down long ago, leaving only a stump.

We both felt compelled to explore and see if there was anything interesting or valuable.  What we found was a small diesel generator, the remains of broadcasting equipment and a video camera that still had an old VHS tape in it.  Apparently someone had been trying to do a show from there but abandoned the location to the elements long before we found it. 

Hanging on the wall were blue coveralls.  They were falling apart from deterioration but still recognizable as what the mechanics wore at the small airfield for the cropdusters.  On the front the name “Calvin” was stitched above a pocket.  Dad grabbed my hand and said “Let’s go” as he pulled me outside. We never said a word about it after that since there didn’t seem to be a point to telling anyone.  No harm done, after all.


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