How a Latina Woman Put Me on the Road to Redemption

Coming of Age for a Farm Boy

By Darrell Bushnell

This story has little to do with Nicaragua so if not interested in human interest stories you may as well stop reading now. Warning – details about my childhood are covered in this piece and it is a long story.

Most people really don’t understand how much luck plays in our lives. Yes, we have free will and people that work hard and smart usually do better in general but good fortune plays a huge role. Good parents can have bad kids, some bad parents have good kids but again, in general, Baptist parents have Baptist children, liberal parents have liberal kids, etc. Your community also plays a major role but there are exceptions, thank goodness. Had you been born in Somalia, China or even Canada you would have had a different wife, different kids i.e. a totally different life. Being a white male gives you extraordinary advantages which is a sad commentary on our world.

Mom, my sister and me


I was one of the fortunate ones. Born as a baby boomer in 1949 in Big Rock, Illinois, the eldest and only son along with three younger sisters to Earl and Erelene Bushnell. What are the chances of a young man named Earl finding a woman named Erelene to marry but I checked and those are their real names. I must have been conceived on their honeymoon since I was born eight months after the wedding, or I was a preemie or there was premarital hanky-panky. Nobody likes to think about their parents or grandparents having sex so we will leave it at that.

I was to be the third generation farmer on the 100 acre Bushnell farm. We weren’t poor just not much money. Farming is a different life with most of the income coming in when the crops were harvested so most needed items were purchased at that time. Our farm rotated the crops of beans, corn and oats though we kept livestock such as pigs, sheep, rabbits and chickens. Later on Dad leased another couple hundred acres.

Mom and Dad

A photo of Mom and Dad in the 1950s. Some people think Dad looks a lot like me and more so as he got older. He is now 92 years old and healthier than me.


Many people say that life was better back in those days but it wasn’t, it was just simpler. When someone had to go to the hospital, it was usually serious and a good chance you weren’t coming home at least with all of your parts intact. It seemed like most neighbor families had lost at least one child in their early years. But most of us remember our childhoods as happy times.

Farming is hard work though not quite as bad as a dairy farm where you had to milk those cows every day whether you felt like it or not. Until I was old enough to help with the chores Mom and Dad both had to do the working of the fields, feeding the animals, the butchering, etc. There were no day care centers back then and who could afford a daytime baby sitter so Mom and Dad would tie me to a tree when they both were in the fields working. That would be considered child abuse now but there was enough slack in the rope to let me graze. If you don’t believe it, we have a photo of me tied to the tree in the front yard. Seemed normal at the time. How social norms have changed!

Darrell Before Becoming Ornery

As I grew a little older, my dog, Tippy, became my best friend since school friends lived miles away on their own farm and younger sisters weren’t much fun until much later in life. Tippy and I would play hide and seek in the pastures, explore the little creek at the corner of the farm or just wrestle in the grass. Speaking of little critters, often a car would pass on our gravel road and the driver would throw out a gunny sack. It usually contained puppies or kittens since our farm was around 60 miles west of Chicago and the city slickers thought farmers would always take care of offspring they did not want. Sad but that was the way it was back then.

At around eight years old Dad taught me how to drive a tractor and soon after I could help with the field work. Around then I received my first gun, a B.B. gun similar to the Red Ryder B.B. gun in the classic movie “A Christmas Story”. A few years later I received my first 22 rifle then around age 14 my 410 shotgun. Dad and I would go hunting early in the morning before school for pheasant, duck, goose or rabbit depending on the time of year. That evening we would be eating our morning’s kill. Pretty typical farm boy life in the 1950s.

Mom and Dad were very good to me though I think they doted on me being the eldest and only boy and I was kind of cute then. I was very good at math and the sciences so for birthdays I would get geology kits, microscopes, chemistry kits and science experiment books. But it was never enough and I slowly turned moody and turned to the dark side.

During grade school I often threatened to run away and several times actually did but by the time I had gotten two farms away I was cold, sometimes wet and a little afraid so I would return home. Part of the problem was that I was starting to learn about the world outside our small community. A world I knew nothing about yet tantalized me with the possibilities.

For example, Dad took me to Chicago once for something we needed to buy and many people had dirty foreheads. Dad explained these people were Catholics and it was Ash Wednesday when they would put an ashen cross on their foreheads. At my age and being a naïve farm boy I was flabbergasted. Never had heard of Catholics and the act of putting ashes on their faces seemed like something straight out of the National Geographic and voodoo. In our small town we had the Baptist Church which we attended and the Congregational Church. Our church would not allow drinking, smoking, cursing, dancing and anything that affected the temple of the body while the Congregational Church seemed to be much more liberal and even organized church dances. Now I find out there are Catholics who can seem to do whatever they want if they tell their priest about their sins and “voila” everything is forgiven. All very confusing to a young farm boy.

The more I learned, the more I became anti-authority in my attitude. In school each day we had to pledge the allegiance to the flag which I did but resented being made to do so. I started giving my parents a hard time about minor affairs and always fighting with my oldest sister. I fought against going to church on Sundays.

At the end of grade school I learned about something new, mortality. A schoolmate suddenly passed away from some unknown illness. At around the same time, some of us boys were playing king on the mountain during recess. In the school parking lot during the winter they would push the snow into large mounds to allow cars to park. We would clamber up the mound and try to push off any other contenders wanting to be king of the mountain. After holding control of the snow mountain for a few minutes I was pushed off by a stronger opponent, slid down the mound and struck my head on a rusty bumper of an older car parked there. Unfortunately, some of the rust entered my head wound and I was taken to the hospital where I remained for some time. They thought, at the least, I might lose my sight and I remember vaguely strange attempts to heal me like wrapping me in alcohol-soaked cloth wrappings. Medical procedures have greatly improved since then. Obviously I survived but from then on realized I was not invulnerable and my attitude did not improve.

Robot Commando

Please don’t get the impression that I had a rough childhood. I created all of the problems I had to work through. There were many wonderful memories such as wienie roasts, camping out in the tents on the clothes line made of drying sheets, my oldest sister being Superman and I was Zorro, our soaring through the air on the car tire tied to the high tree branch, family photos at Woolworth or K-Mart, hunting before school and much, much more. Big Christmases were when I received a rifle or a shotgun which meant you were becoming a young man though I will always remember the most desired Christmas gift of all was Robot Commando. I wanted it so bad just like the kid in “Christmas Story” wanting the Red Ryder 500 shot BB gun but I knew it would be difficult for my parents to afford so I had given up hope on getting it under the Christmas tree. But it was a large box so Mom and Dad had placed out of sight and gave it to me after all the presents were opened. I was so excited that I had a real robot that could shoot rockets out of his head, move forward and turn in any direction and throw large explosive balls from his robotic arms. I really thought I could conquer another country with it. Unfortunately it took so many “D” cells that did not last very long. It was quite exciting at that time.

Then along came high school which really opened my world. There were less than 50 in my graduating class and that was the joining of four small communities. I was starting to discover girls then but with such a small school most of the girls were cousins, second cousins or sisters of friends. Very slim pickings.

I should add a disclaimer here about many people believing farm boys had sex with sheep or young calves. I had no sex with the animal world but it was more not understanding sex than the avoidance of fooling around with young sheep of which we had plenty. I don’t remember Mom and Dad explaining the birds and the bees to me. Most people think farm kids inherently know all about sex because we are surrounded by animals and everyone knows pigs have 30 minute orgasms. At that age I never equated animals with humans so even though I saw the dirty deed often in the animal pens I had no idea that humans did it too. Luckily, I had two female cousins that explained it all to me. I did not have sex with them and it was more of the “I will show you mine if you show me yours” thing then they explained to me where everything would go and how sex worked. Anyway, Mom caught us and I received another severe punishment.

Other animal sex facts from Big Frog 104:

* A pig’s orgasm lasts 30 minutes. OMG I’m jealous.

* Under optimum conditions, one female cockroach can produce two million offspring in one year. 2 MILLION!

* The female praying mantis initiates sex by ripping the male’s head off. Not as lucky as the pig.

* Some lions mate over 50 times a day. Lucky lions!

* Dolphins and humans are the only species that have sex for pleasure. What about the pig?

* An octopus’s testes are located in its head.

* You can tell a turtle’s gender by its sound. Males grunt, females hiss. Kinda like humans.

In the summer many if not most of us farm kids would detassel corn. We would climb on a large machine that went slowly down the rows of corn and we would manually remove the tassle which was where the pollination would come from. Each of us would be responsible for our row. If you are interested why we detassel corn, here is an explanation from the Iowa agricultural website.

Corn Plant

Creating Corn Seed

Ever wonder where the corn seed that farmers plant comes from? In order to plant the millions of acres of corn throughout the Midwest each spring, farmers need to first buy seed. The seed that they buy is often hybrid varieties that have beneficial traits like being drought tolerant or disease resistant. To get these special hybrids, farmers and the companies they work with have to make sure to cross pollinate the corn. Corn pollen spreads by wind so how do farmers ensure that the pollen from one type of corn lands on the silk of another type of corn to create the hybrid? Detasseling. If you wish to know more about detasseling click on the following link:

I hope that did not bore you too much about detasseling but this is very important to farmers and it was a way for young farm kids to make money. It was also a way during breaks for a social gathering of people of your own age, something sorely lacking in farm life. Did I mention my starting to discover girls? It was also where many of us had our first cigarette and sometimes a beer would appear. For many of us it was our first source of income which equates to independence. I discovered I could now make money and get away from home for a while at least for that summer. So the first job fueled my anti-authority attitude and gave me some independence, a bad combination.

Things started going downhill rapidly after that. I received a Honda motorcycle which made me feel more like James Dean. James was known as a cultural icon of teenage disillusionment and social estrangement, as expressed in the title of his most celebrated film, Rebel Without a Cause (1955), in which he starred as a troubled teenager. So now I had mobility though that led quickly to a serious accident on the way to a school dance. “Baby Love” by the Supremes was the big hit at that time though the Beach Boys released “Little Honda” in 1964 my freshman high school year.

I was riding my Honda motorcycle down the main street of Hinckley, Illinois with my friend, Richard Rood, on the back. Suddenly a vehicle pulled out of the side street and upon seeing me, slammed on the brakes. It was too late for me but my friend jumped off the back and I proceeded to hit the back of the vehicle. Back then, cars were big and tough as military tanks and this one had the large tail fins. I slammed into the car and my face hit the large fin. By then I was unconscious but witnesses stated I did a perfect Olympic style flip over the car, landed on my feet then crumpled to the ground. Woke up in the hospital and not sure how I got there but I had my priorities. They patched me up as best as possible and though my parents thought I was crazy, I was able to get out of the hospital quick enough to attend the end of the dance so I had my 15 minutes of fame since several of my friends had witnessed the accident then to their surprise, there I was at the dance. Of course, this brought my cockiness to a higher level.

Reaching the ripe old age of 16 I could finally drive a car. My parents found me a part-time job helping a friend of theirs to build a home. Mom lent me her car but on the way to the job site I stupidly turned left in front of another car coming from the opposite direction at full speed. Waking up in a hospital room was getting to be a common thing for me and here I was again. The car was totaled and I was lucky to be alive since this was long before seat belts were being used. I felt bad for wrecking Mom’s car but not being very bright, my bad attitude still persisted. Not that I held fate accountable for my pessimistic attitude but actually bad things were starting to pile up on me.

I did very well in school because even though I did not have a photographic memory I could often bring up in my head an image of the textbook page pertaining to the test question. I found I could ace some tests even if I did not understand the material completely. In fact, some teachers thought I was cheating since my answer to the test question sometimes would be almost verbatim from the textbook. This ability helped me a great deal both in high school and later in college. Unfortunately this talent had its dark side since it enflamed my anti-authority attitude and in some classes sometimes I would think I knew more than the teacher. A serious problem for a student and of course, completely untrue.

Finally I blew up in one of my math classes and told off the math teacher that I did not like anyway. I believe I questioned his competence and made some personal remarks about him as well. That episode got me expelled from school and horrified my parents since it was a small community. In fact some of my teachers were the same ones my Dad had. After several weeks of cooling my heels, the school superintendent finally agreed to let me return but I had to write a letter of apology to the math teacher and the school board. It was a subtly sarcastic letter but it was good enough to allow me to attend classes again.

Since high school did not seem much of a challenge and I did not enjoy farm work, my Dad was able to get me a job at a large grocery store in Aurora for second shift after school. This really rocked my world since Aurora was a city of over 50,000 people but only a 30 minute drive away. I was able to convince the store management that I could handle a full time job while going to school. All of a sudden I had a good salary with benefits without any expenses. I was now King of the Mountain and life was good which did not help my issue of cockiness or bending under authority. I made life miserable for my parents and never agreed with them on anything even when I knew they were right. Someone needed to straighten me out.

At the store I discovered people that really worked hard, had families yet made seemingly little more than I did. It was also where I finally made friends with Latinos. Remember, for all my cockiness, I was still a naïve small town farm boy living in a community that was lily white. The only Mexicans I had ever seen were the migrant workers that came up north at harvest time, worked their asses off then returned to Mexico. But here at the store these Latinos were American citizens striving for the same American dream. I kept that job even after graduating from high school. But an event was coming up that would create a greater rift between my parents and me.

I became good friends with Roberto at the store though everyone called him Bob. We started hanging out a lot and eventually he stated he would like to set me up with his sister. He told me she was very beautiful and at the top of her class where she was in her senior year. Something told me this would have a bad ending but I was past the point of listening to my conscience. After I agreed to meet her, a few days later she came to the store and I was stunned by her exotic beauty and soft spoken ways. She agreed to go out on a date though it would turn out to be the worst date of my life through no fault of hers.

Since she hardly knew me she asked if I would like to take her to a party a friend of hers was having. She would not be coming home with me since she would stay at the party with some girlfriends for a sleepover. Sounded like a great start to me. Eventually the night arrived and I picked her up at her home which entailed meeting her family. Since she was staying overnight with her girlfriends she put a small bag in my car containing her toiletries and a change of clothing. We then drove over to the house of the party. Since I knew no one there I spent most of the time talking with her. I thought it odd there were no adults and though the party was loud, it was not that rowdy. There was drinking going on and perhaps some marijuana but I was trying to impress her so did not drink much or do any drugs. All of a sudden things got very exciting.

There was a loud banging on the door with the new visitors yelling “This is the police, open up immediately.” To this day I don’t know why the police arrived though probably a neighbor complained of the noise and the police overreacted. Before anyone could open the door, the police knocked down the door and police dogs and police were running all through the home. People started jumping out the windows, everyone was screaming and general pandemonium ensued. The rest of us were rounded up and put into police vans.

We were hauled off to the county jail where we were given a chance to make one phone call. There was no way I was going to call my parents and tell them I was in jail on charges of underage drinking. Then we were told we would be spending the night in jail and released in the morning. Being an optimist I thought at least I would be with my girl overnight but they put the males in separate cells from the females. In the morning we were released and she profusely apologized for what had happened. I told her it was no fault of hers and I would call her later. Our court date was set for a month later and I returned to the party house to get my car.

Since it was now Saturday morning I decided I might as well go straight to work and drove there directly. What had happened overnight was that my parents freaked out when I never came home from my date. They called every hospital in the area looking for me and finally called the police who informed them that I had been arrested and put in jail then subsequently released. Dad decided to go to the store where I worked, looking for me. He saw my car in the parking lot, looked inside (remember, people didn’t lock their cars back then) opened the door and guess what he found? Her overnight bag. He jumped to the conclusion that I had planned to stay overnight with her which actually was a very logical conclusion. He stormed into the store looking for me and we had very harsh words for each other. I went home with him then Mom tore into me though actually they were more worried about me than mad at me.

The following month was rough since Mom and Dad did not believe I actually did not plan to have sex with my date though the discovered overnight bag in my car was pretty convincing evidence. Actually they were madder at her since I was the oldest and only son. Her family visited me at work and also apologized for everything. Finally our court date came around and my parents were required to be with me since I was a minor. My sentence was just a small fine and a warning to not engage in illegal activities again. Unfortunately her parents then came over to apologize to Mom and Dad. Upon discovering the family was of Mexican descent my folks freaked out again and the encounter became very nasty. I apologized to her family and we all went home.

I know this makes my parents look prejudiced against minorities but we grew up in a small farming community and there just were no other people in their social circles other than white folk. It was the late 1960s with the racial riots in the major cities, people divided over the Vietnam War, the flower child peace movement, the cold war and a general upheaval of everyone’s beliefs in what was right and wrong. To my parents the world was going to hell in a handbasket and they could not communicate with their only son. In later years they finally became more open minded and actually much more liberal.

Still, there was now an even larger rift between us and I decided that the only way to get things back together was to let time pass and go away. Unfortunately it was 1968 and the U.S. government was coming after all the young males with the draft and the number of casualties from the Vietnam War was growing quickly. Too many people that were drafted were coming home in a box. So the choices were narrowed down to waiting for the draft to get me and hope I did not go to a combat zone in a country on the other side of the world or enlist in order to have some choices. If you enlisted in the Army you could choose your type of training but you would have to serve three years instead of two but it seemed worth it since shooting people that had done nothing wrong to me was something I could not handle nor comprehend.

I did my research to determine what I wanted to be in the Army with emphasis on weapons that did not work well in a jungle war. Going to the nearest recruitment office I asked if they could guarantee that upon enlistment my training would be an electronic technician on a particular missile system. They guaranteed it and I signed on the dotted line. That night I informed Mom and Dad I would be leaving to join the Army and they refused to let me go but being 18, they could not stop me. Another huge argument but nothing they could do since I had already signed up though I was frightened to death.

I had to immediately report to the recruitment center and the next few days were some of the worst in my life for many reasons. First were all the medical tests and signing of more documents then they gathered all the recruits to be bussed to basic training. This all happened in Chicago which is in Cook County, home of some of the worst crime in the state if not Midwest. During those times, judges were passing out “get out of jail free” cards in their courts by imposing a jail sentence or the person could join the Army. As a result, many of my new mates came from backgrounds a little more dicey than mine. This became especially apparent when everyone was asked to empty their pockets before getting on the bus and I had never seen so many knives, brass knuckles, a few guns and other items to cause injury. This farm boy was getting worried about sleeping that night.

The next two months of basic training is another whole story and I did not enjoy the next three years but the Army did straighten me out finally. Oh, by the way, I received my draft notice just twp weeks into my basic training so I had the right decision. You learn humility and conformity quickly when everyone outranks you and punishment is swift from both the drill sergeants and your training mates. You did not want to get the whole platoon punished when you failed to accomplish some task or slowed everyone down in a forced march. And they were more physical in the punishments back then. I have to admit that the Army knew how to train. I never learned so much in such a short period of time. Eventually I think I could have repaired anything on the whole missile system.

After my three years of service I returned home and though I moved out soon thereafter to start the adventure of my own life and career, I had finally learned respect for Mom and Dad not to mention many others. We got along very well from then on and I learned to play better with those that shared my sandbox. Using the benefits of the G.I Bill I went on to get a technical degree in computers, a BS in office systems and a MBA in business. Not bad for someone expelled from high school!

I will always remember how one date with the Latina woman brought everything to a boil and put me on a better path of life. So luck does play an important part in everyone’s life. Who knows where I would be if not for that incident pushing me into the Army? Probably no decent career, forever a chip on my shoulder and probably never meeting Amy whom I have now lived and enjoyed life with for 44 years. Instead, travel around the world, several wonderful careers, helping others and learning how privileged I actually was and am.

Thank goodness for second chances and Roberto’s sister. I wonder where she is now and what happened to her?

Amy and Darrell Much Later