Secured Love

Received a text from friend.  “Want to get together at Cassidy’s ( Hinckley MN) 5:00 p.m. on 2/12/17 ?”  I saw the group listing.   My amigos, my life long Pards, who God put in my way and I have been tripping over, thankfully, ever since.  I knew there would be no other invitees, not for this.  It had been 25 years since we four met at that restaurant to celebrate Valentines Day with our wives, me newly married.  Sixty-six minus twenty five =Forty-One…prime time years.  Now, we were on the final roller coaster curve, slanting into the off ramp with diminishing speed.  Hell yes we would be there.

 

It would be a book.  Nothing different than you’all I am reckoning.  But what an amazing one.  We are talking third grade to grey hair…slicing through life’s seasons and still being truly friends.  It was a great night.  Buttsy and Debby, Smitty and Lynn, Sam and Sue. Amy and me!   The atmosphere was a warm water rinse of lathered hands after a day of hard work.  Simplistic in measure…a hoodie against a cold breeze.  No pretense as the need of facade had never taken hold.  It would never have a chance…not now.

 

I was taken aback when Sam had us open gifts for each couple.  There, on a background of a lake, his lake, was a poem, written “on the road.”  He had premised that he had lost it years ago and I do remember looking for it in some area of my notes and  writings, but it never appeared.  I thought it gone.  That is Sam…playfully tolerant.  They all are characters (not our wives!) and each brought an element to make the whole.  Not really to understand but to complicity be thankful.  Billy’s immediacy of chuckled one liners, Smitty the author of Smitticisms: “don’t ask me, your the wordsmith, I’m just a Smith.”   Solid in depth and all having one another’s back, even when years lapsed between handshakes.

 

“He came up to me at work, when we were together for those two years, and said he would see me later.  ‘Yeah, o.k., see you tomorrow.’  And he said no, he was taking off.”  (Smitty, Sam and Butts were married.  I was the last.)  “I said, where?  And Wac said somewhere S.E.  I knew that could be anywhere.  And then he was gone.  Didn’t see him for a year and a half.  But I did get this poem.”

 

I am not sure where it was written, nor why.  But It was.  And here he produced it in a beautifully framed background picture, which in and by itself, invoked memories.  And it ‘hit’ home.  We were there, in the boat, any of the four of us, pursuing once more the crappies and sunfish that we so enjoyed fishing for.

Lost in thought, they drifted, lazily, uncaring.

Years, man’s depth finder echoed back sixty plus

as waves lapped sides, skull umbrellas pulled low.

Over hidden mysteries floated two, silent, unvarying.

 

Bobbers, anchored to the cane, high above unknown.

Been awhile, drifted the varying currents,

but back they were, youthful no more.

Test of eight gauged past, future, the prey, still unborn.

 

Wiser, not much, but learned could not but be

as pencils drew closer, excitement long since contained.

No other stirring on lake, alone to themselves.

Nature had hurt not, they had come to pay the final fee.

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Descending hooks below, they readied technique of the skilled,

relaxed when called for, ridged when a must.

Slack taken up, hands tight on their rods

jerked high, pulled in, placed in basket almost filled.

Always, D     1978

 

What is truly amazing is a love shared.  But more to each core are the amazing women who have stayed true to four nomads who never wavered from each other and covered them from life’s worst with a blanket of love given freely and openly.  We four could not have been more blessed.  And that stands the test of mortal time.

Cheers to all

and love with sunshine

The Wac

 

 

 

 

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Finding Common Ground

Have not hear rhetoric so heated for a long time.  Fabric being ripped and the soul of a country being tested.  If you saw the movie Deliverance, you know the ending.

There was sunshine…in an uncommon place, when least expected.

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The Gift

unnamed-1December 2015 was crazy.  Literally.  Besides MY birthday on the 19th…we had the various functions of attention and attendance for the upcoming wedding of Ellie, my youngest, to take place on Jan. 10th 2016  (Uncle Billy’s birthday, who would do the honors of unification before God and State.) Thankfully, wedding preparations fall to the feminine side of families, for the most part, so I just had to show up where as Dad I was supposed to.

Christmas Eve to the Cities, Christmas day, Day after, Sadie’s birthday on the 27th, Ellie’s on the 28th and the run up to the magical 10th.  The girls were very content to celebrate their ‘days’ with a favorite meal and dessert with some cards and presents thrown in. Thankfully.

By the wedding day, which sketched a new ‘high’ in my experience notebook, I was ready to plunge down the ‘Sugar coated mountain’ and isolate.  Human contact kept to a minimum, or if extreme in statement, sit in a chair by myself and and practice numbness for a week.  Delightful, wonderful, celebratory, and exhausting.

2016 December carried many of the same excepting the hubris of the wedding.  After 2015, though missing the greatest day of my life thus far, it was a supremely ordinary; ordinary to our family excepting we now had two who live 900 miles away.  They would return on the 22nd.  I could celebrate twice, no worries!!

The girls each asked for a different birthday setting; Sadie desired to have friends from different parts of her life come over for food and games.  Excepting a tug a war between two attendees during the ‘musical chair’ card game named Spoons when two contestants, unknown to the other, decided not to let go of the last spoon, it was fun.  (Reminds me of Grma Honey, patch over one eye, at 89, fighting Ellie for the last one few years ago.  They knew each other!)   Least I am told that took place.  I was gone.  Went to bed at 7:00. Sleeping and pain pills ingested, headphones wrapped on the conning tower.  Sadie enjoyed.

Ellie had let her mother know that she wanted to go skating on her birthday.  When she was young, Amy would go and shovel the pond down below our yellow house on the hill.  (We originally named it Whispering Birch – yeah, lots of birch.  But when you have 3-5 dogs on hand at any one time and a testosterone amped rooster…whispering seems a feeble explanatory adjective.)  My friend Bobby sent me an aerial photograph that he took while working at the Pentagon (holy crap, what other pictures does he have…not my favorite place to…????) and he called it the Ponderosa.  I liked that and have been using it since, but don’t tell the girls, they all think the original is still in vogue – it is, just not to me.  So Amy for four straight nights kept the pond cleared so the family all could go skating on the 28th.  A labor of love.

Amy had shoveled the rink year after year for skating and play.  At least until the snow god got tired of her messing with it and dumped a foot or so.  Usually after dark with the pond moon lit, the bigger dogs out running around, smelling and playing.  I would watch from a window.  It had a sense of mysticism to me.

All the girls would skate a time or two in the beginning, but soon Sadie would kick off her skates and go hunting further in the swamp for natural items of interest or build herself a wigwam of cattails.  Amy never could find skates that did not torture and bailed quickly. And me?   My skating was over years earlier.  But I would hike down when imploringly asked to play the ‘bad Grinch’ and try to catch Ells as she skated around a little island in the middle of the pond.  She in skates and I boots.  I hung in there usually up to an hour, longer than Mom and Sadie, but after that the pond was Ellie’s.  She would stay, skating and twirling, exploring the thrill of the glide, the ease of movement and, I hope, the wind in her hair…oh, forgot, she wore a hat.  This all began when the girls were in grade school and carried on thru high school.   It had been a number of years. She wanted to go again, with the family and Cheol Oh.

The pond had a light dusting on it with the sun playing peek a boo most of the day.  I left a message when leaving to call me when the skate was to commence.  I wanted to drive home and watch.  I had a good vantage point above the pond on an access road.  I was texted that 3:00 would be the time.  I left a little later than I wanted, but got to the spot at 3:20.  No one there.  I waited, obviously, and was about to text to ask the whereabouts of the ‘troops,’ when down the hill from the garage, bodies were moving.   Dogs first:  Evelyn Jane the Cane Corso Mastiff, Jayce Douglas the brown and white Border Collie, Tommy Lee a super sized Pekinese, Bentley Arthur the hound dog who came into the fold this autumn and then of course Pickles Dilly, Ellie’s lovable brat who is Tommy’s mom.   Bentley was singing his heart out while the others zigzagged their way to the pond.  I watched and smiled.

Oh, but you should have seen.  Cheol Oh insisted he had to wear a helmet, so Sadie supplied this 225 lb brother in law her riding helmet, which when worn looks like a mushroom that hiccuped.  Sadie did not want to fall, so she was carrying one of my old hockey sticks.  Amy was carrying two large fold up chairs along with her torture implements.  The dogs hit the ice.  Bentley went into an immediate slide and hollered his head off.  Jayce in super motion circled the perimeter.  The Pekes poked around the marsh grass.  They were loving it.

The chairs were set in place and Amy began lacing skates, Ellie first.  Cheol Oh needed help in getting his tight enough so he was next.  Then Sadie.  A mom all the way!  After they all got off skating and it was truly fun, watching up in the confines of Amanti, my 16 year old car. Ellie began a little ragged, but started to have some of the old smoothness return after a few minutes. Cheol Oh looked like me trying to walk down a hall with my ‘stilts.’  His head a black cropping.  Sadie, well, all I heard was “I don’t want to fall!”  And meaning it.  Amy had to be worn out getting this pack all on the ice at the same time and of course the dogs tried jumping on each and the skaters, making balancing that much harder.  The woman that she is, Amy joined for a lap or two, then took a seat to watch the spectacle.  All acknowledged me up above watching from the car.  I waved back.  The sun was opting clear in the background, shining on the scene.  Rockwell??

Sadie did not fall, but I think she sat down pretty quick.  That left the ice to Ellie and Cheol Oh.  Now these two are competitive.  Play them.  So of course, after a while the RACE had to take place.  Twice around the island.  ‘Robot man’ vs ‘Electric glide.’  Ellie had him in speed and style.  Cheol Oh had her in elbows and girth.  Both had the drive.

They took off and I thought for sure Ellie would take care of him from the start.  But it remained close (Ellie would NEVER let him win to be nice, trust me.  Like her mom -giggle!!)  A little of the rustiness showed on the corners and of course the ‘girth’ seemed to always move in her direction.  Oh such fun watching.  I was laughing out loud.  Then in the final turn and E.G. seemingly gliding to the finish ahead of the Robot it happened.  Cheol Oh, being athletic, flung himself into the air, a complete layout, landing on the ice in a headfirst slide, though not sure he slid real far.  The action caught me so appreciative and unaware, I truly do not know who won!  No matter, the laughter was echoing from below (anyone ever hear Sadie let loose?!)  The dogs all wanted to give him a licking at the same time to show their affection.  Ellie was either doubled up in laughter or pretty tired.  I think laughter.

It was time to go.  But I waited just a minute more to look upon the scene.  My family, the whole lot (well, no, horses and chickens excepted) were down in a bowl like setting, the sun beginning to set, the air dry and clean, the day closing, laughter ringing….

I began to head back to town.  I was gifted to the extreme.

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The Bid

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The glint of sun “rouged’ the dappled sky, patting color to the grey clouds.  But the early makeover could not take away from the fecklessness in her depth.  She was feeling the nip of depression; teething on her internals.  Anxiety suffocation.  The auction would begin around 9:00 a.m.  She had never been to one.  Today she had no choice.  It was March.  A year now since she arrived.  The farm lacked feed for Jim, Grpa’s horse.  The green in the piggy bank leveled at sparse.

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It had not been a tough winter, outside of ordinary, but it had frayed and strained nerves with its long grey days attended by dreary fatigue that seemed to envelop everything. March added rain, sleet and damp snow, covering what little snow remained.   Hay was at a premium.  A scarcity vexed by a wet summer allowed only two cuttings instead of three; the first crop ruined and the second one left with inadequate drying time prior to baling. Animal pasture was limited too as puddles dappled grass.  The result produced price shock and winter fodder ‘dried up.’  This March auction was critical.

Jim was old.  He had been pressed upon Sarah when Grpa had died and willed her the farm. She had ridden him when she was little and had childhood affection.  Jim, however, was and always would be Grpa’s.  The two of the them together dignified the simplistic love of man and animal.  Gpa had entered Jim in the County Fair a time or two with no false presumptions.   He ‘placed’ once, but that was the only top shelf trophy.  Did not matter. Least ways to Jim.  Twenty-nine years together.  Grpa lost his teeth first.

When she morphed to adulthood her artistic and scholastic endeavors took her ‘off the farm’ and settled her down on the East Coast where she pursued an Art History Major, graduating from New York University.  She went with Grpa’a blessings and some financial help.  Sarah stayed East after cap and gown year and though her income was sparse relative to the environs, she was content.  She nanny-ed and taught at a private school. She was entranced with the lights of the City, the multiplicity of life.  Her roots were cast aside.  Until she was “summoned” home.  It was Spring.

She had come home to care for him.  It was he who had raised her after the accident. Sarah had healed.  Her parents died.  Grpa still worked the farm some, a ghost of himself.  Sarah helped where she could.  She struggled, with the chore life and caring for Grpa. It was not “her,”  nothing of his life ran through her veins. She liked the innate beauty, her youth recalled, but chores sucked the beauty away.  She much preferred her pastures and cows on canvass, not close up and personal.  Though there was no specified time frame left, it was expected his life would evacuate in a year or less.  She had taken leave from her teaching assignment a couple of months early and the family where she took care of the little one wished her well and picked out another nanny.  When she arrived, the appearance of Grpa startled her.   But he kept up, just much slower.  They worked the cows into mid summer, then both realized it was time for the animals to depart.  She was thankful that he was lucid so to help her with arrangements to dispatch them.  Except Jim. In a quiet moment, speaking in whispers while on his bed, set in the living room, he had asked Sarah but one thing.  To care for Jim until he too passed.  That was his only wish. Everything else was Sarah’s to make final decisions on.  Sarah loved ‘Pa.  It was natural to say yes, but deep down she hoped the old fellow would catch the same train Grpa was going to take.  At the same time Sarah could hope.  A sadness sank deep.  A weary push/pull on her heart.  More than a few nights Sarah cried softly toward his end.

Grpa passed that September, when the beginnings of color splashed on the varied foliage. Where the solitude of that summer had freshened her soul during the trying time, the colors specking that Fall in increasing arrangements, variety and realness, rubbed raw.  It also confided memories.  She had forgotten the Season of Color’s  aptitude what with her world being the assorted spray paint decoration on rail cars and buildings.  But income scarcity compounded with her anxiousness to have the settlement concluded prior to the intervention of snow and cold allowed her concern to accelerate.  The rhythm of her life drummed harder toward the muses of the East.  It was time.

When he passed she thought she would ‘close up shop’ soon after the burial, but the estate sale was delayed, the paperwork stalled.  All of the animals were dead or gone, except Jim.  Finding a home at this time of year and the given hay shortage were becoming a burden she did not expect.  When she approached the locals, they wished her well, but no one offered stall space.  His age produced no usage.  A large ‘lawn ornament.’  Some suggested she should put him down.  He was total expense.  But she could not make such a move.  Not with the freshness of death lingering.  Her promise.  She was stonewalled in her pursuit and shackled to the promise.  Such then prevailed a destitution which would not be concluded until Jim was gone.  Would he really care…now?

Her going home to care had strained a relationship; then shredded it.  She was hurt, but the break was not unexpected.  She found strength in the old farm and the ‘songs’ each day provided, chores excepted.  While caring, she tried some part time fillers until it became apparent that she was not able to do both.  Her Grpa needed her more on the constant.  Since the passing, the quietness of the country ‘refrain’ had started to produce a tautness of uncustomary inability which she applied being busy to help buffer.  She abhorred loss of control and the pieces of her life now were interacting to produce doubt. The Farm had become an anchor.  Money was shorn tight and would not be freshened until the sale.  Sarah became hesitant and doubtful.  The kaleidoscope of the City’s clamors were missed.  She knew that she needed to do something, but the immediate grappled with her.  Besides the liquidation of the Farm, she felt the pang of caring for Jim, with nothing really available…or happening on either end of the rope.

Sarah went out by the lean-to and found Jim behind it, out of the wind.  She slogged over to him and rubbed his nose.  He pushed on her hand.  The brown milky eyes stayed constant to her face.  Bending, she touched his nose with hers.  A sigh slipped through her lips.  Turning, she let her hand slide softly off his nozzle and headed to the old truck, head tucked in a hooded sweatshirt layered under a canvas coat.  Oil stains for decorations. Grpa’s.

Jones was at Hidleberger’s  early.   He took a styrofoam cup and poured dark black coffee into it.  It had been a while.  He looked around but did not recognize anyone. He was not noticed.  Even Lucy behind the counter did not recognize him nor acknowledge, though to her credit she was busy getting the bidding numbers organized to the auctioneer’s clipboard.  Jones was a wiry, small and leathered man, cloaked in pants and coat long in the sleeves.  Not typical farm attire excepting the hat.  An insulated ball style cap.  A green stained John Deere with ear flaps untied and the tips limply curled down.  Jones exited quietly.  Age was a benefactor now.

As he stepped away, his hand crossed over his chest to retrieve a cigarette from the left breast pocket.   Cupping his hands, He lit it, allowing the smoke to exit his nose and side of mouth.  Ready now to confront the dampness of the morning with nicotine and caffeine coursing arterially.  He wore no gloves over veined calloused hands.  With the cigarette in the left hand and coffee in the right, he proceeded to examine the hay for sale, slowly making his way down past the various stacks of square and round bales, sectioned in lots for separate bidding.

Sarah hooked up the 10 foot trailer to her Grandfather’s twenty year old pick up.  The lights had quit years previous.  The drive to the auction was about fifteen minutes.  She reached in her purse and took out a pack of nicotine gum, extracting one as she pulled slowly out of the drive onto the county road.  A cigarette would have been grand.

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They slowly arrived in pickups and older cars.  Hooded sweatshirts were common along with canvas outerwear and blue jeans, usually over cotton long johns.  They were mostly men, with a lady or two among them, mostly wives.  Lucy was behind the desk in the office preparing the necessary auction bid sheets and numbers.  She was a fixture to all.

The selections were not good.  Fair or Utility at best.  Older hay drug out of back lofts and sheds long stored.   No Premium or Good to be found.  The hay either old or moisture molded.  They examined each stack quickly, conclusively, but with little haste.  The bidders would winnow out the ones they desired and focus on these, while maintaining surveillance on what was happening with the whole.  The need to adjust quickly might occur.  Individually and in twos or threes the bidders made their decisions. The auction should not demanded extreme pricing, but given the scarcity and the need, the outcome would depend on the set minimums, if any, and the pursuant bidding pressure.

Sarah drove in, turning into the left corner of the lot.  As she exited the truck, she pulled on a white stocking cap under the hood and neck wrapped a red scarf to block the stiffening wind.  She ducked under the strap of her purse and began walking toward the mingling crowd.  Quiet banter could be heard from small interacting groups amongst the bales. She was noticed with slight nods.

Sarah saw the sign for the office and made her way to the three steps leading to the door.   She was just about to enter when three men came out.  Backing down, she let them pass, then moved quickly to get in before others came.  The smell of burnt coffee and ‘farm odor’ greeted her.  She glanced at the clock.  8:45.  Fifteen minutes.  She had cut the time close.  She approached the desk.  Lucy greeted her with a quick hello and took down her name on a line with a number, handing her a white cardboard square with the same number on it, her bid number.

As Sarah slid out the door, by-passing a group at the bottom of the steps drinking coffee, she moved quickly to the end where the hay would be auctioned last.  Not as many people so she could see better.  It was where the smaller square bales were. As she inspected, walking faster than she wanted, she heard the horn signalling the start and moved slowly up the line to where the auctioneer began to sound out in rhythmic cadence the bid pricing. She could not truly follow what he was saying except a price shouted out here and there. The men around would slightly raise a hand if they were in engaged, until all were bid out except one.  The auction per hay group did not last long. The pace unnerved her. Sara wondered if she had enough money for anything!  She took what she brought out of her purse and slipped it in her mitten.  Tension increased as the men moved quietly down the aisle, each seemingly knowing exactly what they were doing and what they wanted. No real notice of her.  It was all business.

She knew good hay.  Her Grandfather always had ‘put up’ good.  These were of no such measure.  She knew she should pick out a couple stacks to perhaps try some bidding, but only one looked to be anywhere close to what she could spend, especially after she saw the cost of the early action.  She pulled out her bills and slipped them inside her left mitten.  $80.  These bales, sordid as they seemed, were going for a market price of 6-10 dollars per bale.  The rolls higher. She saw that she really had only one block that might give her a chance.  She went ahead of the bidding, to it, and waited.

Jones had seen Sarah earlier, shortly after she had exited the office.  A girl was different yes, but her youth attended him more.  He smiled. He kept her in sight as he worked the edges of the moving group.  When the auction got to Sarah, perhaps half the bidders were left.  The stack was not the last, but there were not many more.  Jones stood a person away from Sarah, listening.  He scanned the group and ‘took in’ the mix that was left.  Perhaps a couple might be interested in bidding, but Jones had made up his mind.

He looked at Sarah and quickly surmised the need, the anxiousness, the ‘wishing I was somewhere else but desperate look.’  The lot seemed too small for most.  He weaved away from Sarah and in a low bass echoed, “let the youngun have it, let the girl have it.”  He angled through the men and though they heard him remained properly expressionless. “Let it go, let her have it.”  He worked the whole, then stood near her. And waited.  Her attention was totally focused on the ‘Cantor.’  Jones was invisible.

The auctioneer opened up and began the staccato chant, a price at which he had sold the previous batch.  $6.50/bale.  No takers.  He looked about, at the bales, and then dropped to the basement level.

Sarah jolted to attention when she heard $3.00.   The starting number had chinked her heart.  Now she swallowed, took a quick shallow breath and raised her hand.  An emphatically “$3.00” blew past her, then a quickly resounding, “now who will make it $3.50?” the voice was all steel, not tinny.  She was startled.  Sarah raised her hand again. “We got $3.50 who’ll make it $4.oo?”  Sarah felt a hand on her elbow and a low voice spoke gently into her ear.  “You’re bidding against yrself.”  Crimson flamed across her face.  She looked at her feet then to her elbow.  No one there and no face looked at her to acknowledge.  The megaphone voice kept calling…  “$3.50… $4.00?  $3.50…$4.00….” Was it echoing?  Not a man seemed interested.  They stood stolid but uninspired.  The auctioneer could see that some reckoning had happened. He truncated the bidding. “Sold!”

As the group milled to the next, a man came up and gave Sarah a slip of paper on which her bid of $3.50/bale was written.   She had bid and won 20 bales of hay, twice!  And she was the only bidder.  Stunned stiffness slowly ebbed, replaced with thankful relief.  She took the slip and her money inside the office, not wanting to face any rebid!  The business end was concluded quickly.  Exiting, she headed out to get the bales loaded on the trailer and truck.  The auction was concluding as she placed the last of them in the trailer.  It was just past dinner time.  Work to be done for all as they left Heidleberger’s lot.  Milking for most.  Sarah drove slowly.  She rubbed her forehead and felt an ache in her shoulders. Tension still gripped.  But she had done what she needed to.

Realizing a voice saved her from making a complete fool of herself, she smiled when she thought of the men who had not bid.  The ride home had her in puzzling thought, trying to attach one of many faces to a voice.  She just had no idea.  She had been so preoccupied. She wanted to think it was Grpa.  She smiled with that thought.

Jones had started back shortly after Sarah had rung her bid.  He walked down the right side of the road in a slow easy shuffle.   He wasn’t quite sure where he was going.  But it did not matter.  The freshness felt good to him.  The smells,sights and Heidlebergers had give a harmony to his frustrated mind.

A truck pulled close.  He heard his name ‘Jonesy’ spoken out.  The man reached across and opened the passenger side door.  Jones took the proffered ride.  He was not sure where he was being taken.  They drove past farms and fields.  Jones looked at all, seeing with depth but with little understanding.

The truck rolled up to the red brick building and the driver got out.  Jones started to slide out his door as the man came up to him and smiled.  Then he gently walked Jones inside the building where many people in wheelchairs, walkers and crutches milled about.  The man went to the desk and informed a blue clad lady about his ‘friend.’  The lady placed her hands on her hips and gave out a large laugh/sigh.  “Oh Jonsey, where were you off too?? You know you cannot leave the building like that.  You’ll get lost!  Then what would we say to your granddaughter if that were to happen, huh?!”

Jonesy was not sure where he had been, but he felt good.  He looked at the lady and smiled. “I was with her this afternoon.”

That evening, Sarah stroked Jim as he ate.   A small tear formed in her eye.  She would be back in the City soon.

farm-woman

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The Imperfect Tree

31 Croft Road

tree

The long, grainey drive stretched narrowly about an eighth of a mile from  County Rd A splitting the homestead.   The barn with attending milk shed sat on the north side, long used stanchions now quiet with the manure wagon abandoned in back.  The chicken coop to the west faced it like an old tired friend with its crusted floor and an entry door hinged by one.  The two story L-shaped house had a garage with a flap down door which pulled out and in.  The tractor was in an open end shed where the drive ran out of hard packed sand.

old-farm-house

A soot glazed chimney sat on the outside of the kitchen with an add-on porch stuck in where the L had formed cleavage.  Red brick splayed atop the roof marked the now dormant smoke stack, plastered on the interior to keep the bats at bay as well as…

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The Imperfect Tree

 

tree

 

The long, grainey drive stretched narrowly about an eighth of a mile from  County Rd A splitting the homestead.   The barn with attending milk shed sat on the north side, long used stanchions now quiet with the manure wagon abandoned in back.  The chicken coop to the west faced it like an old tired friend with its crusted floor and an entry door hinged by one.  The two story L-shaped house had a garage with a flap down door which pulled out and in.  The tractor was in an open end shed where the drive ran out of hard packed sand.

old-farm-house

A soot glazed chimney sat on the outside of the kitchen with an add-on porch stuck in where the L had formed cleavage.  Red brick splayed atop the roof marked the now dormant smoke stack, plastered on the interior to keep the bats at bay as well as other critters that could and did find the confines tempting.   Displayed was the intrusiveness of age.  He had long ago closed off the house for winter by placing straw bales all around the foundation, shutting off the upstairs with 1/2 inch plywood cut to measure and then placed plastic over the entryway of the unused living room to prevent heat from escaping.  He slept on a cot in the kitchen.  The bathroom was usable, but he dared not try if the temperature dropped deep.  He handled the necessities manually then.

Where once black and white cows produced milk and metal milk containers were placed in the milk house until collection, there was but rusted stanchions and broken concrete. There were never more than 50.  He could do 25 at one time.  The chicken coop from which the heralding of the day or the excited cackling of a produced egg had occurred sat quiet. Paint had peeled from its exterior to allow rot.  The chickens had been butchered years earlier.

To the front facing the blacktop stood tall Scot pines specifically planted when the stakes for the homestead had been driven.  To the Northwest running south were the Boxelders, their quick growth utility and twisted branches forming the wind barrier, prevailing from the Northwest.

Dierk moved slowly to the armless wooden chair beside the wood furnace.   He sat and took one of the black rubber boots and leveraged it over his worn leather one.  Thick fingers grasped and pulled.  Once on, he sat back and reached for the coffee pot warming on the stove.  Off the pine scratched table he grasped the sides of the ceramic cup, a coffee ring marking earlier use.  The fingers could not fit the handle.  Deep black coffee with a hint of heat tipped into the cup.  The rust tasting coffee thick in age felt good.  He replaced the cup on the table.   Resting one arm on his crusted bibs he placed the other ‘outer’ on.   He sat.

The Box Elders had been stripped bare by the winds of November and the land now sat waiting under more than a foot of white.  The necessary winter chores now became less so. The long drive was open enough for the Ford half ton to get in and out with its chains on. The tractor bore the steel mail on its tires as well.  The gravity plow preserved the opening if not fast, assuredly.  The path to the both garage and shed were shoveled only when the snow became intolerable.  The farm was dormant.  He was the only one.

They had married young.  She a neighbor whom he had known his whole life.  ‘Married up’ they said to which he usually nodded affirmatively.  It occasioned the knowing slight smile.  Three children they had to bless over three miscarriages. Where she could take over a room with trilling laughter and mirth, he was stolidly content to just be in her presence.   The children.

He bowed his head slightly and placed his elbows on his legs, hands folded.  The children were heavy on him.

 The youngest but three and could not get her little lungs to overcome the whooping cough.  They had gotten her to town and the doctor but she was frail to begin.  The cough hammered hard.  She died on a chilled March day.

The War had come and his son was off to the Pacific.  A marine.  It was not about pride for him but duty.  How does one even understand an island group named Paulaus? Just that there his son died.  It never said why, the telegram.  Of course the ‘car’ came, but he just politely thanked them and went outside to do his work.  Later he sat in a chair as his wife placed her head on his shoulder and quietly wept.  His eyes were red but then they were always that way.  The outdoors weathered hard on him and his solid body cracked and roughened.  Just the way it was.  That his heart hurt was truth.  He knew.  He stared at the wall and caressed her hair with his calloused red hands.  His remaining daughter was not yet home from college, but would be shortly.  He would hold her up too.

The wedding of his daughter brought a gift of tenderness and salving to protected emotions.  Watching his wife and daughter prepare, when he could, was fond to him. The wedding to a man who seemed good was quietly attended and toasted with neighbors and those of extended family who could come.  The reception was in the yard, with the lushness of summer tuned to the sing along of the animals.  Jim the dog herded anyone that tried to “escape.”  Most had and Dierk commenced to milk.  But not after his wife stood by his side waving the newlyweds goodbye.  He had shook the young man’s hand, looked him in the eye straight and handed his daughter an envelop.  When she opened it as they lost sight of the farm, she found greenbacks in denominations of $1, $5, and $10 bills.  And a note.  ‘Love you, Dad.’

When it came time to get her, three years had gone by.  Three years of his not knowing. That young man drank.  He hit his daughter.  It was an emotion that was so far from his understanding and his tolerance.  He pulled into their drive and had gotten out of the pickup.  No one knew he was coming.  His daughter had answered the door.  She acted happily surprised, but the redness of her eyes, which he knew did not come from the wind, and the black and blue marks on her neck told otherwise.  He calmly took her hand after the hug and told her to pack, she was coming home.  The boy was not home.  She obeyed as if in a trance.  On the drive she sobbed uncontrollably.   He rested his arm around her shoulder as she became his little girl and lay against him.  He never looked in his rear view mirror.

The healing took time, but time is what she needed.  And her mother.  Both balmed her and healing came slowly.  He handled the boy.  When the next one came, he did not do much different, except they went behind the barn to talk.  The conversation went well.  Neither his daughter nor his wife knew.  This man was good.  But now distance would become a chasm.  His occupation required him to move to the West Coast.  The Pastor married them and they were gone.  Neither had wanted anything but.  Both had felt the hollowness of a previous union broken.

As the years passed so too the opportunity for grandchildren.  The visits brief in coming as they were, became less so.   And then the phone rang late one night.  Car…totaled…drunk driver.  Sorry to inform…. He was thankful he had taken the call.  The next days, weeks, months were filled with numbness.  He did what he knew how, worked, and watched silently over his wife.

They had grown up in the Faith.  Christian.  All the tenants and posturing that went with it.  But after his daughter’s death, Evelyn, his wife, began to attend a different “Bible” study, one that was not frivolous and searched the deeper meaning, explored the essence of logic to posture a faith and begin to unwind an essence…essence in the frailty of life and the Holiness of God.  She had told him.  And he listened.  And the bedrock she explained was the authority of God’s Word.   Yes, he knew that?!  But what did he know about it?  He listened to what the Pastor said.  Was he missing something?

She passed in 1960.  Woman’s cancer.  He had told the doctor not ‘to hold back horses’ but the cancer was too spread.  No pain he contended.  They did their best. Evelyn was buried in a plot he bought after they knew she would not be long.  He just never had anticipated.  He never had for any of his.  And of course the service was simple.

He farmed into his late seventies.  Then he quit.  And his tolerance for upkeep slipped off the cliff.  He shuttered in and managed.  Answered the phone.  Took in the mail, mostly from somewhere or someone he knew not.  And his being an only child had stunted that side of the family.  Evelyn’s side tried to incorporate and he did go to a Thanksgiving once or twice, but never Christmas.

No, Christmas was his and Evelyns.  Where it had been totally engrossing for her prior to the children leaving, she had changed when the last child was gone.  Now it had become deep.  Deep.  The Holy music dragged the hollows of her heart and lifted her to a level of immersion in love unlike she had believed possible.   She began to strip down the contents of the World’s placement and simplified.  It was when she asked him what he thought of having a ‘Charlie Brown’ Christmas tree and why, he took more notice.  Of course he agreed.  And the two of them would head to the State land and find a ‘shivering’ pine tree needing love.  They put a few decorations on but let it mostly ‘be.’  She would fill the house with the melodic Yuletide songs specific to the Christ.

When they placed the first one is when she explained that her belief in the Gospel is delivered to her heart in a truth that is simple but filling.  It came from the authority of the Bible and that to understand one must let go and learn.  That he would understand she prayed.  He tried.

Hard to shake those old beliefs.  He followed that if he kept his character to church standards he would be doing the right.

He stood up and reached for his jean overcoat, pulling it on over his long johns (constant on him) wool shirt and bibs.  Pulling down the John Deere Hat with flaps, he opened the door while placing yellow cotton gloves over thick hands.  On the porch he went to the far corner and took hold of his crosscut saw and walked out the door.  It was a slow walk.

He had taken some time to think through her speakings to him.  He did not want to just say yes when she asked if he understood.   He was a ponderer at times.  And this took time.  But that last week in the hospital, when they could still converse, he asked how she knew a difference.  The small smile spoke, “because I gave up on myself and gave to God.  And it touches me deep.  Dierk, I learned that you have to forgive all, for all are battling something.  And I cannot do it on my own.  I had to let God do it, but He would not unless I let go.  And I did.  He filled me deep.  He taught me in His Word. I love you so much.  All I have!  I pray peace, Dierk, on you, for you, in you.  I will be blessed any day now.  Please remember, don’t do it yourself.  Let go.  And let His word be your authority.”

He stood outside the door.  Did she say surrender?  The years had passed much like the earlier ones, he holding his character together by will, wit and faith.  The fundamental understanding of God was real…He had felt Him, felt Him, maybe with little understanding, but believed.  But now, these years later, he wanted to pursue more…to the truth.  He was nearing the end here.

“Evelyn, I’m a little hard headed.  But I love you and what you love…and I want to see you again.  Don’t think that is why God wants me to love Him first, I know.  You’re right, we stand before him all by ourselves.  I know He exists, I know He is love, and I know that He is waiting for me to let go.  I believe this because you told me.  And I want to learn more.”

“I’m going to let go.  Today.   And get our tree.  But one that is different.  Imperfect.  Like me.”

And he did.  He ‘quit.’  And let go.

He did not go far, into the Box Elders and found a sapling.  Cutting it he told  himself it was the perfect tree, an ‘imperfect’ tree for the world…as he was imperfect…for Perfection to be placed upon it for him in his place.

Dierk placed the tree on his shoulder and felt…a small glow.  He began walking home.

They found him a week later.  A deep cold spell had come.  The Pastor felt that someone should check on Dierk.  He was found slumped in a living room chair.  In the corner was the Box-elder Tree, tied to opposite window handles to keep from falling.  There was one blue bulb on the tree and three pink and one blue bulb resting at the foot, in a row.  A star was pinned to the highest spot.

A bible was open on his lap.

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The Bench

31 Croft Road

turf-valley-resort-golf-hole-pond 13 tee box13th hole Hialeah, Turf Valley MD.

The golf cart slowed to a stop.  From the passenger side a man in a flowered print shirt pulled his legs from the floor and placed them gingerly on the hot blacktop.  His companion repeated the measure only with athletic smoothness which time had only slightly dented.   It was the 13th hole on the Hialeah 18 at Turf Valley, the annual home of the T-Fest golf and convocation which touched off under, usually, sweltering conditions.  This year was much the same.

Six foursomes had been established consisting of veterans who made consistent attempts to be on hand with newcomers that were coming on the scene, primarily from T- Welsh’s family – shirts and skirts.  The contingent gathered from the mid to upper East Coast and were mostly now dialing in on serious thought to the next course of life, dessert.  The options were as…

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