WAITING

Here I sit, this splendid view before me. Mt. Sopris, about 25 miles away, with its elevation of nearly 13,000 feet. Seriously, could there be anything more beautiful? You’d think the air here on this open deck, at 7500 feet above sea level would be thin enough to give me a sense of euphoria. But I’m not feeling it.  Instead, I’m looking back at my 86 years and wondering if it was worth it all.

Did you ever hear, “You can never be too thin or too rich?” Maybe you can, maybe you can’t, I don’t know.  That thin statement I know isn’t true. Cancer has eaten away almost everything. I couldn’t be thinner, and it’s not a pleasing look.  The rich half of the statement doesn’t make sense, either. It all depends on how you got there and what you do with you riches when you have them.

Ha!  I remember Jack Benny and a schtick he had about being rich.  In one sketch he was being a tightwad about something and someone said, “Jack, you have plenty of money.”  To which he replied, “Yes, but I don’t have it ALL.”

Here I sit, watching the shadows as the sun moves from east to west.  My life.  Am I nearing sundown or the morning of a new day? Did my life, like the Aspen, grow more glorious in the autumn of my life?

Oh how I hate feeling this way.  The pain?  I guess I’m used to it, or the drugs dampen it enough so I just feel bad, with no real reason?  I know I can’t do this.  I can’t sit here feeling worse by the minute.

It’s not just me, not just the pain and sickness.  I’m sick of this world.  I’ll be happy to go to heaven, and yes, I am sure I’m going there. As I sit here on my pity pot I hear you whisper, “You need some Word.”  Yes, I know I do, but I can’t read anymore. My eyes are bad. I do know I need to change my perspective.

My kids tell me not to dwell in the past.  What they don’t know is it blesses me considerably to think about the past, to reminisce.

Like when we came here in the summers when the kids were young. I don’t know why I was so nervous.  When their bikes went flying down the road I was terrified they were going to get hurt.  Now that I think about it, if they hadn’t taken the risk of letting gravity and fast pedaling hurtle them at ever increasing speeds, they would never have known the wind in their faces, here, in a safe place. I can almost hear their delighted screams. What I should have done is grabbed a bike and raced them.

I wish I had.

What do you mean, that’s part of it, the pain, the suffering…?

OH, the regrets.  Times when I had no opportunity to do it over. And you were teaching me all the time, weren’t you? That one strange verse about how this “light affliction is nothing compared to the glory to come.” It’s hard to believe there can be anyplace more beautiful than what is before me.

And you were always there.  I feel your hand, and now, more than ever, your hand warms me.

You are laughing.  At me?  Yes I do remember your name for me is laughter.  It is astonishing to hear you say I bless YOU!  You get a kick out of me…You sing a lover’s song to me.

Where are you pointing…OH! It is stunning! The wheels flash like lightening as they roll down the road. And how like you to have the chariot pulled by a magnificent Friesian horse.  Oh!  Look how his mane and feathers flow like silky black liquid!

Yes, Master, I am ready.  Let’s ride!

Elaine Soerens  Photo by Carl W. Soerens

August 24, 2017

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LOQUATIOUS VERBOSITY

“BAZAC AND ARAFAT!”

There he goes again.  Grandpa could be quite expressive when provoked, and evidently something severely provoked him this morning.

“You single-toed snot-licking parasite!”

Mom stopped him.  “Now what, Dad?  Settle down. What’s going on?

“My blasted toe tore through my sock and now I can’t get my shoe on.  Those bowlegged knock-kneed Chinese can’t even make a decent sock anymore.”

“Your socks were made in the good old US of A, I’ll have you know, and they are well-made.  If you’d let somebody cut your toenails…”

And so they were off again, Mom trying to reason with a resolutely unreasonable old war veteran, and Grandpa with his ever-expanding vocabulary of non-blasphemous curses.

Early years, it bothered me, but as nothing physically violent ever happened, I listened with fascination as the verbal volleys continued.  Both Mom and her dad were certain and persistent, and I hung around so I wouldn’t miss a word.

Once in a while, Grandpa would notice me loitering and he’d stand up and shake his cane at me.

“You, lad.  Yes, you, you lazy boot-licking little arechepennasassafretiner!”

Mom gasped.  “You don’t need to talk like that to the boy.”

I suppose I should have been afraid, but I had all I could do to keep from giggling.  How did he come up with those words?  And I’m pretty sure I saw a twinkle in his eye, though he maintained his furrowed brow.

Dad?  Oh, he left the scene of the battles as soon as they started, and always treated Grandpa with respect.  For his part, my Grandpa was always kind, almost deferential to Dad. One time I heard him tell Dad, “Ed, I sure appreciate you taking her on—I never could handle her,” and he patted Dad on the shoulder.

That time Dad turned around and I’m pretty sure he winked at me.

Sundays were the best.  We’d go to church, of course.  Mom sang in the choir and I sat with Dad and Grandpa.

If I behaved myself, Grandpa would slip me a pink peppermint.  I still have a longing for pink peppermints sometimes.  Of course if I squirmed too much, he’d pinch my leg.  Peppermint or pinches, whichever, took place while he looked straight ahead without changing expression.

When we got home, Mom made the best dinner!  Fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet corn and iceberg lettuce with Miracle Whip.  I’m still looking for fried chicken that tastes as good as what Mom made.  We usually had yellow cake for dessert.

When we finished, Grandpa announced, “Rose, that was a terrible example of ineptitude and ineffectuality.” He’d start clearing the table.  “The single-eyed flea and I will take care of the dishes. You and Ed go upstairs and rest a while.”

Once the dishes were done—he washed, I dried—we took off the tablecloth and the checker board came out.  That old man could smooth clear the board.  When I finally could beat him once in a while, he began teaching me to play chess. It was slow going at first, but eventually I could give him a good game.  The last time we played, he seemed a little slow, and I actually captured his king.

“Checkmate, you old buzzard!”

He slumped over the board, breathing heavily.  “You’re a good lad, snot-licker,” and was gone.

He was 86 years old, and had lived a good life, so it was hard to be too sad, but I sure miss the old goat!  Mom does, too.  She’s even threatens to use some of his names on me.

 

Bull’s Booty

I always said my city-bred-and-born kid couldn’t hit a bull’s booty with a handful of beans, but never, in my wildest dreams did I think his good-for-nothing redneck dad would try to turn him into an elk hunter.  AND, I figured even he—the ex-husband, I mean—wouldn’t be so dim-witted as to try to teach him sharp-shooting in Yellowstone National Park.  Evidently some things, like stupidity, have no limits.

The way I found out about it was when I got a call from a Yellowstone Park Ranger.  When I saw “Wyoming” in caller ID I wasn’t going to answer but then I remembered Jimmy, my son, was on a trip out west somewhere for his summer with Doufas—I mean Jared, Jimmy’s so-called father.

Anyway, I’d just returned from HEBs and was packing away groceries when the call came.

“Ma’am, is Jimmy David Marshall your son?”

“Yes!  Oh my gosh!” I freaked out.  “Is he hurt?  Is he in the hospital?  Tell me what’s going on!”

“No, ma’am, he isn’t injured, but his father is in custody, and you need to come and get the boy.”

Of course I drilled the Ranger about what was going on, and it turns out, Jared, the idjit, had given Jimmy a shotgun.  He said they were in the Wild West and they would have to kill their own food.  So Jimmy, all ten years old of him, took a shot at the backside of a bull elk, which, within the confines of the Park, is frowned upon as you might imagine. Fortunately the Park Police weren’t as IQ challenged as Jared and took him to the Yellowstone City Jail as the custodial parent.

Unbelievable.  No, really.  This was unbelievable.

I asked the Ranger if I could talk to Jared.  He said he’d arrange for him to call me.  So far he had refused to call me, but the Ranger said he would persuade him.

“You moron,” I screamed, when he finally did call.  “How on earth did Jimmy get into the Park far enough to even see an elk?”

“Wull,” he mumbled.  “We was just sight-seeing in my Jeep.  I didn’t know the kid would actually try to shoot something.  We was just play-acting about being in the Wild West.”

“Now what am I supposed to do?” I really couldn’t imagine how I would get from Oatmeal Texas to Yellowstone National Park.  “Are there flights that go there?”

“How am I supposed to know?  You have to get me out of here. There are court costs and all kinds of fines—this is a federal crime, you know, and I’m not even the one who shot the gun.”

That did it. He blamed the kid.

After some more of my detailed clinical diagnosis of his mental capabilities, I told Jared I would notify Monica, his current squeeze, and inform her that if she wanted him back she would have to send by certified mail the required amount of money, and then trust him, if she was so inclined, to drive his sorry behind back to wherever she wanted him to be.

I’ll spare you the details of the long trip out there, the costs involved, and Jimmy’s tears as we drove away.  Suffice it to say, Jimmy and I had several long heart-to-hearts during those more than 1390 miles. I tried to be nice, but my son is quite intuitive and may have picked up the slightest notes of disrespect for his dear daddy.

Maybe Jared will get out in time to take Jimmy for the summer.  Next year.

Photo by Carl W. Soerens

DEJECTION

I’m really hurting, but nobody’s even looking for me. I know Shelby isn’t. I really trusted her. I don’t know what I’m going to do now.

The day started out real nice.  The weather was perfect, still is at five in the afternoon. Eighty degrees, those bright white fluffy clouds floating across the sky, the slight breeze keeping us comfortable…I was hoping to go home feeling like a million bucks.  Now I just feel like, I don’t know—insufficient funds.

I sure know all about getting a check back with nsf marked on it.

I was so hoping I’d win at least one of the competitions today—most accurate costume, for instance.  Not that the prizes paid much but they would have helped.

But no, here I sit here in the shade, feeling like yesterday’s newspaper.  Not worth much besides wrapping potato peelings in.  That’s another thing I thought I’d win—best ranch fried potatoes.  But when Shelby ran off I just lost my heart for cooking for the camp.

As I said, the day started out good.  Shelby was in a good mood and it showed. I probably spent too much on those ribbons but she sure seemed proud to wear them.

Shelby is beautiful and she knows it.  She struts around with her nose in the air, like, “Look at me, ain’t I just gorgeous?” She gets plenty of attention, too.

She usually knows how to behave when she needs to. I guess today just wasn’t her day, or maybe it was something I said. I don’t know.  I didn’t slap her or anything, but when they shot off those cannons she jumped as high as I’ve ever seen her jump, and dumped me in the dirt on my butt before running away. I sure hope nobody was watching.

It’s a heckuva deal when you can’t even trust your own horse.

 

IN THE SHADOWS

It was ridiculous that at the age of twelve I was still afraid of the dark, but there you have it.  We lived out in the country, and there was no reason to suppose there were bogeymen hiding around blind corners.  But there was just something creepy about the church and those big scraggly bushes growing up around it.

The church looked nice enough, not falling down or anything, but there was never anybody there.  It just sat there.  I overheard grownups whisper stories when they didn’t know I was listening—a church split, one story went, and another theory was about a pastor dying or maybe even murdered behind the pulpit one Sunday morning, so nobody wanted to go to church there anymore.

Of course such mysteries made it all the more attractive to my loutish older boy cousins and scarier for me.

Some Sunday afternoons, when our parents were busy in Grandpa’s old house drinking coffee and arguing about what somebody paid for a new combine, cousin Carvel helped himself to the keys of his dad’s pickup and piled us all in to go over to the church property, about a mile and a half from Grandpa’s place.

Mind you, there was nothing there but the church and those bushes, so what could we do?  Well, play hide and seek, of course, and I was never “it,” so I would have to muster up my courage to hide behind one of the bushes.

It was late in the day the last time we played there.  The combination of darkness and deepening shadows nearly paralyzed me.  I ran behind the bush farthest from the front of the church where cousin Marvin was counting to 100.

No moon at all tonight.  No stars, either.

Oh, it is so dark!

Maybe I went too far.

Now I can’t hear the others at all. When will he call ollie ollie oxen free?  Will I hear him?

It’s so quiet.

Should I yell?  I don’t really want anyone to find me.  Carvel once came to where I was hiding and said we could hide together.  I didn’t like that at all.

It’s so quiet.

I feel like crying, but I don’t want them to find me like that.

Oh, I’m really really going to die here.  You can die of being afraid, I just know you can.

I won’t cry.  I won’t!

“Sing, little one.” A sweet voice close beside me. “Sing with me – Jesus, Jesus, Jesus…”

I couldn’t help it.  I ran to her.  She laid her cheek next to mine.  She smelled like lilacs.

So we sang.  Jesus loves me, Jesus loves the little children, Heavenly Sunshine…I guess I fell asleep because the next thing I knew my Daddy picked me up and carried me home.

He had been crying, I could tell, but now he was furious. I’d never seen him so angry.

It seems the boys had come back to grandpa’s house, thinking it was quite the joke to leave me there and not tell anybody where I was.

Mama knew I was scared of the dark, and held me tight, telling me she prayed I wouldn’t be afraid.

“Oh, I was crazy afraid at first, but the lilac lady came and we rested until Daddy came.”

Now every spring, when lilacs perfume the air, I remember her, smile and sing, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, there’s something about that name…”

THE BLUE DOOR

This story, entirely fictional, was inspired by the story of Irena Sendler, a Polish Catholic social worker who saved 2500 Jewish children from the Nazis.

 

Grandfather Visser was a dour old Dutchman, but he had an artistic heart.  He kept an immaculate English-style garden in a small plot of land. Surrounded by dahlias, evening primrose, foxglove and hollyhock, shorter flowers such as love-in-a-mist, columbine and tea rose, gave way to a groundcover of creeping carnations, hosta and lavender.

A tiny white wrought-iron bench served as theater for the actresses I made out of hollyhocks. I sometimes carried them, singing, as I skipped along the stones leading to the blue door.

I was a curious kid, and felt a bit hurt when I neared the door and was rebuked with a sharp, “stay away from there.”  Through dirty windows on each side, I could see hoes and rakes, gardening gloves and baskets Grandfather used when he picked spent blossoms or the occasional impertinent weed. Once I tiptoed around behind the wall and found there was no behind the wall there.  The wall backed up to a tall berm that gave way to a concrete wall along the Prinsengracht canal, one of the main canals in Amsterdam.

Yes, I was a curious little girl, but it never occurred to me to ask Grandfather anything more about my parents after he told me they were “Ze zijn met God in de hemel.” (They are with God in Heaven.)  Perhaps I was afraid to ask more, as Grandfather choked up when he told me.

Details are hazy, but when I was about 10 years old, I met a lady named Josiena Van Der Weele and was told to go with her. My very few belongs were in a cloth sack like one would take to the market.  In the darkest night, we slipped into a light canoe on the North Sea Canal (Noordzeekanal) which took us to the harbor where big ships were boarded. As I said, details are hazy and looking back, I believe Ms. Van Der Weele laced the warm cocoa she gave me with a little something to help me remain quiet.

Once aboard the ship, a sweet couple named Willem and Josephine Bakker took me under their wing and told me I would be living with them from now on.  And so I did, living my life in the United States as Sophia Bakker.

When I think back I marvel at my compliance.  None of my children or grandchildren ever showed such cooperation.

Everything changed in 1975.  I received, by registered courier, a packet from Grandfather Visser’s attorney, notifying me of Grandfather’s death.

In the packet, along with a rusty key, a round-trip ticket to Amsterdam and the deed to Grandfather’s property, I found a cryptic letter from Grandfather.  The letter instructed me to open the blue door, carefully lift the gardening gloves off the hook, and proceed.

Grandfather’s attorney met me at the airport and we water-taxied to the place I spent my first ten years. Nothing felt familiar.

I did remember the blue door.  The garden was in poor condition, and we had to tear vines away from the door. Fitting the key was one thing, turning it was another.  Finally it creaked open.

Wishing I had worn gloves to take hold of the gardening gloves, held together as they were by spider webs, I lifted them from the hook.

Noting clockwise arrows around the hook, I turned it and shrieked when a narrow space opened, just wide enough for me. I almost stepped through, but a string hit me in the face.  A light bulb? Yes! A low wattage bulb revealed before me a sharply pitched stairway.

Normally I’m afraid of the dark and scared of narrow spaces, but now my curiosity was in full flare.  Blessedly I could hang onto a railing as I descended.  Another string pulled and another light came on, revealing…a well-appointed room!

Solid wood beams, a stone floor and walls, and two beds fully made up.  They smelled a bit musty of course, but this was crazy.

I sat at a dusty desk and opened the drawer.  There I found several journals of people who had been sheltered here from 1938-1945. A heavy vellum envelope, with a red wax seal, addressed in Grandfather’s elegant script read simply, “to Sofia only.”

I slipped a shaky finger under the seal.

As it happens, Grandfather Visser was not my Grandfather after all.  He was a shopkeeper whose business was ruined by the Nazis. He witnessed my parents being taken away, and in a moment of reckless bravery, grabbed me and raised me as his own granddaughter.

He lived a quiet life then. The journal wasn’t clear on how he supported himself and me.  During that time, and unbeknownst to me, he dug and fitted out this basement cavern and with Ms. Van Der Weele’s help, rescued hundreds of Jewish children, eventually creating an underground passageway to where canoes were secreted for this purpose.

My real name, he told me, is Hannah Deventer, and my parents were Isaac and Sarah. Jews.

I am forever grateful to the man who saved me and whom I will always remember as Grandfather, and to the Bakkers who raised me, and led me to the saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, my Messiah.

SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL

blacksmithMan, was I depressed the day I walked past the little church on the outskirts of town! It was an offshoot of what had been larger congregation in the church standing high on what was the old Martin property forty years ago.

I never did hear what kind of squabble they got into over at the Dutch church, as we all called First Reformed.

But anyway, this new church I walked by was made up of people who left the bigger church. They called themselves New Life. Kind of a Holy Roller church, from what I heard. And what with this being a nice spring day and all, they had the doors open and were singing up a storm. I could hear it out on the sidewalk. I confess I walked more slowly so I could understand.

“Shackled by a heavy burden…” they sang, starting over again. “Shackled,” that word caught my attention. You see, I’m a blacksmith, or am, at least, as long as I can hold out. The money for blacksmithing just isn’t there anymore. The ranchers do come in to get horseshoes, but most of them have the equipment to shoe the horses themselves. Some of the stuff I used to do for horses, like floating their teeth, owners have their vets do.

Back to “shackles.” We used to make those, back in the day. We’d get the right grade of iron, form it in a white-hot crucible, and send them to the prison system. I always hated making those things, whether they were to be used to hobble a horse or to shackle an inmate.

As I said earlier, business was off. I didn’t know how long I could keep the shop open, and when I walked past the singing church, something inside me rose up and almost made me cry.

“A crying blacksmith.” Now there you have a guy inspiring confidence in prospective customers!

I knew I looked a sight, but I was so choked up I couldn’t help myself. The door was wide open so I went inside, dirty overalls and raggedy shirt and all.

Funniest thing: Right near the back door there, a fancy, elegantly dressed lady,—I learned later she was the mother of one of the Deacons—extended her hand and kinda pulled me into her row of chairs.

You know how it goes. The deep blue funk I was in cleared up as soon as I asked Jesus into my heart.

Deacon Bakker and his wife had me over for dinner, and while I was at their house I noticed several pieces of iron fashioned into lovely shapes and designs.

They were—still are—a sweet couple, and the food was fabulous—meat and potatoes in a savory stew. In my opinion, perfect for Sunday after church. They didn’t have too many questions of course. It’s a small town and everybody knows everybody which is comforting…most of the time.
Iron art was all over the place. Wall hangings, sculptures, even a ferocious lion…I couldn’t take my eyes off them. Finally I asked where they found those beautiful pieces. That’s when Mrs. Bakker told me that her maiden name was Bogaard and her father was the first owner of my blacksmith shop. He kept very busy in those days, but when he had time, “He played,” she said, fashioning unique and lovely objects out of bits of iron around the shop.

Now I’m actually making quite good money for the items I make—little stick figures representing musicians out of iron nails, iron filigree wall hangings, coffee table sculptures—I’m not very good at those, yet–and intricate designs for garden gates.

Who would have supposed this washed-up blacksmith could morph into an artist?

The other day at church we sang another chorus with my name on it. “Something beautiful, something good…He made something beautiful out of my life.”

Castles in the Sand

sand-sculptorMama Edna worked hard around the house, and kept us clean and well taken-care of, so I can’t complain about that, but she’d like to drive us crazy with her hymn-singing, day and night, until we knew all the words to the songs she sang whether we wanted to or not.  I for sure did not want to.

First of all, Mama Edna wasn’t my real mother.  Daddy said my real mother died having me, and I should be thankful Mama Edna came along to be our new Mama.  Daniel and Raymond, my older brothers, said Daddy and Mama Edna had a wedding and everything, but I was too young to remember.  I just know I wanted the same Mama as Daniel and Raymond had.

Summers spent on the beach on Lake Michigan were a break from her constant singing.  We’d build castles with wet sand, using little pails, tin cups, and different colored aluminum water glasses. We dug moats around the castles, and it was fun watching the water come up into those moats.

Mama Edna loved the beach.  She’d look toward the horizon with her binoculars, and sometimes she’d see a merchant ship out there.  She’d call out grandly “They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; These see the works of the LORD, and his wonders in the deep.”

One time she came out to check on us, and she brought out little plastic flags and stuck them in the peaks of our castle. She stood up and started singing “Love is the flag flown high on the castle of my heart for the King is in residence there.”

I kicked the castle to pieces and stomped off. I was sure our real mother would let us play without pestering us. Of course I knew when the tide came in it would wash my castle away, but I didn’t mind.  In fact, the nice smooth sand called me to start over new.

The reason I just stomped off without kicking sand at Mama Edna and screaming at her was I had made the mistake of doing it once and Daddy saw it. He grabbed me by my arm and swung me over so he could beat my butt.  “That didn’t hurt,” I told him.  “I’m only crying because I’m mad.”  Not smart.  He bent me over his knee, “Now you’re going to cry until you’re sorry.”  Of course by then I was bawling and snot was running and I just wanted to go in the cottage and crawl in bed.  No such luck.

He picked me up—I was like five years old then—and handed me to Mama Edna with instructions.  “You rock this kid until he cries the fool out of himself and goes to sleep.”

Which she did. Singing! Talk about adding insult to injury.

Peace, peace, wonderful peace,
Coming down from the Father above!
Sweep over my spirit forever, I pray
In fathomless billows of love!

Now here I am, Captain of a cruise ship on the great waters of the Caribbean Sea, anywhere from 1200 to 4100 fathoms deep.  Consider those billows can rock this 60,000 ton vessel and then reflect on the fathomless billows of God’s love sweeping over my soul—yes, wonderful wonderful peace!

Mama Edna is in Heaven now, I’m sure of it.  Is she watching over me?  I’m not sure how Heaven works, but I like to think of the woman who gave me birth arm and arm with the woman who loved me all my life. They are at the feet of Jesus, and trust me, they are singing.

Elaine Soerens

October 2016

623 words

THE FULLER BRUSH MAN

Photo by Carl Soerens

It was a long time ago, and folks have varying versions of the story, and as all recitations of the story conclude, only the Fuller Brush man knows for sure.

Now Violet Wintersteen wasn’t especially pretty, and didn’t do much to enhance her few natural attributes.  Her eyes, which were a haunting shade of green, might have been an asset but for the fact they were too close together. Still, she kept a trim figure and her personality was unfailingly cheerful.

When asked why she never married—a rude question but people weren’t as politically correct in those days—she laughed it off with the usual “Just haven’t found the right man, I guess.”

She seemed content to teach grades one through eight at the country school.  She paid a trifling sum from her pitifully small salary for a room and two meals a day at Widow Martin’s house in walking distance from the school house. Her duties included, in addition to teaching all eight grades, keeping the school clean and sweeping the outdoor privies.

The story centers around money and the privy.  Specifically the girl’s privy. That’s where the Fuller Brush man comes in. How he happened on Violet while she was sweeping the little square building isn’t known, and neither is what happened after that.

What is known is when questions arose about Violet Wintersteen’s whereabouts,  the District officials investigated the school house and surrounding property. They found the outdoor toilet furnished with at least $200.00 worth of Fuller and Stanley products including  extra strength bowl cleaner, bowl brush and bowl brush holder, completely unnecessary in an outdoor pit toilet.

Widow Martin said she had not been aware of “anything funny” going on just because the Fuller Brush man often gave Violet a ride to her house after school.  The widow said she thought it was mighty kind, especially on snowy days.

She did say she worried some when the Fuller Brush man’s little brown van didn’t come around, but supposed it might be because it was a school holiday weekend.  Still, Violet had not let her know, nor did she take any of her belongings with her.

Not that Widow Martin snooped in people’s belongings usually; it was simply a matter of concern.  She was very fond of Violet.

When the Fuller Brush man showed up at the tavern on Monday after the holiday, he didn’t seem at all surprised when the local fellows hugging the horseshoe-shaped bar told him the scuttlebutt around town was that he and Violet must have gone off and eloped.  Yet here he was, and where was Violet?  Not in school, that’s for sure.

It was while they all were sitting there, polishing off beer after beer that the sheriff marched in and pointed at the Fuller Brush man.

“Where’s Violet Wintersteen?” He demanded of the Fuller Brush man who faced them with a friendly demeanor.

“She’s where she wants to be, I reckon.”

“Where does she usually want to be?” Sheriff’s voice showed some aggravation.

“She likes old abandoned buildings.  She says she can hear voices from the past if she sits still and listens.  Those tall old cylindrical silos for sure. She says they speak to her.”

Sheriff stilled.  “Didn’t Jonas Weber just have his silo filled the other day?”

There were murmured responses all around.

“Who was the last person to talk to her?” He looked around but the Fuller Brush man was gone.

As time went on, the Fuller Brush man could not be found.  His little brown van stayed on Widow Martin’s house, filled with valuable cleaning supplies.

If Jonas found Violet Wintersteen as he gradually emptied the silo to feed his cattle, he’s not saying.

Only the Fuller Brush man knows for sure.

 

Learning to Drive

 

Hitler and Stalin, I called them–the vehicles Dad used as my first driving experiences. I hated the beasts almost as much as I hated Grampa’s mangy cur he called Hitler.  Grampa said his mean dog was part wolf and I believed him.   I guess you could say I named the truck after a mean dog.  When my uncles hung around the yard they’d talk about Stalin and he seemed like a bad person, too, so the other truck got that name.

Both trucks were ’41 Fords that had seen better days. They were loud, stinky and didn’t have much power.  Power wasn’t a big deal when we were in the field alongside the silage chopper, but when we had to take a load of chopped corn up Boese’s steep hill—well, if I had known real curse words I would have used them then—if I could breathe, that is.  That old truck lugged so slow—I was never sure it wouldn’t stop and roll backwards down the hill.

What I had to do was to drive whatever truck I was in alongside the big silage chopper and make sure the spout blew the freshly chopped corn into the truck bed.  No air conditioning in those days, of course, so the trucks didn’t have doors on them, a fact that punished severely when I didn’t keep up and the chopped corn hit my legs instead of the truck bed.

Yes, I hated every minute.  Still, I was actually driving, and that made a ten year old girl feel pretty important. I had driven Dad’s John Deere tractor before, of course, but all the farm kids did that.  A truck was definitely a step up.

Another thing made me feel important and it was the other driver. Marvin was a guy Dad picked up near the tavern in town.  Said he was a nice fellow who was down on his luck and was willing to drive one of the trucks for low wages.  Marvin was real nice to me—brought me candy bars from town and told me I was real pretty.  Nobody ever told me that before.

One time Dad caught him tickling me.  He said, “Marvin, I believe we can handle cutting the rest of the corn by ourselves now.”  I couldn’t figure it out—we didn’t even have half of the fields cut and layered in the silo.

Dad always let Marvin take Hitler back to town, to the room over the tavern where he stayed, so he left with the agreement that Mom and Dad would get the truck later, when they went for groceries.

Shortly after Marvin left, Mom and Dad took our old ’49 Mercury into town for groceries. When they came back without Hitler I asked Dad why.

“Somebody said they saw the old truck flying off Apple Tree road, clearing the bluff and sinking into the Missouri River, “ he said. “And that’s the end of it, you hear?”

We never spoke of Hitler or Marvin again.