"G'night Mary Ellen."
It's barely seven am. I pull back the homemade drapes in the second bedroom and raise the dusty rose mini blinds. Dawn ( as in morning) is an ethereal blue mist. A large bird flies off the top of a white pine on the south fence line. It could have been a crow. They always hang around in the early morning, but no, the underside is a lighter color-an off white. The birds of Kickapoo Center sleep in. They're not active until the sun rises over the hills to the east. Of late, that's near nine in the morning. This is no sparrow hawk. It's too large.
Mandy stayed up late last night watching A Dog Year. Jon Katz's book is turned into a movie with Jeff Bridges. The star is a Border Collie named Devan(Devin?). Mandy gets so engrossed with Devan, she walks right up to the TV for a closer look. My wife and I watch Mandy and notice the similarities between the two dogs. The cat's on the back of the couch in the groove between the fat, bulging cushions, feet sticking straight up in the air. He appears to be oblivious to the world, but when I toss a barbecued soy crisp nugget at him, he turns over immediately and snarfs it up.
It'll be frigid tonight. Well below zero. When Johann calls at dinner time last night, the thermometer outside the kitchen window says three degrees. It's ten degrees on the hill.
"It's nice and warm in the cabin," he says. "I can't even see my breath."
I counter with a memory of a salt box farmhouse along the Lake Michigan shore. The closest town has a hardware store, the Knotty Pine Cafe, a car repair shop on the road outside of town and a couple of churches. The names of the businesses reflect the Dutch heritage of their ancestors. The next closest town four miles to the south has a summer festival where they wash the sidewalks and streets beforehand. The previous tenants of the salt box farm house let the chickens roam in the kitchen. It took weeks to clean the dirt and filth from the house. The landlord was a crusty, old German truck farmer on the outside of the city. The neighbors were relieved to have a young couple living in the house. They told us stories of the old man, probably a drunk, beating his kids with a belt in the front yard. His pregnant wife ran off after one particularly tumultuous fight. The people across the county roads picked her up walking toward Sheboygan out of concern for the baby.
We dress the baby in pajamas, snow suit and cover her head with a soft knit cap. There are two rooms upstairs. The larger one serves as our bedroom and the other smaller one facing the county highway is the baby's room. There's a heat register in the floor which is open to the living room below. In the living room is a behemoth oil fired heater. The brown enameled metal smells slightly of fuel oil. In the kitchen we install an Ashely air tight wood stove. If we leave the door to the upstairs open and fill the wood stove to the brim, the temperature on the second floor is a toasty fifty five degrees. When we mention the cold to the landlord, he surrounds the foundation of the salt box with hay bales. The pipes in the bathroom freeze.
G'night John Boy.
Our farm is a twenty acre parcel the crusty old German buys with the proceeds from an onion harvest. He owns the adjacent corner farm, barn and another salt box farmhouse-only larger than ours. A young couple moves in. They mention frequent bouts of illness. I'm suspicious and tell them to have the water from the well located down stream of the barn tested. When the results come back from the state, they are told,
"Do not even bathe in that water."
The crusty old German hears about our suggestion.
"Vat you go tellinth them the vater iss bad," he shouts at me. " I drink a cup all de time and notting happen to me."
He hangs a rusty tin cup on a hook next to a spigot from the well house. Piss and vinegar flow through his veins. Battery acid would probably curdle in his stomach. He knows he can't kick us out, so he raises the rent from 70 dollars a month to 90. We give him notice when the lower flat of an old mansion in the inner city owned by a teacher friend becomes available. We move in the middle of November.
A Barrel of Gaffes
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