Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

From the 50s and 60s to today . . .



All of My Friends

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Mary (a short story) Part Four

We never got the chance to help.
Two days after that visit, my husband's mother suffered a bad fall, breaking her hip and causing considerable extra damage.
We spent several weeks alternately sitting by her bedside and arranging for her housing and care.
Finally, we were once more on the road home.
Mary's house appeared in the front window.
My husband made the now-familiar turn quickly and we found ourselves parked beside a strange vehicle.
Mary's car was nowhere to be seen.
We looked at each other and I felt a shiver.
We both knew it.
Something was wrong.
We got out quickly and hurried to the front door.
As had happened on so many of our visits, it was opened before we had even reached the steps.
A young woman stepped out, one hand shading her eyes from the setting sun.
"Hello?"
We climbed the few steps and approached her.
"Hello. I'm Mary and this is my husband, Frank . . ." I began.
"Oh, it's you!" the young woman exclaimed, reaching out both of her hands towards us. "At last you've come!"
I raised my hand, doubtfully and felt it gripped tightly.
"Oh, I'm so glad!" the woman said. "Mary will be so glad!"
"What's the matter" Frank spoke up beside me.
"Oh, I'm sorry. Of course you don't know!" The woman dropped my hand and twisted both of hers together. "It's really quite sad."
"Yes?" Frank prompted.
"Well, she . . . she's . . . dead."
The words went through me like a bolt of electricity.
"Oh, no!" I whispered.
The woman turned to me. "I'm afraid it's true."
"But how? The last time we saw her, she was fine. Happy!"
The woman smiled. "Yes. She was." She took a deep breath. "And that's something I need to talk to you about."
She turned towards the door. "Please, come in."
We followed her into the sweet, familiar home with dragging feet.
How could this be?
My mind struggled to take it in.
The young woman paused just inside the door and turned towards the fireplace.
Instinctively, my eyes followed hers.
There, framed neatly above the crackling flames, was a large picture of Frank and me. The two of us were leaning towards each other and smiling broadly for the camera. Behind us, through clear glass windows, one could see the mountains, close up and falling away into the distance. The sun was just setting behind the furthest ones.
It was a beautiful picture.
Obviously the one taken by Mary with her ancient camera on our very first visit.
"Oh," I said, rather ineffectively.
Frank gripped my arm tightly.
"I think I need to sit down," I said.
He guided me over to the familiar couch and the two of us perched there.
The young woman took a seat in Mary's chair.
"First, I should probably introduce myself," she said. "I'm Mercy Roberts. I'm from the church congregation that Mary attends. Er . . . attended."
I murmured something polite, my mind still reeling.
She cleared her throat. "Anyways, Mary drove into town a few weeks ago to do some shopping. But while she was there, in the grocery store, she had a heart attack."
"Oh, Mary!" I said.
Mercy nodded. "It was a bad attack and she didn't make it to the hospital."
I put my face in my hands.
Frank rubbed my back.
"So, a few weeks ago?" he asked.
"Yes."
"It must have been shortly after we were here the last time."
"I don't know about that," Mercy said.
"But the picture," I whispered. "What about the picture?" I lowered my hands and looked up at it.
Frank and I, smiling politely at the camera for a woman we had just met.
"Well, that's the thing," Mercy said. "We, none of us, knew who you were. Mary talked about her new, wonderful friends named Frank and Mary, but she didn't ever tell us your last name."
She, too, glanced up at the picture. "After she had been . . . cared for, our Pastor came here to try to help settle her affairs. You know she had no other family."
I nodded.
"Well, as soon as he walked through the front door, of course he saw the picture. He figured that it must be a photo of the new friends she was always talking about."
"Oh, Mary!" I moaned.
"And then the search was on to find the two of you."
"We live in the city."
"Yes, we figured that," Mercy smiled. "But it is a rather large city!"
"It is," Frank agreed.
"Finally, it was decided that one member of the congregation should come here to the house each day and wait for you to show up."
"Oh, I'm so sorry that you had to go to so much trouble," I said.
"Oh, it's been no trouble," Mercy said. "In fact, it's been a pleasure. It's so quiet and peaceful here." She looked at us. "And it's so nice to be able to finally meet the people who brought Mary such happiness in her final days."
I reached into my purse for a tissue.
"We did that?" Frank's voice sounded . . . choked.
Mercy smiled. "Yes. You did." She glanced over at the nearly finished quilt on the far side of the room. "You know Mary. She was always sweet and kind, but before you came, she was . . . rather sad. Lonely. Afterwards, she was so much better. Brighter. Looking forward to the future and your visits."
"I never realized," Frank said.
"Yes. Well, it's true."
By this time, I was sobbing into my scrap of tissue. "Oh, Mary!"
"So you don't know anything more about the picture," Frank said softly.
"Well, no. It was there when the Pastor came . . . afterwards. Like I said."
"But the one she had up there before? The two kids?"
"Oh, that one is hanging in the spare bedroom, now," Mercy said. She again looked up at the picture and smiled. "She always said that this spot was special. Reserved just for family."

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Mary (a short story) Part Three

As our visits continued, we quickly came to discover the positive, independent attitude and irrepressible sense of humor that marked our new friend.
"Mary?"
A scream, then sounds of a struggle. Then . . . gurgling.
"Mary are you all right?"
A rather breathless, "Come in! Come in! I'm here in the kitchen!"
I set my newest addition to her plant collection on the floor and the two of us quickly made our way through the inner door.
There we found our friend collapsed in a chair, head on the table, obviously convulsed with . . . emotion.
Her large, grey cat was sitting on the table beside her, poking at her hair with a soft paw.
I hurried to her side and put a hand on one shaking shoulder.
"Mary, are you all right?"
A blackened face appeared, with two bright blue eyes looking out of it.
She scrubbed at some clear, wet streaks on her cheeks.
"Oh, Mary, Frank, you're just in time!" she gasped out.
"Mary, what's wrong?"
"Whoop! Nothing - that a person with a stronger stomach than I - can't take care of!" she chuckled.
I realized that her shoulders had been shaking, not with tears as I had first imagined, but with laughter.
I stood back. "What happened? What can we do?"
Still chuckling, she scrubbed at her face, smearing the wet, teary streaks. "Well, I guess for one thing, you can get me that coal scuttle over there." Mary waved a hand, indicating the ancient metal bucket beside the stove.
Frank hurried to bring it over.
"Oh, and the broom and dustpan." Mary glanced down and, for the first time, I realized that we were standing in a light carpet of ashes.
I stepped to one side, feeling the slight crunch as my foot came down on still more debris.
"Ick," I said.
"Good word!" Mary said, "and totally appropriate."
"But Mary, what happened?"
"Well, I was working on my quilt when I heard the most awful scrabbling sound here in the kitchen."
"Scrabbling sound?" Frank said.
"I don't know how else to describe it," Mary said. "I hurried in here and realized that the sound was coming from the chimney."
"Oh, dear," I said. "A bird?"
"Yes. The screen around the chimney must have blown loose or something and a bird got in there. Poor thing. I didn't have a fire going as I had been planning on cleaning out the ashes later today, but there must have been some residual smoke or something because, as I was trying to figure out how to help it, it quit struggling and I heard it fall to the bottom of the chimney."
"Oh, the poor thing!" I said. "So did you reach into the stove to help it?"
"Well, I tried. But when I opened the door, there was no bird in sight. So I decided that maybe it was just buried in the ashes. I brought the coal scuttle and a candle and peered into the stove. I discovered that there are a series of bars across the bottom of the chimney, where it joins the stove."
She shook her head. "I put the light further in and could see . . . something lying against those bars. I reached in . . ." again her shoulder began to shake with laughter.
"Mary, what happened?"
"I grabbed what I thought was the bird's foot, thinking I'd just pull it out. But what I got was the bird's beak."
She laughed again.
"I don't know why, but it seemed so much more . . . personal . . . than a foot. I screamed and pulled my hand back, then lost my balance and landed, face-first in the ashes." Her eyes twinkled from their sooty frame. "Then all I could do was laugh. That's when you two came in."
We stared at her.
What would this marvelous, independent woman think up next?
She got to her feet. "I'd better get this cleaned up."
"Please let us do that for you!" I said.
She sat back down. "You know what? I'm going to let you," she said.
Frank and I swept the normally spotless floorboards clean, dumping the ashes into the coal scuttle and setting it back beside the stove.
The Frank grabbed a small shovel and broom from hooks on the wall and proceeded to sweep the rest of the ashes and soot from the stove, adding them to what we had collected from the floor.
Mary got up again and moved over to the counter. She picked up a small mirror and peered into it.
"Oh, my!" She traced one sooty finger across her equally sooty face, then looked up at us.
"You have to admit, this is an improvement!" she said, her eyes twinkling.
She dipped steaming water out of the reservoir attached to the side of the stove and, pouring it into a little pan in the sink, quickly washed the ashes and soot from her face, hands and arms.
Finally, looking a bit more like Mary, she dried herself on a towel.
"There. That feels better!" She turned and looked at Frank, who was just finishing with the stove.
"Oh, thank you, dear boy," she said. "You are so kind!"
Frank set the coal scuttle beside the stove and walked over to the sink to clean his hands.
Then Mary grabbed some pieces of wood from a stack beside the cupboard and quickly laid and lit a fire.
Closing the stove door, she turned and looked at me. "Well this was hardly the way to welcome my friends into my home!" she said, smiling.
"Maybe, but at least we'll never forget it," I said.
She laughed. "Let's have tea!"
"First, where can I put those ashes," Frank said.
"Oh, just leave them there. I'll tote them out later."
"No, I like to finish my chores once I start," Frank said.
Mary smiled. "Well. all right."
She moved to the doorway of one of the bedrooms and pointed. "There's a door to the outside behind that curtain," she said. "You'll find a pit for the ashes not far from the back of the house."
Frank lifted the scuttle and disappeared through the door.
"Now, you set yourself right there at the table and I'll get the tea together, dear," she said to me.
Obediently, I settled into the chair she had just vacated. We chatted while she bustled around.
By the time Frank came back through the door, carrying the now-empty bucket, she had laid everything out on a tray and was dipping water out of the reservoir into her little teapot.
"Everything's just about ready, my boy," she said. "Now you two go out into the front room and I'll follow."
The tea tasted especially good. Maybe because it contained even more love than usual.

We were sitting quietly during the drive home, each of us busy with our own thoughts.
"Do you know that Mary doesn't have a bathroom?" Frank said suddenly.
"What?"
"Bathroom. Mary doesn't have a bathroom."
"I rather guessed," I said. "I didn't see one on our initial tour and none have sprung up since then." I looked at him. "But did you just discover this? You've been all over that house, tinkering."
"Well, I just never thought about it. I never went into her bedroom, and I just sort of assumed that there must be a little one in there. You know, joined up to the kitchen or something. With a little pump . . ."
I looked at him. No plumbing in the kitchen and you thought she would have it in a bathroom?"
"I know. Silly, right? Anyways, she has an outhouse, probably built when the rest of the house was built, out behind."
"Really?"
"Yeah. It's stone, like the house and really is quite nice."
"But it's still an outhouse," I said.
"Well . . . yeah."
"Not very pleasant in the winter."
"Definitely not." He looked at me. "And another thing. She has a big washtub hung against the back wall. And a scrub board."
"I didn't know you knew what a scrub board was."
Frank made a face at me. "Of course I know what a scrub board is. I've seen them played as instruments."
"Oh, that would explain everything!"
He laughed. "Anyways, I think that Mary scrubs her own clothes and takes a bath in that washtub."
"Medieval!"
"My thinking exactly!" He frowned. "The thing is, I can't help but think of what her life must have been like, living in the city with its obvious amenities. And then, when she is in the winter of her life, moving back here, were there really aren't any comforts at all."
"Well, she does appear to love it," I said, doubtfully.
"No phone. No plumbing. Fireplace and stove for heat. The only modern convenience she has is electricity, which she hardly uses." He looked at me again. "My point is - how can we help her?"

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Mary (a short story) Part Two

For the next several months, we stopped in for a visit with Mary nearly every week.
Her windowsills were soon lined with little potted plants (I like plants) and every light bulb in the place had been replaced at least once and most of the doors and windows adjusted. (Frank likes to tinker.)
She would show us the amazing quilt she was currently working on and talk about the eventual recipient.
Then she would serve us tea.
Take our picture.
And talk.
Week by week, we got to know this marvelous person.

"I haven't told you how Ray and I met," she said, sitting back in her chair and taking a sip of fragrant tea.
"No, that's one story we haven't heard yet," Frank said.
Mary was silent for a moment.
"Are you comfortable with telling us, dear?" I said.
"Oh, yes! I just need to gather my thoughts," Mary said, smiling.
She set down her tea cup and leaned toward us. "We weren't suppose to be there, either of us."
"Where?" Frank said.
"At the dance."
"Dance?"
"Maybe I'd better start at the front," Mary said, smiling. "There was a big dance. For New Years. The war was on and people needed some . . . diversion."
"Ah. The war," I said.
"Yes," Mary nodded. "It was 1944 and we thought the war was never going to end. So any chance we got to kick up our heels and forget for a little while was welcomed. The only problem was that these affairs usually got rather out of hand."
"People tried a little too hard to forget?" Frank said.
"Exactly."
"Understandable."
"Yes," she smiled, "but not very . . ." she puckered her brow, ". . . I guess 'classy' is the only word I can think of."
I smiled at her. "I take it your parents didn't approve?"
"Definitely not. Especially because my best friend, Bea, had gone to one of them and ended up getting married."
I frowned. "Getting married isn't so bad."
"Well, not when it happens normally. You know - planning, family invited. The problem was that Bea and her beau got married the night they met."
"Umm, okay that is a bit different."
"How is that possible?" Frank said.
"Well, closer to Vegas, I don't think would have been a problem," Mary said. "Here, in Alberta, it wasn't strictly legal. But it was done and the young couple certainly acted as though it was a real and proper ceremony. By the next morning, there was nothing else to be done but have another ceremony. This time with witnesses. And very quickly because the groom only had a 48 hour pass."
She smiled. "So the rest of the parents in the town were a trifle . . . gun shy. So to speak."
"I can certainly understand that," I said.
"Anyway, back to the dance." Her eyes twinkled. "Neither of us was supposed to be there. Me, because I wasn't quite 18 and Ray, because his parents didn't approve of dancing."
"So how did you end up there?"
"Well, I crawled out my window and Ray told his parents he was going to the library."
I laughed. "You rotten kids!"
Mary smiled. "Yes, weren't we? Then we both felt so guilty about what we had done that we just hovered in the shadows on the outskirts of the party."
"And that's when you met?"
"Yes. Out on the fringes of 'Guiltsville'.
Frank and I laughed.
"Go on," I said.
"Well, this handsome soldier saw me standing there, tapping to the music and he came over and asked if he could get me a drink." Mary smiled. "I didn't drink, but I was afraid to tell him, so I just asked him to bring whatever he was drinking. He grinned and disappeared. A couple of minutes later, he handed me a tall glass."
Mary snorted softly. "I remember staring down into that liquid and ice cubes and thinking about how flawed my plan had been. Then he leaned closer and whispered, "It's just ginger ale", into my ear. I was so relieved! We spent the rest of the evening perched on the table furthest from the dance floor, and talking."
Her eyes moistened. "It was the beginning of over fifty years together." She looked up at us. "And we never did stop talking."
"What a beautiful, wonderful story, Mary," I said.
"Thank you," she said. She looked away. "The only thing that dimmed our happiness was the fact that we never could have children."
"Oh, Mary, I'm so sorry!" I said.
She shrugged. "Yes, well, life is what it is."
We were silent for a few moments.
Frank looked at the picture over the fireplace. "But I thought . . ." he didn't complete the sentence."
Mary followed his gaze. "You thought they were my children?"
"Well . . . yes."
She smiled. "Well, they are, in a way."
I raised my eyebrows.
"I saw that picture in a store and loved it. So I bought it and placed it there, where pictures of one's family should go." She smiled at it fondly. "So they are my family. My 'pseudo' family."
I touched her hand and smiled.
"Well, enough of that!" Mary sat up and gave her grey head a shake. "More tea?"

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Mary (a short story) - Part One

It was a small cabin, hewn from the very stone upon which it stood.
It stood some ways back from the main highway, perched precariously on a small cliff, where the road cut through part of the mountain.
We had blown past it many, many times.
It had always appeared deserted.
Admittedly, we had allowed ourselves only the briefest of glances, hurrying to or from family obligations.
But one could take note of the empty windows. The vacant chimney.
Now, quite obviously, its unoccupied state had changed.
The cabin had come to life and it was showing a brave, cheerful face to the world.
The wide front porch, with its single rocking chair and stone tubs of red blooms looked open and inviting.
Windows gleamed.
The square central chimney blew merry puffs of smoke into the clear air.
My husband slowed down, peering upwards. "Hey, Mare, looks like our little cabin is occupied."
I smiled at him. Our little cabin? I, too, looked up. "It does."
"I've always wondered how one reached that cabin," he said.
"Me, too," I said.
He glanced behind us.
Here, near the cabin, the road twisted through the narrow cutting, disappearing almost immediately behind us. Oncoming traffic was invisible until it was only a couple of car lengths away.
It was a dangerous spot to stop.
My husband pulled over to the right as far as he could and slowed to a crawl.
I could feel the rough stones of the shoulder beneath the tires.
"What are you doing?" I said.
"Exploring."
"Here? Someone's going to come around the corner . . ."
"We'll be fine," he said.
I rolled my eyes and clutched the little potted plant I held, but said nothing.
He was studying the steep cliff beside us.
Suddenly, he pointed. "There!" he said.
A small opening had appeared in the wall of stone.
Barely wide enough for a car.
No wonder we had missed it.
He turned into it.
"What are you doing now?" I said.
He grinned. "Going to see our cabin."
"But, honey, we don't know who lives there!"
He glanced at me. "You've always wanted to see it, right?"
"Well . . . yes."
"All right, then."
We were silent as the car labored up the short, steep drive.
It opened up suddenly and we were on a wide ledge of stone.
The cabin stood directly in front of us.
My husband pulled next to an ancient car parked there and shut the engine off.
He opened his door. "Coming?"
I stared at him, then set my plant on the seat and reached for the door handle. "I guess so."
I slid out and stood for a moment, looking at the cabin.
From this angle, it looked solid.
Square.
As though it could meet any challenge.
Withstand any threat.
I started to close the door, then spied my plant on the front seat.
For some reason, I reached out and picked it up, cradling it in my arm as I closed the door.
My husband frowned. "What's that for?"
"I'm not sure."
He shrugged and the two of us walked around to the porch, then up a small set of stone steps.
Just as we reached the wide front door, it swung inwards.
Just a crack.
"Are you lost?" a sweet little voice asked from the darkness on the other side of the door.
"No," my husband said. "We drive past here weekly, on our way to my mother's home . . ."
I glanced down at the plant I was still clutching, originally intended for said mother-in-law.
My husband was still speaking, ". . . and we couldn't help but notice that someone was living here. We thought we'd drop in and say hello."
"Oh." There was a pause, then, "Well, that's nice. Please, come in."
The door swung wide. A tiny, stooped old woman appeared in the opening.
"I don't get many visitors," she said.
My husband stepped back and let me go through first.
I sank into a thick, hand-knotted rag rug covering most of the wide, polished floorboards in the entry/living/family room which took up the entire front of the house.
Windows ran on three sides of the room, offering glimpses of the wide porch, the road below and the purple mountains fading into the distance.
A fire crackled cheerfully in the stone fireplace across from the entrance. A large, grey cat was asleep on the hearth in front of it.
A long, horsehair sofa, brightly covered in a beautiful, hand-stitched quilt, was pushed under the windows to our right with a low, highly polished wooden table in front of it. A single, winged chair with a matching footstool held the place of honor in the center of the room, within toasting distance of the warm flames.
A heaped workbasket stood beside it.
The opposite side of the room was taken up by a large quilt frame. An intricate, half-finished quilt was fastened to it.
The walls, stone and wood, were bare, except for the lone picture of two smiling, apple-cheeked children over the fireplace.
It was a warm room.
A cozy room.
I felt instantly at home.
I turned back to the woman, who had just finished closing the door, and got my first good look at her.
She looked . . . soft.
Cuddly soft.
Her figure was plump and gently rounded. Her face unlined and pleasant.
Snow-white hair was drawn gently back into a loose bun at the back of her head. She had a straight, small nose and a tiny bow of a mouth which smiled readily.
Faded blue eyes regarded us with a merry twinkle.
Her whole being seemed to shine with good will and happiness.
I held out my hand. "I'm Mary," I said, "and this is my husband, Frank."
The tiny woman grasped my hand firmly. "Mary is my name, too," she said, smiling. Her blue eyes twinkled. "I won't have any trouble remembering that!"
She pressed my hand between both of hers, then turned towards Frank.
"And Frank. So nice to meet you!"
He shook her hand as well, then cleared his throat uncomfortably.
Now that he had gotten us inside, he seemed to be at a loss.
I shook my head. My big, strong explorer.
Obviously, it was up to me.
I held out the plant. "This is for you," I said.
"Oh!" she clasped her hands together. "Oh, this is lovely!"
She reached for the small pot with trembling hands, then held it tightly and smiled at me. "Thank you, my dear!"
I smiled back. "You're very welcome." I scratched my forehead, feeling suddenly awkward. "Ummm . . . Mary, we're sorry to barge in like this, but we have always admired your home here and wanted to just come and take a peek. We really didn't mean to disturb you."
Mary smiled. "It's no bother," she said. "I watch the cars go past on the road and often wish someone would stop to say hello." She waved a hand towards the front room. "Please. Take a look around."
I stepped towards the sofa and glanced out the window. "You have a lovely view," I said.
"Oh, yes. That is what I love most about this place," Mary said. "My husband, God rest him, couldn't stand it here. Said it made him feel . . . hemmed in."
"Oh, I'm sorry," I said, turning back to her. "Has he been gone long?"
"A few weeks now," she said. "But don't feel bad. We had a long and happy life together." She looked around. "This was my parent's home. I was born here."
"Oh, how nice!"
"Yes, but when I married, my husband's work took us to the city and we lived there until . . ." she paused.
"Until he . . ."
"Yes," she said.
I patted her arm.
"Come. See the rest," she said. She showed us proudly through the little house. The old-fashioned kitchen with its hand pump beside the sink and its wood stove.
The two tiny bedrooms, one on either side of the kitchen, with their equally tiny beds covered several layers deep in more of the hand-made quilts.
It was like stepping back in time.
I had to keep glancing at the electrical wires, obviously a later addition, tacked neatly to the stone and wood walls, to remind myself that we were still in the present.
Mary led us back to the main room. "Please sit," she said, indicating the sofa, "and I'll make tea."
"Oh, I don't think . . ." I got no further.
"Sit."
Obediently, we sank down.
"Could I at least help with something?"
"You are my guest," Mary said. "I'll bring in the tea." She disappeared into the kitchen.
"Now see what comes of being nosey," I whispered to Frank.
He gave me a lop-sided grin.
 In a very short time, Mary was back, with a laden tray. She set it down on the low table, then picked up something.
An old camera, in a worn, leather case.
"I hope you don't mind," she said, "but I get so few visitors that I'd like to record it."
"We don't mind," Frank said.
The two of us put our heads together and smiled obligingly.
The camera clicked.
Mary set it back on the tray and proceeded to serve us tea.
An hour later, we were once more back in our car, waving at the little, old woman as she smiled at us from her porch.
"Well, that was an adventure," my husband said, as he negotiated the narrow drive.
"I thought it was lovely," I said. "After the initial discomfort."

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Language Barrier

Our Engineer - the one on the left
Our second son, Erik, enlisted in the army corps of engineers.
For a boy from a devout Christian home, it . . . took some adjustment.
He enjoyed the brother/sisterhood that sprang up around him the moment he walked in the door.
He loved the work and the action.
And disassembling/cleaning/reassembling guns.
I know, he's weird.
But the one thing he really had to adjust to was the language and personal habits of the men and women he was now associating with.
Most particularly the language.
Although I have had my moments in the past (see here), we are not, as a whole, a cursing family.
Neither are we anxious to push our beliefs/customs on anyone else.
He would just have to learn to deal with it.
And he did.
Without following.
Which he also did.
Let me explain . . .
Erik and several other soldiers were changing the tracks on one of their squad's tanks.
A heavy, though not necessarily complicated task.
It required brute force and patience.
Both of which my son had endless experience.
He was manipulating one of the wrenches, trying to loosen bolts which had obviously become a part of the track and/or frame.
Failing to budge them by normal means (repeated pressure and positive thinking), he resorted to harsher methods.
Body weight and periodic jumping up and down on the wrench.
The results were negligible.
He continued on, undaunted (good word).
Grasping the wrench, he threw his whole weight onto it.
The wrench slipped.
And caught his finger between it and the track.
Between a hard and a harder place, so to speak.
Something had to give.
One of the culprits . . . with some buddies
Let's just say that neither tempered steel member of this meeting was about to.
Give, that is.
That left his finger.
The world went purple.
Then plaid.
It does that.
Erik dropped the wrench, grabbed his sadly assaulted finger and did the dance of pain.
For several moments, he hopped and jumped, cavorting gracefully around the yard.
"DZE! DZE! DZE! DZE!"
I'm not really sure how to spell it, but that's how he describes the sounds he was making.
Moving on . . .
Minutes later, with the pain at more or less manageable levels, he returned to his task.
He lifted his wrench.
Only noticing, then, that the entire yard full of soldiers has stopped what they were doing and were staring at him.
Speechlessly.
He looked at them. "What's the matter?"
One of the soldiers stepped forward. "Geeze, Tolley, even then you didn't swear!"
Erik had no idea anyone had noticed his expressions of choice.
Obviously, they had.
Even a good thing gets noticed.
Sometimes.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

What Put the 'Ghost' in 'Ghost Town'?


Vacation.
The best of times.
The worst of times.
My parents had decided that our family needed to visit Montana.
And Virginia City.
It sounded . . . Western.
To those of us from the ranch, that translated to mean – exotic.
We led a small life, I admit it.
I don't remember much about the 'getting there'.
I was four.
It was long.
And sleepy.
But I do remember stumbling along wooden slats with my Mom.
Then being carried by said Mom.
That's when it got exciting.
We were in an old fashioned, western town with boardwalks and hitching posts.
There were even a couple of watering troughs.
But no horses. I noticed that straight off.
We went into the museum.
I should explain, here, that there are two different kinds of museums.
The slick, professional, institutional showcase of fact.
And the humble, heart-felt, community tribute to history or 'collection of stuff out of Gramma's wash shed'.
And, because my husband is an historian, we've seen many, many examples of each kind.
Moving on . . .
Virginia City's museum was the warm, homespun type.
Long glass-topped tables filled with . . . curiosities. Those little, wondrous items which fill the local citizen's heart with awe and amazement.
But really don't have a global impact.
I stared obligingly at antiquated pieces of equipment and tools. Signs and billboards of past eras. Household paraphernalia.
But what I most took note of was anything that suggested 'horse'.
Oh, and the preserved bodies of two-headed lambs and calves and kittens.
While my family wandered around, I stood nose to nose with one or another of these amazing specimens.
While they exclaimed about 'memories' I pointed out numbers of eyes and ears.
It was a fascinating visit.
But it ended.
All too soon.
And suddenly we were back outside on the boardwalk.
We moved to the next building.
A drug store.
Or at least that's what Mom called it.
It didn't look like the one in Milk River.
But I was willing to give it a shot.
I followed Mom inside and wandered up the first aisle.
Stuff.
I was bored.
Maybe if Mom picked me up again.
Things always looked more interesting when she carried me.
I help up my arms.
She obliged.
Okay, I was right. It was a bit better from up here.
We wandered through the store.
At the back, against the wall stood a large, wooden cabinet.
With one door.
Which was closed.
I stared at it as we grew closer.
It seemed . . . mysterious.
Okay, I admit, I didn't know what the word mysterious meant.
But the mere mention of the word sounded . . . mysterious.
Ahem . . .
Mom stopped beside the cabinet.
With the only closed door in the entire place.
I stared hard at that door.
What secrets did it hide?
Candy? Toys? Maybe another two-headed kitten?
I looked at Mom. “Open it, Mom! Open it!”
“Well I don't think I should,” she said uncertainly, glancing over at the proprietor.
He merely smiled and nodded.
“Open it, Mom! Please?!”
“Well, It's probably storage or something.”
“Open it! Open it!”
“Well, I guess it's all right.” Another glance at the proprietor.
“Open it! Open it!”
Her hand reached out and grasped the knob.
I held my breath.
What were we going to see?
Something magical?
Something wildly exciting?
Something . . .
The door swung back with an appropriately spooky 'screech'.
Hanging quietly within was a skeleton.
Human.
“Ai-Yi-Yi-Yi-Yi! Close it! Close it! Close it!” I hid my face in Mom's shoulder.
Mom must have swung it shut.
I didn't see.
And I missed quite a bit of the rest of Virginia City, glued as I was to her shoulder.
But that was all right.
How could they top that?

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