February 21, 2013
Emmett Public Library is bigger than you would expect. When you first walk in, there is a vestibule with books and magazines for sale/donation. I found a book on programming (an old edition of Code Complete) and, oddly enough, a copy of a Manga novel I used to read, Death Note. The rest of the building is divided up into several sections for kids’ books, adult books, desks, and computers. The tour ends with a sitting area full of overstuffed couches and chairs. There is an overall homey feeling to it. I bet a lot of cookbooks have been written there.
I have learned to get there early and try to clear out before the kids show up after school. I’ve worked in a lot of busy restaurants and coffee shops, but ten-year-olds playing pew-pew games, all breathy and excited after being penned in all day, are just not conducive to quality work.
Today, before the kids even had a crack at me, I had to listen to a couple of brain dead morons go on and on about Obama being the ruination of America. I had almost tuned them out completely when I noticed one of them looking at pictures of Michele and saying nasty comments, calling her an animal. I’m not very political, but I almost lost it. Fortunately, Jodie was nearby and caught my attention. I saved my work and met her in the front.
“Did you hear what he was saying?!”
“Yes, I did.”
“How do you put up with that?”
“I don’t know. As long as they aren’t loud, we can’t really do anything.”
“Is that what people are like around here?”
“No. Well, there are a lot of people like that. Some don’t know any better; they’re usually older and just believe what they hear on talk radio.” She leaned towards me. “Others, like those brain trusts, are just assholes that don’t know which way to wipe.”
I let out a loud “Bah-ha,” surprising even myself.
“Well, aren’t you the librarian?”
“Ha-ha. How’s Elliot?”
“Doing a little better. He’s back out at the farm about every other day.”
“Oh, good. Hey, don’t you have dogs to take care of?”
“Yeah, Frodo’s actually in the car.”
“Oh, I wanna see him.”
She followed me out to the car and Frodo danced around in the seat, happy to see both of us. I got in and rolled down the window, and Frodo hopped in my lap and sat up on the door. Jodie scratched him behind the ears, grabbed his paws, and stood him up.
“Hello, Mr. Frodo,” she said in a baby voice. I had a fleeting flashback of Ton-ton. “You want to help me exercise the horses tomorrow?” Ton-ton, who?
“I have not really ridden much. Or should I say, at all.”
“No problem, they’re very gentle.”
“Yeah, I’d love that.”
“Actually, I can’t get over there until the afternoon. Would that be okay? I could bring some lunch with me.”
I thought about two nano seconds on it. “Okay.”
She stopped dancing Frodo around by his front paws, kissed him on the nose, and put him down. “Got to go. See you tomorrow.” She booped Frodo on the nose for punctuation.
February 22, 2013
It sleeted and snowed last night, so we had a mushy mess to clean out of the driveway and out to the gates. Dad does have a small tractor, nothing fancy. It has a big box attached to it to move stuff, and it was a lot of fun smooshing the snow around with it. Elliot showed me a couple of tricks, and I was off like a mad wombat. He must have thought I was a nut, but he laughed when the tractor lurched forward and I almost got whiplash.
We had lunch, one of my dad’s chicken soup creations, and Elliot asked me to come over for dinner.
“If you don’t mind the place, Sheila’s church folks gave me too much food. ‘Sides, it’s odd not having anybody there all the time.”
“I know what you mean.”
“What, you got me, Bill, Jodie. That’s a lot.”
“I’m used to having a lot more people around.”
“Yeah, I’ll be there. Want me to bring anything?”
He nodded across the room. “You could bring a movie if you want. I used to watch movies ever’ now and then with Dan.”
My dad’s name hung in the room for a minute. I felt a little pang of something that felt a lot like regret.
I got over to Elliot’s house about five. Like a wimp, I drove, because I didn’t want to slog back over in the dark. I gave Elliot the movie I’d picked out, Shane.
He had been frying up some onions and mushrooms, and his trailer smelled amazing. “I hope you like casserole ‘cause that and rolls is what they give me.” He poured the contents of his pan over two plates full of broccoli and casserole. “I’m not complaining. I froze up a bunch of single servings, so I’m set through March, most likely. It dries up like that, and the onions wake it back up.”
He set the pan on the back burner. “Couch or table.”
We grabbed our plates and both headed for the living area. Elliot set his plate on the coffee table, grabbed the VHS tape, popped it in and stopped it, then sat back in his recliner to eat.
I thought about the few times I’d been at Elliot’s house when his mom was in the hospital. I had not been past the turnoff for the farm before, but after a quick survey, I finally deduced that two of the three trailers in the gravel driveway were uninhabited, and the larger trailer on the end was theirs. The door was unlocked but guarded by a fat tabby cat who rolled over in the floor in front of me, inviting me to pet her enormous belly. While I obliged her, I glanced around at their tidy kitchen and living room, with its huge olive green couch. Next to it was a brown Naugahyde recliner, and a table covered with about six inches of Idaho Statesman and Messenger-Index newspapers. On the wall opposite the couch a portrait hung of a young man in a Marine uniform, the frame had a gold plate that simply read Recon 1992. I examined it more closely. It was Elliot, clean shaven and looking proud and stoic. Wow!
Sitting on the sofa last night, I examined the picture again. It was still impressive, but it just didn’t look like him.
“Is that you?” I pointed with my fork.
“Used to be.”
“Hmm.” Elliot offered no explanation.
“Were you in the service for a while?”
“Marines. A long time ago.”
We were quiet for a moment.
“I went to Panama. I was Recon, and I saw some awful things. I didn’t do so well when I came back. My unit took a pretty bad hit and I kind of got messed up in the head in more ways than one.”
“Gosh, I’m sorry.”
“Oh, I’m okay. A lot of guys I knew didn’t even make it back to complain about shit, so how can I? But for a long time I was scared to leave this house. I’d get where I was dizzy and I couldn’t breathe. I even passed out once. It happened while I was driving. So I just gave up driving. I’ve been doing better for a long time. Working on the farm helps me a lot.”
I let his words sink in for a moment.
“So what would you do if I sell the farm?”
“Oh, I can get work. Don’t worry about it. Somebody always needs grunt work done. I help Miss Sheila. I can keep busy. I have disability, and it’s enough to get by on.” He shrugged his shoulders. “I get a check ‘cause of the …”
Just then, the big fat tabby came scooting across kitchen, flapping her belly and paws across the floor like a mad animal.
“What the?! Pork Chop!” The cat did a stunt roll onto her back at Elliot’s feet, holding a mouse in between her paws. She got distracted by me and Elliot, and the mouse hopped onto my lap. My empty plate clattered to the floor as I hopped up to shoo the thing off me. Then the cat scattered away to parts unknown, with the mouse headed straight for the kitchen.
I looked over at Elliot, still firmly seated in his chair, and he burst out laughing. Still cringing from the up close and personal vermin visit, I began to laugh, too.
“Sorry.” I picked up my plate and fork and took them to the kitchen sink, checking the floor for the miscreant. Elliot was still grinning when I came back. “Pork Chop?”
“She tried to steal my pork chop one time.”
We settled into watching the movie, but I caught Elliot grinning at me a couple of times. I woke up in the middle of the night with a blanket and a shawl covering me. I had missed the iconic, “Come back, Shane, come back” line from the movie. I could hear Elliot snoring down the hall, and I quickly fell back to sleep.
February 23, 2017
This morning Elliot heated up some breakfast casserole before we headed back to the house to do chores and to let Frodo outside. I put on my yard clothes (still sounds so weird to say), and we got started.
Things were going pretty good until we went to do the horrible task of watering the chickens. These watering cans sit on top of a heater that keeps them from freezing over in the winter. The only problem is algae starts growing in them and they smell disgusting. Also, you don’t really want to pour huge amounts of water into the runs during the winner. It’s already so slick in places that I’ve almost bit it many, many times. Now imagine walking through that mess with a giant watering can, half full of water so that you can dump it outside the pen, rinse it out, then carry it back to fill it with a water hose. Plus, you have to get the water hose from inside the pump house, attach it to the spigot, and drag it over to the cans. When you’re all done, you have to drain the hose before putting it back in. It sounds easy, but my arms feel like spaghetti noodles when I’m finished. I wasn’t looking forward to it, obviously, but what happened instead was worse.
After dumping the waters, attaching the hose, and pulling it over to clean the cans out, I went back to turn the hose on, and nothing happened. I turned the knob back to the right, then back to the left. Nothing, again. I went into the pump house, not sure of what I was looking for, and I found two electric panels on the wall with lights on the front cover. One had a blinking light on it, so I timidly opened it up to find a small motherboard with a few resistors, capacitors, and switches on it. I tried to think back on an electronics class I took a few years ago, but I was nowhere on it.
Elliot came back from feeding the goats and found me scratching my head. He looked inside the pump house and saw the power was on, checked the wires and board. He flipped the circuit breaker in the breaker box on the house, but the control box came back on with the same flashing red light. I checked the house water, and it was fine, but that left watering the chickens and goats. That’s right, the goat waters were on the same line. Since I had just dumped out all the chickens’ water, we were stuck filling the cans by running a hose into the house and carrying the full cans out to the coop. That sucked for me, since one of the full cans equals about a third of my weight, but Elliot carried them fairly easily. Then we got some buckets from the shed, filled them, and carried them over to the gate on the goat field. As ten or so goats crowded around me, I sat the water down and they started drinking like they hadn’t had water in a week. I turned to go get another bucket, when one of them decided to stand on the rim and shoved the bucket over on its side, spilling about three gallons onto the ground. They looked up at me as if to say, “Are you going to do something about this?” I could feel my brain pulling away from my skull just for a moment, then I grabbed the bucket up and started back for the water hose.
“Hang on.” I saw Elliot disappear behind the house and quickly reappear with a tire in each hand. He carried them over to the gate and sat them down where I’d just been. “Try that.”
“Is that why you keep all those tires?”
“There’s about a million uses for an old tire. Usually, you find ‘em when you need ‘em.”
When we’d set up ten buckets. We went in the house for a break, and I found the number for the pump guy, which Elliot said was my only option at this point, and I left him a message. I called Bill Conliff and told him what was going on. He didn’t say much but asked if he could come out in about an hour to talk to me. That set me on edge, but I agreed. Elliot and I went out and fed the dogs. Fortunately, their water was on the same line as the house. Whew.
In less than an hour, Bill showed up, and we all went inside and sat at the table to talk. He smiled and pointed to the loft area. “You know, I used to stay up there.”
“You lived with my parents? Did I know that already?”
“Maybe. I was in my teens. My parents kicked me out, and they let me live here for a couple of years. They’re the reason I was able to go to college, you know … Anyway, a couple from Northern California are interested in the house.
“But it’s not on the market.”
“I know, but the local realtors know about it. They call consider it kind of like an off-market listing. If they have a buyer who wants something they know will be coming up for sale, they keep it in mind. When they heard about your dad’s death, they knew there would be a possibility of the property opening up.”
“Yeah, but there are repairs that need to be done, right?”
“Well, the buyer would cover those if you agreed to the price and other terms. They haven’t made an offer yet. They’re just inquiring, and I needed to get an answer from you before responding.”
“I don’t have any idea of a fair offer.”
“Me, either, but they would definitely offer you below market value. The sale would go through pretty quickly. Your dad managed to leave almost no liability on the place. My understanding is that they would raze this house and some or all of the sheds and build a larger house and garage in their place. They seem happy with the pastures, unsure if they’ll keep chickens.”
I thought about everything my dad had made disappearing in a matter of months. But, really, what were my options.
“And you know, your dad had a few offers from the natural gas companies over the years.”
“Uh, no. No way.”
“Okay. What do you want me to tell the realtor?”
I looked at Elliot, and he studied the grain on the table. “I don’t think so. Maybe later on.”
I heard a car pull up, and there was a knock at the door.
Ugh. I had forgotten about Jodie. How was that even possible? She was carrying a couple of coffees and some sandwiches. She was in good spirits, though, and she handed me my coffee and took a seat in the living room, waiting for us to finish.
“Okay, as to the water pump. Have you checked the power supply?”
Elliot and I both nodded.
“Are there any loose wires? Is there a reset button?”
Elliot shook his head.
“Well, really, the only thing to do is call the pump guy.”
“Great! I left him a message. It’s the weekend, so I bet I don’t hear from him ‘til Monday. How much could this cost, any idea?”
Bill winced. “Well, anywhere from a couple hundred to a few thousand, depending on what’s wrong.”
“Ouch!” Jodie shrugged. “Sorry, don’t mean to butt in.”
“It’s okay,” Bill said.
“I don’t have any money to fix that. Did Dad leave a fund for that?”
“Not really. We could maybe pull some of the tax fund, but then you could lose the whole place if you don’t make it up.”
“Elliot and I found out that it’s a pain to water everybody using the house water.”
Elliot sat up and said, “Be right back.”
I turned to Bill and asked him what to do. He said that maybe he could call around to see if anyone had any spare parts or something. That phrase – “a few thousand” kept rattling around my head. Bill looked out the window, so I turned around to see what was going on.
Elliot was striding across the driveway carrying a brick with a long string tied around it. He walked over to the center of the driveway and hugged the decorative well full of flowers, hoisting it up and setting it aside.
“What is he doing?” Jodie joined Bill and me at the window.
Elliot reached down and pushed away the rocks that were underneath the well, left and returned with a shovel. He dug about six inches down, then you could tell he hit something he found curious. He dug more carefully, to clear a shallow spot a few feet across, then he reached down and pulled up a large board, followed by a pallet. Soon the three of us joined him outside. He dropped the brick down into the hole, and we hear a faint splash. He pulled the brick up, and it was wet.
“Way to go, Elliot.” Bill was smiling.
“It ain’t good for permanent use, but it’d get us through until we can get the pump can be repaired.”
“How do we get the water up?” I asked.
Elliot straightened his pants. “I’m sure there’s some sorta pump around here someplace.”
Bill gave Elliot a ride home, and Jodie and I finally sat down to lunch. The sandwiches were cold, but still tasty.
“Sorry about all that.”
“No worries. What a crappy deal.”
“I don’t know where I’m going to come up with the money for it. Hopefully, it’s not too much.”
“So, you ready to ride?”
“Hopefully.” I smiled. “Seems to be the word of the day.”
For a moment I became keenly aware that it was just Jodie and me now, alone without her dad, Elliot, Bill, or library patrons or staff. We tossed our wrappers, put on our coats and muddy boots, and went outside. Sometimes, In the winter, it feels like nightfall is always threatening, even at two in the afternoon. We walked down the driveway towards Sheila’s place, intent on making the most of what was left of daylight, with our heads back and thick clouds trailing behind us from our laughter and conversation on everything and nothing.