Chapter 9

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(Early) Sunday Morning

December 10, 1911

The Hammond Street Presbyterian Church
Lawrence, Massachusetts

Frederick Prendergast III and his wife Constance, walked across the Lawrence Town Commons, on a mild December morning. The bite of cold that prevailed through the night and into the early morning hours, broke, like rotted teeth on some Christmas confection, and was replaced by temperature so mild, if only by contrast, that Frederick decided that the family would forgo the carriage and, instead, walk across the Commons, to Sunday Services.

In 1848, the Essex Corporation gifted the town of Lawrence with 17 acres of vacant land for use as the town Common. Along the four streets that bordered this greenery, were, churches of a New England, variety of denominations, City Hall, the Library, (complete with Greco-Roman columns), and a row of imposing private residences. The Commons itself was of a decidedly odd shape. If one were to rise above the earth and view the arrangement of abutting neighborhoods and sections of town, one could be forgiven for insisting that the Town of Lawrence, (from this lofty height), possessed the shape of a great Chalice. The Cup formed by the green of the Commons, the surrounding mansions and houses of worship taking the place of decorative jewels and gold filigree. As a chalice, a broad and stable base was necessary and there, the stolid red brick of the Mills, arrayed along the Merrimack River, completed the image. The Chalice, as potent a symbol in human experience as might be found, also represents the most basic of elements: Water, Fire, Earth and Air. Missing is, of course, the human element. That there could not be a Lawrence, Massachusetts without people, goes without saying. It is the experiences of the different social classes in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1911 that is most telling. Much like the different shapes of the neighborhoods and sections of town that creates this provocative image of a chalice, each social class, in part, defines the other groups and, ultimately the whole. Grand mansions were, in fact, dependent on the members of the lower class to enable them to exert their power, causing the city to grow and thrive. Even as Frederick Prendergast is determined to increase production (and profits) of the Mills of Lawrence, so Annie LoPizzo becomes a focal point of the growing dissatisfaction of the workers in those very same Mills. Surely the concept of ‘interdependency’ needs no further illustration.

As Frederick Prendergast and his wife Constance stepped through the tall oak doors of the Hammond Street Presbyterian Church, snow fell from above, released from the grip of overhanging branches by the warming temperatures. Frederick led his small family down the central aisle, to the first rows of pews. Marked by a discreet brass plaque on the end of the row, Nanny Grace Byrne sat with the twins in the second of the Prendergast pews. Without the thought (or need) to watch them get settled in, Frederick and Constance stepped to the first row.

After removing and placing his overcoat on the bench to his left, Frederick helped his wife with her coat. As he did so, he noticed, just above her ear, three snowflakes clinging delicately to her white-blonde hair. Smiling to himself, he thought, ‘Well, snowflakes, you have found the one safe place to come to rest. Given my dear wife’s disposition you may very well survive to make it out of the service in your current form!’

“What is it, Frederick?” Constance, glancing up from folding her gloves, looked hopefully at her husband.

“Nothing, my dear. I was just thinking how lovely you look this morning.”

Glancing behind them at her two sons, Constance Prendergast sent a hummingbird smile towards her husband, her eyes flickered with the hint of hope and uncertainty.

Frederick sat back in his pew, as upright as his starched-white collar. He showed no signs of the chafing discomfit he endured. He pulled and re-positioned his collar, in a manner that served to convey an overwhelming sense of self-satisfaction in his dress, and allowed the opportunity to assure himself that the somewhat dingy, yellow-grey ring inside his shirt collar was, in no way, visible to anyone sitting behind the Prendergast Family. Following on the motion of his hand to his neck, Frederick casually surveyed the congregation. He noted the absence of those who could little afford to be absent and nodded, in shared-virtue acknowledgment, to those for whom his own attendance was significant. Like taking in the vista of a magnificent mountain range, Frederick recognized other stockholders of the Essex Corporation. As the newest Member of the Board, he felt it his duty to account for the spiritual health of those who controlled the life and well-being of the City.
Frederick glanced to where his two sons sat and caught the eye of Grace Byrne. She looked back, almost startled and yet, with a hint of furtive enjoyment, held his gaze. Having established eye contact, Frederick made a point to smile, while implying that he was quite busy counting heads in the Church, and continued his survey. Looking away too soon, he missed an expression of surprised hurt that clouded the face of the 18-year-old Nanny.

Frederick Prendergast III was one of those rare people gifted, (or cursed), with an acute sensibility for his appearance. Most adults learn, acquire, are taught and imitate their peers until they become sensitive to the virtue of conformity to (whatever might constitute) the common standard of appropriate dress and appearance. If one were to liken this gift, (or curse), to the ability to sing, it would be necessary to describe Frederick Prendergast as a virtuoso. In his defense, this ‘sensitivity to appearance’ was nothing as simple as being vaingloriously burdened by up-bringing or inherited personal insecurities. Frederick Prendergast genuinely believed that, in order to help those around him aspire to more and more acceptable appearance, it was incumbent upon him to stand as an example.

Promptly at 11:00 am, dressed in traditional Geneva gown, white preaching-tabs interrupting the solemnity of the black cassock, Minister Allyn Montrose stepped up into the Pulpit and stared out into the congregation. After more than a minute of the young man staring at the congregation, Frederick began to glance around, seeing the uncertainty, like an un-expected breeze, ruffle the patient expressions on the faces of those sharing the front row of pews. The feeling of disquiet, paradoxically, all the more noticeable for the silence that held them all.

Noticing that one of the more senior members of the Essex Corp Board of Directors was staring in his direction, Frederick replaced his look of puzzlement with a frown, a non-verbal acquiescence to what clearly was a rapidly growing disapproval of the new Minister’s style. Adding to his discomfort, Fred recalled the final interview of Elder Montrose. Less than a month before, Frederick sat in the Bishop’s Office, (the Bishop held a fairly significant portfolio of Essex Corp Preferred Stock, and was only too happy to agree to Frederick’s request to participate), the conversation still fresh in his mind,

The Bishop had been quite explicit,

“Elder Montrose, for someone so young, you’re being charged with quite a difficult task. The Congregation at the Hammond Street church is rather, let us say, diverse. More than half of those sitting on the hard-wooden benches are people who work in decidedly menial capacities, in no small part to the benefit of the one-third, most of whom are sitting in the first 5 rows. They, the one-third, while in need of the true message of the Gospels, are the most immune to the message we, of the Clergy, are charged to convey. In effect, you must craft your message to teach some a lesson they feel they have no need to learn, while reaching the others with a message of inclusion.”

Frederick nodded both in approval, and support of the Bishop’s position. Remaining seated to the left of the marble and carved relief mantle of the fireplace, he asked,

“What do you think of that?”

Allyn Montrose seemed startled when Frederick spoke, as if he’d forgotten that there were three people in the office that day.
Frederick Prendergast had decided that it was both his religious and civic duty to help the new Minister to better understand the challenge that confronted him. He regarded Allyn Montrose with, what he had often been told was, a skilled eye for assessing the worth of a man, (or the value of a woman). Tall and a bit on the thin side, especially given his profession, Allyn Montrose avoided personal invisibility purely by virtue of his eyes. His tendency to move slowly and, for the most part, react slowly to those around him, were more than offset by the intensity in his eyes. Frederick thought that eyes like those in this, soon-to-be-the-new Minister, were portents of success when observed in quarterbacks of  football teams and Field Generals facing overwhelming odds on the field of battle. That he saw this quality in the eyes of the man given charge of the faithful of Lawrence, Massachusetts, made him nervous. As the new Director of Operations at the Everett Mill, Frederick was uniquely qualified to identify with the new pastor, however, as a person, Frederick was inclined to not allow himself to get too close to the hordes of workers that played such a critical role in achieving success. Fellow Harvard graduate or not, Frederick decided that he needed to test this young man’s mettle.

“So, Elder Montrose. Can you make the faithful of Lawrence truly understand and accept their responsibility to their benefactors?”

Frederick smiled as he spoke and was surprised to see the other man recoil from him. Unbidden, a voice from childhood, ‘You’re an agreeable young man, you like people, but when you smile, you use only half your lips. You must, my son, practice smiling until you can do so without appearing to be sneering.’

“Well, yes, Fred, provided if I understand what it is you’re asking.”

The new Minister recovered his composure very quickly and Frederick made a mental note to be careful in any future dealings with Allyn Montrose.

***

“This blessed December Sunday, our Sermon will begin with Matthew 25:14–30,”

Elder Allyn Montrose, began his first Sermon,

“The “Parable of the Talents” is probably one of the most direct expressions of God’s Love for his creations. It also offers one of the most direct, un-adorned by metaphor and story-telling techniques, lessons of the Bible. It is a lesson in responsibility and in opportunity and, finally, it makes clear that God helps those who help themselves.”

In the front row of the Hammond Street Presbyterian Church, one, soon-to-be-wealthy man, noted the nods of approval from several, already-very-wealthy men and congratulated himself on his good judgment in picking the new Minister. Coinciding with the nods, and quite un-noticed, were the cries of the very small children and the whispered assurance of a never-to-be-wealthy, young woman.

“With the ‘Parable of the Talents’, the Apostle Matthew tells us of a man who invests in those who are beholden to him. This man, who in today’s modern parlance, would be called a self-made man, is about to embark on an extended journey to foreign lands and, calling his servants, tells them, one by one, of his plans and assures them that he values their loyalty and devotion in the service of his house. As a gesture, he gives, to each a certain number of talents, which was the currency of the day. This was no small matter, at the time, the value of the talents he gave them was not insignificant.

After many months, the Master returns home and calls each of his servants, to whom he entrusted no small amount of wealth, to account for themselves in his absence. Now these three servants, to whom he gave the talents had worked for him varying lengths of time and, not so surprisingly, each enjoyed different levels of responsibilities.
First came the servant to whom he gave the most, being the one that had worked for him the longest. In fact, this first servant was in charge of the day-to-day finances of the estate. When asked, about the original sum he was given, the servant replied, with great humility and obvious pride that he had wisely invested his talents and increased the value of his holdings tenfold.
The second servant, being employed less time than the first, and therefore was given half as many talents presented himself to the Master of the house and reported that his holdings had also increased. He confided in his benefactor that he took the initiative to purchase as many slaves as the amount he was given permitted and and hired them out to the other farms of the valley. The Master of the house laughed and said, ‘Your industry and shrewdness makes me proud of my decision to give you those Talents’.
Finally the last servant comes before his Master and when asked to account for his use of the wealth he was given, lowered his head in shame and says, ‘I have only that which you gave me, Master. Being new in your employ I was unfamiliar with the customs of your House and assumed that the money was being entrusted to me for safe keeping while you travelled foreign lands.’ And taking from his tattered purse, the single Talent, he looked directly at his Master and said with humility, ‘I return that which you gave for me to hold in trust.’

The two other servants looked with disdain on this man and, trading silent winks, quietly left the room. The self-made man of wealth looked down on this simple man and said,

‘Evil and lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I didn’t sow and gather where I didn’t scatter? Then you should have deposited my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received my money back with interest!’

Turning to his guard he spoke in private, loudly enough for all in the room to hear,

‘Give it to the one who has ten. For the one who has will be given more, and he will have more than enough. But the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. And throw that worthless slave into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'”

Once again, the smile-that-sometimes-appeared-half-formed, grew on Frederick Prendergast’s face as he felt the righteous affirmation of the value invested in him that he would deliver to the Essex Corporation Board of Directors. He would return more talents than he possessed.

“In closing, the poet Milton wrote in, “When I Consider How My Light is Spent’ 

And that one Talent, which is death to hide,
Lodg’d with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
My true account, lest he, returning, chide

This very community, Lawrence Massachusetts is as blessed as the First Servant, the one who took what was given to him and turned it into so much more. As we leave this Church this morning, let us look about us, at the Town and it’s people. Truly now, as the new Century dawns, each of us should pray to be shown the truth. Because, as today’s parable tells us so clearly, God’s gifts of opportunity abound. There is much put within reach of all, by virtue of those we’re blessed to have among us. Let us all resolve to work hard so that, by increasing the holdings of one, the potential for further opportunities will increase. Never forget, God helps those who help themselves”

Filing out of the Church, the last to leave and speak to the Minister, Frederick Prendergast III, his wife at his side, shook Allyn Montrose’s hand and said,

“Reverend, your Sermon today fills me with hope for this Town. We have both taken on roles to guide the less fortunate and help them contribute to the greater good.”

“I’m glad that you enjoyed my Sermon, Mr. Prendergast, it is men like you and companies like the Essex Corporation and the Everett Mills that help bring people to these doors. I trust that we will both be worthy of the trust that has been put on us.”

At the bottom of the Church stairs, Grace Byrne stared first at Constance Prendergast, then at Frederick Prendergast and thought of her family back in Bansha, unable to join her in this new country. The promise of a Roman Catholic priest on her behalf accounted for her being offered the position of Nanny to the Prendergast children. The increasingly un-ignorable demands being felt coming from Frederick Prendergast promised to put a reunion with her family in jeopardy. Walking ahead of Constance and Frederick Prendergast, a five-year-old on each hand, Grace felt the echo of the Sermon, “…the Lord helps those who help themselves”

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Chapter 8

Featured

(Early) Saturday Night

“But Mom!! I don’t want to go out with ‘that very nice Hughes boy!’

Becky Stillworth stood facing her closet and sighed. Just to the left, from the mirror on the back of the closet door, her reflection smiled self-consciously.

Confronted with a mute row of clothes hangers and rounded stacks of too-big sweaters on the shelf above, she smiled back with what she hoped was a look of self-confidence, but suspected was more one of resignation. Becky wanted to believe that finding the perfect outfit would increase her chances of being mistaken for a girl just like the other girls in the 11th Grade, complete with the aggressively optimistic attitude that her appearance would undo how uncertain she felt.

16-year-old Becky, at 5 feet 2 inches tall, 95 pounds was the physical embodiment of every adolescent boy’s day-dreamed fantasy. She was also, for better or for worse, gifted with an intellect and intelligence that seemed to elicit surprise in everyone, especially her parents. Paradoxically, flaunting her newly developing body was easier on those around her than would challenging them with her intellectual prowess.

Resigned to her mother’s well-meant, but clearly strained effort to help her, ‘come out of her shell‘, Becky Stillworth confronted the most difficult decision of her day: what to wear.

“Well, Becky,” addressing her reflection-self, which was still off to the side of the closet, as if hoping to not be drawn into any actual decision-making, “lets take this bull by the horns and find something for you to wear that will make everyone wonder, ‘who’s the new girl in town?'”

Laughing quietly, she clumped-together, coat-hangers into coat-hangers, from right to left, trying to find something that was not brown, beige or dark green. Failing that, she went back through the clothes, in the opposite direction, hoping to find something that, lacking an actual bright color, might offer something in the way of a clever, (and hopefully), flattering design.

According to her mother, Becky was a very attractive girl who, at times, was ‘a little too smart for her own good‘.
Favoring over-sized sweaters and billowy skirts, Becky sought places where she would not standout for having her nose buried in a book. She worked part-time at the Circe Library. She joined as many clubs and student activities as she could manage. All this effort because careful research convinced her that most college admissions boards looked favorably on applicants who demonstrated a high degree of social engagement. With that thought, Becky glanced over at her bed and laughed, thinking that she had more in common with her male classmates than she’d care to admit. She’d chosen her mattress as the best hiding place for her collection of college brochures and course catalogs which, while not overtly forbidden, were not anything that she wanted her parents to discover. Late at night, after her parents were asleep, Becky would crouch next to her bed and reach under the mattress. Her choice of reading material was usually determined by the kind of day she’d had, and spent many a late-night hour leafing through college brochures. If, however, her day had been especially difficult, she might indulge herself with the full  Admissions Catalog for the University of Chicago or, perhaps Stanford School of Medicine. Alone with her dream, letting the glossy photos transport her far from the plains of Kansas and, in doing so, inspire her night’s dream.

If the saying, ‘the eyes are the window to the soul’, is anywhere near a valid observation, Becky Stillworth was either a saint or the devil. Eyes of green-flecked brown, offsetting a very aquiline nose, they could appear lost in the view of a distant land, yet without a word of warning, present a degree of focus that was quite intimidating, especially as it appeared on the face of a seemingly innocent 16-year-old High School girl.

Clarence and Frances Stillworth loved their only daughter very much and wanted only what was best for her. For all of Becky’s straight ‘A’ grades, asked to describe their daughter, they probably would begin with, ‘she has a lovely complexion, very cute figure and is interested in so many different things‘.
If  ever asked what she should do to improve her life, their first answer would be, ‘that she should find a nice boy and go steady and just enjoy life’. For Clarence and Frances Stillworth, High School was the last time a young person could live free of the worries and responsibilities that came with being an adult and raising a family.

That their only daughter was determined to go to medical school and become a doctor was simply outside of their capacity to relate. Whether she had what it took to succeed was never a topic of discussion in the Stillworth household. That Becky Stillworth made the social-familial cost/benefit calculation and acceded to her parents wishes that she, ‘go out with that nice Randall Hughes’, would surely put to rest any question as to the young girl’s maturity or, for that matter, her determination to realize her dream.

Becky Stillworth was usually right in her calculations.

***

Eliza Thornberg stood outside the ballroom. Her father’s wife’s Afternoon Social was so well received, that the decision was made, at approximately 3:45 pm, to not let it end. To the delight of the 50 or so guests, (and to the dismay of the household staff), hurried preparations for an evening buffet on the patio began, as the day turned into night.

Eliza approved of that decision and looked forward to spending more time with one of the guests, a tall man with a quietly confident manner, by the name of Jack Clayton. A friend of one of her father’s business associates, Jack worked in Hollywood and was frequently mentioned as, ‘the next Howard Hawks’. Attending the function on impulse, he found the afternoon social interesting, in an abstract, ‘high society’ sort of way, right up until the moment he spilled a glass full of Tom Collins down the front of his shirt, in a less-than-successful effort to avoid bumping into his host’s wife’s stepdaughter.

Glancing at the mirrored wall opposite the entrance to the ballroom, Eliza smiled. She liked mirrors and, to a passerby, it would be quite clear that her reflection agreed with her. Looking closer, Eliza made a mental note to increase the number of times she played tennis this summer. Not unhappy with her figure, she decided that some toning to her shoulders wouldn’t hurt. She saw Stephen before he saw her. He was drunk and hanging all over Olivia Sheraton, the daughter of a member of the hotel family. Stephen Lawrence looked up through the mass of blonde hair that he had managed, much to the dismay of the Philadelphia Debutante (1938), to get entangled in. As Eliza watched, he started to make his way towards her, like a squirrel running ahead of an approaching car, (except in slow motion). The tall, young man veered to one wall, started at it, as if expecting an explanation for his path being blocked, then, attention being drawn by a movement further on, re-oriented himself and moved forward. He walked with more urgency than advisable, given his condition.

“Eliza!! It’s you!” In a well-intentioned, if not overly ambitious attempt to present a casually confident appearance, Stephen Lawrence leaned with his left hand on the wall just over Eliza’s head.

“I been looking all over the place for you!”

“How nice.” Eliza decided that standing in one spot was only a tiny, improvement over walking away, given how that would entail being followed down the hallway by her drunk boyfriend.

“Yes. Yeah! Hey you’re looking,  …good! Where you been. I was looking…” turning to face a couple just walking into the ballroom, he announced with a drunk’s over-enunciation, in their general direction, “…this my girlfriend! Aliza!”
Unfortunately for Stephen, in his effort to turn his head, he moved his shoulders a bit more than the geometry of his position would tolerate. The motion of his upper body was transmitted down his arm, out to his left hand. This hand being, of course, the anchor upon which his entire stance was dependent. The hand slid along the wall and Stephen Lawrence (Yale ’41) followed. Along, (and down), the wall to the floor, behind where Eliza had been standing.

Seeing Stephen begin his slide along the wall, Eliza stepped away.

At that very same moment, Eliza spotted Jack Clayton coming down the staircase and, without a second look at the young man trying to extract himself from behind a small potted plant, made her way over to where he stood, waiting.

“Hey, you changed your shirt. Much better!”

***

“Here, let me get that, you always leave one end sticking out too far,” Emily Gale attached her mildly talon-like hands to her husband’s upper arms and turned him around as he stood, staring at the full length mirror in their bedroom.

“Can’t say I understand why we have to get all dressed up, when we’re just going to Doc Morgan’s house for dinner.” Henry surrendered control of the silk length of the bow tie to his wife. With a look of indulgent concentration, Emily Gale looped and tucked the red silk into a very properly balanced knot, her fingers moving gracefully and, with the last loop in place, gave the two ends a firm tug, securing it for the evening. For no reason he could account for, Henry thought of the young couple, from Back East, who took a run-down pig farm and forced it to grow into a large and very successful business. In no way prone to squeamishness, Henry did not argue when Emily took charge of neutering of the hog stock. While necessary to keeping the balance between boars and barrows at a profitable level, she seemed to possess a certain, natural talent for the decidedly drastic act of animal husbandry.

Henry Gale’s wardrobe was divided unequally in his closet between, ‘comfortable clothes‘ and ‘go to church and be seen with Emily‘ clothing. The former, mostly in the denim and chambray family of men’s fashion, the latter was purchased for him by his wife.

“Never you mind, Henry Gale. We’ve been through this too many times. Life is more than slopping hogs, managing the farm hands and adding to the homestead. Don’t you ever think about what you’ll leave behind, when the Good Lord calls you home again?”

Emily stepped back and assessed her handiwork, not only with the tie, but the man. Like most of the things in her life, his imperfections were a burden she willingly accepted.

“Of course I do! We have a fine daughter in Dorothy.” Henry saw a very subtle change in his wife’s posture and instantly regretted his choice of counter argument,

“The Gale Farm is now the largest spread in East Central Kansas,” her eyes became a little less focused, “what you’ve built here in Circe, well there are few men more proud than me.”

Emily Gale turned and sat at her dressing table, making final adjustments to her make up, the dark blue chiffon gown offset by the crystal beads of her necklace. Henry thought that she surely hadn’t aged in the 18 years since they first took up living and farming in Circe. Looking at her husband’s reflection in the mirror, Emily said with a fierce pride,

“Well, I do think about the future. Everything that we do to help the Community step out of the dark ages is a good thing. And the new Wing at the Hospital will let the generations to come know that Emily and Henry Gale were here and did something good.”

***

Leaning over the bathroom sink, Tom Hardesty finger-brushed his hair, took a half step out of the bathroom, turned back to the mirror, ran both hands through his hair front to back, and walked out into the kitchen.

“Where’s Pa?” Tom’s young brother, Ethan, was sitting on the blue and white couch in the living room, one of the two lamps in the room, illuminated the large, hardcover book balanced on his knees.

“Out in the barn”, Ethan spoke, without raising his eyes from the book.

“What’cha reading?” Tom stood behind the couch and, reaching over the 10 year old’s shoulder, turned over the cover, folding it over on the boy’s thin forearms, and read,

“[The author gives some account of himself and family. His first inducements to travel. He is shipwrecked, and swims for his life. Gets safe on shore in the country of Lilliput; is made a prisoner, and carried up the country.]”

“Hey! Gulliver’s Travels!  Mom’s?”

“Yeah,”

“I thought she took it with her.” Silence grew shadows up the walls and towards the pool of light where the 10 year boy sat, like the character in another of the books left behind in a box, alone on the shore of a strange land, trying to find companionship and understanding.

“She used to read it to me, when I was little,” Tom let go of the cover and the book fell back open, like a map to a buried treasure, the light from the one of two living room lamps illuminating the words.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” the silence returned, but now it was a shared silence that bound, rather than separated.

“Well, don’t stay up too late and make sure Pa doesn’t either,” Tom returned to his bedroom, grabbed the guitar case leaning against the wall and walked across the living room, through the kitchen and out the back door.

Standing in the open half of the double barn door, Tom watched as his father, pulling with both hands on a wrench, succeeded at loosening an old, rusty bolt on part of the feed-spreader that he had all apart on the workbench. Across from this lighted area, were two stalls and, down at the back of the barn, a door that lead outside to the hog pens. Past the stalls, but still on the opposite of the barn from the work area, were another set of double doors that opened out to the corral and, from there, to the pasture and fields.

“Headin’ over to the Gulch place for a while,” Tom remained standing in the doorway

“Don’t be staying too late, I need your help tomorrow. Got to make some repairs to the hog house and there’s a section of fence needs some tendin.” Ephraim Hardesty looked up from the lighted surface of the workbench. Parts of a feed spreader lay across the oil stained wood. Fastened on the wall above the bench, a grimy, somewhat torn, illustration of the spreader. Written on the bottom of the once-neatly-folded, over-sized paper was the legend, “Your Modern Spreader! Now Designed for Easy Repair”. The irony was under-appreciated by the man who toiled to keep the equipment working.

Seeing the guitar case, Ephraim put the wrench he was using down on the bench and said,

“Out to learn some more songs, are ya?”

“Yeah, thought maybe…you know”

“Lemme see…”

A bit surprised, Tom set the case down, flipped the latches and held the guitar out towards his father. Wiping his hands on a clean rag, Ephraim Hardesty took the guitar, sat back on the tall wooden stool, crossing one leg over the other, strummed a few random chords. A passing stranger would have less trouble recognizing the older man as father to the younger, than did Tom Hardesty, at that particular moment. Tom saw a man that childhood memories would suggest was someone he knew, but right then, he was seeing a near-stranger …who began to sing,

“I woke up this morning… I woke up this morning…
Woke up this morning, with the monday...” winking at his son, he sang,
Sunday morning blues.
I couldn’t hardly find… I couldn’t hardly find… I couldn’t hardly find,
my Sunday morning shoes.

Sunday morning blues… Monday morning blues…
Sunday morning blues, searched all through my bones. Monday morning blues… Monday Monday morning blues, made me leave my home. I’ve been laying in jail…
… I’ve been laying in jail, six long weeks today.”
(Mississippi John Hurt rights reserved)

Seeing the look on his son’s face, Ephraim said,

What? Do you think that your mother and I got married by accident? Who do you think encouraged her to buy this guitar?”

Laughing, Ephraim Hardesty handed the guitar to his son and turned back to his broken spreader part.

“Try to remember to ask Phyllis McCutcheon when she wants us to make the next delivery of hogs. Oh, and be sure to remind her that we’ll need the extra help to harvest the alfalfa, in a couple of weeks.”

Ephraim turned his attention back to the broken equipment, determined to restore it to working order.

***

Hunk Dietrich studied his correspondence courses and dreamed of a real life.

***

Dorothy Gale, walked barefoot-quiet down the hallway to her bedroom, after 45 relaxing minutes in a warm tub in a quiet bathroom. She put on her softest jeans and a grey cashmere pullover, (borrowed from her college roommate Eliza’s extensive wardrobe), and stood in front of the mirror on the large dresser. Tilting the lampshade to let as much light as possible shine on her reflected face, Dorothy Gale turned her head to the left and then to the right, tilted her head forward and back and finally stepped back and said quietly, to her herself,

“I do not look green! And anyone who says I’m mean…. green!!  Well, they’re just damn liars!!”

For no reason, the name, “Mrs. Gulch” came to mind and she realized that she’d forgotten all about her plan to visit Mrs. Gulch at St Mary’s Hospital.

‘Well, I’ll simply go there after Church tomorrow.”  she said, as she pulled the easy chair around, to face out the window. Dorothy sat, took out a pad and began to write a letter to her friend Eliza Thornberg,

“Dear Eliza,

‘Trust you are well. I am,  …bored would begin to tell it, and yet it’s only been 2 weeks…’

***

Standing in front of the plate-glass window of McAlleister’s Bakery, 16-year-old Almira Ristani saw her reflection. The street light, just beginning to glow in the early evening dark, created a mirror of the window, offering a glimpse of a young girl in a heavy grey coat. Her long, light brown hair formed a shawl, spreading to either side of her face. A delicately fair complexion and pale blue eyes, made her think of Titania, such was the faerie-like appearance in the plate-glass. Almira looked shyly at her reflection and, glancing up and down the empty streets, whispered,

“What has happened, have you lost your way? Surely you can find your way home, don’t be scared. I’ll help you.”

The reflection smiled, both in agreement and in sympathy.

“Come in! Just in time to help get the refreshments out! The Union committee, yes, that’s the shouting you’re hearing… is almost done with the meeting. Parliamentary intercourse you know!”  laughing, Annie LoPizzo, her white blouse open to a greater degree than one might think appropriate, at least until the day, (Saturday), and time, (6:30 pm), was noted. Her ample breasts were much like her personality: seductively intriguing, hinting at undefined pleasure to those willing to take a chance.

“Here, let’s get you some muscle to help with the coffee urns. Sterling!! Come out here! I need to introduce you to my friend and the newest member of the all volunteer union hall staff, Almira Ristani.
Almira? this is Sterling Gulch… Sterling? No, you aren’t shy, are you? Help Almira set out the refreshments. From the volume of the shouting, I’d say the Strike Committee has concluded it’s meeting for this week.” Annie moved quickly around the large open room, arranging the cakes and other donated baked goods.

“Sterling! Remember our talk earlier today. The Union is the reason for all this, if you want to help, we’re glad to have you. There’ll be time to socialize later. Work first, flirt second, is that understood?  And besides, my young friend Almira may be a bit more than you’re accustomed to, as far as the young ladies go. She’s managed to teach me some things about the plight of modern woman in today’s society. Yes, I know that you went to college too, but learning and wisdom are often two different matters.”

***

Nurse Claire Griswold stood guard in the darkened Ward C, the light at the exit, like a votive candle, cast a quiet glow over the ten beds.

****************

Saturday Night (Late)

The guttural shouting of the car muffler as Randall Hughes accelerated away from the Stillworth home made Becky think of the sound the boy made, just before their date came to a sudden and surprising end. Opening the front door as quietly as possible, Becky was only to the bottom of the stairs when she heard her father’s voice coming from the living room,

“Is that you, dear?”

“Yes, Dad, it’s me” after a momentary pause, they both laughed at the silly obviousness in both his question and her answer.

“How was your date?”

Becky was surprised to feel a flash of anger at his question, but was more surprised that she was mad at herself. She decided that it would be best to keep this conversation as short as possible.

“It was swell. We went to the movies,”

“What’d you see?”

“‘Topper’ About some people, a couple who are ghosts and this guy, Topper. Cary Grant was in it. It was good, but in a way sad. The way the couple, who were really in love, but died in a car crash.”

“And then….”

“Well, you know. We went to Randall’s Pharmacy for something to eat and just hung around. You know.”

“Well, I’m glad you had a good time. You work so very hard at your studies, it’s good to see you have some fun.”

“Sure. It’s not that I need to get away from my studies. I really want you and Mom to be proud of me.”

“We are, Becky. Your mother only wants the best for you. You know that, right?”

“Sure, Dad,”

Becky started up the stairs to her bedroom,

“Oh, and Becky?”

She stopped mid-step, fearing the worst. She couldn’t smell anything, but she feared the worst. Thinking he was smarter than her, which considering most of the girls he’d been out with, wasn’t unreasonable, Randall Hughes had spiked her cup of Coca Cola. She didn’t say anything until the car headlights were off and he pulled her towards his side of the front seat. She still didn’t say anything, just leaned towards him, which brought his attention away from the cup of soda in her right hand. She leaned away enough to see the annoyed expression on his face, just before she poured the contents of her cup into his lap. Annoyance turned to shock and surprise and then, Becky found a part of herself feeling sorry for him, he looked confused and embarrassed. Neither spoke on the ride back to Becky’s house. She got out of the car without saying or hearing another word.

“Yes?”

“You might want to find a better hiding place for your College Brochures. Your mother mentioned today that it was time to turn the mattresses. I convinced her it could wait a week and I’d take the time off from the store to help her. I put a clean wooden box on my workshop bench in the basement. You might want to put them there tomorrow after Church. They’ll be safe until after the mattress flipping is over.”

Feeling the whiplash relief of un-realized fear combined with the pleasant surprise of her fathers attitude towards her ambition, Becky ran back down the stairs and hugged her father.

“Thank you, Daddy. Thank you.”

“Now, enough of that! It’s late and you’ve had a long day. Off to bed with you.”

Pausing in front of the mirror at her closet, Becky Stillworth smiled at herself.

***

The full length dressing mirror stood alone, facing Eliza Thornberg’s bed. The covers moved, a flash of blonde hair appeared and disappeared, followed by a tanned shoulder-blade. Had the full length dressing mirror been a proper recording device, rather than a simple reflecting device, the sounds of surprise and delight, discovery and passion would have been a part of the record of late evening in Eliza Thornberg’s bedroom. This particular night, (which started out as Saturday afternoon), would be noted in family lore as ‘the day of the Afternoon Social That Continued Well into the Evening’.

For the unabridged version of that afternoon/evening, it would be necessary to consult those who attended, but were not on the actual Guest list, i.e. the domestic staff. Consulted, they would surely mention that it was the weekend that the son of a Houseguest was taken to the hospital and, they might continue, it was also the same social event that included a soon-to-be-famous Film Director, a last-minute addition to the Guest list, (this last was a detail that assured one that the source of the information was well beyond scullery girl gossip), who was also a guest for breakfast the Sunday that followed that Saturday.

“Church?” Jack Clayton looked at the girl standing, nearly nude, in front of a dressing mirror.

“Why yes, surely they have Churches in Hollywood? Big buildings? Sunday mornings, nicely dressed?” Eliza smiled as she watched her overnight guest in the mirror’s reflection.

“Dressed? As in, not naked and…. nude? That’s no fun!” Jack retreated under the covers.

“Oh, yeah.” Eliza stood at the foot of the bed,

“Thanks for reminding me! You need to join us in Newport this August!”

***

Henry was as close to fed up with Emily as he could ever remember being. The evening at the Morgans, while boring at times, was not unpleasant. His wife’s effort to manipulate Thad Morgan into supporting her plan to use the Charity Ward of St Mary’s to create the ‘Gale Wing’, was.
Long reconciled to his wife’s insecurities, he could see that his accommodations to her frequently over-bearing ambitions made him blind to the extent to which she would go to get what she wanted.

“I’m sorry, I don’t see how this plan of yours is necessary if it means poor people have to go to Topeka for proper care, away from their homes.”

***

Tom Hardesty found Phyllis McCutcheon working on inventory lists in the small room off the kitchen of the Gulch Farm. She was so focused on multiple inventory lists in front of her, that he stood in the doorway, unnoticed for several minutes. A woman of medium height, she wore her hair quite long, its remarkable fineness somehow made its length less obvious. As Tom watched, her smooth brow furrowed in concentration, as if, by forcing her eyes to increase the detail available, the problem’s solution might be all the more satisfying. She turned her ahead in the direction of the shadow that Tom cast over the table, temporarily eclipsing the bright kitchen light. Phyllis continued to stare at the young man, as if including his presence in the addition and subtraction of numbers carefully written on her ledger sheets. At a certain point she clearly needed clarification of this new factor in her work and, smiling abstractly, said,

“Tom! So good to see you! How long have you been standing there? Please come in and sit,”

following his gaze, she realized that there was only the one chair in the small room.

“Of course, how rude of me! Here, take my chair!”

Tom stepped back out into the kitchen, smiling and looking towards the larger table set up on the far side of the room,

“No, thanks, I’m good.”

Phyllis McCutcheon was one of those people who saw the good before the bad in most people. And, while many who stopped at Almira’s Farm might offer to pay what they could afford for a hot meal or a clean bed, they would move on as soon as the opportunity presented itself. When the McCutcheon party turned up at the Gulch Farm, 3 years previously, their hoped for short stay turned from days into weeks. Never being one to stand idly by as others work, Phyllis offered to help Almira in the kitchen.

Phyllis was the daughter of one of the organizers of the three vehicle caravan, an old and opinionated preacher by the name of Noah McCutcheon. Phyllis’s husband and daughter had died, within a month of each other, of influenza in 1936, in their small home outside of Tulsa. Following her father seemed to be as good a plan for life as staying where she was and so, they traveled West, drawn by the promise of opportunity and hope for a new life in a place as far from Oklahoma as was possible and still remain in the United States.

After a week of staying in the barn-turned-dormitory, their vehicles repaired and ready for the road West, Noah McCutcheon told Phyllis to get her things and join the rest, ‘of the pilgrims’ in the over-loaded vehicles. Always one to avoid an argument, Phyllis happened to be in the middle of assisting Almira with a complete inventory of the Farm at the time of her father’s command.

Surprise is often expressed with anger and, sometimes with joy and happiness. On one October morning in 1937, Phyllis McCutcheon caused both states to exist with her surprising announcement,

“Father I am staying here at the Farm. That is, if Miz Gulch will permit me to stay and help complete this inventory.”

The two very different responses indicated the respective emotional states in the kitchen that morning,

“I forbid it!”

“I’d be delighted if you would stay and help me here on the Farm.”

The two women continued with their efforts even as the sound of three badly running vehicles followed the dusty-yellow road that promised to lead to a happy life in the West.

***

Nurse Claire Griswold watched over her charges as the night wore on.

 

Chapter 7

Featured

The noon whistle cut through the constant roar of the braiding machines that filled the 3rd floor of Building 6 of Everett Mill. For each row of braiders, there were 2 braider-tenders, replacing empty bobbins of thread with full ones, spotting broken or jammed bobbins and freeing whatever caused the flow of thread-to-central-carrier to be interrupted. Braider Tenders were, predominately, women, their aptitude a result of smaller hands and, by and large, greater manual dexterity. That the machinery was rarely turned-off meant the Braider Tender needed to reach in among the spinning and whirling machines, (the bobbins spun, the carriers whirled). Only the Floor Supervisor and his assistant, (the floor Mechanic), had the ability, (and much more importantly, the authority) to slow down or stop the machinery. Like the shuttles and bobbins of the braiders, Almira and the other women moved up and down their rows, as connected to the machinery as any other part. The length of time it took them to spot and replace a broken or empty bobbin, was closely monitored by the Floor Supervisor.

Routine has the remarkable quality of transforming the unique into the everyday. People, especially strongly-motivated people, are able to get used to anything. When Almira first started working full time at the Mill, (within a month of her 14th birthday and less than 2 months after the death of her mother), she’d return home after her shift, shaking with tension. Being trained to tend the braiding machines required, well, it required tending the braiding machines.
Her first steps down the narrow space that ran between rows of braiders were within a millimeter of dead-center, as she followed Mrs. Ypres, who was assigned to train new Braider Tenders. She showed Almira how to take a bobbin from the cart at the end of the row, release and remove the empty bobbin and tie in the new thread. Almira thought at the time to ask if it wouldn’t be easier and safer to turn the machine off first. The world of the 3rd Floor Braiding Department was a world of deaf-mute workers serving overwhelmingly loud machinery, and so, communication was very efficient, she could nod in agreement or frown in question, whereupon Mrs. Ypres would move to the next section to free a stuck bobbin. The tension Almira felt throughout her first week of training was the unavoidable result of her constant effort to maintain a safe(er) distance between herself and the ravenous machinery. Unfortunately, there was a row of machines behind her and every inch gained on one-side was lost on the other.

Almira Ristani got used to the danger and no longer came home shaking from the stress, except on those days that there was an accident. The first to happen on her shift, came after she’d been working for 6 months, she didn’t see anything. Somehow, it was made worse that she heard it. She heard the scream. What haunted her dreams for weeks, even months after that first accident, was how the scream of the woman changed, as it raced down the parallel rows of machines. It was a scream at once terrified and, surprisingly with little of a message of pain. It quickly transformed itself into a cry of hopeless despair.  For one woman on one day, a brief moment of inattention, while performing a task practiced a thousand times, things went terribly wrong. This one time, God, (or the Devil), decided that the fabric of her heavy woolen sweater should catch a passing bobbin and fix itself to the machine. The first tug would be alarming to her by virtue of it’s direction… towards the moving parts of the machine. Years of safe practice made that direction, in towards the machine, so very wrong. The sweater she wore that particular day was knitted, (by her sister and given as a Christmas gift two years prior), and therefore had some give. Over the years this woman (and other women at other times) had felt such tug, quickly met with a counter pull  and the world returned to it’s proper course. This time it’s different. Maybe she was especially tired, (working double or even triple shifts or perhaps a sick child awake through the night), maybe God, (or the Devil), were not paying attention (or too much attention) and the ‘tug away from’ was met with a stronger pull towards. Even as she leaned back and away, her sleeve continues moving down her arm into the machinery. The surprise in her scream takes on a tone of horror. Her heavy jacket binds at the shoulders, and she is pulled in towards the madly-whirling carriers. The fabric of her sweater’s sleeve is now a part of the machinery and her scream of alarm becomes terrified despair. Not of pain. There is little in this woman’s arm or any other part of her body that is concerned with anything as trivial as pain. As much the antelope tripping and falling to the ground, the hot breath of a lion at it’s neck, pain is not the issue. The machinery does not notice her struggles, the 3rd floor is a place of deaf mutes working in a land of constant mechanical noise. It is only when the screams of the Braider Tender cuts through the roar of the machinery does anyone notice. Only then is the attempt to bring the machine to a halt begun. And that turning off is nothing more than a slowing down, the roar of the machines decreases and a new, all too human sound fills the 3rd Floor.

On Saturdays, the Everett Mill shut down for maintenance. The three shifts ran  but all production ended at midnight on Saturday. The maintenance mechanics would roam throughout the Mill looking for signs of weakness in the equipment and replaced worn parts so that, at the end of Sunday night, the production could begin again.

December of 1911 provided little evidence of the winter yet to come for Lawrence, Massachusetts. November had been mild and the sunshine plentiful. The Merrimack River flowed, free of ice, except along the shores, where sheets of ice, thin, white and tilted up along the embankment.

On this particular Saturday afternoon, the sky was painfully blue and the wind was harshly cold as Almira Ristani stepped out of Building 6, walking alone, at the back of the crowd of grey and brown wool women, as they poured out of the building and headed towards home.

The sudden muffling of the constant noise of machinery, as the metal door banged shut, was like the feeling of being underwater, only in reverse. The pressure of the constant rhythmically-pounding noise of the textile mill wasn’t felt until it was removed. Pulling her grey wool coat closer, one of the hundred workers leaving the Mill, Almira descended the granite stairs, turned left and walked up Lawrence Street.

Amid the sounds of tired women complaining, (about men and families), and comparing (demands of men and families) and, on occasion, laughing, (about families and children), in at least three different and distinct languages, Almira saw a flash of crimson as the figure of a tall woman separated itself from the herd of stooped backs filling the sidewalk.

“Ally! Ally!  Up here!!”

Almira, looked up from the sidewalk immediately in front of her, saw her friend, Annie LoPizzo about a half a block ahead. Standing and facing back towards her, seemingly happy to let the river of tired women veer around her, Annie waved her hand. Despite the occasional muttering of ‘O co chodzi z gym komiet!‘ and ‘Elle est celle de feu‘, she remained there, in the middle of the sidewalk and actually began to speak, as if Almira was close enough to understand what she was saying,

“Where are you going? You need to come with me!!”

“I’m sorry, I have to go home and get my little brother from Mrs Swaider’s and then I need to get dinner ready and then…” Almira, the direct sunlight and cold wind on her face, felt relaxed yet tired.

“Today is Saturday and I know for a fact that Mrs. Swaider won’t mind watching little Stefan for a couple of extra hours. That woman never met a dollar that she didn’t think she deserved. And your father’s on the Maintenance crew this weekend and… what? Listen my well-read friend, I know everything about my friends and even more about everyone else!”

Almira watched as her friend twirled and cavorted on the sidewalk… heavy winter coat flapping open, as if they were both on their way to the Town Common on a warm June Saturday.
Since her mother’s death, Almira accepted the mantle of caregiver to her damaged family. She didn’t resent her responsibilities at home and resolved to not encourage her friend, ‘Stay serious, don’t encourage her’, she thought as they walked through the cold December afternoon. Her resolve eroded quickly, despite the stern and un-responsive expression on her face. In the short time she’d known this woman, Almira recognized, as Annie LoPizzo twirled about and ran, seriousness and a stern attitude was every bit a cape of red before the bull. Smiling openly, Almira Ristani thought about her mother and how she would read to her, their small 2 room apartment transformed into distant lands and towering castles. It was in the books that her mother read from, (and soon, she would read from) that kindled a small fire that, although at times banked against the mind-numbing work and bleak lives of her co-workers, never completely went out. Annie LoPizzo seemed to sense the fire within her and was always doing something that seemed to fan the small flame.

It was only during the 30 minute daily walk home that Almira could imagine that she was a girl who could go anywhere in the world (at least as long as she kept walking). Her dreams of going to college and meeting the living people who wrote the timeless books that she read, had life and energy only in her mind, only as she walked from Mill to family- responsibility. Her new friend Annie somehow gave her hope that her dreams could survive her current life.

“You need to come with me! I have some things to show you!”

Annie LoPizzo had a natural talent for languages and mimicry. Almira decided that her friend was able to ‘speak in laughter’, a dialect of the heart that demanded neither comprehension nor understanding, only the attention of the other person. It was a simple and utterly basic celebration of sharing life. She had an energy that grew from whatever situation or moment she happened to be in. Almira looked forward to their time together, all too rare an event, as the demands of the Mill, bookended by the needs of her family left little time for herself.

For Almira, the time she spent with Annie was like walking out of a monochrome landscape and finding herself in a world of color and energy, curious movements and mysterious people. Annie LoPizzo was one of those, all too rare people, who simply embraced life. She saw each day as an adventure, filled with opportunity and danger, to be equally relished. In the company of a friend, she might run for the simple joy of movement, with a lover she would seize the passion that refused apartness, and, faced with a threat, she would attack without holding anything back, without regard to cost or even outcome.

Almira felt the enthusiasm even before she considered the request. Annie’s ideas and invitations, were they delivered written on paper, might appear a demand. They were in the context of so much energy that she could only smile to herself and let her arm be pulled in the direction which her new friend wanted her go.

The two young women ran down the sidewalk, towering soot-grimed brick wall to their left and coldly-blue water of the Merrimack River on their right.

“Come on! I want you to meet some people down at the Meeting Hall. I know you’re going to like them.”

“Well, alright. But I can’t take too much time. I must get home before long.”

***

“I really must be getting back to Town,”

Dorothy announced, after less than a half an hour in the boat and, after zero minutes actually fishing. She’d spent most of the last five minutes staring at a clump of grayish-white clouds that seemed, as they moved across the sky, to form a shape of something from a dream, not a good dream. An animal, (because, clouds always try to look like their opposites, the land-bound life on earth), squat in shape with sharp-pointed wings.

“But we only just got here!”

Tom Hardesty sat in the bow of the boat, his back against a loose seat cushion. Looking towards the shore, he saw only the old blue truck they had arrived in, a wooden dock with a single worn bench built along one side, and beyond the copse of hickory and oak that encircled Echo Lake, he saw the beginnings of the endless wheat fields. Distance when observed over farm fields, devoid of buildings or any other feature, was nearly impossible to accurately judge.  The expanse seemed to offer promise of opportunity and, at the same time, gave no clue to any path, at least a path that would lead him to the world beyond life in a large Small Town.

Tom started to sing,

“Ain’t one hammer
(Ain’t one hammer)
In this tunnel
(In this tunnel)
That rings like mine.
(Oh it rings like mine.)
That rings like mine.

Nine pound hammer
(Nine pound hammer)
That killed John Henry
(Killed John Henry)
Ain’t a-gonna kill me.
(Ain’t gonna kill me.)
Ain’t gonna kill me.”
(‘Nine Pound Hammer’ traditional, lyrics from The Monroe Brothers version )

As he sang, Tom watched Dorothy, as she alternately stared at the passing clouds and over towards the trees that bordered the small lake on three sides. She seemed at once the shy high school girl who always managed to stand out in a crowd, and a total stranger. He smiled at the memory of how determined she was to fit in, during the first two years of high school and yet, after ‘the Storm of ’37’ her notoriety as ‘the girl who rode the cyclone’ seemed to become an un-wanted burden, despite how eager she was to tell and re-tell her tale of faraway land and adventures with markedly odd characters. That their own relationship, one that he valued more than he was able to express, would be destroyed by the intensity of her need to be the center of community attention, hurt him more than he knew. She was his first experience, both of physical love making and, recognized far too late as the more dangerous, emotional love making. This was a fact that his social persona would never permit him to disclose.

Now, in the early half of a June afternoon, in a small boat, with an attractive young woman Tom Hardesty realized that he needed to learn how to avoid the life that he saw played out, in depressingly mundane detail, by his father each day. It was life of effort and passion reduced to a day-to-day routine of subsistence survival. Tom was looking for a direction, rather than waiting for permission to act. Being in a boat, (with a girl), in the middle of a Lake), did not present an overabundance of action-strategies, so he played his guitar.

Ever since visiting the Gulch farm with his father and meeting a very interesting, (and constantly changing), group of people, Tom found the time to return at least once a week. He would pitch-in and help with the seemingly endless chores that were generated by the effort of Almira Gulch to provide help to those in need. Tom took as payment for his work, permission to join in the frequent discussions and, more to his interest, the opportunity to learn songs from the itinerant musicians who, lacking shelter or a meal to sustain them on their own journeys, would stop at the Gulch farm for a brief time of rest and sharing tales of the road. Tom’s repertoire grew, both in variety and sophistication. He smiled remembering his first meeting Woody Guthrie at the farm one Thursday evening, and started to sing,

My brothers and my sisters are stranded on this road,
A hot and dusty road that a million feet have trod;
Rich man took my home and drove me from my door
And I ain’t got no home in this world anymore.”
(I Ain’t Got No Home’ Woody Guthrie)

Dorothy closed her eyes and listened to the music. The guitar providing the perfect, simple accompaniment to Tom’s singing. To her surprise she found that the  lyrics somehow resonated with a part of herself that she had thought she’d out-grown.

“My God, Tom! When did you learn to sing like that?” Dorothy said, the last notes of the song slipping through the trees on the shore and were immediately absorbed by the endless wheat fields beyond.

“Why over at Miz Gulch’s farm. I go over there every now and then and, more likely than not, after dinner someone would bring out a guitar or fiddle and play songs well into the night. There’s one fellow, Woody, he writes songs that you’d swear you heard before, the way it would make you feel. I never thought a person could play so well.”

The water didn’t quite turn to fire, but the sensation on her fingers became un-ignorable. Dorothy felt as if the water burned her fingers. She quickly pulled her hand from the water, into her lap, used her shirt tail to dry it and looked at Tom.

Dorothy Gale felt an anger grow within her at a speed that was surprising and somehow enticing. It seemed to be accompanied by a warning, that to give in to it would cause, would create… bad things to happen. Nothing that she could conceptualize, but somehow the farm where she was raised took on a sinister tone and, very oddly, her life at college seemed to fade, as if it had been years ago that she was away from Circe, rather than just a few weeks.

She struggled to sit up in the back of the boat.

“Take me back to shore. Now”

Tom Hardesty, sought, in the mundane a way to bridge the gap between himself and the girl in the back of the small boat. He hoped to make her laugh, but would settle for a smile and said,

“Hey, Dorothy come on! this is a small lake and though you can’t be sea sick, you’re looking a little green.”

***

“You know you promised that we’d go sailing today. Why are you now telling me that you want to waste time with my father’s wife’s Formal Saturday Afternoon Tea. What the hell is the matter with you?”

Eliza was very not-happy. She regretted turning down her cousin Lila’s invitation to spend June and July in Europe. 6 weeks among foreign and, presumably, attractive young men and women, (the only kind of people Eliza’s imagination was equipped to provide),  traveling to places more exotic than Philadelphia,

‘Which wouldn’t take much,’ she muttered as she stared into her closet. She felt youthful and very muscled arms encircle her waist,

“Sorry Romeo, if you’re making me go and stand around with your father, my parents and a bunch of other old people, you better save your strength. So hands off…”

Eliza un-buttoned her blouse, let it fall to the floor, reached around and un-clasped her bra and, letting it fall to join her blouse on the floor, turned to face Stephen Lawrence, current houseguest and soon-to-be-replaced-boyfriend,

“Wait…. before you go, I want you to know what you missed out on today. In a couple of hours, while we’re both telling old wealthy people how difficult the past year in school was so they can tell us how easy we have it, you can look over at me and I can smile and tell them how hard things are nowadays…”

Pushing the tall, dark haired son of the Chancellor of Sarah Lawrence College out into the hallway, Eliza stood with her back to the door and looking around her room for something to throw or break, tried to get her growing temper under some kind of control.

“Aww come on Eliza! It’s not my fault, it’s business, it’s expected of us.”

The lawn, rolling away from the patio area, was decorated in a Japanese motif. Small paper lanterns hung from trees. The serving staff all wore what Eliza thought were supposed to look like kimonos, her father’s wife was quite taken with all things Oriental.

“Excuse me!” a thin man with a receding hairline and faraway look in his eyes, walked into Eliza, spilling most of the Tom Collins he was holding, only part of it getting on her, most ended up on his shirtfront.The man looked both embarrassed and panic-stricken, as if he had broken something loud and valuable.

“My God, sorry, didn’t see you. All my fault!”

****

“Mr. Dietrich! What are you doing here? It’s Saturday. Don’t you ever take a day off?”

Becky Stillworth rose from the small desk behind the main Circulation Desk of the Circe Free Library. Being Saturday and Summer, she wore a very light blouse and shorts. That it was Summer, and therefore the number of classmates who might come into the library was quite small, she felt free to wear clothes that might otherwise invite attention. At least un-wanted attention. Looking up at the tall man with the distant look in his eyes, she smiled at the wisdom of her fashion choice.

Chapter 6

Featured

“I don’t care what your Nurse Griswold says, I want this patient re-evaluated. If it’s determined that she’s a poor risk, she’ll need to be transferred to a different facility, one that does not play as vital a role in the community as St Mary’s Hospital. Do I make myself clear?”

Like a sculpted marble altar, the ceremonial focal point of many a glorious cathedral, the still woman lay on the narrow hospital bed, shrouded in once-white linen, as Doctor Thaddeus Morgan spoke in the direction of Nurse Sally Rowe. Like an altar boy asked, at the 11th hour, to serve Mass with a new priest, Nurse Rowe looked attentive and tried her best to project an attitude of respectful obedience. She was both a new Nurse, (fresh out of school), and a new nurse at St Mary’s, (hired only the week before), and, although young, she’d assimilated the facts of life, as manifested in the healthcare profession’s caste system. Her Supervising Nurse had warned her that the Chief of Medicine was given to flights of ‘hands-on-Management’ fantasy, and might, without warning, show up on the Ward looking for errors to correct. This was her first encounter with Dr. Morgan and she was impressed by the accuracy of her Head Nurse’s description,  ‘he is an exquisitely dressed bully’

Dr. Thaddeus Morgan was 45 years of age, short (5’10”), at least 90 pounds overweight, and wore wire-rimmed glasses that no longer fit properly, which caused painful looking creases at the corners of his eyes and just in front of his ears. He had very thick brown hair worn in a style that his barber assured him was exactly like Errol Flynn’s. Thaddeus Morgan’s extremely obvious self-indulgence was clothing. Since leaving medical school, Dr. Morgan could be recognized by the exquisitely, (and expensively), tailored clothing that he wore both to his private practice, and to the Hospital. He had a tailor in Kansas City that he would visit at least twice a year for the express purpose of refining and adding to his extensive wardrobe.

Were one to note only his haircut and his wardrobe, Thaddeus would have been a singularly attractive physician. However, he possessed a complexion that benefited from an overly copious network of blood vessels. On a good day, his face had a rosy, healthy glow. During the stressful portions of these good days, rosy became florid, invisible veins appeared, like war paint across his cheeks and down the sides of his neck. As if unaware of how precariously attractive balanced against un-attractive, Thaddeus Morgan wore a remarkably exuberant mustache. To be more descriptive, a ‘handlebar mustache’ and, at the risk of too fine a point, ‘a waxed handlebar mustache’.

The result was a man who, despite holding a position of great authority, went to great lengths to inform onlookers that here was a man at war with himself.

Dr. Thaddeus Morgan was very self-conscious about his weight. It had been so, since childhood, a childhood during which the contralto singsong taunts of  ‘Fattius Morgan…  Here Comes Fattius Morgan!!’ were recorded in that horribly permanent part of the memory where reminders of how we might appear before the world are stored. The poison of such injury to the soul is, sadly, immune to logic and reason, whether dispensed by a well-meaning parent intent on consoling their child, a well-meant and usually futile strategy, or as self-administered advice and consul.  Thaddeus would often reflect on the intractability of the human psyche, recognizing how inconsequential these slights were, in light of his station in life, yet he would still feel his shoulders hunch and his eyes seek a hiding place, whenever such memories intruded on his adult reality. The tragedy of it all, Thaddeus would say to himself, (he would never speak of this aspect of his childhood, Shame being the twin gargoyle of Humiliation), is that it all still had an effect on his life as an adult. While a lifetime of education and scientific training afforded him the luxury of the insight into the nature the injury his child-self suffered, it did nothing to change anything. The permanent after-effects, the emotional reverberations, in subtle and all-to-often undetectable ways, shaped his adult behavior and therefore the quality of his life.

Not content, (better to say, unable to give the child-shaped demons the slip), to simply out-grow and therefore leave the hazardous environment of his childhood, ten year old Thaddeus Morgan endured the slings and arrows of the socially dominant, yet intellectually inferior classmates in school. Girding himself with a wall of fat, overeating became both response and defensive strategy. His studies and (their) promise of a better world, surrounded by accomplished adults who would support his efforts to excel were the light at the end of the tunnel. Finding an appropriate role model was the real challenge. In the year 1916, while still in grade school, the profession of physician seemed, to young Thad Morgan, to be the most accessible and promised the highest return for his effort. Soldier, Politician and Movie Star, as alternative goals, were all judged to be un-realistic ambitions. The first on the basis of the physical requirements, the second because of his unconscious appreciation of the fact that to be a politician was to be a person that would line up with the bullies, making snowballs (but not actually throwing them) for people like his tormentors, and Movie Star, while never considered a worthwhile or realistic goal by the young, (but in many ways, quite mature), Thaddeus, did have an effect on how he expressed himself once he began to succeed in his efforts.

So Thaddeus studied and ate and got ‘A’s. Accompanying each ‘A’ was a bruise from being pushed down, a puncture wound from a tack accidentally left on his seat in English class. Each injury, (an adult might call them minor, that adult would then betray which side of the battle they had spent their childhood), a Purple Heart in the battle ground of childhood. It was a war of attrition, and Thaddeus’s sense of self-worth was damaged from the very first sortie. The ability to feel ‘a part of’ the circle of people who made up his young world being the first casualties. As for his opponents, the dogs of this quiet war were, at least on the surface, much more merciful. For them, the cost was to be discovered later in life in the chains of social inferiority, forged by the young, worn as adults. Except, of course, for those among Thaddeus’s tormentors who might grow up to be politicians or, perhaps, very successful farm owners.

But in that quintessentially childlike way, the courage of the tormented is entirely lost on both the tormentor and the tormented. Thaddeus endured each assault stoically and twisted his own natural desire to strike out/ to strike back, inwards. His books were the punching bag that his father would never have permitted, his studies as much a martial art, preparing to win a life in which the bullies would be cast out and down, below where he would stand. Freedom from their torment by virtue of social/professional standing, was the best a very intelligent, but still only 10-year-old child, could imagine.

Returning to the town of his birth, (and subsequent torment), Thaddeus Morgan opened a practice and joined the staff of St Mary’s Hospital. He was a brilliant young doctor and a remarkably over-dressed man.

Now, on a Saturday morning, a time that he expected to find the staff at their most relaxed, he looked around the ward, seeking an outlet for his frustration. The thin layer of sweat that uniformly covered his skin, despite the relatively mild temperature, was beginning to form beads along the edge of his scalp, glistening trails down the side of his face, a condensate of fear. His white lab coat, hanging open, brought un-sought attention to his protruding stomach, all the more noticeable by contrast to the thin human shapes that gave 3 dimensionality to the narrow beds of Ward C.

“For that matter, where is Nurse Griswold!?” he looked around the room, over the tops of the 10 beds, anything below eye level, having no influence or bearing or consequence in his world, whatsoever.

“Where is who?’ Sally Rowe, very new to St Mary’s, already knew that in her profession, some things never changed. Leading among unchanged, the potentially lethal unintended consequences of Doctors acting outside of their specialty and the practical (and therefore often ignored), wisdom of the Charge Nurses. Sally started working at St Mary’s the week before and had been on rotating shifts, providing coverage and relief as needed. She had not yet met half of the nurses working in the hospital.

“Nurse Griswold! Tall, blonde, quiet to a fault. I met her on the occasion of this patient being admitted,” Dr. Morgan’s glance down at Almira Gulch was brief and, if one were not very observant, might be mistaken for a random glance. Nurse Rowe had the distinct impression that the Chief of Medicine was uncomfortable looking at the occupants in the narrow beds, particularly this one in Bed #10. Unremarkable and nearly indistinguishable from the other nine patients, but for the dark red ribbon sewn into the faded blue collars of her gown and the photo of the small boy on the nightstand, turned to face towards the center of the room, as if standing guard.

****

“I’m heading into Town.” Dorothy stood next to the battered grey bicycle after wheeling it out of the barn. The small basket on the front still had a lid, as did the larger basket behind the rider’s seat.

Uncle Henry and Hunk Dietrich stood on the back porch and watched as Dorothy, with an odd look on her face, lifted the lid of the basket on the bike’s back fender. She stood very still, shook her head very slightly and got on the bike.

Hunk walked up as Dorothy started to move, the bicycle going fast enough to maintain balance, and, standing in front of her, legs on either side of the front wheel, held the bike in place, stable enough that Dorothy was able to keep both feet on the pedals.

“I’ll be in Town later this afternoon, probably around 3 or so. I’ll be inside or out front of the Library, there’s no need to have to pedal home after a long day,” with a glance towards the porch, Dorothy nodded slightly and, released by the tall man, headed towards the gate.

Riding along the flat, dusty road, Dorothy Gale felt good. The bicycle, though showing the wear of excessive use, (and no small amount of sudden and un-expected abuse), rode well. She smiled. It had been a long time since she’d taken out off on her own, and she looked out over the wide rolling fields to either side of the road, the barbed wire of the fences implying a dotted-line-division between ‘it’s ok to keep going’ and ‘maybe you want to think about what you’re doing’.

Dorothy thought about how little physical exercise she had since returning from school. Not that there was a lot of bike riding in Bronxville, NY. The Phys. Ed. curriculum at Sarah Lawrence was quite rigorous. For freshman, it was a prerequisite and despite the obligatory complaints about early morning cold on the athletic field in September, Dorothy enjoyed the exercise, an alternative to the cars and taxis that were the normal mode of transportation.

Dorothy was planning on stopping at the Hospital and hoped to meet Tom Hardesty in the Town Square. She was certain that he would be agreeable to a fishing trip, provided he didn’t have his two girlfriends with him.

***

Tom Hardesty opened the door to his father’s darkened bedroom and spoke quietly, but very distinctly,

“Ethan’s in the kitchen, I think he’s making you some breakfast. He’ll be fine. When you get up, don’t get nervous. I took the truck, I have to run into Town for a while. Everything’s alright. I’ll be back sometime later in the day.”

Tom heard a sound of sleep-groggy assent, closed the door and walked out the back door of the house.

“Hey Ethan!  Tend to the chores. Don’t go off until I get back, ok?”

A distracted ‘yeah, ok’ floated above the head of the 10-year-old boy.

Tom got in the truck and headed down towards County Rd 28 and Town and, he hoped, a  chance to see what might have been.

***

Emily Gale stepped out on the back porch where her husband Henry and Hunk Dietrich sat, relaxing after lunch.

“This may be Saturday, but you two aren’t in Kansas City where you’d have nothing to do for the afternoon. The only Day of Rest in my book is tomorrow, the Sabbath, so if you two aren’t able to find a way to be useful, I’ll be all too happy to oblige!”

Henry Gale took a scuffed leather tobacco pouch from his left jacket pocket and, from his right pocket, a well-worn Meerschaum.

Emily stared at her husband, the challenge unmistakable. She looked at Hunk Dietrich and was unable to will him to make eye contact, as he was intently focused on carving a small block of wood.

Recognizing the battle was lost before it started, Emily Gale relented. A consummate manager of people, she decided to use the sense of relief the two men were surely feeling at their apparent success in out-witting her, to her advantage.
‘If the cattle and the hogs had as much brains as the men in my life think they have, we’d all be riding in the back of the truck headed to Kansas City’, she thought as she pulled her favorite porch chair around to face the two men.

“Well, I guess there’s no harm in slowing down a little on a nice June Saturday like today, now is there?” both men nodded slowly with the timid alertness seen in rabbits suddenly in the shadow of a hawk passing overhead,

“Henry, tell me what you learned over at the Hardesty place this morning.” Emily Gale took a small notebook and pencil from the pocket of her blue and white print dress,

“Are they ready for an Offer to save their farm?”

“Well, Em, it was kinda funny. Hunk and I got there around about 10:30. Ephraim came to the door, after we banged on it long enough to raise the devil, looking like a man who needed a drink. His boy, Ethan, just a little spud, was in the kitchen. Ephraim stepped back from the door, by way of an invite an we both walked in. Ain’t never seen a young ‘un work so natural in the kitchen as that boy. Had coffee brewin on the stove, smelled right good, wasn’t it so, Hunk? and, the boy looked like he was fixin some food up too,” Henry Gale turned his head towards Hunk,

“What’d that smell like to you, Hunk, smelled like bacon and eggs, didn’t it? Smelled real good, near as good as Margherita’s breakfast,” hearing a sudden clattering of dishes through the open kitchen window, Henry leaned to his right and spoke in the direction of the screen door, “Meaning no disrespect, Margherita! You put out the best spread in the whole of McPherson County!”

Turning back to face his wife, who was staring at her husband with a patient, and well-practiced expression, Henry continued,

“So, Ephraim sat himself at the kitchen table and stared into his coffee cup, like he was hoping it’d be something other than what it smelled like”,

“What can I do for you, Henry?” he said to me, after taking a careful sip of his coffee,

“So I told him we were just paying a neighborly visit and, seeing how it’s been going around town that he was having some troubles, if he needed some help we could maybe lend him some farm hands,”

Henry ignored the sound his wife made and looked over at Hunk, to avoid seeing the increasingly rapid tapping of her pencil on the small pad in her lap. Hunk was so engrossed in his wood carving that he didn’t notice Henry looking at him for support or, for that matter, Emily’s increasing impatience. Hunk did, finally, look up in the general direction of his employer and said,

“yeah, right good coffee it was!” averting the look in her eyes,

“…but the farm looked like it was being worked. Nothing new to the place, no repairs or anything, but clearly Ephraim is keeping up with the demands of his farm. Hard to imagine that just him and his two boys were keeping the place in such a good state all by themselves.”

Emily Gales’ impatience suddenly faded, and like a photo in a pan of clear developer solution, a look of wary suspicion began to form on her face.

***

“I have to get back to Town by 2:00 pm, don’t forget.”

Dorothy sat at the back of the rowboat, her bare feet on the cool damp wood of the floorboards. Listening to the rusty-wooden sound of the oars being pulled, she felt the rocking surge as Tom started rowing them out towards the middle of Echo Lake. Closing her eyes, she let her right hand drop into the water, tiny waves rising up the sides of her fingers as the water began to move past. The water wasn’t particularly cold, but nevertheless, she felt the skin on her forearm tighten and raise into goosebumps. Her eyes closed enough to appear to be dozing, she looked at Tom Hardesty in the center of the little boat. The act of rowing created a curious rippling effect on his body, more a sequential tensing of muscles, rather than a flowing effect. It seemed to start with an obvious tension in his upper shoulders, which lagged behind the motion of his body as he leaned backwards, pulling on the oars. It was as if the weight of the water on the flat wooden oars was transmitted up his arms, preventing his bending backwards from the waist. Dorothy smiled at the thought that what she really was seeing was Tom Hardesty trying to drag the lake up to where he sat, each time the lake moved to where he was, he’d lean back, always staying ahead of it. The muscles in his shoulders and chest became more and more defined as he rowed, his white tee-shirt beginning to stick at certain points in the movement of his torso. She also noticed that the water flowing around her hand was not as cold as she thought.

***

Tom Hardesty had parked the truck along the side of the Town Square that faced the Library. He decided, during the short ride into town, that he wasn’t going to take any chances. By sitting in his truck he limited the chance that either Nancy or Patricia would spot him. They’d both been there when Dorothy suggested they meet on Saturday, but Tom did nothing to remind them of the ‘date’ and was hoping they’d forgotten.

He spotted Dorothy as she rode an old grey bicycle up to the where the sidewalk cut through the Park, kept going to the waterless Fountain, got off her bike, and leaned it against a nearby bench and sat on the stone rim.
It was what she wore, not what she rode, that became the focus of Tom’s attention. Slacks on women was an uncommon sight, in the large Small Town of Circe KA. Her blouse looked familiar, but she’d done something to it, tying the shirt tails together, revealing her midriff that caused him to both sit up and notice. Lacking the vocabulary of fashion to analyze how the 18-year-old girl achieved this effect, his response was to mutter, “Damn!” (to anyone who might also be watching).
Tom got out of the truck, stopped after about 5 steps and returned for his guitar. Pulling it out through the open window, the guitar banged on the sill, a musical alarm ringing in the quiet morning air. He laughed, in part at his how nervous he felt,

‘Come on, Tom’ he thought, ‘this is Dorothy you’re talking about, nothing to get all worked up about.’

At the sound of the guitar, Dorothy looked in the direction of the truck and, without saying a word, got up and, pushing the bicycle along at her side, met Tom before he had gotten more than 10 feet from his truck.

“Let’s go!” seeing Tom’s questioning expression, she continued,

“To the Lake! You’re taking me fishing today!” as his expression changed from temporary confusion to more of an assessment of the situation, she put her left hand on his shoulder and said, closer to his ear than necessary,

“Unless, of course, you’d rather wait for my two best friends from High School to join us. Now if the chance to row me out on the Lake is what you’d prefer, help me get this bike in the back of the truck and we can get going.”

Tom laughed out loud, grinned to himself and thought about haylofts, and, inexplicably, tornados.

Chapter 5

Featured

Dorothy pulled herself down, back under the blanket, in the small, narrow bed. Despite the increasing early-morning heat, she was willing to endure some physical discomfort in order to remain in the thought-quiet dark of her bed. She rarely remembered her dreams, hadn’t since, well, since after ‘the Storm’. Certain mornings, however, her return from wherever her sleep-released mind took her, came with a price. This particular Saturday morning she felt restless, somehow tired from her sleep. For a brief second, in the middle of a full-body stretch, she nearly remembered her dreams of the night. Like being on a walk and coming upon a rabbit feeding just off the path, it came down to who saw who first, all she could keep retain from her near-memory, was a desire to go fishing. She reflected, as the blankets, extended by her stretching in the confines of her bed, reclaimed their hold on her body, that this thought of going fishing wasn’t fully-formed enough to be called a desire. Certainly it wasn’t in the class of the things that she knew that she really wanted, such as: finding her rightful place in the world of ‘Back East’, tying up loose ends here in Kansas, (though exactly what that meant remained a mystery), and Getting An Answer from Miss… Mrs. Gulch. Still, as she lay, arms at her side, hands now clasped, tenting the fabric of the blanket, an unintentional penitent in the shadow of an agnostic church, fishing… in a row-boat, would surely make today a good day.
She thought, ‘I’ll ask Uncle Henry if the row-boat is still at the lake house and if he wouldn’t mind taking me fishing.’

Satisfied that she had all the plan she needed to get the most from her Saturday, Dorothy started to get up from her bed, the thought,

‘And if Uncle Henry won’t, I’ll surely be able to convince Hunk to do it.’

Dorothy Gale threw back the thin brown wool blanket. The slightly cooler air of the bedroom raised goosebumps on her skin. She looked to be certain that her bedroom door was closed and seeing that it was, got up and walked to the window. (The long flannel nightgown that Aunt Em helped her pack when she left for College, was almost immediately discarded in favor of lingerie in fashion Back East. The pink silk teddy she wore was a gift from her roommate, Eliza Thornberg, and was ever so much more comfortable). Her smile evaporated as the memory of the ride home from town with Hunk, two days before, began to replay in her mind. The afternoon began without a problem, Dorothy set a time that she would be spending in the library, (a pretense to cover up her visit to the Hospital) and Hunk promised to be back at the Library at a specific time. Neither kept their promise. They apologized to each other for not being where they said they would be, and spent the 15 mile trip back to the Gale Farm, looking out the windows, silence their mutual penance. The wheat fields, in pencil-straight furrows, passed alongside, as the truck transported them from where they would rather be to where they were required to be.

Shrugging into her robe, (‘The Plaza’ embroidered on the breast, also a gift from Eliza), Dorothy thought, ‘Well, if I can’t get either of them to take me fishing, I’ve no doubt that Tom Hardesty will be more than happy to row my boat out on the lake. No doubt at all!’
Smiling, Dorothy began to get ready for the day.

Wearing grey slacks, (thinking ahead to her plans to go on the lake), and a simple blue and white blouse, her hair in braids (an impulsive decision, her hair not quite as long as it once was), Dorothy stood and looked at herself in the hall mirror. ‘A little less of a serious expression will let everyone admire your figure instead of wondering why the dark-haired College Girl is so worried’ she laughed at herself and started down the staircase. At the middle landing, Dorothy stopped and listened to her Aunt Emily’s voice from below,

“Well, I really don’t see why she doesn’t want to pitch in around the farm a little more,”

Emily Gale’s voice was jagged with frustration at her husband’s lack of an appropriate response to her concerns. Her tone betraying the strained patience more commonly observed in dog trainers and over-worked kindergarten teachers after an especially long school day.

“Good morning, Uncle Henry, Auntie Em!” Dorothy decided that if she ignored what she heard, the breakfast conversation would be much more enjoyable, “Hunk”

Hunk Dietrich sat at his usual place, slightly more than halfway between Emily Gale and her husband. He had papers stacked neatly on either side of his breakfast plate, the unread pile on his left, face down. From the congealed quality of his fried eggs, Hunk was more interested in reading than eating. He looked up,

“Good morning, Dorothy. Gonna be a warm one today, by the looks of the sky.”

Dorothy smiled back at Hunk, grateful to hear the obvious attempt to put their previous difficult time together in the past, where it belonged. She bent slightly, kissed her Uncle’s cheek while smiling over at her Aunt and sat down to Henry Gales’ immediate left. Margherita brought over the coffee pot and filled the white mug and raised one eyebrow,

“No, thank you, Margherita. Just coffee is fine.”

Auntie Em stared at the newspaper on the table in front of her. It being a Saturday, she wore a floral patterned cotton dress, rather than the more formal black skirts and white blouse that she favored during the regular workweek. Her hair was slightly less tightly bound, up in a bun and she wore her horn-rimmed glasses on a beaded necklace, rather than her silver wire-rim glasses.

“I see here that the First Notice for the Hardesty farm’s been posted in the paper. Such a shame! Ephraim Hardesty was a good farmer. At least he was, until that no account wife of his took off with that Bible Salesman. A pity really, such a good spread, for a farm on the smaller side. Are you listening to me Henry?”

Henry Gale was working on his morning list, a breakfast function that had served him well over the years, allowing him to selectively ignore his wife, during at least one sit-down meal each day.

“What was that Em?”  he put down his pencil stub and looked across the table,

“I said, I think you should take Hunk and go pay Ephraim Hardesty a visit. Ever since he took to the drink, that farm of has been slowly dying, it might make a good addition to our holdings. Plus he’s got a couple of sons, two or three, forget how many, but they might prove useful in the future, if we can cut a deal to keep him out of the bankers hands.”

Henry looked over to Hunk who nodded his agreement, then, for some reason, looked over at Dorothy,

“Maybe the two younger boys, but that eldest son of his, Tom, he’s a bad seed. Nothing good’ll come of him, a real wild one, hear tell. Too growed up to change now, but Hunk and I’ll pay Ephraim a visit today, get the lay of the land,”

A noticeably sour expression passed across Henry Gale’s face as he bent back to his List, adding one more Item to his day.

“Well, just talk to him about his farming. Don’t get fancy and try’n talk about money or bankers or his farm going on the block. You know that you always mess things up when you try to bargain. I’ll handle the money, and employees, you stick to making sure they give the good day’s work that we pay ’em for, you understand?”

Dorothy took her coffee over to the stove and, before Margherita could come out from where she was busy with her mending, poured herself a fresh full cup and walked towards the back door.

“And I need you to apply yourself just a little more, Missy! You’re only here for a couple of more weeks before you head back East. You might want to reflect on where your roots are, young lady!”

Auntie Em’s voice followed her out the door, onto the porch and the chickens, spooked by the sound, ran for the barn.

****

Unfurling herself from the barely-there satin quilt, Eliza Thornberg found herself bumping up against a shape, human by the feel of warmth, male by the out-spoken scent.  She came completely awake, although chose to keep her eyes closed, in the hope that her memory of her night travels getting to this point, might retain all it’s pleasure, without being spoiled by day’s early light.

“Oh damn!” Eliza sat straight up in her bed, as the previous evening replayed in her mind. The most unfortunate element to this particular type of recollection, is that the first things to be remembered are usually the last things that happened. In and of itself, that’s not a bad thing, what was always lacking was the reason… the justification, the context of the night before that lead her to follow the path to this early dawn bed. With the memory of what she did, came the knowledge of who it was she did it with,

“You need to get out of here and back to your bedroom in the Guest Wing! It’s Saturday and on weekends, Evelyn starts cleaning over here in the Family Wing first!!”

Eliza was answered by laughter that rose from under a pile of quilt and pillows on the far side of her bed and seemed to be headed towards her. Swinging her legs out of the bed covers, Eliza started to stand, realized she was naked, but before she could reach her dressing gown, was pulled back under the covers.

Ten minutes later, Eliza Thornberg’s blonde hair, like a volcano growing up from the ocean floor, appeared in the midst of the soft wreckage of the silk sheets and quilts. Not a second later, like a breaching whale in that same ocean, the brown curls of Stephen Edward David Lawrence’s head appeared, and beached itself on Eliza’s pillow. Laughing at the ceiling, she rolled over on her bedmate and, affecting the voice of an old Victorian woman,

“Master Lawrence! As a guest in my father’s house, you are expected to comport yourself in a manner befitting of your station in life. Only son and heir to the Founder (and current Chancellor) of Sarah Lawrence College, or not, you must stand tall and act the gentleman. Do this well and you shall be awarded a diploma”

Youthful laughter penetrated the bedroom door and spilled out into the hall where Evelyn O’Connaghy, cleaning supplies in her left hand, stopped before opening the door. Eliza had been Evelyn’s favorite ever since her early arrival into this world of wealth and power. At her employer’s side during Eliza’s birth, early one August morning at the family’s Summer home in Newport RI, Evelyn was heard to say, “Now that one, she surely will be some one’s prize and many a man’s heartache”.

This particular June morning, Evelyn decided to begin her morning cleaning in the private wing that housed the Master Suite. Despite being a weekend, when everyone slept late, Evelyn planned on being in a position to give her favorite Thornberg fair warning, should her parents take it to mind to rise early this Saturday Summer morning.

Lying in the crook of Stephen’s arm, Eliza Thornberg traced the striations of muscles with a barely-touching finger tip,

“Assuming you’ll make it back to your room without being discovered by my Father, which would not bode well for the rest of this weekend, for you, at any rate, how were you planning to entertain me, this Summer’s Saturday?”

Furrowing his brow at the thought of being discovered in bed with the daughter of his Father’s business partner, Stephen realized, once again, that sometimes the chances he took were a risk with a higher cost than he might otherwise choose. He decided that this was mostly his father’s fault. The bulk of the initial funding for William Lawrence’s College came from a group of investors headed up by Theodore Thornberg. It was a partnership of very mutual benefit. Bill Lawrence got to have his name carved in stone on the entrance to the College and Ted Thornberg got an exclusive on the publishing rights to 80% of the text books required by the new school’s curriculum.

“Well, Eliza I’m supposed to play golf with your father this morning. I have a feeling he’s going to offer me a position at his company. Maybe after lunch, you and I can do something… ”

“Get out of my goddamn bed!! Now!!”

Not bothering with her dressing gown, Eliza got out of bed and stalked into the bath, slamming the door on his unsuccessful attempt to get her to understand how business always came first.

****

The smell dragged Thomas Milton Hardesty from his nightly escape into sleep, just as it did nearly every morning. Although he couldn’t tell you exactly when this had become his un-appreciated alarm clock, pressed on the matter, he’d say that it probably was after his mother left, going on 2 years ago, right after the ‘Storm of ’37’. She packed up everything that belonged to her, including, unfortunately, the quality of mutual support essential for a family to not only survive but to thrive, when she left with her only daughter Elenn, bound West. What remained was a small farm, big and diverse enough that with a concerted and coordinated effort could provide for a small family, was in the hands of a desperately confused man and his 3 sons. The Hardesty Farm limped along after losing it’s soul. The livestock ate and grew and were slaughtered for market. Crops were planted and sprouted and waited for harvest and the Hardesty men survived. Barely. One natural calamity, (or one human inspired setback), away from complete and permanent dissolution.

Tom got up. Being a Saturday morning brought no consolation, nor provided the slightest of concessions that might off-set the previous week’s thankless labor. There were chores and there was life. One, at least, had the advantage of being predictable.

Tom recalled his meeting Dorothy Gale in the Town Square and smiled. He remembered her promise to meet him this Saturday afternoon, and the smile was replaced by a grin. Getting dressed, which could actually be accomplished without standing up from the single bed, his mind, always up for entertainment, replayed the Tom and Dorothy story. He almost decided to stay in bed with his memories. The increasingly loud morning sounds of doors opening and closing, metal kitchen utensils clattering and mutterings of morning regrets convinced him to start his day somewhere other than his bed. Tom grabbed the guitar leaning against the side of the bureau, walked out through the kitchen, where his youngest brother Ethan was trying to start a fire in the wood stove, and out on to the back porch. The morning was bright, a ground fog filled the dips between the distant fields and the air had that neutral feel that often meant a hot, dry day. Sitting on the bench that he’d built as a Christmas present for his mother when he was 15 years old, he idly strummed the old guitar. The design of this Christmas bench was surprisingly sophisticated, yet the execution spoke of an adolescent boy more focused on the reaction of the recipient than on taking the time on the final finish work. The dark stain showing more variations in color and depth than could be accounted for by its location overlooking the yard of the Hardesty Farm. Letting his fingers wander over the fingerboard of the guitar Tom felt his mood lighten. A mail-order Martin, the guitar was one of the few things that belonged to Celiia Hardesty that she didn’t take when she left. Random notes began to find other notes to join with, taking on the shape of songs, both old and new. Tom began to sing, as much to the livestock as to himself, “I’m goin’ where the water tastes like wine, wine wine and I ain’t gonna be treated this a way”. The folk song, often misunderstood by musicologists and people-from-the-city as being a lament, in fact, made the 18-year-old boy feel stronger and, somehow, more at peace.

The smell of the farm faded and a fleeting and somewhat distant smell of hay and passion replaced it.

Tom sang for a while longer, mostly songs that he’d learned from hanging around Mrs. Gulch’s place. As much by lucky accident as by design, Tom came to know a side of the widow, Mrs. Gulch, that few of the prosperous and successful farm owners of Circe were aware of, or willing to acknowledge. Her farm was something of a way station, a combination of temporary housing and permanent soup kitchen. Almira Gulch was quite well-known, almost revered, among the working poor of the region and the never-ending stream of migrant workers.  She had converted a part of her property, an old abandoned school building and one of the two barns that her husband, Sterling, had built when they bought the 500 acre farm and it was known to some, the nameless families passing through, as ‘Almira’s Keep’.
Tom’s father, despite being shaken loose from his normal routine running the farm had, somehow, struck a barter deal with Mrs. Gulch. Hardesty hogs in exchange for wheat and extra labor to help with the fall harvest. Tom went along to deliver the livestock and, afterwards, waiting for his father to conclude his dealings with the Widow Gulch, heard the sounds of a guitar coming from the converted barn. As he walked towards the source of the music, he came upon a group of people listening, rapt and near-happy expressions on their faces, as a man with an old guitar sang,

“As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.”

Both Hardesty men were still at the Gulch place when the sun began to set.

****

Hunk Dietrich awoke and lay still. He could picture every item in the small bunk house that served as his home on the Gale Farm. In one of the few, (and one might say,’therefore all the more impressive’), exertions of Will, he had prevailed upon Emily Gale to house the newer farm hands in the converted potato barn and leave him the sole occupant of the small cottage that he once shared with Hickory Stoddard and Zeke Montgomery. Since Zeke’s death and Hickory setting out with his Cherokee wife for Arizona, Hunk lived alone in the bunk house. He liked it. He felt that he had control over something, even if it was only moving the other bed out of the room he’d shared with Zeke into the other bedroom.

Once reconstruction of Circe and it’s constellation of farms, both large and small began in earnest, Emily Gale recognized the opportunity of misfortune and began to acquire land and laborers from those farms that she felt were not worth re-building. Those from outside the community, were they to be asked their opinion of the post Storm of ’37 reconstruction, might have suggested that a little more sharing of community resources would greatly enhance the chances of successful recovery of the small farms. But then, an Outsider would not likely be asked for their opinion, Circe being a large Small Town in rural Kansas. As it was, Emily Gale knew in her heart it would be wasteful to let the small farms fall into ruin, the families that ran them forced to move. More than once, during the emergency Town Meetings held after the storm, Emily Gale would be quite vocal in describing her efforts to help the less fortunate members of the community remain, finding work for them on the increasingly efficient Gale Farm.

“The Good Lord surely frowns on waste of any sort. It’s the responsibility of those of us more blessed to take in those unfortunates who have fallen on hard times. I know this is the Right thing to do.”

Many, if not most, of the more upstanding members of the community nodded their approval.

Hunk had the smaller of the two bedrooms set up as a study. At least it was his idea of a ‘Study’. Given his limited resources, he did quite well. He positioned a small desk and a chair, to face out the window and, next to it, a makeshift bookcase, currently containing a Bible, 3 copies of the Old Farmer’s Almanac and every test result, correspondence and catalog he had accumulated since his starting IOC courses.

This particular Summer Saturday morning, Hunk Dietrich walked out on to his porch determined not to look over at the Main House. Lighting his pipe, a movement in a second floor window caught his eye. He smiled at his failure and walked across the dirt farmyard to the backdoor, a good breakfast and the start of another day.

***

Becky Stillworth was awake well before she got out of bed. It was one of her favorite times of the day. The ceiling over her single bed was feature-less, the only light coming from the rose-painted lamp on the nightstand to her left, where she kept her books.

Becky liked to help people and her dream was to become a doctor. She knew that she was smart enough. She knew that it would require hard work and discipline and sacrifice. She felt excited at the prospect. She knew that she could become that woman.

What she feared, was what she was, she was a sixteen year old girl. Worse, she was a precocious sixteen year old girl that all the boys liked, the teachers were fond of and her girlfriends were impatient with. Even when she brought home straight ‘A’s, her parents merely smiled and congratulated her on her good school grades, not on her progress towards her goal. She’d tried to tell them how much she wanted, needed to realize her dream, but they simply couldn’t imagine it. Their own modest, but happy life did not equip them with the vocabulary for encouraging, or even discussing, such an ambition. Becky was intelligent enough to realize that her goal was far enough outside of her parents expectations that a conversation was not ever going to be possible. Fortunately, she was canny enough to make her goal a little more manageable for her parents and spoke to them simply of her hopes to go to college. This being the modern ’30s, they could easily imagine that their daughter would dream of going to college…and finding a husband.

At the Library, Becky was respected enough, even by the full-time Librarian, that they would refrain from poking fun at Hunk Dietrich’s regular visits to the Library, especially during the Winter season, when he would be there every other day, rather than merely once a week during the rest of the year. She liked Hunk. He listened to her. He seemed to believe that she would someday be a doctor.

****

Claire Griswold stood at the window at the back of Ward C. The early morning air, just beginning to warm to the day’s light, shimmered like a pot of water beginning to steam. The buildings of the town, in the distance and the vehicles in the service entrance parking lot seemed to be only now taking solid form. This quality of indistinctness, observed in the pre-dawn light, was both empowering and awe-inspiring. It had no place in the daytime operations in the small hospital in McPherson County, Kansas. Moving about the Ward, she heard the sounds of the first shift nurses as they clacked wooden covers of the patient-charts, reading the story of the day for their patients. None of the nurses seemed to notice Nurse Claire Griswold, as she moved down the double row of beds in Ward C. Each seemed to checking on a note on a chart or, perhaps, turning to mention a change of medication to one another, as she passed by, un-noticed.

Nurse Claire Griswold looked down on Almira Gulch’s sleeping form. She put the photo of the small, dark-haired boy back into the drawer of the side table, aligned the book that rested on the top of the table, precisely with the front edge, gave a little tuck to the sheets down-folded across the woman’s quiet form and with a barely felt touch, smoothed the slightly tense muscles in the sleeping woman’s brow. Barely audible was the sound of a sigh, not strained or urgent, simply a sigh.