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.