Chapter 19

(The Gale Farm County Rd #2 Circe, Kansas. July 15, 1939)

(6:00 pm and the light through the windows filled the dining room with a more than passable imitation of mid-afternoon, as sunset was still hours away, at 8:55 pm to be precise. The sky was clear, blue and in no way threatening. The FarmAll thermometer on the barn showed the low 90s. A light breeze tried to sneak up and over the open windowsills and down into the house through the thin white curtains, as if to hide from the sun for the 3 hours remaining.)
(Dinner was at a round, light oak table, in the center of the room between the kitchen and the parlor. The linen tablecloth had a decorative blue border and was very obviously quite expensive. The kitchen is on the other side of a single swinging door that has a brass push plate.)

(Emily Gale, Henry Gale, Hunk Dietrich, Dorothy Gale, Eliza Thornberg and Tom Hardesty)

“Time for dinner, everyone!”

“Eliza? you sit over between Dorothy and me. Tom? right there, on Hunk’s left. (laughing) No, his other left. There, by the door to the kitchen.”

[chairs scraped over the floor, in unison, but un-coordinated, low-throated wooden screech of final adjustment]

“There! everyone comfortable? Well, I can’t tell you how delighted I am to have such a full table of guests. It’s been such a long time. Now, Henry? Why don’t you say the Grace.”

“Dear God, we thank you for this our bounty that you bestow on our family. We give praise and promise to live in your sight. We ask that you continue blessing our family that we might serve as an example of your rewards and everlasting goodness. Amen.”

“Amen”… “Amen”… “A..”

“Margherita! Please! We have a table full of very hungry young people!”

“Right away, Miz Gale, the biscuits are just coming out of the oven.”

“Well, everyone dig right in, we don’t stand any formalities here. Tom? Just pass everything to your left.”

[a sound like the branches of a crystalline forest brushed by a summer wind filled the dining room]

“Don’t forget to help yourself to the green beans. Picked them myself this morning. Margherita! Is that lemonade ready yet?”

“So, Hunk, did’ja get a chance to get out to the Lennon spread this morning?”

“Yeah, but just a quick look. There’s a passel of old equipment out there, didn’t look like much of it’s in any kind of working order.”

“Hunk! Henry! Not another word! This may not be a proper holiday, but I’m declaring the ‘No Work Talk Rule’. Dorothy’s friend Eliza here has no interest in hearing what Hunk did with his day.”

“Not at all, Mrs. Gale! I’m sure what Hunk does is very interesting.”

“You don’t know what you’re letting yourself in for, and call me Auntie Em… or Emily.”

“Ouch!”

“Are you alright?”

“Oh, nothing, just a sudden cramp in my calf, a little souvenir of a polo accident. I’d think that life on a real working farm would be quite interesting.”

“Not to hear them two talk about it! Most mornings start right here at this table and are nothing more exciting than listening to these two going over Henry’s lists of chores. You might not know it, coming from Back East, but this is one of the biggest farms in McPherson County. But interesting? Back-breaking work from sun-up to sun-down. At night, Henry’ll sit out on the porch smoking and making up a new list. Hunk over there, well, after dinner he’s always bent over one of his books, like a cur dog gnawin at a bone thrown out with the dinner scraps.”

“Well, Em, some’ll still have meat left on ’em! There’s a lot inside those old books. I take my bones where I find ’em and when I get too tired I bury what’s left for later.”

[laughter pooled around the guests, like rain-storm runoff, flowing ’round clumps of grass]

“Speaking of dog bones, the chicken is great, Mrs G!”

“Thank you Tom. Elbows off the table, please.”

“Dorothy tells us your father owns a publishing house back in Philadelphia. My family is from there, maybe we know some of the same people.”

“Don’t be tutting me, young lady! I didn’t say that I knew that many people Back East. Like I always say, family is family and at the end of the day that’s what counts…”

“Well, Mrs Gale, Daddy doesn’t spend as much time at his office as he used to, he travels a lot now, mostly New York and out to California.”

“I declare! How interesting that must be, so close to the arts and literature .. have you met any famous authors?”

“Well, my father had a party last summer, I think Scott Fitzgerald and that Steinbeck fellow were there but I’m not sure… but I didn’t actually meet them.”

“Your car, Eliza, it’s got California plates…”

“…yeah, that’s a real swell car ‘Liza  You think you’d mind if me an Dorothy borrow it later? The Lake’d be a welcoming cool place, on an evening like this.”

“So, are you living in California now?”

“No, Hunk, I was just out there with a friend, I tried out for a movie…”

“You don’t say! Can’t really say I’ve ever shook hands with a movie actress!”

“It’s nothing like you’d think…It’s really boring most of the time. Stand around a set, freezing cold, waiting for someone to tell you what to do. Of course, when the Director yells ‘Action’ ..then it gets interesting”

“Maybe you should go out there. My friend Jack is a director and knows everyone. I have a feeling that you just might be the kind of man they want for the movies I auditioned for,”

“Well, kinda busy mending fence this week, but maybe next week.”

[Laughter]

“Well, Eliza I’m glad that you decided to stop on your way and surprise me, ’cause you really did”

“That’s what friends are for, right? To surprise each other and be there when we’re needed”

“So, Miss Thornberg, what are you studying at school?”

“Don’t answer him! Hunk here will have you in a corner with his questions and you’ll never get free.”

“…really, that sounds like fun. Well, Henry… oh! sorry Mr Gale, I didn’t mean you!

“Hunk, I haven’t declared a major yet but I’m leaning towards”

“Sorry, Mrs Gale  ‘Henry”s my nickname for your foreman over there. Don’t you think he looks just like Henry Fonda in ‘The Farmer Takes a Wife’?”

“Why if that isn’t the silliest thing I ever heard, Hunk, don’t you listen! We’ll never get the Lennon Farm worked in”

“Don’t worry, I don’t see myself moving West any time soon,”

“I do”

“What was that, Tom?”

“I said, I was thinking that moving out West, might be the right thing to do…”

“Oh that’s just great! One friend drops in un-expectedly and one suddenly decides to move on! Doesn’t anything around here stay the same long enough to understand?”

“I ain’t moving…”

“I know Hunk and I love you for that…”

“Well, Missy you haven’t exactly been a hometown girl yourself. If memories serve me,  you weren’t but a month out of High School before you decided…”

“I recall that it was your brother’s Will that made College-Back-East possible!”

“I reckon seeing how your mother and I were everyday, ’til night’s dark after the Storm… ”

“You just thank your lucky stars, Dorothy, if it wasn’t for Uncle Bernard, you’d be stuck here, on this farm that you seem to think so little off…”

“I didn’t say that! I just…”

“You see, Eliza, Dorothy was hurt in the storm. After the wind stopped and people crawled out from their shelters, well lets just say you know a community by how everyone pitches in and helps one and other put the Town back together.”

“Auntie Em! I’m certain Eliza doesn’t need to hear about the storm and it’s boring aftermath.”

“What ever would make you think that! The Storm of ’37 is a part of local history which makes it a part of who we are! Of all people, I’d think you’d be the last one to not want to talk about it…. You certainly didn’t mind talking about it in those weeks right after…”

“No, Mrs. Gale. I knew Circe had a bad tornado, it was in all the newspapers. It’s just that  Dorothy’s never talked about it. Except when she first moved into the dorm and our room…”

“I don’t remember telling you about the storm…”

“Well, you didn’t exactly tell me. At least not consciously, but the first few nights, well, I thought I might need to request a different roommate! The yelling in your sleep! I still get goose bumps remembering it…. there was a tone to your voice, it was as if you were being drowned out but had to be heard,  “Let us in, please!!! It’s getting closer!!! Open up we’re out here!!’ You really don’t remember?”

[quiet rushes through the room like a winter night’s wind]

“…me, my father and my brother Ethan, we came out of our shelter that day and there was a rowboat setting right up on top of the chicken coop, didn’t crush it or nothin.  Lost two hens and had to fix the roof of the coop, though…”

“Who wants some fresh-baked apple pie?”

“You know what I’d like to do after such a good meal? Take a drive. Please save us some of that pie, Emily. Dorothy and I will have some after we get back. Dorothy? Show me this lake you’ve told me so much about!”

“Sorry, Tom…. girls only.”

*****

(The  one bedroom apartment of Annie LoPizzo  3 Union St, Lawrence, Massachusetts. December 15, 1911)

(It was 6:00 and effectively full-dark nighttime, as Sunset was nearly 2 hours earlier, at 4:11 pm.  Through the two windows, the white blur of wind-driven snow, the occasional needle-tapping of sleet on the glass lent credence to the estimate of a temperature in the low 20s and dropping.)
(Dinner was at a small, square wooden table that had three chairs that match and one that didn’t. The table was between the door and the other half of the large room, divided by a large brown sofa. The kitchen ran along the wall to the right of the table. Gas stove, white porcelain sink and a small icebox, everything was almost within arms reach of the table.)

(Almira Ristani and Sterling Gulch)

“I’m back from the Arctic… I can’t believe you sent me out in a raging blizzard for bread….”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t…”

“Hey! ‘Mira! I was kidding! … I wanted to go! ‘Though it was lucky I caught them at the Bakery just as they were closing….”

“But…”

“…and I’ve had more than a few dinners here, and I know for a fact that Annie would right kill me if I let you serve me her sausages and gravy without fresh bread.”

[laughter joined the two, comforting one and encouraging the other, a not-obtrusive maitre’d for an informal dinner]

“You changed your clothes! you look very, uh very….”

“Disheveled?”

“Well, I was thinking ‘pretty’ But I can go with ‘disheveled’ That shirt is very nice!  uh…here’s the bread! do you want to heat it in the oven first?”

“Good idea! I just need to get down the plates. No, I can get them… well, thank you, it does still hurt a little to stretch too much. Put them on the table and, please sit down.”

“Are those yours?”

“Are what mine?”

“All those books on the couch, ‘Civil Disobedience’ ‘Woman in the Nineteenth Century’…”

“Don’t make fun, those are my mother’s books, well, some of them, anyway,”

“My god! You have Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass'”

“Ok now, stop fooling around. Put it back on the couch, come over here and sit down. Annie made what she said was your favorite dinner…”

“I believe a leaf of grass is no less than the journey-work of the stars,
And the pismire is equally perfect, and a grain of sand, and the
egg of the wren,”

“What? Well, don’t look so dumbfounded, Almira. You know, I went to college too! For nearly a full year, anyway…”

“It’s just that I….”

“I know, you’re surprised. Sometimes I get tired how people judge me by my good looks and rugged build and then act so surprised when I say something that isn’t about working at the Mill or fishing or drinking or carousing…”

“I didn’t I mean …I don’t think, well, you do have a rugged build…”

“So you think I’m good looking…”

“Yes, no, well…. that not what I meant! I wasn’t making fun of you!”

“No, I believe you weren’t. But now since you’re bringing up looks again, I think you’re a pretty nice girl yourself.”

“Sorry, all I meant to say was, that I didn’t go to college. Hell, I haven’t gone anywhere.”

“But all those books and the talks at the Union Hall about Thoreau and Brook Farm, I naturally thought”

“Well, you thought wrong.”

“Here, come and sit and have some food. Annie spent the morning putting together this for you and I’m not sending you out into the snow and wind,”

“Well, I thought, maybe if it keeps getting worse, I could…”

“…at least not without getting some warm food into you.”

[a silence grew between the two young people. Binding rather than separating, a sense of un-self-consciousness for one, a feeling of recognition for the other It was the discovering of another person so in tune as to become irreplaceable, if a happy life was to be lived from that point forward]

“…and so I figured, why not hitch hike around, for a while. There’ll always be a school to go to later. I just wanted to learn more about life than what a Professor would tell me.”

“I’ve often thought that, if I could only leave Lawrence, and find a place where people aren’t satisfied with doing the same thing day after day, year after year. My mother was a teacher, back in the old country, and she’d tell me, ‘Almira, use that mind of yours. There’s so much to the world that you don’t yet know. Find a way to go and explore it. Remember, that no matter how far you roam, your heart will always be your true compass. Trust it and it will take you to the one you’re meant to be with and, most importantly, it will also take you home.”

“You are, you’re…. so different from any girl I’ve ever known…”

“Sure, how many girls do you know have two black eyes and a nose like a witch?”

“No! I don’t mean how you look. It’s the way you look at things and you think about things… you really are special.”

“…for a girl with such

“Now I know you’re just playing.  But the fact is. I haven’t been able to get you out of my mind, since, since that night.”

“That night, the night when I hurt that man, I hurt him real bad. I can still hear him screaming…”

“Hey don’t! he had it coming, he was an animal.”

“No, don’t get me wrong. I hurt him as bad as I could and I don’t regret it. It was the only way I knew to get him to stop, stop hurting Annie and stop before he could hurt me… I would do the same again, it’s just that… it all makes me feel sad somehow.”

“…what?”

“You!  I just called you a pretty girl. And I meant it. But just now, when you were talking about that night, I realized that calling you pretty is like calling the Mona Lisa a ‘good portrait of a woman’….
If you want to say you’re a witch…”

“I said my nose makes me look like one.”

” Well, if you’re not, then whatever spell you did cast on me worked. You’re more than pretty… you’re everything that I didn’t know a woman could be. And now that I know, I don’t really think I can go back…”

“Who’s going back? Where?  Sterling, would you be a gentleman and take this coat! I’m freezing!! Almira! you’re looking very animated tonight, I trust our gentleman hasn’t been too boring and would you please fix me a plate, I’m starving….”

“….now what is this about Sterling here going away? You can’t by the way, there are things happening down at the Mill that will soon cause everything to change.”

*****

(Almira’s Keep Pole# 444 US Highway 61, Circe, Kansas. July 15 1939)

(It’s 6:35 pm and the early evening light is still bright enough to cast shadows running towards the East of the grove of walnut trees that shaded the converted barn. The temperature inside the dining hall is 95, the temperature outside, in the shade is 87. Outside the dining hall, to the right of the entrance and in clear view of the house is a grassy area with several wood trestle tables, it’s the favored gathering area when the weather is not forcing the transient guests to remain in doors.)

(Ephraim Hardesty, Ethan Hardesty and Phyllis McCutcheon)

“Lets go sit outside.”

“Ethan, grab your plate and lets go sit out at the table by the tree yonder.”

“Really, I can’t put you to so much trouble. I usually take my meals in the kitchen, there’s so much to do.”

“It’s a fine warm evening. It’ll be my pleasure to have some company for dinner. Ethan here eats in a hurry and my son Tom, well, when he’s around.”

“Your son, Tom is an exceptional young man.”

“You know him?”

“Well, he’s here at least a couple of days of the week, helping out and taking his payment in supper in the hall. Although, I suspect he’s mostly here to learn songs and play with some of the people, the musicians who seem to like this place as they wander around the country. Like that nice Mr Guthrie. You must be very proud, your son is quite talented.”

*****

(Prendergast home 23 Haverhill St. Lawrence, Massachusetts December 15, 1911)

(It’s 6:00 pm and the wind that hasn’t let up since 3 in the afternoon can be heard howling through the eaves of the 3rd floor attic. Snow freezes on the windows, framing the Town Commons across the street with a filigree of ice. Hope for an early letup vanished with the barely-seen sun, there remains only an increasing fear of how bad the storm will be.)
(Dinner is served in the Formal Dining Room. The long dining table is set for two at the end of the table closest to the fireplace, as if seeking the most elemental of protections, as Nature demonstrates it’s un-ending power. There are candles on the table, the dominant illumination is from the fireplace, which casts an ever-changing light over the room and the diners. Nothing appears the same, from one minute to the next.)

(Frederick Prendergast, Grace Byrne)

“Are you happy here, Grace?”

“Yes, Mister Prendergast”

“Frederick, please, I get Mr Prendergast all day long from everyone. It gets so tiresome, you would think it wouldn’t, being in charge of as much as I am, but it gets so wearying. The problems that they come to my office with and layout on my desk and they get to go away, happy. Or at least relieved that there is someone to fix things, things that they shouldn’t have messed up in the first place.”

“I can just imagine…”

“But the worst are the people who I give a job to and they get so full of themselves and strut around the Mills, like they’re important and they don’t bother to actually do what I assigned for them to do. Of course, eventually it gets worse and guess who they come running to…”

“You?”

“That’s right! And they are suddenly in need of assistance”

“Well it’s understandable how they would see that you’re the person who can fix it”

“You don’t know how refreshing it is to hear someone say that, Grace! Sad to say, I don’t get even the smallest appreciation from Mrs Prendergast. With her, it’s all about the twins are sick or the twins need this, the twins have to go to school. Do you think she even knows how hard I work?”

“I’m sure she loves you and the boys very, very much. You’re all she ever talks about during the day.”

“Well I hope that’s true because I’ll be spending more time down at the Mill in the next few weeks. There are some new laws about who can work and how many hours each week. Can you believe that? Meddling with business is going to take this country to perdition as God is my judge. There are changes coming to Lawrence and I only pray that I can control the effects they’ll have on the workers.”

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