House in My Life

My first encounter with Roger and his family, although brief, indicated much promise for a lasting relationship. Late spring, lush fresh-mown lawn and blooming shrubbery offered a backdrop of pleasant visuals and aromas, and I, too, had been nicely scented. Barb, Roger’s wife, lent a cautious eye to every nook and cranny, if I may use the expression to describe her scrutiny of a potential relationship.

Their two boys, Daniel and Darren, ages seven and three, added an element of excitement since children in my life had come and gone, the last as a young adult who wasn’t terribly young when we first met, with parents already beyond any adventurous forward-looking stage of their lives. Two of my neighbors had children Dan and Darren’s ages, myself not much older. A wonderful opportunity to host kids’ birthday parties—I doubt any bar miztvahs in this neighborhood, but who knows, it was 1974 in a progressive Minneapolis suburb.

Then no response. I still blame my matchmaker who introduced us, by no mean a spirited PR individual. Imagine my surprise when he returned with an appraiser and a purchase agreement signed on the dotted line. The only glitch, Roger, a wannabe realtor, decided to arrange their own financing, their nest-egg savings lacking of the required down payment. The dollar shortage probably due to the Storkamp family spending a summer touring Alaska, which also explains the break between their viewing the property and signing a purchase agreement.

My realtor, whom I disparaged a paragraph ago, proved to be the rule bender for which his profession is famous. In his case, a rule buster by presenting the bank a bogus sales agreement exaggerating the purchase price by three thousand dollars, from $33,000 to $36,000, thus qualifying for a larger loan. Through tears and embarrassment, Barb and Roger in that order, the deal solidified for the next twenty five years, Barb being the last of the family to say goodbye in 1999, my assessed value, $148,500. A recent sale at the time of this memoir, $286,400 with property taxes at $4972.

To my shame but not blame, the pleasant aromas that offered my appeal dissipated whenever fresh air was reduced as is the case with Minnesota winters. A foul and mysterious odor permeated from the laundry room. Frustrated, Roger took hammer and crowbar to the walls and exposed a recently self-evacuated resident family of mice, exiting so quickly the left steaming fresh poop atop the pile sectioned off for that purpose. A ladder zigzagged from poop station, to pantry of stored dog food, to a nest at the pinnacle. My previous owner had a dog but no mouse traps.

My garage saw an array of Automobiles from decade old Chevys and Fords to Late model police cars and auction block vehicles, most notably a 67’ Plymouth Wagon, Old Betsy the family’s battered but loved Alaska-or-Bust vehicle. (A special memoir segment in this blog dedicated to her) Gracing my exterior, half a dozen travel trailers parked alongside, on one occasion three of them back-to-back, excluding the 28 footer Ole Betsy pulled to Alaska and returned home empty handed.

The aforementioned shrubbery and lawn became accented with a utility shed and a forest of various species, maple, spruce, and popular. An issue I had to come to grips with concerns my exterior. As a man’s formal dinner suit requires a black tie, a house can be any color as long as it is white. Roger held out as long as possible until Barb and the neighbors convinced him I am not a rural Minnesota farm house. I took the insult to heart and agreed with their decision to paint me green to match the backyard forest, still in its infancy.

As a loyal protector from wind and rain, ice and snow, and burglars, I do not feel privy to expose the intimate nor the rambunctious activities within my walls, other than to say there were a great deal that filtered out into the yard and cul du sac. Vigorous interactions with neighbors are dealt with in other segments of this blog. Thank goodness, because they were enough to make any respectable house blush from green to red.

SEVENTH GRADE part one

DECADE NUMBER TWO: exploration of my body, mind and environment

Let me begin by saying I never wanted to be in the seventh grade. I longed for the ninth grade at the new high school. I recall a nightmare where that two year time warp occurred. I stood at the front door of Father Pierz Memorial High School too embarrassed to enter because the legs in my faded denim jeans had huge holes and my bare knees were exposed. Today’s jeans are purchased with frayed and ragged body exposures, even across the butt.

That said, I have more memories from my seventh year than all the others combined, partly attributed to the onset of puberty and partly to my teacher, Sister LilyRosa OSB. Given a list of the fifty three students in my class, I could recall at least one memory of each person, be it as incidental as where he or she sat in relation to me or the time a girl who I won’t identify stood to read aloud with her dress tucked between her butt cheeks. She sat two seats in front of me.

I remember the class size because Sister LilyRosa celebrated her fifty-third anniversary in the classroom that year. The numbers matched. To her fifty three students, she seemed old, yet probably younger than I am as I record this memory. She began teaching before the turn of the century; now that makes her seem old!

Each morning Sister LilyRosa and Sister Roland from the eighth grade classroom across from us would leave us students unattended for their twenty minute coffee break. They said such freedom gave students the opportunity to show responsibility. Actually, it gave our class clown (no name mentioned, but not me) an audience to entertain with such antics as imitating our teacher and passing gas loudly. He must have eaten beans for breakfast to produce that kind of thunder.

In truth, the two nuns gave certain classroom tattletales an opportunity to hone their skills. One must have snitched on the classroom farter, because the parish pastor made a surprise visit to our class and pulled the culprit from the room. The humbled student returned from the storeroom with the imprint of the priest’s hand on his face, and, I think, he went back to eating normal breakfasts. The single slap was the reverend’s trademark.

One time I almost met with the farter’s fate in that same storeroom. One of our playground games included a pocket knife. We’d face an opponent a few feet apart and toss the knife to his left or right. If it stuck, he’d have to stretch his leg to that point. The object was to get as many tosses without stabbing his foot or making his stretch impossible. We’d play this game when playing drop-the-marble got boring.

I don’t recall what happened, but here’s the account I gave Father Voigt after being called from Sister LilyRosa’s classroom. “I was cleaning my fingernails with my pocket knife when Kenny tagged me even though I wasn’t playing that game. I swung around and accidentally cut his hand between thumb and finger.”

The priest glared down at me. I was tall for a seventh grader, but he seemed much taller. “Let me see the knife.”
I dug it from my pocket.

“Open the blade.”

I opened all three blades. He took the knife.

“Are you and Kenny friends?”

“We don’t usually hang together, but we get along.” Truth is, he was a city kid, and I lived in the country; came to school on a bus—not a matter of prestige. A second truth known to teachers and students alike, neither of us would ever fight anyone. I don’t think we were pegged as cowards, but our temperaments precluded any sort of violence.

“If you want your knife back, come to the church rectory after school. Now go back to class.”

I don’t recall if I retrieved the knife—going to the priest’s inner sanctum was akin to entering a haunted castle. But I suspect Father Voigt held high expectations for Kenny and me. Four decades later, he singled out our successes—Kenny a medical doctor and I a doctorate in education—in his published history of our town, Pierz, Minnesota.

SEVENTH GRADE part two

We had no physical education classes in our school; just a playground area near the school for the lower grades and a grassy field opposite the church where fifth through eighth graders grades were encouraged to play ball games. I recall one game with the country kids pitted against the town kids. Not only was the score lopsided, but we country kids never even got up to bat before the school bell called us back into the building. The kids from town had the advantage of little league baseball in summer. We chose up sides after that fiasco, but we all knew who got picked first and who last. I lost interest in playing ball and didn’t even participate the last day of the school year when our entire class had the full afternoon off to play ball. It was bad enough to strike out in front of the boys, but having younger and older girls laugh at me would have been too painful.

Being unsupervised, I don’t recall any problems other than a few kids leaving the property to buy candy over the noon hour. The local store owners were instructed to send those students back to school, and most of us didn’t have money to spend anyhow. During special farm equipment demonstration days in town, country kids could join their fathers for free hot dogs and pop, but they needed a note from home.
Except for that last day of school, I don’t remember girls participating in ball games with the boys, they just seemed to stand around and giggle a lot. By the seventh and eighth grades, some of us boys quit playing ball and socialized with the girls.

One particular girl, Betty Ann, caught my interest. My friend Dennis and I hung around with her and her friend, Gail, most of our seventh grade. We teased and bantered back and forth. For instance, Gail snitched on me back in the first grade. Neat rows of paper pockets like the ones found on inside covers of library books had been tacked onto a bulletin board, one for each student. Whenever someone broke a rule, a red strip of construction paper would mysteriously appear in that student’s pocket. I knew Gail had put the red flag in mine for running down the hallway on the way to the bathroom. She accused me of reciprocating and I denied it.

Sister LilyRosa embarrassed Betty Ann and Gail by labeling them boy crazy in front of the entire class. Dennis and I got off free, but the girls weren’t as much fun to be with after that. I don’t think Betty Ann was completely aware of my feelings for her. She became my first official date when I finally reached the ninth grade but, like tasting a new food for the first time, she spit me out. I was devastated but survived. Dennis and Gail’s relationship lasted well into high school. I still consider Dennis my best friend although we don’t get together very often.

Although I seldom participated in sports at school, I kept active at home; summer time lawn and garden work and in winter shoveling snow. Although my family didn’t live on an active farm, I raised rabbits and bantam chickens. In my free time, I traipsed across fields to neighbors with kids my age, and sometimes just to reach my favorite quiet spot out in the woods. I hired out for such farm jobs as catching chickens, or picking rocks, or stomping silage, even some limited tractor driving. (A year later I did most kinds of farm work, sometimes living away from home for months at a time.)

During the 1952-53 school year, the changes occurring within my body caused discomfort, physically and emotionally. I couldn’t trust that my voice might betray my anxiety, and body odors, mostly bad breath, worried me. Should I shave the sproutings of a moustache or treat it as baby fuzz. And most of all, what the devil was happening between my legs.

Fresh Start

Author note: This is a revision of some earlier submissions

My professional career spanned the last third of the twentieth century and completed its tenure in a year identified with three zeros, that number not occurring since the last millennium or until the next. I decided to avoid gainful employment any future year with even one zero. Back to work in year 2111.

First major life style change, a move to Las Vegas.

Laurie, my wife, asked, “Why Las Vegas?”

I shrugged. “No particular reason other than, like Mt. Everest, because it’s there.”

“Okay. I’ll pack my bags.”

Like a snake, I slithered out of my winter skin and entered a world sun-bleached and desert-brown from Minnesota’s alternating green and white.

My first foray into one of many active clubs in Del Webb Senior Community led to Sun City Writers Group. I have collected over one hundred of my creative writing exercises to selectively publish on my blog.

Day one, I set out to write the Great American Novel. Within the decade, I over achieved this goal by half: three American Novels and one set in outer space, all good but none great. Since then, a short play and two memoirs with a third, my own, in progress, of which this is a part.

Parallel to my literary pursuits, a musical challenge, specifically singing in St. Andrews church choir, followed by trying out with the Sun City Music Makers, a choral harmony group.

“What range do you sing?” A logical question from the director.

“The last time I participated in a choral group I still sang soprano.”

Without cracking a smile, he said, “Let’s hear you sing the scale.” To the pianist, “Give him a C.” Her name wasn’t Sam.

I sang up and down, each time to a higher and lower note.

“You’ve got a two-octave range. Good. Can you read music?”

“A bit.” My memory slid back to Sister Margot who taught weekly half-hour sessions for each of eight grades and directed our high school choir.

“If I told you to go to D flat on measure ten, could you find it?”

“You mean those little black things have names.”

A muffled chuckle. “Maybe you should re audition after a few sessions with the Silvertones.”

Eight years I participated in the suggested sing-along group, three of them as their president, before joining the Music Makers. I continue singing with both choral groups and the church choir, expecting to continue throughout the next decade.
My concert exposure reintroduced me to acting on stage, dormant since high school. Drafted into a Sun City Community Theater musical, I have since taken roles in half a dozen plays, ending my career by drinking poison.

My literary involvements exceeded singing and acting performances: two book discussion groups, two writers’ groups, and two local critique groups and one on the internet. I continue to write and edit my previous works to publish on my website/blog, currently a story about a five-year-old boy sent to Minnesota on the Orphan Train in 1899.

Regrets, I’ve had a few, too few to mention, not always my way. My philosophy of life, I may not always get what I want, but I usually learn to want what I get.

A breakdown of my anticipated eighty five years alive on this planet:
25 years preparing for a career
35 years in that career
25 years beyond my career (10 more anticipated)

Any remaining years beyond eighty-five, I intend to just idle away, probably lying on my back with life support tubes invading my body.

Tribute to Mom (Dad)

My parents wedding announcement and a memory of my mother

HAPPY OCCASION

St. Cloud Daily Times
Monday, May 30, 1936

Rosalene Diedrich , Paul Storkamp Wed, St. Mary’s Cathedral.

Pastel shades of peach and aqua in billow net and the elaborate white silk of the bridal ensemble were the colors seen in the gown of the bridal party when Miss Rosalene Diedrich and Paul Storkamp exchanged nuptial vows the 9 a.m. Saturday before a host of relatives and friends. Rt. Rev. Msgr. Edward Mahowald was the officiating clergyman at the ceremony that took place in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

The bride entered the church on the arm of her father Mathew Diedrich who gave her in marriage. A crystal rosary gift of the bridegroom, and a sheaf of calla lilies tied with white streamers that extended floor length were accessories of the bride who was lovely in creation of white silk net that had a tailored lace inset in the bodice and stand-up collar. Net covered buttons closed the front bodice and puffed sleeves added the final note of quaintness to the gown. Bridal illusion was held in place with three gardenias and flared in three graduating lengths over the shoulder extending in a long train. Valenciennes lace edges the three tiers and veil proper to give it an accent of richness. Long white lace mitts completed the bridal attire gowned in Aqua and peach.

Miss Marie Storkamp, sister of the bridegroom, and Miss Winnie Mueller, a friend were bridesmaids gowned alike in aqua blue and peach net. Net models respectively made with Bouffant skirt and ruffled hems. The lace in the bodice received the same tailored treatment seen in the bridal gown. Lace belts finished the waistlines. Talisman roses blossomed on the waist length ruffle trim veils that matched the hue of the dresses. Talisman roses and sweet peas were arranged in colonial bouquet tied with bows with streamers extending floor length, and were of the shade to contrast with their ensembles, peach for Miss Storkamp and aqua .
Peach and aqua and white streamers made the place of the reception festive of the day. Mrs. Arthur Diedrich, sister-in-law of the bridegroom,, made the three tier wedding cake that was frosted in peach white and aqua and centered with a tiny bridal couple. A dance was given at the Granite City Coliseum in the evening.
Live in St. Cloud.

After returning from their wedding trip into northern Minnesota Mr. and Mrs. Storkamp will be at home on June 5, at 101-14 avenue north. The recent bridegroom in engaged in the road construction work.

SAD OCCASION

Pierz Woman Dies Suddenly
Pierz—Mrs. Paul Storkamp (Rosalyn) Storkamp, 49, Pierz, died unexpectedly this morning at her home apparently of a heart attack. Mrs. Storkamp was owner and operator of the Pierz Café.
She was born Sept. 30, 1919 in St. Cloud and had lived in Pierz since 1943.

Surviving are her husband, Paul: four sons, Roger, Glen, Jerry, and Charles at home; four daughters, Mrs. Charles (Joelle) Fuhrman and Mrs. Roman (Kathleen) Block both of Pierz; Jacqueline and Paula at home; eight grandchildren, her mother, Mrs. Rose Diedrich and two brothers, Arthur and Roman, all of St. Cloud.
Funeral arrangements are pending at the Virnig Funeral Home in Pierz.

UNCLES WHO INFLUENCED MY PERSONALITY

Decade Two: Exploration of My Body, Mind and Environment
Herb, Larry, and Art

Of my sixteen uncles my dad’s brother, Herb; my dad’s brother-in-law, Larry; and my mother’s brother, Art, had unique and important impacts on my personal development. Also, two non-relatives influenced my childhood, Renie Konen, and my teen years, Earl Bayerl.
Herbert Storkamp: My relationship with Herb, briefly touched on in the childhood section of this memoir, went deeper than ordinary day to day interactions, almost to a spiritual level. In the eighth grade I selected him as my conformation sponsor. Herb embodied qualities of deep thinking, quiet suffering, and unfortunately, alcoholism. He’d approach a problem with serious concentration and a beer in hand, as if they were indispensably linked.

A tragedy from his past surfaced when I set his tractor on fire by refueling with the engine running.

I sensed a problem when vapors rose from the manifold and stepped back just before the fire roared up and around the gas can, its spout still stuck in the tractor’s tank. I grabbed a shock of grain and tried to beat out the fire, a dangerous and foolish action of a panic stricken fourteen-year-old. However, Herb’s adult but slightly retarded brother-in-law knocked the can free with a pitchfork and bragged about his bravery.

After the firemen came and left, my uncle restarted the tractor, ripped off the remnants of the seat cushion, and said, “It’s best to get right back on before you think about it and lose your nerve.” The remainder of the day, my bottom bounced on the iron seat and my hands blackened from the charred steering wheel.

That evening he admitted, “I shouldn’t be one to scold after the fire I caused.” He didn’t mention or need to tell me that his former wife and two children died in that fire. I couldn’t then nor now imagine the constant pain he suffered.

Herb’s brother-in-law got a second chance to prove his bravery that summer when I might have caused another tractor fire. We had been pitching oat bundles into the thrashing machine when one must have dropped onto the flat belt and rode back to the tractor powering the machine. Again, heat off the manifold ignited the soft straw.

That evening over bottles of beer—my first and most memorable—he reported to the crew, “I jumped off the wagon and ran so fast I could’ve kicked a jack rabbit in the ass.”

I laughed with the rest, not realizing until later that Herb probably assumed I, not his brother-in-law, carelessly dropped the bundle onto the belt. Both fires occurred nearly back-to-back involving a teenaged nephew, the same age his son would have been had he not perished in a fire.

Years later, I asked Herb permission to name our newborn Daniel, the name of his deceased son. He merely nodded his consent. He already had a second daughter name June.

Not until my isolation during treatment for chemical dependency had I analyzed our relationship in the context of alcohol. I believe he self-medicated to relieve pain, whereas I, according to my therapist, self-medicated to keep my high in check. We had much in common.
Larry Taufen: My contact with Uncle Larry was less direct than with Uncle Herb. (I regret not addressing them as uncles, but my parents established the custom of using first names.) Larry was my godfather, and I claim his Christian name as my middle name. He always addressed me as Rogerus Lawrencibus, a Latinized version proclaimed by the priest at my baptism. To me it was proof that he witnessed the event whenever I panicked that my parents might have accidentally forgotten to have me baptized and faked that they had. Going to Hell loomed throughout my adolescent and early adulthood. Since then I learned that Hell is something we inflict upon ourselves while still alive.

Larry gave me birthday and Christmas presents until the year I was confirmed, probably passing that responsibility to another sponsor, Uncle Herb. The one present imbedded in my memory, the tricycle airplane I mounted on a swing. His hoisting me nearly to the ceiling and threatening to push me through an invisible hole must have been an early memory. He couldn’t have lifted a pudgy a six or seven year old.

In 1948 Joelle and I were invited to spend a couple of days with Uncle Larry, Aunt Tally, and their three children younger than our ages, seven and nine. Friends of our family drove us to South St. Paul and dropped us off at Larry’s business, the Haas Livestock Commission Co. where he managed the office. Fascinated, I gawked as Larry’s fingers seemed to dance across the keys of an adding machine, a trucker who had delivered a load of cattle stood over him. They seemed to agree on the sum, and Larry told an office worker to write him a check. He showed us his sound booth in the attic from which he announced the cattle and hog prices each morning, included in that report one January morning in 1965, the wedding of his nephew, Roger Storkamp, and Barbara Mack in Minneota, Minnesota.

On the way to his home at lunch time he said, “Look for the biggest house on the block.” We pointed and he pulled into the driveway. “Mother and I expect a lot of children,” a prediction fulfilled to match that of my family of eight siblings.

While our aunt prepared lunch, Larry pointed to what looked like a radio with a window. He said, “Later this afternoon you can watch television when KSTP begins broadcasting.” Half an hour before Laurel and Hardy began, we stared at the glass fascinated with the NBC test pattern. As promised, Stan and Ollie performed their antics as college students bungling through a hedge-maize.

That evening I fell asleep in their living room, the last I remember a man clinging beneath a railroad car, probably escaping some greater danger. The next morning I awoke, having wet the bed.

I didn’t get to visit the holding pen at Haas Stock Commission Co., nor did I realize that end of his business until I revisited when I student taught in a neighboring suburb fifteen years later. When I hinted at a job with his company, he cautioned me to avoid agencies because customers were starting to bypass the middle man. Richard Boser proved that point when he established farmer-direct cattle marketing in Pierz.

Uncle Larry approved of my career choice and expressed his pride, adding that he never doubted I would be successful. I didn’t have the presence of mind to admit nor had I fully realized how much of a mentor he had been to me.

Art Diedrich: My relation with Uncle Art was even more indirect than with Uncles Herb and Larry. His interest in my well being didn’t manifest itself until my sophomore year in college, my first at St. Cloud State University. He had built two successful businesses, Granite Inn and Sportsman Bar, according to my parents with the help of Fat Nick.

Uncle Art became my mentor in an enterprise greater than any business venture I could ever pursue, my college education. I approached college like most adventures in my life, just jump in and see what happens. To add to that fault, I redo a lot of second guessing past adventures. My psychiatrist during treatment for alcoholism, the same one who declared me manic depressive and prescribed lithium, advised me to avoid looking back at events that can’t be changed.

I defended, “I do it to learn from my mistakes.”

She shook her head and said, “Your behavior appears to be more compulsive and just reflective.”

For that she went to graduate school for twelve years? Since then I’ve taken her advice, somewhat. This memoir is not an exercise of my what if compulsion, but rather taking ownership of my past, and the amusement of my readers.

Specifically, Uncle Art gave me a job cleaning the Sportsman Bar and stocking the coolers early each morning. Larry Stewart, a future mentor of mine, complained over a glass of brandy that his assistant manager at the Paramount Theater quit unexpectedly. Uncle Art recommended and vouched for the integrity of his twenty-year-old nephew, not an usher or ticket taker, but full assistant manager. I was thrust into a suit and tie career, wardrobe Uncle Art loaned me the money to purchase. He put his reputation on the line for me and I didn’t let him down, mostly. My immaturity and false sense of achievement occasionally interfered, but after two years I had worked myself to full manager of the Hays Theater. A negative spin off, my college class work suffered, taking nearly six years to earn a teaching degree with marginal grades.

The Orphan Train

Decade Seven and beyond: Exploration and mostly ill functioning body parts

35th Segment

In one of my critique sessions, a member expressed a positive—almost with relief—reaction when I introduced my sci fi first chapter to our group. He said,” “I’m glad you’re getting out of the Bovine Minnesota box, he and others having sat through my presenting chapters from two novels of my three Bovine series. Light Years from Home turned out to be a two-part publication with a combined one hundred thousand plus words, followed by two Memoirs, Showgirl Memoir and PVT Richard Lee Leslie.

Vowing to never take on a novel-length project again, I introduced my Blog, www.HoboNovel.com / www.RogerStorkamp.com and fed that hungry beast four-five contributions each month: Minis/Maxis, Musings, Guest Minis, and bi monthly installment of my personal memoir. I also re-publish two chapters per month of Pvt. Richard Lee Leslie and Light Years from Home.

With an extended trip back to Minnesota planned this summer, 2018, I wanted to explore an historic event of interest that has connections to the local where I grew up: the Orphan Train. In Little Falls each September, local residents having arrived by way of an Orphan Train as children were honored up to the last survivor over a decade ago, and carried forward recognizing friends of survivors of an orphan. Sister Mary Watercott, a Franciscan nun, is the last surviving friend of a friend, and the reunion continues.

Following is a condensed summary of the orphan train program from Wikileaks on the internet:In the 1880s and 1890s eleven million new immigrants poured into and through New York City, ten thousand homeless children called the city home. These children were feared and reviled as street rats and guttersnipes, beggars, and waifs of the city. New York had the highest death rate of any major city in the world. Thousands of homeless children lived by their wits, sleeping in ash barrels, under door steps, in gutters or alleys, and other out of the way places. They dined on discarded remnants for sustenance.

In 1854, Charles Loring Brace, a Methodist/ Protestant minister, envisioned opportunities for these children. He devised an emigration plan to send them away from the overpopulated city streets to find family homes in the West. He knew that families in the western United States could take them in, offering provisions, a healthy environment, and opportunities unheard of in the city. And so ran the “orphan trains” from East Coast cities to all points west across America in a time span of seventy-five years (1854-1929).

With the publication of my previous books, the Little Falls radio station, KLTF, interviewed me as former resident-turned-writer, and I wanted to continue the tradition. I had no published work to present except my ongoing memoir available only on my blog. With nothing in hand except my domain calling card, lacked creditability. Last year, I touted my blog with the addition of www.HoboJacket.com, a pay-it-forward program offering street people Hobo Jackets, and I read a passage from Pvt. Richard Lee Leslie.

I decided to track a fictional orphan from one of the orphan trains and place him in my Bovine setting. Back in the Bovine, Minnesota, box felt comfortable, but I couldn’t interrupt the integrity of my characters with a new one who’d been invisible throughout the series. To solve the problem, and to remain honest to the Orphan Train time period, I introduced him into my family of characters in 1899, prior to their mid twentieth century time period in print. The only flaw, why wasn’t he at least mentioned during their moment in the sun. I chalk that to literary convention. I didn’t have to resurrect any character from the dead, as with some series. And, I had the opportunity to further develop family histories that were only alluded to in the three novels.

Comfortable back in the Bovine, Minnesota, box, I set about researching the turn-of-the-century background relative to the area in Minnesota such as such local government, life styles, and technology of that period. I plan to introduce the novel with How Bovine Minnesota Earned Its Name, followed by a first chapter that may read something like the following:

Can’t look away. Fireball hurts his eyes.
Clenched fist hides it. Open hand, many fingers.
One eye closed, just five.
Tuck thumb under, only four.
Not four no more.
Eyes drift shut.

Oma in her white dress. Scratches a stick-match. Flares.
“Never play with matches, Thomas.”
“Yes, Oma.”
“Promise me, Thomas.”
“I promise, Oma.”
She lights five birthday candles.
“I’m not four no more.”
Nana, wearing her black dress and bonnet, smiles. “Yes, you are five years old.”
He helped her bake his cake. Oma was at work.
Nana says,“Blow.”
“No Nana.”
“It’s okay. Be a big boy and blow hard”
Eyelids pinched. “No Oma.”
“Blow out the candles, Thomas”
Breath held to bursting. Eyes wide. One candle still on fire.
“Again, Thomas.”
“No,” he pleads.
“Just one more,” Oma scolds?
He puffs and the fire grows and grows. It swallows Oma. Head in flames, she tells Nana. “He’s such a big boy.”
Nana’s black dress turns orange. Red flames burst, surround her face, and eat away her bonnet. She smiles at him. “You are my wonderful grandson.”

He can’t stop screaming.

“There, there. You were having a bad dream.”

He stands and buries is face in white cloth. “Oma. Nana.”

“You miss your mother and grandmother.”

He nods, rubbing his nose up and down her gown. “My birthday.”

“Yes, God took them on your fifth birthday.”

“My cake. The candles.”

“Oh, my goodness. You think your birthday candles caused the fire?”

He nods.

“The fire started when your family was asleep. We’re just lucky the firemen were able to rescue you.”

He points to the glowing fireball. “Candle?”

“That’s an electric light.”

“Huh?”

“The tenement didn’t have electricity? She shakes her head. “The New York Foundling Hospital went electric over a decade ago.”

He plops onto his butt, eyes glued to the yellow glow.

She eases him onto his back. “Fire can’t harm you here.”

She covers him. “Sleep tight. Tomorrow you will join a group of children on the way to Minnesota.”

“M,mina–?”

“Minnesota. The nurses there are Benedictine Sisters. They wear black and cover their heads like your grandma did.”

“Was Grandma one?”

“No, she thought the elderly should wear black. Your mother was a nurse like me but not a sister.”

“Little Sister in heaven.”

“You had a little sister?”

“Oma prays for her.”

“Now you have a family up there looking out for you.”

He nods. Pulls a corner of the blanket to his mouth.

“Along with a change of clothes, we’re including the facts we know of your family’s immigration. I’ll add that you had a sister. What was her name?”

“Little Sister.”

She places a kiss on his forehead. “Sister Mary will be with you and the other children on the Orphan Train. Her gown is white like mine.”

***
Thomas steps into snow, his legs wobble from three days in motion. He could have counted to five.

“Thank you, Sister Mary. This must be Tommy.”

Man dressed black, not white. No bonnet.

“He wants to be called Thomas.”

“A great saint’s name. Thomas it shall be for now. Has he been baptized?”

“No mention of it in his family history. Nor of a father. Mother and Grandmother died in a tragic fire. I added a few comments about his journey from New York.”

“How old are you, son? I mean, Thomas.”

Hand springs up, fingers spread.

“Five?”

He nods.

“Please find Thomas a good Catholic home, Father.”

Papa?

“Come along, Thomas.”

He extends his hand to the man in black. Rubs mitten under his nose. Runs to catch up. He spots the horse that delivers his milk. Oma and Nana don’t drink milk. Waiting with Nana each morning on the stoop, she let him hold the empty bottle. It would break if it slipped out of his hands.

“Come here. I’ll boost you into the carriage. Cover yourself with the quilt my house keeper made for the thirty-mile ride to Bovine.”

Empty wagon—no clinking bottles—driver now wearing white.

“Are you comfortable back there, Thomas?”
Nods to the man’s back.

He wakes and has to pee. Crawling forward, he tugs on the man’s long scarf.

“Whoa.” The man jerks the reins. “You probably have to urinate.”

The horse lifts her tail and pees.

“Me too.”

The man laughs. He stands and faces Thomas.

“I get down by myself.” On his stomach, he inches himself over the edge, his foot finding the step. The snow glistens on the ground. “Where?”

“Wherever you want.”

He shivers and glances up at the round moon. Not so bright at home.

“I won’t look, I promise.” Papa laughs again.

“Grab your quilt and you can ride up here with me for a while.” Papa smiles. “Would you like that?”

“Yes, Papa.”

A snort. “Folks call me Father because I am a priest. You will come to understand what that means.” He grabs the reins and snaps them. “Thomas, you don’t have a Papa.”

Thomas hides under the woman’s quilt.

A HOUSE WITH MEMORIES

John Irving’s Door in the Floor brought to mind a single but most memorable aspect of Grandma and Grandpa Diedrich’s house in St. Cloud, Minnesota. The rug under Grandma’s treadle-driven sewing machine etched tell-tale evidence of a hinged door. Proof of the fact, my mother moving said items aside, prying loose an iron ring, and ripping a section of the floor large enough to swallow her, which in fact did happen.

With a business-like tone, she said, “Don’t come close; there are some bad things down here,” and her body disappeared feet first.

A dragon or ogre or troll I could visualize from stories, but unimaginable bad things could as easily burst the door open from below, sending both sewing and rug skidding across the room. It could grab me and my sister as we slept on the sofa-bed an arm’s length from the door-in-the-floor.

On the side opposite the sewing machine, a lead pipe rose from the floor and right-angled into the wall inches from our pillows. From it, a low-pitched hum followed by a splash and/or various water-in-motion sounds disturbed our sleep whenever someone opened the tap in the kitchen, only cold water delivered to kitchen and bathroom. A toilet flushing delivered vibrations, nearly to a rattle, and ended with a muffled percussion.

With the cacophony of street noises; brakes screeching, horns honking, and an occasional droning whistle from a distant train or shrill whining of an emergency vehicle, daylight became a sought after and welcome relief.

Grandma’s telephone, a shiny black object, sat on a small table, and Grandma talked into one end with the other fitted against her ear. Our telephone, a wooden box with projecting mouth piece, a cup-like part pressed to your ear, and a crank to get the operator’s attention. Grandma’s ‘operator’ answered just by picking up the hand held part.

My one chance to test it, a voice repeated, “Operator,” a couple of times before Grandma grabbed it, and apologized into the mouth piece. “We’re sorry. My grandson….” Stopping in mid sentence, she placed it back onto the cradle. “You mus’nt touch this or the operator will stick you with pins.” In person or through the phone left to my imagination. Grandma’s creative threats had a direct connection with her alteration job at J.C. Penny’s.

Despite nocturnal disturbances and threats of stick-pins, any planned visit to Grandma’s house—my parents never granted Grandpa shared-ownership—brought eager anticipation.

My mother’s parents occupied the lower level of the brick two story house with a mysterious old man hiding upstairs. Following an unaccounted-for toilet flush rushing through and slamming the plumbing, Mom would say, “I guess Scott still lives up there.”

Grandma’s main entry centered a two step-up front porch with a three sided wooden railing topped with a 2×4, fun to sit and play cowboy. Grandpa threatened to line it with upright spikes. He didn’t say I couldn’t sit there, but I took the hint. Duplicated around the corner of the house, a screened porch with an entry door to the kitchen. In summer, Grandma did her laundry out there.

Weather permitting we would find Grandpa lounging on the front porch smoking his pipe, but mostly he preferred the stuffed chair in the corner of the front room. Rose and Matt Diedrich had established patterns intended to irritate each other, his non verbal to her ranting.

Mom joked, “Dad just turns his hearing aids whenever Grandma scolds.”

Grandma played solitaire. Mom claimed she cheated.

A lifetime of bad financial decisions that climaxed with a nine month prison sentence for moon shining had broken Grandpa’s spirit. Grandma took control of their lives but harbored resentments.

“Sometimes I want to dig him up and scratch his eyes out,” Grandma blurted during the short time I lived with her while attending college.
With a different tone, she also described their honeymoon, the pleasant train-ride to meet his folks in Wisconsin, not yet having consummated their marriage. Also, miscellaneous not-so-pleasant memories, his lying about his age, receiving a bill for a wooden cask of whiskey from a failed enterprise before their marriage, and trading their home in town for a farm despite her objections.

One anecdote revealed a human side to their relationship. On his back one night in bed he threatened, “I’m going to spit at the ceiling and it will fall right on your face.”

Grandma said, “I slid down under the covers.” A slight giggle. “Matt had farted!” She also admitted that she’d never go to bed if any of her children were still up. “I didn’t want them to think of me crawling in bed with a man.”

After a few beers with my dad, Grandpa admitted that he never saw his wife naked.

****

Both of Grandpa’s favorite chairs had been unoccupied one memorable visit when I was five. Mom, Joelle, and I had spent time with Grandma at J.C. Penny’s where she did alterations, and we came to pick up Grandpa and take him home with us. Our family needed his carpenter skills to remodel half our enclosed porch into a bathroom, and in his spare time, help Santa Claus by building a toy box and a desk for our Christmas presents. Joelle still has the desk.

Mom led us through the empty house toward an eerie and penetrating screech—screech, like fingernails on a chalk board magnified. On the back wall of the kitchen opened a door to Grandpa’s tool shed, originally an addition for storing firewood before gas and electricity. (The bathroom, too, had been a bedroom closet before modern plumbing.)

Rays of light penetrated cracks and knotholes in the sideboards and gaps between them cast a glow to wispy hairs on Grandpa’s head. Like the pendulum of a clock, he brushed a file over tooth-after-tooth on his hand saw gripped between jaws of a vise, the source of the horrible screeches.

Mom yelled, “Pa!” but Grandpa, unlit pipe clenched between teeth, had retreated into his soundless world humming his favorite tune, If My Heart Was Made of Glass. Her gaze remained fixed until Grandpa straightened, placed the file in its space between others, and pocketed his pipe. With both hands, he grasped the handle of his wooden tool box.

Mom said, “I’ll get that for you,” and he stepped aside.

Grandpa reached out, and pulled us kids close to him, the pipe stem protruding from his vest pocket emitting the sweet and familiar aroma of Prince Albert tobacco. “I’ve been waiting for you guys.”

We passed back through the kitchen, hurried past Grandma’s sewing machine lurking alongside the sofa bed, and paused for a pleading gaze at the box of red and blue building blocks in the corner opposite the door-in-the-floor.

Mom said,” We don’t have time to play, but maybe Grandpa can make you some blocks with the boards left over from the bathroom project.” She faced Grandpa. “Isn’t that right, Dad?”

Oblivious to Mom’s request, Grandpa had already begun our bathroom project or was revisiting something from his past. “Got your hearing aids on, Dad?” Asked twice more, Grandpa nodded, and we proceeded to the living room and out the front door, pausing to lock it, something never done at home. Mother stacked the carpenter tools in the trunk, Grandpa on the passenger side, us kids in the back seat for the thirty-mile trek to Pierz.

Afterthoughts:

In the midst of the bathroom project, Grandpa needed some additional supplies. “Can I go to town with Grandpa?” I might have asked, but she probably volunteered, “You kids stay here. Grandpa doesn’t need you distracting his driving.” I hate to think my hiding on the floor in the back seat violated her direct order that I couldn’t deny hearing.

When the bathroom project was completed, I pounded a few boards loose from the outhouse to build a hutch for my rabbits. Mom enhanced the story. “Roger kept asking, ‘Is the bathroom done yet?’ When he got to use it, I figured he’d be satisfied. But, no! He proceeded to take our outhouse apart for his projects.”

I love you, Mom.

Where Did I Misplace My Life?

Decade Seven and beyond: Exploration and mostly ill-functioning body parts

History consists of the lies chronicled by the victors, and, I am a winner, at least still alive in the Twenty-First Century. Am I entitled to rewrite or rearrange the events in my life to suit my ego? I probably would if I could, but like condensed milk my past has evaporated to a saccharin consistency. Like pickled beets, I cannot restore the blood-red flow of my youth.

I have two adult children so some passion must have existed back then. I view photo albums of them tousling with their thinner and darker haired father. I am no longer that person, nor should deceitful nostalgia remake me after the fact.

My pursuits today, either real or fantasized, resemble the foundation of a child learning to walk and to talk. I mastered those skills in timely fashion, but the drive to improve them dissipated by the time I entered grade school. I learned to read and write and make music, but called on those skills only intermittently throughout high school.

As early as junior high, I had been farmed out—literally—living with relatives and neighbors on farms to earn room and board and spending money. In high school, I held numerous after-school jobs and summers employed with the county engineering department. I found surveying for road construction challenging and enjoyable enough accept as a career.

College happened by accident, a job offer with sufficient income and free time to attend a junior college. A two year degree led to a bachelor degree in teaching. However, successfully managing a movie theater during the last three years of college, I had developed business skills that could become the career I’d enjoy.

With a taste of student teaching and a teaching contract offer, I had found my vocation. Four years of graduate work evenings and summers, I earned a doctorate. A new challenge—what to with free time during evenings and summers?

My teaching career purred effortlessly, my energies directed toward residual schemes and enterprises with hopes of becoming rich. Most languished, faltered and failed, as measured by their original intent, exclaiming, I lost it my way.

At a recent high school class reunion, my classmates asked me to capsulate those years since graduating into a blurb and a recent picture, no doubt to be posted alongside my grad photo and prediction for success for classmates to chuckle at.

This is how I explained to them what Father Time had done to my body and my soul.

I have been blessed with two boys, two wives, and three grandchildren. When I became too old to teach school, I moved to Las Vegas with Laurie and wrote six novels and three memoirs, two of which I post chapter-by chapter on my blog www.HoboNovel.com along with many musings and minis. Check it out.

Which employment did I enjoy the most? I would have to revisit them—not possible—to experience the negatives that dissipated since I retired in the year 2000.

I suppose my best employment is that which I am enjoying presently. However, the pay is so bad, the government has to support me with a monthly check.