"Can I talk to you?" Rosalie's voice was low so it wouldn't be heard upstairs, but loud enough that I could hear it over the local news—we both liked to stay up for the national news, then watch the first part of Johnny Carson. By the flickering light of the screen, I could see her brows slightly wrinkled in thought. I picked up the remote and turned the volume down a couple clicks before turning back to her.
This early in the Spring, there wasn't much work to do beyond milking and stall-work; the winter clover crop had been sown in some of the fields, while others had been allowed to grow grass for pasture for a season or two's rest. This meant a slightly longer sleep for us, since the kids did the milking and egg-gathering before school. We had our routine down years ago, so I knew Rosalie wasn't worried about the farm at all...it had to be one of the kids. "Two or Three?" I asked, pulling her into my side on the sofa.
"They have names, Dirck!" she gave a chuckle then, "Not that they ever use them!" My snort brushed the blonde hair from her ear and she laughed. I didn't understand our children sometimes; we gave them good family names—but I guess it was more important for them to fit in with their friends—I only hoped that would change when they got older. We had been born here just a few years after our parents emigrated from the German town of Eddelak near the Danish border. That was during the rioting and civil unrest caused when the Kaiser fell at the end of the First World War. Our families had been neighbors for a long time, and decided to continue that tradition in America.
"Fint," I huffed. "It's Jay isn't it?" I loved all three of my children, but our youngest held so much of his mother in him—the same eyes, the even-tempered attitude and friendly disposition—he would always think of others before himself. Linda—as she insisted on calling herself, couldn't have been more different; if it didn't concern her friends or her own life, then she wasn't interested, never deliberately cruel, but lacking the concern for others our two sons had inherited. That was why Jerry was serving in the Coast Guard, so he could help those in trouble on the ocean. After two years, it looked like his career of choice.
"Only partially, skat. Lene's bothering me with the way she treats people...especially Jay." I rubbed her hand gently with my thumb in an attempt to soothe her worries. Since our daughter entered middle school, she had immediately sought out the popular crowd, and adopted some of their attitudes; we didn't like it, but her grades were above average, and she was usually respectful, so there wasn't much we could do since she would start college in the Fall. Maybe the new scenery would change her. "She was actually mean when she told him to call his boyfriend."
"I'll speak to her about it again tomorrow," I sighed. "It's going to be hard enough for him without his sister's giving him trouble." Teasing, I could understand and not worry about too much, but respect was another matter—I wouldn't allow Lene to treat anyone that way. The fact that Jay would often just let it pass in an attempt to keep the peace was probably seen as weakness by his sister. I knew better, having seen it in my wife's personality on a daily basis.
Johnny's monologue was funny, but the guests tonight I could do without. When he didn't do his Floyd R. Turbo editorial or Art Fern movie host sketch, we decided to head upstairs to bed. We looked in on each of our kids as we usually did: Linda was under her blankets, a book lying beside her, Jay was sprawled all over, covers half-off, his face split with a huge smile which I preferred to the worry he'd shown earlier in the evening before he ran off to visit his friend Miles.
"Dirck...that wasn't one of his shirts." I looked at Rosalie with a mouth full of toothpaste, "You sure?" I finally managed to get out. She nodded. "Definitely. And his belt wasn't in his trousers."
I pondered that as I rinsed, heading for the bed. "So I should talk to him tomorrow too?"
"Nej. I know how much you hate having to scold them. If it gets to be a problem, then we'll both talk to him. Nat, søde."
It was Saturday! was my first thought when my eyes opened—that always was good since it meant no school, but today it was even better! I was going to be with Mikey almost all day! I whistled as I pulled on my jeans and sneakers...hurrying downstairs to get my chores done before breakfast so that I could leave as soon as possible! Why did I tell him 12:30? That was hours from now!
...Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh...by the time I got out the door, I was practically running and pulling on my jean-jacket—I know Mom stared at me as I dashed through the kitchen, but I just waved. People to do, things to see, to misquote an old saying!
…..Sleepless hours and dreamless nights and far awaysOkay, maybe I shouldn't sing—but I was too happy to keep it inside; at least I managed it quietly. Chicago was one of my favorite groups.
As I entered the barn, I had slowed—there was no point in scaring the cows because I was in a hurry—nervous cows were hard to milk! With only five cows, Dad didn't see the point of a milking machine, so I grabbed the zinc bucket and stool and settled in, blowing on my hands to warm them for the task at hand. Like it always did, milking started to get me hard—it was stupid, but it happened nearly every time I squeezed and pulled on the cows' teats. I wonder if Mikey would like this….
It took several trips between the cow-stalls and the stainless storage tank, but it was done at last—But I've got my job to do...and I do it well….The Holsteins pretty much followed me out the rear door into the fenced pasture, knowing the way to their favorite grazing spots. When I poured a mix of grains into their feeder, they gathered around blinking at me with sad brown eyes...nothing new there. I patted each one on the side and flank, and watched as our new calf suckled at his mother's breakfast bar.
...Pay the price, make a sacrifice...and still I'll try….The cow stalls were quickly cleaned, and I opened the door so Gulliver could join the cattle; I'd exercise him later—maybe get Mikey to help me with that! Since Dad changed his stall yesterday, I only had to muck it out rather than do a full clean; I put some hay out for him to munch and rubbed his soft nose as I sang into his ear. Of course, he looked at me like I was an idiot.
Back in the kitchen after taking off my jacket and sneakers, I washed my hands at the sink and sat down opposite Her, and smiled my best at our parents. Over fried eggs, bacon and toast we were quizzed about our plans for the day, Linda going on and on about spending time at her friend Debbie's house...apparently she didn't get enough of her at school during the week, it had to be on Saturdays too.
"Will you please stop humming that song—it's driving me crazy!" I hadn't realized I was still doing it, and for one second, I thought about doing it even louder—but not in front of Mom or Dad. "Sorry, sis." I ate another slice of toast with apple-butter, and shoveled in another fork-full of eggs before I turned my attention to Mom.
"Mor…" she liked it when I spoke Danish, so I tended to save it for something important—"Må min ven komme på besøg? Mikey?" I tried not to look nervous, but I should have asked last night to have him over, only I was too happy to remember. I was so screwed if she said 'no'. Linda glared daggers at me, but I ignored her, watching as Mom looked to Dad, and I wondered why it was taking them so long; eventually, after some long glances and a smile, Dad nodded. "After chores are done."
Linda rolled her eyes at me as I told them I might show him how to ride, and she mumbled "Maybe he'll break his neck," under her breath. Unfortunately, Dad heard her. She paled as he stood and pointed in the direction of the living room: "Lene Marit Beckel—gå ind i stuen nu!"
Dad never really raised his voice when he was angry—but he was louder than normal and very disapproving and chastising in his tone. Jerry said that Dad had hit him only once—when he'd been mad about something and told Dad to 'fuck off!' rather than take out the trash as he'd been asked. I found it hard to believe our father could lose his temper that much, but Jerry told me that Dad shut himself in his room for hours after that, coming out only at dinner time. When he did, he knelt down in front of his six-year-old son, pulled him into a hug, and cried.
When Linda and Dad came back into the kitchen, she paused across from me before going up to her room. "Undskyld Jay, jeg er ked af det, jeg sagde..." I gave her a small smile—I'd been sent to the living room once or twice myself so I knew how she felt. "I'm doing your chores today and tomorrow….and I'm grounded for the weekend."
Mom looked at me as I put my dishes in the sink, and Linda's. "Don't you think you should clean your sty of a room before Miles comes over? Even as punishment, I wouldn't wish that on Lene."
"And wash your truck!" Dad added as I bounded up the back-stairs from the kitchen. I looked at my room in dismay: a little less than four hours, and I still had to wash my truck! I wasn't a total slob, but this was asking a lot of a man with a date. I circled the room, pulling laundry off the floor, giving it a sniff before putting it in the tall dresser or in my basket. My books were next, picking them up from the floor, my night-stand and my desk. I stuffed them on the corner shelves and looked at my bed.
Mikey was gonna be in my room—maybe on my bed! I didn't need to sniff for this task—I pulled the sheets off, only vaguely trying to untangle them from the spread before jamming them in with the dirty clothes. I grabbed the can of Lysol from the bathroom and sprayed it on my mattress and around the room, coughing at the pungency of the disinfectant.
"Jesus—open a window already!" Linda yelled from across the narrow hall. "And don't forget to sweep either—I don't want him telling people we live in a dump!"
Shit—nearly an hour gone already! I dragged the vacuum up the stairs, plugged the long cord into the outlet in the hall, and wrestled the plastic hose with its aluminum extension into my room. I roamed around pushing it across the wooden floor, only to have it try to eat the edge of my rug! The roar became high-pitched and I ran into the hall and pushed the button on top of the cylindrical motor. With the rug freed and put on the bed, I started again, and leaned way over to make the extension fit under my bed—only to have it start whining again. A sock? What the hell was a sock—OH...EEWWW! With two fingers I removed the crusty item from the nozzle and put it carefully in the basket—acting as if it might explode at any moment.
I carried the heavy basket downstairs, and put it in first, then covered it with sheets, underwear and more socks. Mom looked in as I started the washer just to see if I did it right. It was nearly 10 before I got outside with a big towel and a bucket of soapy water...At least it was sunny out, and warming up nicely!
I was working on the driver's side front fender, scrubbing really hard, when I heard a splash and turned to see Dad wetting another towel and starting at the rear by the tailgate. I watched for a second as he rubbed the back fender lovingly. "Shame to see her get rusty—she was my first truck when I got my license…she was only a year old back in '48...the first new styles since 1941 thanks to the War."
I let my mouth drop a bit in shock. "Dude, you're joshin' me!"
"Gejr let her go and he often let her sit in the rain or snow." We had worked our way around the other side, and he gave me an appraising look. "If you promise to treat her right, I'll cover half the cost to get her painted—think you can sand her down and fill any holes?"
"Sh—I mean, um….Far out! She can sleep in my room if you do that! It's a big job, though…."
Dad gave me a half-smile, and his fingers tugged at the sleeve of the tee shirt I was wearing—it had gotten wet and was practically molded to my shoulders and chest. "Maybe Mikey can help you?"
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