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Old 12-15-2013, 01:32 AM
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joseph engraver joseph engraver is offline
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Kid, I ain’t got all day


My mother was a child of the Depression and her childhood was hard. She was only seventeen when I was born. To have an illegitimate child in 1938 New England must have been as big a curse for her. Her father was part Indian and lived primarily from hunting, fishing and raising a garden on the land they owned. There was fifteen acres or so in the backwoods about four miles from where I grew up on my Great Aunt Lillian and Andrew´s farm. He also did carpentry and built the home where my grandmother, mother, her sister and brother worked in a rock strewn garden and took care of two milk cows and a few chickens They had no well so water had to be carried year round in jugs from a stream about a quarter of a mile away. As there was no electrical service, clothes were washed in the same stream. Water was scarce for the garden and the household. Lillian was the oldest and she carried water and cut and split more than her share of wood.
My grandfather Waldo was not a man of patience. His razor strap hung by the kitchen door and any offending or disobedient child whether it was his or someone else’s found themselves behind the outhouse, the wide smooth leather leaving its mark on the buttocks or in the cases of girls, on the legs. Age and reason have tempered my outlook on my childhood and the anger and resentment for many years I felt are long since vanished.
With the end of school I was to look for a summer job. My friend Donald had gotten work on a dairy farm in upstate New Hampshire near Lake Winnipesaukee and asked my mother if I could work there also. The job paid ten dollars a week plus room and board; she agreed that I could go. What excitement I felt at the thought of being on my own, for the first time in my life I was going to have freedom to be with my friend every day and not need permission.
I was to take the bus that left Derry, travel to Manchester, then Concord, our state capital, and then into the White Mountains. The trip was going to be my great adventure and a learning experience. I did not know then that the job was seven days a week, but I do not think it would have made a difference.
I had never been but a few miles from home and had never been on a bus like the one that was waiting for me in front of the Derry diner. It was all chrome with great stripes of green down the sides. The motor was in the back. Waiting passengers were drinking morning coffee and eating donuts in the diner when Ernest dropped me off early that morning. He told me to buy the ticket from my driver and then make sure I wrote my mother when I got there. With that he gave me five one dollar bills, a green plaid suitcase that belonged to my mother, a brown paper bag with sandwiches and apples. He then pulled away from the bus stop and continued on to work. I climbed up the chrome steps and into the bus.
It was huge. There must have been room for fifty or sixty people. The seats were covered with green leather and chrome. The driver’s seat sat by itself on a pedestal looking like a king’s throne. There were chrome shifters, levers, dials, and gauges galore---it made me think of Buck Roger’s space ship and it sat there empty, waiting. I went into the diner, which looked very much like the bus with its round shape and chrome stripes. As soon as I saw him, I knew he had to be the driver. He wore a grey suit with green stripes down the pants leg, gray black billed hat, white shirt and tie that matched the leather of the seats. He sat on one of the stools drinking coffee from a mug and eating a honey glazed donut.
“I want a ticket to Laconia, sir.”
Wait till I get on the bus,” he replied. “I issue tickets at the door.”
“How much does a ticket cost?” I asked.
“Three dollars and eighty-five cents to Laconia and I leave in 25 minutes, 7:15 sharp,” he said returning to his donut. I started to walk away and he said, “Hey kid, make sure you use the John before you get on. There’s no toilet on the bus and I don’t want to stop until Manchester.”
Pie a la mode was 25 cents at the Derry diner. I climbed on a stool, spun around a couple of times and ordered my apple pie and strawberry ice cream. I finished the pie and was cleaning up the remaining ice-cream with my finger when the driver got up and said in a voice of authority, “All aboard the New England Interstate, with stops in Manchester, Concord and Laconia.”
I ran to the men’s room, found the door locked. I waited a bit as people began to leave the diner. Finally after what seemed forever, the toilet door opened and I got my turn. I peed as fast as I could and I ran out to get on the bus.
“Hey kid,” the counterman called as I ran past him. “Don’t forget your stuff,” pointing at my lunch and mother’s suitcase. By the time I got to the bus I was the last one on. The driver took my money, pulled my ticket, and said, “Move it, kid. I don’t have all day.” It seemed to me that everyone said the same thing. “Hurry, Move it, let’s go. I ain’t got all day.” I found a seat in the back near the window, put my things on the seat with me so I wouldn’t forget them again and watched the driver climb up onto this throne and adjust his mirror, insert the key. The motor roared to life. He looked in the mirror and it seemed like he was looking straight at me, as if saying with his eyes, “Don’t give me any problems kid. I see you back there, and I ain’t got all day.” The great bus pulled away from the curb and I was off on my first adventure.
The name of the farmer I was going to work for was Viktor Maschek. He was waiting for me when the bus pulled up in front of the Lake’s General Store and Dry Goods. I was the last one off. I emerged from my imaginary spaceship and returned to earth. He said, “Are you the kid from Derry?”
“Yes sir.”
“Well, let’s go. I’ve got chores to do and I’ve got no time to waste.”
And with these welcoming words we made our way over to his old pick-up. With a few stomps on the accelerator pedal and a turn of the key, we were off.
“You ever work on a farm?” he asked.
“Yes sir, I grew up on one.”
“Good, then you know everything there is to be done.” We drove for ten miles to his farm in silence. Unlike my Aunt’s farm where everything was in order, Mr. Maschek place was the exact opposite. Fences were hanging askew; barbed wire was missing here and there. The gate onto the property sat rotting away. The road was full of holes big enough to swallow a wheel. The house itself showed the color of brown cedar wood underneath the fades whitewash. The farm equipment scattered all around with piles of junk along the lane. Everything I saw looked sad and uncared for.
Mr. Maschek even looked sad and uncared for. His bib overalls were torn at the cuffs, boots worn through at the toes. The truck was a lackluster black with bailing twine and frayed rope piled in one corner of the bed. It was a dairy farm all right, the smell told you that. But even I could see it was a place without a soul. Mrs. Maschek came out of the house to greet our arrival. She reminded me of my grandmother Agnes; short gray hair cut page style, faded blue housedress with a flowered apron that hung from her frame like a flag in mourning.
“Hello,” she said as I got out of the Ford. I stood there with my mother’s suitcase and uneaten lunch and looked at the farmyard. No chickens or dogs, no children, no fruit orchard, only a clothesline with tired linens and coveralls rising above the neglected farm equipment that lay scattered about like so many pieces of a lost jigsaw puzzle. I had arrived there at the peak of the haying season. The New England summer heat was oppressive and the hay was ready to be harvested. Mrs. Maschek greeted me warmly and with a genuine smile.
“Come in, boy,” she said putting her hand on my shoulder, then leading the way to the still open kitchen door.
“Where’s Donald? Is he here?”
‘”No dear, He’s still down at the barn finishing the chores for the evening. He would be along any minute.” Then without taking a breath she continued. “Was it a long trip up? I bet it was. Are you tired? I bet you are. Must be hungry also. Well don’t you fret, Donald will be along soon and we’ll all have a nice dinner together. Joe is your name?”
“Yes ma’am,” I quickly replied cutting off the river of words that were flowing out of Mrs. Maschek. “My name is Joe and I live in Derry.”
“So you’re Donald’s friend.”
“Yes ma’am.”
“Well come on in.” She said. Pointing to the kitchen sink. “You go wash your face and hands and we’ll have a nice supper. Do you like cornbread and baked beans?”
“Yes ma’am,” I replied and my stomach began to grumble. I went to the familiar water pump, filled the basin with cold well water and washed up. Donald came in as I was finishing up. He didn’t look very happy. We barely had time to say ‘Hi’ before we were seated for supper. Mr. Maschek said grace and then we ate in silence. The only sounds coming from the kitchen were the ticking of the regulator clock on the wall and the clacking of spoons against the bowls filled with salt pork and kidney beans. One thing for sure, I was going to be well fed.
After we had eaten our fill, Donald and I asked if we could be excused from the table. Once we were outside I asked “What’s the matter with you Don? You don’t look very happy.”
“Mr. Maschek is mean and he works you hard,” he replied. Soon it was dark so we returned to the house. Mrs. Maschek led me upstairs to the small room on the second floor where I unpacked my suitcase and went to sleep. The next morning I awoke early feeling the pangs of homesickness. I felt the nightmares of Andrew’s farm reassert themselves. All the haunting thoughts that I kept secreted came forward to declare themselves
With the morning sunrise I sat at the kitchen table eating oatmeal and prunes. The first few days had passed quickly what with all the farm chores that deeded doing. Don and I were working early in the morning from when we started milking, until late in the day when the cows were brought back from pasture for their second milking. The Maschek’s followed the “Early to bed early to rise makes a farmer healthy, wealthy and wise.”But this philosophy had left them looking as if the rocks and poor soil had siphoned away the energy from their bodies taking away any dreams of happiness and love they once may have had.
Mr. Maschek said. ”Donald you take the herd into the pasture and when you get back, clean up the calf pens and the stanchions. Me and your friend here are going to start cutting hay on the lower meadow. When you finish up in the barn, you come down and work with us.”
Early morning found me waist-deep in the dew soaked grass. In my hands I held an oak handled, three-foot scythe. Mr. Maschek showed me the way to swing it and pull at the same time. Swish, slice, swish, slice. Extend the arms and pull and the hay fell to the earth in two by three foot swaths. The lower meadow was two acres in size and too soft to drive the tractor over. It had to be harvested by hand. I was just the kid to do it.
Left on my own I soon had the rhythm of the scythe down and we set to work. By noon the meadow had been cut and was ready to be raked. After lunch we returned to the field and began to place the cut hay in windrows to dry. By now the sun was up full and brilliant and the dew had completely evaporated into the sky. I was hot. I was tired. I hadn’t time to visit my friend Donald since my arrival. Just a short distance away from where I was working was a cool clear brook with swimming holes, and spotted brook trout, and sparkling water. I could hear its waters whispering my name.
‘Joe, come on in and join me. Get out of the heat, sit in my cold flow.’ The more I thought of the brook, the less I could resist. I decided to fake heat stroke. Making sure that farmer Maschek was watching I chose a comfortable pile of hay to pass out on top of. I crumpled to the ground trying my best to look as if I only had a minute or so left to live. That my only hope of survival was to be able to retreat to the shade and cooling waters. I lay on the pile of mown hay, exposed to God and the whole of mankind as a faker, a shirker who wanted at that moment to go swimming more than anything else. I lay there listening to the thud of the approaching footsteps of Mr. Maschek,
“What’s wrong with you?” The dry terse voice asked. I opened my eyes and looked up.
“I’m sick,” I gasped into the afternoon sun. Wham! The boot hit my buttocks with all the force he could muster, and I have to tell you that kick really hurt
“There,” he said as I rocketed to my feet. “Feel better? Now get to work.” I’m positive that that kick made me a better person. If I had gotten away with my fraud, I most likely would have ended up writing this from a prison cell.
The second incident is the hurricane that arrived in Laconia, New Hampshire that summer. I was out in the barn doing chores, (‘chores’--- meaning shoveling cow manure) when the storm hit. I had finished cleaning the stanchions and had replaced the covers over the holes where the manure was piled onto a spreader waiting below. There were about ten oak covers, each quite heavy. The morning sky had been threatening rain, which was fine with me. Rain meant there was no hay to be pitched or cut. I knew if I went back to the farmhouse, more chores would be found that had to be done.
So, I just relaxed on the pile of hay, taking my time, singing ‘In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, that’s where I want to be.’ I had just decided to follow Phil’s words of wisdom, when the wind began to gust.
The barn was not a masterpiece of post and beam construction. As the wind increased, the joints started giving way with groans and creaks. It concerned me so that I lost my train of thought when the first blast of wind hit. The air was suddenly full of dust and hay. The timbers of the barn cracked under the force of the torrential rain and wind. Now that I was no longer enjoying my quiet moment I was very concerned. The tempest continued to increase in velocity and rain, windows came flying inward. The barn door was lifted off its track and came crashing down. I ran to a corner near the door and squatted down not knowing whether to stay or run. The wind was now screaming so loudly that I could hear nothing else. I covered my ears and waited to be blown away like Dorothy.
Suddenly in unison, all the wooden covers lifted up from the floor and hovered up in the air like spaceships. They remained floating up and down for perhaps a minute. Then all of them crashed into the stall floor at the same time. The wind slackened. The rain continued to fall. Gathering my courage, I ran back with all the speed my legs could muster to the farmhouse. Everything there was a mess, shingles gone, the porch roof ripped loose, trees yanked up and broken off by the howling winds of the storm which had lasted for two hours. Winds were over 100 miles an hour.
“It is an ill wind that brings no good” and so it was for me. We had just gotten the farmhouse picked up and dried out when a rather fat man wearing a gray suit came walking into the yard.
“Hello,” he greeted the house.
We all went outside to see what he wanted. “My name is Mr. Lowell,” he said. “I have a summer house down the road a couple miles.”
Of course we had all heard of Mr. Lowell. It was one of the main topics at the dinner table between the Maschek´s.
“He’s up at his house; I saw his big Packard car. I understand he has all copper plumbing. Copper is very expensive. He’s rich you know. They say he owns all the movie theaters in New England and New York. House is all built of brick. First brick house in these here parts.”
“Yes sir, Mr. Lowell. What can we do for you?”Mr. Maschek asked
“My driveway is blocked by fallen trees and I need to get back to Boston right away.”
“Well, we’re pretty busy right now, Mr. Lowell. The storm left us with a good mess to clean up,” replied Mr. Maschek.
“It is very important that I get out. I’ve had a lot of damage at the boardwalk in Boston and I need to get there as soon as possible. I’ll pay you to cut a path clear for me.”
“I really don’t have time to go, but I’ll send the kid. How big are the trees?” He asked.
“Pretty big,” replied Mr. Lowell.
“I’m not very good at cutting wood with an axe,” said Don. “But Joe is, so it’s best if he goes.” That decided, I got an axe and whet stone and set off with Mr. Lowell. The first tree required a couple of good licks before it was parted and swung out of the way and off the side of the drive. There were three or four more other about five or six inches in diameter. In twenty minutes the path was cleared to the front of the neat brick house. Mr. Lowell got in his big black Packard, rolled down the window and handed me a twenty-dollar bill. I didn’t know what to do when I saw it. So I said, “That’s a twenty!”
“That’s right, son. And it’s all yours. Now you take it. I’m in a big hurry and I haven’t got all day.”
He roared off leaving me standing there with my mouth open. As I walked back towards the farmhouse I was trying to decide what to do with all that money. Twenty minutes of work was a dollar a minute. And I was being paid one dollar thirty cents a day. I decided not to tell Mr. Maschek about my windfall. He most likely would take it away from me. I decided the best way out was to lie. Practice makes perfect so I had practiced my lie all the way back.
“No sir, he didn’t pay me anything,” I said as I walked in. “He said he was in a hurry and would give me some money the next time he was up.”
“Just as I thought,” Mr. Maschek grumbled. “I should have known those rich folks from Boston can’t be trusted.” A couple of days later there was a message for me at the Lake’s General Store and Dry Goods. I was to return home as soon as possible. Mr. Maschek was not happy that I would not be staying for the season and would only give me eight dollars for my two weeks work, saying that he was going to send my folks the rest of the money by mail later on. So I said goodbye to my friend Don and an adios to the Maschek’s, climbed back into the motor coach holding my green cardboard suitcase that now had my twenty dollar bill hidden inside.
I waited for the driver to say, “All Aboard, New England Interstate with stops in Concord, Manchester, Derry and Boston.” Sitting in the front seat I watched the driver adjust his mirrors, check his gauges, put the bus in gear. There I was, an experienced rider, sitting in the front seat watching the trees and the houses roll by. I was homeward bound, a wiser, richer and more experienced man.
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"What a large volume of adventures may be grasped within this little span of life by him who interests his heart in everything"-Lawrence Sterne
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