“Look, Jimmy, I can't talk long. I am in the gate and they are getting ready to board. We are supposed to get into Fort Meyers by 8. Mom has sent somebody down to get me. They are supposed to have a sign, but no worries, I guess, looks like there is only ten of us on the flight. Some regulation. They have to get us there today. Thank god for regulations! So how is everything going? Did the girls look puzzled, I mean that you were milking and not me?”
“Sure. How many times have I told you? Goats like things the same way every day. They're anal. Anything a little bit different, and you've got problems. Did you follow the list I put up? Probably not, that's why everything went haywire.”
“Look, Jimmy, sweets, I could try to explain this to you all day. How many times have I tried to explain this to you? A thousand at least. It isn't in your nature to understand that kind of thing, must be. Anything else happen? Are you all right? You seem far away? Don't worry. You do fine with the girls. Just follow the list on the wall, and if anything comes up twenty-four/seven, you know me, I guess you should know by now where you can reach me.”
“What? How are the girls anyway? You never tell me anything.”
“They're fine, except I got in late this morning because of what I told you about Tuck and what not.”
“Well, that's why you had so much trouble. You know when Laura tells you that you have to work this overtime and that, all you have to say is a little two letter word.”
“Okay you know the word or okay you don't?”
“Okay, I know the word.” He grumbled, “For Christ's sake.” Why was she nibbling at him now?
“What did I ask you? Please do not use that swear. It is bad luck. And our luck is bad enough as it is. Anyway, I'm getting excited. It's been two years since I saw my mother. Was it two years? Curtis was with her, remember, bitching about the trailer and not having a foundation with a cellar, and complaining about my cooking. House too small. Barn too big. Good thing Mike wasn't around, or was he, I believe he was. Do you remember? Check that journal of yours. Why don't you put useful information in that journal of yours? Something the whole world might be interested in. Anyway Curtis, the disgusting racist. I don't know who's worse, him or my mother. I wonder if Mike ever did the study he was gonna do. Ma, I'm gonna do a study.” Michelle giggled. “Glasses on crooked… Just like you, for God's sakes. A little brown Jimmy, glasses on crooked.” She laughed outright.
Jimmy smiled, sitting up on the edge of the bed, rubbing his eyes. It was almost six. Michelle's voice was plaintive, strained, excited as a teenage girl's. He was afraid she might be in over her head. On some things she was strong, on other things not nearly as strong as you'd think.
“Most likely,” Jimmy said.
“Call Mike! Of any of the kids he would be most likely to come up and stay with you for awhile. You can just imagine Mike with Curtis, him leading Curtis around while Curtis is complaining about how black people are getting everything handed to them as if they were royalty.”
“I'd never bother Mike. He's busy. Besides, Ted and Sully wouldn't like it.”
Ted was Michelle's oldest brother. Ted and Mike's real father, Sullivan Brown, had taken over Mike's upbringing. Both Ted and Sully thought Jimmy had lost his mind and he was going downhill fast, so they saw Jimmy as a bad influence and tried to direct Mike away from him. No doubt they had had blunt conversations with Mike on the subject of Jimmy. Jimmy had no pride, he'd do any kind of work. One day Sully happened across Jimmy working in a gas station in Salem. Jimmy loved the part-time weekend jobs he was always doing. He was apt to end up with anything—could be in a gas station or a restaurant or doing landscaping or delivery work. Poor Sully, seeing Jimmy pumping gas, had been miserable and embarrassed. He stared at Jimmy, speechless, drove off in a hurry, not even waiting for the change. Ted was even worse. He was bound and determined that he was Abraham leading his family out of the despond, and not Red Sea nor slacker could hold him back. If anybody was a slacker, it had to be Jimmy. But Mike called every weekend to talk with his mother, and if he should imagine anything at all might be wrong, or he was on vacation somewhere with his father's family, they could expect numerous cards and daily letters.
“Oh, fuck them!” Michelle grumbled. “I'm gonna write a book. Mike loves Jimmy. He'd be your perfect pal for a week. He'd keep you out of trouble.”
“You know, Michelle, maybe this isn't such a good idea. This is uncharted territory.”
“No! I'm marvelous. I'm nervous. I'm even scared. But it is something I have to do. I want to look at my mother with peace in my heart because I am too old to have it any other way.”
“Too bad you couldn't get one of the kids to go with you…”
“No. It's just she and I.”
“Still, life doesn't happen lotta times the way you'd think.”
“Oh, for God's sakes, what book did you read that out of? I swear Jimmy, sometimes you're the most superficial person I know.”
Jimmy never argued with her who was the most superficial. There was too much downside. Besides, he often wondered himself, who was not a scholar, what all the time he had spent with his nose in a book was really worth. Could it be a recipe for a superficial person?
So they were silent for a long time. When he was working and he was a long way away, even before he started flying, when he was doing US Delivery and he'd call her from the Howard Johnson's on the pike heading for Providence, they might not speak to each other but a few simple words between the silences. He still sat on the edge of the bed, too listless to get up and phone affixed to ear, and outside the bedroom window this time of year, there was already darkness. The girls would be wondering because Michelle was usually out there by now. Late again.
She was reading his mind. “Don't sound so sad, Jimmy. Where are you? Probably still in bed. Don't be too late now. Oh, the line is moving. I guess I have to go. I'll call you from Ma's as soon as I get in. By.”
“Okay.” Then the phone clicked shut.
Jimmy thought about the barn, goats pacing, udders over large. This was not what he had in mind for the progress of his life, but what did he have in mind? Sometimes he stood in his garden as if a clod in the ground, an earthbound mushroom, and he'd hear a jet high above, and he'd look up, searching it out. He was once up there in air conditioned comfort, surrounded by technology, next door to God, he often used to think. In his high outpost along the rim of space he had been a student of cloud formations. But that had not been what he really wanted, it had only been what he could do, it had been only a step in a progress, but a step to what? Maybe he did not want to go out to work goats, but what else to do; if he did not want to do that, what did he want to do?
One time long ago he had been attending the University of New Hampshire in Durham. He had done almost well enough in High School to go on, but also he wanted to support himself. He wanted to take care of himself and be free. After two years working on road and bridge construction, he had saved enough money to apply to UNH, and they accepted him! He had been writing in the college newspaper. Writing was a natural thing for him to think about because of the journal, which often led to essays and stories. For some reason one evening he had ended up at Professor Morton's house with a group of other students. Mystery concealed the whole thing. He never understood why he had got there or why he had felt so honest that night. The other students were bound for jobs in academia, or so it seemed, for they were what was termed in those days “student teachers”. Professor Morton was well known among the students as a philosophy teacher. One semester he tried to teach Plato's “Republic” to Jimmy and six other students. Anyway, the students went around introducing themselves, which was probably not as ridiculous as it seemed at the time. While they each explained something about their background, Professor Morton insisted that they each should know at least in general terms what they “wanted to go on and do with their lives”. So they wanted to be teachers, one wanted to be a civil engineer, another wanted to work in politics, any way it was an honest moment, so Jimmy said, “I want to do philosophy.” Professor Morton said, “So Jimmy wants to work in academia, too.” “What?” Jimmy said. “It's very hard to be a philosopher and not work in academia,” the professor explained. Jimmy felt like he had been clubbed in the head. It would be ridiculous for Jimmy even to think about working in academia, yet he wanted to do philosophy. Even Plato, he learned later, was unenthusiastic about the philosophy that came from the sophists. For Jimmy the meeting went down hill after that. Oh, wasn't it too bad, something was wrong, Jimmy didn't know how to relate. Why was he remembering this now? He was still to this day a befuddled student lacking in specific direction. No matter, he would soon enough end up as dust same as Agnes, same as everybody else.
“Got to get going on the girls,” Jimmy mumbled, “and you know why? Because why not?”
He stepped into the barn, that open space for his thoughts, and the girls were in their knot by the gate waiting for him. They snorted goat bleats in greeting. This time they weren't mad at him.
After chores he cooked a steak which he ate with sliced tomato and toast. The steak was a tenderloin from a Hereford he had raised from a calf last year. He got the cast iron pan smoking and threw the steak in with onions and green peppers from the garden. And then he sliced a tomato also just picked from the garden. Michelle canned through September, she had been canning the day before she left, and he picked a dill pickle from a Bell jar, and he made toast from the bread Deena brought. Then he sat down in his easy chair, no TV, no daily news, no racket. Sitting there he picked at a good book, Bound for Glory, by a good man and author and singer, Woody Guthrie, and then he thought about bringing his Beethoven records down and the old worn out beat up Sears record player, and the Pete Seeger records, and Arlo and Dylan, Mamas and the Pappas, Joan Baez, Dave Brubeck, “The White Album”, Cream, Igor Stravinsky and Bela Bartok. And, oh yeah, that's right, he could leave his books anywhere. He didn't need to put anything away any more. Tomorrow he'd have time for figuring. Brother, was he tired. Brother, was it quiet in here. In a half hour he nodded off in his easy chair but woke up in plenty of time to make it to work. Jimmy relieved Danny again who said Tuck had slept for awhile. The pills seemed to work, and Laura had left instructions when to give him another dose. But everybody thought, what with the situation and three teeth pulled, it might be a good idea for Tuck to get on the horse. Hard to tell how he was doing when he was dead to the world, and even when he was up and cranky, still hard to tell with him. Jimmy didn't want to administer any pills. Michelle called about midnight, said she was getting ready for bed. Ma looked lousy. Now she was thinking that she might have to somehow manage to get her back to Maine. “Oh no,” Jimmy said in a high pitched tone of voice, giggling.
Jimmy never had any problems with Estelle. In fact he had a theory that all women eventually end up like their mothers, so if you can get along with your mother-in-law, then you should be able to get along with her daughter. Trouble was, Estelle didn't think much of Jimmy, but she was true and frank about it. She told him straight out, “Michelle thinks the world of you, but I wouldn't give you the time of day.” Jimmy's careless appearance, his ragged clothes, his ancient, beat up pickup embarrassed her. In summer he was usually half naked, filthy ballcap, work boots with white socks sticking out, ragged shorts. He was plain awful. Michelle put out nice clothes for him; but no matter, as the day progressed he evolved into his rags. Estelle was ashamed to be seen in public with him. On top of that everybody was pretty sure he was losing his mind. She generally didn't agree with a word Ted, her oldest son, said except this: after Jimmy quit flying and claimed that he had become a farmer, Jimmy lost his mind. But, peculiarly, after that pronouncement Estelle had made directly to Jimmy, that he wasn't worth a clipping from her fingernail, they seemed to get along fine. Estelle wasn't one for gifts to the grandkids, or digging through her pockets to help with education expenses, or any of that, but whenever Jimmy mention he needed a tool, Estelle would slip Michelle a wad of cash and say, “Just stop at the Snap On truck.” One of the kids would drop these amazing, shiny fancy tools, which he could stare at for hours, and which he did not deserve, they were so expensive, into his tool box as a surprise. Jimmy loved nice tools and he'd carry them around in a pocket to take out to look at.
Before the move to Florida, when Estelle came up from Somerville to visit for awhile or longer than an overnight, Curtis often stayed home. “He's a fine man,” Estelle explained. “He has no patience with this sort of thing.” The Maine roads were hard on his Lincoln Continental. Although Estelle brought her own sheets and pillows, the fold out couch was uncomfortable. No highly polished coffee maker for the morning. Michelle perked in a pot not too clean. The house smallish. No air conditioning. The guinea hens squawking in the morning, roosters and birds in general reminded Curtis more of a racket than anything. Couldn't they do something to quiet them down? Put a sock over their heads. He usually got up around eight. Hardly any channels on the TV. He grumbled till they departed to go home.
One time Dwight was graduating from Junior High and Michelle and Jimmy had worried so much about him because he didn't seem to be doing well and they had been holding their breath that he'd go on. His teachers were complaining and he got kicked off the bus. When he graduated from Junior High, they thought they might throw a little shindig because now he seemed to be doing okay and he was heading for High School. Curtis and Estelle rented a cabin on Sebago. They showed up. You should have seen the Dew. His mother's big dark eyes and forehead gleaming, no glasses, the Dew had excellent eyes, he got them from his mother. His broad chest, strong arms, back Airborne Ranger, no showy slouching with the Dew, decked out in a beautiful suit Michelle had sewn, dark blue. Curtis hadn't liked the turmoil of young people; Estelle believed worries about education were a bit much, considering youth and the numerous other bad influences. Curtis sat on the porch in the rocking chair; it was too much to take in. He had chipped in to buy the guitar Dwight had wanted. Something about Curtis… Neither Estelle nor Curtis said a word of encouragement to Dwight, to pursue his studies and get along in life. They came, and after the guitar changed hands, and they got the proper credit for the gift, they left.
But sometimes, before she and Curtis moved to Florida, once or twice a year, Estelle would come to visit for a week. Jimmy firmly believed she came up to cook. Whenever she wanted to work, she could always make a good living cooking. Estelle was a great cook. Whenever Michelle mentioned a beef going down or a lamb or pig, and vegetables fresh from the garden, Estelle would show up, and together, under Estelle's supervision, they would have famous and wonderful banquets until Estelle had enough and decided to go home.
On the whole, once she had her say, Estelle was polite, and she and Jimmy always got along. He wasn't the least bit afraid to take her in. If she'd sometimes start a row, it was quickly humored over. And now that it looked like that might be in the future, Jimmy spent his spare time that night trying to figure out a way to add on to the spare room, and make a nice space for her to live and die in for she hated hospitals and she always insisted that she'd die at home among family.
Around four o'clock Ray got up. He wandered around checking on Tuck. No Tuck. Maybe he might like to create a stir? But he didn't. He watched TV for awhile, nothing on, went back to bed, belly flopping in, crashing face down, and in two seconds he was snoring loudly. Laura had given Luce enough money to buy a dozen extra gooey Dunkin' Donuts. That was a treat. At breakfast they each had a bowl of cereal and milk and a Dunkin' Donut. Tuck seemed happy, too. He ate his donut, though chewing gingerly from one side of his mouth rather than the other, then stiffed another doughnut out of the box, and he drank a glass of milk. After breakfast Luce went upstairs to help the guys get ready for day program. Richie had a day job raking leaves for real money. He was on a powerful mood stabilizer, Clozaril, and while on it he had packed on an extra fifty pounds. Staff, including Jimmy, were doubtful about insisting on any activity. He was a powerful man to begin with, and now with the extra weight nobody wanted to tangle with him. When Luce reminded him about his job, Richie doubted that he'd have time for work today because he was busy. Then he sat down in his rocking chair in the bedroom and he threw his shoes at Luce. She shut the door to let Richie alone. After awhile when he was like this he usually opened up to discussion. Ray, meanwhile, had jumped in the shower laughing, where he'd play around enthusiastically till someone came to get him out, and Jimmy had time to run up to help Luce. Susan and Tuck washed up and dressed and beds made. Tuck would hike around from one project to the next. On nice days Jimmy walked Tuck to work, but lately with the hardships, and now with autumn and daylight savings coming on, there would be no time for long walks for awhile. Tuck sat up on the bed. On his pale face was nothing like the confusion on it before, and maybe the Doctor had pulled the sorest teeth. Luce checked in on Richie, who still sat on his rocking chair. “I'm busy,” he shouted. Jimmy jumped downstairs to check on Ray, who had popped out of the shower and was daubing himself dry. Unless Jimmy reminded Ray, he'd get dressed still wet. Jimmy reminded him, and he threw the towel at Jimmy. They were both giggling as Jimmy toweled him dry enough to put on his clothes. Then Laura drove in, having seen off another bunch at Lake Street house. Lake Street consumers were not as rambunctious as Pinetree Road consumers. Jimmy told her Richie was having problems with time. But Richie didn't like bosses, “You're not my boss,” he'd shout. So they decided to let Luce encourage him. Then Jimmy might go up and try. So while they were waiting, and Ray was begging for more donuts, Jimmy discussed his OT problems with Laura, and the situation at home, with Michelle gone away, and he needed to take vacation time, the days he had listed in the day book. He had an hundred-and-fifty hours of vacation time saved up. Usually he never took vacation; he cashed in the hours for real money. The company was always enthusiastic about cashing out vacation time because they did not have to pay anybody else OT to fill in. But since Tuck was not doing well and this was an oddball situation in which he needed time and not money, he wondered uneasily if it would be okay. “Sure,” said Laura, “I'll schedule it today.” She didn't even complain about the short warning.
Then Laura said, “So where is Michelle?”
“Florida with her mother. Her mother is sick.”
“No kids?” Laura said smiling. “Jimmy by his lonesome?”
“Yup.” Jimmy knew this would make the rounds, and everybody would have their antennae tuned to the outcome.
Then Richie came in, grumpy, a sneaker in each hand, followed by Luce. Richie did not think he could go to work today, he was too busy. “I'm busy,” he said. Other than shoes and socks he was fully dressed, clean and hair combed.
“Chicken in a Biscuit,” Laura reminded him.
Richie loved to go to the store when he had money and buy things for himself. He usually bought crackers in a box that he could bring upstairs into his room and snack on while rocking in his chair. Among his belongings were an old, beat up Sears catalog that he liked to study and his own TV with rabbit ears. He could get only one channel but he said that he had too much to think about anyway. Richie's parents were devout Roman Catholics. He had a normal brother and sister and the whole family was in the health care profession. His father was a doctor, Richie's brother was a doctor-missionary in Kenya, and both Mother and sister were nurses. Sometimes his sister came to see him. It was better when she came alone without her “husband”, who was a stout older woman. Richie lived at home with father and mother till he was twenty-six, and when they were too old and he was too big for them to handle any more, they had to commit him. They maintained a close relationship with him. They had devoted a good deal of their lives to Richie. Every other weekend they took him with them to stay overnight in his house in his room. They became friendly with Laura and on their visits they were always kind-hearted to the Pinetree Hill staff. When he first arrived he bit and scratched himself, stripped and ran around the house naked, screaming like a demon. The psychiatrists studied him and a terrified photographer took a movie of his flare ups, and they prescribed a powerful anti-psychotic that left him drooling and eyes watering, but it did make life a little easier for him.
“I go work now,” Richie agreed, shrugging.
His hands were so twisted and misshapen, it was hard for him to manipulate shoes and laces. Slip-on shoes were easy to take off for the wrong reasons. Richie clobbered Jimmy now and then with the slip ons that his parents bought him. Luce, who hated to see people struggle, helped Richie into his shoes.
Then Laura supervised the morning meds. The two ladies chatted about how boys will behave when “wifey” is away.
“Oh, I'll take long walks and cold showers,” Jimmy said.
“Come with me to the club,” Luce said. “Lose some fat both in mind and body.”
Laura laughed, “I don't think there is much fat on Jimmy.”
“Oh, you can always lose more.”
Laura's husband liked to have big shindigs Sunday afternoon for the Patriot's game, if Jimmy was a Patriot's fan. “And maybe bring one of those goats of yours. My son Robbie is animal crazy.”
“That's true,” Luce said, “who's gonna take care of Michelle's goats.”
“Moi,” Jimmy said, pointing to himself.
“Well, you don't need a machine to milk ten. Bet you didn't know I was raised up on a dairy farm. I know how to put the squeeze on. I wouldn't mind helping out now and then.”
“Sure,” Jimmy said. “Much more fun with two.”
Luce looked at Laura. “I saw Michelle's girls at the fair one day. There are some udders on those girls. I wouldn't mind getting my hands wrapped around those teats.”
“Robbie saw them this summer. He was dizzy for a week.”
The women laughed loudly. Richie, sitting nearby, hands on knees complained about how loud they were. “Gee, do you have to be so loud?” He said.
“Oh, hush, Richie,” Laura said. “Smile for me. I smile for you.”
Everybody stopped to watch him struggle with a smile. He shrugged, then he did smile eventually, a little smile flickered for a moment.
With meds dispensed Laura signed them off. The gang packed into the van and Laura drove them into town to the day program. From there they would go to their jobs or find amusement and supervision with the program staff or sit struggling with their demons.
As they were driving out, Jimmy and Luce stood in the driveway, waving good-by.
“Such a funny job, Jimmy, you know it? You get up early and go to work and you have to clean butts and somehow make them look presentable, like somebody cares about them. That's your job.”
“I know. Don't think about it. It's better when you don't think about it. Michelle's always on me to get a real job, but I don't want to do anything else.”
“I don't think I'll ever get a real job. I'll just do this. And now I'm off till four. Free as a bird.”
They returned inside and finished cleaning up the house. Jimmy put the dishes in the dishwasher; Luce went upstairs to check rooms. Richie was orderly by nature. Sometimes Luce would stand in Richie's room motionless for a long time trying to come into contact with his hardship. She was a simple woman, and although not religious, she believed in spirits. Tuck's spirits had been mollified a long time ago, and his recent misbehavior was another thing, a physical trouble. Susan's spirits had been asleep all summer. But when she went into Richie's room, though she tried not to be afraid, darkness and suffering pervaded everything. “Oh,” she said, suddenly running out. She ducked into Susan's room at the head of the staircase, hoping that the easy going spirits in there would chase out the dark clods that clung to her from Richie's room. Susan had been too busy this morning to pick up her bedclothes from the top of the dresser, although she had done a good job making her bed. When Luce put her fingers on the flannel nightgown, the angry spirits vanished. But a voice calling her name startled her. Jimmy was standing in the doorway.
“Oh, sorry,” Jimmy said. Luce had seemed almost to jump out of her shoes.
Luce clutched the nightgown. She wanted to be sure that the darkness had gone. But it went before Jimmy came into the doorway. Now there was Jimmy, a normal fellow, like lots of guys she knew, a little weird though, funny, but a warm, kind heart.
“Yes. I know. He's still sleeping okay. Hope not. He's big. We can't worry about those things. We'll go nutty as the people we are supposed to take care of.”
“Just wanted to tell you I'm going. The girls get mad at me if I'm late.”
“Wait. I'm going too,” Luce said. She put down the nightgown, leaving it on top of the dresser. She did not want to be alone in this house right now. She'd take care of the nightgown when she came back. “I meant what I said. I'd like to come and help you with the goats. Next week. It would be fun for me.”
“Sure, if you'd like. Any time.”
In the kitchen, while they were passing out of the house, Jimmy took one last look around. The kitchen was clean, the dishwasher steaming. There were always little things people complained about. Morning shift once left out a bottle of bleach cleaner, and Ray ran around with it spraying staff. He had ruined somebody's jeans. “Did we forget anything?” Jimmy wondered. “I don't think so,” Luce said. Jimmy left the door unlocked because Laura would soon be back. She often did her administrative work here.
Jimmy said good-by to Luce and she drove off, and he started up his junker Chevy pickup. He always reminded himself when leaving the job to leave the job on Pinetree Road. Home had to stay at home, too. In Jimmy's world home and work happened in two distinctly different places. Driving up Pinetree Road beyond sight of the house, he left work and he was already entering home.
The old pickup had worked fine this summer. But a Maine winter was around the corner. He had got this particular battery from the auto salvage. It was a marine battery four or five years old. He thought he had gotten enough wood in. That was one thing he could do on his vacation days. Get in extra firewood. He could always use extra firewood. Firewood burned better the longer it lay stacked. Hell, his ambition in life was to have stacked next year's firewood ahead. He had not yet got there though. Did anybody ever? A man he knew down in the hollow had two years ahead.
Luce was okay. Older than should permit the childishness in her. Did he hear that she thought he was weird? But a regular, nice healthy girl. He didn't want to say that maybe she was not too bright. She did not have any of the strange twists and turns Michelle had. Would Luce go to Florida to take care of a sick mother so that she could get back peace in her heart? That was Michelle all over. If he ever wrote a book about Michelle it would be ten-thousand pages long. While Michelle worried about a governor who did not care enough about the poor, Luce shadowed her eyes. Nobody could tell Michelle that there was nothing she could do about the governor except vote. Why worry over it? Give her half a chance she'd lambaste him in public. Both were kindly and gracious in their ways. Never forget that while Michelle had stuck with him, Luce would have dumped him after six months. Michelle had met Luce, but Michelle knew everybody. Michelle said about Luce, “Nice kid, if you like to play with tops.” That was Michelle's way of putting things: she always cleared the air. Still he wouldn't mind, in this situation, if he and Luce could be mildly friendly without danger of getting het up over anything. Luce was incapable of faking it, so he should be able to tell in a minute if anything was happening outside the limits. And anyway why should he assume otherwise?
He wished Dawn would come from school and stay with him a long weekend. After chores might be a good time to call Dawn and chat. She was busy, independent minded, she studied and she worked. All the kids were grown up and ready to take on the responsibilities of life early or at least before you'd think they should be ready. He wondered how that had happened. Michelle's heroical work. Three kids, no grief? Amazing! And during that time Michelle had shown houses and apartments for a real estate agency, especially in Lynnfield, worked in bakeries, for she loved to bake, and always in her head were goats. He had worried at times that the kids ought to get more attention. Michelle said, “I don't nip it in the bud. Other people nip it in the bud. I squash it like a bug.” And it was true, none of the kids wanted anything to do with a sit down with Mom's third degree. Mom was never loud, but they would have preferred loud over Mom's persistence. When Jimmy complained about too much “gimme”, which he had no idea where that came from—it didn't come from him—, they'd take it under advisement. But when Michelle said “STOP!” they stopped. Jimmy hoped that Dawn would come home for two or three days, a long weekend, with school books and she'd clutter up the kitchen table with her studying and he would sit on his easy chair reading and sneaking glances at her youthful energy and hope. But Dawn did not belong to Jimmy. She belonged to Lake Spivey, Michelle's high school sweetheart, and Michelle's wild youth. Lake went into the Marines and left Michelle with the problem. When he got out, he never again had anything to do with Michelle, and he set his heart like flint against Dawn. She was twenty-four now, and Jimmy had managed to hang around so long that Dawn called him “Dad”. For years she had called him “Jimmy” but at some point she began to insist to her friends that he was “Dad”. But kids divine the truth somehow. Jimmy heard one girl say, “Oh, Dawn. Why do you lie? You don't have a father.” A few minutes later that girl was gone and Jimmy never saw her again. Dawn's world belonged to Dawn and Jimmy never said anything to discourage her faith in herself because he believed it was as good a way to live as any: truth be damned.
Jimmy knew that if Michelle insinuated in Dawn a thought about going to visit “Papa” for a long weekend, Dawn would soon call to ask for a ride home. But Michelle wouldn't do that. She might want to, but she would never interfere in her kids' lives that way because grown ups should know how to take care of themselves. He could hear her now preaching about “wrong messages”. On the other hand “errata” happened, too. And one should not be too hard on either oneself or another person's errata. So on the drive back home that morning he figured out his strategy: though it would be an errata for Dawn to come home and visit Papa, who needed her about like he needed a hole in the head, still it might be a good time to start a term paper or have a good time at home with nobody around where she could concentrate.
If Dawn couldn't make it there was the Dew, although he was working bridge construction around Portland, and going hot and heavy with a girl from Greenwood. He was apt to drop by for an hour. Dwight belonged to Jimmy. Michelle had Dwight a year after Jimmy returned from the Army. Of all the kids Dwight was the most in the barn. He raised cows and pigs, meat birds, and he made enough money to buy a nice car, an almost new Jeep Wrangler. When they took the girls to the fairs, he became a good, serious showman for his mother. He might visit for a few days and hang around with his father, the old man of the barn. The girl from Greenwood Dwight was going hot and heavy with was a tall, strapping but soft spoken deep woods girl. House laws about cohabitation might cause a snafu. Turn a blind eye? Probably not. Mike? No, he'd never bug Mike. Mike was down in Rhode Island anyway. Too far. The dissatisfaction that would ooze out of Sully and Ted if Jimmy, who was losing his mind, becoming a farmer, should even think about disturbing Mike from his real world pursuits accumulated too much downside. They would eventually forgive Jimmy but only after there were words. Why was it Jimmy could sit there for hours and chat with Mike better than any of the other kids, in fact anybody else he knew? But Mike disliked getting his hands dirty. That threw Jimmy off. A man should be able to kneel down in the mud without hesitation and scratch up soil with his fingers around a plant that was having a hard time. That was what a good man should be able to do and you couldn't talk Jimmy out of it.
Then there was his friend from his childhood Eddie Sinsac. It would be great to see him again, and hang out. They could climb Mount Tom, like back when they used to hike together for days. They sent letters back and forth to each other often. In fact the last few months there had been a batch. Now in his fifties Eddie had recently gotten married to a much younger woman, maybe not that much younger, in her thirties. She worried about the possibility of bad luck in starting a family. She was a career working woman, Eddie wrote. Eddie was a little nervous about it too. One time Eddie thought that they might meet in Portland. Every so often Eddie ended up in Portland. Jimmy invited him up numerous times for a visit, never got a direct yes or no. He fumbled around with the word busy. They both grew up on the New Hampshire sea coast; Eddie in Portsmouth, Jimmy in Hampton. But they did not meet till they were students at UNH. Eddie always wanted to write, but he wanted to do a lot of things. “Are you experienced?” He wondered. Jimmy was always amused by Eddie's worries, like, experience was something you could avoid? Eddie worried that he'd copy language and phrases from books like a college professor and instead of new the words would come out second hand. So, Jimmy gave him credit, he tried every damned thing. He climbed every mountain. Poems and novels flooded out of him. They were a great weight. He didn't want to be a literary powerhouse. He just wanted people to read his stuff. Eddie had finally gone to grad school; he managed to get into the MFA program at Columbia. He knew Seymour Lawrence. The professors had a bug in the editorial offices at Knopf. It wasn't for lack of stuff to publish. Eddie wrote constantly and Jimmy thought he had a pretty style. But Jimmy had no idea. Maybe Eddie wasn't the greatest idea, wife hot after a family, praying for a publisher, and a big upswing in his life. When Michelle had wanted to get pregnant, Jimmy remembered that he had avoided fussing with anything else.
So that was it that Jimmy could think of. A woodworking project? He had inherited a small collection of woodworking tools. They came to him as if by accident. Kids and Eddie? Luce had said she might want to help out with the goats. There was a shed he had been thinking of building. He had driven down country to get used hutches for calves and goat kids, and the people were tomato people. They had an outdoor tomato garden off the seedling shed. They had even developed a tomato seed that produced till late October. Late in the season there was an awning they pulled down to keep frost off the plants. That would be a good job for two, three weeks, and a south-facing seedling shed to hang out in come Spring. As he pulled into the dooryard, he could hear the girl's big greeting. He let out the dogs, changed to his barn boots, and started chores. They were happier this morning. You could tell they were smiling at him.