10 Pound Bag Ch. 26-30
**** Chapter Twenty-Six -- Enter Tom ****
We left early the next morning; just as soon as the morning routine was finished I announced we were going on a short road trip and would be back around lunch.
Over breakfast I had tasked Sonya for hunting down and finding an outdoor sink and hopefully a shower attachment to go with it; I really didn't want people tracking into the camper every time they needed to wash their hands while we were camping or hunting. The trailer had hot and cold-water spigots available under the gooseneck so a couple of hoses and a bucket under the drain would be all I needed.
Michelle and I headed out for St Joseph which was fifty odd miles away and shouldn't be a difficult run, weather was forecast as clear and wonderful and the traffic was forecast as non-existent. What an incredible relief after the hell of commuting in Southern California.
It was pleasant driving with Michelle, she was easy to talk to and didn't babble at me non-stop -- yet. I brought up the topic of Oscar's farm and suggested that I was considering making an investment; I reasoned to her that she was a specialized small farmer and that I could use her insight. Lively discussion ensued after I made that point and we were still kicking the idea around when we arrived at the breeder's house outside of St. Joseph.
It wasn't an exciting transaction by any means; non-descript house, non-descript breeder and an energetic young cat. He came with papers, harness, carrier, and most importantly his balls. After a short negotiation we shook on the deal. The only sticking point was when I tried to pay cash: the dealer preferred electronic payment -- boy, the world had changed lately.
We stopped at a convenience store on our way out of town and bought some bright bows and coffee, Michelle stuck the bows all over the carrier. I drove us home.
On the way back I called David on the speaker phone and let him know I was going to make a few investments in specialty farms for my private fun; he wasn't surprised by the idea or the numbers I tossed out. He patched me through to the investment professional who would handle those for me. Michelle was surprised the ease at which I instantly moved that much money.
I turned to Michelle and said, "Honey, it looks like you just got a business partner."
Michelle went from surprised to flat out stunned.
I gave her about a few minutes to contemplate and then said, "Honey, we're friends and I trust you. So this simply means you have a silent partner and are no longer operating with debt hanging over your shoulder."
"It's still your show," I continued, "but the business income, assets and risks are shared."
"I don't understand," she said, "it's so much money."
"It's less than I earned in interest alone this month my dear," I reminded her, "I have a lot of money."
I gave her awhile for that to sink in and then followed, "You will be debt free by the end of the day tomorrow and have a significant amount of operating capital available to you. For me, I will simply know that my close friend is secure and I'll see this investment as a single item on a rather complicated quarterly financial report."
"Thank you," she murmured. "I think."
"Look," I followed, "I do expect a discount on any further horses I purchase from you, so don't get too thankful."
With that she smacked me lightly on the arm and giggled.
"However," I said, "I fear this will be a much more difficult conversation with Oscar."
At that point she laughed out loud.
We discussed details after that. She really liked the idea that her family farm was safe from bankruptcy. I got David's investment guy on the phone, and we discussed talking points with him.
It was an interesting drive home.
Matilda wasn't there when we got back, but the dogs were so I took them off tether to play a little bit. Michelle was at the table with her phone and laptop, and I was sure she'd be busy for a few days. Tom, the cat, stayed in his carrier in the truck. Sonya was deep in her phone again, but she looked nowhere nearly as upset as before.
I rough-housed with my dogs until I was tired and frankly slightly beaten up; the dogs were fun and good-natured, but they did love to play rough. Apparently fetch was not a game that interested them, but rugby was. I eventually sent them back to their beds and made sure they had fresh water; they each got a cold beef bone out of the fridge. Always reward a good dog.
I sat down at the table and brought Sonya up to speed on our plans; it took her a minute to get her mind around it, but she was fully onboard once things had been explained. She decided that it'd be best if she took Tom into the camper, while Michelle and I were responsible for getting Matilda sat down at the table.
I retrieved Tom from the truck and passed the carrier over to Sonya; they disappeared into the camper, and Michelle and I made ourselves busy around the table and campfire. Matilda made her appearance a short while later bearing a basket full of what looked like weeds; I ignored all of that.
"Matilda!" I said sternly, "We need to talk."
"Sit!" I said as I pointed at the table.
Matilda sat down opposite Michelle, who was apparently engrossed in her phone. Matilda placed her basket on the ground and was looking at me with trepidation and perhaps a little fear. This was exactly where I wanted her.
"We need to talk about the cat." I announced in my "Dad" voice.
Matilda's face fell. I maintained the "Dad" persona, and Michelle was staring even more intently at her phone, absorbed in anything she could find to keep her composure.
Sonya slipped out of the camper and sat the cat carrier, replete with bows, in the middle of the table.
"Thank You!!" we all said loudly and almost in unison, grins spreading across our faces.
Matilda was stunned, and Tom was shocked by the sudden sound.
"This is my thank you present to you for all the hard work you do," I said, "you are the best so I got you the best!"
Matilda simply stared at Tom, who gave her a baleful stare right back.
"Gracias," was the quiet polite response we got; she didn't meet our eyes.
I pushed the carrier directly in front of her and said, "Take him to your tent, and don't let him escape; he was very expensive."
When Matilda finally looked at me, it was a look of resignation; she took the cat carrier and went into her tent, taking Tom with her and zipping the tent shut behind her. Sonya looked at me and said, "You can be a complete jerk sometimes."
A moment later cacophony erupted from Matilda's tent, pure and simple cat outrage accompanied by a shriek from Matilda.
"You are evil." Michelle said and Sonya nodded her head in agreement; nevertheless they both giggled.
"I see the cats have met," I deadpanned; the ladies giggled again.
I loudly remind all of them we had to leave for the Oscar & Ruth's in about two hours.
The response from Matilda's tent was unintelligible, and most definitely not polite.
**** Chapter Twenty-Seven -- A Proper Family Dinner ****
We rode down again, Michelle and I on horseback with Matilda and Sonya following behind in the dog cart. It was a nice late afternoon ride and we all passed the time quietly, simply enjoying the weather and taking in our surroundings. The dogs were full of energy and Matilda let them have a bit of a run; the cart was empty except for her and Sonya sitting tightly together on the passenger seat, and even with the two of them the sprung weight of that cart was really low. The went past us at a gallop; we had to canter to keep them in sight, and we didn't catch up until the dogs had slowed to a walk. The dogs were panting with big smiles on their faces as we trotted past them and slowed to a walk to lead the way up the Millers' drive.
Oscar and Ruth's entire family was there; two sons, one daughter, one spouse, and two bouncy kids. The normal introduction protocol was put on hold as the kids sprinted over to the dog cart. Of course the dogs were in heaven: Rottweilers are kids themselves, and they adore children. We tried to restart the introductions when the oldest child, who must have been an elderly seven, came running up to ask if they could go for a ride. I saw a parental "maybe later" starting to come forth but interjected saying, "Those two ladies are Sonya and Matilda - ask them. I'm sure they'd love to give you each a short ride before dinner."
Ruth kicked in with, "Use your manners now and ask politely". The kid grinned as only a seven-year-old can, and off he went shouting something like "we can, we can" over and over. All the adults were wearing honest smiles.
That statement seemed to end all resistance from the parents; we watched for a moment, then started the introduction routine up again. It was more laid back after that interlude, and we immediately fell into casual discussion about the dog cart and our trip in general.
Ruth beckoned all the ladies, who followed her to the house to finish supper preparations, and the fellas started slowly meandering over towards the machine shed while we discussed my soon-to-be ranch. We eventually made it to the machine shed, which was a large barn where the tractors were stored and repaired. Lo and behold there in the corner was a refrigerator, circa 1965, chugging away. Oscar reached inside and pulled out an ice-cold beer for each of us. It turned out to be very good beer.
We spent a good hour shooting the breeze about the boys' careers, my trip, and their farm; I do believe we even got around to our beloved college football team at some point. Eventually, a clanging came from the house and Oscar said, "That'll be the dinner bell, we best get a move on or Ruth will get edgy." Depositing our empty bottles in a recycling bin, we headed off for supper. It was only about 5 p.m., but supper comes early around these parts.
We washed up and discarded our boots in the mud room; then I was led through the kitchen to their formal dining room. If you've never been in a formal dining room it is a sight to see. It's normally located near the kitchen and the servant's quarters, as it was common practice for people to have servants - or even slaves, in these parts - back when this house was first built. In the Millers', case the servant's quarters appeared to have been converted into a sewing-and-crafts room for Ruth.
But we didn't go that way. I was led through the sitting room and a set of magnificent french doors with elegant antique glass in each pane and found myself in a proper foyer with a grand front door to my right and a coat closet to my left. In front of me was another set of french doors.
We passed through the second set of french doors into the dining room, and it was a place of beauty. You would have thought you were transported to a European manor house when you stepped through those doors. From the outside of the house you couldn't see anything different about this room, but on the inside the polished custom wood work and exacting furniture arrangement made you realize that this was once a very important home in the area, and perhaps even the state.
I asked Oscar who had built this and he replied, "My family did, sometime back around 1835 if I recall."
I could only reply, "This is magnificent."
Naturally, the dining table dominated the room and, looking at the chairs, I assumed it was incredible as well; but as piled with food and covered by settings as it was, I could hardly see the surface to be sure. There were huge windows on each wall, each well-appointed with elegant drapes and sheers; the front window had a settee underneath it, and the two side windows each had a wingback chair and what looked like a small gaming table between them.
There was a small door on the far end which had drapes as well; I suspected that this led to the servant's quarters and, eventually, the kitchen. Next to that door was a very old and elegant upright piano. Next to the doors we had just come through was a small and beautiful wood stove to heat the room.
It was well appointed throughout with tasteful and beautiful paintings and knick-knacks; I would come to find later that each knick-knack had a family story behind it. Above the table was a simple yet elegant chandelier to light the center of the room, with sconces on the walls to provide edge lighting and give the place a welcoming glow.
On top of the table was cornucopia: two huge platters of fried chicken, bowls of mashed potatoes, green beans, peas, roasted onions and fresh salad abounded. Two baskets of biscuits were the icing on the cake. This was a meal.
Each setting had water, butter, a small boat of gravy and individual salt and pepper shakers; there were even bowls of sour cream, shredded cheese, chives and green onions available. I was speechless, utterly gob smacked.
Oscar casually said, "C'mon let's set down", and moved to the head of the table. Everyone was standing behind the chairs waiting and Oscar motioned to the seat on his right for me. His eldest son assumed the seat at the tail end of the table and everyone else was spread out accordingly. It was a huge table easily seating all twelve of us.
Oscar moved in front of his chair to sit down and everyone else followed suit; when Oscar sat, everyone sat. No one moved or said a word until his eldest son stood and said a very short grace from his end of the table. Next Oscar looked to Ruth sitting on his left and said, "Looks perfect sweetheart, thank you."
At Ruth's simple "Thank you, dear," the entire table burst to life; noise and activity were everywhere. Michelle was sitting to my right and seemed to fit right in like she was raised to this, and Matilda across and further down just rolled with it, but Sonya seemed quite overwhelmed. Then, Oscar's daughter was filling Sonya's plate and chattering to her, Sonya's hesitation vanished under the avalanche of incredible food and hospitality.
Conversation wasn't really at a premium during the meal, in fact it didn't really happen at all. Outside of the compliments and comments about the meal we all just focused on eating; even if we wanted to talk the food was more than enough to keep us awash in culinary nirvana. The room was mostly silent until the initial sating was complete and the initial pushbacks began, the official end came when Papa Oscar pushed back and formally declared, "That was a delightful dinner my love". I had an odd déjà vu when he made that pronouncement.
The table erupted in hearty conversation once again; Ruth then excused herself to fetch the coffee. The women of the family rose to join her; all of our dinner plates disappeared except for those of young men still trying to consume a little bit more. The coffee excellent of course and dessert was offered around, it was sweet young, spring strawberry's in cream. I usually avoided dessert as a flat-out personal rule, but those spring strawberries called to me like the sirens of the sea; these sirens didn't lie.
It was truly amazing how quickly the ladies of the family cleared the settings then brought out coffee and dessert, even the youngest joined in; they rejoined us in what seemed like moments and the family acted like they'd never left. Suspended conversations restarted even from sentences left in midair, there was an agreed upon order of things here that I just didn't understand. The feeling kept growing within me that I should understand this.
It almost goes without saying that Sonya had no idea how to handle what had just happened, even Matilda looked a little confused. Michelle, for her part, was simply the gracious guest in a very traditional midwestern home. There was something here that I was missing.
After the coffee and dessert was finished and the conversation slowed the men of the family rose to clear the remainder of dishes from the dining room table and transport it to the kitchen table. That being done we retired to the porch with a bottle of bourbon and a glass for each of us. I decided tomorrow morning was the best time to make my play and invited Oscar down for breakfast; he allowed that if Ruth approved he could be there at 6:30am. Both of his boys agreed they would be there also. Our conversation turned back to the new football coach up at the University in Lincoln.
The sun was heading for the horizon when Ruth came out and gave Oscar a quick kiss on the cheek. Again, this was a signal of some sort and we finished up our conversation and took our bottle and glasses inside.
Fifteen minutes later we were headed back down the road in the dying light, we were all calm and satisfied. The Miller's routine was somehow calming, I couldn't quite understand it and neither could Michelle but we both were impressed by it. Our voices must have carried in the clear evening air for Sonya turned in her seat on the cart ahead of us and asked, "Didn't it seem unfair that the women did all of the real work for dinner?"
I was taken aback but Michelle took it in stride and replied with confident understanding.
"Those women will be happy in their beds tomorrow at 4am when the men get up for the morning chores," Michelle was strong in her delivery, "When winter comes those men will still go out in sub-zero weather".
"It's a fair trade don't you see?" she continued, "I don't have that help right now on my farm and life is hard not good."
Michelle finished with a flourish, "Who do you think chops and carries wood in the dead of winter to keep you warm, it's your man and you have to keep him healthy, happy and strong."
She looked at me with sincerity and I didn't know how to reply, I simply smiled and made a mental to move some wood closer to the fire pit when we got home.
**** Chapter Twenty-Eight -- Buying the Homestead, Episode One ****
Morning saw me up and about before dawn, Michelle muttered in the bed behind me as I quickly dressed and exited the tent taking Brin with me; Kordi merely looked up briefly and then went back to sleep.
First task was to start the campfire; it had been banked nicely the night before and didn't take much encouragement. Then I put the coffee on to percolate. The basic morning chores were next and the sun was just coming up when I let the chickens out; Matilda had constructed a pretty nice temporary coop for them in the trailer. I quickly mucked out the coop and laid down new straw.
The crowing rooster brought the ladies out eventually and Brin and I had company; Michelle wore a sleepy "I told you so" smile on her face, and I felt better than I had in years. I reminded them that Oscar and his boys would be down for breakfast shortly and that we needed to get ourselves in gear. Matilda started a biscuit dough while I put the big skillet on the fire to heat up. I grabbed some sausage out of the fridge figuring that sausage gravy over biscuits with eggs and asparagus on the side would fit the bill perfectly. Hey -- ya gotta have your veggies and nothing screams breakfast veg better than asparagus.
Michelle took over for me shortly and I went to work on trailer maintenance; I had learned long ago to check your fuel, water and septic levels daily; failing to do so could ruin an entire day's plans. More importantly I had learned to top off or empty every tank before I left the modern world and entered the "off-grid". On this day we were showing a bit of overuse on the fresh water but fuels were still full and septic was OK, so I decided it would be a good time to set up my freshwater pump and refill the fresh from the creek.
I was running the hose out to the creek bed when Oscar and his boys showed up. They jumped in and gave me a hand finishing the job and we were able to have it running within 10 minutes. The pump automatically shut off when the tank was full; it wasn't designed for this, but it was designed to stop pumping if the output backed up. I got the same result in the end: once the tank was full, the output stopped and the pump shut down; sure saved me a lot of engineering and wiring. Checking the input filter would be a twice a day chore when I used it though.