Twin Beeches -- an Illinois Love Story
Author: paul schoaff

Chapter 45
Enjoy it while you can...

My Last Normal Day in the World

 

The days were warming, even to the point of hot, and the basement of the house provided a cool respite for both me and the Beggar.  One day, I would settle on a nickname for Rebecca Deborah, but not yet, I thought.  

 

The nights I had spent here already had been restless ones.   Voices seemed to drift up from the valley.  Languid, measured voices, like an old movie with men in tuxedos and women in gowns.  Snatches of old songs.   I would watch the searchlights from the barges in the river constantly swinging from side to side, slowly come up the river to abreast of us.  They would gradually travel up the river until only the lights could be noticed.  The drone of the enormous diesels couldn’t reach as far as the lights could.   I wondered about getting a CB radio so I could tell the towboat captains to keep their lights to themselves.  I imagined, out there on the river, a handsome man far from home, searching the darkness before him for sandbanks, reefs, even icebergs.

 

When I drifted into sleep, dreams would follow, dreams that found me the only member of the audience for an old movie.  On the screen, a huge green Cadillac would be slowly driving down a farm lane between tall, tall rows of corn.  When it stopped at the end of the field, a portly man left the passenger seat and opened the door for the passenger, a young woman with a petite build.  She was reluctant to leave her seat, perhaps, I thought, not wanting to soil her shoes in the dirt of the cornfield.

 

The man finally grasped her by the upper arm and gently pulled her out into the warm light of the stars.  He closed the door behind her, shutting off the interior light so that I could only see a shadowy outline of the two people.  He stood close against her with the door behind her so she could not easily move.  Bending to her, I could see she turned her head away from him and looked directly at me.  He kissed her neck over and over, and she finally lifted her lips to his.

 

In a moment, he led her to the front of the car, turned her around and boosted her onto the front bumper.  In another moment, he slipped his suspenders from his shoulders, stood behind her and pulled her hips back to him, raising her thin dress as he did so.

 

Soon, his mind was consumed completely with the pleasure of his task.  He did not, could not, have noticed another figure leave the shelter of the corn rows, walk up behind him and end his life with one vicious swing of a short iron bar.  As he fell, the small woman was pulled backwards down upon him, and her life, too, was ended before the attacker saw the tears that had already streamed down her face.

 

The attacker fell to his knees and began to sob.  When he rose, he looked directly at me and began walking toward me, still holding the iron bar in his right hand.   Of course, I screamed and woke myself and the baby.

 

 

 

Once, around two a.m. by my watch, I thought I sensed movement outside the window of the bedroom where I was lying with Becca.  I supposed it to be just the beech tree branches swaying gracefully in the light breeze, but I still took a peek.  For a fleeting moment, I thought I saw the dim outline of that large old sedan slowly slipping past the house.  I shook my head and found I could only see it, even dimly, when I looked slightly away from it, like a very small star.  Or, did I?  A radio, perhaps far away in the valley, played a torch singer working on a song about lost love.  The next thing I knew, the sun was shining into the window, and David was quietly knocking at the back door.  There were no tire tracks in the driveway except for David’s pickup.

 

The house would cost a fortune to heat and cool, at least until the walls and attic were insulated, the windows replaced with ones properly sealed and double layered, and the weather-stripping around the doors replaced.  Until then, just leave the windows open in the summer and closed in the winter, I thought.  Likely, I won't be here in the winter, but back in school, maybe with Buggs beside me, maybe not.  I knew many more arguments would soon be joined with Mama.

 

David Baumgartner was making far more progress on Mama's house than I with 'mine'.  I began to think Mama had deviously arranged things this way so I would realize I was powerless and unfit to be on my own.  David didn't intrude often, but I sensed he must be reporting my progress, or lack of it, to Mama every day.  Not that a spy was needed, Mama being a visitor every three or four days, often bringing with her, when she came, two or three meals from Bucy’s, one going to Baumgartner.   Mama always complimented me on the minuscule amount of progress I was making, then she really loved playing with Becca and kept telling me these days will be gone too soon, so enjoy them while I can. 

 

I thought today would be a good day to clean out the rest of the old gardening supplies and boxes of junk out of the basement.  I wasn’t expecting to find any antiques, or anything useful, but I had attended enough farm sales in my short life to know people would pay strangely high amounts of money for old farm tools, and I thought I would at least organize everything for Mama so she could decide whether having cars parked all over the yard and up and down the lane would be worth the few hundred dollars the 'junk' might fetch.

 

David had responded to my initiative by bringing the stuff from Mama's house over, but not all at once, and only as it got in the way of his projects.  He argued that cleaning out his basement and attic entirely would allow me to decide what to pitch, what to sell, what to keep….I envied the progress I could see, even from a distance.  Walls were scraped, patched, sealed and painted; hardwood floors were ready for resurfacing; all the kitchen cabinets, duplicates of 'mine', were ready for refinishing and the hardware was gleaming on a table in the attached rear porch where the sun caught it in the evening.

 

He made sure, too, he shared any left over supplies with me, and answered my questions about which tools and materials to use for each step of the restoration.   While friendly, he was not forward, nor did I catch him peeking to see me.  The other way around, I acknowledged to myself.

 

In the evenings Baby Girl and I would sit in the front yard watching the colors spread and change on the River Valley.  Oddly, the bluffs were all on the western side of the valley, with the land on the other spreading out more or less flat from the river.   Seventy years ago deep ditches were cut through much of that area in order to change its character from generally swampy to rich farm land.  Charley Poole told me about how he tried to get some land there but had only been able to rent.  The seed corn company leased over 2000 acres there, according to old Mr. Bader, where they raised hybrids proven to produce extremely high quantities of grain.  Today, I could see from my front yard, crops of 200 bushels per acre were not uncommon.  The limit seemed to be only how much ammonia and fertilizer could be force-fed into the ground for the corn plants to guzzle -- something like a goose stuffed for its liver.

 

I had seen the same kinds of hybridization fields in the area east of Woodland – two rows of corn with tassels, eight rows without tassels, two rows with tassels, eight without, etc. etc. etc.   Crews were needed once to pull all the tassels on the corn that would bear the hybrid seed corn.   The pollen from the 'bull' rows would pollinate the detassled corn, and the new crop of hybrid seed would be dried, sorted and sold for as much as $200 per bushel.     Seed corn companies would also plant demonstration fields with the seed for 20 or more different varieties planted in rows next to each other so farmers could pull over to see how each one was doing, planning for next year's planting season.  At the end of the season, the yield on each variety would be collected by picking each row individually and the results published.  It was in these demonstration fields where yields of over 200 bushels per acre were first measured. 

 

Unless I were using a very good set of binoculars, though, I wouldn't have seen Eddie and Buddy walking up the two mile long rows of corn toward the bluff and the seemingly abandoned houses on the top of the bluff.  They were abandoned, according to Buddy, who had helped his cousin a few days, cleaning out some junk and  overgrowth two years before.  He spotted the distinctive houses from the river just as the little trolling engine began to sputter.   The young men had managed to get eight miles upstream from where the Sugar ran into the Illinois  and their skiff was running out of gasoline and their bellies were growling as dusk fell.    Anyone they saw on the river just waved as they waved at them and, apparently, didn't think for a second they might be the dangerous escapees.  They needed both food and a place to hide for a few days before moving on.  The skiff was pulled all the way up and over the levee to a clump of willows and covered with old branches.   The corn leaves from the now chest high plants constantly attacked their bodies as they worked their way up to the hard road, then they were across and headed up the hill as twilight became pitch dark.

 

I saw the last rays of the sun leave the valley and moved to the rear porch to enjoy the last bit of sun peeking up from the west.  My precious baby was sleeping quietly on her mother's shoulder.  I'll have to get up and turn on a light before long, I thought, but I fell asleep instead.

 

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