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

Chapter 36
Arbeit Macht Frei

Arbeit Machen Frei

Busy hands keep out of trouble

“Mama – you're kidding, right?!?”   We were standing in the driveway, looking at one house, then the other, then the amazing view, all the way to Havana and to Beardstown on a magnificently clear mid-April day.  The River was Spring-high and sparkled through the cottonwoods and poplars along its banks, over two miles away.  A school bus wound its way through the late afternoon western light up the hill three miles away and slipped off into the woods.  Once in a while, a truck could be heard down on rte 100, and a constant distant drone of tractor engines pulling corn planters filled the whole area.   I was, illogically, reminded of a beehive or anthill, all creatures exerting themselves to their fullest and to their own special talent.

Snow white narcissus surrounded the badly cared for yards.  Daffodils poked up inconsistently around the base of the house foundations.  The lilacs around the funky old cupola were in full bud.  The common garden behind the houses was huge, but overgrown with red raspberry briers, just leafing out and ready to catch anyone intrepid enough to try to find any sign of herbs or organization.   Dominant on the outer sides of the houses were enormous old beech trees, limbs hanging low to the ground and possessed of grace and ancient dignity.  I saw if they had been in the front yard, the view of the Valley would have been blocked.   The goofy, quaint cupola in the middle of the driveway put me in mind of a guard house, and I imagined BGG – now transforming to 'Bugs' -- playing house there, or, like me as a little girl, combing the hair of her “Little Ponies”.

The houses were a bit less enchanting.   If the roofs had not been replaced over 20 years earlier, the interiors would have been ruined.  Yet, the bit about books and covers. Beneath the faded wallpaper and curling paint, under the stained hardwood floors and linoleum with the black showing through, behind the paint on the wide wooden trim and fireplace mantle, lay the strong bones of houses.  In the one I thought had the fewest problems, the floors were solid and level; the stairs from the front hallway to the second floor landing only creaked a little.  The 'maid's stair' at the back of the house to the rear hallway was full of spider webs.  The basement was filled with junk, but was dry.  The house lacked, overall, a modern electrical network, a complete remake of the plumbing with the addition of a bath with a tub/shower on the second floor, replacement windows, modern furnace and A/C, yard lights.  I could go on and on, but it wouldn't matter, because the minute I saw the setting of the houses, I fell for them just as hard as did Mama, who had bought them, outright, a week earlier and waited for just the right late April day to show them to their best advantage.

Tax season had wrapped up except for the extensions.  Quarterlies wouldn't hit hard until mid June.  Now was a good time to make the lists, pick the materials, talk to the professionals about what it would take to make 'Twin Beeches' one of the nicest addresses in the whole state.   I kept after my mother to explain to me how she could suddenly afford such affluent plans.  She started with the news the Washog's and their insurer had finally settled her Wrongful Death Suit that had been held up for so long by the insurer's certainty Mama would, sooner, rather than later, take a lower offer than she had already turned away.   She then told me the constant expansion of her accounting business, propelled by the unfathomable nature of the IRS code, made hiring even more people, year around, necessary.  Either the house would have to be devoted entirely to business, or a new office, 21st century electronically equipped, would have to be built.  None of the existing older buildings in Woodland expressed the image of her supercharged, streamlined accounting professional firm.  Even she laughed when she said it.  

“Oh, yes, of course”, she said, “I could have made do, but with this nest egg?”  

People, like the new printing company owner's son, were beginning to watch her more closely than their business relationship required.  I could see it, and I knew Mama could, too, as she fussed with her hair and smiled sweetly more often than I have ever known her to do.  I would take Bugs for a stroller ride and get the attention of men who I first thought were looking past my 'baby-fat' to the woman I was becoming.  But their charming conversation always seemed to turn to the latest project Mama planned for the town -- she was the new Business Association President that year -- and to be sure to tell her that so and so supported her efforts 110%.   Some unattached farmers and business people were taking to bringing their paperwork to Mama personally, rather than sending their “girl” over with it.

Frankly, I don't know for sure when Mama became a sex symbol for Woodland males.  I suspect, though, as you do, too, reader, it was about five minutes after the word of her financial settlement with the Washog's became known.  Maybe less.


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