Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Batchelder Letters III

Friend J. M. B.
Go ahead with the cross job for the Ladies of the American Legion. I wanted to see where the money was to be gotten before having it shipped. They assure me that it will be ready so it is safe to chance it.
Yes the crops are immense. Mr. Berman of Columbus has started a branch shop here so I suppose that we will have all sorts of business pretty soon.
J.M. Laidlaw
The war was at a temporary truce. Ben and Sam had retreated and pushed their box to their corner of the garden, the future bean bed and began to implement fortifications at a distance from the apple tree front line.

“Sam, what this really needs is a moat.” Hands on his hips, Ben glanced around, it had rained two days previously and the ground was saturated to the point that if they dug around their box it might hold some water at least temporarily. His vision was worthy of Caesar. They could dig something pretty deep and wide, maybe six feet across and four feet down, it would be almost worthy of holding Vercingetorix at bay.

“I think that the shovels are over there by the asparagus bed.” Sam’s voice was muffled by several layers of damp card board; he was deep inside their box shelter, duck taping some rain damage, a frustrating business. It required enormous quantities of tape as it didn’t stick to the damp paper walls, only to itself.

Ben walked over to the neat rectangular bed careful not to step on the strange little knobby heads that the family had been eating away at for the previous month. He could hardly wait until they had eaten the last one; it was the only thing he could think of that he didn’t like about May. On the other hand, Ben looked to his right at the rhubarb, now there was something worthy of eating. Ben broke off two juicy red stalks and peeled away the enormous leaves and stuck them in his back pockets for a mid-digging snack. The back yard was a treasure trove of treats in the summer, they had free reign except for in the snow peas, they were Dad’s special favorite. The rhubarb made early spring yard mining almost as good as apple dropping time for good gleaning. Sam was right, you could always count on him for inventory, the shovels were right by the asparagus bed. Mom was extending it out another few feet, Ben shook his head and was glad it was three years before that effort would show any profit, maybe by the time he was nine he would like rice enough to choose asparagus as the one sanctioned food that he absolutely refused to eat.
“I’m gonna start here, Sam. When you’re done in there you can help from the other side, when we meet we can start to deepen the whole thing.” Ben had a battle plan, this moat might require some kind of draw bridge. He had seen a piece of wood leaning to the side of the garage; it was left over from the kitchen project Dad started last week. At least Ben thought it was left over, there wasn’t a sticker on it or anything, it didn’t look new.

A silver pickup truck drove up the driveway. Rosie was the first to go to the edge of the lawn. She viewed almost all visitors as interlopers and cast a critical eye on the vehicle. “Wing Builders: Yes, We Build Wings” was written on the side. Rosie nodded her head, the truck was somewhat acceptable. She climbed back in the tree, no avoidance or deflection tactics would be necessary, U.R. was okay and even better he never stayed long, he bored easily. He got out of the car and the rest of her siblings gathered around him like flies.

Callie was the first at his side, not so much because she was excited to see him but because she knew that Uncle Richard was one of the few people that Mom gave her full attention to. Callie always felt somewhat secure in the fact that she knew Mom was always on the edges of things. She always seemed to be a little distracted maybe but never absolutely elsewhere, except when Uncle Richard came. With him, Mom was completely transfixed, almost like a different person. Her laugh became somehow bawdier and the talk, well it didn’t seem to stop. Callie found a spot not too far from Mom’s feet and determined to stay there.

“I see you have a cling-on as usual.” Uncle Richard reached down and patted Callie on the head. When he did this, it was the lightest gesture in the world; his hand paused a few seconds in mid air above the crown of her silky head as if to savor the brief joy that it would give him.

“Can’t you make these guys disappear somehow? When I was a kid, I was never around.” Uncle Richard looked at Ben and Sam who stood at awed attention by his side, at Madie and Bredon who hung back a little but were struck still waiting for the next word that might come out of his mouth and at Gwen who busied herself in the background, appearing to be submerged in a book but actually was in anticipation, waiting for the marvelous banquet of words and stories that would issue from her favorite uncle. Rosie alone was immune to him, tolerating his presence but not liking the interruption to the flow of her daily routine; she just shrugged and turned around retreating to the yard swing to wait for his exit.

He held out a coffee cake toward the kids and said, “Here I got this at Fenn’s, it’s the best, you wouldn’t have anything like this around here in the boondocks. Consider it a gift from civilization.” Madie took the cake and uttered her thanks on behalf of everyone.

“Here Jen, this is for you, let’s see if it works, I’m tired of waiting for 45 minutes for the coffee to brew and god knows you won’t ever buy a new one.” He handed a coffee maker over to Mom who gushed her thanks.

“Hey Gwen, look in the back seat of the truck, I brought something I found the other day, not sure what it is but I thought you guys could figure it out.” Uncle Richard shooed them out of the kitchen eager to have his coffee and chat.

Gwen hitched herself up into U.R.’s open window and rustled through the random construction equipment on the passenger seat, a level, hammer and crowbar. She reached into the back and pulled out a long wand like apparatus with a flat circular bottom with a gauge in the middle. She hoisted it out of the car and Bredon took immediate possession, studying the gauge with interest.
“It’s a metal detector.” Gwen looked over at her brother, she had seen the same type of thing in one of her grandfather’s copies of Popular Mechanics the latest issue of which always rested along with Analog Science Fiction and Ellery Queen demurely behind The Daily Bread beside the commode. She twisted her mouth in concentrated recollection. “You wave it above the ground somehow and it makes a beep when it passes over any kind of metal. People use it to dig up treasure, you know, old coins and stuff.” Gwen reached out for the wand and Bredon handed it over. It was time for Gwen’s eyes to shine. She had a penchant for buried treasure, a large portion of her heart resided on the open seas with pirates. Gwen checked the box at the bottom for batteries and switched it on, the gauge began to click and she and Bredon made their way to the back yard.

After having had their fill of cake, Ben and Sam wandered out back. They returned to their shoveling work with a sugar induced will.

“Ben, this is a little weird.” Sam spoke from his muddy pit, he was below ground level by about 24 inches, he and Ben had not come to terms regarding depth and his progress was mostly vertical, not horizontal.

“Sam, you are supposed to meet me, not someone in China. Don’t go that deep yet, we are trying to go round.” Ben made a circle with his hand indicating the circumnavigation of their box fort. Ben put his hands on his hips, what Sam always failed to see was the bigger picture. He got lost in the details, if Ben didn’t stop him, Sam would just keep digging down. Ben knew that Sam was just enjoying the whole dirt removal thing, he had forgotten all about what they were digging for. Ben considered the idea of going in and getting some paper and pencil to draw out what he wanted, to impart his vision when Sam did an unexpected thing. He yelled.
“Ben, listen to me!” Sam had flung aside his shovel and stood on his feet in his hole. Ben walked over to his brother and faced his visible upper half. This was new. Sam rarely yelled unless he was injured and then he let out the noises of a wounded buffalo. Ben gave Sam a quick once over, there was no blood and anyway his yell seemed more annoyed than outraged. What had he said? Listen to me? Ben concentrated and centered his focus on Sam’s muddy face.

“Okay Sam, what is it?”

Sam bent down and pushed his finger into the dirt closest to his right knee. The operation was a little dicey because he had not made very much wiggle room in his portion of the pit yet. He could get a bead on what he was looking for if he held his body as closely as he could to the opposite wall of his pit.

“Well, there’s this thing in here. It doesn’t feel like a rock, it could be bones.”

Ben’s heart lept. Bones. A delicious feeling of danger ran up his spine and he was instantly at attention. Sam hiked himself out of the hole to get a better view of his find, he lay prone upon the ground beside the pit and and peered in. Ben edged in beside him, their two bodies lying side by side, their heads poking down into the 24 inch drop.

Gwen looked up, she usually had Ben and Sam somewhere in her peripheral vision when she was in their vicinity especially since their disappearance the previous evening. Now her radar for them was up a notch, heightened by a barely perceptible degree. Presently their absence registered upon her immediate awareness and she noted it. She circled the yard with her eyes, wand in hand, earnestly seeking likely spots for treasure and offhandedly scanning for her two youngest brothers.

“Bredon, have you seen Ben and Sam lately? They were just back here a minute ago.” Gwen hoisted the detector over her shoulder and circled.

“They’re lying on the ground over there by the garden, in the bean bed, by their fort.” Bredon and Gwen eyed the box. To them it was a dilapidated, pathetic pile. It did not symbolize any claimed territory, it did not seem worthy of stepping on, let alone defending. Both older siblings were constantly trying to persuade the younger ones to trade it in for a new model from the dumpster next door which issued a never ending supply of appliance boxes. Ben and Sam would never do it, they clung to their old one faithfully. Gwen saw the hole; she looked at the wand and handed it to Bredon.
“Maybe they found something over there, they have been awfully quiet.”

Madie and Rosie were perched in the apple tree. Madie was fastening a rope to a basket, rigging up a branch to ground, communication and delivery system. She had visions of 10:30 and 3:30 snacks being ordered and fulfilled with no positional jockeying. Rosie was venturing out to her new limb. Having been honor bound to abandon Gwen’s which had been at about 1:00 on the tree's schematic clock, her new one was at a 7:00 angle; the opposite side of the tree. Her 7:00 branch was lower in the tree and significantly farther out than Gwen’s, about as far as her weight would bear. Rosie had found a fork in this particular exterior branch that suited her backside to a tee. There was a rustling nearby and both girls looked over at the garden. Gwen, Bredon,Ben and Sam were on their hands and knees near a pretty good hole. Madie grinned, Ben and Sam were getting bigger after all and their digging skills were making her proud. Rosie was the first down. After giving her rope a good tug to make sure it was secure, Madie grasped the edge of it and cantilevered herself down as well.

Uncle Richard and Callie made their way out the back door. Callie made an immediate exit during the adult goodbyes and scurried around her great uncle’s legs, avoiding any unnecessary chit chat. She made her way to the garden to see what was up with the others.

Uncle Richard looked back into the kitchen, he enjoyed seeing his niece carve out a minute alone. After their goodbyes he noticed her quietly drawing her book close to her coffee cup and uneaten as yet, coffee cake. She was about to sit. Mission accomplished, Richard walked to his truck and glanced at the back yard with further satisfaction. There they were, all seven of them, heads down and looking into something, was that a hole in the ground? He remembered his ex-wife Carol, after a week long drive across the United States, referring to the Grand Canyon as such. He shook his head. The kids were arranged like spokes in a very large wheel, the hole the hub, all it lacked was a rim. Richard glanced at his watch, it was time for him to leave his 11:00 message at his old AA friend’s house. He grabbed his phone out of his pocket, dialed the number and climbed into his truck.
He spoke, “Hey Frank, Dick here. Did you hear the one about the wheel with no spokes?”

Rosie popped her head out of the hole and noted the truck’s exit down the driveway. She gave a sigh of relief, she had the feeling of a gear clicking into place, they were alone at last and all was right with her world again. She put her head back down and continued studying the pit.

Sam pulled himself back on his elbows and thought a moment. The very thing; he jumped up and ran into the garage and came back out wielding the garden hoe, it was a pointed one. His habit of keeping track of inventory was coming in handy today. His brothers and sisters got on their haunches and hitched themselves back making a respectful circle around him. He had an idea and those golden things had to be given their proper due. Sam scratched the side of his ditch very carefully, he did not want to crush or break the possible bone that was lodged in the dirt. He saw a glint, a tiny gleam of metal, he drew in a sharp breath and everyone gathered in closer.

“I think that we should use this.” Bredon spoke gravely and waved the metal detector in front of everyone. Madie’s eyes grew round. She looked at the gleam in the pit and at the object being waved in front of her face. The perfect thing. Bredon, feeling more charitable perhaps than he had ever felt in his life, looked at Madie’s look of wonder and handed her the wand. “Here you do it Madeleine, then we can all take turns.”


Blogger Mark said...

Dearest Jenny, you catch so many enlivening details. U.R. is perfectly portrayed with simple strokes. The picture of Popular Mechanics, Analog, and other reading material "demurely behind The Daily Bread" brings back to life the closely balanced, quirky dynamic between my mom and dad. And then the pictures of each family member are so lovingly drawn, even if slightly exagerated. What a great family and I can hardly wait for the adventure to unfold.

11:35 PM  
Blogger gwen said...

We are eagerly awaiting the next installment.

9:32 PM  

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