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Drama Fiction

       Dad wanted to get back to his origins. He was burned out and sick of his sales management job, which he had held since 1949 when my parents were married. Dad was tired of constant travel all over the state, conducting meetings and listening to the route salespeople make excuses for their lack of productivity. He was feed-up with the greasy restaurant food, lumpy hotel beds, and depressed over the isolation.  It had been fifteen years, and he was ready for a change. He fantasized about having a home-every-night job and buying a farm to tend to in his spare time.

      He dreamed of leaving our cramped bungalow-style home on a noisy street with yapping dogs, lawn machinery, loud music, teenagers acting like teenagers, and no privacy.  The noise pollution from the constant passing traffic of a nearby major highway was nerve-racking.  He felt hemmed in with the homes positioned too close together with narrowly spaced yards, and everyone knew everyone else’s business.  He felt smothered, and he wanted out. He wanted to escape. He knew he could find a more satisfying, family-oriented career if he diligently searched. He dreamed of buying a farm. Others have done it, and why not him? They’re on the market at reasonable prices, and he was determined to the point of obsession. “The time is now, while the market is soft.” He would tell my mom, “Summer nights, we can hear the beautiful sound of insects, nothing like what we hear in the city. Early in the morning, we will hear all birds singing simultaneously. We can grow our vegetables! Imagine that. Homegrown is ten times better than the crap we buy at the grocery store. A farm will give us a more quality life, and we deserve it.”

     Mom despised the idea of taking on the burden and debt of a farm. Maybe in another lifetime, she thought. The hardscrabble life of a farmer’s wife left her petrified.  It was just plain crazy and scary too. She felt such an existence unaffordable, dreadfully lonely, and too many spiders and snakes.  Her phobia has been snakes since she was a child when she swore a snake was chasing her. Besides, she was happy living within the city limits. Everything was close. A farm would mean long drives to any place where conveniences were necessary for a comfortable and sane lifestyle. She wanted to be near the shops where she could drive quickly and leisurely browse all day, as she sometimes would. She didn’t like the burden of a long drive home. She couldn’t imagine not being near the grocery stores. She needed to be where she has always had the practicality of dashing out to get a missing ingredient for a recipe or pick up milk or eggs. Her best friend, Roxane, had been styling her hair for ten years. If she lived on a farm and were too far away, she would have to get her hair fixed elsewhere. Where could she find a salon in the country with a stylist who could do a decent job? She missed Dad when he was away but is used to it. Ever since her marriage, she had felt a sense of security and was unwilling to give that up. Her hands were full as a housewife and a mother for my older sister, Sasha, and me. She didn’t want to be troubled with farm life.

     Sasha wasn’t fond of moving because of leaving her friends and school, but she had been aware of the talk about moving since she was small.  She became oblivious to the idea over time.  She was in her own world in 1965 and embraced the adolescent fashion craze of that era.  She was obsessed with her 45’s of The Stones, The Kinks, and the Beatles.  Her bedroom walls were littered with posters of the top rock and roll singers and even one of Mick Jagger’s images that seemed to look down at her while she lay in bed. She had Tiger Beat pullouts of Paul McCartney and Lulu. Her window is draped with a groovy beaded curtain valance, and excellent fringed lighting hung from her ceiling. She was the cool kid in school who flaunted her flipped bob in front of other girls who idolized her. She was also the class president and earned perfect grades.  She would string along sex-crazed boys and tease them mercilessly. She would be a sophomore next year and looked forward to the best yet to come. 

     They’re at it again. During my preteen childhood years, it regularly seemed that my parents argued over my dad’s yearning to buy a farm. “Give up this ridiculous dream, Sylvester!”  Mom admonished Dad, who had been married for fifteen years.  “I hate it whenever you get this bull-headed idea in your head about buying a farm!  Just stop it!” 

      “Now, relax, Maya. It’ll be good for the kids.  Living on a farm will teach the boy the value of work.  Sasha is fourteen, and she’s a teen now.  This will be a healthier environment for her and will keep her away from the bad influences of the other kids in the city.”

      “Relax? Would you come to your senses?   Henry is only ten, and you’re behaving more like a child than he is.  Sasha is a good girl, and she knows right from wrong.  For heaven’s sake, we live in Riverdale, not New York!”

      I favored the idea of living on a farm. After all, Dad promised to buy me a horse, and we would have some chickens for me to care for and feed. There would be lots of space for Ramesses, our collie, to play too!  He said that he would eventually find another occupation after we settled in that would allow him to be home every night.  For me, it was a fantasy.  I was at that age where I believed that my dad always did what was best for the family. 

     “I think I found a farm that’s affordable,” Dad said cautiously to Mom. “Let’s all take a drive this weekend and have a look.”

      Mom glared discerningly and finally bellowed, “Oh, Sylvester, you can’t be serious! We’re in debt now.  We can’t afford it at any price.”

     “We can afford this one. It’s only twelve thousand dollars, and it has 50 acres. Think of it. It’ll pay for itself in no time!  It’s a farm. There’s always money to be made on a farm!”                                                                                                                                                

    “Get up, Henry”! Dad shouted at me excitedly for the third time. It was 6:15 the following Saturday morning, and he was anxious for all of us to get started on the two-hour drive for the home viewing.  I’ve been anticipating today’s trip there, too, except for getting up so early.  Mom had been mad at Dad ever since he announced that he had called a real estate agent to see the farm at 10 am that day.  My parents had bickered from the night before to early morning.  Sasha, who sided with our mother, still doubted that moving away would ever happen.

     In 1966, before the feminist movement, the father was still the head of the house in most instances, and it was no different in ours. Therefore, off we went to a destination that would eventually change our lives to extremes. Dad’s determination to keep the morning appointment to view the farm was not swayed, despite Sasha’s excuses that the trip would ruin her Saturday plans. Not even Mom’s scornful objections couldn’t deter him.  As he drove, Dad and I talked about what life could be like on a farm. We talked about how we would drink fresh milk from our own cow, have eggs from our own chickens, and have a horse to ride to!  Dad and I couldn’t contain our excitement.  Mom and my sister just glanced at each other as they sat in stunned silence. 

     Mom’s worry had caused her to rest fitfully the night before, and she nodded off during the drive. “You must have taken a wrong turn.  This is a gravel road.” She expressed dismay as she was awakened by the sound of pebbles popping underneath the car.  “Turn around at that old farmhouse, Sylvester.” 

     What stood before us was a slightly neglected, small, white frame house built around the middle of the last century.  The stories that it could tell seem like those of difficult farm labor of yesteryear and agonizing loneliness, too, considering its location on a gravel road in a scarcely populated rural area. It was miles away from the nearest town of Morris.  The barn that stood about a hundred yards behind it was unpainted and leaned slightly. 

     “The realtor said it would be the second house to the left on Old Eagle Road, so this must be it!”  Dad exclaimed. 

     “What a dump, and we’re in the middle of nowhere!” Sasha quipped.  “I’ll just sit in the car.”

     “Forget it, Sylvester!  Did you bring us out here for this? You have lost your mind!  That house isn’t fit to live in.  I’ll stay in the car too. I already know I don’t like it,” Mom complained.”

     “We’ve come this far. You should at least get out of the car, stretch your legs, and take a look.” Dad said excitedly. 

     Just at that moment, Ethan Armstrong, a portly older man, stepped out of the house, waving, and yelled, “You must be the new buyers!  Don’t be shy.  Get out and look around.  My wife and I have been waiting.  Welcome to the Circle A ranch!

     Just when Mom thought it couldn’t be any worse, she eyed a small building behind the house, and she shrieked, “That’s an outhouse, Sylvester; this old rundown shack doesn’t even have an indoor bathroom. I’ve seen enough!”   

“So have I,” Sasha added.

     “Relax, both of you,” Dad insisted.  “We’re getting a great deal on this place.  We’ll build a bathroom and install indoor plumbing too.  “A mortgage company has already approved extra on the loan for the additions. We’re not turning around now, so let’s get out and at least look at everything.”

     Mom screams, “Sylvester!  You didn’t say anything about it having no indoor bathroom. This house is not fit to live in, no matter what!”  Mom was crying now. “You signed a loan for this dump and kept it from me?” 

     “I haven’t done anything yet.  We’re only looking, and I didn’t sign a loan. I only applied for one.  The owner, Mr. Armstrong, is on the porch waiting.  Let’s get out of the car and meet him. Let’s not be rude. Get a hold of yourself, Maya.”

     “My farm has the potential to be the best in the county and call me Ethan. It has fifty acres, and five of it is wooded. The rest is pasture for grazing, growing hay, and corn. You will have a large barn with plenty of room for storage. Don’t forget that I’m throwing in a horse. His name is Jackeroo.  There’s also a pond that’s stocked with plenty of catfish, and It’s all flat land.”

     He has a horse, and it will be ours if Dad buys the farm and there’s a pond with fish! “Can I ride the horse?” I ask excitedly. 

     “Of course, son.  We’ll go saddle him up. I’m throwing that in too.” Ethan adds cheerfully. In a panic, Mom tried to object, but Ethan assured us that Jackeroo was gentle, easy to ride, and loved children.  “My wife, Audrey, is preparing our lunch, and almost all the food is from our land. She loves to cook for company. We’re both so glad you came, and we want all of you to spend the whole day here. You will love this farm, so let’s saddle Jackeroo so your boy and all of you can ride, and then we’ll eat lunch! We have all day to see the farm, and we’ll meet some of the neighbors too.  Everyone is amiable and eager to help you get settled!”

     That was my first ride on a horse, and it made me a little nervous. Dad slapped it on the rear, and it began to trot.  Since I was unprepared, I went tumbling and hit the ground hard. Dad told me to get back on, but I was hesitant, so he ordered me back on. He said falling off is the best experience, and by getting back on quickly, I would have no time to think about falling off again. I became a natural horseback rider soon after that, or at least in my mind.  

     Dad rode Jackeroo too, but Mom and Sasha would not come near the horse or the barn.  Audrey came out and invited them in to get acquainted. The first thing our mother noticed was how much larger the house looked on the inside and at one time had been remodeled, but she was puzzled that indoor plumbing had been added.  Mom asked if there was any plumbing inside. Audrey said they had installed siding on the walls and new floors but ran out of money to do more. Audrey claimed they were used to not having plumbing anyway. “We draw water from the well behind the house. It’s much healthier than city water”.  Audrey detected their indignation and seemed sympathetic to their objections to country living.  “It’ll take time for city folks to get used to this way of life, but you will adjust to it and start to love it before you know it,” Audrey explained reassuringly. “We’ve been living here thirty years, and it’s a great community. We hate to leave, but Ethan is getting too old to tend to it.  We’re moving to Florida to be near my sister.  I hope you and your family are hungry because I’m cooking.”

     Sasha feared that Dad’s wishful thinking of buying a farm or, worse, this farm would depressingly happen. The thought of moving away, leaving her friends she grew up with, and changing schools was unthinkable. The dreaded idea of just how different, how backward, and how corny the high school must be, caused her to be on the verge of panic.  Her mind was racing, and she thought Dad would surely avoid it.  “I want to go home, Mom,” Sasha said as they embraced. 

     Our mother was worried too, but inwardly admired the large yard, the view of the mountain in the background, and the beauty of the surrounding area. She admitted to herself that the scenery was stunningly beautiful. She was getting a picture of ideas to make some home additions in her mind. Sylvester said that he is approved on the loan for some improvements. She thought if he were going through with this loony idea, a bathroom would be the first order of business, and a kitchen sink too!

     Mom tried to decline lunch politely, but Audrey wouldn’t hear of it.  Ethan, Dad, and I returned after the ride and a tour of the farm. Mom had managed to whisper to Dad that if they stayed for lunch with these strangers, we would eventually have to use the toilet, which was the outhouse.

     Dad whispered back and said, “Get used to it, honey. We’re buying.”      

      Dad saw all he wanted to see, and he had made his decision. We did stay and eat lunch since Audrey went through all the trouble to make it.  Dad didn’t reveal to the Armstrongs that he had decided to buy, so no negotiations were completed.  He would handle that through the real estate agent.  Before we left, Mr. Armstrong said I could go fishing, and I wanted to ride the horse again, but Dad didn’t want to seem too anxious in front of Armstrong.

     There was a nervous silence for several miles as Dad drove us home.  Sasha was despondent because, in her mind, her dreams of playing high school sports, attending class, and graduating with her friends, who she had known for so long, were ruined.  She felt like her life was over. 

     During the drive, Mom was trying to accept the day’s events. She still didn’t understand why the Armstrongs could live in that house for thirty years without indoor plumbing or a toilet. Also, there was only a wood stove for heat.  She thought just how much she loved our dad and his devotion to family. She knew he deserved to have this. He had traveled for many years with his work and was only home on weekends. It would be wonderful to change careers to allow him to be home nightly. She knew how much this meant to Dad; he would never give up his dream. She was concerned about Sasha but told herself that everyone would adjust.  

     That night, as we all sat at the kitchen table having a snack, Mom told Dad she supported the move. Dad got up, walked over to where she sat and embraced her. My parents called the realtor and made an appointment for Monday morning to sign a binding contract.  

April 28, 2023 21:06

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5 comments

David Ader
21:20 May 16, 2023

What makes this so real is the location from Riverdale to the country, the job as a salesman in the 50s and 60s and the sheer drudgery of it that provoke such fantasies of going back to the land so to speak. The husband/wife conflict, the excitement of the young boy, and the angst of a teen daughter come across as very authentic. Given the years you mentioned, I wonder if Sylvester was in the war and that plays into the notion of a different life? Just my thought as I wondered about his background. Nicely done.

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Helen A Smith
16:29 May 07, 2023

Oh my goodness Bernie I hope this move works out for them as a family. It would be a hard adjustment, especially with the toilet situation, among other potential problems. Seems like the dad had never heard of the phrase “happy wife, happy life.” Really enjoyed the story, but would like to know if the wife and daughter were able to adjust.

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Bernie Rhodes
17:56 May 07, 2023

Read my novel, "Witch in the Mirror." The story is from that but slightly changed. Thanks for the comment!!

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23:54 Apr 30, 2023

This is a fun read especially as I always had a dream of moving to the countryside and tending a few animals. It might have been a good twist if the narrator, who was mostly observing what was happening, did something clever to make the move happen or help his mom and sister get used to the new lifesryle.

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Mary Bendickson
23:51 Apr 28, 2023

This has a ring of truth to it. My family moved to current town in '63. The farm house next to us that we left had no indoor plumbing at the time.

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