I’m publishing this as a serial. It’s a quasi children’s story that also deals with budding adolescent sexuality.
Great Uncle Alphonse
“He’s as guilty as sin. I don’t care if he says he’s not a crook, he’s definitely a crook.” Dad put the newspaper down and took a sip of his morning coffee. “They’re going to impeach him, you just mark my words. Tricky Dick knew all about this Watergate business. Then there’s that gap in the tapes. Come on, how much more proof do you need?”
I look down at my bowl of congealed oatmeal and milk. I never liked oatmeal. Maybe, if Mom put raisins in it or something, but she never did.
“Yeah Dad?” I answered
“Finish your breakfast and go get Prince Charming out of bed.” He checks his watch. “I’ve got to be going to work.”
Dad pushed his chair away from the table and kissed my little sisters on their cheeks. As usual they’re dressed the same. Mary and Ruth were twins, and my Grandma Larry loved to sew them matching outfits.
“I’ll miss you girls. You be good for the Hertz sisters. You do what they say. You’re going there to help them. John, I’ll miss you too. Now, you better get Paul out of bed. Mom will drive you over to Pommerville as soon as she gets back from taking me to work.”
The Hertz’s were my aunts in-laws. They raised a garden and sold fresh produce, sweet corn, potatoes, fruit, eggs and preserves to help pay their living expenses and taxes. They gardened on an almost industrial scale, and had several plots of corn they planted at different times so the harvest would be staggered. Me, my brother Paul and sisters Mary and Ruth were going to spend the last two weeks of our Summer Vacation helping with the harvest.
“Ok Dad.” I use the edge of my spoon to cut the cereal into bite size chunks. I shovel them into my mouth and chew each a few times before swallowing. Mom comes out of the bedroom dressed in her nice summer blouse and blue pants wearing lipstick.
“I’m going to take Dad to work.” She told us again. “Be sure and be ready when I come back because we’ll need to leave right away. I want to get back in time to pick him up for lunch.” She turned to me. “Make sure your brothers ready to go.”
I picked up my empty plastic bowl and get up from the table. “Yeah, I was just going to go get him.”
“Good, now I’ll see you when I get back.” Mom hurried out the door to join Dad in our light blue and white 1972 Volkswagen Van.
I climbed the stairs to the bedroom we shared and kicked the side of my older brother’s bed. “It’s time to get up Paul. We’re leaving when Mom gets back from taking Dad to work.”
I kicked the bed a few more times. “Come on. You gotta get up.” He doesn’t move so I start kicking the bed to the beat of, Row-Row-Row-Your Boat. Paul’s thirteen and thinks he’s boss of the world.
“Ok, ok, I’m getting up.” He threw the covers off and glared at me. “You’re a little f**ker aren’t you?”
“I don’t care if you sleep all day. But, Dad and Mom said I was supposed to make sure you were ready to go when she got back.”
“F**k,” he throws his legs off the bed, stood and stretched. “I’ve gotta take a pee.” He walked out of the room, I eventually hear the toilet flush. He walked back in and takes his pack of Marlboro from their secret hiding place under his nightstand. He turned to me again, “f**k.”
“I’m going downstairs.” I replied. “You probably have about twenty minutes before Mom gets back. Just hurry, that’s all.”
Paul’s already standing in the closet with his head out it’s small window. There’s a Marlboro between his lips. I think he looks stupid. He thinks it makes him look older. Whatever.
Mom walks into the house just as Paul emerges from the downstairs hallway, the smell of toothpaste wafting through the air. He’s dressed in cutoffs, flip flops and a tank top. “You can’t wear that.” She says. “You’re going there to work.”
“I’ll change when I get there. I have some long pants and work shirts in my bag.” Paul holds up the bag he uses for his gym clothes.
Mom shook her head but didn’t say anything. She looked at me and Ruth and Mary. “Come on, let’s get going. John you carry the suitcase.”
I nodded and picked up the old brown Samsonite she’d packed me and my sister’s clothes in. I thought I was getting to old for that, but it didn’t seem important enough to make a stink about it.
“Dibs on the front seat,” called Ruth.
I opened the van’s back hatch and tossed in the suitcase. Paul sets his bag beside it and climbs into the very last row of seats. Mary and I get in the seat behind Mom and Ruth. The van doesn’t have a radio, so the only sound for the whole trip is reminders from Mom to be good and do as the Hertz Sisters say, and the wind whistling through the open windows.
Pommerville is small. It straddles highway 95, the main North and South route through Idaho. It takes us about an hour to get to their house. It doesn’t look impressive. It’s two story, with weathered gray cedar siding. It hasn’t been painted for a very long time and is surrounded by tall unkempt trees. It looked like a farmhouse from the 1900’s, not something from 1974.
Mom parked in front of an old picket fence lined with rusty chicken wire. Behind it, dozens of small chickens scratch and peck at the ground. “They’re Bantams,” Mom tells us. “Listen to what happens when we open the gate.” The little chickens howl and screech when we enter and Miss Hannah and Miss Anna Hertz hurry out to greet us.
I’m not sure if it’s correct these days, but they used to be called Spinsters. Miss Hannah and Miss Anna were both old, and had never been married. They kept to themselves and only went into town to go to church on Sundays. Otherwise, their brother Sam, who lived with them and had also never married, delivered the produce, hauled home the groceries and mailed their letters.
Both women looked like something out of a 1940’s Farm Wife magazine. Cotton print dresses, full aprons, round metal rimmed glasses and gray hair wore in buns.
“Hello Helen,”said Miss Hannah smiling at Mom. “Hello children. Oh, aren’t you adorable.”
She was talking about my sisters. They were looking especially angelic, a skill they used mostly to get out of trouble.
“You must come inside and visit a little before you leave Helen,” ordered Anna.
Mom shook her head. “I need to get back to pick up Ed for lunch. I will use the bathroom, if you don’t mind.”
“Come in, come in,” they invited.”
I hauled the suitcase, and Paul his gym bag. After checking our shoes for chicken poop we walked into the house from the back porch. It was like a museum. Everything was old, but perfect. The only sign of wear was the rose patterned gray linoleum. It had trails worn into it where they’d walked and stood. There was a polished Monarch wood cook stove, big Monarch white electric range, round top refrigerator and a bent chrome metal dining table and chairs. All looked like they were brand new.
Mom went to the bathroom and reminded us again to be good, and do as we were told. Then she was gone. Hannah and Anna took us to our rooms upstairs. They were just as perfect as the kitchen. Hannah told us to change into our work clothes because Paul and I were going to hoe in the garden, and Mary and Ruth were going to help make plum jelly. I dug through the suitcase and got my old pants, then came back to the room Paul and I were sharing. All he’d brought along were his church clothes. The rest were cutoffs, tank tops, socks, underwear and a pair of tennis shoes.
I shook my head.
“I can work in these,” Paul said, when he saw me shake my head. “Besides, I can get a suntan while I’m doing it.”
“Yeah right.” I changed my pants and went back to the kitchen. Paul followed. He was met with questioning stares. The Hertz sisters were no longer alone, their brother Sam was there. He was eating a cookie and drinking a cup of coffee. I think Sam was younger than his sisters, but I couldn’t really tell. He was kind of chubby, with a bald head ringed in short gray hair and dressed in bib overalls.
“Aren’t you going to change?” He asked my brother.
“I can work in these.”
“Didn’t you bring any other work clothes?
Paul shook his head.
Miss Hannah’s brown eyes flashed sparks. “Sam, you need to go get him some proper clothes.”
Paul started to protest but thought better of it when he looked at Miss Hannah’s face. The last time I saw him before lunch he was sitting beside Sam in his old red International pickup being driven to town. I, on the other hand, was given one of Sams old straw hats, a hoe, and told to start in the cabbages.
I laughed when Paul finally showed up at the garden. He was wearing new bib overalls, a new long sleeve work shirt, an old straw hat and his tennis shoes. “On your way to play a few sets?” I asked. He told me to f**k off and started chopping at the ground with his hoe. That’s pretty much all we said to each other the entire day.
When Sam finally came and told us we could stop we were both beat. We put our hoes in the garden shed, followed Sam to the house and scrupulously checked our feet for poop before walking into the kitchen. Dinner smelled good and Mary and Ruth were sitting in front of an old cardboard box on the table.
“You guys need to see this,” called Mary. “It’s Great Uncle Alphonse’s stuff.”
“Great Uncle Alphonse? The one who got bucked from a horse and fell on his head?” asked Paul.
“Yeah,” replied Ruth. “This is his stuff. I think he had a treasure.”
“A treasure? Why do you think that?” I asked.
“Because Miss Anna found his diary when she was looking for aprons for us to wear,” Ruth answers. She points to the pages of a little book.
August 7th, 1912
Sold the steers Mr. Elliott left me today. I got five Double Eagles! I think I’ll buy a few yearling calf’s and raise them to sell. If I keep this up I’ll have plenty for my trip, and more. Need to talk to Papa about renting more pasture. I want to keep everything businesslike and proper. Willie and George are jealous. I think I’ll buy them each a calf of their own. Until then, I’ll put the Eagles in my special place until I decide exactly what I want to do.
“Everything after that’s blank.” Ruth picks up the book and flips through the pages. “
“See, there’s nothing else written.”
I look over her shoulder. “I wonder why he didn’t write anymore?”
“Because,” Miss Anna answered, from the big white Monarch. “The next day he fell from the horse. He was never the same after that.”
“What are Double Eagles?” said Paul.
“Do any of you children know?” Sam asked.
I raised my hand. Sam nodded. “They’re twenty dollar gold pieces, aren’t they?”
“Yes, but they could be worth a lot more by now. Maybe even thousands of dollars.”
My brother and sisters and I looked at each other. “Can we try to find them?” I asked.
The older siblings turned to each other. “As long as it doesn’t interfere with your work.” Miss Hannah replies. “I don’t think any of us mind.”
“Cool.” I said with a big smile.