Posts Tagged ‘rural


Northwestern Gothic: Installment 2

This portion of the story was contributed by @flowersbyfarha AKA Rebecca. Thanks!

So, seeing her as sent from heaven, the Caldwells named her ‘Angela.’ Though in most ways, an ordinary child, they soon noted an unusual flair for music, singing and dancing her way through life. Then one day, her choir teacher, Mrs French, showed Angela a few chords on the piano to demonstrate the progression in the song the class was working on. Angela’s natural talent suddenly blossomed in unexpected ways. Mrs French coached Angela after school and encouraged Angela to perform in the spring concert.

Angela’s musianship was truly a gift from heaven. When she was taunted by schoolmates for her extra fingers, the family reassured her that when she grew up, they would be transplanted to Grandpa Cade’s hand; she would be normal; and, no one would tease her ever again. They did not anticipate this dilemma. With a 6th finger on each hand and heavenly talent, she could play like no other–chords with an extra note and extensions with surpassing speed.

At the concert, the Caldwells sat stunned in an unexpected dilemma: After all these years, they began to wonder, would it be right to transplant Angela’s extra digits to Grandpa? Did she need them after all–or did he? Had the Lord simply taken away, or did He give a double helping?

For the first time in their lives, the Caldwells began to question their interpretation and their assumptions about their faith.


Northwestern Gothic?

Cade Caldwell had lost two fingers on his left hand. This was painful to look at but no big deal really. You see, the year after his accident one of his granddaughters was born with six fingers on each of her hands.

“See?” his family said, “The Lord taketh away and the Lord giveth.” They figured on waiting until her fingers grew to about the size of Cade’s then relocating them. “Make do or do without” was another popular saying among the members of the Caldwell family and they settled back to watch until Nature would take her course.


Toast of the Town

Bob Cox rolled slowly over to the edge of his bed then sat up. Sliding his feet into his slippers, he shuffled stiffly down the hall to the kitchen and switched on the light. He was going to have to pack up the dogs and make a trip to the store. There wasn’t much in the cupboard or refrigerator besides some wilted lettuce, a crusty jar of mustard, a few blackened and shriveled hot dogs, some questionable margarine and some bread which had seen better days. His ex-wife lived next door and he considered raiding her cupboards but she waved so cheerily at him as she set out for her morning walk that he had second thoughts. He scanned the bread for obvious mold then popped two slices in the toaster. He found a carton of milk, shook it, opened it, and set it in the sink. He had just set a pot of very weak coffee to perk when the phone rang.

I was standing in my driveway wondering if the tulips were ever going to peek out of the soil, never mind blooming, when Delores pulled up. Of all the parents of all the children I babysat, Delores was the most irritating. Maybe the reason was a small one like the fact her daughter knew none of her colors or numbers at the age of four. She could sing the Barney Song, complete with gestures, for hours on end. There was a serious lack of talent scouts cruising the local Safeway so colors and numbers would probably be more useful in the long run.

Or my reason for disliking her could have been something bigger such as her superior attitude because she had left the city three months before I had and was now an authority on country living.

“Whatcha doing?” She asked brightly.

“Looking for tulips,” I said. “I must have done something wrong. I don’t think they’re ever going to come up. The stores are full of tulips and look at this.” I pointed to the bare brown beds.

“Is this the first time you’ve grown flowers?”

“It’s the first time I’ve done it out here and if they’re all going to turn out like these it’s going to be the last time too.” Delores patted my shoulder comfortingly and gave me something like a smile.

“The ones in the store are from California. Probably raised in greenhouses,” she said. “Ours won’t be up for another three or four weeks.”


“How was Jenny?”

“Um… Delightful as always,” I fumbled. “She learned a new song?”

“Oh, yes. She loves singing and dancing and she loves her Barney. How’s your neighbor?”

“Fine,” I said. Delores looked like she wanted more so I added, “I mean as far as I know he’s fine. He’s on vacation for a month in Klamath Falls.” Delores nodded then cocked her head like the RCA Victor dog.

“What’s that beeping noise?”

“I dunno. Probably somebody’s car alarm going off.”

“People out here don’t have car alarms,” Delores said, smiling again. “Hardly anyone locks their cars even.”


“I should get Jenny and get moving but you might want to check out that noise.”

“Oh, of course.”

“We all look after each other out here on the frontier and it truly sounds like it’s coming from across the street.” She took a few steps into the yard, past the sad brown flower beds. We could see Jenny under one of the cherry trees bowing to an invisible but no doubt very appreciative audience. Delores called her daughter and they fell into a hugging and kissing fit as if she’d been away two decades rather than two hours. Eventually they were able to stumble to the car and, wrenching themselves apart, climbed in and drove away.

The street was quiet except for the strange beeping sound Delores had noticed. It really did seem to be coming from my neighbor’s house across the street. Suddenly the light bulb went on over my head and I ran into my own house shouting to my husband.

“Bob’s house is on fire!”


“I said that Bob Cox’s house is on fire. His smoke alarm has been going off for quite a while now. It must be a big one. I’m going to call 911.” My husband lurched groggily up the stairs from where he’d fallen asleep in front of the woodstove.

“Did you check his house?” he asked reasonably.

“I’m not going over there if there’s a fire.”

“But you don’t know for sure it’s a fire, do you? Maybe it’s a car alarm.”

“They don’t have car alarms out here. Delores says they don’t even lock their cars.”

“Somebody should go over there…”

“There’s no time,” I said as I was dialing. “Look, if you want to go over there then go over there. He’ll be happy to see you in something besides that swimsuit he thought was underwear.”

“What? When was that?” I waved my hand to shush him. He drifted out of sight and the dispatcher came on the line.

“And the location of the fire?” she asked after I’d given her my name.

“I don’t know. I haven’t gone over to look. I thought it was better to stay out of the way.”

“Street and house number for the residence in which the fire is occurring?” I wracked my brain and tried to picture the house number beside the door across the street.

“Look, I can’t remember. Can you just tell them it’s down the street from the church and the graveyard out here on Prairie Lane?” Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my husband toss on his coat and head out the back door.

“Yes, ma’am. Please continue to monitor the fire from a distance and call us if anything changes.” Just as I was replacing the receiver my husband burst into the kitchen.

“Call them back and tell them not to come,” he said.


“Bob’s house is not on fire.”

“How do you know?”

“I was just over there. You know how the back door opens into the kitchen?”


“Well, it was unlocked so I pushed it open and there he was talking on the phone.”

“Talking on the phone? But what about the beeping?”

“Well, there was some bread charring pretty good in the toaster and he’s been gone almost a month. I’d guess the battery in the smoke alarm is probably getting low and that would beep and then he burned the toast and that probably set off the ones that still have good batteries.”

“What did you say to him?”

“I didn’t say anything. His back was to me and he was talking on the phone and I was so embarrassed that I just backed out the door and closed it.” I called the dispatcher back

“I’m sorry, ma’am but the emergency vehicles are on their way now.”

Even before my hand left the phone I heard a truck come squealing off the road. It crunched to a stop in my driveway. We walked out the back door. A tall young man stepped out of the truck. He pulled off his Kobayashi cap and ran his hand through his hair.

“Can I help you?” my husband said. “I live here.”

“I’m Bob Cox’s grandson and I heard his house was on fire so I came as quick as I could.”

“Funny thing about that,” I said but I didn’t get to finish the thought.

Two trucks pulled up and parked behind the grandson and more men in billed caps got out. Then a highly-polished car parked partly on our lawn. Debarking from the car was one of the most sharply turned-out ladies I’d ever seen.

“I don’t think we’ve met. My husband is the minster of the church over there,” she said extending her hand to me. I shook it reluctantly. I had seen her at church and it had made me ask myself a couple of questions. Should they be spending so much money on her clothes when they could be buying books for kids whose folks were in prison? And if going to church and seeing how well-dressed the preacher’s wife was caused me to envy her and envy is a deadly sin then what was the point of going to church anyway?

“I didn’t see any fire down there,” she continued, “so I drove up here. I don’t see any fire here either.”

“Yeah, well, the thing is…” I began. But no one could hear me or was trying to. More trucks had arrived including, finally, a small fire truck and an ambulance. Since they were the only ones supposed to be there and our little street was looking like the lot outside of Red’s Barbecue I was really confused.

“Excuse me,” I said. “Excuse me. Can I have your attention please?” I waved my arms. Nobody noticed except the preacher’s wife. She put two fingers to her mouth and whistled smartly like she was hailing a cab in downtown Someplace Bigger. “How did you all end up here? All I did was call the 911 dispatcher.”

“I got a call from Mrs. Henderson. She’s one of our church members,” the preacher’s wife said. “She heard on the scanner that there was a fire in or near the church and she was worried.”

“We heard it on the scanner too,” said one of the grandsons.

“I met somebody at the barber shop and he said he’d followed the trucks for a little ways,” said another.

“You know, way out here we’re a long way from help.” The lady who lived at the far end of the road and had three large dogs that liked to run in traffic had walked down and joined the conversation. “We’ve got to look out for each other.”

“That’s true,” one of the men said.

Then I explained to everybody several times that there was no fire other than the one in the toaster. But the firemen insisted on inspecting the house to be sure. And just as their last footfall was drowned out by a cacophony of dog barks and they reached to open the door, Bob Cox himself opened it and stepped onto the porch. Needless to say, he was mighty surprised to see the assembled throng trampling his grass.

“What’s all this?” He asked. His former wife having left an hour earlier for a quiet walk up the hill and missed the initial excitement, now arrived just in time to answer his question.

“I think,” she said, “that they’re here to welcome you back from vacation. I’m not sure about the firemen though.”

“That’s it,” I said gratefully. “We all got together to say we missed you.” The preacher’s wife harrumphed but one of the grandsons gave her a look.

The old man took off his glasses and swiped at his eyes. Probably the bright sun was making them water.

“Well if this doesn’t beat all,” he said. “This is really nice. I didn’t think anyone even noticed I was gone.”

“Of course,” I said. “We’ve all got to look out for each other you know.”

“This surely was nice,” he said. “But maybe next time you could just bake me a cake or something.”

Bob Cox looked over his shoulder into the kitchen and saw the incinerated toast, the curdled milk in the sink and the black half-eaten hot dog on the counter. Then he took a few steps towards the preacher’s wife.

“You know a small slice of cake would go down pretty good right now,” he said.

“I believe we have some at the house.”

“Coffee to wash it down with?”

“Almost certainly.”

“Then it’ll just take me a second to get my real shoes on. I did a lot of thinking on the ride back about the rules for leprosy in Leviticus and I know you’re hubby’ll want to hear about it.” The preacher’s wife might have cringed but it might have been a shiver from the chilly morning. Either way, Bob Cox didn’t see it. He was too busy imagining a plate with a big piece of chocolate cake on it. And winking at his young neighbor.


Out of a Molehill

Bob Cox stood by his kitchen window watching the birds flitting around on his lawn. He had just eaten his breakfast and was feeling his oats. What he needed, he thought, was a project. But even better than starting his own project would be to help someone else with theirs. Looking across the street to where his new neighbor stood, he realized he’d just found the opportunity he was seeking.

I was kneeling beside a small mound of dirt when I felt someone standing behind me. I turned to find the old man from across the street regarding me intently.

“Whatcha doin’?” He asked.

“I’m putting gum down here to get rid of the moles,” I said.

“Naw. Don’t waste no more gum on ‘em,” he said. “Why don’t you put down some candy bars or nylons? Something they could use.” He chuckled then leaned closer to me and said, “Say, I was gonna ask you… Was that your husband out here the other day sneaking around in his underwear with a pistol?”

“No,” I said, “that wasn’t.”

“That wasn’t your husband out here? He walked around for a while then he’d drop down to a hunker next to one of them molehills and just sit there watching it for a while.”

“That was my husband,” I said. “That wasn’t his underwear. It was a swimsuit.” The old man whistled.

“Hoowee! Swimsuit? Why, my kids had diapers bigger than that.”

“Besides,” I said. “He wasn’t out here all the time with that pistol. Sometimes he had a shotgun.” The old man had followed me to the next molehill and stood behind me, blocking the sun, as I scooped the dirt up with a spoon and put it into my bucket. Then I opened a packet of gum, slipped the piece in my mouth and started chewing. The old man shook his head at me.

“You can’t kill moles with gum,” he said. “Not broken glass neither and you can’t shoot ‘em out. There ain’t no person as fast as a mole.”

“Then how do you get rid of them?”

“To catch and kill moles,” he said leaning close again, “you need a special mole-catching dog.”

“I didn’t know you could train a dog to catch and kill moles,” I said.

“Of course you can. We had us a real good one. Say,” he said then paused, “Why don’t you come on over and I’ll tell you all about it?”

“What about your wife?”

“Former wife,” he said. “‘Sides she don’t have to like everything I do. We’ll sit right out on the front porch where everybody can see us and know there’s nothing wrong about it.”

“I guess that’d be okay,” I said. I walked into the kitchen and grabbed a bag of coffee and a carton of milk then crossed the street to the old man’s house. Once the coffee was brewing, we settled into sunny chairs on the porch and he began.

“About ten maybe fifteen years ago, but not more than that, I had me a real bad mole problem. I mean you couldn’t walk from here to the mailbox without tripping over half a dozen hills.” I looked out over the now parklike lawn then nodded for him to continue. “I heard tell from a man down to the store that his brother had a dog that was specially trained to catch and kill moles. I asked him could I borrow the dog and he said his brother wouldn’t part with it but they were gonna breed her and I could have one of the pups. Now that was a generous offer but I told him that I was desperate. He finally agreed to ask his brother to call me, which he did, and we were able to come to a financial understanding and this brother agreed to loan me his dog.” The old man went into the house and brought back two cups of coffee. I fished a dog hair from mine while he scrunched himself around in his chair till it was comfy again.

“So what happened then?” I asked. “Did the dog come here and get rid of the moles?” The old man waved a pacifying hand at me.

“Now hold on,” he said. He took a big sloppy sip of coffee then sighed with happiness. “The dog did indeed come. She arrived in the back of a pick-up like most dogs except…” He stopped for another sip of coffee. “Except that instead of running around loose in the back she traveled in one of those crates like they have for dogs on airplanes. I’d never seen a dog going around like that so I asked the man ‘why?’ and he told me that if she wasn’t kept penned up then she’d jump out the back of the truck and start trying to chase moles even before he got stopped. He said that one time she done it riding down the highway and that’s how come she limped like that. Now I didn’t entirely believe him but she did favor one of her front legs a bit so I decided I’d wait and see.”

“And?” I prompted.

“They was all tuckered out from the long drive and it was getting on towards suppertime so we figured it’d be best to start out fresh in the morning. So everybody sat down all around the table and in the living room and we ate everything there was and then called it a night.”

“Did your wife do the cooking? Were you still together then?” The old man looked over my shoulder to where his former wife, who lived next door to him, was weeding her garden.

“Yes and no,” he said almost in a whisper. “Yes we was together and no she didn’t do the cooking. She never was much of a cook. Didn’t like to use spices in things. Nope, I did the cooking this night and that’s why everybody licked their plates.”

“And in the morning?”

“In the morning we all got up and had a real tasty breakfast and some good hot coffee.” He took a big gulp out of his own cup. I thought I saw him stick his tongue out but he must have had a hair in his coffee, too. “Now maybe that dog was feeling unsettled because she was about to come into season and there were so many other dogs around. Because, you see, word had got out that I was having a mole-catching dog visit my house to rid me of those critters so all morning, and partway through the night before, men had been driving up here in their trucks hoping they’d get to see a demonstration and there ain’t no pick-up around here that doesn’t have a dog in the back. By the time we filed out of the house after tucking into those blueberry pancakes and venison sausage, there must have been fifty trucks parked out in front.”

“That’s a lot of people,” I said. “How did everyone find out?”

“I’d assume some of ‘em heard about it down to the store same as I did and probably some of ‘em heard it on the scanner.”

“The scanner? I thought that was just for emergencies?”

“Or other important information,” the old man said. “And believe me, a mole-catching dog being in the area is very important information. As I said, maybe she was unsettled on account of all the other dogs or maybe her owner got a bad piece of meat the night before, though I don’t know how that could have happened with me cooking it, and it’d been nagging at him all night. In any case, what eventually happened never should have and it was a shame that it did.”

“But, what?” I goggled. The old man paused to raise his hand in a jaunty wave and I wondered at all the traffic we were having on our little country lane. There’d been three cars just since we sat down.

“Maybe you’ve heard that moles have a very sophisticated way of communicating. But do you know how they do it?”

“No,” I said.

“Well the thing is moles live underground but they’re a lot like bees.”

“Bees? But bees live in a hive.”

“So do moles. The only difference is that the hive is underground. Since it’s dark down there the moles can’t see each other so they talk by bumping up against each other. Every day scout moles go out and gather information and bugs and bring everything back to the main part of the hive where they pass it along to the other moles. ‘There’s lots of good bugs over on the North side of the greenhouse,’ they say and then the moles will dig tunnels over in that direction or ‘The people at such and such a house are putting out peanut butter. Let’s all go there.’”

“But I thought moles were poisoned by peanut butter,” I said. The old man shook his head.

“No. That’s what the moles want us to think. See they got ways of getting messages to us too. In actuality, peanut butter is considered a true delicacy to moles.”

“I’ll have to remember that,” I said. The old man nodded.

“You do that. If you listen to me you’ll learn everything you need to know about living out here in the country. Some of it’s stuff you can’t learn anywhere else,” he said smiling. For a second I’d have sworn that he’d winked at me but it was probably a trick of the light. “Now then. After that fine breakfast we walked out onto the porch and there were all those trucks parked out here and all those men a-sitting in ‘em waiting for us to come out so they could see the mole-catching dog. Her owner put her on long leash, must have been forty feet or so, and he walked her down onto the grass so she could take care of her business and then get started. And she did. No sooner had she ceased to squat than this dog took off for the nearest molehill and started digging like Mike Mulligan’s steam shovel. The dirt was flying over her shoulders and she started baying and then all at once she disappeared into the hole and came back out with a mole in her mouth.” I clapped my hands.

“It was true then. She really was a mole-catching dog.”

“Yep, she truly was,” the old man said bowing his head.

“But what happened? What was the shameful part?” I said. “Did she catch any more moles?”

“She did indeed,” the old man said. “She caught moles all through the morning and pretty near all through the afternoon, too. The first few were easy because they were near the surface and she’d just dig until she found one and then bring it on over and drop it at her owner’s feet. As the day wore on though she had to go deeper and they worked out a different method. She’d dig until she found a mole, just like before, and she’d be baying, just like before, but now she was going underground and we couldn’t see her. Sometimes if she wasn’t too far under then we could see the dirt moving but if she was down real far then we’d wait for her to stop shouting and we’d know she had a mole in her mouth and we’d pull on the leash until she was back up to the top.”

“Why didn’t she just turn around and come back up with the mole in her mouth on her own?”

“Mole tunnels are very narrow,” the old man said. “There isn’t room to turn around in there even for moles never mind a dog. Moles just run right over the top of each other if they need to get past. So we had to pull this dog backwards out of the tunnel, after she got a mole, so she could get out.”

“Oh,” I said. “I see.” Then the lightbulb went on over my head because I remembered something I’d heard about bees and I had a funny feeling how the story might end but I still wanted to know for sure. “So she was going further and further down,” I said.

“Yes, she was. More and more of that leash was disappearing down the hole and I was wondering if we was going to have to add some when the dog’s owner said this was going to be the last trip she’d make down the hole. By this time she was going so far down that he asked his brother if he’d get down on the ground above where we thought the tunnel was and kind of keep track of where she was since it was getting hard to hear her.” A cloud rolled in front of the sun and the sudden chill made me shiver.

“So this man’s brother was lying by the hole listening, like you do on the train-tracks, and giving us a report on the dog’s whereabouts. ‘She’s about three feet down and headed downhill,’ he’d say and then every little bit he’d tell us the new spot she was at so we’d know when to pull on the leash. He was flat on the ground listening to the dog and we was standing on the porch listening to him and all the men was sitting in their pick-ups listening to both. (Some of ‘em had tried earlier to listen to the ballgame but we told ‘em to turn the radio off since there’s a ballgame pretty near every week but you’re never going to see a mole-catching dog twice in a lifetime.) Everything was real quiet and our ears were sticking out from our heads with the listening. I wished I could’ve rotated mine around like my dogs do but there wasn’t any good to it. All at once that man on the ground jumped up and hollered, ‘She’s coming back. She’s coming back.’ We was all surprised, of course, and we figured he’d gone around the bend. Then we all heard it. The most horrible terrified howling you’ve never heard in your life. And, I’ll be darned, but that man was right as rain. Just under the sound of the howling and yelping we heard scuffling and shoving noises and it sounded for all the world like a dog running backwards up a narrow tunnel.”

“Why was she running and howling?” I said.

“In another minute we found out. It seemed like we’d been hearing these strange noises for over five minutes, but it couldn’t have been more than four, when all of a sudden that dog came flying backwards out of the hole like the Devil himself was after her. But it wasn’t him at all. In the fading afternoon light we could see that that poor old dog had been chased out by the biggest, meanest looking mole I’d ever seen outside of the County Fair. It was the old Queen Mole herself come to wreak vengeance on the creature who was destroying her hive and her home.”

“Oh my goodness,” I said.

“Your average mole runs to about four or six inches,” he said. “If you get a big male he might be eight. But this Queen Mole was nearly two feet high. She’d been down in those tunnels so long her fur was white and she had three inch long teeth growing out of her face and these huge paddle-shaped feet with razor-sharp claws. When she’d driven that poor dog out of the tunnel, she stopped and reared up to her full height. Then she raised her head and looked all around, sniffing at us. Her eyes were hidden in her fur so it looked as if she had no head at all.” He looked sadly at his empty mug. “Then she turned around and went back down the hole before any of us could get a shot off.”

“What happened to the dog?”

“Well, needless to say, the whole experience put her off of chasing moles. I don’t know as she ever did go back to it. Last I heard she was chasing cats like a dog is supposed to. Course I had to pay the man extra for ruining his dog when it was his fault for letting her go down that far by herself. Luckily though she’d put a scare into that queen too and no more moles came back to my lawn.”

Feeling more than a little shaken myself, I thanked the old man for the information and the coffee and climbed slowly and carefully down the front steps. I had only walked partway back to my house when his former wife stopped me.

“He been filling your head full of nonsense?”

“No. Actually he shared a very sad story about a dog and why he doesn’t have any moles in his lawn.”

“He’s an old fool,” she said, “and you’re a young one for listening to him.” I took a step back. “There never was any mole-catching dog.”

“But his lawn…?”

“He runs a hose from the exhaust pipe of his car into the hole and gasses ‘em,” she said. “Same as everyone else around here does and same as you’ll do if you got any sense.”

Bob Cox watched his former wife and his neighbor talking for a few moments then he walked through the kitchen and turned down the hall. After all the helping he’d done this morning he deserved a good nap. Maybe after he’d caught forty winks he’d have his energy back and be more helpful in the afternoon.


An Unanswered Call

I was sitting under the pie cherry tree, trying to puzzle out where I’d purled and should have knitted, when a shadow fell on my work. I looked up to see the old man from across the street with a coffee mug dangling from one hand.

“Whatcha makin’?” He said.

“It’s a dishcloth.”

“I don’t believe I’ve ever seen one quite like that before,” he said. “But you know, if you made the holes smaller and closer together you could always pour coffee through it instead of using a filter in the pot. Or you could use it to keep your egg salad from being too runny.” I pulled one of the needles from the mess on my lap and started frogging it. “Why don’t you just buy ‘em at Wal-Mart like everybody else?”

“I wanted to make Christmas presents this year instead of buying them so I could save some money and give people something they’d really appreciate,” I said.

“Now if you were really smart,” he said, “you’d be spending your time making something you could sell for a lot of money. If you had money you could take your whole family to the beach and dig for clams and I guarantee they’d appreciate fresh clam chowder more than a handmade egg salad filter.”

“A lot of money?”


“And where would I sell this thing?”

“Anywhere. The feed store. Country Home magazine. E-Bay. You know people make thousands of dollars on E-Bay. I’ve got a nephew, Charles Trask, and he made $150,000 on E-Bay last year selling duck eggs and the tubes out of old radios.”

“Wow. What’s this thing I’d be making and selling?” The old man held up the mug.

“I don’t suppose you happen to have any coffee? I could sure do with a cup while I explain all this.”

“Of course. You sit down right here.” I got him settled into a chair, filled his mug and one for me, then returned to the porch. He likes to have our chats out where everyone can see. The invisible is always more controversial than the visible. That’s why there are so many fights about God and oil and so few about grass and cherry Tootsie Pops.

The old man took a long sip, gave his lips a satisfied smack and said, “Goose clothes.”


“You should be making and selling clothes for geese. Everybody’s buying them in the stores.”

“Clothes for geese? But geese have feathers, don’t they? I mean, they molt and the feathers fall out or people pull them out and put them in pillows but it’s hard to believe there’d be much call for actual clothes. Couldn’t they just put those canvas things on them like they do the sheep at the Fair?”

“These aren’t real geese. They’re pretend geese.”

“Pretend geese?” The old man shook his head and drank some more coffee.

“I guess we ain’t got all the city out of you yet. You mean to tell me you’ve been here all this time and you’ve never seen a goose dressed like Santa with the eight antlered geese pulling his sleigh?”


“Dressed like a nurse?”


“I know you saw the goose over at the Custer’s place that was dressed like Uncle Sam.”

“No. I’m sorry. Was it cute?” The old man set his mug on the arm of his chair and some coffee sloshed out of it.

“Cute? It was darn right inspirational. Bill Custer said he could barely sleep nights for all the members of the VFW hall driving by with tears running down their cheeks. Those men gave a lot for their country and they were mighty proud to see that goose there representing all they’d fought and maybe died for.” He leaned closer to me and said quietly, “But you see it’s the clothes that make the goose. And you could be making the clothes.”

“But I don’t know anything about goose clothes and even if I made them how would I sell them?”

“Well,” the old man said, taking up his mug again and tilting it to check the level of the coffee still inside, “That’s the easiest part of all- getting the word out. You see my wife-“

“Former wife,” I said.

“Yes, yes. My former wife, who lives next door there,” he indicated a peeling lilac single-wide with his head, “she has a birthday coming up in about three weeks. I happen to know that she would dearly love a dressed-up goose of her very own. I done some research on that Internet and I found out that a painted goose runs about $60.00 and an unpainted goose will run you about $50.00.”

“Gosh,” I said. “For that much money you could just take her to the beach and dig some clams.” The old man shook his head and his coffee mug. I got refills for both of us and he said, ”I don’t intend to spend anywhere near that much money on my as you say ‘former’ wife.”

“Then how will you give her one of those geese? Are you going to carve one out of wood?”

“Now, never you mind how I’m going to handle the goose end of this,” he said. “Your job is making the clothes. I’ve been thinking about this and it seems to me we should keep it simple.”

“Seems that way to me, too.”

“But at the same time since this is gonna be your first goose suit for people to see you want something to really make an impression. Lucky for you we have the holiday coming up.” The holidays just ahead were Easter and April Fools Day. If I couldn’t knit a basic dishcloth there was no way I could produce a Harlequin costume. Maybe one of those long hats with the bells on it?

“And you know my wife spends a lot of time down to the church,” he continued. I did know that. Since the church was at the end of the road on one side of me and the old man’s former wife lived at the end of the road on the other side of me I saw her go by and wave each way of each trip. She was seriously religious. Not only did she go to both services on Sunday, she went to prayer meeting and Bible study on Tuesday night. I’d always thought of Wednesday as being the night designated for this activity so I was kind of surprised. Maybe they wanted to get their requests in early so they’d have a jump on the other Protestants. But what would that have to do with dressing a goose? A light bulb started to go on over my head but I quickly hid it under a bushel. No…

“So I was thinking what could be more perfect and inspirational than Jesus,” he concluded.


“Couldn’t be easier. All you got to do is make one of those dishcloth things like you’re making now except longer and without so many holes. I can whittle a crook out one of them grape branches in about fifteen minutes. We put the rod part in one of his hands and wrap your swaddling cloth around him and over one shoulder and that woman over there has a happy birthday and you have more business than you can handle.”


“There is no reason why this won’t roll smooth as water off a duck’s back,” he said. He stood, handed me the cup which now contained one-sixteenth of an inch of coffee and a dog’s hair, and said, “I’d better let you get to work.” When he was halfway across the yard towards his house he turned and yelled, “Blue. Her favorite color is blue. This is going to be a day to remember.”

The old man was right about his plan as far as it went. There were no obvious flaws in it. Unless you count gifting someone with a faux cement goose who has no idea they’re getting anything of the kind. I just want to be clear right here that the shameful thing that eventually happened could not have been foreseen and as such cannot really be blamed on either the instigator- the old man- or the instigated- me.

A couple times a week for the next three weeks, I carried my growing Jesus dishcloth across the street so my co-conspirator could make approving clucking noises over it. The blue was just the right shade, he told me, and there were, in fact, a lot fewer holes than in my earlier work. Several times I prodded him about the bird he’d be providing but he remained mysterious.

Easter Sunday arrived bright but overcast. The old man was soon at my door with an empty cup and some questions.

“Did you finish the robe?”

“The what?”

“The dishcloth. Jesus’s dishcloth.”

“Oh, yeah. I finished it last night.”

“Do you have any brown yarn?”

“Brown? The robe is supposed to be blue, right?”


“But now you need brown?”

“Yes.” The old man was tight-lipped except for the space through which my coffee was disappearing.

“Will I find out why?”

“Soon,” he said. He refilled his cup, took the skein of java-colored worsted from my hand and departed.

When you spend as much time- and money- at church as the woman in the lavender mobile home did, you tend to become pretty highly thought of. The more you contribute the more you are likely to be held up as someone for others to aspire to resemble. It is not inconceivable that altar calls will be held in your honor and just such an event occurred this particular Easter morning.

For those who have never experienced an altar call, perhaps it is best described as being something like an infomercial on the Home Shopping Channel. The minister gives an impassioned and sometimes tearful speech detailing the benefits of salvation. He goes on to explain that salvation may be something you haven’t had and haven’t known you needed until now. He winds up by saying that now that you do realize the necessity of salvation you should really get some and, if you’ll only get out of your seat and come forward, people are standing by to help you. Then he clasps his hands and looks prayerful and the choir sings something encouraging but nonintrusive and folks start walking up the aisle. Usually there’s just one or two at first but then they start coming in bunches. Whole families sometimes. But not this Easter Sunday morning. This day the preacher prayed and the voices chorused but not a single soul responded.

“If you’ve been thinking about this for a while, I urge you to make the decision now,” the preacher said. “Don’t let another moment pass before you claim your salvation.” The choir sang “Blessed Assurance”.

“I am waiting. Salvation is waiting. Our sister here, who could become your sister, is waiting. Don’t wait any longer.” The choir sang “Rock of Ages”.

“They say that opportunity knocks once but Jesus keeps knocking until you answer. Will you let Jesus remain outside on the porch of your heart or will you invite him in?” The preacher turned to the choir and hushed them. The church was silent except for the breathing of the congregation and the scritch of the pencil someone was using to play connect-the-dots on page 427 of their hymnal. The sound that came next was all the more horrible for the quiet that preceded it. The minister’s wife had just taken two steps towards her husband and said, “You may be wondering what’s going on today” when we heard it. A great rending and slurping first. The slam of a screen door. Someone with a stick flailing wildly about in a multitude of yelping dogs. A stream of Bowdlerized and strangled oaths. A pencil and hymnal thumped onto the carpet, the church door slammed, and a little boy was on his way to view the carnage. Suddenly the old man shoved his way through the door. He strode to the front of the church, grabbed his former wife by the arm, dragged her along behind him, all the while shouting, “Hurry up! Hurry up! Those damn dogs are eating Jesus!” Thrusting her through the door ahead of him he yelled, ”Happy birthday! Oh, those damn damn dogs!”

Jesus’s blue dishcloth robe and the wig of brown yarn had been shredded and the bits were strewn on the grass like a tailor’s ticker tape parade. All that remained of the fine carcass they had adorned was a few chunks of the white plastic of the outer bag and the yellowish plastic that had held the giblets.

With an eye towards economy, the old man had suited up a frozen turkey intending to allow it to thaw on display and to cook it that afternoon. The thawing time ran long because the altar call ran long. The altar call ran long because, unbeknownst to the minister, he shared the former wife’s birthday and as soon as the sermon was over he’d be given his presents and pictures would be taken and no one wanted to be up front for that.

As it turned out the old man was right and wrong: I didn’t get any business but we surely made an impression. And it was, indeed, a day to remember.