Strangers in the Night

Doobee doobee do Dondoobee doo-bee

Doobee doobee do Dondoobee doo-bee do

I remember the day my life changed clearly. Having been a fuckup for 22 years, I had a lucid moment.

Mother was driving me out to the farm. The christmas trees needed shaping and I had succeeded in offending the Michigan Licensing Bureau yet again.

A few months after daddy had died, mother had treated herself to the movies and there was a fifteen minute Featurette about crazy Finns racing the clock at a place in Finland called 1000 Lakes. She was impressed no end by the drivers.

Mother is a Minnesota Finn and she drives like the very devil. She had taken the bridge at Spaulding Drain at speed and flew past Yallup's Cutoff, shifting down to crest the hill just before the Stony Creek Bridge ... and Stony Creek Elementary.

Stony Creek Bridge was a narrow iron girder affair and a car even slightly sideways would strike either end of the body on the ironworks.

She was setting up for the Ess curve just after Centerline Road. As fast as we were going, Centerline was mere seconds away.


"David," she said, "You know better than to bother me when I'm trying to drive," as she began her gravel spewing slide so she would be traveling sideways when the road switched from north south to east west and back to north south.

Putting her foot in it, the car, a new white and blue 1964 Volvo 122 with the dual side draft Solex carbs, four speed and one hundred and ten horses under the hood, slid around the Ess and straightened out doing 85 miles an hour. She clutched and nailed fourth and a hundred mph, shifting down, down, down, using engine compression to brake for the corner at Dewitt and Price.

The hill in front of the family farm netted a good fifty feet of horizontal air and a slide in front of the Migrant Housing. Catching a gear and power sliding left at Airport road, she came to a stop at the trail back to the tree farm, she slapped the timing chronometer on the dash.

"Fifty five miles an hour average from the house," she exulted. "Now ... what did you want?"

"Mom, what's wrong with me?"

"That would take all night, David."

"Could you write it out?"

"Too many trees."


"That much paper would kill too many trees," she said ... with laughter in her voice.

"How about in a nutshell?"

"You were a mistake ... an infatuation that got out of hand ... one time," she said.

"I'm a bastard?"

"I was married ... your birth certificate plainly states that Charles William Austin is your father ... even if he wasn't.

"He never knew," she said.

"Mom, you have dark brown hair, Daddy had coal black hair until the day he died. CharlesB has black hair, Grace and Maryanne have black hair," I ran my hand through my white blond hair and squinted through the only ice blue eyes in the history of the Austin clan. "How could he not know?"

"If he did, he never said," she said.

"Maryanne got the lions share of the estate money ... Charlie got the stocks and bonds ... Grace got the house in Pentwater ... I got five hundred dollars." I was whining now. "You got the house in town ... the boat ... the cars ... the airplanes ... and you don't fly. He might not have said ... but he knew."

"I never thought about it like that," she frowned. "You're right ... he knew. Go trim the trees. I have to get to class."

Mom was renewing her teaching certificate at MSU. She was taking Masters courses in Special Ed. The farm was three miles west and eight miles north of Lansing. She had twenty minutes to drive to East Lansing ... no problem.

The cloud of dust and the shouted, "Hiyo Silver, away," let me know that I had been forgotten ... again.

Even though there were darkening skies to the southwest, it was hot, still and quiet in the now five foot tall Scotch pines. Next year, when they were six to seven feet tall ... the five acres of christmas trees would fetch a decent price. Although the sandy soil looked dry, I knew that the aquifer was just under the roots. The accidental spring in the seven acre hardwood woodlot was witness to water and plenty of it.

I put my back in it and sent my mind elsewhere.

Trimming done, I shouldered the pruners and made my way through the birches, oaks and walnuts to the very center of the lot ... the maples ... three of the maples sported seven feet across trunks and a clear-span of twenty-eight feet to the first branch ... first growth maples ... Twenty five thousand dollars each to the furniture factories in Grand Rapids ... maybe more if they were curly and even more if the wood was quilted.

The accidental spring bubbled away and sent its waters to the two foot tile under the fifteen acre wheat field ... mom leased the field to the Dunsmore family. The water exited the pipe and cascaded over boulders uncovered during the ditching of the tile drain. It splashed and played rainbow maker through three small ponds that were dug to recover the muck for topsoil ... then it drained into the ditch that ran on the south side of Price road.

I was trudging along the drainpipe, heading for the joke of a barn where mom would pick me up, when the first raindrop liked to drive me to my knees. There was a whole rain shower stashed in that single drop. Thoroughly soaked, I raised my fist and shook it ... completely forgetting that the metal pruners were also clenched in that fist.

The world turned very bright...

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