Old farm stands, you have seen them scattered everywhere around the rural countryside of northern New England. They are fast disappearing now. Usually there are a few scrub acres of brush that has grown in close to a set of collapsing buildings. The house may have a slate roof, the barn rusting tin, and if there is a silo, the top is off and it is leaning away from the wind. Desolate, lonely and abandoned, it sits back from the road, the buildings waiting to be torn down or restored depending on a new owner's resources.
I was in the town clerk's office looking up my ancestors who came from this area. The men of the family had left for the boat building that took place on the coast of southern New England. The men took their families with them. This happened in a rush when Hitler started to gobble up Europe. The homes and farms were sold off for pennies or just left to be returned to when the war was over.
Not many returned. A lot of the young folk left their blood on far-off shores or had it diluted by sea water as the fish consumed their remains. The older folk and women remembered the hard life on the scrabble farms and found life easier to manage in the cities. I grew up hearing about some of the good times from my grandmother and I wanted them for myself. Maybe it was pure nostalgia, but she made it come alive for me.
The kitchen dances, the taffy pulling, the sewing bees, corn husking and yes, the fresh meat after the hog was put down and the steer butchered. So here I was up in the North country (not too far north). I happened to see a tax sale listed for an eighty-seven acre farm. The description of the property and the location were noted. The amount of taxes owed for the last three years was less than a month's salary for me. The striking thing was, the owner had the same name as I did, Peter Johns.
I was trying to locate a record of one of my ancestors with this name. This great great uncle of mine I knew would be ninety-two if he was still alive. The town clerk was friendly and we had already spoken when I inquired about my grandmother and her people. I asked her if she knew anything about the man and she said yes, she knew him. He was at present living in a nursing home and hating it. She intimated that he was an irascible old bastard and she feared he would be turned out of the home. I then asked if the sale of the farm could be stopped if the taxes were paid. Right up until the last minute before the auctioneer brought it up for sale, she informed me. The auction was in two weeks, so if I was interested I had better move fast.
When I got outside, I told Patty, my wife, that I had found a surviving relative and I wanted to go see him in the nursing home. I could hear someone cussing as we walked up to the desk to inquire. There were nurses and attendants running around with red faces. I asked for Peter Johns. "You a relative?"
Not wanting to get too involved I answered, "Maybe."
"I hope so for we are discharging him this afternoon. Nobody can stand him. He has been here a week and that's long enough. He chases the women and I don't mean those that are here being taken care of either. He is after the nurses too. Out he goes. Just follow the cussing and you'll find him. Don't get too near him, he might bite. He has threatened to."
I walked into his room. He had a nurse and an aide backed into a corner with his wheelchair. I watched him for a minute and then remembered that Grandma had a nickname she used on him. "Uncle Pert, let the ladies go. You know better than to treat a woman that-a-way."
He swung around. I could see my father in him. "Who're you?"
"I'm your nephew, Peter."
"Ain't got one."
"Yes you do. I'm Mazie's son's get."
"Mazie? I remember her. How be she?"
"Figures. You going to get me outa' here and take me home?"
"You want me to?"
"Okay then I'll have them pack up your stuff. You'll have to tell me where you live."
"Don't know much do you?"
"I know enough to get you out of someplace you don't want to be."
"I guess you do, boy, and I thankee."
I pulled into the overgrown dooryard. The house was a typical New Englander, huge and definitely having seen better days. It didn't look like it had any repair for a couple of decades. It had been yellow once, but it had been so long ago it only showed under the eaves where the weather didn't hit it directly. One window was broken and there was a rag fluttering from it. The roof itself looked tight, but the ridgepole sagged from the weight of the slate roof.
"God, I'm glad I'm home where it is quiet. I don't know how people can make so much noise. Come in, come in. I hope the people that took me away didn't raid the pantry. I got tea and coffee stashed. I hope you like it black. Black is best."
There wasn't a lock on the door, just a pull string. He pushed it open and it swung closed by itself as we entered. "Shit, somebody shut the gas off. Wait right here, I'll turn it on." I followed as he hobbled along a dark hallway and out a back door where there was a single propane tank. It was good that I was with him for there wasn't enough strength in his hands to turn the valve on the tank.
When we returned to the kitchen, he found a match and went to the stove. The stove of green enamel was beautiful and Patty was running her hands over it in admiration. Wood in the front and gas burners in the back. "Don't need wood. Great thing, gas. I didn't get wood up this year. Figured I'd be dead before I needed it. Probably hot enough where I'm going, anyway." Old Peter cackled as if he had made the finest joke.
"Where do you want your wheelchair?" I had left it in the car. The nurse had insisted I bring it along when we left the home.
"Don't need the damned contraption. Always bumping into things. This house wan't made for some foolish thing like that. Takes too much room. When I get tired I'll sit in a chair like people s'posed to."
Patty made coffee and looked around for food. As the saying goes, the pantry was bare. Peter looked at me. "You got money? I got no food and no money for provisions." He looked hopefully at me.
"Sure, what do you want to eat?"
"What I'd like and what I can chaw kinda' limits me. Go down to the market and get some burger. Get the cheapest there is. That's got the most fat and the most flavor. Get some onions and if they got some bright red 'maters, I'd like one of them too. Make sure it's ripe. I don't eat half ripe like they fed me in that home. Home, hell that wasn't anymore home than shit. This is home. Ben here all my life. Born here I was. Must have been almost ninety year ago."
"You're going to be ninety-three on October second."
"How you know that?"
"I got the family bible from my Grandma Mazie."
"Oh yeh, you are family ain't you. You goin' after that food? I'm hungry. Leave this pretty little woman here when you go. I do enjoy a pretty woman. Had me four wives, I did. Some good, some bad, but they all liked to git in bed with me. I don't s'pose that's gonna' happen--you'n me, I mean." He looked at Patty.
Patty's face was red. The gall of the old bastard. "Nope, I'm taken."
"Well ifin you change your mind, we'll find time."
I left for the store chuckling to myself. This old geezer was my grandmother's uncle. The way he talked brought a lump to my throat. Gram talked like that. I wonder what plan put me in town today to find the family history collected in the body of this old cuss. It couldn't have been God's plan--maybe it was the Devil's. Whoever, I was glad I was here. Two weeks from now the old place would have been lost forever. I was going to make the old guy an offer. How could he refuse--I was family.
Old Peter stood right over Patty when she cooked his hamburg. He wanted it half raw and all the tallow that leaked out he wanted drizzled over a piece of bread. His body must have been immune to cholesterol. It did smell good, especially when he directed to fry his onions in the pan after most of the grease was poured on his bread. "Got to have my vegetables, you know. Good for you. Keeps a body goin'.
"You a drinkin' man? I got some cider jugged up, down in the cellar. Puts a man right to sleep. Don't use it mine ownself anymore. Sleep too much. Must be getting old. I sleep in that room offin the kitchen. I don't s'pose you'd want to change the sheets for me, would you, woman? Hard for me. First one side er the bed an then t'other. Ain't ben here for mor'n a week. Dampness probly got into the bed. Gives me the misery ifin it gets into me.
"You'uns kin sleep to head of the stairs. The bed rattles some ifin you pound too hard. Won't bother me none. I be sleepin."
Patty and I talked after she had put old Peter to bed. "He had tears of gratitude in his eyes when he thanked me for you finding him and bringing him home. I love the old guy. You are going to buy the place if he will sell, aren't you? Priss and Dottie will love him. I wish they were with us. I'm going to see if we can't stay here. You can do your writing and I'm going to take the summer off and listen to him ifin he'll let me." She giggled. "See I can even talk like him."
"We'll see what we can do. You want to see if this bed rattles as bad as he said it did?"
After a breakfast of fried eggs and fresh pork that I had bought last night, we talked. His slang and dialect had greatly diminished and when I noted it, his eyes twinkled. "I was just putting on a show until I decided for sure you were family or not. You won't believe the city slickers that come to the door here thinking they can put something over on me. One thing I want to know, how come if you're Mazie's son's boy, your name is the same as mine? It ain't possible, so you got some explaining to do."
"No, Peter Johns is my name, not just all of it. It is Peter Johns Hammond. My father's name was John Hammond. I'm a writer, and Peter Johns is the name I write under."
"What do you write? I never heard of you."
"Magazine articles mostly. I have a book being printed right now. I don't know how it will sell, but my publisher is pretty excited."
"You know anything more about my family?"
"I've made up a family tree. That is why I'm in town. I was looking for my ancestors. Let me go get it. It is out in the car. You can help me fill in some of the blanks."
Old Peter knew most of my ancestors personally and related story after story about the different ones. This had been the home place as I had surmised. It had been purchased in the eighteen hundreds and was a time of large families. During the 1920's some had left the farm and in the 30's and early 40's most of the rest had left to work in the factories and the ship building industry. Only he and another brother were left by 1945. He had married several times, but had never had any children. He had slowly over time lost all track of his relatives. I was the first that had contacted him in over thirty years.
"Pete, you got money enough to rescue the home place from those vultures down at town hall? I tell you what, if you can round up enough money, I'll sell you the place."
"For how much?"
"Well the taxes of course and what the town appraised the place for and the treasure I got buried. Seven hundred and fifty thousand ought to do it."
Patty and I were speechless. "Hey, just kidding son. You're family. I haven't got anyone to leave the place to. You pay the taxes. On paper, we'll set the price for what the town appraisal is. I think you want to stay around, so if you want to look after me until, you know, when you plant me, well you can have the place. Another thing, if you look around long enough you might find something of value here. This place has some secrets."
I sent Patty back to the city after I rented a car to get around in. That's the best part of being a writer, a person can adjust his own schedule. My wife was due back in three days with the girls, Priscilla and Dorothy. They were sixteen and seventeen, Dorothy being the oldest. I went into the law office of Coleman and Son as I had been directed by Peter and asked to see the elder Coleman.
"Peter Johns wants to sell his property to me. We have agreed on a price. He needs paperwork done. Would you drive out and see him? I understand he has used your services before."
"That's right. You know the place is pretty well run down and it is up for a tax sale soon?"
"Yes, I know. I'm going over to the town treasurer's office and pay the back taxes. It has been in the family so long I should be able to get a clear title. When he gives you the property description, though, would you check to see if there are any liens against it? I don't want any surprises. I'm sort of family, but he might have forgotten something. What has he been living on all of these years, anyway?"
"You say you're family. I didn't think he had any left."
"I didn't know about him until I was in the town clerk's office yesterday. The town clerk told me about him. I went to see him at the nursing home and they were going to kick him out. He is an uncle of my grandmother's. In fact I bear most of his name. I'm Peter Johns Hammond."
"I bet they were ready to dump him. What was he trying to do? If I know him he was trying to find a woman to be his fifth wife. You asked what he's been living on? His third wife had an annuity and that's where the money was from. His fourth wife tried to get him to turn it over to her, but he was too smart. She was the worst of all of them. The money should have lasted him but he is too mean to die, so it's all gone. I don't think he will ever die."
"He is something. I almost think he hit on my wife, but she was too quick for him."
"Well watch him, he may yet."
I paid the back taxes and those for this year, too. This year's payment wasn't necessary, but as long as I was going to own the property, I figured I might as well. I stepped across the aisle and said hi to the town clerk and said I had met Peter Johns and indeed we were related. "I took him home and he calmed right down. In fact my wife and I stayed there last night. It is great to find a relative that you didn't know about. My grandmother was his niece."
"That's wonderful, as he needs taking care of. Are you in a position to help him?"
"I just came from paying his back taxes."
"Oh, that's so good of you. I felt sorry for him almost losing his home and all."
When I got home (calling this place home seemed so natural) the lawyer had come and gone. Not only home and happy, Old Pete had a captive audience in me. He related one story after another about the place. I took it all down, thinking someday I would write his story or a story about this old house and what went on in it. When he got tired he would go take a nap.
Before evening and supper, I knew where the well that supplied the house with water was located. I knew what year the shade trees in front of the house were planted. I knew how close the house had come to burning to the ground forty years ago. It was like the old guy was in a rush to make this place of my ancestors familiar and the history of it mine.
He told me about his four wives. As he said some were good and one was bad. That was the last one. "The bitch thought I was a ticket to the good life for her. Ellie, that was wife number three, left me some money and Berta, number four, knew about it. But she was a wild one in bed and I put up with a lot for a long time just because of that. Too bad she fell down the cellar stairs. I let on to everyone I missed her, but I didn't really. I was well rid of her."
"How long ago did she die?"
"Oh, I don't know, nine-ten years ago."
"So you haven't had any female companionship since then?"
"I didn't say that. There was a widow down the road that used to stop by. She had needs too. I tried to make her wife number five, but she said she wanted to be true to her dead husband and she was going to heaven without complications. She died last year. I've been kind of lonely since then."
"Did you ever make enough money here on the farm to support yourself?"
"Nah, weren't big enough. All the family ever did was grow enough food to feed us--them that were home. Everybody worked out someplace. I use ta' drive delivery van for a bread company along towards the last. Then I had an accident and they took my license. I think I was seventy-eight when that happened. The company was pissed as hell as I kinda' lied about my age when I took the job. I had a hell of a time getting my Social Security straightened out. I had my wife's money so I said screw you and never drawed it. Ain't paid any taxes to the government either."
Before we went to bed, he looked at me. "You know this place has some secrets that never can be told. When we sign the papers on the place, you should know some of them. Some are sad and some are downright terrible. Ifin I don't get a chance to tell you before I die, my lawyer, Old Coleman is to give you a letter and most of them are written down. When I die, you get that letter and don't let nobody see what is in it. Promise to do that will you?"
I lay in bed thinking of everything that I had been told throughout the day. One fact wouldn't leave. Was wife number four helped precipitously down the cellar stairs?
Patty drove in with Priss and Dottie. I kissed my women, happy to see them. "Ahem, introduce me to these two young ladies."
"Peter, these are my two daughters, Priscilla and Dorothy. This is your great uncle, a couple of times. He is also your great grandmother's uncle. She called him Uncle Pert, so you might as well too."
Peter looked at Dottie. "Named after my niece were ye? You should switch names with your sister. She's the one that looks like my niece did. Well don't make no difference, you both are likely looking. If you go upstairs, the third room on the left was her room before she took off with that city slicker. I'll tell you about her and what happened to her. Peter might want to put her name in his tree."
This house was unbelievably large. It had six bedrooms upstairs, not small ones, either. The downstairs had the huge kitchen across the south end of the house. The kitchen was the common room where the meals were prepared and eaten. There was the sitting room and another room of the same size which was the pantry. Old Pete called this the keeping room. This was where milk was separated and the cream was churned into butter. Also bread was set on the shelves behind a stove that was kept to heat water for washing and where the meat was processed for keeping. All the canning of fruits and vegetables were taken care of in there when in season.
On the north end of the house was a bedroom and the parlor. Out back, there was the huge woodshed where wood for the kitchen was stored (empty now). There was a brooder house for chicks and a hen house. There was a building that had boards spaced about an inch apart. That was a corn crib. There was a shed open on one side with a big wooden tank that originally was full of water for the stock. The barn was fairly big with a stable with ten to fifteen ties for cattle. Beyond the stable was a lean-to that had held calves. There was a pig house with pens leading out of it. There was a huge 24 x 40 foot silo. In the stable the floor was wooden with scuttle boards where the manure from the cows went down into the pit during the winter. The manure went out onto the fields in the spring.
"No horses? There must have been a place for them."
"There was a horse barn and buggy house out south of the house. It burned in 1937. My brother bought a tractor that year. The farm was on its way down then, anyway. Nobody to run it. Ain't had cattle much after that either. You can still see where the fields were. They ain't been mowed for twenty years either. Been cutting wood where I used to raise alfalfa. Used to see down the valley too, but can't no more. View all gone. Handy cutting wood close in to the house, so ain't all bad. Miss it now that I think about it."
The girls were intrigued by this ancient relative of theirs. They poked around the house asking questions about different things they found scattered here and there. Not that the place was unkempt so much, but the drawers and cupboards were full of tools, kitchen utensils, stuff that the different wives had bought, loved, collected or used. Old Peter was in his glory. He had two beautiful and charming young women that were about him whenever he wasn't napping.
"If you girls want to see how people dressed for the last eighty years or more, go up in the attic and look in the boxes and trunks stored there. I don't know half of what is packed in the corners. I put most of the old furniture on the north end. I let a dealer up there just once. He about went crazy when he saw something he called a chest on a chest. Guess he must have died for he never got back to me with an offer.
"When you get up there you better wear your bravery on your outside where the ghosts can see it so they don't get you." The old man cackled hilariously.
It was me that had to go up with the girls. Patty said no way was she going up there. She said this to keep up the charade of ghosts, but I never did hear of her being up there alone. Priss and Dottie squealed and acted frightened, but curiosity won out and they spent hours up there opening the trunks of clothes and such. They even found some jewelry to wear that Old Pete had packed away with each wives' clothes as they were replaced. I examined some. I think there was value and someday I would have it looked at. In the meantime the girls dressed in the styles that were prevalent decades before.
Dottie became real excited when they found a trunk with the name of her great great aunt on it--Dorothy Johns Olsen. Old Peter had said Priss looked the most like his niece, so she was the one to come down to show him what she had found. It brought tears to his eyes. If he hadn't been sane, I swear he would have gone over the edge and thought Priss was really his niece.
The first secret came partly out that day. "Dottie lays up on the ridge in an unmarked grave." Tears were rolling down his face when he said this.
Amazed I asked, "What happened and how come?"
"Her husband brought her home one night in 1932. She was dead. She had been shot. The car she was riding in was shot at and the bullet went through the back of the car and killed her. Oh, she was so sweet and pretty and it was such a crime. Mama was alive then and three of my brothers were here. Mazie had left and was never told. Mama laid Dotti out on the kitchen table and washed and dressed her. Pop dug her grave and the next morning just before sunrise we carried her up and laid her to rest. I told you there was some sad secrets about the place. That was one of them."
"How come you didn't have a proper funeral? You obviously loved her."
"Dotti left here in 1926. She wrote home some. Said she had found out how to really live. I guess she was pretty wild. We all knew she was a scarlet woman, but then she wrote she was married. Guess she didn't change her lifestyle much even married. She used to send Mama some trinkets. Mama wouldn't wear them. They are still kicking around here somewhere if my fourth wife didn't steal 'em.
"I'll tell you about when and why she came home that way, maybe someday. Can't today though. I'm too sad rememberin'." Old Peter went and laid down. When he got up none of us could figure out how to broach the subject again.
I had articles to write so I let my family entertain the old man. I thought my girls would be bored, but they all seemed to thrive here. They went for walks in the woods. They found an old tumbled down sugar house and Old Pete told all about sugaring in it for years. There were only a few timbers left, but the remains of the stone arch and the grates were still visible. They poked around and dug up some metal bands that held the wooden buckets together. To the girls this was history coming alive with someone that lived it. Old Peter claimed sugaring pretty much stopped after the '38 hurricane. A big portion of the maple trees in the sugar lot had been blown down and never recovered.
I did my poking around too. I delved into the various records and journals that had been compiled through the years. There were boxes of them stored in the attic. I ran onto sketches of the buildings that had been drawn at various times when repairs had been done or new buildings added. When Dotti had died the house was full of relatives and a spate of building took place directly after she was laid to rest.
Apparently that was when the cows had been moved to an upper level in the barn and the calf pens had been added on out by the silo. There were sketches of the silo that I couldn't make out. Where the calves had been stalled originally, it looked like cement had been poured over the ceiling and the resulting floor constituted the base for the haymow. A wall of cement was poured the length of the original stable which then formed the manure pit for the cattle above. The end of the building where the calves had been was then walled up. Why? It was a mystery. Maybe it was one of the secrets that Old Pete talked about.
I studied the sketches and concluded that for the whole length of the barn and half the width on the lower level, there was a fully enclosed space underneath the haymow. The silo stood just outside the barn on one end. This was all puzzling to say the least. Wandering down to the barn, I could see the cement floor clearly, for there had been no hay stored in there for years. Going down into the pit area, I could see that the cement wall, although old, was definitely newer that the original foundation. I could also see the walled up end where the calves had been kept behind the round silo, which abutted it. The base of the silo was raised off the ground about nine feet, so that the staves were about even with the stable floor. That made sense for the feeding of the cattle and I could see where the ensilage was transported from the silo to the cattle mangers.
Stumbling through the broken boards that were on the base that had fallen from the rotted silo roof, I could determine that the outside of the silo base was lower than the center. This made sense too, when corn is ensiled the fermented juice that was pressed out was poisonous if ingested, therefore it had to be drained off where no animals could get to it. When the fermenting process was completed there was no danger and is what made the corn so palatable to livestock.
But why the flat cover in the center of the silo base? There was even a metal ring in it, there obviously to remove the cover. Was there a water well under the cover? Didn't make sense. I would have to look at the diagram of the silo again. Going back inside the barn, I could look at the hay fork and track that was still suspended from the peak of the roof. Still attached, there was some light rope to the trip mechanism. The rope that hauled the loaded hay fork to the top of the barn was missing, but that was to be expected for rope had multiple uses on a farm such as this.
Climbing up to the top scaffold, I could look out where moisture was vented and see over the brush and new growth of trees that surrounded the over-run acres. The view was awesome down the valley. The tree growth would have to go as soon as some of the repairs were done on the buildings. Making my way across the shaky scaffolding, I wanted to look out the other end of the barn to where the hill behind the house was visible.
There was a path that was defined but almost overgrown now. I assumed it led up the hill to where Dotti was buried in her unmarked grave. Thinking I should be working, I nevertheless wanted to follow the path to where it ended. I climbed down from the top of the barn and went across to the back of the house and up the trail. When I reached the end, I could see three flat stones spaced a few feet apart. Two were covered with moss, but the third had little pebbles embedded in the ground to keep the stone clear of lichens. This must be Dotti's stone. The other two stones--who lay under those? I'm sure Old Pete could tell me if he was of a mind to.
We had been here for more than two weeks. I had made myself familiar with the buildings, in around, below and above, I thought. Priss and Dottie spent time in the hot attic rummaging through the stuff piled there. "You know, don't mix things up too much. Someday we may want to catalog the belongings and who owned and wore them. I don't imagine the boxes hold much value, but the antique clothes might be of value to a theater group or historical society."
"Great-aunt Dotti had the best stuff. Her trunk was packed with all kinds of party clothes. Pretty daring, too. I thought women wore dresses down to the floor in the '20s and '30s."
Old Pete spoke up. "Most good women did. But some didn't. You have to remember it was prohibition time and Dotti lived it to the fullest. Killed her it did." He was silent thinking about his niece that had gone bad. "She wasn't really bad, she just got to running with the wrong crowd. She didn't know what her husband was until after she married him. Marriage meant a lot to her so she stuck with him. I guess he loved her too, for it was him that brought her home."
I dared to ask, "Could you tell us about the time she came home?"
"Some of it, maybe. She and her husband lived in New York and that's where she was killed. His driver drove in here and called us out to his car. It was a big passenger sedan. One of those air cooled Franklin's. Her husband's father ran a speakeasy for someone connected to a crime family. The old fool was dipping into the till and skimming off some of the profits. I think Dotti was being used to move the money out of the joint. Anyway, someone got on to him and just as they were leaving he was braced by the owners and there was a shootout. Dotti, her husband and a driver were already in the car.
"The father was just getting into the back seat when he was shot. They didn't intend to leave any witnesses so Dotti was shot and killed. Her husband had been wounded pretty bad. The driver took off out of there knowing he would be killed too. Dotti's husband had been here a couple of times, never welcomed, but tolerated. He was able to live long enough to direct the driver here and died a week after he brought Dotti home. The shooting of the father never made the papers here. Crime was all too common in the cities, especially as far away as New York.
"So we put Dotti in the ground and waited for her husband to die. We didn't dare get a doctor for him and he didn't want one anyway." Old Pete was getting tired. I had a lot of questions I wanted to ask, but didn't want to push him too hard. He stopped his tale abruptly. "I'm going to bed. The rest of it you'll have to wait for." He toddled off down the hall to his room leaving us staring after him.
Pete didn't get up the next morning. Patty gave him something to eat in bed and the girls went in every little while and cheered him up. I asked my daughter, Dottie, if she had run onto Dotti's married name. She went up into the attic and brought down a bunch of letters that had been in the bottom of the trunk. His name was Olson. When I found out who she was married to and discovered what the father's name was, I called the newspaper morgue to see if they had any reference to a speak-easy killing on the day he had died.
Old Peter had it right. It was a blurb with a third page headline, Speak-easy manager dead in hail of bullets. Shooters unknown. There were few details, and none about Olson's family. The reporter apparently was on the "evils of alcohol" band wagon and that made up the bulk of the story.
The girls were intrigued about the story of their great great aunt and the story of how she died. They were a little fearful of going upstairs to bed that night. Patty even snuggled a little closer to me when we retired. When I figured she was almost asleep, I went, "Ooooooo" and got cuffed for my troubles, but that brought her even closer so it was worth it.
The lawyer arrived the next day with papers transferring ownership. He brought two witnesses with him. They wandered about the place until time to witness our signatures. Old Pete was up and about and Coleman said he was looking well--what was it, the food? His reply was that three beautiful women were taking care of him--why wouldn't he be looking well?
Three weeks ago I had no idea I had a relative or anything about my ancestors. Now I was living up here in southern Vermont. I was finding that my work just flowed right along and I was turning out more articles in less time. The girls had made a friend that was their age and would be going to the same school in the fall. Patty had been into the hospital and promised to start work in the fall when the girls went to school. The book that was at the publishers was promised to hit the stores in September. I would be away promoting that quite a bit. Old Pete was all for this as he said, "Three women all to myself. A man can't get any luckier than that."
One evening Old Pete continued the story of Dotti's return. "All the folks were here when Dotti came home. We made Olson as comfortable as we could. I don't think he wanted to live without Dotti. It touched us that he thought so much of her and missed her so much. It changed the way we looked at her marriage. Why in hell he let her get into a situation where she was killed we couldn't totally forgive.
"The driver, none of us took to at all. He was the old man's driver and he blamed the son for his employer's death. He didn't like country life and when he started to flirt with two of my brothers' wives, we knew he had to go. He just didn't fit in with us at all and we feared we were saddled with him forever. Not only that, we would be embarrassed by having him around. He was just the type of person that you knew was a thug."
Old Pete paused, thinking, and then said, "You two girls go down to my room and move that picture of the dog that hangs on the wall at the foot of my bed. Look closely at the wall and come back and tell us what you see."
Priss and Dottie went down and came running back. "There are two holes in the wall about three inches apart. Is that what you meant?"
"Yep, that's another one of those secrets I told you this place had. That husband of Dotti's did us a service by taking care of the driver. Burt, I think he was called. We planted that driver up on the hill, leaving room next to Dotti for her husband. When one of you go up there you will see the flat stones where they all lie. Dotti is under the one that I've kept as nice as I could, but it has been two years since I was up there. Would someone take care of it after I die?" I said it would be taken care of.
Later after Old Pete had gone to bed, Priss asked what the holes meant. "I think those holes were made by bullets that went right through that driver. I would say most likely Olson shot him from the bed as he lay dying. He was just taking care of details before he died. Remember this was a violent time and these weren't nice people. However, sometimes they did necessary things and the husband did this by removing something that would have caused his wife's family trouble. Don't think about it." All too often, we found our thoughts returned to it, though.
I was thoroughly enjoying my summer when Old Pete came out and sat down beside me on the porch. "You planning on staying the winter?"
"Yes, of course, it's our home and we are living here. Why?"
"Well, I was wondering. You ain't done nothing to get ready for it yet, and times awasting. You ain't got wood up and the windows need repair. You may not realize it, but this place is a bear to heat. I've made out pretty well by closing off the upstairs and of a cold winter, I've just moved a cot into the kitchen by the stove and let the rest of the house go to hell. I don't think you can do that. As I was saying, I was wondering."
"Christ, I never gave it a thought. I guess I better get on it."
"You're a good man, Peter, you just don't know, that's all. You'll figure it out."
He scared me. I had money, after all I had only paid the back taxes on the place. Everything else was on paper. My income had increased and I had the promise of the book sales. The hospital in town was after Patty every week or so to come to work. I got on the ball and had the windows puttied up and had storms installed on the lower level ones. The second floor I didn't want to do much with until I decided what our home was going to turn into. A bed and breakfast was in the back of our minds. Patty had suggested it.
Heat, that was the problem. I went into a used building supply house. They dealt in everything. Sale this week--used carpeting; Twenty cents a square foot. From a motel that was being renovated--still good! For every thousand square foot purchased they would reduce the price by two cents. I bought 2500 square feet for fifteen cents per foot, paying less than 400 dollars. It was all of one color, but the upstairs was all bedrooms. I didn't even install the rug. I just laid it on the floor thinking it would prevent the heat from the downstairs escaping to some extent. For the downstairs floors, I purchased some fourteen by sixteen rugs that covered the major portion of the bare floors in each room.
I wanted Old Pete to be warm. "Peter, how would you like to sleep in the living room? It will be warmer than your room has been."
"Don't care where I sleep anymore." The modern Murphy bed I had my eye on for years was installed in less than a week. It was an elegant piece of furniture and looked like a bookcase when closed in the daytime. I strung a curtain around it so Old Pete could have his privacy when we walked through (ifin) he wanted. Boy was he tickled. "Murphy bed, never saw such a contraption. Love it! Hey I'm right in the center of things now." His only concern was it would close up while he was sleeping.
Next, I put twin beds and a pellet stove in Old Pete's room. There was a common chimney between the parlor and this room. I moved the bed Patty and I had been sleeping in from upstairs to the parlor and put in another small pellet stove. When Old Pete saw these he snuffed. "No way would those heat one little room, say nothing about the big rooms. The damned firebox in them things ain't big enough to get nuthin in."
"You wait, when cold weather hits, you'll be begging for one. I'm getting you one, anyway, for the living room. I bet you don't run it on more than the low setting all winter long."
We blocked off the keeping room, which was on the west side of the house entirely and used the cupboards in the kitchen to replace the pantry shelves.