When Uncle Karl died he left his five hundred acre dairy farm to my cousin, Kaye. All except for forty acres of swamp and woods off in one corner. It was covered in cedar, poplar, a rocky ridge and deer moss-filled swamp. (Sphagnum moss) Not even the cows would graze on it. The blessing was mosquitoes wouldn't live in it, either. Kaye was a spiteful, hateful woman that did all she could to get me out of there. I refused to sell the place. It finally came down to a grudge. I didn't sell out because she wanted me to. Part of the deed included a right-of-way along her property's western-most fence line for one and three-quarters of a mile to the edge of my back forty at the south-west corner of that section. Over several years I had dump trucks full of gravel laid down to make a solid raised driveway and had the driveway fenced in as I could afford it. I paid twenty-two hundred dollars a year in taxes on the place.
After six years the driveway back to my home site was finally completed and would support a heavily loaded delivery truck. A forty-by-forty gravel pad was also laid out. I had a well pounded and a very expensive set of foundation piers dug out and concreted in, for a forty-by-thirty foot cabin/house The well was inside the wall layout. I wasn't going to have electricity run to the place. I was going with a manual pump. I gave up drinking and most every other form of entertainment to pay for that place. When I finally could afford it I had a load of lumber dropped off. I went up there prepared to work like hell. I brought along a small gasoline-powered generator, a heavy contractor's power cord, a hammer drill and a rotary power saw. I went to town on those foundation piers. I drilled out holes for half-inch retaining bolts in the six-by-sixes I wanted to use for edge beams, then I dug out holes for retaining bolts and epoxied them into the piers after tapping the bolts through the beams. I kind of built the floor backwards. I used joist hangers to string the floor supports from the sides to the center six-by-six on twelve inch centers, then stapled vapor barrier to the bottoms of the beams. Then I filled the voids with fiberglass insulation and screwed one inch thick plywood over everything.
The walls went together on the ground and then were raised up with the help of a winch. I kept them from falling down by fastening them together with a cap rail, then screwed the wall segments together. I fastened the walls to the floor with big anchor screws driven into the edge six-by-sixes. Vapor barrier went on around the house, tucked underneath and fastened securely to the bottom beams with a treated one-by-four layer screwed into the perimeter beams, top and bottom. Then the walls were stuffed with insulation, a layer of visqueen went on to keep the void from breathing and paneling was screwed on over that.
Shorter joist hangers went on over the cap rails and a 2x4 ceiling went in at just about seven feet eight inches, minus the one inch for the thickness of the floor plywood. I used the screw gun to mount three-eighths inch plywood to the bottoms of the 2x4s, tucked visqueen in between the 2x4s and laid fiberglass insulation in the holes. Then another layer of half-inch plywood went on with screws over the ceiling joists to make an insulated sandwich. Everything went in on twelve inch centers, the walls, ceiling and the floor. I hired a couple of guys to put on the rafters, sheathing, tar paper and shingles. They nailed in the soffits and second story walls too. I laid out the inside into three rooms. The left side of the place was a large living room and kitchen, while the other half was laid out into two rooms. The front was a bedroom and the back was a bathroom-utility room. I got the walls primed, the doors hung and the windows installed before the weather packed in and I had to go back to work. I left the tools, spare lumber and generator there but I emptied the gas tank and brought the spare fuel can back with me. I'd taken all my vacation time in one big block, four weeks of it, to get the place together.
For several months nothing got me down, nothing griped my ass because all I had to do was think about that place in northern Wisconsin, just waiting for me. Sooner or later though, I knew that my boss would screw something up and it would come crashing down on my ears. I thought of him as wearing a superman suit with a button-up butt panel.
I saved my cash and watched for sales. I found a counter-top at a liquidation sale and a big square sink that would fit in the counter-top, even with the sink's edge molding. I bought white enamel paint and a couple cases of construction adhesive in applicator tubes. I contacted a sawmill up north that dealt with cedar logs. I made a deal for a truck load of slash wood--the cut-offs that come off to square off the logs before boards are cut. I wanted to glue them to the sides of the house to make it look more like a log cabin. Besides, it was cheaper than any other treatment that I could figure out, and it would look better than painted plywood. My vacation anniversary date was July first, so that's when I scheduled the slash wood to be delivered. I was a good boy and scheduled my vacation a month in advance.
When I got to the house I was pissed. Someone had spray-painted "White Trash Go Home" all over the place. I called the sheriff to come and take pictures. I wanted this documented. While I was in town I bought several "No Trespassing" signs which I nailed up at the property lines and at the foot of the driveway. I scraped the window glass down and re-painted the window frames, the doors and door frames with white enamel. The walls I covered up with the slash wood, glued in place. I had to true the edges with my power saw to get them to meet properly, but I thought that it looked pretty good when I had finished.
It was hotter than hell that July. I realized that I really needed a fan or two. I mounted a couple of heavy shelves in the utility room, got the counter mounted and securely propped up, installed the hand pump over the well head and went looking for batteries and twelve-volt fans. I wanted big, rechargeable lead-acid batteries. My little Honda generator had a twelve-volt output port and I was going to put it to double duty. Everything I saw was too damned expensive for my budget, so I picked up a few local newspapers, including one for Wausau. (Wausau is big for the area. It's not Chicago, but at 134,000 people in the metro area it was nothing to sneeze at.)
I found a couple of auctions that I wanted to attend and saw an ad for a week-day auction for a general contractor that was going out of business. Hmm. That looked promising.
I emptied out the pickup and headed into town. After a six A.M. breakfast at a fast food joint (burp) I got my bidder number and started walking around. Yep, they had big twelve-volt batteries for a fork-lift. They also had a big LPG tank that was going up for bid! Hell, I'd have to buy one eventually. If the bidding was slow maybe I could save some money. That was the kind of thing worth putting on the credit card. I checked with the business' office for any paperwork that they had on the propane tank. It was moved around a lot and had a good paperwork trail. The auction was well-attended for the generators, fork-lifts and roofing tools, but not so much for the supplies. I picked up the batteries cheap, four for fifty bucks each, and the five hundred gallon LPG tank for two hundred fifty five bucks, a quarter full. I paid a guy with a semi tractor retriever a hundred bucks to deliver it for me. I about got a hernia getting those batteries loaded into my pickup. I hit a farm supply store for the battery connection cables and a couple twelve-volt fans. I got big slow ones so that they'd be quiet and would fill most of a window. I figured on cutting holes in the interior walls to get the heat to circulate so I bought four total. The wiring was low-amp stuff and was easy to install. I used surface channel since the walls were full of insulation.
My floors were pretty ugly the way they sat. I bought every rug that I could find at the farm auctions, along with a kitchen table, a decent chair and a couch. They were pretty expensive, but Lowe's had twelve volt high-output sticks of LEDs available cheaper than Home Depot or Menard's. I bought four for thirty five bucks each. I put one on a gooseneck stand with a shade for a reading lamp.
I needed a bed, but the couch would get me up off the floor. I needed cabinets and drawers for the kitchen, a stove and a furnace. A water heater sure would be nice to have. So would a composting toilet. It was illegal to dig or operate a pit toilet any more, and a hostile neighbor would be certain to turn me in, sure as shit.
Hmm. I needed a bathtub and a pipe run from the well head in the kitchen into the bathroom. That water was cold!
I looked around the place and sighed. I hated to leave, but my vacation time was about over. I took pictures of the place, inside and out, to print for the office. I needed something there to remind me of the place. I disconnected the battery farm, capped off the propane tank (since I hadn't gotten it hooked up yet), locked all the doors and windows, made sure nothing flammable was left behind and drove away. This time I padlocked a chain across the driveway as I left.
I printed the pictures that I took and had them framed. They decorated my office. I got a lot of comments on them. I had taken a series of outdoor shots showing the woods around my place. It made a nice panorama going across my wall.
July rolled around again. For Christmas I bought myself cabinets for the kitchen, for both above and below the counter. I sprang for a little laser pointer that I could jimmy up to draw a horizontal line, then nail up a stretcher to position the base of the cabinets.
When I hit my driveway I knew something was wrong. The chain was down and the post at the end had been pulled out of the ground. I slowly drove up the driveway. I stopped, heartbroken. Someone had burned my house down. To add insult to injury, it was still smoking. I took out my cell phone and called 911. All I said was "Arson." and gave my address. I walked around the place, taking pictures of the house, the ground, anything I could think of. I stayed off the gravel pad and walked in the deer moss which I knew wouldn't take an impression.
The cops were out there within twenty minutes, which I thought was pretty good. Until they started questioning me. They had me in a little room talking to four different guys, two at a time. Finally I was pissed off. I stood up and headed for the door.
"Where do you think you're going?"
I answered, "Anywhere but here. If you haven't gotten the story from the first four times you recorded it you sure as hell won't from another copy. I came up here to work on my dream, my retirement home and found the goddamned place still smoking and all you can do is ask me where I've been the last twenty four hours. Call my fucking boss, you sad-asses. Now get me the fuck out of here. I haven't had anything to eat in" I checked my cell phone. "over fourteen hours. I'm tired, I starved and I 'm getting the hell out of here."
They kept asking me stupid questions. I responded "Get me a lawyer." After a while they got the idea. They let me go. I took a hotel room for the night and had dinner. Boy, was I pissed. In the morning I dickered with a guy with a tractor and end loader to clean up the wreckage and left for home. At least the propane bulk tank was all right. He called me when I was around Madison and told me that there was crime scene tape all over it and nobody would let him near it. I thanked him, called the Birnamwoood police department and asked when the contractor could get in there. When they said that they didn't know I raised the roof. I called that guy everything but white. I hoped that he took copious notes so he could repeat it to his captain. Then I told since it was their fault the contractor I hired to clean up the site got frozen out by them, it was their responsibility to contact him when they released the place. I gave him the contractor's number and hung up. I sat there at the side of the highway and fumed. The longer I thought about it the closer I came to taking my last few thousand out of the bank and heading down to Darien for a certain swap meet I knew about and do my best to find an M79 grenade launcher and a short case of High Explosive 40mm shells, then go cousin hunting.
Finally I talked myself out of it. I wouldn't do prison well.
I was not a good person to work with Whenever my boss tried to bullshit me I looked straight at him and called his bluff. Finally he did his trademark Dumb Thing (tm) and scheduled two difficult projects to me that any sane person would assign a team to each project. What made it impossible was he assigned them both to be done within the same month. I went ahead and did my best, documenting everything. When a vendor didn't come through in time When the whole thing blew up he went into his rant/scream thing but this time I refused to lay down like a dutiful little serf. I went to H. R. with a claim of being forced to operate in a hostile work environment and backed up my claim. Since he was the I. T. director and I was the tech I got let go like a hot potato, as I was hired "at will". I walked out with my hard external hard drive (that had the current workstation drive image on it) and tools, my notebook full of passwords that nobody else had a copy of (but was documented in a disaster recovery folder on our main file server), then turned in my keys, name badge and cell phone. I immediately filed for damages, started paperwork to collect unemployment and since I was fully vested in our company's retirement fund I made arrangements to start drawing against that immediately. I contacted AT &T to disconnect my Internet and stop billing me for it and consolidated my position. Even though it was late March I had to get out of my apartment as it was costing me over a thousand dollars a month, which I really couldn't afford considering the circumstances. I bought a flatbed 10x20 trailer, loaded it up, put my futon over the top, covered everything with visqueen and bought a pickup bed 'spider' to hold everything down. I drove up north, going low and slow, taking the back roads. As soon as I got to my property I bought a mail box and fastened it to a post. Then I filed a change of address with the post office. I'd already paid my property tax on my place for the year and had filed my income tax.
Make no bones about it. It was cold. I bought a pay-as-you-go cell phone and a propane heater. I had a 9x9 canvas tent and a twenty pound propane tank. I had to buy power tools again. I liked that old Honda generator so I bought another. I got another circular saw and a power drill too. I needed water so I bought a manual pump head for my well. In the cold I'd have to prime it with hot water to get anything out of it, but I'd have good water. As soon as I got the floor built and attached to the footings I moved the tent onto it. As the walls went up I had a wind block and life got easier. Then I set up the interior walls. Reconstructing the house took longer than the first time I built it. It took me well over a month to get to the point where I had four walls and a ceiling up. With the windows in and the doors hung it was weather-proof. I gave my grimy ass a sponge bath in steaming water that felt wonderful. I had to change the water to wash my hair. The next day I got all the interior primed except for the bedroom where I had my stuff and a path to the door. The next day I painted all the interior in white enamel, again, except for the bedroom and a path to the door. After it had dried I moved everything into the living room and painted what I'd missed. The fumes were pretty strong but I worked with the heater on and kept the windows cracked during the day. I was still crapping in a bucket with a trash can liner and peeing in the woods.
I got the floor cabinets moved into the kitchen and up on 2x4s, then got a toe-kick installed in the front. They were ready for a counter-top. Everything got a coat of white enamel, inside and out. It was getting warmer outside. I got the outside painted on a day that reached fifty without a cloud in the sky. It took two days to dry, though. I had the roof covered with visqueen and duck-taped down. It was April third and I got my first retirement payment added to my account. I celebrated by going out for pizza.
About the middle of April I had an unexpected guest. It was so quiet back where I lived that the slightest thing woke me up. I heard a car door close. I sat bolt upright in bed then reached over for my pistol. Over a decade before I'd had a good-paying job working for a national bank chain. I lived in Davenport at the time. Being a paranoid son-of-a-bitch I bought and practiced with several firearms that I never sold. I had a side-by-side coach shotgun, a New England Firearms break-open 30.06 rifle and a couple of pistols. One of my pistols was my teddy bear, as I slept with it by my head. It was a Smith and Wesson .357 revolver in stainless steel, with a six inch barrel. My teddy and I got along fine. I grabbed him. pulled on a pair of boots and snuck out the back door. I came face to face with a guy carrying a gallon can of gasoline, walking up the driveway as if he owned the place. I notice that he walked with a limp. I put a round through the gas can and told him to drop. Instead the dumb shit reached behind his waist and pulled out what appeared to be a U. S. Army 1911 pistol He was raising it to take a bead on me so I shot him in the shoulder that the gun arm was attached to. It spun him around and dropped him in a pool of gasoline. It was a good thing I was running .38s instead of hot loads or I would have torn his arm clean off. I was tempted to warm him up with a little gasoline fire but held myself back. I walked back inside to get my cell phone. I called 911 and told them that I had just shot another arsonist. An arsonist with a pistol. My, that got some attention. I made sure to take some good pictures of him, the gas can and his pistol. I didn't want any evidence to accidentally get lost, you see.
When the cop showed up he immediately wanted to lock me in the back of his squad car. I told him to go fuck himself and asked him why nobody had called for an ambulance yet, since there obviously was a man lying on the ground bleeding heavily. At this point I wasn't too impressed with officer Barney so I called for backup. I called 911 again and requested an ambulance and the presence of a sheriff's deputy or a state police officer that was prepared to take evidence from the site of a shooting and an arson attempt. Boy, that lit a fire under somebody's ass.
Two state police officers rolled up and told officer Barney to stop tromping all over the goddamned crime scene like a fucking rookie. He went all red-faced and started gabbling something about jurisdiction. I raised my hand from where I was sitting on my door sill. "Ya want pictures from before he stomped all over the place?" I nodded at my .357 sitting on the upside-down milk crate I had been using as an outdoors chair. "That's the pistol I shot him with." I pointed to the .45 still laying where he'd dropped it. "He pulled that and was drawing down on me so I had to shoot him." I pointed to the gas can with two holes in it. "He was walking up the driveway with that in his hand I put a round through it. I was burned out last July and didn't want a repeat. Oh, he walked with a heavy limp."
One of the troopers asked "Got all that?" the other held up his pocket recorder. "Yep." The first one turned back to me. "I'd like to see your pictures." I handed him my phone. He looked at the controls, then started going through the photos. He nodded to himself, looked at the bottom of the phone, hooked it up to his laptop and sucked off copies of the photos. "I'll have to borrow your pistol for a week or so until the lab gets a ballistics run done." I nodded. "I'd like a receipt, please." He replied, "No problem."
By that time the ambulance had gotten there and picked up the guy on the ground. The troopers got the guy's driver's license and told the local cop to follow the ambulance to the hospital. I was so impressed that I shook hands with the troopers before they left.
I was in Home Depot looking for a replacement counter, a nice deep one. I had an eight foot long one in my hands and was carefully walking towards the checkout line when I hear her.
"It was you. It had to be you, you son of a bitch. You shot him!"
What the fuck? I turned my head and saw her. Kaye. She looked old, tired. She was crying. She screamed "Why the fuck did you have to shoot my son?"
Oh, no. I dropped the counter top and damned near took out my left foot. I limped up to her and reached out my hand, but let it drop back to my side. "Was that idiot..."
She spat out "My asshole son."
"Oh, Christ. Oh, shit." I looked at her. "He burned me out before, didn't he?"
She nodded, looking at the floor.
"Kaye, is he slow?"
She nodded again, the tears once more dripping to the floor.
"Christ, Kaye, I didn't know." I took her in my arms. "He came at me drawing that goddamned .45 and I already had my pistol in my hand. I couldn't do anything at a distance to disarm him but shoot. I'd already shot out the gas can in his other hand."
I said, "Come on, let me pay for this counter top, then we can go out for a coffee and pastry." She followed me to the front where I paid the bill, then put an eight foot counter top in a six foot truck bed. I went back in for a big bag of cement to hold it down while she waited. "You know a restaurant close by?"
She nodded. "Follow me." She led me to one of those little neighborhood places that are fast disappearing, replaced by the same bad food everywhere under the name "Denny's" or "Culver's". They had some blueberry pie so we both had a piece along with a cup of coffee. She said, "You always did like a little coffee with your cream."
I shrugged. "It's how I learned to drink it as a kid. Never seemed to do me much harm." I took a good look at her. She was care-worn and looked tired. Her son must have been around thirty so that put her near fifty-four, a year less than me. "You getting' on all right?"
She shrugged. "I do the books for places like this." She waved her hand around. "This place is one of my customers. They do all right." She looked me over with a critical eye. "How about you? You look like a wreck."
I laughed. Hell, I needed a laugh. After I built that place by hand as a labor of love and had it burned out from under me I got real mouthy at work. I refused to take the blame when my boss fucked up. I was 'made redundant' in about twenty minutes. I left them with a piece of my mind and haven't seen it since. I'm retired at 55. I've got a short income while I try to rebuild my place. I'm living on canned food and well water while I save every nickel to get back to where I was. Shit, I don't know if I'll ever get there. But I try. I really try. I've gotta tell you though, if it gets much worse somebody's gonna be missing a cow and I'm gonna have a good meal for once."
She sighed and shook her head. "You know Bea and Carl tore down the old farm house and built a new place across the highway, up on the hill?"
"Yup. I used Google Maps at work to check the place out a while ago. I saw Bea's memorial in the paper and the ad for Carl's cows a couple years ago."
"Well, I moved in after Carl died. It beat living in a little apartment in Wausau." She looked at me. "You're welcome to raid the old tool shed for whatever you can use. It's not like I'd miss anything."
"Thanks! That could save me quite a bit!" I thought for a few seconds and grinned. "Your legacy still there?"
I'd got her. "Hunh?"
"That big, black 1958 Buick with the tail fins! Remember?"
She covered her eyes with her hand. "Oh, Christ. That monstrosity's got to still be there! I haven't even seen it in years."
"You ought to sell that thing. It should make some collector damned happy, with the shape the body's in. You should be able to make over ten grand on it."
She nodded, looking off at nothing. That would help a lot. Carl sold the tractors and attachments for money to live on. The government took almost everything in inheritance taxes. I already sold off the outlying fields to get the bank off my ass."
"Carl Heinz still running his dad's spread?"
"Yup. He and his wife pumped out four kids. He doesn't want to have anything to do with me. Georgie went into the Navy and hasn't been seen or heard from since."
"You ever met Terry or Paul Compton, Inga's boys? Terry's holding down a factory job in Plano. Paul turned out to be light in the loafers according to his brother. Who knows where he is. My sister doesn't have a damned bit of use for the Knieses, all those girls. She's down in Florida working for a big insurance house."
That pretty well cleared the air about the family. We were all a dysfunctional bunch of keystone cops that would stab each other in the back without hesitation.
When we left we exchanged phone numbers. I asked her if I could paw through the old parts shed the next day. She gave me the okay.
I got that counter top set up on four saw-horses in the front yard so that I could saw out the hole for the sink and not get sawdust all over the house. I didn't know what was in the tool shed so I didn't buy anything else that day. I did pick up a yellow pages for Wausau and got my drivers license changed for the right state and address. I'd get the vehicle registration and plates changed in August when the tags expired. I'd be damned if I'd waste half a year's registration cost.
I hit the library and got a card. That gave me access to the Internet. I looked up twelve-volt appliances, motor home appliances and propane water heaters. I signed up for several catalogs.
Since it was spring there was a good chance of finding estate sales and auctions. I bought a few local newspapers and took 'em home. I had a folding chair and quarter sheet of one inch plywood on sawhorses set up as a kitchen table. I found a couple of auctions that I wanted to attend.
The next morning I carefully went over the contents of Carl's old parts shed. It was deep enough to hold a Buick (obviously, because one was in there! and longer than three cars parked end-to-end. What a disaster area. When I saw all the plumbing parts and pieces I had a brainstorm. I decided to put a water heater and tank in my 'attic'. I'd have to reinforce the floor a bit, but using an external access door with a ladder was perfectly acceptable. I found a big box of drywall screws that I appropriated, an outdoor thermometer, clothes line and pins, a pipe bender and a rachet pipe threader. In one corner I found a half case of adhesive in tubes and a squeeze gun applicator. I found a cutoff saw and a handfull of metal-cutting disks that I could use to cut pipe with. I was in hog heaven. All I needed was a twelve-volt pump to drop down the well casing and a return feed pipe to get it up to the 'attic', a water tank, a water heater and the fittings for a tub and kitchen sink. I might be able to get away with a dry sump, depending on what the county health department had to say. After all, I was sitting on top of a living swamp. I'd just have to use bio-degradable soap and stick with a composting toilet.
At one auction I found a dresser, a bed, four chairs and a big kitchen table that I could afford. The rugs were going pretty high so I backed off. Another auction got me a fresh tractor battery for ten bucks. I wished that I could do that a few times! The same place had an Aladdin hanging lantern. Nobody knew what it was. I did. I picked up a three hundred dollar kerosene lantern for twelve bucks. I gladly sent away for the two hundred dollar parts kit and the super-clean kerosene for it. I found a place for a ceiling screw-eye and an S-hook to hang it by.
I bought three more big tractor batteries at eighty-five bucks each and the cables to hook 'em up together. It was back to Lowe's to pick up four of those little high-intensity LED light bars that ran on twelve volts that I fell in love with before. I got everything connected and ran my little generator for about eight hours to get it all charged up.
June rolled around and I got my first unemployment deposit. It took me from $1247 a month to $2120 a month. When I had four thousand in the bank I called the guys that had put up my roof before and asked them to do it again.
My pistol came back from the state. I took it out to try it because I didn't trust anyone with my firearms. It worked fine. They'd even cleaned it.
After the roof was installed I installed and plumbed in the water tank. I paid a professional to hook up the propane tank to the furnace I bought. After watching him I knew how to do the rest. I made sure to insulate the inside of the roof an cover it with visqueen before I closed up the access door. I didn't want the water in the tank to freeze during the winter. If it got close I'd have to either run a heating tape around the supply pipe or put in a stock watering tank heater.
I bought a few twelve volt fans for the windows and room pass-throughs and ran a twelve volt distribution system hidden by stick-on square plastic wall conduit.
I paid good money for a Holiday four-burner stove with an oven It ran three hundred and fifty bucks.
The same month I bought a furnace that mounted on an inside living room wall.
That took me up to September. I used that month's income for a composting toilet as I was tired of shitting in a bucket. It cost me my entire income for the month for an Envirolet 12V.
The next month I bought a propane refrigerator. It cost over five hundred bucks for a twenty-one cubic foot refrigerator-freezer. It pumped out over thirteen hundred BTUs in waste heat. It kept the kitchen toasty on spring and fall mornings. During the summer the fan got a work-out.
I also bought a water heater and a kitchen sink on the same month's income.
The big expenditures were almost over. I got the bulk propane tank filled just before the snow flew.
My last expenditure for the year was a luxurious Christmas present for myself. I bought a bathtub. An old cast-iron claw-footed oversized bath tub, seven feet long and thirty inches wide, three feet deep. Even I could have drowned in the thing, but oh, what luxury. I used a pipe wrapped in heat tape to get the effluent out to the swamp when I drained it.
I invited Kaye over for Thanksgiving dinner. I cooked a cherry pie, turkey, dressing, cranberry relish, mashed potatoes and gravy. I really gave my kitchen a work-out. It all worked pretty well. Kaye remarked on the place. "You do all this without any outside services?"
"Yup. I run off of twelve volts. The potty is composting, I've got a well that works on twelve volts and everything else runs off of the propane tank. Want a tour?"
She smiled. "Sure. It's only a few rooms, right?"
The batteries were obvious, as was the generator that I had piped out the wall for exhaust. I kept two five-gallon Jerry cans of gasoline in there for the generator. The bedroom was well equipped and the tub was impressive. When I turned on the hot water tap and steam rose her eyebrows rose. "Where's the water heater? For that matter, where's the water tank?"
I pointed up, over our heads. "Two hundred gallon tank and a fifty gallon propane water heater. I keep the water heater turned up. The tub's big enough for friends or a really good soak."
She gave the place a good look around. "You need things on the walls. It could use some carpets too."
I didn't want to say that I had nice braided rugs, once. "I plan on getting braided rugs as the budget allows. Next spring I want to have a front and rear porch put on, and buy a propane tank freezer. They pump out a lot of waste heat so I want it outside." We sat down for pie and coffee. I brought up the bear in the corner. "How's your son?"
She frowned, then looked better. He's doing better. The psyches evaluated him. He's not going to prison. He's being committed."
I nodded. "It's probably the best thing for him. I don't think he'd do well in prison. He seemed to just act, not think. There's no respect for others there."
She sighed and relaxed. "I've got my life back again."
I admitted, "When I heard from Bea that you had a little boy with a club foot it felt like someone had hit me in the ribs. I wanted to help but there wasn't a damned thing I could do. We didn't exactly part as friends, you know."
She gave me the hairy eyeball. "You were a real bastard back then, Cliff."
I hung my head. "I know. I started doing it on purpose but it just grew out of control. We were living there, both with teenage hormones, forced up in each other's faces. I had to be a shit so that we wouldn't go the other way. We'd have ended up in the hayloft scaring the cows."
She laughed. "That explains a lot. Still, I thought a lot about dropping you off the silo."
"Easy. slug you, tie a rope to your ankle, climb the silo a few times with bags of cement, tie the other end around the bags and push them off the other side of the platform. When you hit the bottom of the platform, cut the rope."
I looked at her, aghast. "Evil woman!"
She grinned. "Charlene and I had plans for you. We were gonna tie you to a car bumper and see how long you could keep up."
More and more surprises. "Sweet little Charlene? That black chick you used to hang with? Hell, I doubted she'd say shit with a mouth full of it."
"She was one nasty, nasty girl."
We went on for hours, remembering eighth grade. It was one of the better times of my youth. It was late when she left. We promised to do Christmas dinner together, this time at her place.
I recall smiling as I did the dishes.
I spent the next day at the library doing research. I learned about dry sumps I found out that I really didn't want to run one over a swamp. It would quickly pollute my drinking water. Instead I planned to run a collection tank and have it drained once a year. Sure, the bath water was okay, but I figured that the grease and stuff that came out of the kitchen sink could get nasty. The place would start to stink, too, and nothing would stop it once the cultures got going in the moss. I'd have to poison it all, and that could be even worse on a long term basis. That swamp was alive.
The next week I took a trip to Madison to talk to a university extension office agronomist. I described where I was living and what the ground was composed of. He nodded. He was quite familiar with that type of ground cover. When I described my effluent problems he put his head down on his desk and groaned. He looked up at me and asked, "What are you using for soap? It's important."
I replied, "I bought the stuff that's septic tank friendly."
He said, "Don't dump ANY grease at all. I don't care if you shit like a bull and dump it, but if you dump any grease you're going to pay for it for a long, long time. No biocides, no bleach, no hard core detergents, no acids, no reagents, no lye. Don't use anything in the bath nastier than Ivory soap. Don't use store-bought grease-buster dish washing soap for shampoo, either."
I thanked the man for his time and left a lot more paranoid. I bought a few five-gallon buckets for my kitchen waste water. I could empty it in town and let their waste disposal plant handle it. The big commercial systems were designed with grease in mind. Meanwhile, I contracted to have a five-hundred gallon septic tank installed that spring.
I had a fair-sized HP laptop stashed away. I brought it out and bought a twelve-volt car charger for it. The hardware store had plastic junction boxes, automotive twelve-volt outlets and wire nuts. I screwed the box to the wall near my dining room table, carved a blank faceplate into shape and mounted two DC charging points into it. Then I could charge the laptop at will. I didn't have any Internet but I could write at home.
All I was missing was bookshelves and a couch. I had a radio that I could hook to a car charger so I had music. I drove the eight miles into town once a week for food, to do laundry, to get some reading material at the library and to see a human face once in a while. That was my pattern until spring.
My property taxes went up to three thousand one hundred a year. I expected some inflation due to the fact that I'd improved the property. In early May I had six more footings dug out and poured full of concrete, then a ten foot deep front porch built. It gave me a place for a comfortable Adirondack chair and some lawn furniture. I called Kaye to invite her over for a couple beers and a game of Euchre out on my new porch. She didn't pick up so I left a message. I didn't get any call-back either.
I drove by her place and saw her car parked in front of the house. The front door was open. She was on the floor along with two bags of groceries. Apparently she'd had a stroke or a heart attack and dropped in her tracks. She'd been dead for at least a week. The stench drove me away from the door. I called 911 to report finding a dead body. I specified that they call the Sheriff as the house was on unincorporated land. I sat there on my truck's tail gate with a pool of vomit between my feet waiting for the cops. Soon enough a sheriff's deputy and a coroner's wagon showed up. They took over while I went home.
This whole retirement home thing had been one slap in the face after another. Now the last person in the family that I would consider talking to was dead. Despite the early summer weather I felt cold and alone.
By the middle of August I had a walled-in back porch with a work-table, washer and dryer out there. I framed the front porch for standard-sized glass windows. There were a few old farm houses around that had been abandoned. I did some midnight purchases with a little cat's paw to get their windows. I screwed and glued the wood-sheathed panes in two tiers around the front porch and put in a sturdy wooden screen door with visqueen stapled to it under a layer of hardware cloth.
Once I got everything painted in white enamel it looked pretty good. The paint on the floor was showing some wear. I hit a few auctions both at farms and in-town. I picked up a few rugs that I got for a lot less than new would have cost me. They were a bit worn but they fitted right in. I had them steam-cleaned before taking them home so they wouldn't smell like someone else's house. It made them look newer too.