PlazaJen: Passion Knit

Friday, September 02, 2005

The Story of Frank & Carly

About three miles from my childhood home, in the farmlands & woods of Northeast Iowa, there lived two old, pencil-thin men, German bachelor farmers, and they ran a sawmill on their property.

Frank was the younger of the two, and he did most of the sawmill work. Gigantic hands. Carly walked with a cane, and would sometimes come outside to watch the work, as big thick trees were fed into the deafening, screeching sawblade, wood chunks and dust spewing. They had a couple of dogs, one that looked "mostly" black lab, the other "mostly" some sort of hound. Carly would often sit, with his right hand on his cane, and his left hand on the head of a dog. In the summer, this pose was outside; in winter he would be found by the stove. I never saw Carly wear anything but overalls.

They lived in a primitive two-room house, with no running water and their source of heat was a large, black, cast-iron stove that also served as their cooking surface. My sense of what they ate was primarily oatmeal and soup. Water came from a pump, a few steps outside the front door. Carly slept on a small cot in the main room, and you could see Frank's single bed in the other room, neat as a pin, one lone pillow & a dark green blanket, neatly spread over his mattress.

Mountains of sawdust appealed to me, being an only child who spent loads of time in the imaginary worlds of my mind. They looked like you could have the same experience as with a mountain of snow, so I would clamber to the top, and slide down the other side. The difference, of course, being that when snow goes down your pants, it's cold - but it melts. When sawdust goes down your pants, you never quite get it all out, and it scratches. I spent most of my time at the sawmill regretting my belief (that renewed each time we went) that the sawdust mountain would be great fun, and the rest of the time grabbing at my butt, trying to extricate wood shavings from my underwear.

Frank & Carly had never married. I noticed that when my mother was there, they both studied their shoes, ever polite, but definitely more uncomfortable. Painfully shy around women, it was not surprising they'd never found someone. They spoke very little as it was, their German accents thick and their lives spent together meant a learned communication that didn't require speaking often. I was a little easier to take, being 9 or so, despite my gyrations to get sawdust out of my clothes. Just a kid. I'd play with the dogs & pet them, but I still remember just a lot of quiet sitting, waiting for the wood to get cut, shifting & itching in my chair.

As we'd had a rough transition into living in the area (most people feared the long hair of my father & his hippie friends, and were convinced the next Woodstock was coming to their safe little world), we were always Midwest Polite, bringing baked goods on our visits to those who would see us. It became evident that Frank & Carly loved pie over all other baked goods. LOVED it. Lemon meringue was their favorite. My mother would make two pies, keeping one for us, and sending the other along with my father, beads of browned sugar floating along the surface of the baked meringue. Since they had no oven, and a simple diet, I'm sure the tart lemon and creamy meringue was always a treat to their everyday world. We'd get the pie plate back, clean as a whistle; though we knew how they washed their dishes: boiling hot water, heated on the stove, and no soap. My mother would always make me wash the pan again, even though I protested the first time, showing her how clean it was. No matter, they didn't use soap. I always felt guilty when I washed that pie pan, because it seemed as though we were quietly saying we were better than them, that our ways were somehow superior to theirs, despite their limited world and how well it functioned for them, despite the fact we were certainly bigger outcasts than they were.

The funniest thing was something Carly would do with whichever dog was by his side. He did it in those times we'd find ourselves sitting together, during long stretches of quiet. He'd look at me, and then reach down to the dog, gently putting his hand over the muzzle, fingers reaching down to the bottom of their mouth. He'd pull up on the skin, exposing the dog's teeth in a faux snarl. In his thick German accent, he'd say, "Wicious!" and I would laugh and laugh, both at the absolutely NOT vicious dog, and the V sound becoming a W. My father and I siezed it as our own, and always with the dramatic pause & look before pronouncing our dog, "Wicious!" Frank and Carly are long gone - but their simple life and that strange mix of shyness and politeness still sticks with me. The humor, of course, of "Wicious" - still lives on:

posted by PlazaJen, 7:32 AM