D. J. Adamson
2019 D. J. Adamson All rights reserved.
This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead is coincidental. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products and companies referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The mention of these has been done in acknowledgment to the excellence of product and/or service.
Our family lived along Rohert Road in the rural area of a little town called Oxford, Iowa.
There wasn’t much in Oxford. Down by the interstate exit was a gas station with a small hamburger restaurant offering only cold sandwiches because the grill hadn’t worked in a year or two. Travelers stop by to get gas thinking this gas station and the restaurant was Oxford and didn’t know that down the road a bit set a little city of brick and wood homes with yards full of tricycles, kids, dogs, and a bit of this and that waiting to be takin’ care of.
There was a hardware store which carried a small aisle of grocery items just in case you were in too much of a hurry to go three stores over, past Dave’s Feed and Seed, Sally’s New and Used, and the Laundromat to the Hi-Vee Grocery. There were three churches with steeples bigger than their chapels: a Baptist, Catholic, and then the Methodist that offered a medium of penitence. Hog signs and hog statues would be noticed here and there because when you are in the rural area outside Oxford, like much of this part of Iowa, you are in Hog country.
I guess you would be apt to say that the two thousand population, counting cats and dogs, lived the simplest of lives. A Thoreauvian-style of survival. But it doesn’t matter where you live—for the two most important events in life happen to each person whether city or rural, large city or small-- birth and death. The moments in-between are memories that fade away once the stories stop being told—and this could have happened like when William Kafring died with only his boots on.
A Chevy drove up the gravel drive from Rohert Road braking with short jumps like a frog hopping from lily pad to lily pad. It came to a complete stop beneath the large oak alongside the hog shed. The dust settled leaving the sun-burnt drive as untouched as a spider-bug when it moves across a clear lake on a hot summer afternoon.
Earl and Elizabeth crawled out of their small Chevy like a clown act in a circus with their six children throwing open the doors. Little hands and arms flayed as if their play had not stopped from their house to this, from inside the car to now standing at their aunt’s home.
Elizabeth was the first to walk toward the house. She lumbered up the cracked sidewalk, her knees giving her trouble again, stepping over the dry, yellow bits of grass posed as respectful similes to William’s passing.
“Is she here?” Elizabeth called out, coming into the house without knocking, throwing her purse up on top of the refrigerator as was her habit. Her sister, Ruth Kafring, stood over by the sink, and Elizabeth went immediately to her, ignoring the sack of chips and dish of French Onion dip she carried.
“My God, Ruth. Did you know this was coming?” Elizabeth exclaimed.
Ruth allowed herself to be buried into Elizabeth’s large breasts. The sack of chips dropped to the floor.
“Not any more than anyone else knows,” Ruth said.
Elizabeth squeezed even harder as if the added effort might chase away all their sorrow. “With only his boots on,” she exclaimed. “My God, Ruth, what was he thinking? Were you able to get him covered up before people got here?”
“No,” Ruth said flatly, unfolding herself from Elizabeth as a package might unfold itself, if it could, from its wrapping. “I didn’t have a thing with me to cover him with. Not a thing.”
She sighed heavily. She picked up the sack of chips. “He didn’t come for lunch, so I made him a sandwich,” she said. “He wanted to get as much done as he could before it got too hot.” She paused. Her eyes moved beyond Elizabeth. “Or that’s what he said.”
She continued. “I couldn’t find the man. He wasn’t anywhere around the barn. So I thought, maybe he’d gone out to the fields. I went there to find him. I must have called fifty times if I called one.” This time when she paused, her eyes came back to Elizabeth’s, “I would have missed him if it weren’t for seeing his cap stuck on a tree limb. You know, he about wore out that cap.” She cited its lettering, ‘I’d rather be trout fishing.
Elizabeth nodded. She opened her mouth as if to ask why the cap was in the tree, but she didn’t want to interrupt Ruth in her story. Ruth might get off track, and Elizabeth wanted all the details. “Go on.”
“Then I saw his shirt, and I go to get it,” Ruth said. She stopped, set down what she was holding on the counter. “Haven’t I already told you this?” she asked.
Elizabeth shook her head, but yes, over the phone, Ruth had told her this much.
“Well,” Ruth said, “I’ve told everyone else who’s called and stopped by. I’ve told so many people, I’m beginning to wonder if it really happened, or if it’s a story that’s come to my mind.”
A tear slipped from her eye and rolled quietly down her cheek. “After I got his shirt, I saw his pants over by the edge of the ditch. I thought, why in God’s name would he take off his pants? I walked over, and that’s where I found him. I knew right away he was dead. Naked as a jaybird except for his boots.”
“Why his boots?” Elizabeth asked as if the answer to this question might provide all the answers ever needed to explain William’s demise.
“Guess he couldn’t wait to take them off,” Ruth said. She touched the corner of each eye and wiped the wetness from her fingers onto her skirt. Again, she stared off past Elizabeth, “Or maybe he just wanted to go out the same way he came into the world.”
“It’ll get better, Ruth,” Elizabeth said. “You’ll feel better when she gets here.” She reached out to take Ruth’s hand in hers, but Ruth was practiced at sliding hers away.
“I hope she gets here soon,” Ruth said. She went over to the kitchenette table and sat down. The table was heaped with plastic tubs and Serran-wrapped bowls.
Elizabeth joined her, and they both looked to the window hearing a car coming down the road.
With her toes pointed like a ballerina’s, younger sister Ada’s foot was out the door before the car came to a complete stop. She got out, swirled around, leaned back in and brought out what appeared to be an apple pie. Then, her hand balancing the pie, her leg lifting slightly behind her, in what some might call an arabesque, she leaned in again, this time bringing out her baby in her arm. Artfully capable of handling both, she galloped as gracefully as a Chilean horse up the sidewalk to the back door.
“Is she here yet?” Ada’s voice echoed into the kitchen.
Behind her came Katie, who carried a casserole dish of scalloped potatoes. She set the dish on the counter, placed Ad’s pie next to it, freeing her to put a two-handed hold on the baby.
“Put the pie in the oven, Katie. I didn’t have time to bake it.” Ada came over to the kitchen table, bending to Ruth and kissing her on the cheek. The baby cried. “I would have been here earlier,” she told Elizabeth, “but, well, I just couldn’t believe it. Do you know? It took time to sink in. And Maynard, well, he’s taking it real bad.”
Elizabeth glanced out the window where Ada’s husband Maynard leaned against the car having one last smoke and a bit of time by himself.
Elizabeth stood and took the baby out of Ada’s arms. She walked Ada over to the counter where Katie waited.
Katie wiped her hands on a dish towel. “I was the first one she called,” she told the other two. “I was with her when the police and the coroner came.” Her voice choked, but she cleared it quickly. “Don’t worry,” she said, “Ruth’s holding up. I’ve been here through it all.” She walked over to the refrigerator and opened it. Other casseroles and pies lined the shelves. She said, “We’ll put this pie in the oven right about supper time, Ada.”
“Has she been here? Or called?” Ada asked. She glanced around at the kitchen of vinyl counters, cupboards that sagged from the years of use.
“No,” Katie told her. She peered over at Ruth who sat staring out the window. “I think Ruth was hoping she’d be here by now.”
“She’ll come when it’s time,” Elizabeth said as if she had a history of knowing.
“She has a gift for knowing just when,” Ada agreed. She pulled a pacifier out of her purse and put it in the baby’s mouth.
Ada took the baby out of Elizabeth’s arms and carried it over to the table. She handed Ruth the baby, and without really looking, Ruth took the baby in her arms. The baby wasn’t more than three weeks old, still an incomplete thought in a life that lay ahead. It was clothed in only a Pamper’s diaper because the day was too hot for much else.
Then Maggie, Will’s sister, arrived. She didn’t come by car because she lived no more than a field away from William and Ruth. She carried in a Tupperware tub in her arms full of cinnamon rolls, cookies and the fudge she’d baked soon after hearing the bad news. She would have brought more, but by evening, her heart returned to her own dear Chester, who got his arm caught in the thresher and there was no one close to hear his dying cries for help. Her breath was minty from Chester’s Scotch whiskey, which she continued to buy, much out of habit, even though Chester had been gone now for two years.
A few more cars arrived then. Cousins. Neighbors from Rohert close enough to William and Ruth to feel comfortable enough to gather with family. Some stopped only to drop off a cake or pie. They didn’t bother to stop and talk. They handed the dishes over to Katie who inventoried what had come in with the food already there.
Someone nobody could put a name to walked into the kitchen. He came over to the table and said a word or two to Ruth. He came empty handed, shaking his head and repeating over and over what a blow it was to hear the unexpected news. A minister arrived once the kitchen filled and spilled into the dining room and living room. Ruth and William were good Catholics and attended Father Paul’s parish, not in Oxford but in a smaller community called Cosgrove. Father Paul’s arrival sparked as much attention as the Pope’s in the Vatican.
Ruth continued to sit at the table, greeting those who approached her. She nodded her head with their verbal astonishment. She repeated she never saw this coming. Eventually, she absently handed Ada back the baby, and a toddler who had been enviously watching, monkey climbed up into her lap. But, Ruth carefully put him back to the floor. She stood, glanced at her watch.
“Ruth,” you sit back down,” Katie scolded when Ruth came over to the sink and turned on the faucet to wash the cups and glasses. “I’ll take care of this.”
“Don’t like having time on my hands,” Ruth said, continuing to fill the sink, squirting in some Joy dish soap, and looking around for her dishcloth. “She didn’t come in while I was talking to someone, did she?”
Katie shook her head. She took the dishcloth out of Ruth’s hand. “Maybe you should go and lay down for a bit. I bet you haven’t slept a wink.”
“Can’t until she comes,” Ruth answered.
Katie squeezed Ruth’s soapy hands. “I know. It won’t be real until she arrives.”
A sob stuck in Ruth’s throat. “What will I do without him, Katie?”
“We’ll all miss him,” Katie said.
“I’m sure she’ll be here any minute,” Elizabeth sided up. “If she’s not here in a few minutes, I’ll give her a call.”
“Oh, don’t Liz,” Ruth said. “I wouldn’t want her rushed.”
“It’s good to get this part over.” Elizabeth looked to Katie who nodded her head in agreement. “This won’t be easy, Ruth, but you’ll be able to handle it.”
Ada then found them. She said she’d put the baby down for a nap after having been introduced to everyone. “What are you all talking about?”
“We’re waiting for her still,” Ruth said.
“Oh, she’ll be here. I’ve known her to be sick, but that never stopped her from getting out of bed when she was needed.” She asked Ruth, “She hasn’t called you?”
Ruth shook her head. She took the dishrag out of Katie’s hands, and said to Ada, but not directly, “What’s Maggie said, anything?” She lowered her voice even lower, “She hasn’t said a word to me. She’s been sitting in that chair over there since she came into the room.”
All four women turned and look over to Maggie still clutching her Tupperware bowl, sitting in a kitchenette chair across the table from where Ruth had sat. Fresh tears flooded over the brims and followed the tracks left by the others that had come and gone.
“Thinking of herself,” Elizabeth sniffed.
“Chester’s been gone now, what, over two years?” Ada pouted. “When she came past me, I thought I smelled whiskey.”
“Here, Ruth,” Katie demanded. “Give me that rag and go talk to her.”
“Not even if I was paid to do it.” Ruth tossed a glass into the sink hard enough it cracked as if broke.
“She’s like a buzzard sitting over there,” Ada snipped. “She’s waiting for her, too. But, this is William’s time, not Chester’s. He got his.”
“Maybe for her, it’s like Chester’s time all over again,” Katie suggested.
“Well, when the time comes for Earl,” Elizabeth said, “I’ll wait for her like we’re doing now, but nothing could make me forget my Earl.”
“It’s more important than the grave to me,” Ada added. “There wasn’t anything to tell when our first baby Robert Peter died, but she came anyway.” She reached up and squeezed Ruth’s stiff shoulders. “She always comes, Ruth.”
“That Maggie better get ahold of herself pretty soon,” Elizabeth stated, taking a step in Maggie’s direction as if she was going over to tell the same to Maggie’s face. But she merely took a step, not two or three. “It’s time for her to get on with life.”
“On with life?” Suddenly like rain hitting a puddle, tears fell from Ruth’s eyes and dropped into the dishwater. “God help me, I don’t know why he left his boots on. I’d hate to think what’s what people will remember about him. Do you think she’ll mention it? Do you think she’ll say something about him throwing off all his clothes like some mad man and taking that gun to his head, killing himself out there, alone, with only his boots on?”
The four sisters quieted. Ruth screamed the last of it. “ONLY HIS BOOTS ON?”
At the same time, a child ran into the room, running over to the kitchenette table, knocking the Tupperware bowl off Maggie’s lap. “She’s here.”
Mabel Kafring walked into the room with a black book in her hands.
Maggie got up off her chair. She left through the back door.
Ruth, not bothering to look for a towel, began wringing her hands dry.
Katie walked over to Mabel. “Do you want to do it here, or in the living room?”
“Let’s do it here.” She said to Katie, “Call the others in.”
“Should we move the food off the table,” Katie asked, suddenly unsure, as if this was the first time. “Do you need the table?”
“No, a chair here in the middle should do it.”
Someone, it doesn’t matter who, placed a chair in the center of the room. Mabel sat down. She put the black book she carried in her lap. The book was old and worn. The edges of the paper, some slips having torn and were sticking out, showed yellow with age. The name Kafring was printed in large gold letters on the cover.
Everyone from the living room and the dining room came into the kitchen. People shifted close to one another, whether related or not. Taller people stood in the back letting those smaller in front. Children sat on the floor, crossing their legs and putting their chins in their hands, their elbows on their knees.
“Ruth?” Mable called.
Ruth walked over.
Mabel opened the book. And having gone to the wrong place, she thumbed back a page or two. She held up a pen, an expensive gold pen the family purchased years ago for just this occasion. She handed it to Ruth. “It’s your place to put the date.”
Ruth hesitated. Her hands shook. They shook so bad, Mabel needed to help her, wrapping her old, spotted, wrinkled fingers around Ruth’s.
Everyone knew what Ruth was writing. Each person thought each word and date as the pen moved.
August 12, 1992.
Ruth crumbled once she finished. Katie came over and grabbed her before she fell.
“Someday I’m not going to be here,” Mabel began. It wasn’t how she’d once started after she took over her place in the lineage, but since she’d turned eighty, it’s how she started now. “And I don’t know yet who is going to take my place, although I have a good idea. This book here is only the marker of who the Kafrings are to this world, and this book may be all that’s left if I am the last. So, I ask all of you to listen carefully.” She looked to the children sitting on the floor. “Especially you.”
She began. “William Kafring was born April…” She stopped. There was no other voice but hers. “Come on, now. Help me out. It’s important for William to hear all of us remember him. But we need to start with what’s here in the book.”
“William Kafring was born April 17, 1940,” a chorus of voices said. “He died August 12, 1992.
Mabel shut the book and settled herself in the chair. She took her time to take in each and every face as if wishing to etch it into her memory before she began…
“William Samual Kafring was a man who got things done and took matters in hand. Maybe God was calling to him when he grabbed that gun and took his life. Only I think part of William wasn’t ready to go yet. Maybe he still had wishes he wished and that’s why he left his boots on. We’ll never know. And it doesn’t matter. What does matter is who William was to his wife.” She looked at Ruth. “And to his family.” She looked around the room. “And what matters in the story given to him when he came. She stopped. She took a breath, for William had lived fifty-two years. Not the longest story she’d ever had to tell, but one full of interesting things she didn’t want to be forgotten. “William was born to Charles and Sarah Kafring. As a young boy he…”