Tuesday, May 11, 2021

GOING HOME - Chapter 23

 

    Communication? After all those years? True, their exchange was tentative, even a bit awkward. But they were actually communicating.

    Meanwhile, Rick was making his own bit of interpersonal progress. They had exchanged letters and talked on the phone. Now it was time for a face to face meeting. In his mind that would be the most satisfying, not to mention surprising, sort of communication.



                        Chapter 23 


Decades before, Linda Fedder had settled on her own way of dealing with the uncomfortable fact of Tom Fedder. In the course of her lifetime she had known him as a childhood playmate and high school sweetheart, as a loving husband and caring father. She had also known him as a deserter, a betrayer of her trust, one who could abandon his own child. He had been the best thing that ever happened to her, and the worst....a paradox that had dictated her determined avoidance of all things having to do with him.

There had never been a reason to question that time-tested strategy....until the startling moment, just weeks earlier, when Tom handed her the paid receipt for her distressing real-estate loan. Even more surprising, he had actually apologized, claiming a remorse she had never expected to hear. She had returned home that night awash in unsettling thoughts, mired in unfamiliar emotions? 

Their meeting had also produced another, more tangible, result. A week later nearly every room in the Asylum contained at least one piece of Betty Fedder’s furniture or furnishings. The heavy oak dining table that Linda had admired as a newly wed now filled her cramped dining room. It was much too large for the room, but so sturdy and elegant.

Yet, though the furniture was nice, and the paid loan receipt was certainly welcome, in Linda’s eyes the most positive element of Tom Fedder’s surprising return had been Sue Ann’s unexpected reunion with her father. 

As a youngster the girl’s lament had been constant. From the time she was old enough to understand the fact of his absence, she had wondered what she could have done to disappoint him and why he had gone to such lengths to leave her. When she first heard of his return, those had been the concerns that resurfaced. 

Fortunately Sue Ann had found the courage to ask her questions. Linda recalled coming home from work that Monday, after Sue Ann and Tom had lunched together, to find her daughter still crying tears of happy relief. Her father liked her. He had hugged her, and said he loved her. From that meeting, a single hour spent together, had come a stream of affirming changes.

For forty years there had been no reason for Linda to dwell on the possibility of ever seeing Tom Fedder again. The mere thought of it would have been an unwelcome reminder of the pain he had visited on their lives, certain to trigger the defenses she had so carefully constructed. 

Now, however, she was dealing with the disorienting need to make room for his presence in her family's life. Sue and Sandy were eager for that to happen. In truth they deserved that. Linda had witnessed the way his attention mattered to them.

What’s more Tom Fedder, the enemy himself, had pulled them all from the brink of financial ruin. To be sure, their situation remained precarious, but at least they were afloat. So it was that after weeks of internal debate, Linda had finally settled on the need to communicate her thanks for Tom's help.

It was not a long letter, certainly not elegant or formal. Just a few short paragraphs expressing thoughts she had not realized she could still feel, much less put on paper.


Tom,

I hope this does not shock you too much. I am not much of a letter writer, but it feels like something I should do. I promise to keep it short. 

First of all, I forgot to thank you. I suppose I was too shocked to think of that. Anyway, thank you, from me and the girls. You had no reason to do what you did.  But as you can imagine, having the loan paid off was like having a weight lifted from my shoulders. And all those nice things from your mother’s place, what a pleasant surprise that has been.

My girls have grown up with some harsh opinions of their father and grandfather. I confess I had a lot to do with that. You might be surprised to hear that I am glad they have finally met you, and that they like you. I don’t think I have ever seen Sue Ann happier. As for Sandy, you must remember that you have a very vocal supporter in Rick. Apparently the two of them are keeping in touch. I am glad it is your phone bill and not mine.

Just one more thing. I am not sure I should bring this up, but I think it may be the right time. I have always known there would come a time when I owed the girls an explanation....a chance to hear the truth. If that was true for me, perhaps the same applies to you too. 

It never dawned on me that you might be around to do that yourself.  But if you ever get back to Tanner, and Sue Ann certainly hopes you will, I think it is something you should consider doing for them.

I had better stop now. 

Linda


She set her pen aside, leaned back in her chair to review her handiwork, then folded the page carefully and slipped it into her dresser drawer. A day later she reread it, wondering again at the wisdom of writing to him. Although she was still not ready to put it in the mail she did take a moment to address an envelope, using an address from a letter Sandy had received from Rick. Then, once more, it was returned to her drawer.

Two days later Linda took a break from her duties at Gilroy’s and walked the three blocks to the Post Office. At the mail box she felt an unexpected reluctance to let go of the letter. When at last she let it drop, she sensed the finality of something begun that could not be undone.


                                 ~~~


Shortly after Labor Day Rick met with a counselor at Highland Community College to review class offerings for the fall term and decide what courses he should request. By the end of their conference he had registered for fifteen hours of general, prerequisite classes. The reality of college was coming closer by the day....so too was his hoped-for return to Tanner.

Over dinner that night he spelled out his plans for a hurried three day visit to Tanner before his classes started. Listening patiently as the boy presented his ideas, Tom was smiling to himself at the boy’s obvious excitement.

Finally Rick paused to sip his coffee. “Well, what do you think? Have I covered everything? I can’t imagine what I’ve missed.”

“You’ve done a good job, son. Looks like you’ve accounted for almost all the details.”

“Almost all? What did I forget?”

Tom was showing the cocked-head grin that usually signaled he had a point to make. “Maybe I wasn’t listening close enough. Did I miss the part about the cost of your little expedition....about how you’re going to finance this adventure?”

Rick was not surprised. That was his dad’s way ....to hurry past the really important parts of an idea to focus on the economic considerations. “I hadn’t got that far yet,” the boy admitted. “I was sort of hoping .....” His words trailed off.

“Hoping that old dad might lend a hand on that part. Eh?”

“Yeah. I guess so. The thing is, it will be my last chance to get back there until the Christmas holidays. And by then the roads will probably be a mess.”

“Does Sandy know you’re thinking about this? Is she all excited about it?”

“No.” Rick’s silly, head-shaking smile was signaling his intentions. “I want it to be a surprise. I think she’d like that.”

“I’ll tell you what. Let’s see what we can figure out. We should probably start by doing some math. Okay?” Tom was hoping to turn the moment into a practical exercise in financial logic....a learning experience. Would Rick be interested in any of that? 

“You’re planning to drive four days altogether, two days each way, in order to spend three days in Tanner. Right? That’s a whole week, and a thousand, maybe twelve hundred miles worth of expensive gas. Six or seven nights of motel bills. A bunch of restaurant meals. And a lot of miles on the car.” 

Tom watched the boy’s enthusiasm retreat perceptibly with each additional expense he named. “What do you figure all that will cost?”

“I don’t know,” Rick admitted. “Probably a few hundred anyway.”

“A few hundred?” The old man was shaking his head. “I’m thinking it would be closer to a thousand by the time you and Sandy go out on a couple of dates.” It was a fine line the old man was walking, instructing Rick on the cost of real-world travel, without turning him off.

“A thousand? No way. It couldn’t possibly take that much.”

For the next five minutes Tom walked them step by step through the numbers he thought might total as much as a thousand dollars. “Okay,” he finally admitted. “You might squeak by on nine hundred. But you’d have to cut some corners to do it.”

Meanwhile, Rick was growing more dejected by the minute. Why had he let himself get his hopes up? When his dad asked if he had any other options in mind, the boy could only sputter, “You mean like asking her to meet me half way?”

With a raised hand Tom was trying to calm the boy’s sarcastic agitation. “Look, there’s no need to get all upset,” he said. “Let’s think this through a bit.” 

He stood and walked to the kitchen, returning a moment later to refill their cups, while Rick waited impatiently for the encouragement he thought he heard in his dad’s voice.

“I wonder if it’s time to declare a dividend on our Orchard House sale,” Tom continued. “At least enough to do this the right way.”

”What’s the ‘right way’?”

“The right way is to get your traveling done in one day. Take the bus to Great Falls. Fly to Spokane, then to Portland. Rent a car there and drive to Tanner.” He grinned across at the boy. “How does that sound?”

“It sounds fine. But it would cost a fortune.”

“Probably not much more than driving.” Was Rick following the logic? “You’d save a bunch on motels, meals, and gas. Besides, I’d rather spend a few extra bucks for you to fly instead of having you on the road all those days. By the end of a long day’s drive you’d be bushed. That’s when accidents happen.”

“And it wouldn’t cost too much?” 

“I think we could manage it. After we clean up the dishes let’s go online to see what kind of tickets we can find.”


  ~~~


Later that night Tom returned to his own Tanner thoughts....to questions he had yet to face head on. Taking the single folded page from its envelope he read again Linda’s brief note, as he had every day for nearly a week. Poring over the few paragraphs line by line, he wanted to wring every bit of meaning from her words.

The letter itself was neither chatty or personal, though it felt more cordial than he might have expected. What struck him more than the content, however, was the simple realization that she was intentionally communicating with him. It was a bit surprising to realize how much he liked that.

From the first reading he had known that he would not let her timid epistle go unanswered. Though he was not sure how to respond, he knew that he would. What he had to say was not as important as the desire to maintain contact. How would she respond to that possibility? With that in mind, it was time for a letter of his own.


Dear Linda,

What a pleasant surprise it was to receive your note. It makes me think I did something right for a change.

I appreciated hearing about Sue Ann, and how she felt about our time together. I assure you it was a special time for me too. A real eye opener. I definitely want to see her again.

I am not sure that I am allowed to say this, but I will anyway. It was good to see you too, and have a chance to help out with the mess I made.

About telling the kids. About them knowing the truth. Are you sure that is a good idea? I was just getting used to my daughter liking me. I’d hate to undo all the nice things that are happening. 

Tom

P.S.  If you feel like writing again it would be nice to hear from you.

 

As letters go it was short and to the point.... hopefully inoffensive and non-threatening. Reading it over once more, he reminded himself it was not what he had said, but the fact that he was saying it to her. 

Days later, when Linda read his single page for the first time, she was asking herself why he had bothered to write. What was the point? He had acknowledged his feelings for Sue Ann. That was nice. Yet in the next breath he had brushed aside the need to speak of his original transgression. 

As for her writing to him again. What was that about? True, she was prepared for Sue Ann and Sandy to have their father and grandfather in their lives. But she certainly had no intention of making room for an ex-husband in hers. Did he honestly believe she was ready for social intercourse with the likes of him?


         ~~~


It had been four years since Rick’s first and only flight, a short hop with his dad in a twelve-passenger commuter plane from Butte to Great Falls and back. His day-long journey from Highland City to Portland had been something very different, with larger planes and larger airports, just like the ones he had seen on television. By nine o’clock Friday night he had picked up the compact sedan Tom had reserved for him and checked into a motel a few miles from the Portland airport.

Stretched out on the king-size motel bed he reviewed his schedule for Saturday....built around information gleaned from the North Tanner High School website. The school’s first football game of the season was scheduled for one-thirty that afternoon. Pre-game activities would begin with a rally at noon. 

If he arrived at the Fedder home by eleven-thirty he could take Sandy to the rally and then the game. After that there would be dinner and a movie. She had no idea he was coming. It would be exactly the kind of surprise he had dreamed of springing on her.

Monday, May 10, 2021

NO ONE ELSE CAN PREPARE YOU FOR..........

 


            May I invite you to look over my shoulder as I dispense a bit of elder-wisdom to our offspring. I’ll warn you that as you read this you may wonder why a grumpy old father would be offering such advice to his adult children. After all, they are in their fifties.


My grumpy old answer is simple enough. I have serious concerns about our nation’s future, not to mention the world’s. As I read the signs of the time my conclusions trouble me. The possibility of hard times ahead seems real to me, and I want the ones I care about the most to be as prepared as possible for that future.


With that in mind this is what I am telling my family.


           ***********


So….what does your old man do with his time these days….once the veggies are watered, the day’s blog has been posted, and his Fantasy League strategy has gone wrong yet again?


Well, somedays he doesn’t do much of anything…..beyond keeping track of Dr Phil and Rachel Maddow, and dwelling on his particular obsession.


You may recall hearing that as a youngster I joined the Boy Scouts…..three times. They were the ones with a “Be Prepared” motto. Though my membership never did stick, the motto apparently did. In fact, that may have been the root of my “particular obsession.”


You, of course, have heard my “Be Prepared” rambles before. Chances are you have wondered about my logic. Truth is, my reasons are based not on certainty, but instead on possibilities.


What sort of possibilities am I talking about? To begin with, they are events that may never happen…..but realistically could. But more importantly, if any of them were to happen it might be hard, even impossible, to deal with the outcome in a satisfactory way if you were not prepared in advance.….i.e. - if you wait until the event occurs it might be too late to create an effective response.


Consider, for instance, today’s ‘post-modern’ world…..with its landscape of potential traps……like the ones noted here.


****The growing impact of drought, storms, and            climate change.

****Threats to our nation’s food production capability.

****Continuing price inflation on all products and services.

****Interruptions to our “just-in-time” food delivery system.

****Growing international resource competition, i.e. China 

****Ransomware cyber attacks on our national systems.

****Extreme political dysfunction - too conservative, too liberal.

****The threat of a continuing pandemic.

****Exploding national debt, and a declining dollar.

****The impact of a State government financial squeeze.

****Growing personal debt levels.

****The impact of rising interest rates

****And any others you would like to add.


It seems likely that any one (or more) of those outcomes could have a serious impact on how we feed and house our families, and most every other facet of our lives. If so, I repeat……by the time any of those events actually reach a tipping point, IT MAY BE TOO LATE TO PROTECT YOURSELF.


So what are the odds? The chances of having to deal with ALL those possibilities at once is very slim. But when I look ahead a year or two the chance that one or more of those “possibilities” could turn against us seems rather likely…..at least in my tired old eyes.


So the question is…..what does the future hold for you and yours, and how will you cope with whatever comes your way? How well prepared would you be if one or more of those “possibilities” actually occurred? And finally, what can you do now to help you and your family be more ready if something like that happens?


What “being prepared” means to you is for you to decide. In fact, as a parent and head-of-household that is your job, your obligation. Whether you consider the food you eat, the cleaning supplies you use daily, or the financial resources you rely on……no matter what the threat, I believe there is a powerful argument for BEING PREPARED.


Because if, and/or when, one of those possibilities arises…..it may already be too late to begin your preparation. 

Sunday, May 9, 2021

GOING HOME - Chapter 22

 

     No wonder it was hard to understand. He had returned to Tanner as a hated and despised reminder of a past they wanted to forget. Now he was leaving as a family hero.

    Meanwhile, it seemed the boy's eagerly-awaited letter had raised more questions than it answered .....leaving her to create her own response.




                              Chapter 22


On Tuesday morning an early start and five hours of hard driving brought them to Pendleton, in eastern Oregon. Tom had taken the lead in his pickup to ensure that Rick, following in the Audi, stayed somewhere near the seventy mile-an-hour speed limit. It was a quiet, sometimes boring drive....broken only by the impressive grandeur of the Columbia River Gorge, with its high cliffs, wispy waterfalls, and hydro-dam lakes.

At the Pendleton interchange they pulled off the freeway, gassed up, then walked to the adjoining truck-stop restaurant. There in a back booth Tom was ready to give voice to his accumulated thoughts. 

“Well, son, you’ve seen Tanner. What do you think? Was it worth the trip?”

“Of course it was. Don’t you think so?” Rick was looking to gauge his dad’s reaction. “You sold Grandma’s place. And you got to know your daughter. That sounds like a good deal all the way around.”

“You’re right. That part worked out better than I expected.” Actually, any positive contact with his Tanner family would have been more than Tom had expected. At that moment, however, waiting for their burger baskets to arrive, he could not resist the opportunity to tease a bit. 

“Now that we’ve sold the Orchard House, I don’t suppose there’ll be any reason to go back again, will there? That’ll save us some long, boring drives.”

“I’ll bet I can find a reason," the boy answered. "Not as often as I’d like, but at least every once in a while.” 

The boy turned quiet for a moment, fussing with his straw, pushing ice cubes around in his drink, before adding, “Besides, I’m anxious to hear how their moving thing works out.”

“Their ‘moving thing?’ What’s that about?” Though the old man had a hunch what Rick was talking about, he had not intended to go there so soon. Perhaps, however, there would be no avoiding the subject.

“Last night, when you were gone, Sandy and I went for a walk. It was supposed to be kind of a good-bye thing. I was looking forward to that. But it turned out to be a real bummer.”

“Because?”

“Because her grandma had just told them they’re going to have to move. She has to sell her house pretty quick, before the bank takes it to pay off some loan she has. It sounded like more of that stuff Sandy’s uncle was talking about when he came over the other night.

“I’m not sure I understood everything she was saying, but it had her pretty messed up. They’ll probably have to move to an apartment or something like that.” 

Merely reciting Sandy’s depressing story, and remembering her sad anxiety, was enough to take the air out of Rick’s sails. So why did his dad appear so nonchalant about what would surely affect Sue Ann as well?

“You’re right, son. That was part of what Bob Cannon wanted me to hear. And I’m glad he came calling, to tell me what was going on. Because, as it turns out, that’s not going happen. Sandy and the rest of them won’t have to move.”

“Why not? What changed?” A second later Rick was scolding himself for not having understood his dad’s grinning assurance. “You fixed it?”

“I guess you could say Grandma’s house ‘fixed it.’ I told you before that we got a good price for it. And you’ve heard enough by now to know that I owed those folks something. After our good luck, I couldn’t very well have them out on the street. Could I? Anyway, it seemed like the right thing to do.”

From the beginning Tom had been concerned about his son hearing too many details of the sale, particularly the price. That had seemed to him reason enough to settle for a certain vagueness about the transaction. But now boy was showing no interest at all in the property sale. It seemed he had other questions in mind.

“You mean you owed 'her,' Sandy’s grandma. That’s who you did it for. Right?” When it appeared he might have to wait for an answer, Rick turned his attention to Tom’s good deed. 

“Anyway, no matter why you did it or who it was for, that was a good thing. After seeing how messed up Sandy was about having to move I’ll bet she’s thanking you too. They all are. That’s probably the best news they’ve had in a long time.”

They were quiet again, concentrating on their meal, until Tom looked up to say, “I have to compliment you on your good taste. She’s quite a girl, that Sandy. But now that we're heading home I hope the two of you will be able to concentrate on being who you are.”

“Who we are? What does that mean?”

“It means you’re kids. That’s who you are. With years of school ahead of you. I hope you’ll keep that in mind.”

“Come on. We’re playing it cool. There’s nothing to get worked up about.” Why wouldn’t the old guy let it drop? “I think we can figure things out.”

Did the boy have any idea? With little effort Tom could recall walking that path, that ‘playing it cool,’ or whatever they called it back then. For him it had been a matter of going off to college, while Linda finished high school and then business college. It had been hard, even when he came home to Tanner most weekends. For Rick and Sandy, hundreds of miles apart, it would certainly be even more difficult.

“You need to give Sandy some space, you know.” How would the boy welcome that bit of advice? “It’s her senior year. She’ll want to be a part of what’s going on at school. Maybe you ought to let her know that’s okay.” 

During the long afternoon, over long miles of mind-numbing highway, the old man’s caution remained in Rick’s thoughts. How could he tell Sandy she ought to kick back and ‘be part of her senior year’ and still have them growing a relationship based on looking ahead? 

How would it feel, knowing she was doing that? Would he even know how to broach the subject? A day later, driving up Highland Avenue toward the hardware store, he had yet to resolve that dilemma.

Meanwhile, Tom’s long drive had provided ample opportunity to rehash his own Tanner experience. A week earlier the windfall profit from the sale of the Orchard House would have earned top billing on any list of pleasant surprises. That was before he met his daughter. 

Once past their timid beginning, the two of them had connected in a way that surprised them both. Not only that, there was a granddaughter too, a lively young lady who seemed to like his son.

And, of course, there was Linda. He had assumed from the beginning that she hated him. Who could blame her for that, especially after the years of hardship he had learned about during the past week? 

For decades he had wanted to forget her, or at least believe that he could. He realized now that he had not. Even more disconcerting, he found himself wringing unexpected pleasure from replays of their few minutes together in the pickup. Though her occasional smile had not been meant for him, he had enjoyed the sight of it.

First Sue Ann, then Sandy, then Linda. It had been a week of surprises. He was still processing the impact of those connections....of things said and unsaid. Perhaps some day those 'unsaid' words could be spoken out loud.


                                  ~~~


It had been nearly a week since their return from Tanner and Tom realized he could not put it off any longer. On Sunday evening, as Rick unpacked from a weekend of high-lakes hiking with Ben Lee, he summoned the boy to the dining room table.

“We need to to talk, son. About money.”

“That’s easy,” the boy joked. “I don’t have any. I have to put most of my paycheck in a savings account for college. What’s left doesn’t go too far.”

“That’s part of what we have to talk about.” Could he make his point without going into all the details, especially the numbers his son was bound to misinterpret? 

“We sold your Grandma’s place. It seems like you should have some idea how that turned out. Because it’s going to make a difference in our finances, for things like college.”

“A good difference, or bad” Rick asked warily.

Tom’s self conscious laugh did not answer the boy’s question. In fact, he was surprised at how hard it was to explain the good news, while keeping it in perspective. It would be so easy to plant unreasonable expectations in the boy’s mind. 

“It was a good difference. The place sold for a lot more than I thought it would.”

“So we’re rich. Is that it? You already said there was enough to pay off Linda’s loan.”

“It’s nothing like ‘rich.’ And the loan thing was something else altogether. But it does mean there’s money for your college. And it will help at the store too. I’ll be getting a new computer and probably add some inventory. We’ll be able to take advantage of the special deals our suppliers offer.”

“That doesn’t sound too exciting.”

“I suppose not,” Tom agreed. “It’s not going to change how we live. But you deserve to know how it turned out, especially about college. We’re in a little better position to swing that now. But I still want you to keep saving your money. That’s a good habit to have.”

It was the twinkle in the old man’s eye that caught his son’s attention. Plainly, he had something more in mind. “Besides,” Tom continued. “I expect you’ll be needing a few extra bucks for gas money, to keep the Audi running.”

“You mean it’s mine? I get Grandma’s car?”

“Yeah, you do. Sounds like a good fit, doesn’t it?”

The boy was grinning with delight, even as he prepared to make his modest confession. “I thought you’d forgot. I told Ben this weekend that I’d probably have to keep borrowing the pick-up. Now I won’t. That is so cool.”

“Well, it’s not a blank check we’re talking about.” Tom was ready to end this. “But the car is for you, as long as you’re responsible with it. And about the other stuff, I thought you ought to have some idea about the family’s finances.”

From Rick’s youthful perspective, learning about ‘family’s finances"’was an absolute snap compared to coping with the inconvenient fact that Sandy Harden was five hundred miles removed from his everyday life. 

He was doing his best to stay busy, working longer hours and planning weekend excursions into the mountains. As promised, he had written to Sandy a few days after he returned home, a wordy letter he was sure did not impress her at all. 

He had begun by telling her how glad he was that she did not have to move after all. Beyond that, his unstructured ideas bounced from one thought to another. Did she really care about his work, or fishing with Ben? He was filling pages just to be filling pages, all the while avoiding the hard part.... putting those feelings, the ones he wanted to tell her about, into words.

By the end of the second week Rick had received Sandy’s reply. He even read some of it to his dad ......the part about "Grandpa Tom is something of a hero here at the Asylum. He really saved the day by paying off Grandma’s loan.” She finished that thought by noting, “Of course, Grandma couldn’t bring herself to join in the 'hero' talk. But we could tell she was very thankful that things turned out the way they did”.

Later that afternoon, with Sandy’s letter in hand, Rick realized he was not ready to settle for another letter. He read her reply one last time, picked up the phone, and dialed her Tanner phone number.

“Sandy,” Gail yelled through the back door. “It’s for you. It’s him.”

Sandy hung the last of the towels on the clothes line and hurried back to the kitchen. “Him?” she asked. “Who’s that?”

“It’s Rick.”

For the first few seconds their greetings were loud and emphatic, before turning whispered and private. Every word seemed to revive still-fresh emotions. The sound of the other’s voice was enough to generate excited questions. It was almost like they were together again.

“When can you come back?” Sandy asked impatiently.

That was enough to bring their rapid-fire exchange to a momentary halt. Rick paused before answering, “I’m not sure. I’d like to come today. But I have to work, and get ready for school. I’ll be there as soon as I can. But it will probably be a while.”

They carried on, laboring to stretch out their precious time together. Before long the initial rush of emotions was fading. They were repeating themselves, trying to keep the spontaneity of their connection alive, but running out of ways to do that. 

The written word had not been enough. Now they were learning how deficient the spoken word could be when compared to the sight and touch of someone standing beside them. 

“I’ll write again real soon,” Rick promised. “You take care.” And it was over.

He did write, three days later, after a sleepless night spent fending off frustrating questions and unsatisfying answers. There were things to be said, things he would rather not have to say, though he knew he should. 

If he had been a bit bolder he would have included those 'things' as part of their phone conversation. It had crossed his mind then, but he was not ready to face the questions it was sure to raise. Instead his reluctant suggestion became the last paragraphs of his letter.


I know this being so far apart is the pits. It’s hard. But we decided I should stay here and do the college thing. That’s right, isn’t it? It’s what we should be doing if we’re 'looking ahead’ like we said. 

But there’s something else I’ve been thinking about lately. It’s your senior year. It makes no sense at all for you to sit around and vegetate. You should be out with your friends, doing things and having fun. You’re way too young to be a hermit. You don’t have to prove a thing to me. You’ve already done that.

Rick


It was the hardest thing he had ever written. He understood it was what he owed her. But that alone was not enough to quiet the anxious thoughts of her being around all those other boys, knowing what they were thinking, how they were acting. It was tempting to tear up that last page and start over. In the end he told himself he had to trust her that much.


                                  ~~~


While Rick struggled to integrate the distracting absence of Sandy Harden in his Highland City life, Tom continued to process recurring thoughts of his own Tanner experience. The random snippets might surface at any time, during a lull in his work-day busyness, when something triggered a still fresh memory, or in the quiet of night....waiting for sleep.

More than once he had revisited Linda’s startling disclosure of how his own mother had helped her after he left. For years, while he was avoiding his child-support obligations for fear of being found, his mother had taken on that role herself without ever telling him. That was hard to comprehend.

And what of Linda? Why had she never remarried? It was hard to imagine that he had not been aware that elemental fact until his first conversation with Paul Corin. His mother never spoke of Linda and Sue Ann, so the subject had never come up. The only explanation he had heard for her remaining single had come from Sue Ann, during their lunch together.

“I’ve heard that there were interested guys,” his daughter had told him. “But I don’t think she paid much attention to them. By the time I was in high school she used to say she was too set in her ways to ever live with anyone.”

Leaving the restaurant after their lunch together, Sue Ann had made a special point of telling him, “A few years ago, when Mom’s friends were starting to retire and she knew she’d have to work for as long as she lived, I kidded her that she should have found a rich husband a long time ago. She just laughed and made some lame excuse. 

"I told her then that your leaving must have soured her on men, because it hurt so much. She didn’t answer, but her look told me I was right.”

Now, back in Highland City, the weeks passed. August faded into September and still thoughts of Linda continued to surface, reinforcing Tom’s certainty that helping her had been the right thing to do. Though he regretted her reluctance in accepting his offer, he realized that was understandable. If nothing else, they had been able to speak to each other. He counted that as a positive.


                                 ~~~


It had been a hard time for Sandy, those first weeks after Rick left. The same emotions that had created such affirming excitement only days before had become fuel for exaggerated loneliness. The boy’s hopeful talk of "looking ahead" was beginning to lose its appeal. From her perspective, the only relief in sight was the prospect of the upcoming State Fair and the start of school a week after that.

Her friends, of course, were dating, socializing, and having summer fun. In the wake of Rick’s departure Sandy had been determined to stay above all that. She had answered his letter, as she said she would. And then he called. That was nice, hearing his voice again. Then, just days later, his latest letter arrived, reinforcing the hopeful tone of his phone call....at least until she read the last paragraph. 

She had revisited his closing words over and over, growing more confused and conflicted with each reading. He was saying, in so many words, that she ought to be going out with her friends, to be a part of their Tanner summer.

You should be having fun,” he had said. What did that mean? Did he really trust her that much, or was he making a guilt-free case for having his own fun? It might mean even more than that? Perhaps he was setting the stage for his own quiet exit. Whatever the reason, his notion of ‘looking ahead’ was becoming murkier, harder to accept. 

On the other hand, Rick’s message had impressed someone. When Sandy told her of Rick’s enabling suggestion, Sue Ann thought she detected unexpected hints of maturity in the boy’s idea. She liked that. At the same time, she was curious to see how Sandy would deal with the independence Rick proposed.

Once Sandy convinced herself to take Rick’s advice, for reasons that were probably more hers than his, she was soon part of the North End’s busy end-of-summer social scene. Not surprisingly, Burt Dunn had been willing to sponsor her return. The two of them were soon double dating with his friends, making the transition easier. "Friendship dates" she called them, assuring herself they were well within the spirit of Rick’s intention that she enjoy her summer. 

At home Sandy made a point of reminding her mother that her renewed social life was Rick’s idea. Certainly he was doing the same thing in Highland City. “He’s not going to be a hermit,” she insisted. “He’s a guy. Guys don’t change just like that, you know.”

For her part, Sue Ann was unwilling to involve herself in her daughter’s alliances. She remembered those days of ‘one-day-on, next-day-off’ pairings. She liked Rick well enough and hoped she was not disappointing her father. Still, what were the chances of them maintaining a relationship from that distance?

 Then, in the second week of September, the State Fair came to Tanner, with it’s attendant jobs for Sandy and Gail. The highlight of the week was the Saturday-night rock concert, which was scheduled to be Sandy’s first solo date with Burt Dunn. Her initial hesitation had been overcome by Burt’s stubborn, but polite insistence, and her own conviction that Rick was certainly doing the same thing. 

The downside of her concert-night date with Burt came when Sandy snuck through the back door at one o'clock, well past her midnight curfew, to find her mother sitting in the kitchen darkness. Their brief, but tense, conversation had centered on Sue Ann’s stern insistence that her rules were meant to be followed.

“All my friends are having fun,” Sandy whined. “Why can’t I?”

“No one said you can’t have fun. But you’ll be home on time from now on, or there’ll be a lot less fun.” 

From the pocket of her house coat Sue Ann produced Rick’s letter, which had arrived that afternoon. “And while you’re at it, you’d better decide what you’re going to do about this one. I think he deserves that much.”

Her mother returned to her bedroom, leaving Sandy alone in the darkness, holding the unopened envelope and wondering about her mother’s advice. What did she owe Rick? Or Burt for that matter? And what did she owe herself? After all, it was her senior year. Even before it had started it was becoming more complicated by the day.


Friday, May 7, 2021

GOING HOME - Chapter 21

    It was hard to believe....how things had turned out so differently than he expected, with a surprise at every turn.

    Now, before he left Tanner, would she be willing to hear him out? Could he manage his last errand without creating a confrontational scene? 
 



                           Chapter 21


By the time Tom returned to the Orchard House that evening Rick was nowhere in sight. A note on the dining room table explained his absence. "I’m with Sandy. Be home sometime".

Tom allowed himself a quiet chuckle at the boy’s no-nonsense directness, then moved on to his own, more immediate concerns. After an introspective afternoon in the calming quiet of River Park he was not looking for company. He was hungry and ready for dinner. Since the Orchard House cupboards were absolutely bare, he decided to drive to downtown Tanner, to the city’s main business district. Hopefully he could survey those once-familiar sights and find a decent meal in the process.

He was in luck. He remembered the glitzy, now-busy restaurant in it’s former guise as a favorite sporting-goods store. The high ceilings and bulky posts remained, adding an appealing ‘period’ feel to the eatery. There, after a filling meal, he pushed his plate aside to nurse his coffee and get his mind around his brief, but eventful week in Tanner.

His original plan had been simple enough....a brief return to sell his mother’s property and salvage keepsakes, while avoiding the family he had deserted so long before. Yet in spite of those minimal intentions, the last eight days had been anything but simple. Instead, it seemed as though he had encountered some unexpected surprise at every turn.

Beyond the property transaction and its pleasantly successful outcome, there had been Rick’s troubling connection with the Bluff Avenue Fedders. As much as Tom had resisted, he realized the boy's distressing intrigues had been directly responsible for his own satisfying reunion with the daughter he had left behind forty years before. What’s more, at that very moment his son was spending time with his own granddaughter. How improbable was that?

Finally, after a leisurely, nostalgic stroll through the city's downtown blocks, Tom returned to the Orchard House to wait for his nine o’clock appointment. 

In truth, "appointment" was perhaps not an accurate description of the meeting he had in mind. Sitting there in the dim silence of the living room he could envision several possible outcomes.... ranging from quiet surprise to loud confrontation. The element of surprise would be a given. Would he be able to avoid a confrontation?

                                                     ~~~


Ten after nine. It had been a hectic shift, made all the more so by foot traffic from an eight-team tournament being held at the nearby softball complex. At the Tanner Time convenience store Linda Fedder took a moment to fill out her cash-register report and drop it into the floor safe, before briefing her shift replacement. With that she punched her time card and was ready to leave for home.

Like every weekday, her Tuesday had begun at five-thirty that morning. Once back home she would hurry through a few household chores before catching the ten o’clock newscast....though chances were she would be asleep before the weather report. By ten-thirty Sue Ann, on her way to work, would shake her mother awake and urge her to get into bed. 

Linda had lived that same numbing routine for years. With the likelihood of a forced sale or even foreclosure of the Asylum property, and the prospect of moving, her schedule was not likely to get easier any time soon.

Finally she gathered her purse and sweater, nodded to the young clerk, and started out to her van. From his parking-lot vantage point, leaning against the front fender of his pickup, Tom Fedder was watching her approach. Instinctively, she looked away from the stranger standing in the near darkness. An instant later she realized who it was and stopped short.

“What are you doing here?” She asked gruffly. She took a single tentative step toward him. “Is everything okay? Is something wrong?”

“Everyone’s fine. I was just waiting for you,” he  answered, motioning her toward the pickup. “Do you have a minute?”

For the past hour he had wondered how, or if, he would be able to break through her stubborn disinterest. Even now he was not sure how to proceed. Again he nodded toward the cab. “Come on. This won’t take long.”

“I’m just fine right here,” Linda insisted. “I don’t understand what you want. I thought you’d left.”

“I’m leaving in the morning. That’s why I’m here tonight. I need to talk to you.” 

He reached for her arm and nudged her around the front fender toward the passenger-side door. “Would you please get in? We're not going anywhere. We just need to talk.”

“You don’t need to push. I can do it myself,” she protested, jerking her arm from his grip. She waited for him to open the door, then pulled herself up into the high pick-up seat to wait while he walked around to the driver’s side. 

“Now then,” she asked again. “Will you tell me what this is about?”

For a few seconds Tom sat staring out the front window. They were alone together for the first time in forty years....and all she could do was growl. He had hoped for something more civil. Finally he turned, and in the dim light looked into her face. His gaze was making her uncomfortable. He could tell that. But he was not inclined to look away. 

By then the affirming recollections were flooding back. Closing his eyes, he summoned a mental return to that April morning, to their sun-bathed Bluff Avenue kitchen, where the young teacher he had been in those days was preparing to leave for school. He pictured Sue Ann there....in her high chair, making a predictable mess of her breakfast. He stooped to tickle her under the chin, evoking the happy squeal he never tired of hearing. 

At the kitchen counter Linda was busy, wearing the floral housecoat he could still see in his mind’s eye. With a hug and good-bye kiss she handed him his lunch box and he was on his way to work. It had been a cherished family routine, played out every school-day morning. On that morning neither of them could have known that it would never happen again.

Before that April day was over he had left Tanner. His send off was not presided over by his aggrieved wife, but instead her screaming, combative brother. Bob Cannon had wanted so badly to give Tom Fedder a proper thrashing. He had not been able to manage that, so settled instead for a few ineffective shoves and a stream of loud profanity. It was Bob’s angry face that Tom remembered in his rear-view mirror as he fled.

Now, in the convenience-store parking lot, for the first time since that hurtful day, Linda was sitting beside him, a mere arm’s length away. They had spent a few minutes together two days before, talking of Sandy’s disappearance. During that brief meeting she had made no effort to hide her distaste for his presence. He had no reason to expect anything different this time.

More to the point, Linda was in no mood for his apparent stalling. “Will you tell me what this is about? I have to get home.”

“There’s something I need to explain. That’s all.”

“Then do it.”

“Okay,” he began. “First of all, your brother came by the house the other night. As you can imagine he was loud and angry. Being subtle never was Bob’s thing. At first he just made me mad. Then I started listening to what he was saying.”

“What was that?”

“He was giving me an earful about how hard it’s been for you. You and the others.”

“Why would he do that?” For the first time it sounded as though she might be part of the conversation.

“I knew exactly why. He wanted to be sure that I knew what you’ve dealt with, complete with all the details.”

“But, why?”

“Why do you suppose? He wanted me to feel guilty about what I’d done.”

“There was no need for him to stir things up like that.” Linda looked away, making a mental note to remind her brother it was not his place to be spreading such gossip, least of all to Tom Fedder.

“You’re right," Tom replied. "There was no need for him to do that. None at all. There’s nothing he could have said to make me feel more guilty and ashamed than I already felt.” He shifted nervously against the arm rest. “I’ve been ashamed of that for forty years. I didn’t need him to remind me.”

Linda cocked her head and for the first time looked into his face. “You have?” An instant later she had turned away.

“Of course I have. Why wouldn’t I? But there was more than that, something else that Bob wanted me to hear. It was about your refinancing problems. He made it sound like you might lose the house.”

Taken by surprise, Linda’s response was loud and animated. “He had no right to talk about that. Who does he think he is? Just wait until I see him.”

He waited a moment for her sputtering anger to cool. “Hey, don’t be mad at Bob. I’m glad he told me.”

“Why? So you can gloat?”

Tom stopped short, taken aback by her spiteful charge. He had hoped to introduce the business at hand in a more amiable manner. She was not about to let that happen. “How else would I have known? You’d have never told me.”

“What are you talking about? It’s none of your damn business.”

There was no need to push any harder....no reason to risk her escalating anger. Reaching into the door pocket he retrieved a long envelope and handed it across to her. “Anyway, this is why I wanted to see you tonight.”

“What’s this?” she asked warily. For a moment he was afraid she might not accept it.

“Just take it. Okay?” 

Second later Linda had pulled two folded papers from the envelope. Squinting in the half-light she scanned each of them....paragraph after paragraph of small print, raised notary stamps, and especially the large red letters stamped in red across the first page, reading PAID IN FULL. Her eyes grew wide and she shook her head.

 Once, then twice, she reread the bold red print, wanting to understand what it meant. “What have you done?” she mumbled. “You can’t do this.”

“Yeah, I can. I needed to do it. And I did.”

“Then I won’t accept it. I certainly don’t have to.”

That had Tom forcing a soft laugh. “I guess you don’t have to like it. But you can’t change it. It’s already done.”

“Well, you didn’t have to do that. You shouldn’t have. This is my affair. I don’t need your help. Not for a minute.”

He raised his hand to quiet her protest. “Will you just calm down. Give me one minute to explain. Don’t interrupt. Don’t argue. Just listen. I’ll probably stumble around a bit. But I have to say this. Okay? Then I’ll leave.”

Without waiting for her response Tom plowed ahead. “The thing is, I had to do this....for you and for myself.” He scratched his chin, wondering how to make his point.

“You see, there was never a chance to tell you how sorry I was. How sorry I still am. Until the last couple days I didn’t realize how much I needed to say that out loud. Now I want you to hear it, even though it’s way too late. I owe that to you, to Sue Ann, and everyone else, including me.” Chewing on his lip he turned away. 

“I was sorry then. I’m sorry now. I’ve been sorry every day in between. I’ll always be sorry.” he nodded at the envelope Linda clutched in her hand.

“I know it’s selfish, but what I did there was at least as much for me as for you. It’s only money, you know. It can’t undo what I’ve done. But hopefully it can help make things easier for you and the kids. That’s something I needed to do.”

For long seconds there was only quiet. Linda was silent, processing his unexpected explanation. For his part Tom could think of nothing more that needed saying. Finally he straightened up and said, “I’d better be going.”

“Yes, of course.”

Then, as if he had forgotten, which in fact he had, he added, “There is one other thing.”

“There is?” 

It was easier to look into her face now. “We’ve loaded everything we’re going to take from Mom’s house. But there’s a lot of stuff we had to leave. We didn’t have room to take it. If you want to, I’ve asked Paul Corin to let you look through what we left behind before he calls someone to take it all away. If there’s anything there that you want, please take it.”

“You can’t do that. It’s not right.” 

“I certainly can do that. I can’t force you to take it, but I think you should. I know that’s what Mom would have wanted.”

When Linda turned back to him her voice had grown quiet and far away. “She was a wonderful lady, you know. I was sorry to hear she was gone.”

“Yeah. She was quite a gal.”

“There were times when we wouldn’t have made it without her help.” Her smiling thoughts of Betty Fedder were enough to remind him he had not seen that smile for far too long. 

“Her help?” Tom asked. “What do you mean?”

“She never told you, did she?” Linda paused to consider that unlikely possibility. “Sue Ann and I were alone. I was working two jobs, but it was never enough. I don’t know how, but your mom seemed to know we were struggling. The first time she came by with some money, maybe fifty or sixty dollars, I told her I wouldn’t take it.”

“I can imagine that she had something to say about that. She could be a stubborn lady.”

“You’re telling me. She let me know, in no uncertain terms, how rude it was to refuse a gift. I never did that again.”

By then Tom was trying to picture his mother in that scenario. “Why do you suppose she never mentioned that to me?”

“What difference would it have made?” 

He had no answer for that....and was unwilling to go where his thoughts were leading him. It was time to move on. 

“Look, please call Paul. He's expecting to hear from you. Get a key from him and look through her stuff. Let him know if there’s any of it you want. He’ll have it hauled over to your place.”

“That still doesn’t sound right. It should be yours.”

“Come on. I can’t haul it to Montana. There’s too much of it. I’d rather it didn’t go to some second-hand store.” 

He paused to consider the probable reason for her objection. “It doesn’t have to be from me, you know. Think of it as a gift from Mom, one of those kind you're not supposed to refuse.” 

Linda reached for the door handle before turning back, “I’m really very confused.” Holding up the envelope she asked, “Can you tell me why you’re doing this now, after all this time? It still doesn’t make any sense.”

“I’m not sure I can explain,” Tom answered. “I suppose there’s more than one reason. In the first place, I never knew how bad things had been for you. Maybe I should have known, but I didn’t. Now I do. 

"And like I said, this is for me, and you, and Sue Ann. I came here not expecting to see any of you. I was sure that would be best for everyone. Then I met Sandy, and Sue Ann, and you. It didn’t feel like I thought it would.”

“How did it feel?”

“It’s kind of hard to describe. At first it was intimidating, kind of frightening. Then it was a bit surprising. I still have a lot of stuff to sort out. I know that.”

“I can tell you how this feels to me,” Linda replied, raising the envelop. “First of all, it’s a shock. I’m not sure I believe it yet. Not after worrying about it for so long.  I honestly didn’t know how we were going to make it. It’s like we’ll have a life again, like we’ve been pulled out of a deep hole. All of us.”

“I dug that hole. Remember? Seems like I should be the one to help you out of it.” Tom allowed himself one last smile. “You take care. I have to go. We have a long drive tomorrow.”