Archive for February, 2011

For the Love of a Trailer

February 20, 2011

We’re sitting at the kitchen table.  My eyes are closed as I savor the smell and  taste of my first cup of morning coffee.  I have a whole day ahead of me with no plans.  Bruce has his nose up close to the screen of his Mac.  He’s reading  the specs of some piece of heavy equipment out loud.  I’m not paying too much attention. He does this a lot.

“Look, I found one in Alleghany County,” he announces, turning the laptop around so I can see.  “It’s what we’ve been looking for.”

I focus my attention to the rusted hulk on the screen. “I haven’t been looking for a trailer, you have.”

“Ok, I found the one I’ve been looking for.  Its tongue is longer. It’s more heavy duty.  It’ll carry the backhoe.”

“We already have two trailers,” I say. “They look big and heavy enough to me.”

He looks at me and sighs.  This is where he usually starts talking like he’s explaining something to our youngest son, in simple words with bulleted specifics.  I’m not interested in the explanations. I give up listening, and leave to start putting together my day pack for the trip.  

We head out a half hour later toward Clifton Forge, that’s the location listed in the online Government auction. We’ve been there before.  We honeymooned at Douthat State Park, just outside of Clifton Forge thirty years ago.  Our cabin was a rustic log structure with a huge fireplace.  I remember spreading a blanket there and eating our first meal together picnic style. The food was left over from our wedding reception. The bubbles in the champagne tickled my nose. At nineteen, I wasn’t old enough to drink legally, but my new husband was. We planned that honeymoon week and our entire life together that night.   

Clifton Forge is a small railroad town set in the midst of the Alleghany Mountains. Houses and businesses line the sides of Main Street.  At one end is the train depot. I remember that. At the other end is a Community College. That’s new.  I can’t imagine what they teach there, Coal Mine Management, Train Engineering, Principles of Logging?  I’m surprised that there are enough young people living around the tiny town to attend the college. 

I’m more excited about the drive than I am the trailer. The road is straight, the mountains are beautiful and the leaves are turning. It misted rain all night, but the clouds are lifting and the weatherman forecasts sun by afternoon to our west.  I pack the camera and two books.  I never know exactly how long a three hour trip will take.  Ones in the past have sometimes carried over into the next day.

When we leave home, the trailer lists for $365.  We climb up into Bruce’s new dump truck, my first time in it, two steps up, grab bar, hoist self, sitting on top of the world. This dump truck dares smaller vehicles to pull out in front of it. It’s a diesel road tractor with air horns. When Bruce makes a decision, he goes all-the-way-big.  We can barely hear each other over the roar of the engine.  I wonder why the International even has a radio.

We bump along the interstate.  The further west we drive, the lighter the sky becomes, but clouds still hang low and drift along the tops of the mountains.

“Help me watch for the exit,” Bruce says. 

I’ve been taking pictures from the passenger window, but the side mirror is hindering my artistic abilities.  I’m glad for the diversion.  The Dabney S. Lancaster Community College is at Exit 150-B in Clifton Forge.  I’m amazed that Clifton Forge warrants two exits. 

“There it is,” I say.  “At the end of the ramp, take a right.”

As we pull off the interstate, the entrance to the school is right there. The road dead ends at the school.

Bruce follows the parking lot around to the rear of the college until he finds what looks like a buildings and grounds garage. It turns out to be the welding shop.  Students are busy at work, helmets donned, sparking metals together.  A man hurries out to Bruce and points him in the direction of the saw mill.  That’s where the trailer waits.

We backtrack to a small gravel path, just wide enough for the dump truck. It’s  guarded by a Keep Out sign.  Bruce drops into a lower gear and we descend a steep hill.  A saw mill appears on the left, students at work there too. A bulldozer and log truck with knuckle boom watch us from the parking lot.  A tree planter squats in the bushes. Bruce pulls up to the trailer, where it lies dying in the weeds, tires flat, metal rusted, floor rotting. It’s worse than the two we already have. Even I can see that. We couldn’t even drag it home if we bought it.  We’d have to have a trailer to haul it.

Bruce drops down to the ground, and I struggle, trying to find my footing on the steps, grabbing for the handle to ease my landing.  We walk over to the trailer.

“It’s ugly and broken,” I say.

“Let me measure it,” Bruce says.

How he finds promise in this wreck, I can’t imagine.   I get back in the dump truck and open my book.  My decision is already made.  Leave the monstrosity here.

It takes Bruce an hour to inspect the behemoth.  He puts on his coveralls, takes out his tape measure and begins calculating.  He’s busy with numbers and schematics.  He lifts parts, slides under on his back, shines a flashlight, measures some more and decides it could work.

“Needs fixing, but it’ll work. We can’t haul it away like it is,” he says.  “We’ll have to pull it out into the parking lot, repack the bearings….”  I’ve stopped listening. I shake my head and wonder again just why I married this man.

He pulls himself up into the truck and starts the engine. “I’m taking you to lunch,” he says.  “Where do you want to go?”

We had stopped at the Outdoor People Store in Clifton Forge for fishing supplies on our honeymoon.  It was right across Main Street from the C&O Railroad Depot Restaurant. Lunchtime sent us in that direction.   It was a small, square, block building next to the railroad tracks. The interior was bright and clean with a lunch counter and several small wooden tables dotting the tile floor. We opened the door to the tinkle of a bell and the aroma of fresh baked biscuits drew us in.   The food was almost as good as what came out of my Mama’s kitchen.

“I wonder  if the C&O Depot Restaurant is still there,” I say.

Bruce heads in that direction  The small building is still there, feeding railroad workers and townsfolk.  The door bell tinkles, and I’m nineteen again, just married and hungry.  A sign boasts Today’s special:  Chicken and Dumplings, mashed potatoes, green beans, biscuit, all comfort food.  A glass case displays home baked apple, cherry and peach fruit pies. We decide on two specials with sweet tea.  Bruce orders cherry pie. I choose apple. We sit at the counter and watch trains filled with coal roll slowly by the window. 

As we eat our meal, we reminisce about our time spent here years ago.  Bruce taught me how to bait a fishing hook, and fry the catch over an open fire.  I taught him how to make a bed, only to have it in complete disarray a few minutes later.  We laughed, talked, and made plans for a house, and babies.   He lifted me up under my arms and sat me on the hood of his truck.  He laid his head in my lap and told me he didn’t know he could be so happy.  I was a tiny thing back then.  Thirty years later, we’ve spread about the middle and  we’re contemplating broken-down trailers.

Bruce takes out his wallet, pays the tab, leaving a few bills for a tip.  We head to the truck and turn toward home. The auction ends at seven p.m. and the drive is several hours long.  At exit A, Bruce unexpectedly veers right,  and turns in the direction of Douthat State Park.  At the entrance, he pays the fee and we rattle over the speed bumps toward the dam and cabins.  It hasn’t changed in thirty years. We park in the lot overlooking the lake.  The sun has come out and the wind has picked up. The ripples on the lake sparkle and a few boats float here and there on its surface. 

“Want to get out and walk around some?” Bruce asks me.

“Sure, that would be nice.”

He opens the door to the truck and hops down.  I reach over, lock his door, slide my purse under the seat, and turn to open my door.  Bruce is standing there waiting.  He reaches up, puts his hands under my arms and lowers me to the ground.  He kisses me and we walk hand in hand toward the path to the lake.

“Wonder if they have a cabin open tonight?” he asks.

“What about your trailer?  The auction ends at 7:00.”

“We’ve already got two trailers,” he says. “I can do without another one for awhile longer.”

Now I remember why I married this man.

Jeff and Me

February 12, 2011

Jeff and Me

      He was five days older than me, and my best friend.  Two doors separated our apartments and we came and went as we pleased without knocking.  Our parents worked and we had keys on strings around our necks that let us in after school.  Lemon Cooler cookies and milk didn’t taste the same unless Jeff was sharing them with me at the table.

     We were ten, and planned our lives in a hideout under the steps in the basement storage room of our building.  We stacked milk crates to display our rock collection and kept a paper bag to fill with glass soda bottles. The nickel deposits on each one added up to purchase forbidden bubble gum and chocolate bars. Every day we opened the secret cigar box and selected a treat. Jeff taught me how to blow a bubble. I showed him how to whistle with a blade of grass between his thumbs.

     Our Mamas were friends.  They were both single and went out on Friday nights sometimes. I sat on the corner of my Mama’s bed, watching her at the vanity, applying mascara and lipstick, brushing and curling her hair, fussing over which blouse to wear with what skirt and how high her heels should be.  She twisted and turned at the mirror trying to see all sides, making sure that everything was tucked in and perfect.  It seemed like a lot of work to me. I liked my jeans, t-shirts, sneakers and hair in braids.  It was hard to ride a bicycle in a dress, and I knew I’d poke my eye out with the mascara wand.  

     Jeff and I shared a baby sitter.  It was cheaper that way, and fun for us.  We got to stay up late, and watch cowboy movies on TV.  While Cindy took over Mama’s bedroom, locking the door, to talk to her boyfriend “privately” on the phone, Jeff and I pulled sheets out of the linen closet and draped them over the kitchen chairs we dragged in front of the television, making a tent. We pulled pillows and blankets off my bed to create a prairie pallet, camping out in the open range of my living room, and cooked a cowhand’s meal of popcorn and chips.  We turned off the lights, kept warm by an imaginary fire, star gazed, and listened to the cows in the distance.  We planned to drive our cattle over the plains and through the river the next day. We both knew how to swim.

     We must have fallen asleep before our Mama’s got home because when I woke up the next morning, Jeff was still under the tent, curled in blankets beside me.  I poked him in the ribs before turning the TV to cartoons.  He sat up blinking and rubbing his eyes.  His hair stuck up all over his head and I laughed at him.  He punched me in the arm.  Our range breakfast was two bowls of cereal and orange juice.  We sat Indian style and watched the Roadrunner outsmart the Coyote over and over again.

    Jeff went home to brush his teeth and change his clothes.  We met in the storage room where I scratched around and found a piece of rope.  Jeff knotted a loop in its end and we practiced lassoing a broken mule ear chair in the corner.

      Outside on our bicycles, we drove cattle all day, down the grasslands of Berkshire Road and through the river of Cedar creek at the foot of the hill. I slipped climbing the creek bank  and Jeff caught me by the arm, pulling me up onto the grass.  We reached the apartment building patch-of-grass-Ranch  by late afternoon.  We were tired, having driven five hundred head a hundred miles in one day. Our knees were grass stained and scraped. Our sneakers were muddy.   The saddle packed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches from lunch were long gone and our stomachs grumbled.

     We flopped down in the grass and stared up at the clouds waiting for our Mamas to call us for supper.  

“Look at that one,” I said. “It’s a turtle.  See his shell, and his little tail?”

“Where?” Jeff asked, putting his head closer to mine.

“Right there,” I said, pointing. “See?”

“That’s not a turtle,” he argued. “That’s a heart.”

“How does that look like a heart?” I asked him, turning my head closer to his angle.

Then he sat up, leaned over and kissed me on the mouth, just like that, right on the mouth.  My eyes opened wide and I sat straight up.  “What did you do that for?” I asked, pushing his shoulder so hard he fell over.  I jumped up, wiped my mouth on my sleeve, and stomped home.  Jeff Hentslie sure did know how to ruin a perfectly good day.

The Pine

February 5, 2011


The skeleton of a Virginia Pine, stripped of bark halfway up, stands tall outside my kitchen window.  Limbs once thick with needles are skinny bare now and broken from January’s wind and ice.  No more blending in, its pale features stand out.

I glance again, a difference today.  Pine cones dot the tree’s outstretched arms, cling to its brittle fingers.  I don’t remember them. The tree held and let go only raindrops yesterday.

I walk outside for a closer look.   The screen door slams, setting pinecones to flight, black seeds on the wind.