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Roger N. Meyer "...of a different mind "
Puzzle Pieces Image

Bee Baxter Meyer

13625 Sothwest 79 Court

Miami, Florida  33158





     In a truck stop on the first day of our trip to the Black Hills we saw a cowhand hold up a checken leg to slice off the meat into his mouth with his pocket knife,  When our own dinners came, we watched our Mrs.Kraft do the same thing with her table knife.  If we ordered her dinners, she fussed.  If she had to order her own, she sat bleakly and withdrawn.  She only wanted the cheapest dish on the menu.  Any other embarrassed her.  She at a lot of franfurts and sauerkraut on the trip.


     The last time we ran an ad for a live-in houskeeper, Mrs. Kraft [was] the most unwilling applicant.  After first refusing the job by telephone she came to our house one evening.  She began the interview by saying, "I don't suppose I can make it."  She forced me to ask, "Make what?  And why can't you?"  She said, "I'm too old, anyhow, I'm near sixty.  Of course I ain't afraid of hard work but it ain't as though I got to work.  I got a farm of my own and I shouldn't be working anyhow."


     The only other applicants were a glamor drop-out from a local meat packing plant and an unmarried mother who wanted nearly every afternoon off the visit her child in a nearby nursery home.  I asked Mr. Kraft to take a cab and come to see me.  "A cab?" she repeated.  "Yes," I said.  "I'll pay for it." There was silence at the other end of the phone.  Finally she said, "I suppose I could.  But I ain't got no way of gettin' back."  "We'll drive you,"" I told her.


     Half an hour later she sat in our living room, hunched into the book corner near the fireplace.  She was so scrubbed.  With her tight little knot of gray hair and her black cotton gloves knotted between her hands, I knew I wanted her.


     "I got diabetes," she said.  "And varicose veins."


     "If this was to be a contest of handicaps I could match her.  "I don't have an appendix or a gall bladder, " I said.


     She looked around our newly redecorated room.  "Fair sized room," she said.  "and all carpeted.  I s'pose you got to keep it cleaned up just so."


     "Oh, it's easy to do," I said quickly.  "We just vacuum once a week."  I could see her heavy lidded blue eyes growing dubious.  "It just never seems to get very dirty," I added, for fear she would think me shiftless.


     She sighed.  "My daughter Florence got a mobile home longer'n this," she said proudly.  "All fixed up real pretty with built ins."  I had nothing to offer in competition.


     Would she like to see the rest of the house?  She sighed.  "Might as well."


     I drew the white drapes in the dining room to show our pride, the huge plate glass picture window with its view of the apple tree.  "Probably gets pretty dirty," she said.  I admitted it.


     We went into the kitchen.  We had just finished modernizing the old house and loved it.  She looked at the satin gleam of the new birch cupboards and the formica topped snack bar and table.  "My son Hubert and his wife Evelyn just ordered linoleum for my farm," she said.  "Cost plenty.  Probably worth it though.  I s'pose you spent plenty on this place."  I admitted it.


     "I just bought another eighty acres," she said.  "My land keeps me poor.  And living alone's not all that cheerful."


     But you could see her scorning the effete house, surrounded only by city lots.


     We went upstairs to what would be her room.  She felt the bed.  Then she sat down on it.  "I s'pose a person could sleep a night through on this," she said.  She sighed again.  "I don't think I can do things the way you'd want me to.  We never fixed nothin' fancy at the farm.  Just good plain food and lots of it and this is the first year I ain't had a garden.


     I told her we had a garden, too.  She brightened, if the slight lifting of the somber features could be called brightening.  "What you growin'?"


     I had the grace to blush.  "Flowers."


     "Oh," she said, blighting our ridiculous crop of zinnias and marigolds.


     "One thing," she said.


     "Yes?"  I was too eager.


     "How come a strong, chunk little woman like you needs help?"  Why can't you do the place yourself?"


     "I'm working," I told her.  I broadcast.  I do my radio shows from home and my TV shows from the studio.  I'm in and out a lot.


     "Radio and TV, huh?  I musta seen you."  I told her my professional name.  She laughed.  "I always wondered about you," she said.  Whenever I watched you, I wasn't that sure I liked you."


     I knew I liked her, though.


     "Well," she saidl.  "I could try, I guess.  I just won't make no promises about stayin'."


     I tried to hide my eagerness.  "I wouldn't expect you to," I said.  "But we can see how we suit each other."


     She was to come Thursday after dinner.  We waited until eight-thirty that evening.  I hesitated about calling her at the place where she'd been taking care of an invalid wife.  Finally I gave in and phoned.  "I've been waitin' since noon," she said.  Then I remembered.  Farm dinner is at twelve o'clock.


     Within two days she had mastered our electric range, learned how to take the tank vacuum apart and had completed control of our four-year-old twins.  They called her "Mithis Kwaft."  If it weren't for the children, I know I couldn't have kept her for a day.  She was amused at needing two, full-bodied women to run a house with no chickens, no vegetable garden, no butchering and no chores.


     When she had been with us a few days I suggested she might like a hot bath before bed.  "I been spongin' off," she said.  "We got our bathtub on the porch to home and I ain't accustomed to bathin' every time I turn around."


     But after she started taking deep, hot baths, she reveled in them.  She told me how rested they made her.  She even began to use a bar of fancy soap her beauty-shop daughter Lillian had sent her.  She began to put up her hair in curlers at night.  It looked the same way in the morning, thin and tightly drawn back, but she liked the fussiness.


     She started every day early.  By the time I had dressed the twins and sent them downstairs, she was already done with the first floor cleaning.  She complained about it.  "Don't git no chance to build up any dust," she said.  "We used to dust onct a week or so.  But I suppose you folks got to do something with your hands."


     She was much happier after we had a good dust storm.  It justified her morning work and she actually sang as she swished her dust cloth around.  I think she was singing, "Lead Kindly Light," but I couldn't be sure.  She had a kind of low hum with no noticeable tune.  She used the same melody for "My Country 'Tis of Thee," and "Rockaby Baby," which she sang dolefully to the twins in the afternoons, while she was trying to get them to nap.


     I didn't notice anything unusual in her relationship with the children until she began calling them Gary and Larry, the name of her two grandsons.  Soon our Roger would answer only when he was called Gary.  Noel Ruth answered only to Larry.  They began crawling on the floor, saying that Gary and Larry were so little they couldn't walk.  Then Roger threw his voice into high pitch and said, "I Gary.  I milk cow."  All the beautiful words he had been using were forgotten.  "This is a very delicate street, Mommy, because it isn't a wide street."  Or, "This is a great big, beautiful, fat Sunday."  Or, "She's an indivisible girl."  Now it was only, "I Gary.  I milk cows."


     Mrs. Kraft was grandmother.  Her thin, brown arms were made to soothe a cranky child.  She sat and told the children about her two hundred and eighty acres and how she liked to get out and hoe.  When we went for drives in the country, she pointed out the alfalfa, oats and wheat.  Her eyes scanned the corn fields and were sad.  "Small corn.  Skimpy year for corn."


     She spoke mostly to the children.  I sensed that her self-enforced discipline was difficult for her, renting her farm to her older son and living away from him and his little boys.  She wanted her children.  She needed her grandchildren.


     Whenever I would take the children for a walk, I felt her eye and grandmother needs following us.  I finally gave the children over to her in the afternoons, so she could walk them to the park and watch them play on the swings.


     I knew she felt that our city life was soft and useless.  My husband only mowed the lawn instead of driving a tractor like her son Hubert.  Our food was too fancy.  Parsley on the cold meat platters.  Pineapple sections garnished with crisp, cold cherries.  "We never fussed," she said.  But she enjoyed the food and ate more than she should have.  Her diabetes began to bother her.  There was hardly a day she didn't say, "I don't see how I can stay on.  But you folks are sure obligin'."


     I felt that our trip to the Black Hills might be our last week together.  I didn't see how I could possibly offer enough to fill Gary and Larry's place, or how to make up to her for the built-ins in her daughter's mobile home.  But I found out there were two things going for us.  One of course was the twins.  But the other was how she had begun to feel about herself.  Doughty lady, barn and chicken house climber to put on new roofing, driver of tractor, tender of gardens, this farm woman had done additionally what very few of us do well and some not at all.  She had let go.  She had freed her family of their need to think, "Poor Ma.  Sunday again.  Got to go see her."  Or, "Ma's out there alone and there's a storm coming.  Suppose we better get out there and see if she's snugged in."  There might even have been one thing more.  She loved hot baths.


     Even after all these years, I can remember how she began to come alive in the Black Hills.  Mrs. Kraft.  Is it possible we never knew her first name?  It should have been Sarah or Ann.  But I don't remember ever using it.  We paid her in cash.  She didn't think much of checks.  She was, from the beginning, Mrs. Kraft.  She was all tucked in, in true dignity.  In privacy.  Not skimpily, nor selfishly.  But with the wholeness of being her own person.  Mrs. Kraft.


     How she loved the Black Hills.  She could name each tree.  She was the first to point out the buffalo herds and deer.  She was proud of how much she could give us.  We kept turning to her.  "Whatr's this flower, Mrs. Kraft."  "That's yellow clover.  That's a purple alfalfa flower."


     She grew crisp and purposeful.  She forgot her aching feet, [and] trundled up the hills, filling her apron pockets with pebbles.


     She stayed with the children in their cabin, dressing them happily and hideously every morning, mismating our daughter's hair ribbons, socks and overalls.  She put them to bed at night, crooning over them, then walking round and round their cabin as though to weave a spell of protection for them while they slept.


     She subdued the iron cook stove and made the fire draw.  She cooked big breakfasts, scrambling eggs country fashion, breaking them into the skillet of hot butter, stirring them with a fork until they were firm.  She cooked strong egg coffee in an open iron pot and made oven toast dried out enough to be sweet.  She put orange peelings on top of the stove, so the cabin was bitter sweet with their fragrance.  She gathered pinecones to start her fire and we would waken in our cabin nearby, to their sharp odor, as the pale blue smoke rose from her chimney.


     She loved the dish washing in the hard, unwilling water.  This was work worthy of her.


     She came down to the brook with us and stuck her feet into the icy water.  Her feet looked strangely white and gnarled, coming out from under her ill-fitting home-made brown slacks.  She always wore her corset and elastic stockings under the slacks and hid under the bridge to pull off her stockings.


     She wore a long-sleeved figured blouse she'd made.  It was high at the throat, its sleeves down to her heavy boned wrists, so that the sun couldn't get at her.


     She came sight seeing with us but wouldn't come down into Wind Cave at first, because she thought they charged too much.  When we assured her that we'd been saving toward the trip with such costs in mind, she finally agreed and came along eagerly, her eyes alive and curious to the new sights and sensations.


     But all the time her grandchildren Gary and Larry were with us.  She fingered all the souvenirs, talking over what they'd love or wouldn't be able to break.  She told stories about them to the twins, making her boys sound like gifted, outgoing children, totally unlike the shy little towheads we saw whenever we drove her home to her farm.  We began to feel it would be just a matter of days until her home ties would win over her self-discipline and determined independence.  Meanwhile we took pleasure in her tight lipped enjoyment of everything she saw.  If there were moments I hoped she was feeling more towards me than a mere employer-employee relationship, I kept quiet about it. I knew that any overt show of affection would be considered bad taste, or what she cooly described as "puttin' on."  When adults showed affection openly she'd sayd, "There's rooms for that kind of thing."


     She continued to suffer about eating with us in lodges and cares.  She hated sitting out there in public view, having to order and eat strange foods at high prices.  Sometimes, after leaving most of her dinner in a restaurant, she'd go back to her cabin and eat half a head of lettuce in retribution.  Lettuce with no salt or dressing, just "good plain greens with no fancy fixin's."


     One afternoon she disappeared in the little resort town near our lodge.  We had come in to shop and couldn't find her for nearly an hour.  When she came back to the car, she was carrying a big box.  "Stuff for Gary and Larry," she said and her eyes were content at last.


     On the way home she was quieter than usual.  She had warned us over and over again she couldn't promise to stay.  She tried to refuse the money due her for the week.  She said she had had a vacation and loafed enough and it sure was like stealing.  We insisted that she take it.  We thought it was going to be her going-away present.


     The late hot afternoon we came home, she was very tired.  She had been especially patient with the children all through the long, sticky day in the car.  She hadn't mentioned Gary and Larry quite so often.  Roger was beginning to be our Roger again, forgetting, "I Gary.  I milk cow."


     That night as we unpacked, she seemed uneasy about unpacking her bag and box from the trip.  I wondered how to make it easier for her, to soothe her in her leave taking, because words came so hard to her.


     She began, "I don't know as I can stay on, bein' on a special diet and everything and I'm kinda tired."  I was quiet a moment with disappointment, now that I thought she was saying good-bye, and then I said, "Of course you know best, Mrs. Kraft."


     Then she turned to me and made a rare gesture.  She put her arm around my shoulders and gave me a quick squeeze.  "You're quite a little chunk," she said and laughed.  Aloud.


     "I wouldn't want you to overwork,"" I said.  "And I know how you miss your grandchildren."


     "They're good kids," she said.  "But the twins are real interesting."


     I waited.


     "I guess I'll stay on awhile," she said.  "I know just what's the matter with me.  I need a good hot bath."  And she went upstairs.


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