Monday, September 22, 2008

Ramblings from My Attic #110
Pilgrims Unrest
The chain was up across the quasi dirt road. That was good. The 10-acre lake had half emptied the previous week when the drain pipe and dam sprung a leak; and a squatter had taken residence in the farm house. That was bad.

It was our fourth annual book club retreat weekend, and my pal Daphne and I were heading to her farm, Pilgrim’s Rest, early to tidy up before the rest of us got there.
We turned the corner to the house and were relieved to see the plain gray farmhouse still standing. Daphne didn’t know quite what to expect after her husband drove down to the farm a week before to inspect the dam damage only to surprise a young man who was quite plainly living in the house.

He found the beer bottles and cigarette butts before coming face to face with their “guest.” Turns out the kid (23 years old so young enough to be progeny to any of us) was the son of a farmer they knew, and unbeknownst to his dad, had decided that while down on his luck he could just sneak his way into this house and party down until spring. Caught off guard and big hearted, husband told him to be gone by the next Friday or he’d break the news to the boy’s dad. His biggest threat….”Just be glad it wasn’t my wife and her friends that found you, then you’d really be in trouble!”

As we approach the house, the morning sun outlines hundreds of cigarette butts in the grass and highlights the broken beer bottle glass glistening on the brick steps. Daphne’s shackles are up and every sweeping glance is taking inventory. We open the door. Ok. The place was not in shambles. We throw open doors and windows, then proceed through the house together.
As we walk through the main hall, Daphne notices two small pictures hung on the wall to our left. They used to be on a living room wall. Huh. She lifts one to find a hole punched in the wall, in the shape of a rifle butt. Colorful language ensues.

Daphne is officially pissed off. She is now on a mission to find other signs of violation by this twerp. I weigh loyal companionship with the pending arrival of the rest of our book club in search of R&R. I grab a broom and disinfectant and start cleaning. She takes charge upstairs, and yells out in frustration every time she finds something amiss. I helpfully yell back, “Focus; they’ll be here soon.” Like Noah’s menagerie, our friends arrive two by two as the afternoon sun turns golden.

By the time the first car pulls up the drive, we have discovered spills throughout the house, a pan of sausage and grease reeking in the oven, missing cups and glasses, ruined linens sitting on the washing machine and a random piece of wood in the back yard that might belong to a chair, the generous donation of 4 shot glasses etched with phrases not meant for polite company. And worst of all, no toilet paper.

After placing a TP SOS to friends still en route, we finish cleaning (Note to self: cleaning is synonymous with destruction of evidence). A couple of us wander down the road through the fields to the lake to view the stumps poking up through remaining water,- stumps underwater for at least a half a century until now. A crane swoops down to perch on a recently exposed log and a fat brown beaver scampers across the mud into the water for a swim.

Ahhh, lightness and laughter push the tension aside and we all adjourn to the living room to enjoy our first glass of wine, a fine champagne. Siege mentality gives way to the happy realization that we have all arrived before dark on a Friday night; a first for our retreat, and we joyously clink our glasses to the setting sun. Then Daphne gazes up to the living room ceiling and pronounces with wonder, “That’s not my ceiling fan!”

Seems the squatter had found it necessary to replace her perfectly good ceiling fan with a $15 Wal Mart variety now barely connected to the ceiling. That would explain the glass found behind chairs and under sofas. Ok. So the specter of a party now emerges from the image of a lone guy hunkered down in the house with no place else to go. A few phone calls to her husband later and a locksmith is arranged to arrive the next morning to change all the locks. What next, she thinks, and we all shake our heads.

We are there after all, to eat, drink, and be merry so Sue prepares lasagna for the oven, more wine is poured, the banter is light, and a fire is started in the Franklin Stove. Wait, what’s this? Out of the ashes in the stove emerges a small piece of charred wood with a familiar look. It is the foot of a kitchen barstool. Now the piece of wood in the yard made sense. Why would he be burning the barstool when there was a huge pile of firewood in the shed? Because he or friends had broken it and how better to hide the evidence then to burn it.

As we lounge in the living room after dinner someone notices another hole punched in the wall, this one behind a sofa. We ponder these new discoveries, our cognitive abilities now enhanced by excellent Cabernet, sumptuous lasagnas and carmelized apple bread pudding. There are many miles between us and our responsibilities and life is good.

Our book club is a sanctuary; a group of women in various stages of paid employment and motherhood brought together by love of reading, and kept together by the pure pleasure of conversation and friendship. We include stay-at-home moms, an architect, a business owner, a lawyer, a life-coach, educator-librarian, musician, bookkeeper, writer, engineer and PTA presidents past and present; and we have survived ten years together through laughter and tears.It is fitting that Daphne endures the unfolding discovery of her farm’s invasion with all of us at her side. Our bravado that night increases with each uncorking of wine and by bed time no one is much worried about intruders.

Then Kristen pulls aside her covers on a bunk bed to find an interesting small gray plastic box. She comes back downstairs to ask if anyone knows what this may be. After playing around with the object that at first looks to me like a Game Boy, we decide what she has found is a drug scale. So our boy was dealing drugs here? That certainly upped the ante.

Night passes peacefully. Saturday morning dawns sunny and unexpectedly mild with a 7am phone call from my nine year old wondering when her basketball game is. I stagger into the kitchen to find Sue reading and Marian ready to fix a gourmet breakfast of Swedish pancakes with strawberries and cream sauce. God, how I love our farm weekends.

Daphne reminds us that there will be a man on the premises soon. The Locksmith is due anytime. Then while on the phone with her husband and renewing the inventory, she adds the sheriff to our expected list of visitors after discovering that a vintage shotgun and their 22 rifle are missing from their closet. It’s officially time for the Long Arm of the Law. So the momentous decision each of us make that morning is whether to greet all these visitors in jammies or jeans.

When the locksmith knocks on the door, we are all post-breakfast, standing around the kitchen island trying out an assortment of hand creams and skin defoliating products to make our hands softer and younger looking. I notice a bearded older man at the front door and saunter over, still clad in my modest plaid one-piece pajamas, and attempt to open the door with exfoliant still slathered on my hands. After a few tries and with the help of my pajama sleeve I finally manage to open the door. “Man in the House” I bellow. He is a kind man and an efficient locksmith unperturbed by the pajama clad women scurrying around him. He also knew the deceased former owner of the farm and gives Daphne some great tidbits of house history which she takes in with interest.

Then he departs and the Deputy Sheriff arrives. Daphne gets yet another surprise when the Deputy tells her he responded to a disturbance call to the farm at 4am a week ago to find at least 14 cars parked and people partying in and out of the house. This would have been just hours after her husband left, convinced that the boy would do the right thing and immediately clean things up and move out.

The Deputy is professional and efficient, and it becomes clear that the invader has brought upon himself a heap of trouble, with damages now moving the potential charges from misdemeanor to felony. Not to mention the handy little drug scale found upstairs. And he reminded us as we go about our business of retreating to save any thing that looked like evidence. Oops, too bad we were such conscientious cleaners the day before!

By the time breakfast is over, locks changed, dishes washed, Deputy briefed, showers begun, it is almost lunch time. Pat takes over the kitchen and out comes mouthwatering soup, bread, cheese and of course, a bottle or two of fine white wine. We gather in the sunny yellow dining room, pose for the camera, and begin a joyous and delicious repast.

Belva glances up from lunch, stares out the front window and startles us with “Who’s that?” Some of us are able to follow her glance in time to see a late model blue SUV racing down the dirt road between the fields to the lake. More colorful language, loosely translated: “What the hell?”
In a cacophony of suppositions, we determine as a group that the car belongs to the trespasser or one of his friends and they’ve caught wind that the Sheriff’s department is on their tail, so are racing to the lake to retrieve their drug/ammo stash. With wine glasses in hand, most of us are now standing, adrenaline vying with alcohol in our veins, heaping advice upon diminutive Daphne. She starts to call the boy’s father to find out who owns the blue vehicle, but we shout her down in favor of calling our fine friend the Deputy Sheriff.

Several of us spill out onto the front yard, camera in hand, to search for signs of activity in the distant fields, while others call out to us from the house, “Are you nuts?” I hear a distant siren and rush inside yelling “The Sheriff’s coming! The Sheriff’s coming!” then race back out barely in time to grab a snapshot of two Sheriff’s sedans racing down the dirt road to the lake, lights flashing, sirens now silenced.

We are now a very excited bunch of ladies. Minutes pass. Some of us have again spilled out into the yard and I even admit that I’m listening for gunshots. Then Daphne’s cell phone rings inside the house, and we hear laughter, then a voice from the front door….the car belongs to a friend of Daphne’s.

I am reminded that I have always found life more entertaining than fiction, and charge back inside to find out what the heck is going on. Daphne is now on the phone with friend’s wife back in Arlington, explaining to her that her husband is standing knee-deep in mud at the farm, being questioned by sheriff’s deputies. Turns out friend’s husband is an amateur archaeologist and having heard that the lake was draining, had rushed down to search for artifacts. He interpreted his wife’s enjoinder to “not bother the ladies, they’re having a book club retreat” as an order to not bother them at all with even a “Hi, don’t mind me. I’m going down to the lake for a bit.” He later assures us that she has since loudly and vehemently corrected his interpretation.

One sheriff’s vehicle drives away while our nice Deputy Sheriff pulls back up to the house. Daphne and I sheepishly walk out to greet him. He accepts our apologies with a slight smile, and comments wryly “You don’t have to apologize to me, just to the cars we almost ran off the road racing to get here.” While he is standing there, up drives the trespasser’s father, humbled and embarrassed by his son’s actions. And about three minutes later the Arlington neighbor drives up from the lake to apologize to Daphne for the ruckus. I can’t resist running back inside, grabbing my camera and sneaking to an upstairs window to chronicle little Daphne surrounded by these three men in her sunny driveway.

In a postmortem e-mail, Kristen commented “I really, really thought that the whole trespasser story was an excuse to bring in male strippers and keep us from being suspicious. I was watching to see if the “locksmith,” the “deputy sheriff,” “the farmer,” the “Arlington neighbor” started to shake their bon-bons and work those rip-away pants.” Maybe next year.

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