Sunday, March 28, 2004

MARCH 18, 2004, con't

Last fall Floyd Bolin of Alexandria had called me at home to let me know he would be moving to assisted living, that he would be having an auction at his house sometime in spring. Of course, I wrote down the name of the assisted living facility, but I'd be damned if I could find that piece of paper as I prepared for this trip. I remembered the name of the place had a Lutheran sound to it. Alexandria does have a Bethel Manor assisted living facility and Bethany House nursing home. Yet when I stopped at the newspaper, I'd bumped into reporter Jo Coving who had done a feature story on Floyd at the beginning of March, and she said he was still at home.

Perhaps you don't know that Floyd's house is only a block or so north of the newspaper offices. I figured I had to stop and see if Floyd was indeed there.

Indeed he was. A woman with a thick German accent answered the door. I tried to explain who I was. "I don't know nothing about that," she said, "come in. We were just opening Floyd's birthday cards."

You should know that Floyd's house resembles something like a storage building at the Smithsonian, except it would be smaller and more crowded with artifacts. Floyd was sitting at the dining room table where he had a small space cleared for his stacks of birthday cards - one stack had been opened and read, I'm assuming, and the other stack was waiting to be looked at.

"You'll have to pardon us," Floyd said, excusing his misty-eyed condition. "I was just looking at all these cards." Yesterday had been his 95th birthday.

Floyd is a little hard of hearing, remember, so you have to talk loud to him. "Floyd, I'm Tom Montag," I said. "I was here last May and interviewed you."

"Good Lord, man, I'm a 95 years old," Floyd said. "You can't expect me to remember something that happened that long ago."

"I'm the fellow from Wisconsin who's doing the book about the middle west."

"Wisconsin? Eastern Wisconsin. Tom Montag. Ho - yes I remember you. Sit down, sit down."

I sat down and we must have talked for an hour. I said "Floyd, you told me you were moving to assisted living. What are you still doing here?"

"Oh, oh, I have a problem in that regard. I can't seem to leave my friends here," and he swept his hand at some of his rock collection piled up in a corner of the dining room. "I've got 1500 pounds of rocks, and I can't just leave them here."

He said his son was helping him to try and do something with them. "See that piece of Brazilian agate," Floyd said. "I paid $15 for that a long time ago. I don't think I could let go of it for less than $50."

"Has your son tried using a shovel?" I asked.

"Using a shovel?" Floyd said, a little mystified by my suggestion. "Using a shovel for what?"

"To deal with your problem with the rocks," I said.

"Oh, no, no," Floyd said, "we couldn't do that."

Most of what we spoke of we had also talked about last May - except that I didn't remember talking about the days that Floyd joined the migrant wheat harvesters who followed the ripening of the grain all the way into Sasketchewan.

"Floyd," I said, "I'll come back and visit you on Sunday afternoon. I'll bring the tape recorder and we'll talk about the days you followed the wheat harvest."

[When I returned to visit Floyd about 3:00 p.m. on Sunday, there was no answer at the door. I will have to see him again on my next visit to Alexandria.]


MARCH 24, 1998

Ghosts walk this land, the farmsteads and fields, the roads and paths, all the way to Ripon. Look for them, those who heaped up rocks in piles; those who pulled the fences taut; those who built the houses, barns, and cribs; those who put in power lines and telephone poles; those who turned the soil, who chased the cows home for milking; those who walked here, then left; those who stayed; those strangers who settled here, and their children and their grandchildren and greatgrandchildren. Every track crossing every swell of land. The light of every morning sun, every sunset. Every day, to survive another day; to leave a better world.

MARCH 25, 1998
Another fine spring morning. A little cool in the blustery March wind, but this is not winter. Yesterday's sun has melted much of the snow. A drabness grabs the land once again, with only the palest hint of green behind it.

This is where I belong. I can imagine visiting other places but cannot imagine leaving here permanently.

The snowbanks at the end of our driveway will be gone by tomorrow or Friday, despite the grey cast of the morning. The robins are obvious once again. North of Fairwater, a few geese fly in the distance. Sea gulls land nearer the road. Last night I heard a sandhill crane; Mary has already seen some.

The plowed ground looks moist and sticky. A few days of warm wind will dry it out.

What we are is agricultural: planting and tending and reaping has made us human. Or at least that's what I've read. What a novel idea this morning, but one I can believe. These are the fields, these here along my way.

Children ride bicycles to school this morning. One youngster walks with his calves bared to the elements. Obviously, now, it is not only robins and cranes that think spring has arrived.

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