Monday, February 25, 2008

Beholden

I’m backdating this post since I was too busy yesterday to write. Actually, I was in K-town most of the day. I’m always too wiped out to do anything after the doctor trips.

I got some wonderful news from the nephrologist. My kidney values were normal and I'm only shedding a small bit of protein—way down from the gram I was shedding three months ago. So, I don’t have to go back for four whole months and he’s officially declaring my nephritis in remission for the time being. This is a huge relief since my doctors can stop squabbling about the whole kidney biopsy thing and I can stop being afraid of it. Thanks to everyone who kept me in their thoughts and prayers—Lupus is a dodgy thing and every bit helps. I really didn't need the kidney thing on top of the clotting thing.

In other news, the sheep ran away on Sunday. They were down at the neighboring farm cavorting in the pasture 300 feet down. I didn’t find out until too late in the day to go round them up and yesterday was not possible. So, today I go to see if I can find them and lure them into the back of the jeep. Last I saw them, they were headed away from that pasture into the woods.

The other news is three convicts overpowered the jailers at the local county jail on Sunday and are running amuck through the countryside. Of all the places I’ve lived, Cocke county suffers from more jailbreaks. It’s positively wild west-like. It seems to happen at least once a year. They always catch them, but it just seems odd that they get out with such frequency. I’m hoping the sheep are not running with the convicts—that would be a deadly combination.

Drop the gun or the sheep gets it.

equally likely:

Drop the gun or the convict gets it.


I’ve got a nice, chunky story for you today.

Beholden


Clyde Bybee drove by Elmer's shack every Thursday on the way to his Rotary meeting. He had been doing this for the past twenty years as part of the seamless fabric of his comfortable life.

In the winter, the shack's bare metal stovepipe leaked smoke. Sometimes Elmer would be out in the yard with his hound splitting wood. Elmer waved. Clyde waved back.

In the summer, Elmer tended his small garden behind the shack. The shack was at its best during summer. Elmer planted moon vines, gourds and scarlet runner beans around the small stoop. The plants covered the shack in a canopy of green and blooms making the dirt yard and worn wood look like pig in a party dress. Elmer waved. Clyde waved back.

In mid-winter that year, Clyde felt as though something was missing. He would get to his Rotary club meeting and check his pockets, then checked his car to see if it were locked. The feeling of unease continued for three weeks until Clyde realized he had not seen Elmer chopping wood outside his shack. He realized this a half mile down the road and turned around.

Barely any smoke came from the old stovepipe as Clyde climbed the steps and knocked on the door. He heard coughing from inside and a weak voice from inside, "Come in".

Clyde opened the shaky door, thinking in all the times he had passed and waved at Elmer, he had never actually met him face to face. The inside was dim and stank of unwashed old man and urine. He saw a small pile of wood next to the stove, but there was hardly any heat. Elmer lay on an old rope bed on a thin mattress covered in tattered quilts. His hound curled up next to him weakly, shivering, and raised its head for a moment before letting it thump down on the bed.

Clyde looked around the one room shack at the chinks filled with rags barely breaking the wind whistling through the breaches. He took off his hat and said, "Mr. Elmer, I'm Clyde Bybee and I was driving by your house and thought I'd drop by to check on you. Haven't seen you out in quite a while."

Elmer grinned, pulling himself up from a sitting position. "Why thank you. Please sit down."

Clyde looked around for a chair, seeing the remnants of one next to the stove. He perched on the edge of the bed. "Looks like you've been under the weather."

"Yes, well, I been sick and not able to get out much. My boy used to bring supplies by but he done got thrown in jail a month ago."

Clyde got up and put what was left of the wood in the stove, saying, "I'll bring you some firewood on my way back home tonight, and some groceries."

"Don't want to put you to no trouble, mister. I don't mean to be beholden to anyone."

"Don't worry. I' m just being neighborly and it looks like you could use a bit of that right now."

Clyde brought up the old man's sad state to his fellow Rotarians and soon Elmer became a club project. They began by making sure Elmer had plenty of firewood and food. The local doctor came by and gave Elmer medicine. The veterinarian came by and checked out the dog. A local roofer came by and fixed the roof. The men's wives brought by blankets, casseroles and clothes.

Each time they came by, Elmer would say, "I don't mean to be beholden to anyone," but his life was much more comfortable.

Each time Cldye drove by on Thursdays and saw the healthy stream of smoke from the chimney pipe and the newly patched roof, he felt warm and good inside.

The Rotarians discussed Elmer at each meeting and ways they could improve the old man's circumstances. The town built a new retirement home and the Rotarians secured Elmer a place there. The president and officers went to Elmer and proudly presented their gift to him with the offer to help him move. One of them offered to take the hound in since Elmer couldn't take the dog with him.

Elmer chased them out of the shack, hollering, "I told you I wouldn't be beholden to anyone."

He died the next winter, refusing any further help from Clyde or the others. Clyde looked sadly at the shack, passing each Thursday, and when no smoke leaked from the chimney, he stopped. He found Elmer and his hound dead, curled up in the rope bed, much as he had found them the previous winter.

The men's club paid for his burial and headstone. Chiseled into the stone was, "Beholden to No One".

4 Comments:

  1. Missybw said...
    So glad your Dr. visit went so well. Got your tuna too I hope. Have been loving the short stories this month... I have relatives who could qualify as the main character for this one. Thanks for making me smile.
    Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...
    Where is your sheep dog when you need him.
    Jbeeky said...
    That is great, great news about your Lupus. The story gave me arm bumps.
    seejanemom said...
    My prayers about your kidneys worked.

    What with my hotline to God, and all....

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