A Promise Is A Promise
Home Health nurse, Hallie Lindstorm, better known as Hal to her friends and family, stepped out of the Wickenburg Senior Citizen apartments entry door smack into a taste of winter. She wasn't prepared for the temperature drop that happened while she visited her clients. A strong blast of cold wind hit her. One long shiver ran though her five foot five inch body and broke out in goose bumps on her arms and legs. She had been in too big a hurry to get on with her day to think about the weather. Stopping by the Jack O'Lantern display, she zipped her denim jacket over her light blue blouse.
As if giving her a cue to keep moving, her cell phone vibrated in her navy blue slacks pocket. Hoping for a little protection from the wind, Hal stepped closer to the building. A row of ornamental pear trees let of of a bushel of dried leaves. The rattling leaves tumbled across the parking lot and over Hal's feet. She turned her back to the wind and leaned her shoulder against the brick wall. The text message was from her boss, Barb Sloan, head of the Home Health Department. STOP BY THE OFFICE BEFORE NOON IF YOU CAN!
Now what's wrong? Barb never pulls me into the office during the day. Hal glanced at her watch. Noon was thirty minutes away. On the east edge of Wickenburg, an out of business car dealership housed the home health office along with a couple lawyers, a photography studio, a Dollar Store and a half price book store. That was the closest the town would ever get to a mall. The building was ten minutes from the senior citizen apartments. She could make it easy. Hugging her apple green tote bag to her chest so the wind wouldn't dump her nursing supplies, she headed for her late model, copper sedan in the parking lot.
Hal entered the Home Health Department and marched across the office to her boss's desk. "What's up, Barb?"
Worrying that the wind did a number on her hair, Hal patted down her wind blown, copper curls trapped on the back side of a wide, brown hair band. Her parents called her Carrot Top, because her hair was a similar mess as the comedian. Wind or no wind. Not much seemed to help her unruly do short of the suggestion her teasing father once made to cut it all off. She wasn't ready to go bald yet.
Barb looked up from the form she was studying, pushed her brown, straight cut hair back out of her hazel eyes and smiled. "Good Morning to you, too, Hal." Getting to the point, she explained, "I have a new client for you. Sit down a minute." She shuffled through a stack of folders and came up with the one she wanted. Speaking slowly, she read off a page, "Name's John Lapp. He lives at 1210 60th Street. That's out in the country south of town."
"All right, but I have a full load of clients in town." Hal frowned at the thought of one more person added to her work load. This one, out of town to boot, meant time spent coming and going the miles between clients.
"I'll reassign your afternoon clients to Cindy Wauters. I don't know if you've heard, but Lucy Stineford went to work at the hospital this week. I'm trying to rearrange everyone's schedule to take on her work load until we get another nurse hired. Have to add the new ones at the same time."
Sounded like Barb had her hands full. Hal didn't mean to make matters worse for her by complaining. "Yeah, Lucy told me she was quitting. All right. Give me the particulars on Mr. Lapp."
Barb looked at the chart. "This gentleman cut off two toes on his left foot with an ax while cutting wood yesterday. The great toe and the one next to it."
"Ouch!" Hal grimaced. "So I'm to watch for infection and see if the toes reattach?"
Shaking her head, Barb explained, "No. Mr. Lapp didn't bring the toes in with him. Doctor Burns stitched the wound. The doctor's order is to change the dressing every day until Mr. Lapp's next appointment in a couple of weeks. After that the visits can be less often until healed. Unless you think the client needs to be seen sooner. Visits are to start today. The client expects you this afternoon."
Hal worried, "I haven't been around anyone Amish before. Is there anything in particular I should know?"
Hal shrugged her shoulders. "You know. Weird beliefs or medical procedures they won't let me do."
"No, just treat Mr. Lapp like any other client. That foot has to be hurting him bad enough, he'll appreciate any medical help he gets from you," Barb said, smiling at Hal's preconceived notion of the Amish.
Hal was on her way across the room when as an after thought she asked, "Want to go for a quick lunch with me? You sound and look like you could use a break from that desk."
"No thanks, Girlfriend. Not today. Got too much to get done. Gonna have a sandwich at my desk," Barb replied, fetching a brown bag from a desk drawer.
Grinning at her boss, Hal retorted, "Come to think about it, now I don't have time, either. Join the club. But I didn't fix me anything to eat so I'll have to grab a quick sandwich at Millie's Maidrite."
The Maidrite was crowded. Hal ordered a burger, French fries and coffee. While she ate standing, she watched from the end of the counter as owner and waitress, blond, blue eyed, middle aged Millie Alperson flitted about. The woman was in a conversation with a highway patrolman who stopped by when he needed a greasy fix. Customers could count on Millie's Maidrite being a fixture in Wickenburg, Iowa until she retired or shut the doors if her patrons decided to eat healthy. Which wasn't likely to happen. With the economy the way it was, Alperson's Maidrite was the cheapest place in town. That Wednesday it looked like half the town was taking advantage of a lunch break at Millie's.
Hal pulled away from the Maidrite parking lot and discovered her mouth was dry. She just had a cup of coffee, but that didn't seem to quench her thirst. She checked the car clock and decided she had time to make one more stop before the Lapp appointment. She pulled in at Earnie Long's Conoco gas station and auto repair shop to get a can of Cherry Coke. In front of the roll up door, Earnie was wiping his grease stained hands on a paper towel. He waved at Hal and beat her into the station through a side door.
She had bought enough pop in this station to know right where to go without asking. One wall was lined with cases and another with cases of oil. A fan belt display hung above the oil. A counter of candy bars, cookies, chips and gum sat in the middle of the room. Fumes from gas and oil permeated the air.
"How's it goin', my girl?" Greeted Earnie, a man a receding, strawberry red hairline and weight issues. He pressed his bulging middle flat against the counter as he leaned on it to get closer to her.
"Fine, Earn." Hal handed him the correct change for the pop. Standing that close to the man, she tried not to breathe too deep. She didn't want second hand lung cancer. Earnie reeked of cigarette smoke. If she had to guess she would say he must have smoked a pack already that morning.
"Busy day?" He asked, giving Hal his wide, good old boy smile.
"Sort of. Have to go out into the country to see a new client. Know where 60th Street is?"
Earnie scrunched up his face like it hurt him to think. "Take this street. At the intersection get on the road goin' south out of town. Go about four miles. Turn east or west. Say that's Amish country. Amish gettin' home health nurses out there doesn't happen very often. Who you gonna see?"
"I can't tell you that. It's a privacy thing." Hal popped her can open and took a drink.
"Sure thing. Hey, Hal, why don't you go to the movie with me tonight once?" He invited.
Earnie shrugged his shoulders. "Don't know. But it's something to do already." He winked at her.
For a moment, Hal hesitated to think about his invitation . She wondered just how bad she wanted a night out. "No, but thanks for asking. I may be running late this afternoon since I have to go out in the country. After rushing all day, when I get home I'm going to put my feet up and read a book. Besides if I stay up late tonight that makes it too hard to get up early tomorrow morning."
She didn't see any sense in telling Earnie she wouldn't go to the theater with him if she wanted to see a Brad Pitt movie in the worst way. She might need some repair work done on her car some day. Earnie was a good mechanic, but his not knowing what movie was playing certainly didn't sway her to accept a date with him. Sitting next to him for a couple hours would be long enough to kick up her allergies. Thoughts about how miserable she would feel, sniffling and sneezing for days, was the clincher.
Not long into the country drive, Hal decided she needed to look on the bright side of this trip. She was cruising passed colorful scenery. In pastures and on slopes, bright green grass was now much shorter and tinged with the brown. Standing out here and there in the grass, a lone, dried up bull thistle or a patch of them waved in the wind.
The rolling mounds of southern Iowa were surrounded with creeks meandering here and there. Brilliant red sumac, purple berry laden, fiery leafed polk plants and dark brown cattails, with tops oozing cotton stuffing, lined ravines dammed to form moss covered ponds. A collection of weeping willows with yellow green branches sagging to the ground, shaded the pond banks.
Now and then, she saw a deer with its time clock messed up, grazing in broad daylight among a cattle herd. A flocks of turkeys, pheasant or quail strutted across stubble fields, looking for a stray soy bean or kernel of corn. If the birds were lucky, they might stumble onto a pile of grain the combines spilled between the picked rows when filling a grain wagon. Timbers of hickory, walnut, cottonwood, dogwood and oaks painted a back drop of red, yellow and orange to brightened up the brown corn plants still standing.
At the base of a hill, Hal caught up to a John Deere tractor pulling two empty wagons that swayed back and forth. When she got where she could see over the hill, she passed the tractor and sped back up. At the 60th Street intersection, she had a dilemma. Which way was she supposed to turn? Hal pulled off onto the gravel road and stopped to call the office. "Hi Barb. Happen to know which way to the Lapp farm on 60th Street? Is it east or west of the highway?"
"Thanks a bunch. This must be my lucky day. I'm going the right way." Hal flipped the flap shut on the phone. It immediately vibrated an incoming call.
"Hello." Hearing throaty honks over head, Hal stretched to look over the steering wheel toward the light blue, cloudless sky. A large flock of geese flew low over her car, going the same direction as she was. Headed to Lake Rathbun, no doubt, for a layover to rest up before heading south.
"Hi, how's your day going?" Wickenburg Daily newspaper reporter, Phil King's smooth voice asked. Hal pictured him combing his plastered down hair in the men's bathroom mirror while he talked.
"Busy, Phil. I'm out south of town," Hal said brusquely. "Just got an extra client added to my list. Lives out here somewhere so I have to hustle." Hal's explanation was synchronized with a fair sized splatter of greenish white glob against her windshield. She yelled, "Dang it!"
"What's wrong?" She must have been mistaken about where Phil was. A loud bang sounded as if he had just taken his feet off his desk and stomped the floor as he sat up straight.
"Oh, nothing too drastic. A flock of geese just flew over me. One of them pooped on my windshield. Left the awfullest mess on the passenger side you'll ever see. That's what I get for sitting still too long. Bombed by geese," Hal growled.
"Won't keep you any longer then. The reason I called was to ask if you wanted to have supper with me tonight? I'm hungry for a big, juicy steak. Thought we could go out on 63 to the Angus Steak house," Phil invited.
Hal hesitated. She just turned down Earnie's offer, but this was different she excused to herself. Earnie hadn't offered a meal with his date. She would always be tempted by a hot, sit down supper. Beat the usual maidrites and take out she had to suffer through, because she didn't know how to cook.
"Sure," Hal accepted. "I can do that if you don't mind if we eat a little later. Maybe I'll be ready to go by eight."
"Great!" Phil snorted. "Just my luck, that late in the evening you'll have a bigger appetite. It'll cost me more to feed you." When Hal didn't respond, he laughed. "See ya later."
Hal slowed her car to a crawl when she noticed she was coming up to an immaculate farm with no electricity poles. Well kept fences made boundaries for fields of corn shocks, hay and a pasture. The green emergency 911 address post at the edge of the driveway said 1210. The mailbox had black letters painted on it LAPP. This was the right farm. She parked in front of the white, two story, clapboard house. The tidy structure was compact and pristine with a front porch along the front side. A large, white barn, with a rounded top and a lean to off each side, set across from the house with other outbuildings scattered about.
Hal raised her head to check out her fair skin and hair in the rear view mirror. Patting down the unruly, stray sprigs behind the head band, she said to her blue green eyes, "What these Amish folks are gonna see is what they get. They'll have to like it or lump it as Mom often says."
The minute Hal got out of the car, a flock of cawing chickens attracted her attention. Multa colored, contented hens industriously turned dirt into dusty powder in front of the barn door. Watching the chickens caused memories of days gone by to flood back to her. Taking care of chickens and selling eggs was what Hal did with her mother when she was a kid. Thinking about it made her miss her mother.
In the pen off the long barn, Holstein milk cows stood under a lean to, contentedly chewed their cud. The sound of a car motor was strange to them. The cows lined up to eye her over the fence with curious interest.
A small pen next to the cows contained a large, Holstein bull. In case she hadn't already decided he was an animal to avoid, he intended to sway her to that opinion. He pawed the ground before he stuck his head over the fence and snorted at her. Hal wasn't impressed. She grew up on a dairy farm, helping her father with chores. She was familiar with milk cows and unpredictable bulls.
By the corner of the bar closest to her, a large diesel generator hummed. The generator had to be hooked to the stainless steel cooking tank in the small milk house built onto the barn. Hal knew all about milk cows. When rules changed about keeping milk cold, her father had to quit using the milk cans and put in a bulk tank.
The memories made her homesick. She needed to quit thinking about her parents. Titonka, Iowa was too far away to jump in the car and go visit. Besides, she didn't have enough vacation time saved up yet.
Somewhere behind the barn, the screaming whinnies of horses sounded like they weren't getting along. At the edge of the field by the backyard, the windmill's blades squawked, racing in the brisk, north wind. Typical country sounds that she hadn't thought about missing until now.
Hal went around the car and pulled her tote bag and a box of wound dressings off the seat. With her hands full, she struggled to shut the door. The strong wind was against it. Finally, she balanced on one foot and kicked the door. Dust from the toe of her tennis shoe left the sole's impression. One more reason to stop at the car wash if she ever had time.
Hal whirled around at a series of rapid, deep barks too close behind her to her way of thinking. Her fast movement caused the nervous dog to back up to a safer distance as he yapped at her.