American Dreamers

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic


American Dreamers

AJ Alexander

 

Joann was adamant as she gazed across Robert’s yard, glancing occasionally toward the hayfield and the yardstick at the base of the woods.

He picked up her stare immediately. “What is it?” he asked, the kids bouncing on the trampoline.

“Cattails,” she said defiantly.

“Cattails?” he repeated.

“Yes, cattails. I’ve lived here for 62 years, Rob. I grew up in this house. I remember when the Brushers bought that land of yours. I remember them building the house you live in. But never, in all my years, do I remember cattails growing on the base of the property.”

Joe was nodding his head, obviously hot in his borough work uniform. “That settles it, then,” he said with a smile. “The leak’s on your property, buddy. We’re gonna have to dig it up and fix it, I’m afraid.”

It wasn’t something Robert Johnson wanted to hear. And the look on Joe’s face made the work seem rather expensive.

Still, he reasoned it had to be done; not only did the neighbors have water problems, the garage kept flooding on days when it didn’t rain. Surely that wasn’t normal. But then he reflected on what the realtor said as water pumped through a rubber tube through the outbulding wall and onto the hardwoods. An underground stream, they told him. Even the inspector agreed. Surely, a water leak would’ve been discovered upon inspection prior to purchase.

Then again, he was a stranger in these parts. And to make matters worse, he brought other strangers here. Old friends who couldn’t seem to part company, and moved a few months into their arrival.

It didn’t sit well with the rest of the townsfolk.

Billy, of course, thought it was bullshit, and he told Rob as much. “Don’t let them fuck you over,” he said defiantly. “I grew up in Iowa…it doesn’t get any more small town than that. And people pulled this kind of shit all the time when I was growing up. My father had to take a week off of work just to fix the barn – all because the neighbors said it was attracting crows.”

Billy was right, of course. And he’d the experience Robert Johnson did not.

Still, Joe seemed a nice enough guy, though most folks considered the man a dullard. Funny how the lead engineer in a rural community can be considered a dullard. He went to school, graduated college, then hit the outside world with all its colorful splendor, only to return and settle into rural life, raise a family, and take a job with the borough when he could’ve done whatever he wanted. He certainly didn’t look like a dullard. “It’s gonna cost you, Rob,” he said directly. “Don’t you worry, though – they’ll allow you make payments. People here are understanding. And, they take care of their own.”

“But I don’t want to make payments, Joe,” he told him. “Besides, how can the water leak be on my property when we don’t have a flow problem?”

“What about that water in the garage?” Joann asked.

“The realtor said it’s an underground stream.”

“John Parchment was your realtor,” she reminded the men. “I remember him from school. Always kept getting erections under his desk. And a boy with constant erections is incapable of telling the truth.”

So it was settled; Joe would have the borough excavate, fix whatever problem the Johnson's didn’t suffer from, Rob would pay the piper, and all would be well in the world once more.

To Joe’s credit, his crew really did a good job. They worked all day Friday and finished up on Monday. And just like that, Carl and Joann were able to make pots of coffee after 6pm again. No flow problem at all.

The Johnson’s got a bill for $1,367 – a small price to pay not to have problems with the neighbors. And, just like Joe said, Rob was allowed to pay it off incrementally.

The neighbors were kind enough to watch the kids when Rob or Andie went shopping, but only if they shopped in the square. Shop local, buy local was their mantra. It was as good a philosophy as any. And the Johnson’s wanted to fit in, of course. Everyone does. Still, a problem with that philosophy existed. “Why do you drive to Lycoming to shop at Aldi’s?” she asked him as the pair sipped coffee on her patio.

“We’re living partly off the tit, Joann,” Rob told her. “So we have to count our nickels and dimes. Not a bad thing, really. We do alright, really we do. And you didn’t know me before I quit working. It really all changed once I got sick. We spent money like a wine that never stopped flowing...”

“I understand. Still, we’re a small town with an aging population...and we depend on local dollars to keep things going. I’m not sure we’d be able to watch those little darlings of yours if you drive all the way to Williamsport. Seems like a waste of time to me – driving 60 plus miles just to save a few pennies.”

So the Johnson’s adjusted their habits to shop at the little supermarket with three checkout aisles and prices ten to twenty percent higher than what they were used to. But all remained well with them and the world; and, when Rob went to paint the house, Joann’s husband and oldest son were happy to lend a hand - for a nominal fee, of clourse. Good labor like that desrves a reward.

When fall came, the other neighbors came for the weekend. Ralph and Karen lived in New Jersey but frequented the area often. Rob often wondered how they could stand the summer heat without air conditioning, especially with Ralph doing all that yardwork whenever they came to town. But Karen always brought gift bags for the kids; sometimes they were clothes, sometimes toys, sometimes both of those things plus a little candy. She was good to the kids, and they loved visiting whenever they came into town. So Rob never asked them about the lack of air conditioning.

On Sunday, Ralph came by with a twelve pack, and the men sat in the bonus room of the basement watching the Eagles battle the Redskins. Ralph loved the Eagles as much as anyone. Almost as much as Rob. A real fan. They shouted at the television and high-fived each score, rattling the kids who played upstairs.

At halftime, Andie came down offering sandwiches, and Ralph eyed her legs as she walked back up the stairs. “She’s a good woman, Rob,” Ralph commented gleefully. “You’re a lucky man.”

“Yes I am,” he told him with a smile. “We got a good thing going here in Dushore. Very blessed to be here. A nice house, good neighbors, good schools – and very safe for the kids. We’re all about safety and security in Johnsonville.”

“Which reminds me,” Ralph said as he popped another beer. “Those trees on the base of your property - we’re thinking they need to come down before something bad happens. I’d hate to have to sue you if something goes wrong.”

“But they’re your trees, Ralph,” Rob said.

To which Ralph shook his head. “We had a surveyor come by when you and Andie took the kids to Altoona, and he told us those trees are actually on your property. We’re thinking all that water pumping on to your yard must’ve seeped towards them and caused them to wither, which is why half of them are about dead now. If one of those trees should fall, it could be a real mess for you and I.”

“But Ralph – I’ve got the property boundaries right here,” he said, retreating to his desk. “Take a look – you’ll see my property line ends at the very first tree off the easement, and the remaining five trees are the start of your property. But even if they were ours, we couldn’t afford to cut ‘em down. Five trees? Shit – that’s wallet buster for folks on the tit.”

He drank his beer, then helped himself to the remote to raise the volume when the game resumed, saying, “Well, Karen and I can help defray some of that cost – but I’m telling you, Rob, those trees have to come down. Check with the surveyor. You’ll see.”

Andie got upset when she heard what Ralph said to her husband. “That’s going to cut into our finances and ruin our plans to take the cruise you promised me,” she told him. “You’re going to have to work it out with him, honey.”

Rob corssed his arms acorss his shoulders, saying. “What can I do, baby? I mean, we can get a surveyor and all, but…”

“Fuck the goddam surveyor!” she yelled, turning over in the bed. She nudged his hand away as he tried touching her.

Rob did what he was told and didn’t get a surveyor, opting instead to show Ralph’s surveyor his paperwork. As it turned out, both men were wrong. Three of the trees were on Ralph and Karen’s, the other two on the Johnson property. They worked out a deal to split the cost down the middle. And when their finances allowed for the trip they planned, Andie let Rob have his way with her on the last night of the cruise, which was nice.

The following summer the grandparents came for a visit. The kids loved the grandparents. Though it was a bit cramped for the four of them to visit simultaneously, the bonus room had a sleeper sofa, which helped. Rob and Andie gave up their bedroom for her parents, opting for the bottom of their daughter’s bunk bed when it was time for rest.

The family grilled out as the kids played ball in the yard, and when the women went inside to help with the burger fixings and sides, Rob’s dad and father-in-law motioned for him to come over. “We’re wondering why you haven’t fixed that gutter hanging off the side of the house,” his father-in-law told him. “It was hanging off last year, and it’s still hanging off the side this year.”

Rob sighed as he sipped his beer. “I’ll get around to it one of these days,” he said with a chuckle.

“I’m sure you will,” the man said. “But if my grandchildren happen to be playing underneath it when it finally falls off, it could slice their heads open. You don’t want that to happen do you?”

“JR’s right, son,” his father said.

“Okay,” Rob said after mulling it over. “Maybe after dinner you two can help me knock it out…”

To which the men looked at each other before bursting out in laughter. “We’re too old to help with that shit,” JR told him. “Besides, we’re here to see our grandchildren – not help you keep up with your house.”

His father agreed. “You’ve got too much money tied up in this place to let it go to waste, son. And one day you’re gonna wanna give it to the kids when…you know, you and the wife are six feet under. How would you feel giving them a bill, as opposed to an inheritance?”

“Plus my daughter’s gonna outlive you,” JR commented. “After all, she takes better care of herself than you...”

“All women do,” the elder Mr. Johnson agreed. “In my day, the men did all the work, so the wives didn’t have to. But you…well, you’re on the tit while Andie huffs it to and from. You do want your family to have a nice place to live, don’t you son?”

So after dinner, Rob cleaned the grill, then took the ladder out of the garage and fixed the hanging gutter. And the rest of the trip went off without a hitch. His Dad even hugged him, which he never does, before getting into the car and driving away.

Five years passed, and the house was immaculate. No hanging gutters, no dead trees, no underground leaks. They did the hardwoods, the walls, and renovated both kitchen and bathroom. They even turned their garage into a loft apartment, which drew additional income. And the offers started coming, even though they hadn’t put it for sale.

So one night, as the couple lay in bed, they pondered whether or not to sell their beautiful little house on the prairie, in the quiet and serene town with folks they could do business with.

“I think we’re getting a little old to sell it, don’t you, Andie?” Rob queried. “Jenny’s going off to college soon, and Jerry’s still got karate and gymnastics. Plus that rental money sure comes in handy, huh?”

“You have a point, honey,” she told him. “Still, wouldn’t it be nice to take a hefty profit and downsize a bit?  Our savings aren’t what we thought it would be around this time.”

Johnson nodded, adding, “Even with the extra income…I knew we shouldn’t have had kids so late in life!”

“Well, that’s neither here nor there,” their daughter said as she burst into the room, laughing.

She sat on the edge of the bed as her mother turned off NCIS, which Rob was watching. “What can we do for you, honey?” Andie asked.

Jenny turned to her Dad and smiled. “Well, you know I’ve been saving up for a car,” she said. “And, it was true I wanted to be able to do it all on my own, just ike you said I should do. However, Betty’s mom and dad are selling their Escalade, and I was thinking...well, it’s got low miles, it’s in great shape, it’ll last me for years…”

“…And you can pack all of your friends in without having to decide who’s gonna ride, and who’s gonna have to sit it out when you go to the mall,” her father finished for her.

“Exactly!” she shouted, hugging her father. “And all I need is an extra $11,000 to make it all work…”

Rob sat up from the bed, saying, “Jenny, there’s not a chance in hell I’m gonna fork over eleven grand just so you and your friends….”

“Now, honey,” Andie interrupted. “Let’s think about it for a minute. We want our daughter to have a safe car to drive, don't we?"

So Rob rolled over and went to sleep as the women chatted about what to do. And the next day, after they decided, he went to the bank and took out a loan, making his daughter very happy.

The Johnson’s sold the house to Joann’s son and daughter-in-law two years into their son's sentence for possession with intent, and exactly three days after Jenny graduated, got married, and moved to New York. The couple purchased an off grid cabin in Maine featured on Cabin Masters; though it was a bit more expensive than they would’ve liked, it did give Rob time to do what he loved - trap, fish, hunt, and shoot. He even bagged his first bear, which he turned into a nice rug for upstairs. Andie busied herself with yardwork while Rob took drives to town to fetch the paper and those generic cups of coffee he was so fond of. Andie only kept top shelf coffee beans, which he hated.

He was gearing up for the first turkey hunt of the season when he clutched his chest and fell to the ground. Andie heard him fall and rushed him to the hospital. The recovery from the quadruple bypass lasted weeks. He said he felt okay enough to chop wood for the furnace when winter came.

Six months later, he suffered a stroke, which paralyzed his left side and left him unable to speak.

And rather than doing what he loved so dearly, his remaining years were spent on the patio in summers, and by the stone fireplace in winters. Jenny would come by for visits on occasion - Jerry, too, when he sobered up. And Andie was happy to spend time with her children as Dad rested in his wheelchair, always remembering to kiss his cheeks before returning to the kids and grandkids.

They told her not to worry about meeting ‘that man’ on her trip to the supermarket. They didn’t want their mother alone to fend for herself. They assured her Dad would understand.

The following winter Rob passed, and they buried him underneath an expensive tombstone in the Bangor cemetery, courtesy of the Johnson’s insurance policy. A few days after that, Andie’s boyfriend moved in, ready to help the attractive widow spend the rest of her days happy and contented.

They’d much in common, after all.

All of their children got along, and the holidays were full of laughter and good cheer. Everyone was happy the elder couple found each other. They spent their winters in Florida, and summers back in Maine. And everyone kept touch via cell phone or Zoom. The small town where all was well with them and the world had become but a memory. Andie never liked the neighbors, she confided to the kids.

Jenny’s husband would pitch a hand when it was time for mom and her friend to return, always making sure the cabin was ready and up to standard. Andie let him have some of Rob’s old guns as a token of appreciation. Jerry took the bearskin rug and other items.

A few years later Andie passed, and was laid to rest next to her husband in what everyone thought was a lovely ceremony. The siblings let the boyfriend stay until he found a place, which was difficult given his age and lack of options. And they felt it disingenuous he drug it out as long as he did. Finally, he moved, and they never bothered keeping in touch. Jerry took time taking care of things to get the place ready for market. Jenny said it was only fair, since her husband did all the prep work while Mom was in Florida.

Both family's thought they’d make a ton of money; unfortunately, it was far too remote to sell as quickly as they liked. Years passed without a sale; Jenny had just gotten out of the hospital, and was recovering at home when her phone rang. She slipped the long strands of gray hair over her ears as she hit the green button on her cell. “Hello?”

“Hey, Jen,” her brother said.

“Hey.”

A long pause before he resumed, saying, “Been a long time, huh?”

She sighed and reached for a cigarette. “Yes it has.”

“Well, I’m calling about the taxes on the cabin…”

“What about them?” she asked ruefully.

“How are you and Darren?" he asked sheepishly.

"What about the fucking taxes, Jerry?" she repeated.

"Well," he told her, clearing his throat, "it’s getting kind of tough paying our portion every year. Bobby’s going off to college, so we’ll need to tighten our belts. Anyway, the wife and I were talking it over, and we thought we’d opt out of our share and give it to you guys. We’d take very little money for it, you know.”

“Why don’t you and Anne take it over?” she asked him. “It’s not like we ever go there.”

“Neither do we,” he was quick to reply.

“Well, that’s not gonna happen, Jerry,” she told him, snuffing out her smoke. “I am recovering, after all. And I don’t feel well, so I’m gonna have to let you go.”

He thought about it for a minute before saying, “Okay. It was just a thought. We’ll pony up our share, no problem. You take care of yourself, sis.”

And she smiled. “You, too, Jerry. Love to Anne and Bobby.”

As she hung up the phone she thought about things - and knew, of course, her brother was right. They had to get rid of that cabin. Nobody used it, and nobody wanted to pay for it. Thank God Darren was willing to drive up all those years and keep it in reasonable shape.

On the eve of their 35th anniversary, when they took a nice carriage ride through town, as they sipped hot chocolate, held hands, and smiled, Jenny’s cell phone rang with a number foreign to her. She looked at her husband, who shrugged as she answered. The voice on the other end said he and his fiancé were visiting the Bangor area when they happened to stumble across the remote cabin. They fell in love with it immediately, he told her. So rustic, self-sufficient, and out of the way. He was hoping they were interested in selling. Jenny’s eyes grew wide with joy as she steadied her voice.

Though she wasn’t strong enough to make the trip, Jerry and his second wife were more than happy to do it - working out an additional percentage of the sale to make it worth their while, and recoup the extra costs. As the elder couple and young lions sat in a café along the cobblestone streets of the Bangor shoppiung district, they shared their stories and got to know one another while working out the details.

“Are you really sure you wanna let it go?” the man’s fiancé asked. “After all, it’s so pretty here. So peaceful and quiet.”

To which Jerry Johnson nodded, adding, “Yes, we’ve many memories here. My mom and dad liked it very much. We did, too. In fact, we hoped our children might like it one day and take it over. But you know how it is - out with the old, in with the new. Or so they say, anyway. They never saw the charm of this place the way my sister and I did. truly, we're gonna miss it.”

“Well it’s very nice,” she told him, clutching her soon to be husband’s hand. “We always imagined settling down in a place like this and starting a family of our own…”

To which Jerry Johnson smiled, thinking of his father and mother, the years which lay behind him, and the years which lie ahead for that couple. They seemed so happy, after all.

 


Submitted: June 19, 2020

© Copyright 2021 AJ Alexander. All rights reserved.

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