09 / 365 – Pictures on the Wall


We hadn’t been married but a year when my grandmother died. It turned out she had left me this house. I was the only one who went back to visit her ever, which is probably why she gave it to me and not any of her children. Even though she divided the section among her children, none of them ever come out to look at it or visit. It’s not as thought it is so far away. In those days gas was cheap and nobody thought so much about getting in the car and driving all so far across the country.It’s funny I would drive so far then when I haven’t gone very far since, but we did that drive from Ann Arbor to here a bunch of times. Most people don’t remember those times were a little crazy. The war was still on, and there were protests, marches, when we bombed Cambodia, I remember that one, and then we had a march when students down in Ohio got killed marching because we were bombing Cambodia. I remember watching that one from the music building, Susan and I, you couldn’t quite see what was going on but you could see there were a lot of people and it looked like more trouble. I just seemed like a terrible thing all the way around, terrible that there was this war so many people were so mad about and terrible that those students had been killed.

Sometimes I think we came up here to Neudorf just to get away from that. We were quiet, the two of us, two quiet kids from Michigan. That picture there over the china cabinet — that was a china cabinet they brought all the way from Russia, way back when they settled here. That picture somebody took of us on Lake Superior on our way out here. Do you think we look happy? I always look at that and remember it as the happy time. We’d get a few hours out away from campus, up on the lake where the towns were far apart, kind of like here, and we’d drive for hours through the winds and stop along the lake and throw rocks into the water. That water is really clear, you can see down ten feet, probably more. Not like Lake Vermillion over here, thick and dark and getting kinda green in the summer. We’d sit there have a picnic, maybe, and feel the weight lift off your shoulders. Maybe we didn’t need to drive all the way to North Dakota but that was the magnet that got us out of town. I probably needed a magnet, because now that I’m here I never go anywhere.

Nobody came up here to visit, hardly ever, so my grandmother always put up the shine on everything, had everything scrubbed and clean. Susan always got her room, with a beautiful quilt she had made, that I still have over there, the one draped over the couch — nobody ever sits on that. She told me she had made it during the lean years, during the Depression, with just the best scraps, the bright ones, when she came across them, because she knew one day things were going to get better. My father told me once my grandfather used to get on her about that, when was she going to finish that, he wasn’t going to have any more kids because they didn’t have enough blankets to keep warm. Which wasn’t true, but I don’t think he liked a task sitting there undone, that quilt sitting there, for years I guess, just a few pieces coming together, little by little. They had arguments like that but they had a long, happy marriage here, raised six kids. My grandfather had the store here, in a little building up the road where the center of town was when there was more to it, back when we had a store here. That’s a picture of them over by the piano, from when they were just starting to farm this section, before the kids. My father said she didn’t finish that quilt until most of the kids had moved away and she didn’t need it any more, but she told us it was her keepsake to celebrate all the good days. Anyway, she put that on her bed for Susan and I slept in the other bedroom and she slept on a bed she kept in the kitchen. Susan felt bad, she didn’t want to put her out, but my grandmother said that’s where she slept half the year anyway, when it was cold. Some people think it’s strange to see a bed in the kitchen. It’s not there anymore. We took it out when we moved here and we put in the furnace so we had some heat. But it wasn’t unusual back then, even my Dad would say that, and once he had left for Michigan he didn’t want to have anything to do with this place, thought it was strange.

I have a picture I took from those times. It’s the one in the dining room in the big silver frame. It’s just a little picture in a big frame, but it’s the only one I have of Susan from those times, when things seemed so peaceful and easy. I have that one in the bedroom of us the day we got married, and I think that might be the one where she looks the happiest — her parents put on quite the party, and she was glad we were finally going to be ‘legal,’ as she said, so we could stay in the same room when we went to visit. But that picture of her and my grandmother, sitting out back at that table under the poplar tree, it’s not so much her smile but her face, so peaceful. That’s what I remember most. That’s why we came here.


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