58 / 365 – The Living and the Dead

FRED VANEK

There was a mill in town, along the river, and my father ran it. He was like Finn’s father, in that way, one of the important men in town. I don’t know what it was like for a man like that to have a wife who he kept half-hidden. My mother avoided large gatherings, festivals. I do not think she liked the parties or balls they had to attend sometimes. She went to them, many times, at least I remember. But she was most alive on those nights when it was just us, alone in the house, with the blinds drawn. Her family never visited, because she had married outside the community. My father’s family also did not visit. Sometimes on holidays we went to visit them, up in the city, Teplice, up in the mountains. But they did not come to us.

I’ve thought of him often of the years, almost sixty years now. The time I remember most is Friday night, as my mother lit candles for sabbath, my father standing in the doorway, half in shadows, watching us. Just as often he sat with us, never saying the prayers but sitting with us. But more often I think of him standing back and watching, the light of candles dancing on his glasses.

Years later, when I began attending the university in Prague, just before the Germans came, I met my grandparents. They spoke to me in German and then in Hebrew and seemed more interested in testing me, to see what I knew, was I Jewish enough. I had never attended a school or a synagogue. I only knew what we said and read together on the Sabbath. I said a part of a prayer I remembered, I can still remember it now. I guess that was enough. Fortunately they were not like the Germans in the army, who would make you pull down your drawers and check your package to see if a — oh, I forget what my mother called them — a mohel — that’s it — if a mohel had done his work. I didn’t know anything about this when it happened. My mother had never talked about it. I didn’t understand what it was, circumcision. The Germans I knew in the army didn’t know either. They were as full of crazy stories as anyone. I remember one young guy who was an officer, very young, telling all of us that circumcision was cutting off the end of your penis. I wondered how Jews could have so many children. Others were always saying they bred like rabbits so they could take over the world. And I thought back to those Friday nights around the table, in candlelight, and I thought, if the Jews are trying to take over the world they are doing all the wrong things as they go about it.

My grandparents lived in an old Jewish neighborhood near the old synagogue, the one where some people said the golem was hiding, even some Czechs who weren’t Jews. A lot of them knew that story. I wondered how my father, coming down from the north, so very Czech in his ways, could have met and married my mother. It was as if they came from different countries. I asked my father about it once and he said they met on the street near the square — there’s a big beautiful square in the center of the city with big beautiful churches and the town hall. He had seen her on the street there, walking with some friends, but they had looked at each other. And he sought her out. She was also studying at the university, the same university where I was, and he saw her there again, on a warm day when she was crossing a courtyard and he said it was as if she had lit it up. So he said he did what he was never brave enough to do, he walked over to her and said hello. Soon they were meeting, in the library, on the street. They wanted to be married, but back then it was not done so much, Jews marrying non-Jews, Bohemian people marrying Czech Jews. Both of their families said no. His father told him he could not work in the family business. Her family told her they would forget her, she was no longer a part of it. My father told me it was just after the war had ended, the first war, and Czechoslovakia was a new country and people felt like they were lots of new possibilities now. They were very hopeful for the future. And maybe he had been too hopeful, that they could do this now, because things would be different in this new country.

He found work in the little village where I grew up, Terezin, in the country halfway between the town where his family lived and the city in Prague. Halfway in between but a place where no one would visit. Nobody visits you when you’re in the middle. Just look at North Dakota. People live on the edges, on the coasts. Nobody wants to come to the middle. Nobody wanted to see them. They wanted to forget about them, I think.

I think about him standing there in the doorway and I wonder, if he could have forseen all that would happen, how they would be left alone, would he still have walked across that courtyard to finally speak to her? In your life, you meet people, you are drawn to them, but you don’t know their history, all of the history they bring, and you can’t know where it will take you when you decide to carry that history with you too, to join it to yours. To make a family, really, what that is. He can’t have known how lonely it would make him. But when I think about that, when I ask that question, would he have done it had he known, I think the answer must be yes. I like to think that anyway. Maybe I lie to myself, but I have lived through many difficult things, and I needed thoughts like that to keep me going.

It was a beautiful thing, I think, because it was so difficult. And to think that they chose that, because they would choose lover over difficulty. My father was always very kind to my mother, very sweet with her, even when things were most difficult. When I was married to Alena, I often thought about this. Here in North Dakota things weren’t nearly so hard as there, especially the things that happened after the Germans came. So if we fought, Alena and I — yes, hard to believe it, because we were so sweet with each other, especially when others were around — I would think back to my father and think, whatever we are fighting about is not half as bad as most of what my father and mother lived through. They lived through so much, and yet what they stood for each day in the world was love, was kindness. They would not let all of the evil going around in the world in those days stand in the way of love. People like to mock this now, but it was a very strong thing. Strong, even though were not strong people and even though, like nothing, the Germans could just come at dawn and take them away forever, without a trace, without hardly a memory among their old neighbors. All of that living, all of what they did together, just wiped off the Earth.

Or so we think. Because they live on, here today, thousands of miles away, in a place they could never have imagined, a place I could not have imagined. They are here in my memory, and when you and I sit here in this room and talk about them, they are here with us also. Very much alive.

57 / 365 – No Answer

SARAH BERGMAN

I don’t even like talking on the phone any more. I can’t talk more about this. When friends call, they want to know what’s going on with Erik, how’s Leah handling it. Nobody asks about the cafe, which is like the only thing that’s keeping me sane and grounded on this earth. If I didn’t have those people, Finn, Jackie, Barbara, that sweet Ivesdal kid, I don’t know how I’d take this. But god I don’t want to talk about my totally failed marriage anymore. That’s not a narrative that I chose to have in my life, the marriage that was a total failure and this divorce that won’t quite ever be final. I’m just sick of telling it over and over.

The story is bad enough and then everyone is full of advice. Why do I keep letting him share custody when he’s hardly paid a cent of the money he owes me for child support. Is he doing drugs? Why don’t I go after him? How can I let Leah go spend the night with him? Do I know what he’s doing when he has her?

Look, I don’t like it, but he’s her father, and he’s a decent father. At least she wants to see him, spend time with him. Every once in awhile when he completely flakes and I don’t know what happens and he doesn’t show up to pick her up and she’s sitting by the window waiting for his car to pull up, yeah, then maybe he’s not such a perfect father. But I see a lot of dads in this town. I’ve been over to the Uptown to see Finn a few times. What about those dads sitting around in there, sipping away their paychecks. Are they any better? Just because there’s a chance that maybe they don’t have anything to do with this doctor in town whose name was on that oxycontin prescription I found in the trash that I know was bogus? And that I’m afraid may have something to do with how this man could have no apparent job for a long time and still be renting that nice little house over in the old neighborhood near his mother’s house. My friends have pieced a story together from these random little facts, the prescription bottle, there not being a job, his erratic behavior sometimes, these other things I’ve seen written on papers which I’m not going to talk about. But maybe I’ve just pulled out those facts because I’m angry at him and we’re getting a divorce. This man became a total stranger to me while we were married, but does that mean I should punish my daughter and take away her father?

People say, “How could you have ever married him?” And, “When you were married you said it was the best day of your life. What happened?” Well, life happened, I guess. I mean, you meet someone, you fall in love. You’re young, you see the world in them, the future. You see what they could be, and you fall in love with that person. You fall in love with a story. But how would I have known otherwise? Who tells you that the story you’re telling yourself, that this person will love you till death do you part and all that, who gives you a slap and says, “Don’t believe that story, don’t trust your heart.” Who tells you that you shouldn’t pay so much attention to the sweet things, the flowers on a Saturday morning, the surprise outings on the first warm day in Spring, that sort of thing. Who tells you to forget about that and trust the times he scared you or made you sad or worry? Things that you naturally forget because you want the other story, the story about how you’re a worthwhile human being and you deserve well and you deserve all the sweet things this man is giving you. That’s the story we all want to believe, isn’t it? Isn’t that what all brides believe when they’re up at the altar saying they promise themselves forever? And I didn’t even say those words. It’s not like I’m stupid. I was chasing after the same storyline for myself that everyone else wanted.

So I just can’t talk about it anymore. What I need to do is sort out this custody plan so that we can get it filed and be done with it, for us and for Leah. It’s like I don’t want to talk anymore, I just want to tick things off my list and then sit here and be quiet. Maybe then I would find that little bit of peace I need.

56 / 365 – Mission

PAM TILLARY

It was the end of the 60s and there were lots of protests on campus. I didn’t want to protest, but I wanted to do something worthwhile. I ended up at a neighborhood center, reading to kids who had somehow gotten to fifth or sixth grade without being able to read a word. They were tough kids, for fifth and sixth graders, black kids, kids who had lived a different life than I had known. I was supposed to be helping them learn to read better, but that lasted just the first afternoon or two. We were sitting around and getting nowhere, the kids just making jokes and snickering. Thinking back on it, I’m surprised I wasn’t scared of them. Maybe I was. I would be if I were sent into a place like that now. Scared or not, they weren’t getting anything out of me trying to get them to read, so I stopped and I made some joke at myself, I was obviously hopeless at this. And everyone laughed and I said, “How about I just read you something?” And they were OK with that.

I picked up something they had lying around, one of those terrible books that are supposed to help you learn to read but that nobody would learn to read on because they’d be so bored, they’d figure, what’s the point? I started to pick up books from the Dane County library on my way over there, books I liked. I remember reading them Where the Red Fern Grows. When the dogs fight with the mountain lion and don’t survive, all those tough boys were looking down, trying to figure out a stealthy way to dry their eyes. I remember one kid, they called him Loney, I don’t even know if that was his real name or not. He was tall and he was the toughest. I had the idea he didn’t go home very often, just got by showing up at his grandmother’s house, his uncles. The day after we finished Where the Red Fern Grows, he sort of hung around afterwards, fiddling around, like he wanted to talk. I wanted to ask him what was up, but you never talked direct like that to this kid, not if you wanted an answer. He made small talk, I don’t even remember what about, but finally he said, “Miss Mason — that was my maiden name — Miss Mason, that book made me wish I had learned to read.” I said, “Well, you still could. We could start it over and read it together. You stay around after I read to everyone and we’ll try it.” I didn’t really think he’d do it, but the next day when the kids were leaving to go out to the rec room to play pool, he pretended he was helping straighten the room, and then we read. I think it took us an hour to read a few sentences, and I thought, “Oh, he’ll never do this again.” But the next day he was back.

He kept at it. It was impossible. Sometimes he had to think through the sound of each letter and then he’d painfully put it together. Just to piece together a story of a boy and his dogs, a boy living a life a lot freer than this kid had ever had.

Then one day he he wasn’t there. Another boy told me he’d been picked up for something and he was in juvenile detention, “juve,” he called it. I never saw him again.

But he had touched me. I knew then I wanted to teach. Tough kids, they scare us and we write them off. They won’t do what we want. We think they’re stupid or they can’t learn. We make up reasons why this is so, just so it will look good in the records. Those kids in that center probably learned more just listening to stories from faraway places they couldn’t have dreamed about than they had in all the five or six years of school they’d had up to then. We could do better, I decided. I was going to teach and do better. That Spring there was tear gas on campus, students taking over the administration building, protests of bombing in Cambodia. I stopped noticing it. I was concentrating so hard on learning everything about teaching in inner-city schools. And working with those kids.

Before our children were born, I taught in the city schools. The kids were tough. They didn’t come in wanting to learn. A lot of them were hostile at first. Tom was worried it was dangerous. He said why don’t you teach in the district by us? It’s safer. And I said, that’s not why I’m doing this. I’d work to reach them. I didn’t reach them all. Sometimes I’m not sure I reached many. But a few. Each one mattered.

I stopped teaching when Christine was born. Then, when Ben was old enough for first grade and I was ready to go back, we moved out here. I’ve taught here ever since.

But it’s a different place. That world I taught in, those kids, they’re miles and miles away from here. I don’t think those times even happened. The war, the questioning of it, people challenging the government, didn’t happen here. People drove around with flag decals on their pickup trucks and everything seemed OK. We get kids in our school who have been neglected, kids who haven’t been read to at home, or kids who have trouble reading. But not kids left out because they’re ten and eleven and illiterate, who will never be able to be part of what’s going on around them. I had a mission back in Wisconsin, but I sort of lost it out here. I’ve had a lot of good students over the years, and it’s fun to see them growing up and being members of the community. But it’s not the same. I don’t have that same hopeful sense that somehow we were making something more right than it had been. That it was important what we were doing. Now it’s as if we teach and kids graduate because that’s what we’re supposed to. It’s what you do until you’re eighteen. And that’s all.

55 / 365 – Bullshit

FINN TILLARY

You get to college and you find out everything is bullshit. I don’t know why they wait until then to tell you. Maybe it’s because that’s the first time they don’t have to answer to your parents, make the story pretty the way your parents want it to be. I don’t know why they care so much. You don’t have to look around very hard to see how screwed up stuff is. People always want to make it seem like the people are charge are why things have turned out, and how the people in charge must be extra-great people. Talk to a few old guys, you get the story. I know a lot of kids in high school don’t want to talk to any old people. You sort of put up with talking to your grandparents when you have to every once in awhile, or your weird old uncles at Thanksgiving. But mostly nobody wants to hear from anybody older, partly because you think everything is different from how it was when they were your age. And partly because they don’t tell you the truth.

When I was ten years old it was the town’s centennial. The chamber of commerce put together this big book, about Jericho and all of the county. There was a whole bunch of stuff in there about my dad, about the tractor plant, about how the tractor plant was so great because it gave so many people jobs. And then a story about my dad and about how he must be so great because he was the man running it. They had a photograph of all of in it, and I remember my sister hated that thing because she had braces on and everybody’s family had one of these big fat Jericho history books on the table in their living rooms and they would all have a picture of her being ugly in braces. And I said, “Cynthia, nobody that you know is going to be reading that book, especially not an article about the guy who runs the factory.”

It also had some stories and pictures from when the town was founded. Later, when I was a little older, I was wondering about the town history, and I remember opening that book and reading a little. It talked about when Mr. Hanson and Mr. Johnson walked all the way over from Winnipeg to claim some land. I guess the border wasn’t such a big deal then as now, people went back and forth all the time and didn’t worry about it. Probably nobody even knew where the line was. So Mr. Johnson built a lumberyard and Mr. Hanson started a bank and a hotel and a store all in one and claimed a homestead. And then the railroad came through and they built a station and then they platted the town and it really grew. And weren’t those guys smart and wonderful, the Hansons and the Johnsons. Just like my father in that story, Mr. Important Man, making jobs for everyone.

I remember when we had to do some North Dakota history in 11th grade, I said something about it to my history teacher, Mr. Morstad. By that time I was kind of sick of getting little bits of crap about my dad all the time, since a lot of people’s moms and dads worked at the plant. Everybody figured we must have it easy or something. Or else they just resented me because my father was their dad’s boss. Anyway, I said something like, “We talk about these pioneers like they’re heroes, but maybe they’re just the guys who hogged all the money or grabbed all the opportunities.” He told me that when Mr. Hanson came into town, after he had his claim staked, he walked for a week to get to Grand Forks to register his claim and to lobby someone he knew for the postmaster’s job for the town that didn’t even exist. And he was also the magistrate or the sheriff, something like that, and also some kind of agent for the state. Basically there wasn’t any cash in the entire county, but what little there was was flowing into his hands, and he was loaning it out to people farming and pretty soon a lot of the original homesteaders were his tenants, and after the railroad came in and took up half the town’s land, he got rich renting out or selling lots in the town. Maybe that’s your idea of civic-minded, but it isn’t the kind of helping and sharing you’d see your typical farmer doing around here. Everyone else would help each other out in hard times, but that wasn’t the way you’d make your money around here, or become one of the city fathers, or get your name written up in that fancy book that’s on everyone’s coffee table. This town never would have survived if it weren’t for all the people who carried each other in tough times, but it’s like we forget all of that as soon as we sit down to write the story of how this place came to be here.

54 / 365 – Late snow

DUANE MILLER

At the bar in the Uptown ….

It’s around this time of year you start to hear more people talking about Florida, sort of daydreaming about it. Or talking about a notion they had once to move down south. A job they didn’t take — y’know, somebody’s cousin had something going in Jacksonville and “I was going to move down there and I should have.” You hear that here when the snow is still blowing in out of Alberta. “Jeez not another one.” There’s a lot more talk about bad backs and sore knees and arthritis. Guys getting their equipment ready for spring having trouble bending over it or getting under it. In November and December you kinda welcome those first storms. The season’s coming round again. Winter is pretty. After all the work of the summer and fall, you look forward to laying low, building a fire and watching a little TV. But late February, March, April storms, when we get them, you’re sorta tired of them by now. Another bad drive into town. Another day you might have to winch someone out of a ditch.

Sometimes I see kids playing at the school, and even now they don’t seem to have gotten tired of it. I saw some kids yesterday throwing snowballs. The snow’s a few days old and frozen, those things must hurt like rocks. I only passed them on the road but nobody looked angry about it still being cold.

Snow’s a lot more dangerous here, too, not like in the cities, where it’s just pretty stuff falling down and putting icing on everything. Every few years you hear about someone getting caught out when a blizzard blows up and they don’t find their way homes. They used to tell us blizzard stories as kids, try to scare us so we wouldn’t do anything stupid. When I was a kid they liked to tell about a blizzard that had happened just before I was born. Blew up in the afternoon when school was getting out. Kids had a hard time finding their way homes. I heard that when it hit in Minnesota kids were actually walking home and a lot of them didn’t make it. My mother called it “the children’s blizzard.”

There were lots of scare stories about storms. One my grandmother used to tell from out where we are was about a family that got caught in a bad storm. It was when people were first homesteading, when folks had just migrated from Russia, which is a whole other story. Out where our place is there were a cluster of farms from one village, now there’s just a few big farms left where that was. Anyway, one family, just a husband and his wife, had been on their land maybe a year or two, had put up a small house and a simple barn. I guess the wife was expecting their first baby. There wasn’t any timber in the area, so any wood was what you had bought from the lumber yard in town, where the rail spur ended. That was the business to be in, not homesteading. I don’t know what this house was like but my grandmother, when she would tell it, would say that the houses of those first settlers were pretty small, and they had stretched their lumber as far as it would go, which would mean that wind would blow right through. She said sometimes they might wake up in the morning after a bad blizzard and find snow on the floor, or in their beds.

Anyway, the snow had been falling hard, and it had gotten dark. This man and his wife were probably huddling around their fire, trying to stay warm, trying to make sure she was warm so the baby would stay warm, when their roof caved in. Put out the fire and everything. The snow was blowing hard all over everything. I guess he tried to make a little bit of a shelter by the fire and he got it going again, burning some of broken wood from the roof to keep it going big. The barn wasn’t far away but my grandmother said in the worst storms people could get lost trying to get from the house to the barn. People would stretch a rope from the door of the house to the door of the barn, just so they could find their way. They never knew whether he was going to find the barn or to get help from another house. They found him a few days later, after the storm had stopped and people got out to make sure their neighbors were OK. And they found the woman in the house, with the fire buried under a big pile of snow. Frozen solid, both of em.

When I got to be a little older and I knew a little bit more, whenever my grandmother told that story, I would say, “Of course, if they had dressed warm, like the Indians, in buffalo robes, they could have kept warm. I used to hate that when I was growing up, we had to do everything the way our grandparents had, the old German ways, probably the way they had been doing things for centuries, before they left Germany and went to Russia. They hadn’t learned a thing from living out on the Russian prairie, where the wind and the snow are as bad as here. Hadn’t learned to make snow caves, some of ’em, which might have saved that family, too. There was always a way you should do everything, and it wasn’t always the smart way.

My grandmother stopped telling that story when I was around. She was trying to teach the younger kids a lesson, to be respectful of the wind and the snow and the cold. And I was old enough that I just wanted to pick a fight because I thought I was getting smarter about how to do things. I probably should have been more respectful of my grandmother. She had lived through a lot of hard things I never even knew about. But you know, when you’re a young hot head, you think you know everything, you think you’ve learned it all already. Guys that are really smart are the ones you learn quick that you don’t actually know much of anything.

53 / 365 – Haze and Confused

DAGNY KIELLAND

I didn’t go into work this morning. I meant to call them but I don’t remember if I did. I think I passed out, but I don’t really know. It’s like I don’t know the difference between being awake and sleeping anymore, but I haven’t had a real night’s sleep for days, I don’t think. I don’t think I was asleep but I sort of came to this morning, lying on the living room floor. My clothes were gone except my shirt, which was all pull sideways. I think I had sex with somebody but I don’t remember. Shit, I was speedballing, kinda like, with the Jack Daniels, and I just lose track. The front door wasn’t all the way shut. I hope nobody came down the hall and looked in and saw me like that, naked from the boobs down. I looked at my body and it seemed like somebody else’s. It’s like it wants things now that aren’t good, I don’t know it anymore. Six months ago I felt like I was getting a little poochy belly, like. Not too big but just enough to worry about. For awhile I thought I might be pregnant. I can never keep track of those things. John is never here, still always out at the oilfields, so I don’t know how I could have. I would have to be lucky. But I couldn’t remember when I’d had my last period and I thought I might be pregnant until I had my period and then I realized I wasn’t. I just kinda forget things. With Craig gone and my schedule at the C-store changing like every week it’s like the days just drift around and back and forth and I can’t hardly remember when it’s the weekend or not. I can go out and drink any night I want to, or get high whenever I want to. I don’t have to wait for the weekend. That’s as long as I remember to go to work in the morning. Crap, I hope I left that message. The light on the answering machine is blinking, a whole bunch of times real fast, which means it’s a bunch of messages. Somebody called last night, which was probably John calling from out west but I was so fucked up then and we had the stereo on so loud I couldn’t even like get the sound turned down and people to shut up so I could answer it, so he started leaving a message and I thought I can’t deal with listening to this right now, so I turned the volume off. I think he called again later, I don’t really remember. I feel like something is wrong but I can’t even deal with it to try to fix it. He didn’t come home last weekend and I don’t even know why and I feel bad bugging him about it because he’s like five hours away and that’s a long way to drive and I should be grateful that he’s driving so far every weekend just for me. He’s living in little trailer outside Garrison, I think is where it is, with his buddy Rich, and I think I’m glad I have an apartment, even if it is just a rundown place where the old people and the Mexicans live. Some of them are cool, those guys, they know how to party. John, I feel bad because sometimes I don’t call him because, I don’t know, I’m just sitting here, or I’m at the Uptown and I’m having a drink and I don’t want him to know if he calls my cell phone. He was a fun guy, before we got married, kind of mysterious in a fun way, but now he’s off where he can earn money and I’m here and I probably should have gone out there with him, but, I don’t know, I didn’t want to. And now it’s like I’ve fucked everything up. Like I’m sure some of those messages are from work, probably I’m fired now. Or they’re from my Dad. He came into the Uptown last week, totally embarrassed me. He said, “What are you doing to yourself?” I said, like, “Dad, what are you doing in here? This is totally not your place. You should go.” He did, and I don’t even know what he was thinking. He said, “John’s going to leave you if you don’t get yourself together.” I don’t know why he’s going on about that all the time, like John is leaving. Maybe John is calling him up, but I don’t know why he would. It was always us against the world. But then he went off to the oilfields and I’ve just kinda fucked everything up here. I hope I didn’t lose my job. I might have to move out to that trailer in Garrison if I did. And it’s February and I’m sure it’s fucking cold. It doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters any more is getting high again. That’s like the only thing that gets me up anymore. Sex, it’s like I don’t even care, I don’t even feel it. My body craves other things. I’m looking at it and my skin looks yellowish and pale to me, and the skin hangs a little. Is this me? How did I get like this?

52 / 365 – A Beautiful Morning

JODI NILSSON

The house shook in the middle of the night — another storm blowing in. When I rose it was still dark but the night was bright with white blowing across. I don’t know that a lot of snow fell, but it’s blowing so you can’t see the ground. It’s the glory and humor of the Lord to take away the ground beneath our feet, to have the snow blow across it so you can’t see that it’s there. So you have to think about where you are, pay attention, and you have to trust.

People don’t think and they don’t trust and they get in their car like it was a sunny day in July and they can’t see the road and they go sliding off the road into the ditch. Or worse, like into the lake, like Laura’s old friend from high school, Chris Haraldsen, and the Tillary boy, Ben. One moment you’re not paying attention and it can change your life, end your life. I look at those two families and I believe they’ve been ruined by it. Of course without faith, without salvation, it can be hard to understand God’s plan. You can end up feeling like you are being battered by forces, forces you don’t understand if you don’t understand Satan. I feel for people who can’t understand this playing out, who feel like they are being battered around by “Fate,” how some of them call it, or “random events,” which is just worse. You lose a son, you have a piece of your life ripped away, and you have no way to make sense of it. I see those mothers struggling and I feel compassion for them but there we don’t talk about it.

I had to drive very slowly out to the plant, but I had to go. Tomorrow is pay day, there is payroll to do. I didn’t even bother trying to get there by the east-west highway, because even if the plows had been out the snow would have blown back over the road. I don’t think I was driving faster than fifteen miles an hour. I left early so I would have plenty of time to get there. Not too many people out yet. I beat the first shift, which meant I could park close to the building, but of course I couldn’t see any of the lines in the parking lot. The lines for the spaces run northeast-southwest. I hope I didn’t get the wrong angle, because then the whole parking lot would be off kilter.

The light was on in that trailer the union has parked out there. It looked like that agitator from the union, that Mike Kelley from out of town, might even be in there making coffee, sitting out there in the cold. Lord knows he might have people’s interests at heart, but he’s doing the devil’s work, and I mean that. Stirring up trouble, stirring up the workers, getting the company alarmed. He’s trying to protect people, but he may get everyone so wound up the company could decide it’s not worth it to have this factory way out in the middle of nowhere on the prairie, just because the cost out here is low and people work very hard. They’re good people, but they could be cutting off their toe to spite their foot, and then they won’t have a leg to stand on. It’s hard times here, always has been, but if people saw that living, living well, was not about whether you get more money on your paycheck but whether you have salvation, I think they might think differently about this union vote, this union contract. I understand where they’re coming from, but I don’t think they see what’s coming ahead.

I get worried about things like that, but just before I went in the building, I stopped and took a look around. There was some blue light breaking in low in the clouds out to the west. A beautiful morning. The wind was hard on my ears but the snow muffled the sounds of the blowers on the back of the plant, the buzzing on the lights. You could hear the snow blowing softly across the ground, just a soft rustling sound. Praise God, a beautiful morning.