The Groundskeeper and Other Short Stories

The Groundskeeper And Other Short Stories
 

Synopsis for Groundskeeper and other short stories

“The Groundskeeper and Other Short Stories” is a compilation of writings centered around the common man. Factories, neighborhoods and schools are author Matt Shea’s most frequent settings and allow the reader to laugh at him/herself. Many of these stories are based on how Shea thinks Andy Griffith would write about small-town life today.

List of stories for the Groundskeeper and other short stories

Tales From the Factory

The Groundskeeper (Read Entire Story Scroll Down)

The Truth Chamber

Pete’s World

Little Jeffrey and the Big Factory

The East Side Brotherhood

The Disfigured Man

Your Quiet Neighborhood

The Three Berry Caper (Read Entire Story Scroll Down)

The Town Terror

Small Town 101 (Read Entire Story Scroll Down)

The Poor Culture

The Essay

Your Mother Should Know

The Politician

The Discovery of Teddy Downing 

The Discovery of Teddy Downing

The Forgotten Community

Depression Threads

Valentines Day

Brotherly Love

Personal Life

Bones

The Sacred Bicycle

Epilogue

THE GROUNDSKEEPER
( By Matt Shea )
It was another glorious Monday morning. The Freewater Ecology plant was vacant from the weekend, but alive with spirit. Beautifully landscaped shrubbery outlined peaceful green grass covered by morning dew. All was now being awakened by the spectacle of sunrise. The rich golden brown soil under the tall trees was exposed by the advancing rays. The parking lot was clean, bare and quiet. All was not as good as it seemed though. This serenity was on the verge of extinction, unless a miracle could happen.

A lone car cautiously enters the lot, almost an hour before start time. This was Jeremy Coats first day as a bonded contractor. The zealous tradesman arrived early to assure a perfect attendance underway. He was in awe of the tranquility that greeted him. This wonderment of God’s nature was enhanced by the sounds of undisturbed wildlife. The peaceful setting before human intervention made time stand still. Every precious second of this well preserved haven was being savored.

Suddenly, there was a startling tapping on the window. He was relieved to find a seemingly harmless old man. The tall lanky posture with a friendly smile and soiled coveralls put Jeremy at ease. Upon opening the window, the stranger spoke.

“I bet you’re that contractor we’re expecting! My name is, Carl Goodwin and I’ve been the groundskeeper here for the past forty years. I was told we hired an ambitious young man to help us out. Since I’m always the first one here every morning, I thought I’d drop by to say, “hello” and welcome you aboard.”

“Well thank you,” exclaimed a polite youth. “My name is, Jeremy Coats. Did you create all this beauty I’m looking at?”

“No,” said the warm senior, “I only do my part to respect it. Someone else gets credit for creating it!” The driver could only smile in agreement with the God-fearing man. Then Carl extended his hand to shake Jeremy’s and continued. “It’s getting close to starting time. Soon many cars will be here and then it will get noisy. I always felt that this is the best part of the day.”

“I have to agree with you.” responded the nineteen-year-old.

It was now twenty minutes before starting time. One by one the vehicles showed up. In no time at all the lot was full. “I better get in, I have to report to my supervisor,” stated the enterprising youth. “I’m glad to have met you, Carl.”

The humble soul replied, “The feelings the same, and have a good day.”

Jeremy knew where to go. He’d already met with the plant manager, John Bishop. The previous week the two had agreed on a contracting bid that he submitted. The rest of the day would be spent moving tools and placing a metal garbage container outside for his projects.

The following morning Jeremy arrived at work in the same fashion. The parking lot was desolate and peaceful. The sun was just casting its eloquent light on the paradise he’d discovered the day before. He couldn’t believe that this Eden was always there.

A movement at the far end of the lot distracted his thoughts. He was relieved to see the smiling face of his new friend. The caring elder must have anticipated another visit. As he approached, steam could be seen rising from two cups of coffee. The prompt workingman got out of his car to meet the congenial old-timer. “Good morning, Carl,” greeted Jeremy.

“Good morning,” said Carl. “You seem to be earlier this time. Let’s have some coffee where we can both sit down.” The old man in coveralls turned and walked towards a trail as he motioned with his arm. “Follow me,” he said. Jeremy wasn’t familiar with the grounds. He was led down a beautiful path to a quaint bench. The setting was private and secluded. It was cloaked by the surroundings of beautiful bushes and ferns.

“Hey that’s quite a mug you have there,” exclaimed the jubilant teenager as he pointed at Carl’s cup.

“Why thank you,” said Carl. “My granddaughter made this for me. It was a Father’s Day gift, since she calls me dad. That child never knew her real father.” Then in victory, he held up the heirloom and chuckled, “Isn’t it great!” The happy grandfather changed subjects. It became apparent that he wanted to discuss an important issue with the new employee. “Do you know why you were awarded this contract?”

“Because I was willing to give the lowest bid,” answered the young business man.

The patriarch looked directly at Jeremy with his steel blue eyes and said, “There is more to it than that.”

“What do you mean?” asked the puzzled youth.

Carl asked, “Why did you decide to be a contractor?”

“I wanted to be like my uncle,” replied Jeremy. “He seems to have everything; a big house, two cars, a truck, boat,and a trailer. He makes a lot of money. Sometimes he gets paid for not doing much. He knows how to bid on a job and always makes it look good when he’s finished. I was taught how to make a good living with this trade.”

A disappointed Carl looked down as he absorbed the answer from the young apprentice. He then injected his years of wisdom. “You need to look beyond money; sometimes it’s all about contributing. This is a community that’s struggling with hard times. Money is not all there is to life. We’re all sacrificing. You were chosen because we could see your good character. You can help us “turn the tide”; life will reward you later.”

Jeremy sat still for several minutes and remarked, “This is not my home, I am just a contractor.”

The wise man asked, “What did John Bishop actually tell you to do?”

The fledgling concentrated on the question and answered, “Nothing; all he did was show me the many things that needed attention. I appreciated that. It’s my decision what I will tackle.”

Carl had something to point out. “Did you notice that he didn’t mention how far you can go? He didn’t even say how long you could take. He gave all of us the same option. The State might shut us down if things don’t pick up. We are doing everything we can think of to attract more contracts.”

It was now close to seven-o’clock, and Jeremy had to start work. “Thanks for the coffee,” said the confused youth.

“You’re always welcomed and have a great day,” replied the father figure.

Several days later the morning was engulfed with rain as Jeremy arrived at work. Like Old Faithful his buddy was there once again to share coffee. Carl yelled out to Jeremy, “Get your coat on and follow me!”

With enthusiasm Jeremy donned his jacket and followed the frisky old man. This time he was led down a different trail. Together they ran through the drenching rain and soon took shelter in a gazebo. Like all of Carl’s world, this was accompanied with beautiful plants and hanging flowers. The fragrance of fresh blossoms seemed to be a trademark for this happy man.

“Wow!” exclaimed Jeremy. “You cover all the bases.”

“I try,” laughed the gentleman. The violent rain made a methodical sound as another morning was being shared. It seemed that these were the moments when the junior wanted to learn more about Carl.

“I have been meaning to ask you something,” stated the pupil.

“Shoot,” responded the professor.

“You mentioned cutbacks. Are you a victim of that?” asked Jeremy.

“We all are,” answered Carl.

Jeremy reluctantly asked, “How many hours do you get to work a week?”

He looked at Jeremy and said,”As many as I want to.”

The sapling continued to question. “How many hours do you get paid for?”

Carl Goodwin looked off in the distance responding, “It works out to be about thirty hours a week.”

Like an inquisitive child the young man asked, “Why do you do it?”

A long pause built up to his answer. With dignity the proud man exclaimed, “Because I’m here…”

The novice contractor allowed that message to digest. After a few minutes he was finished with his coffee. “I have to go now,” said Jeremy.

“You have a good day,” responded Carl.

Jeremy was consumed by the morning conversation. He realized he could still accomplish plenty with minimal expense, and still earn a fair income. His priority was directed to repairing easy projects. Leaking faucets, rewiring broken lights and caulking windows would finish out his day.

Days later, the clear skies along with a wet environment made the grounds inviting for Jeremy. Again, there was the old man with the traditional coffee. Jeremy was like a puppy discovering his master’s return.

“You’ve been the talk of the plant,” exclaimed Carl as he handed him a hot cup of coffee. “Everyone has noticed how hard you’ve been working!” 

“I’m glad you understand why I haven’t been here,” replied Jeremy. “I’ve been starting earlier and I didn’t want you to think that I had abandoned you.” He gazed at the good man and said, “I really look forward to seeing you.”

The caring soul responded, “Hey that’s my line!” 

The youth continued with more questions. “Tell me Carl, why have you stayed here all these years?” 

With pride, he looked toward the sky and replied, “My late mother was an original employee here seventy years ago. She was this building’s first receptionist. In those days this was a county building where families came for help. Eventually it became the ecology department, with many additions added on. The current main entrance is part of that construction. If you inspect the back of this building, the original entryway is still there. It was the best feature this campus had.”

Carl reflected on the past, “That main lobby has tall, majestic brass doors that led to a cobblestone road and gave access to where my mother worked. There is a fountain in the center where cars could drive around. It has benches surrounded by lovely wrought iron street lamps. Baskets were suspended from those poles, and they always had beautiful flowers in them. It was the best place in the county where we could play with other children.”

The old man continued, “Today that lobby has been forgotten. The brass doors only serve as a barrier that hide the disgrace of what neglect has done. The years of growth prevents the doors from opening. What they would expose looks like an unclaimed dump. I do my best not to let that happen on this side.”

Carl couldn’t bare the thought of this tragedy. The depressed gray haired man walked away with his head hung low. Jeremy Coats had a different reaction; he now had a cause.

The aggressive laborer started his shift walking behind the plant to see its original entry. The old growth didn’t allow him to get close. He could only view it from the trail leading to the gazebo. What he saw from the vantage point was thick brush that showed no signs of civilization. It appeared as undeveloped acreage that could serve as a refuge for wildlife. Going back through the new entrance, he eventually found his way to the old lobby.

The mammoth brass doors were testimony of the glory days. They were strong and mighty. It seemed like the dull sturdy barriers only needed to be freed from its unkempt environment. The lobby however, was a disgrace. It had been abused as a makeshift storeroom for various items. Dried buckets of paint, boxes of outdated county records and rejected old furniture dominated the once proud room. This dumping ground buried the soul of the building and endless dust confirmed forgotten history. However, the room itself wasn’t damaged.

The first task would be to remove the waist. The conscientious worker inspected every item before discard. Then came an important discovery. A cardboard box was found buried in the corner of the room. It contained the original wall hangings, plaques and newspaper articles that inaugurated the opening of the grand building. Jeremy sat down and carefully examined the contents. Everything was professionally framed and at one time displayed in the lobby.

Then he found the Holy Grail. Pictures of the original employees accompanied with the mayor and governor were found. The eight member staff was identified by name. The only female in the picture was a smiling woman by the name of ‘Clair Goodwin’. Jeremy was staring at the final inspiration needed to fuel his conquest.

“This room will be restored to its original state!” vowed Jeremy. The memorabilia would once again be hung on the walls of the old county building. They would be enshrined in the very room where that receptionist lived out her career.

The antique setting still held its charm. Beautiful oak window frames matched the molding on the ceiling and floors. The marble floor tiles only needed cleaning, not replacement. Sturdy Roman pillars supporting the ceilings, only needing a fresh paint job and good lighting. Jeremy knew that this grand lobby of last century could be restored at a minimal cost.

The contractor took his crow bar in an attempt to pry one of the doors open. Systematically, he kept relocating the leverage bar until he established a secure hold. With all of his might, he tried to open it. There was a loud groan from the frozen hinges as they resisted movement. He continued the effort by applying all his weight on the bar. The stubborn door budged two inches, with the movement disturbing many years of growth. The top of the door separated itself from old bird nests, decayed vines and the buildup of dirt. This compost fell on the floor engulfing the room with a cloud of dust. There was much work for one man, but the hours involved wouldn’t matter.

The following day manifested the ritual between the two friends as they shared coffee in the picturesque setting. Jeremy was quiet this morning. He was secure, now that he had direction. Carl asked him what was on his schedule that day. The reserved talent didn’t reveal what he was actually doing and only acknowledged that he was swamped with work. They wished each other a good day and parted.

Carl noticed that Jeremy returned to his car and began to remove items. He was surprised to see that he brought supplies from home. Upon seeing Carl he stated, “It only takes up space at home and I have a use for it here.” He looked at the master and stated, “I like how you think.”

“I like how you are thinking,” responded Carl. The friends wished each other a good day and parted shaking hands.
Plant-wide everyone noticed the intense work the new contractor was giving. Rumors traveled that he was actually renovating the old lobby. It was obvious to all that he was inspired by the most respected man in the county; Carl Goodwin. The handyman adopted to the culture: he was working resourcefully with profit not being an issue.

The next sunrise Jeremy made his way to the familiar bench and sat next to his confidant. Coffee was shared as the beauty of Carl’s world controlled the moment. The male bonding continued as he began ask more questions. “Do others share this place as you and I do?”

“Yes,” stated Carl. “Everyone here seems to find their time for this seclusion. The break time here varies from each department, so does the lunch hour. Some even stay here a while after work. I even have those who visit here during the weekend. What I notice is the respect; nobody here would dare think of littering. If any litter is spotted, it’s immediately picked up. There is no yelling around here either. Through time, this became a sanctuary for all of us.”
Jeremy could only sit back and marvel on what the reverent man had created for everyone. “I want to start early today,” said the motivated worker.

“I have done that many times myself.” replied Carl. “Let’s have another good day.” Jeremy nodded with a smile. The comrades shook hands and embarked for their chores.

Jeremy was still working on the old lobby. The materials he brought from home was enough to accomplish this task. The metal dumpster was almost full from the remnants that had collected through the years. Fresh paint had been applied to the walls and pillars. The wood was treated with polish and the windows were clean. The marble floors and main doors were buffed to their original color. More important, the framed documented history was cleaned and displayed where they originally hung.

The old lobby was now looking like its first day in existence. It was clean, dusted and regained its shine. The brass doors were the ‘Mount Everest’ of the project. He knew that they functioned and didn’t need replacing. It was just a matter of prying them open and facing the jungle that waited outside. He approached the metal barriers with determination. If he could open the first door completely; then the second would easily follow. With all of his strength committed to the task, he manipulated the door with the leverage bar. The groan from aging hinges battled the effort. The tenacious contractor would not surrender. Eventually the door gave way. There was something different this time; there was no fog of falling debris. Instead, brilliant rays of sunlight outlined the door. As he pushed the Gothic metal wall opened, Jeremy was stunned.

The cobblestone road was exposed! All of the tall grass, weeds and blackberry bushes were removed. The famous fountain was no longer hidden in shame. Wrought iron flower baskets hung from the lamp posts. He was entering a world of yesterday.
Seated on a metal bench was Carl holding two glasses. “Do you think you can get this fountain running?” asked the groundskeeper.
With conviction, the contractor exclaimed, “I’ll have it running in one day!”

“Well good,” remarked the senior. “That would give me time to place the flowers I ordered in those baskets. It looks like you could use a break, care to join me?”

“I’d love to!” answered Jeremy. He sat down with Carl as a cold drink was being handed to him. With mutual respect, they toasted one-another on a job well done.

The aging soul spread out his arms, as if to hug the resurrected structure. “Do you see this?” asked the trembling old man. “It’s what I had as a child!” A long moment passed as memories danced in his head. Carl looked at his accomplice and asked, “Why did you do all of this?”

The young man looked at his mentor and proclaimed, “Because I’m here!”

Carl Goodwin could only smile at the prodigy in admiration. “I have some good news,” he exclaimed. “The City Counsel dropped by today and liked what they saw. They have chosen this site for a Town Meeting. It’s in recognition of the oldest county building being restored. They will be awarding state contracts and told us that we’re first in line.”

Lemonade was the perfect drink for this hot afternoon. The men leaned back in admiration as a seventy-year-old life was being awakened. The landmark seemed to glisten in response as the air filled with an aura of grace and appreciation. A loving feeling could be felt drifting through the open door, as if to identify a child that used to play here.
The Three Berry Caper
( By Matt Shea )
A large gathering assembled at the town square to commemorate an important milestone. This was the one-hundred-fifty-year anniversary of Pioneer Valley, with a celebration underway!

A parade led by the local marching band was followed by its highly decorated drill team. Floats sponsored by local businesses displayed their colors like a proud peacock. A procession of vintage cars slowly drove down the main street with the reigning beauty queen waving to the community she represented. The mayor smiled and shook hands as he passed out pamphlets.

All clubs were represented with vendors selling memorabilia. The aroma of barbeque ribs, chicken, hotdogs and hamburgers tantalized the hungry crowd. This festive occasion helped ease the tension of this divided town.

The original settlers started a feud amongst themselves that was still unresolved. The cold war of Pioneer Valley consisted between two families: Smith and Cromwell.

It all started when one family named a road after themselves. The other reciprocated in defense. When the railroad tracks were laid through the small town, the community was then divided. The tracks now served as a boundary between the self-named streets and their families. Like a Dr. Sues story; control was the issue with absurd rumors stirring the pot. This town was not without merit though. It was famous for its “Three Berry Preserve”. A unique blend of three unique berries that always won blue ribbons at the county fair.

Many theorized on what made these berries different: Some say that the mild climate in the foothills benefited from the pure mountain air. Others claim that the soil was perfected for the berries, since they were the only crop ever grown there.

Folklore credited the historical town for keeping the recipe a secret to honor their heritage. The three berry preserve was often imitated, but the code was never cracked. Once a product of ‘Pioneer Valley Three Berry Preserves’ was delivered to a store; they sold out immediately. Like the famous ‘Copper River Salmon’, this was a seasonal goldmine that allowed this town of independent farmers to survive.

The covet berries were not easy to get. The blackberries which represented one-third of this Ozark recipe could be found off of Berry Street, where the train depot was. Acres of bushes graced the station that was the heart of this quaint town. These bushes were respected and shared by the community for the berry season.

Then came the hard part. The much needed raspberries were located on the East corner of town; with the required blueberries on the West side. Regardless of having one-third of the sacred berries on family property; one would have to share the international waters of the train depot, and then have political asylum to gain access to their rivals bushes. The last third of this recipe was always a challenge; whether you were a Smith, or a Cromwell.

Derek Smith meticulously assembled his wooden fruit stand off of Smith Street as the noon train slowly traveled through town. Once the train passed, the obstructed view of Cromwell Street was now exposed; with Albert Cromwell constructing his stand. The two classmates were bonded by wearing their high school football jerseys. The teammates smiled and waved to one another as the berry season approached.

The interaction between locals was not always as friendly. Often, the smug arrogance of one family member would deny hospitality to an opposing family member. Sometimes, the town’s lone barbershop would abruptly change the topic of conversation- if the wrong person entered. It was common to see someone leave an establishment to avoid a neighbor from the wrong side of the tracks.

There was a common ground of justice in Pioneer Valley; the retirement home on Berry Street. This old structure housed the wise seniors that once played in that very town. Every family had a relative living here. When anyone had a problem, their last resort would be to make a pilgrimage to this residence and seek advice.

That’s what Derek Smith did. His grandfather, Harry, suggested that he wear his high school football jersey so that cross-town students could see that they had something in common. It worked like a charm! Every berry season he would give a five pound basket of raspberries to his teammate across the street- and receive an equal amount of Cromwell blueberries in return. Business was good. When his cousin, Timothy anxiously waited for the annual fishing derby, he became concerned on how to secure the best spot. Derek advised him to visit Grandpa Harry and discuss the problem with him.

Timothy Smith got up early that Saturday and took the short walk to Berry Street to see his grandfather. The frisky old man was elated to receive a visit from his youngest grandson. He was even more touched to discover the young lad came for advice. The thoughtful child presented his grandfather with a homemade card, showing appreciation for his roll in the family. He then hugged the elder, and began to share his problem.

“Grandpa,” addressed a somber Timothy Smith.

“Yes, Timothy,” replied the caring old man.

“Do you know about the fishing tournament coming up next week?” inquired the child.

“Yes!” answered the grandfather. “I helped dig that pond so that boys like you could fish in it one day!”

“Really!” exclaimed Timothy.

“Really!” said the soft spoken senior.

“Every year we have a hard time getting a good spot for the fishing derby,” said Timothy. “What do we do about that?”

“Share,” replied the wise old owl. “Why don’t you show up early, so that you can be there first? Then you can purposely allow others to claim it, knowing that you could have had it first. They will notice your consideration, and offer to share it out of respect. You will even make new friends!”

Timothy’s face lit up with a smile as he saw the beauty of this idea. He then hugged his grandfather, giving many thanks. The enthused youth then excused himself to devise a plan. The proud grandpa leaned back with a smile as he remembered what it was like to be young…

Jessy Cromwell approached his older brother, Albert to ask a question.

“Al, did you ever fish in the fishing derby?” asked Jessy.

“Sure I did,” responded the brother. “Every kid in town enters that contest until they’re too old.”

“Did you and your friends ever have a problem trying to get a good spot to fish?” asked the bewildered little brother.

“Not at first,” replied Albert. “When I was your age, that pond had two docks. When we got older, the city had to remove one; I never knew why.”

“Every year it gets crowded, and sometimes we arrive too late to get our favorite spot,” said Jessy. “What can we do about this?”

Albert gave a long pause, and reflected on a past experience. “I once had a similar problem. I didn’t know how to get raspberries to make three berry preserves for my fruit stand. I finally addressed this predicament to Papa Cromwell and he gave me a solution!”

“What did he say?” asked an intrigued Jessy.

“Papa told me that everyone always has something that someone else needs,” explained the big brother. “He told me to share my berries with someone who needed them and had the berries that I needed. My friend, Derek, needed some of my berries, and I needed some of his. We both realized that we were classmates and played football together. That made him a friend the whole time, and we now supply each other during the berry season. You need to visit Papa Cromwell and get his advice!”

“When can we visit him?” asked the excited boy.

“How about after dinner?” suggested Albert. “When your homework is done; we will walk to where he lives and ask him.”

Jessy smiled and quickly ran to his room to finish his school work.

The time was now six-o’clock with, one hour left for visitation. The brothers walked the five minute journey to Berry Street to visit their wise grandfather. Such visits were always special, as the grandsons would bring their mother’s homemade cookies as a gift.

Clarence Cromwell was pleasantly surprised to see his two favorite grandchildren pay a much welcomed visit. ‘Papa’ just finished his own dinner, and would enjoyed the chocolate chip cookies his daughter made as a desert.

The big man hugged the boys with emotion. He then asked, “What did I do to deserve seeing you two today?”

Albert spoke first. “Papa, we need to get your opinion about something.”

“Why sure!” replied the honored senior.

Jessy then asked, “Papa, do you know about the fishing derby coming up?”

“Yes!” exclaimed the elder, “that event has been a part of this town for over fifty years!”

“Did you ever catch fish there?” asked the younger grandson.

“No,” replied Papa Cromwell. “That pond was only meant for children. But, I have taken your mother there many times, and she has caught lots of fish.”

“My friends and I can’t always get our spot at the derby,” explained Jessy. “The other boys usually get there before we do and take it.” Then with a concerned look on his face, he asked his mentor, “What can we do?”

The crafty old man thought for awhile and slowly began to display a huge grin as he thought up a remedy. “I know!” he proclaimed with enthusiasm. “Your mother’s cookies will get you that spot!” said the elated elder as he displayed a chocolate chip delight and ate it. “Ask your mom to bake more so that you can share them with the boys that have that spot. They will love them, just as I do. They will know that you are a friend, and allow you to fish with them!”

Jessy grinned at his brother, acknowledging his sound advice. After a brief visit, they ran home to coordinate this peace-offering with their mother.

The following Saturday was the much anticipated fishing derby. Timothy had a slumber party at his parent’s house, with his fishing buddies attending. Derek would chaperone the anglers to the derby after their sunrise breakfast. Their earlier-then-normal departure had, once-again granted them their favorite fishing spot. However, they had agreed to leave it vacant to show diplomacy to their competitors.

Moments later, Jessy’s group arrived- running to the unclaimed territory. As they approached the dock, Timothy’s party was spotted; obviously allowing them to claim the place of choice. Both knew that the first arrivals showed courtesy, not to hoard the lone dock. They also brought cookies as a barter to share that very location. Time passed as the ‘ball was in their court”. Timothy’s group waited for the consideration to be reciprocated. The boys on the dock huddled in conference. Finally one left the pack and walked toward the others.

A hand was extended as the messenger introduced himself. He pointed out that there was enough room for both parties and invited them to join. The boys cheered in appreciation and accepted the invitation. Timothy had brought a large thermos of hot chocolate with extra paper cups. His friends introduced one another as the hot drink was shared. Chocolate chip cookies from Jessy’s household were handed out, as the boys watched fish jump. The derby was to start in an hour with the groups uniting and starting a new tradition.

The fishing derby was a success with all the boys receiving prizes for the most and largest fish caught! Jessy and Timothy would secretly have their mothers prepare a trout dinner for their wonderful grandfathers. This would serve as a gift for teaching them a valuable lesson about life.

The berry season was to start in a few days. This was the time of year where all members of the community had to ‘bury the hatchet’. It was crucial for each side of the tracks to have a port in the other: You can only make hay when the sun is shining. The berry harvest was projected to be the highest yield in years; with the good will of gift-giving underway!

The school kids were the first wave of battle. They were the ponds that would take small plastic bags of homegrown berries to school and trade them with anyone who didn’t share their last name. From there; one adult member of a household would contact the family whose child thoughtfully gave their child a sample of the precious fruit. The smuch anticipated calls came next to give thanks. Eventually, visits were arranged, where larger quantities of the homegrown produce would be exchanged as gifts.

The competition of giving provided the necessary ‘third’ to produce their own three-berry preserves. Local restaurants benefited from these acts of diplomacy and church attendance would reach its yearly high. This modern-day rendition of Easter egg hunting and Halloween trick-or-treating seemed to be a ritual all within itself. But it did supply the demand.

The senior women of the valley seemed to have the best approach. Several months before berry harvest, a well- coordinated quilting party would meet once a week. The weak spot on the opposite side of the tracks would be graced with a hand-made quilt that would match the victims wallpaper. Berries were also given to set the stage. Knitted sweaters, chords of wood, rides to town and a multitude of compliments were all used as arsenal. The town was in a friendly battle to get full use out of every last berry.

Orders as far away as Europe, Asia and Denmark patiently waited for the seasonal jams, jellies, syrups, and pies that only came from this part of the world. This limited supply of three-berry preserves came from the happy American town of Pioneer Valley!

Sunday evening was the eve of harvest; the calm before the storm. Derek Smith had an early dinner, and walked through the quiet town to visit his grandfather. As he approached his quarters, intense laughter could be heard coming from the room. He slowly pushed the door that was partially opened. He was amused to fine his grandfather in hysterics with Clarence Cromwell. They were laughing at the news on television that showed the local merchants preparing for the up-coming berry season.

“What’s so funny?” asked the puzzled teenager.

“Well, we have to tell somebody!” laughed Harry Smith.

“Can we trust you with a secret?” bellowed out Papa Cromwell.

A curious Derek slowly responded with caution, “What is it?”

“What do you know about this town’s history?” asked his grandfather.

Derek paused and said, “I know that we are one of the oldest towns in the country.”

“Anything else?” asked Clarence Cromwell as he fought back the laughter.

“You mean the feud?” asked the somber young man.

“Yes!” cried out the family elder.

“What’s so special about this time of year?” asked Clarence.

“The berry harvest.” answered Derek.

“What makes it so challenging?” asked Harry Smith.

“We have to respect everyone in order to make our three-berry preserves.” answered the inquisitive visitor.

Then both men yelled, “That’s right!” and doubled up laughing for the next minute.

Derek looked with astonishment and asked, “What’s wrong with that?”

The men yelled back, “Nothing, it should always be that way!” Their violent laughter continued for several more minutes.

Derek couldn’t understand their comments and asked, “Why?”

“Derek, do you know what we did for a living before we retired?” asked his grandfather.

“I only know that you both worked for the city,” he replied.

“We were like you and didn’t like the feud either, said his grandfather. “We decided to get involved with city legislature and planning. We did an ‘inside job’ to fight this problem. Do you know why the berry bushes are spread apart within this town?

A confused Derek answered, “We were taught in local history that the berries would not survive if they were planted too close together. They each attracted different insects that would kill the other two species. They had to be far apart in order for all three to grow.

“Son,” remarked his senior father figure, “that was a wives-tale. We conjured up that rumor to separate them on opposite sides of this town.”

“Why?” asked the confused high school student.

Harry Smith continued, “We initially had all the berry bushes concentrated on Berry Street; the same area that now only has blackberries. When the feud started to escalate, the berries were becoming the first casualty. There was no respect for one another, and the natural resource of this town was being hoarded by neighbors working against each other. We had to intervene to allow those berries to grow. We conjured up that story as a ploy to force this town to cooperate for survival.

Derek smiled as he understood the logic. He then asked if there were any more secrets.

The men looked at each other to gain approval, then Clarence spoke. “There are a few more. That fishing hole that holds the derbies used to have two docks. We altered our weight limit on fishing docks, so that only one could legally be there. I think you know why. At one time this town actually had two high schools. We modified the budget so that only one could exist here. We looked at the mascots of the former schools; the ‘Panthers’ and ‘Tigers’. We blended the logo to ‘Wildcats’. The red colors of one school and blue of the other were mixed to give us the purple and white we now have.”

Grandfather Smith yelled out with pride, “And every time a Cromwell scored a touchdown there was a Smith blocking for him! We have had our share of State Championships since the schools merged.”

The visit was momentarily interrupted by a knock at the door. Derek opened it and was surprised to see Albert Cromwell’s aunt. “I thought that I saw you coming in here,” she said in a polite tone. “My sewing club made this nice blazer. We think that it would look beautiful with that blouse your mother wears to church. And before I forget, here are some blueberries from our garden. We think your family will like them.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Cromwell,” said Derek. “My mother will appreciate this very much. I will give this to her tonight, and have her call you.”

“Oh, I would love to hear from her!” exclaimed Nora Cromwell. “Bye!” The sweet neighbor from the opposite side of the tracks left the room with a smile on her face.

Derek was dumbfounded now that he knew the towns real history. He stared at the floor absorbing the shock, then looked at the life-long friends, and smiled.

The wise old men looked at the young man holding the gifts and nodded in approval.

Derek said his good byes and walked home consumed by what he had just learned. The town he lived in seemed to be one big dysfunctional family; and it was. Like any wedding, or holiday celebration; many incorporate a facade’ to endure what was necessary. He couldn’t understand why the town couldn’t accept everyone simply the way they were; like he and his friend Albert did. Then he realized that they bonded based on the cleverness of their grandfathers. The enlighten youth could only shake his head laughing at everyone, including himself.

Small Town 101
( By Matt Shea )

The Langly Community Church paused in silence to collect much needed tithes. The congregation was struggling through hard times as weekly donations continued to fall.

Glenn Royals reached into his deep pockets and produced another sizable check. Pastor Mighten smiled in gratitude as the town’s wealthiest man continued to support. His compassion seemed to be a curse as neighbors became dependent on him. Glenn was now expected to help those that asked. His image changed from being a charitable man, to a despised landlord.

The church services came to an end as everyone stood. Systematically; the pews closest to the altar emptied first. The patrons quietly left the wooden structure adorned with stained glass. Pastor Mighten was first to exit and would greet his parishioners in the main lobby. He always confronted Glenn Royals with an extended hand.

“We certainly appreciate what you do for us.” said Pastor Mighten.

“It’s my pleasure to serve the Lord,” replied Glenn. The warm handshake escalated to a hug; with the two men revealing God’s grace. There were more people to visit as Glenn left the church and crossed the street. He mingled with familiar faces he would see throughout the week. He continued to walk towards the town’s lone gas station and entered. This was just one of his many businesses.

“Good morning, Mr. Royals,” exclaimed the clerk.

“Mr. Royals is my father,” said the proprietor. “My name is, Glenn.” The warm man smiled at the teenager and asked, “How is your day, Teresa?”

The young woman blushed saying, “Fine, Glenn.”

“How about enjoying this fine morning and take a few hours off with pay?” suggested Glenn. “I’ll run the store for awhile. You can be back here by noon.”

“Thank you, Mr. Royals; I mean, “Glenn”! The employee left.

The image of this humanitarian continued to decompose. Bill Fossell entered the establishment and was stunned to see Glenn Royals behind the counter. It was obvious that Bill avoided Glenn.

“I don’t have the money yet,” said Bill

“That’s okay,” said Glenn. “You can charge as much as you want.”

Bill had pride and looked up at Glenn. “You must love the feeling of being such a powerful man. You actually run this town.”

“I don’t have any power. I have been blessed with the good fortune of being able to run my business,” replied Glenn.

“You think God is the reason why you have so much?” retorted Bill. “The meek are the ones that will inherit.”

Glenn didn’t know what to say. He was being addressed by a neighbor that turned on him. He lent money to Bill and allowed him to charge anything in his store. He was also his landlord; and allowed months worth of rent to be excused. He never asked to be paid back. Glenn helped others and never use his success as leverage. He only had one dream; and that was to live in a small town where everyone cared for one another.

“Why don’t you stay here with your kingdom!” exclaimed Bill. He left without getting any supplies. That bothered Glenn knowing that Bill was going through hard times. What made matters worse, he was now being denied helping someone.

The tempo changed within seconds as Phil Swanson entered the station. Phil was Glenn’s closest friend in town. “Good morning, handsome!” greeted Phil.

“Good morning to you!” replied Glenn.

“That was quite a sermon Pastor gave today.” said Phil.

“I loved it!” said Glenn.

The bantering volleyed back and forth for several minutes.

“Do you work all day?” asked Phil.

“I hope not,” laughed Glenn. “My helper should be back before noon.”

“We are having a barbeque this afternoon,” said Phil. “Why don’t you drop by?”

“Ya got a date!” said a smiling Glenn Royals. “Do I bring anything?”

“No, just yourself,” replied Phil.

Glenn’s spirits were raised by this visit. He looked forward to an afternoon in a friend’s back yard.

Phil shook Glenn’s hand and said, “I have to get a hair cut now; see you later.” He left for the barber shop.

Teresa returned to her job. Glenn enjoyed a brief visit with the young woman and eventually left.

The quaint town was convenient for pedestrians, with everything being within walking distance. Glenn would leave his enterprise and walk by the barber shop that led home. He approached Sam’s Barber Shop and saw the retirees that gathered there. Glenn would stick his head in the door.

“Hello everyone,” said Glenn.

“Hi, Glenn,” answered the group.

The visit proved joyous as everyone teased and laughed at one another. A peculiar event would then take place. Phil asked Glenn if he could borrow one hundred dollars. Glenn immediately opened his wallet without question. The room admired Phill’s dignity and came to a silence. Glenn handed Phill a one hundred dollar bill.

“You can take your time paying it back,” said Glenn.

Phil accepted the money saying, “Thanks, Glenn.”

Glenn respected his friend by changing the subject. “Hey!” he said pointing at a retired police chief. “You have to be nice to me, I’m still on parole!” Laughter erupted as Glenn waved good bye and left.

The engagement at Phil’s home would start in an hour. This gave Glenn ample time to go home and prepare for the afternoon. His travels would take him by his apartment complex.

He inspected the beauty of his freshly painted building. The lawn was well manicured with colorful flowers and bushes enhancing the courtyard. It was a wonderful place to live. The satisfaction of taking care of his tenants was interrupted. Someone was calling out his name.

“Mr. Royals!” called out Mrs. Woodrow. She was one of the oldest citizens in that town and seemed to be in a panic.

“What is it, Megan?” asked Glenn.

The elder had tears in her eyes as she addressed her landlord. “I hate to do this to you again, but I will be late for rent this month.” She stared at Glenn for mercy.

The compassionate man smiled at Megan and said, “Is that all it is?” He then gave her a warm hug. “Everybody is late on occasion; don’t worry about it.”

The grateful woman looked at Glenn and said, “Thank you; you’re such a good man!”

Glenn smiled and said, “Everything is all right, Megan. Now stop that crying!” Mrs. Woodrow broke into relief and chuckled. The entrepreneur continued to walk home in thought. Half of his tenants were delinquent on their rent; which could eventually effect his ability to pay the mortgage. His engagement with Phil would take his mind off of this anxiety.

Glenn arrived home pondering on the financial woes acquaintances gave him. The bachelor changed from his church cloths and left for the barbeque.

He could smell the charcoal burning as he approached the house. The open gate leading to the back yard was obviously a signal for Glenn. He walked on the staggered stepping stones that were placed on the lawn. He was seen by the Swanson family as he passed through the gate.

“There’s the man of the hour!” exclaimed Phil as he walked up to Glenn. Phil’s wife, Sandy and his sons, John and Mark greeted their guest. The two friends shook hands as Phil pointed at a cooler full of beverages. Glenn helped himself to a beer. He would be the only visitor.

Phil cheered his neighbor as they tapped their beers together. “How do you like your steak cooked?” asked the host.

“Medium rare,” replied Glenn.

“I’ll prepare the food,” said the charming wife.

The men left the patio and walked up the elevated deck. It was now a tranquil moment as they gazed over the secluded back yard. It was surrounded by a rustic wooden fence. Antique wine barrels with rusted metal bands held gorgeous flowers. They were strategically placed throughout the yard. The traditional shed occupied a corner of the lot; matching the fence and barrels. Farming tools from last century were displayed on its exterior.

The centerpiece was a decayed tow truck of yesterday. It was enshrined on a mound that was accompanied with small maple trees and large rocks. Baskets with flowers hung from the obsolete vehicle as extra wine barrels displayed more plants. This was a masterpiece.

Glenn Royals savored the small paradise and remarked, “You have ‘Heaven on Earth’ right here.”

Phil digested the compliment and said, “That’s all we want”.

The picnic table was set. Potato salad, steaming cobs of corn, fruit and the best barbequed steaks in town waited. “Time to eat,” announced Sandy.

Everyone gathered at the table and sat down. Phil led grace thanking the Lord for the food, wonderful family and the gift of having Glenn Royals in their life. Glenn felt warm inside. Once finished Phil raised his hands and said, “Let the feast began!”

Glenn tasted his steak and said, “This is perfect.” A conversation spawned ranging in topics. Humorous stories generated laughter; with everyone contributing. Finally, Glenn asked a question. “Phil, there’s something I was always meaning to ask you,” he said.

“What is it?” asked Phil.

I don’t understand the jokes about you being a ‘descendant’, said Glenn.

Phill sat back in his chair trying to control his laughter. He was caught of guard with his mouth full of food. The family turned quiet as they stared at one another. The father recovered and said, “That all started with our last name.” Glenn was intrigued.

Phil began to explain “The neighboring town has a main street named ‘Swanson’; just like our name. They are the Rockefellersof this county. Many times we have been accused of being rich. There were those that either wanted to borrow money, or have us invest with them. Too often, a charity would solicit us. It eventually got ugly. We let everyone know that we’re from this town; not that one. I still get teased about the name, with some still questioning. It’s a curse to be rich in a small town.”

That explanation hit home with Glenn. “He” was the Rockerfeller of that town. It wasn’t easy.

The barbeque made Sunday afternoon complete. Homemade strawberry shortcake, coffee and a brilliant sunset finished the day. Glenn expressed his appreciation to the family and left for home.

He couldn’t sleep that night. He kept thinking about what Phil said: It is a curse to be rich in a small town”. 

Monday was a few hours away. The business man would get up early and have breakfast at his diner. His morning routine consisted of walking through the community and randomly inspect his interests. The later half of the day would be focused on accounting and paying bills. If all went smooth, he would visit his tavern. Like a politician; Glenn would shake hands and buy a round of drinks The day turned out bad and was full of complications.

His diner was being sued by a local resident claiming food poisoning. What made matters worse, it was a long time customer that he often ate with; and sometimes bought meals for. “Why didn’t he just call me and tell me of this problem?” Glenn asked himself. He took the legal documents and called the firm representing the petitioner.

His luck continued when he visited his gas station. Someone on the night shift embezzled money. This hurt Glenn. Whoever it was has received many bonuses and gift cards. They knew that their boss always had an ‘open door’ policy. This crime wasn’t necessary. Glenn wouldn’t file a police report. He would allow the employee time to confess. He was even willing to give that person a second chance.

Glenn was frustrated beyond hope. He felt a visit at his tavern would give him the comfort of friends. His intentions was to open up his wallet and buy a round for everyone; including lunch. Glenn would strike-out for a third time. He marched to his place of refuge and entered the front door. Before he approached the bar, he could hear his name mentioned. It was coming from a booth isolated in the corner.

“That Royals must like being a slave master!” said a drunken customer. Bill recognized the voice; it was Gary Lighten.

“He owns me too!” said another. It was the unmistakeable voice of Pat Wales; both were tenants and employees that owed him on both fronts.

“I have to see that man to earn a living, then I have to pay him to live!” said Gary.

“I remember when he was new in this town; everyone thought that he was such a humble guy,” said Pat.

The drinking buddies were enjoying beer where sizable tabs were run up. Furthermore; they never thanked him for his generosity. Like most people in the community, Glenn never received a Christmas card from either one. The lone man certainly gave to his community, especially during the holidays.

He had at least one friend in town; Phil Swanson. He would drop by Phil’s house that evening for emotional support. Glenn went home to recover; refusing to answer any phone calls. At nightfall he left his house to knock on his friend’s door.

Glenn walked to Phil’s porch and knocked on the door. It opened in seconds. Phil was pleasantly surprised to see Glenn and invited him inside.

“Glenn, it’s good to see you,” said Phil.

“Thanks,” said Glenn. “Can we talk?”

Phil could see a worried look on Glenn’s face. He motioned him to the back deck they were on the day before. “Would you like a beer?” the host asked?

“That sounds good,” Glenn replied. Phil went to the kitchen and returned with two beers. They leaned on the wooden railings in silence as the sun set.

“What’s troubling you?” asked Phil.

Glenn looked off into the horizon and sipped his beer. “It’s something you said yesterday that I now understand. It is a curse being rich in a small town.” He looked at his friend and continued, “I am not actually that rich; but everyone thinks I am. It really is a curse!”

He smiled at Glenn with understanding. He then remembered something. “Oh, I owe you some money, follow me.”

Phil led Glenn down the stairs that touched the patio. He walked towards the old tow truck. Glenn raised en eyebrow with curiosity as he watched. Phil swing the crane; positioning it over a small boulder. He lowered the cable that rolled on rusted pulleys and made a loop like a hangman’s noose. The cable was lowered and wrapped around the boulder.

He looked at Glenn and said, “Now here’s the fun part; better cover year ears!” He leaned into the driver’s compartment and started the motor. A loud, rattling-purr came from the Briggs and Stratton engine. Phil used the crane to flip over the large rock. He got on his hands and knees where the rock was resting. Phil began to dig with his fingers; exposing a chain. He fastened it to the cable and raised it with the boom. A metal box broke through the dirt. The container was removed from the hole it was buried in and placed on the ground next to it. He removed the chain and opened it.

Glenn looked over Phil’s shoulder and giggled at the contents. It held bundles of neatly stacked hundred dollar bills. Phil removed a bill and handed it to Glenn. “I owe you an apology for using you at the barber shop the other day. I prefer a low profile.”

Glenn could only grin with the cleverness his friend displayed. He asked, “Are you really a descendent?”

Phil stood at attention and said, “Fourth generation Swanson!”

Glenn pointed at him and said, “And nobody knows…” He then covered his stomach and fell down laughing.

“I have thought of doing that myself,” said Glenn.

“You need to,” replied his friend. “We were in your situation before we moved here. Neighbors started to hate us because they thought we should be giving more and more. Over here, everyone looks at us as struggling; just like everyone else. Nobody bothers us now.”

Glenn looked at Phil and said, “I made a decision today; I am going to sell all of my businesses. If that doesn’t work, I’ll give them away.”

Phil asked, “Do you know where you are going?”

“Yes,” replied Glenn. “I am looking at property in the next town. It’s several miles past the shopping center off Swanson Road. It’s secluded acreage with a fish pond. It also has a boulder on the back lot…”

Glenn was revitalized as he tapped his beer with Phil’s. “Bring your fishing poll when you visit,” he said.

 

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