Chapter SevenExcerpt from Nobody Knows The introduction and first two chapters lay out the background of the Horton family. The oldest daughter, Anna, mysteriously left the iron Range town of Mesabi as soon as she graduated. Jake is three years younger than Anna; followed by his brother, Mike, who is 2 years younger; and DeeDee is 2 years younger than Mike. Jake is anxious to start the next phase of his life at the University of Minnesota…
One of the best parts about working at Sommer’s Carpet and Tile was spending time with Leo and his wife, Fern. I often had dinner with them at their home. Fern was a fabulous cook. She always asked questions about my life and was a good listener.
Fern liked to talk about her two daughters. Lydia lived in Washington, DC, married with no children yet. Cynthia was finishing college in Saint Louis with a major in political science. She planned to attend law school and become a patent lawyer. Fern proudly showed me Cynthia’s picture every time I was there. Photos can be misleading, but this one showed Cynthia to be very pretty, indeed.
When I first started working there as a dateless freshman, Fern always made a point to compliment me on not getting involved with anyone until I was “on my feet.” Then, she would add, “That’s like my Cynthia.”
“Fern, for the love of God,” Leo would say in pretend disgust each time, “we’re not running a dating service here.”
This banter between the three of us went on for several years. But now I was dating Margie. While I paraded Margie all around Mesabi, I never brought her down to the Cities to visit the store. I never even mentioned her to Leo, Fern, or anyone at the business.
In retrospect, I should have asked myself, Jake, why is it you never brought Margie to your store? Why have you never mentioned your relationship to Leo and Fern? Is it because you are ashamed of Margie for some reason? Is it because you suspect you’ll be leaving her? Why? For someone “better”?
The Monday after Margie and I each said “I love you,” Leo pulled me aside at work and invited me to dinner later that week. Cynthia was home from Saint Louis, and they wanted me to meet her.
Before I could come up with an excuse, Leo added, “Fern will never talk to either of us again if you don’t.”
Really, I was flattered—and Cynthia looked darn good in that photo. So I told Leo, “I would love to meet her and enjoy another nice dinner with you and Fern.”
Leo gave me a quick hug. “Be there at seven on Thursday, my good man.”
As I got ready for dinner that Thursday night, I was a little nervous. I just hoped that photo was a good representation.
Then in the back of my mind, I thought about Margie. But I reminded myself we had made no pledges of exclusivity. I wondered if she would even care.
It got me thinking about her “You’re so smart and I’m so dumb” comment, which she kept saying over and over. God, I hated that. Then I realized I would probably be the dumb one with Cynthia. A patent attorney to be. She may be too classy to like me.
Gary noticed my nervousness—and compounded it. “Just don’t be yourself,” he suggested as I headed out the door. My anxiety compounded even more as I reached my car. Some genius had broken the driver’s side window. The shattered glass was all over the front seat and the floor.
“Goddammit!” I yelled.
Inwardly, my wrath surprised me. I rarely used the Lord’s name in vain.
The commotion brought Gary out to see what was going on.
“Holy shit! Did the bastard steal anything?”
“I don’t know,” I blurted. Nothing seemed to be missing, but I didn’t have time to figure it out. I didn’t want to be late for dinner.
Before I even thought to ask, Gary tossed me his car keys.
“You can’t do anything about this tonight, but you’ll want to call your insurance company tomorrow.” As I rushed to his car, he added, “Don’t leave any stains on the back seat.”
I flipped him the bird, then thanked him and drove off.
I arrived right at 7:00 p.m. with a bouquet of flowers for Fern. As it turned out, the photo of Cynthia was a few years old and not totally accurate. Cynthia wasn’t pretty. She was a knockout. A redhead like her mom with light-blue eyes, strikingly fair skin, a perfect little nose, and soft lips. She was about five-feet-five, and as the saying goes, “every brick was in the right place.”
The old Jake would have withered like that flower bouquet after a week with no water. Now, with newfound confidence, I could sense we liked each other. I could sense the positive feelings coming from Fern and Leo as well.
I should have controlled my intake of wine a little better—a mistake Cynthia made as well. Leo’s eyebrow arched a little when Cynthia asked him to open another bottle.
Cynthia sat across the table from me, and her feet touched mine. At first, I thought it was an accident. However, as the wine did its magic and the attraction grew, she was smiling at me as she continued to tease me with her bare foot.
It was about ten o’clock when she realized she had forgotten her purse at the store earlier in the day. She was flying back to Saint Louis in the morning, so she needed her purse tonight.
She looked at me. “Jake, I know you have early classes tomorrow, but could you please bring me to Dad’s shop so I can get my purse?”
I couldn’t say “Of course” fast enough.
At this point, Leo chimed in. “Jake, I hate to ask you to do this too, especially at this hour, but since you’re going to the shop, would you check to make sure your customer brought those Wellington samples back? I need to show them to a good friend tomorrow first thing.”
I made a note to do so, I thanked Fern for a wonderful evening, then I led Cynthia to Gary’s car and opened the door for her.
Until that moment, I hadn’t noticed how badly the car’s interior needed a good cleaning. So I found myself telling her the story of why I was driving somebody else’s car. Somebody else’s dirty car. Somebody else’s dirty car with a bag of aluminum beer cans on the back seat and a cardboard air freshener in the shape of two boobs hanging on the rearview mirror.
She just smiled.
Chapter Threecopyrighted material
The day I left the town of Mesabi and headed for my new life in Minneapolis remains fixed in my mind for several reasons. My dad had gotten work outside of town and wasn’t present for the good-byes. Maybe it was for the best.
Dad was not an emotional man. I always thought he held conflicted feelings toward me. One Father’s Day, I took a risk and mumbled, “I love you.” Dad looked at me and said, “Thank you.” I would have liked to have taken those three words back. We butted heads on what was said and knew we would butt heads on what wasn’t said. So we said very little at all.
I had packed my orange Pontiac GTO Judge the night before so I could avoid too long of a sendoff with my mother. Mom held back the tears right up until I hugged her. I assured her I would be coming home often, and this would turn out to be true.
DeeDee now became the eldest child at home, but she looked twelve to me, not fifteen. Still, a quick thought came to me as we hugged good-bye. She’s starting to look like Mom.
Mike squeezed my hand, and I cried out in fake pain, which was our routine. I doubt Mike understood the implications of what I was doing.
As I headed south on Highway 53, I could see the three of them waving to me in my rearview mirror. Once they were out of sight, I pulled off the highway, parked the car, then ceremoniously kicked the iron ore dust off my tires. I couldn’t remember where I had read of somebody doing something like this, but I liked the symbolism.
My best buddy, Gary Halstead, would be meeting me at the apartment we had committed to in Minneapolis. Gary and I had been friends since grade school. We had plenty of history to draw from when we ran out of things to say. He was not a stellar student and appreciated my help in getting him through some math classes. Neither was he any kind of an athlete, as he had quit competitive sports in eighth grade.
His father worked in the mines, and his mom stayed at home with the kids. Gary was the youngest of four. His dad often told people, “When Gary leaves, the old lady needs to get a job.” He was also proud to state, “None of my kids get a handout. When they’re done with high school, they are out on their own.”
While I was expected to earn some income to pay for my room and board, my parents planned to help me with tuition and loans. We would figure it out together. The Halsteads—or at least Mr. Halstead—was a believer in independence and self-sufficiency. At least when it came to his kids.
He was also a believer in the benefits of hard and frequent drinking, even for a Ranger. On several occasions, Gary and I saw him in varying degrees of drunkenness.
Drunk or sober, he liked to lecture. I didn’t like him much. I thought he was a blowhard. He carried himself as if his opinions were common sense and even smart, but I knew he was an idiot where it mattered. It’s harmless to sit at the bar and bore people with your parenting theories and to rant about the younger generation. But to believe your childrearing skills are superior to others because you provide no financial help seems like nothing to brag about.
He regarded me as a “Big Christian,” so he weighed his words some around me. Both Gary and I were amused by this because he often referred to Christians as “weaklings.” I guess he had figured out it was more admirable to be dependent on a bottle rather than a god.
Despite this disagreeable man, all four of the kids, especially Gary, were popular in school and well-mannered. When school started at the U, Gary joined the Young Christian’s Club, mainly so the two of us could do something together. He seemed to get more out of it than I did. Candidly, I could feel he was a better person inside than I was. I always had.
As we entered seventh grade, we had a black classmate for the first time in our lives. For the most part, the student body treated Allen decently. It didn’t take a great heap of empathy to consider how it felt to be outwardly so different than everybody else. But behind Allen’s back, some students made jokes and comments that were clearly racist.
Allen joined Young Christians with Gary and me, and his knowledge of the Bible amazed me. After one meeting, he needed a ride home, and I asked my mom if she would mind bringing him to his home. It was a fifteen-minute drive, and my mother and Allen never stopped talking.
The next day at school, one of my idiot football teammates commented to me, “I hear Allen is really your brother.”
I knew what he was saying. But while I stood there, unable to come up with something suitable in response, Gary got in this student’s face.
“I think Allen is a great guy. Smart too. What do you think?”
As the kid fumbled to recover, I couldn’t help but be proud of Gary—and jealous at the same time. He had the guts to speak up. Later, I thanked Gary for standing up for Allen.
“Hey, Jake,” he replied, “don’t forget you’ve been a friend to Allen from day one.”
That made me feel a little better, but I still couldn’t help but note the difference between Gary and me. That feeling would always be there.