And The Horse You Rode In On
Gerald Murphy was screwed and he knew it. He preferred to be called Gerald but for some reason, most people including his now ex-wife and former boss called him Jerry. He went with the flow but it still rankled him sometimes. But what people called him was the least of his worries. His primary concern was what a 35 year old man was going to do after he had been stripped of his dignity, reputation, livelihood, family, and 75% of his assets by his divorce.
The biggest problem was that he honestly didn't know or understand what had happened to him. A few other people could have told him but he was unlikely to understand. They would have told him that he was Mr. Loyalty, the eternal Boy Scout, the guy who everyone relied on because he never let them down. They also would have told him that he was so focused on what he was doing that he seldom let people get close to him. He didn't hang out with co-workers or go to many social events. The results were that he had made several relatively incompetent supervisors look very good but he had been passed over for promotion because he never earned his membership in the good-old-boy club.
These qualities came together and culminated in his divorce from his wife of ten years who then took up with one of his arrogant former bosses who was notorious for taking credit for other people's work and treating them like peasants. Their ensuing marriage and move for another job opportunity caused Gerald's two young children to move to a high energy city 600 miles away. Gerald was left alone in a smaller city with a job, a small house, his pickup truck, and no idea how his life had gone from satisfactory to the dumpster in less than a year. Then the economy took one of its frequent trips into the toilet and Gerald became an unemployed 35 year old with a small house and pickup truck and very little likelihood of finding another decent job in the foreseeable future.
The plant closing had been sudden but he did receive a year's salary as severance and a good recommendation. A month later, he realized that he was just slowly slipping towards bankruptcy and that he had to do something. He managed to sell his house and got some money from that deal but had escaped from a mortgage payment. He found a 5 acre plot of land 80 miles away that he could pay cash for and bought a repossessed one bedroom cabin and had it installed. At this point he had a place to live that cost him little and had some money left to survive on. But that was it; his life had been reduced to a trailer house on five acres and no tomorrow.
The finale came one night as he was watching television. The news commentator, who made more a lot more money in a year than most people made in a lifetime, had spent the better part of an hour justifying that people should quit complaining about the economy and just go get a job and work hard so that they could be successful like he was. He had brought out three or four well dressed, well-heeled "experts" to support his arguments. Just before the program ended, Gerald took out his .22 pistol and shot the television screen three times.
For a brief minute, Gerald considered turning the gun around and firing off one more round, but that thought disappeared and he put the pistol back in the drawer. The next morning, he drove into town and bought a used garden tiller, some compost, and a variety of vegetable seeds. For the next week, he worked from sun up until dark tilling an area not far from the cabin and planted a garden. He was going to make sure that he had some food available to him.
On his next trip to town, he saw a sign for an estate sale. Without much thought, he decided to stop and see if there was anything useful at the sale. Unfortunately, the sale was all but over and only a few odds and ends were left. He talked with the person who handled the sale and discovered that the man who had died had left the place to his son who didn't really want the place and was going to put it up for sale. The person in charge asked Gerald if he knew anyone locally who might be willing to come over and clear out the barn of a lot of junk and haul it off and also tear down a small shed that had seen better days. Without thinking, Gerald said that he would do it for $200. The man handed him $200 and asked if he could have it cleaned up within a week.
For the next week Gerald carefully tore down the shed and put the lumber in his truck and stacked it behind the cabin. When he started on the barn, he was surprised at what he found among the "junk." It was obvious that the seller had not take the time or interest to sort through the dirty pile of stuff in the barn. He had only told Gerald to clear it all out and get rid of it. By the time he had hauled the scrap to the dump and had made three trips to the metal recycling center where loads of broken and bent metal had earned him another $150, Gerald finally surveyed the other "stuff" that he had salvaged. Besides the lumber from the shed, he had saved thirty metal fence poles, a 200 foot roll of fencing, several worn but useful garden and hand tools, and his prized find, a 5' by 8' trailer buried under everything else. The tires were shot but he had been able to get it home in one piece. Everything he had accumulated would need cleaning and some repair but he now had some material to work with.
Since his television was now also filling space at the dump, he relied on listening to the radio while he worked around the garden and restored the equipment he had accumulated. In the evenings, he listened to music and read. Over the next two months, the estate sale person had called him twice more to do the same at two other places. He readily accepted the jobs and happily took $200 for each of them. He also picked up some additional money from metal recycling from these efforts but also added additional lumber and some siding and metal roofing to his collection of building materials. He also picked up a lawn mower that he was told was dead. I proved to be very much alive after an oil change and a new spark plug.
It was at this time that his garden began producing results. He discovered quickly that he needed to learn how to preserve some of his crops for later use. The local library supplied him with two books on canning and preserving vegetables and soon he was blanching and preparing his harvest for storage. His only problem became a lack of storage space. He solved that by using some of the lumber and materials that he had collected and built a strong storage building partially underground to act as a combination storm shelter, root cellar, and storage room. He built it into the side of a north facing hill and it kept the interior surprisingly cool during the summer and dry during the rainy spring and fall.
He had evolved a schedule so that he worked six days then took the seventh day off to clean house, do laundry and take care of any other chores. From another library book, he learned to bake his own bread so he baked a week's supply on his day off. The other thing that he did religiously was to write a letter to each of his children each week. He mailed them and they did not come back but he never knew if they received them or not as he never got a reply. Two years later, they started to come back marked "Moved, no forwarding address." He continued to write the letters but no longer wasted the money for postage. He put them into two boxes, one for each child.
While in town one day, he discovered that there was a small farmer's market open on Saturdays only. Saturday became his shopping day with the market his first stop. He was able to buy vegetables and other things that he hadn't or couldn't grow. He also discovered that several women baked a variety of breads and baked items and sold them at the market. After finding out the details about how to do this, he began baking ten loaves each week and taking them to the market to sell. The women baked lighter things while he preferred the darker, heavier multi-grain and rye breads. The first weekend he tried, he sold six loaves at $5 each. After that first weekend, he sold everyone of his loaves and was often asked to bring more. As a result, he used Thursday and Friday as bread making days. He mixed the dough and set it out to rise on Thursday evening and baked all day on Friday. This method allowed him to increase his offerings to between 15 and 20 loaves a week. While the amount of money he made wasn't huge by any means, it was enough to allow him to buy meat and other staples.
The other thing it allowed for him to do, which ultimately turned into a greater blessing, was to meet many local people and become recognized as a member of the community. Since this wasn't a high pressure situation, people quickly discovered his positive traits and found that while he was quiet, he did indeed have a charming personality even if it was subdued. The ladies at the market became particularly fond of the quiet man who made such good rye bread.
When they also discovered that he was a gardener and a handy man, several of them asked him if he would build them raised bed gardens and get them started with a garden. They tended to be older women who found gardening difficult in the ground. Most were retired widows or women with husbands who were unwilling or incapable of building even the most simple thing. Gerald agreed to all requests and began building raised bed boxes from his stock of lumber and taking them to their homes and putting them where they were wanted. He also invested in new tires for the trailer and had a welder repair part of the frame. With that, he found a source for bulk compost that was much less expensive than the individual bags from the garden center. Over the next two months, he built and installed twelve of these beds at $75 each ready to plant.
While doing this, many of the women asked him to do other repair and maintenance projects around their houses. As a result, he usually left their house with between $100-150 in his pocket. This continued until the holiday season when things began to slow down. This gave him time to take care of some chores that he had been postponing. It was during this time that he was able to sit down and take stock of where he was. He was surprised to discover the results when he finished. After he had bought the land and mobile home, he had about $10,000 left to live off of. When he added up everything, he now had $12,000 in his savings account. He had survived the first nine months of his new, simple life without a regular job and still added money to his account. This also didn't take into account the supply of tools and materials he had amassed to work with.
As he finished his assessment, he began to cry. His tears washed away his initial feelings of sorry and became tears of thanks and joy that he had survived and that gave him confidence that he could continue to survive. As a Christmas present, he had an internet line installed so he could access all of the information on the net. For the first time in years, he went into town and joined a community Christmas event and brought five loaves of bread to the festivities. People expressed pleasure that he showed up and introduced him to even more people. One of these people was his next door neighbor. He had been aware that someone lived next door but had never made the effort to actually meet them.
"Them" turned out to be a single mother about his age and her eight year old daughter. The woman was introduced as Gwen Lambert and her daughter Cherilyn. As they talked, he discovered that she was a school teacher in town and that explained why he did not see them around during the day. Cherilyn proved to be quiet and shy, much like he was. Before they parted, they exchanged phone numbers and offers to call if they needed help.
Two days later, he got a call from her. She explained that her brother and his wife were supposed to come for Christmas dinner but had to cancel because of an emergency. She said that she had far too much food prepared for the two of them and would he like to join them for dinner on Christmas Day. He fought back his initial inclination to decline the offer but accepted and asked if he could at least bring a loaf of bread or something. She accepted his offer and said that she was planning on dinner at 1:00 and that he was welcome at anytime he arrived.
He took a shower and put on a clean pair of jeans and shirt and started towards her house shortly after noon with the loaf of bread under his arm. As he walked, he noticed what he thought was steam coming out of a window. When he realized that it was smoke, he began to run and burst through the door nearest the smoking window. He found Gwen sitting on the kitchen floor with tears pouring down her face. The stove was black and soaked with water and fire extinguisher residue.
"Are you and Cherilyn alright?"
Between sobs, Gwen nodded her head.
"Come on; let's get you out of here." He helped her up and led her to the back porch and sat her in a lawn chair. He then went and found Cherilyn cowering in fear in the living room. He led her out to the backyard and sat her next to her mother. Then he went back inside to look things over. The gas oven had obviously caught fire and spread to the stove top. Everything was a mess. The wall behind the stove had suffered some smoke and water damage but for the most part, the rest of the kitchen was intact. He went outside and found the gas shut off valve and closed it. He went back inside and pulled the electrical plug to the stove and pulled it away from the wall. Overall, the mess could be cleaned up and the wall board behind the stove could be easily replaced. The major item was the loss of the stove unit. He went back outside and sat down next to Gwen who had brought her sobbing under control.
"I'm sorry, Gerald, The turkey is in the grill over there staying warm but everything else is ruined."
"Hey, both of you are OK and that is the important thing. The damage isn't too bad but the stove is a loss. We can just take the turkey to my place and finish the meal there, if you are up to it."
"I can't ask you to do that."
"I don't recall you asking for anything; I am offering it. My place is small but I think that the three of us can fit and still have a nice dinner."
"Alright, if you don't mind. I'm not sure I am ready to face cleaning up that mess on Christmas Day."
"We will clean it up tomorrow. I can replace some of the wall board and then we can see about replacing the stove."
She smiled a thin smile that left something unsaid but nodded. They put the turkey on a large platter and the three of them got in Gwen's car and drove the short distance to Gerald's cabin. As he led them inside, Gerald said to the young girl, "I'm sorry Cherilyn, I don't have a television to watch. I listen to music most of the time. But you can go on the computer and perhaps find something interesting.
She nodded nervously and said, "Thank you."
Gwen surveyed the cabin and decided that it was neat and clean and livable. With Gerald's help, they opened several of the canned foods that he had put up and heated up a variety of vegetables for dinner. By the time they sat down to dinner, the kitchen smelled of fresh vegetables and turkey and everybody sat down in a refreshed state of mind. Both Gwen and her daughter commented on how good the vegetables tasted while Gerald praised the turkey.
After dinner, Gerald showed her around his garden and storage room. Cherilyn had found things on the computer and was lost in a child's world of different things. Gwen and Gerald ended up sitting on his small deck and they each began to reveal some of their history while drinking a glass of tea.
Gwen told him that she and her husband had bought the house next door three years ago with big plans to fix and update it. The economy had cost him his job and the remodeling plans had come to a halt. He finally found a job 200 miles away and he went to work at a lesser paying job while she stayed in the house with Cherilyn because of her job. Things were looking up until her husband failed to call as usual. When she was able to finally find out what happened, her life went into turmoil again. He had lost that job too and went out and got drunk. Then he went and tried to rob a convenience store and wounded the owner but the owner had also shot him. He survived but had been under arrest for four months. The court appointed lawyer had told her that he would probably have to go to prison for a couple of years for his crime. As a result, Gwen had had to cut back on many things to make ends meet. One of those had been that she had to drop the homeowners insurance on the house. She didn't know how or when she would be able to replace the stove.
Gerald listened to her tale and nodded. He then said that he understood her situation completely and that he would look around a couple of places that he had found and see what he could do about a stove. She thanked him for helping her. She then asked about him and he told her his story or at least as much of it as he could as his understanding
When they left, Gerald had made them agree to come over for breakfast in the morning before he and Gwen went back and began the cleanup. Gwen agreed on the condition that she would bring the sausage and eggs. Gerald agreed and things were settled.
They arrived just before 8:00 and Gerald made fresh biscuits and sausage gravy while Gwen cooked the sausage and scrambled eggs. They worked together surprisingly well in the small kitchen but breakfast was a hit for everyone. Gerald provided her with some bell pepper and onion to mix in with the eggs. Both Gwen and Cherilyn liked the biscuits and gravy, something that they had never had before.
They went to Gwen's house shortly after 9:00 and began the clean up. The first thing he did was wrestle the stove outside and load it into the bed of his truck. He would take it to the metal recycler the next day. He expected that he would get about $20 for the scrap as it was an old and heavy gas range. He and Gwen then cleaned and scrubbed the floor and cabinets. After she made sandwiches for lunch, Gerald began cutting and removing the old wall board. He found several of the studs inside the wall had deteriorated and needed replacing along with some insulation.
The next morning after a stop at the metal recycler, he went to the building supply store and bought what he needed. By the time he stopped that evening, he had the studs repaired and the insulation installed. The wall board would go back in the following morning. Gwen and Cherilyn came to his house for breakfast and dinner each day and they had lunch at Gwen's house while they worked.
After the wall board had been installed, he told Gwen that he needed to run an errand and would be back in time for dinner. She smiled and told him to take care of what he needed to. She would get the things for dinner and to not worry about it. Gerald drove 50 miles to a recycle store he had come across and found a gas stove that was only three years old. The previous owner had decided to remodel the kitchen and the white stove didn't fit with their new color scheme, so they had donated it to the resale store which supported a local charity. Gerald bought it for $100 and drove it home with a tarp covering it from a light rain that had sprung up.
When he arrived home, Gwen was already busy in his kitchen preparing a roast and potatoes and other vegetables. The three of them shared another excellent meal made even better when Gerald put a loaf of bread into the oven. The warm bread and the lingering aroma made everything almost perfect.
The next morning, he backed his truck up to their door before they had come down for breakfast. After knocking and being greeted by Gwen still in her robe, he unloaded the stove into the kitchen and had it installed in less than an hour. Gwen couldn't believe that he had found one and put it in so easily. That morning, they cooked breakfast on the new stove and Gwen couldn't have been happier with the new features that the stove had. She faltered and almost cried when Gerald turned it on for the first time and it lit right up. She finally asked him how much she owed him for the stove. She couldn't believe that he had bought it for only $100. She had expected to have to pay closer to $300 for one in worse condition. He told her to just pay him back at $20 a month which was an offer she really appreciated and accepted.
Ahaha amazing build up
I'd love to read more, thanks for the story!