Lucas Weismann

Another Winter Gone – 23

The war ended and with it, Marcus’s engagement in the military. He took his money from the GI bill and enrolled in classes at what would later become St. Cloud State University. He took a room in a boarding house not far off of campus and worked in the summers painting railroad bridges on a moving crew. They pay was not bad, but it went much further for Marcus than many of the other men, because he neither drank, nor gambled. His mother, a staunch teetotaler instilled temperance in him from an early age, though time would soften his stance.
Knee-deep in the surety of youth, he believed water was the best thing to ingest where possible and due to his love of tea, he managed to avoid the problems that others might run in to, had they insisted from each lake and river, wherever possible.
Unlike his mother, he didn’t see drink as evil, merely unnecessary. He understood the need for the men to relax after a hard day’s work and why seeing the obliteration of drunkenness was attractive- especially the guys who’d also been “over there.” No, he did not begrudge the veterans their liquor. On one occasion, it was either the anniversary of VE day, or the Normandy invasion, he raised a glass to absent friends and lead the men in a drinking song most of the Veterans seemed to know. It was this character of being both strict with himself and knowing how to win friends that won him the loyalty of the men in his crew, just as it had won him the loyalty of the men in his squad. Read more

Another Winter Gone – 22

Upon entering the dance, Marcus was struck.  Both by how fancy they’d made everything and how plain the buildings were back in Saint Cloud.  He remembered some of the dance halls he’d seen in some of the smaller towns they’d occupied and how much grander they seemed, with no ornamentation added on.  Like a girl who was still pretty with no makeup and after a swim.  He smiled to himself and decided that wasn’t a bad criteria for determining if a girl was pretty.
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Another Winter Gone – 21

Marcus slung his duffel bag over his shoulder as he got off of the greyhound bus.  There waiting at the station were his father and mother.  His father gave him a salute, which he returned. Then, his mother’s patience broke and she ran to him with tears in her eyes throwing her arms around he boy- safely returned home.  Marcus held his mother tight and whispered his greeting to her.  Then she released the hug, stepping back to see the man her boy had become.

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Another Winter Gone – 20

“You’re becoming a man.”  Said Marcus’s Father.  “I’m proud of you for doing your part for your country..”

“Of course dad,  You fought the Germans in the Great War.  You did what you had to to stop the Kaiser.  How is this any different?”

“Hmph.  Do you even know what we’re fighting for?”

“We’re fighting to give the people over in Europe a chance to be free from Hitler and his Nazis.?”

“I never stopped fighting Jack.  Bullies are always bullies and if you don’t stop them, they just grow more and more powerful.”  Then his dad grew serious.  “Marcus, I don’t wish this on you.  I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.”

“What’re you trying to say Dad?”

“Marcus, I know you need to go over there.  It’s part of who we are.  We do the work that needs doing. I just don’t want you to go to war.  When you get- if you get back, you’ll understand.”

“If I get back?  What kind of talk is that?”

“The truth.  Marcus, I can’t tell you how many men I met and fought with and against who didn’t come home.  Some of them just killed by mud, choking slow mud like quicksand that took days to kill a man.  On top of that there was the gas attacks, the giant guns and every other means men could think of the kill each other and grind him under their boot heels.  Do you know the maddest, craziest thing about war?  Each one of us thought he was coming home.”

“Well dad, you just told me why I have to go then.  I have to go to stand up to those bullies and do my best to make sure those guys get home.”  

It was at that point that Marcus’s father extended his hand and Marcus shook it for the first time as a man.

 

The war brought everything promised.  Death, destruction, the kind of camaraderie that can only exist between those who have faced death together and been lucky enough for death to blink first.  Marcus learned a lot from Sgt. Wurm and the lessons stayed with him.  Overall, the military was a good experience for him, it took the raw ore of his character, smelted it in training, tempered it in battle and left him a stronger, more solid man than he might have otherwise become.  When his time overseas came to an end, he returned home and embarked on an adventure greater and more meaningful than any that war could throw at him.

 

Her name was Rosemary.

Another Winter Gone – 19

“It’s a bad idea Jack.”  Said Marcus.  “Now isn’t the time to go on some fool crusade.”

“What’re you talking about dad?  You fought the Germans in World War II.  You were over there, doing what you needed to for your country.  How is this any different?”

“You want to know how it’s different?  We haven’t been attacked.  Do you even know what you’re fighting for?”

“Do you know why you stopped fighting?” Read more

Another Winter Gone – 17

Marcus woke up to a layer of winter snow 8 inches thick covering the land as far as the eye could see.  Some cold had gotten into the cabin, which he chased out by stirring the coals in his fire and adding some wood from the pile nearby.  He had a propane heater of course, but the company didn’t come by often enough to fill it for daily use and besides, he liked the exercise.

Seeing the pile had dwindled to the last two or three split pieces, he put on his coat and hat, his boots and mitts and went out to the wood pile.  The snow gave his footsteps a muffled quality that seemed to absorb sound rather than make it.

Marcus unfurled the canvas log carrier he’d made from an old Duluth Pack that had done it’s years of service and was now enjoying a mostly dry retirement by the fire.  He conscientiously knocked the snow off each one before before placing it into the sling.  It was this noise in the otherwise silent forest and the snow that muffled the approaching footsteps behind him.

Someone cleared their throat.  “Mr. Marcus?”

He turned around.  There in front of him was the girl who he’d rescued from the Snowmobile accident on his land at the beginning of the winter.  She was dressed in a red fur-lined down parka, snow pants and snow shoes and had a small green canvas back on her back. and “It’s-“

“Jessica, yes.”

“Even at my age I’m not likely to forget.”

“I suppose not.” she said.

“Well, what can I do for you?  I don’t see any downed snow mobiles, nor do I see any wolves chasing you.  To what do I owe this visit Ms. Jessica?”

“Well actually, I wanted to thank you for your help the other day.”

“No need for that.  I just did what anyone did.”  He hoped his voice wasn’t too gruff but wasn’t sure.  He attempted to put a twinkle in his eye under the stern expression.

It must’ve worked, because the tension broke with her smile and Jessica asked, “Can we go inside?”

Marcus nodded his assent and they headed back in muffled silence to the log cabin with the smoking chimney.

Once inside, they stamped off the snow from their boots and hung the coats on the back of the door.  Jessica pulled up a footstool by the stove and warmed her hands.  Marcus gave her time to get settled before either of them spoke.

“Thank you Mr. Marcus, I really don’t know what would’ve happened if you hadn’t come by.”

“You’re welcome,” he said.  He very kindly did not point out that they both knew what would have happened if he hadn’t happened by.

“Well, I know it’s not much, but I brought you this.”  From her pack she brought out a pie and a thermos.  The pie appeared to be still warm, having been wrapped in a box and a towel to keep out the cold.

Marcus raised an eyebrow in pleased surprise.  “Well this is a surprise.  Usually, isn’t it the grandmother who receives the goodies and is saved by the woodsman at the last minute?  Not that I’d mind being rescued by a grandmother, assuming she was a stout handsome woman.”  He held his grave expression before breaking into a grin.  “This is very kind, but unnecessary Jessica, you didn’t have to go to the trouble.”

“It was no trouble, I needed to use the last of the Rhubarb we froze this summer and there wasn’t enough to make preserves.  Besides, I heard it was your favorite.”

“From who?”

“From the waitress over at the Chocolate Moose.  She says you come in once a week when they have it and order a a coffee with cream and sugar and a slice of rhubarb pie, with a side of ice cream.”

“hmph.” he said and then immediately brightened as she brought out a small container of ice cream.  He got up and set to the task of setting the table, bringing out red and blue Fiestaware dishes, saucers and mugs.  The forks for the pie and spoons for the coffee were real silver, old, but serviceable.  Out of the drawer, he pulled a second place mat and cloth napkin and set it down opposite his own.

After they’d eaten, he wiped the last crumbs out of his beard and focused on the girl.

“That was the best pie I’ve had in a long time.” He said, “Do you know why?”

“Lard in the crust?” she asked.  He smiled.

“Good company.  But yeah, the lard in the crust helps too.”  He sat back quietly for a moment and thought a bit before getting up to stoke the fire.  “What is it you really want Jessica?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Well, it occurs to me that you’ve come some way out here with something on your mind and it’s more than just bringing an old man some pie.  So, what’s on your mind?”

“Well…  I’m not sure how to say this, but I’d like to be like you.”

“What do you mean?  Old?  Cantankerous?  Keen on pie?”

“No, it’s just that most people I know wouldn’t have known how to help me, or might not have noticed that any help was needed.  I feel like it makes sense that if I can learn how to be that person, I should be that person.”

This opened a wound in Marcus that he’d managed to ignore most days.  It was Jack’s words coming back to him from the mouth of this girl.

“Oh I don’t know about that.  Lot of meddling foolishness helping people.  I was just being neighborly.  I don’t go out of my way looking for trouble.” he said.

“I’m not so sure that’s true.  And even so, I want to learn the skills it takes to help people who are stuck in the woods, or need help somehow.  I’m not taking about becoming a cop or joining the army.”  Another pang.

“Hmph, that would put you in the role of young apprentice and me in the role of old hermit.  Not sure I relish becoming the old hermit.  Too many of them die before the hero is properly trained.”

“Then don’t die,” she said.  “I’m sure you had no plans to before I came by this morning.  I don’t see why you should change them just to give me drive to accomplish things on my own.”

“What’s your dad think of all this?”

“He hasn’t said anything against it.”

“Because he hasn’t heard anything about it, am I right?”  Jessica looked away a bit sheepishly.

“I did raise kids of my own, you know.  I’m older and meaner and craftier than you, so don’t think you can pull one over on my missy.”  he remembered to but the ‘kindly old man gleam’ in his eye at just the last minute.  “Normally, I believe that it’s customary to make a would-be apprentice wait outside in all weather for three days and nights to test their resolve, but as it’s winter in Minnesota and you’ve just brought me pie…”

“Yes!”

“… I’ll have to meet your dad and get his approval.  I’m not so sure most dads would like their daughter hanging out with some old guy they’ve never met.  If- and I mean if, you get his approval, you’ll start out helping me around the place and I’ll pay you for your work.  If you can handle the work, you might just learn what it is that makes me, me.  Do we have a deal?”

“Yes sir!”

“Good.  Now I have one more question for you,” he said gravely.

“What is it?”

“Would you like another slice of pie?”

Another Winter Gone – 11

“Look Marcus, you’re a decent writer and you’ve got some interesting ideas for characters,” said the man in the suit, “We can’t sell this wilderness adventurer stuff these days.  People don’t get it.”

“What do you mean?  Every few years hollywood comes out with a Western or an adaptation of a Jack London novel and they do fine.  Hell it wasn’t long ago they made a good profit on Huckleberry Finn.”

“You don’t get it man, we can sell stories of triumph over nature.  Surivors of a plane crash eating each other to survive.  Young kid dying from eating the wrong plants after having a hissy-fit that his dad was cheating on his mom.  Those will sell, but this?  Who do you think you are, Edgar Rice Burroughs?”

“Of course not.  Burroughs created some of the most memorable characters of his day.”

“Yeah, and they reflected people’s aspirations back then.  The west was still pretty wild before it was tamed by Hollywood, Barbed Wired and Mob-run casinos. People moved out west to live off the land.  Now they build cabins in Aspen and visit during ski season.  Hell, more of the population has lived in cities than the rural areas since 1920 and there’s no sign of it ending.  You know what that means?  Two generations of people who’ve never lived outside the city unless it was to visit summer camp or to visit Grandma and Grandpa.  People don’t understand it and hell, I don’t understand it.”

“What’s not to understand?”

“Okay, you’ve got this character, Joshua right?”

“Yeah.”

“So he lives off the land and helps people out.”

“Yeah.  If they need it.”

“Well, that’s noble and everything, but why does he do it?”

“What do you mean why does he do it?  He does it because they need help.”

“Doesn’t ask for money?  Just leaves after helping them?”

“sometimes, yeah.”

“You know what I call that?” Asked the man in the suit.

“What?”

“Suspicious.  No political agenda, no witnesses?  I mean, he’s not an alcoholic, trying to atone for a past wrong, avenge some injustice?”

“No.  Just sees work that needs doing and helps them as needs it.”

“Yeah, there’s already a character who does that.”

“Who?”

“Superman.  And people hate Superman.  They don’t feel he’s realistic.”

“What?  You’re not supposed to thing he’s realistic.  The man is bulletproof and flies.”

“You’re missing the point Marcus.  That’s not what’s unrealistic about Superman.  What’s unrealistic about superman is that he’s all-powerful and benevolent.”

“Well that’s what Christians say about God.”

“Yeah, and how many of them have read the bible and really believe that crap?  Basic rule of PR.  Tell people something often enough and they’ll believe it.  How many times does the bible say god is good?”

“Probably a few?”

“At least 61 times.  Though I might have lost count in the Gospels somewhere.”

“You counted that?”

“It was to win a bet.”

“Huh, I never figured you for an atheist.”

“I’m not Marcus, but how many times before the new testament does he kill people, order people to kill people or enact ecological genocide because he’s unhappy with the state of affairs of the world?”

“Probably a few.”

“To say the least.”

“Wait, so you’re telling me people will believe in a character who does terrible evil things, but says he’s good, OR they’ll believe in someone who is good, but with some fatal flaw, but they won’t read about a guy who just wants to get the work done that’s in front of him because he wants to live a decent live and doesn’t want to get a bunch of attention as a result?  That’s insane.”

“Of course it’s not insane Marcus.  People hate aspirational figures.  People want models to be fat, we cheer when someone formerly beautiful gains a bunch of weight and loses it; when someone beautiful gets an addiction and recovers.  Hell, we celebrate them more than people who never get the addiction in the first place.  You know why?  Because people without flaws grate on the nerves.  They’re a constant reminder that we’re not good just the way we are.  They’re a reminder that we need to do good things to be good people.  As a species, we won’t stand for it.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.  You know who the three most famous people to stick to their principles in the face of social pressure in western history are?”

“Who?”

“Socrates, Jesus Christ and Martin Luther King, Jr.  You know what people did to them?”

“Hemlock, Crucifixion and A Gun.”

“Right.  People won’t buy it in fiction and they won’t stand for it in real life.  Go write him as an alcoholic and we might be able to sell it.  Make him guilty over having killed a man and we might be able to.  Make him a racist and have to learn a lesson about the humanity of black people or some shit and we can sell a million copies in the first month.  No one would believe this guy could exist otherwise.”

“No thanks.  I’ll try elsewhere.”

“Your loss Marcus.  Let me know if you change your mind.”

“Thanks,”

“Out of curiosity, where’d you get the idea for the book?”

“I just wrote what my dad did.  Didn’t polish it much either.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.  It must have been tough with a guy like him around?”

“Nah, he showed me what’s possible and how much easier his way was.”

The man just shook his head.


 It didn’t really matter which publisher it had been or what the guy’s name had been in the suits.  They’d all said pretty much the same thing.  No one is buying stories about good people doing the right thing.  Good people gone wrong, or bad people being redeemed was where it’s at.

Oh, Marcus had tried before to write people like this, but there were so many people like that in real life that what was the point in imagining a world that was the same as the one you lived in.

Sometime after the twentieth publisher he got the idea.  Rather than write a world like that into existence, why not just live it.  He’d been doing so for some time, but that was where he got the idea.  Screw them for saying people wouldn’t want to live near someone who lived their convictions.  What kind of cynical foolishness was that?

Upon reflection, it wasn’t foolishness at all.  If that was how the world worked then fine.  Didn’t mean it had to be how he worked.

“There’s nothing someone can do to make me act against my convictions,” he thought.  “I don’t have time for people who are so small.”

One of the things Marcus learned over the next few years was that there were few people who would in fact, stand up when the situation demanded something of them and do the right thing.  Too many people who would instead, wait for someone else to solve their situation for them.

Why shouldn’t they, after all…  Lawyers solve your legal problems when you run afoul of the law, Accountants solve your  financial problems when you miscarry the ‘1’, restaurants and fast food solve your culinary problems, which lead to health problems, which pills and pharmacists solve for you.  That’s ignoring the whole technological industry of gadgets whose sole purpose seems to be creating problems that they can then solve (for a year or two) with their new widgets.-most of which, weren’t problems if you didn’t buy the previous widget anyway.

He remembered his Grandpa Jack (whom he’d named his son after), welding a splitting wedge to a tube and running it on a pole so that his wife and grandkids could safely split wood with a light hammer when he was in town on business in the winter.  It hadn’t been hard, it had needed doing.  So he’d done it.

It had taken a few years, but that was the start of it.  No need to raise Jack in the mire of this business.   Initially skeptical, Rosemary eventually agreed and they decided to build a cabin in Ely, Minnesota.  She’d been no stranger to hard work, having grown up on a 30,000-hen chicken farm, but she’d also liked living in the city because it was so much more exciting and there were so many people around.  Now that she was raising Jack, she didn’t like the focus the boy had on TV and comic books.  And some of his friends were worrying to her.  Not because she thought he’d be lead astray.  (Actually, Jack was well-liked and charismatic), but because she was worried he’d lead them astray.  Jack was a good boy of course, but his ability to find trouble and be in the middle of it with none of it landing on him seemed a bit unnatural to her.

But then, that could just be a mother’s natural inclination to worry about he kids.



Another Winter Gone – 14

Janet picked up the phone and dialed.  After a few rings, a voiced picked up the phone.

“Yes, hello?”

“Hello Marcus, this is Janet from the Echo, we spoke earlier.”

“Ahh, yes.  The fluff piece on me.  Wanting to know about why I’m out in the woods and all that.”

“Yes, well.”  he needn’t have put it like that she thought (not realizing Marcus was feeling the same way). “Anyway, I’m writing the piece and I had some questions about some of the newspapers written about you in the past.  Jessica, the girl you saved from the cold and Sheriff Bleeker and a few others.  Except that it seems like in nearly every case you keep your name out of the papers and disappear before anyone can take a statement.”

“I don’t really care to have a fuss made about me.  Anything I may or may not have done is no more heroic than chopping firewood or doing the work in front of me that anyone with half an ounce of sense would do if they were in my position.”

“All the same, I’d like a chance to talk with you and to find out more about what makes a man like you.”

“I’m not sure I know what makes someone like me, or if there should be more like me in the world, but I suppose I was unnecessarily brusque last time you were over.  Do you want to come out to my place?”

“That would be fine.  When should I come out?”

“Any time before Sunday would be fine.  I’ll be home.”

“Thank you.  I’ll come out Wednesday afternoon.”

“See you then.”

She hung up the phone.  Alright then.  Wednesday.

Another Winter Gone – 13

“Alright Jack, you’re old enough now, you get to learn how to build a fire.” Said Marcus.

“really?”  Asked Jack.  Jack was 10 years old, and had not been allowed to be nearer than a marshmallow stick to the fire up until this point.

“Yep.  With supervision.”  Marcus wanted him to learn a skill, but he wasn’t stupid.

“Okay!  What do I do first?”

“Well, what do we need before we can have a fire?”  Asked Marcus.

“Marshmallows!” Said Jack.

“Close.  What else?”

“Matches?”  

“Sure, for now.”

Jack looked at his father, puzzled.  “What do you mean ‘for now’?”

“I mean, matches are a good start, but they’re not the only way.”

“well yeah, lighters” said Jack.

“Lighters too, but there are other ways.  Flint and steel, a magnifying glass, a 9-volt battery.”

“What?” Jack was suddenly skeptical, “a 9-volt battery?”

“Trust me,” said Marcus, “It works.”

“Huh.”

“Okay, so the answer we’re looking for is Tinder, Kindling, and bigger wood that will burn for longer.  Your job right now is to gather things you think might make good tinder and put them in little piles so we can see them.  I’ll get the kindling and larger firewood.”

From there, Jack and Marcus spent the next half hour looking for Birch Bark, Pine Needles, Jack Pine, and all manner or small flammable things.  Marcus showed him how the exposed grain of the wood burnt much better than the bark and how to split wood safely with the hatchet and a broad stick.

Then they built a fire, and had their s’mores.  Even today, the swell of pride at the memory of their first fire burned within him when he remembered that day.  The way that Jack had been so careful of the fire, without being timid; how he’d built up the size slowly, heeding Marcus’s warning that fire was easier to grow than to shrink; and how at the beginning, the fire had almost gone out, but jack had quickly grabbed some tinder and gently breathed life back into the fire.  

Jack took to it and was even excited to split the wood.  They had laughed so hard the first time jack had come up with the “death chant technique” of getting more power from his 10 year-old body with each strike.  He’d hit it shouting “Die! Die! Die!” and would manage to get a surprising amount of power out of his strokes.

They stayed up late into the night and were treated to clear skies under a multitude of glittering, glimmering stars.  At least, that’s how Marcus remembered it.

Who knows what the weather had been.  It didn’t matter.  Sometimes details are shaped and perfected in our memory allowing the spirit and meaning we attach to them to shine through, more than if they were unrefined.

 

Another Winter Gone – 11 – removed, I think

Marcus walked over to the cabinet where he kept the whiskey (or Whisky- a point of contention at the local watering hole with any Canadians who came over.)  It was a Laphroaig quarter cask.  Not easy to come by in Northern Minnesota.  It had been a gift years ago from that guy, Nick was it?  The guy who held up the convenience store.  That’s funny, the clerk up and moved back to Minneapolis, thinking it was a lot safer there for some reason.  People are really funny, always closing the barn doors after the cows escape.  Probably in the hopes that it would look like a divine miracle to anyone who might own the cows and barn; and who might be in the mood to ask questions vis a vis the state of the doors before they had been closed.

People always looked for an answer they could rely on as ultimate without having to ask too many questions.  Probably why religions, political parties, astrology and the NFL are so successful, he thought.  Wave a flag *BAM* instant identity. Crisis over.

Never mind the fact that it was the only holdup they’d ever had at that time in Ely.  Never mind that he was a LOT more likely to get held up in any part of Minneapolis than he was up here.  He was filled with religious fervor after that too.  It would have depressed Marcus to think of it when he was a young man, now it just made him somber.

Ironic too, that the guy who he knocked out and got sent to prison saved his earnings and had his mother deliver the bottle to him.  Sealed and unopened, Marcus wasn’t a fool.  He knew some people harbored grudges.  The letter that accompanied it thanked him for busting him and getting him sent away.  It explained that he’d been desperate to get a score or fix or whatever, and that being in treatment in prison was working for him.  Kept him away from most of the people and that he was hanging with the crowd of “Jesus-freaks” who spent their time in the gym.

Another irony, Marcus had mused.  Here he was an Atheist, doing God’s work.  He opened the bottle and shared a shot with the kid’s mother, who’d had an uncomfortably hopeful look in her eye.  Afterward, he penned a letter thanking the young man and telling him he’d had a nice conversation and raised a glass with his mother and should he get out on time or early to look him up if he needed some work.

Marcus didn’t really need the work of course, but the kid would have a hard enough time when he got out.  Maybe if he really had changed, he could vouch for the kid and get him work at one of the local bars or something.

It was odd though, that of the three, the guy who got sent to prison would be the most grateful.  Marcus supposed it had something to do with human nature.  Or maybe because he realized that prison was a lot better than where he might have gone if Bleeker hadn’t been taking a piss at the time.

Marcus looked at the bottle and the hash marks he’d drawn to make sure that when the kid got out they’d be able to share a last glass.  Just a few months.

He hadn’t heard from Nick in several years, but people had a way of popping back into your life when you didn’t expect it.

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