The following is the beginning of a story upon which I am currently working. I will continue to add to it until I am finished.
“It’s mornin’, Chris… Time to get up.”
Chris mumbled an incoherent reply. His bed was loaded with covers, and it was cold in his room. His room was on the north side of the second floor of the old farmhouse, so the heat was taking its sweet time getting there. Chris heard the stairs squeak as his father slowly worked his way up from the kitchen. Chris knew what would happen next, but his bed was just too warm to get out of yet. Besides, he hated to get up so early. Last night had been a late one, he had gotten his pick-up stuck in the snow, and the alcohol his buddies brought made it even more difficult to get out of the snow bank. Plus, living on a dairy farm was another thing he hated. It was filled with hard work, and when he got the chance, he was going to leave and never look back.
Chris heard the footsteps of his father approaching his room; each step bringing a groan from the century old hardwood floor. Hank Dresden was a large man. As he neared the doorway of his youngest son, his frame filled the space. Hank’s left hand searched the wall in the darkness until he felt the light switch. The room exploded with light as his heavy hand slid against the switch.
“C’mon son… the cows won’t wait long. We’ve gotta get movin’ so we can be finished before you head to school.” Hank spoke evenly, yet not angrily. He remembered how difficult it was for him to wake up at 17, so he didn’t see a need to start the morning on a harsh note. Leaving the light on, Hank retreated down the hallway to the back stairs, which he had just seconds before ascended. As he approached the top of the stairs, he caught a faint whiff of the wonderful fragrance of coffee wafting up from the kitchen at the bottom of the stairs. He heard the refrigerator door close. That would be Molly, his wife of 25 years. At the bottom of the stairs, Hank stepped through the doorway to see Molly opening a white butcher-paper-wrapped slab of bacon. Molly pulled a match from the pink cow match-holder on the counter next to the gas stove. Hank approached Molly from the back, just as she struck the match, turned a knob on the stove to allow a slight hiss of escaping gas, and then lit the burner under a heavy, black iron frying pan. Sliding his hand around her waist, he pulled himself close to her. Kissing the top of her head, he said playfully, “You sure know how to light my fire…”
“Not at 4:30 in the morning, I don’t…” she replied groggily.
With a soft chuckle, Hank kissed her head again and walked to the door of the mudroom and opened it.
“When ‘Sleeping Beauty’ up there gets up, send him to the barn to help Frank bring in the cattle.” He said over his shoulder.
“Ok… Breakfast will be ready when you are through.” Molly responded.
As Hank closed the door to the mudroom, he reached for his coveralls hanging from a nail on the wall beside the door. Pulling them on, he could hear a slight creaking from the ceiling above him. “That would be Chris,” he thought as he reached for his mud boots, which stood on the floor just under where the coveralls were previously hung. Hank shook out his boots to rid them of any excess mud which may have fallen off his coveralls into them. He then sat on the bench next to the wash-up sink which stood six feet further from where his boots had been placed. Inserting one foot, which was layered in two pairs of wool socks, he pressed it firmly into the tight rubber boot, and then tucked his Levis into the boot top. He then repeated the ritual with the other boot. Next, Hank tugged the zipper on each leg of the coveralls, leaving them on the outside of each boot. Finally, he reached for his fleece-lined leather gloves and wool, stocking cap. Hank put each on habitually as this was the wintry, morning ritual of every Wisconsin dairyman preparing for work in the sub-zero temperatures of January.
Hank had already decided he would take Chris’ pickup to the stacks of Alfalfa bales which were cut, baled, and put up during the past summer. The bales were then transported to the barn, broken open and spread about in the trough in front of the milking machines. The bales were breakfast for his heard of cows, and kept them occupied until the milking was completed. He decided Chris would help Frank, Hank’s eldest son, open the barn, herd the cows in and hook them up to the machines. Hank chose the cold, physical work for himself this morning. He actually liked the physical nature of throwing the bales, and didn’t mind the cold. The physical exertion kept him warm, and he enjoyed the fact that he could still do the work as he approached his 50th year.
Hank opened the door exiting the mudroom of the house and stepped through the steam his exhaled breath made in the cold, clean wintry air. Closing the door, he stood on the back porch for a moment, taking in the beauty of the farm in the clear, early morning darkness. As he gingerly traversed the icy stairs to the snow-packed sidewalk which led to the combination garage and shop at the rear of the house; Hank made a mental note to ask Chris to sprinkle the stairs with ice-melt before he left for school. Molly had to go to town later that morning, and he didn’t want her to fall down the stairs.
Hank noticed a light go off in his peripheral vision and he reflexively turned his head quickly in response. The sudden physical movement shifted his precarious balance on the icy walkway and his feet began to dance mightily on the ice. Throwing his arms wildly about in an attempt to regain his balance only made the dance worse, until finally both feet flew up in the air and he fell fully on his backside in the two feet of snow bordering the walk. His immediate, wide-eyed surprise at having fallen was replaced by a slow grin, which widened into a chuckling smile.
“Well, I don’t ‘spect I’ll ever make it on ‘Dancing with the Stars’…” he said aloud to himself.
Looking upward to the house, he realized the source of the change in light which originally distracted him, was that the light to Chris’ room was off. Still chuckling, he said, “It didn’t take Chris long to get ready. His floor must’ve been cold…” His chuckle grew into a deeper laugh as he mentally pictured Chris throwing back the covers of his bed, quickly tiptoeing to his sock drawer, pulling open the drawer and reaching for his long-underwear located two drawers down from his socks, pulling both out at the same time, throwing both items of clothing onto his bed, and then racing back to the warmth of his bed to put them on under the covers. Still laughing, Hank extricated himself from the snow bank and carefully stood up. As he steadied himself, he suddenly remembered that he didn’t have the keys to Chris’ pickup. Taking a deep breath, he walked back up the stairs and re-entered the house. Scattering snow all over the mudroom, he opened the door to the kitchen and stuck his head inside.
“Uh… Molly… could you get Chris’ keys for me?”
“Sure,” Molly said, turning her head to respond. Upon seeing Hank covered in snow, her brow furrowed and her mouth twisted into a half-smile. “What happened to you?”
“Snow angels…” Hank responded with a straight face, and eyes twinkling.
Slowly shaking her head from side to side, Molly disappeared up the stairs to retrieve the keys from Chris’ room. When she returned, she was still shaking her head, but the humor was gone from her countenance.
“He’s still in bed, Hank,” she said as she handed him the keys.
“Well, I don’t have time to roll him outta bed now… I’ll deal with him when I’m done with chores,” he said, the twinkle in his eyes gone and his jaw set.
“I’m sorry… I should have made sure he was up.” Molly apologized.
Hank’s face softened, “It’s not yore fault, Darlin’ The boy’s just gotta learn…”
The mood lightened when Hank suddenly took a piece of melting snow off his coveralls and flicked it at Molly as she stood in the doorway.
“HEY!” she yelled as the snow struck her neck and disappeared down the front of her robe. “HANK DRESDEN! Ooooooooh…. That’s so COLD!” she yelled, shivering.
Hank started laughing and quickly slipped out of the house before Molly could retaliate.
As Hank walked to Chris’ pickup, a voice broke the early morning quiet, “Hey Old Man! Gettin’ a late start, ain’t cha?”
It was Frank, his eldest son.
Hank smiled before responding, “Yeah, I was making snow angels,” he said, motioning to the large dent in the snow beside the sidewalk.
“That angel’s a little heavy in the rump, ain’t he?” Frank teased with a crooked smile.
“Let’s just say he’s got a wide foundation,” Hank quipped.
“Where’s Chris?” Frank asked.
“Just like Frank,” Hank thought, “Always wanting to make sure chores are given fair and square.” He then responded, “Chris is still in bed.”
“If I said I was surprised, I’d be lyin’.” Frank said, “The bed of his pickup is full ‘o beer cans and the front fender is messed up. The headlight is busted, too.” Frank waited for that to sink in, and then said, “Dad, you gotta…”
“Yeah, I know…” Hank interrupted. “Let’s get to work.”
“You go get the hay,” Hank directed, “and I’ll bring in the cows. I’d get the hay, but my snow angel’s foundation is sore…” he joked dryly.
Pain and sunlight awakened Chris from his alcohol-induced slumber. His body took its lead from his head. The pain began as a dull ache, but as soon as he opened his eyes, a percussion symphony of pain began at the top of his head and worked its way downward as he turned his head to look at the clock through a bleary, squinting gaze.
“Oh crap!” Chris groaned when his vision cleared sufficiently to actually read the time. “I’m gonna be late!”
The quilts seemed to weigh a thousand pounds as he lifted them. He slid his legs to the side of the bed, and slowly pushed himself into a sitting position, with legs dangling over the side. Grasping the side of his mattress, he pressed his feet into service by standing. Both his feet and head screamed in response; leading a chorus of pain taken up by the rest of his body. He precariously swayed, trying to counteract the gravitational pull of his bed… or the floor. Finally, Chris was able to bring a modicum of dexterity to his movements, or at least enough coordination to get dressed.
As he walked down the hall to the top of the stairs, he was greeted by the glorious mix of smells coming from the kitchen. However, Chris’ stomach reacted unexpectedly to the otherwise comforting aroma. A sudden rush of nausea sent Chris scurrying into the upstairs bathroom just in time for an explosion of sour-tasting, St. Louis brewed bile which splattered in, over, and around the toilet.
“Oh God…” Chris groaned.
Almost immediately, his mind was flooded with a deluge of thoughts:
“Where’s my keys…?”
“Oh SHIT! I have a test!”
“I hate those guys!”
“I’ll never mix vodka and beer again…”
The thought of vodka and beer pulled another deep groan from his sour lips, and he spat, to force the sourness from his mouth. He then raked his forearm across his face in an attempt to wipe the bile from his mouth and the memory from his thoughts. Leaving a mess in the bathroom, Chris made the trek again to the top of the stairs and began to shakily descend. With each step, the percussion symphony in his head added a vicious, accented cymbal crash. Upon entering the kitchen, Chris found his family finishing a breakfast of bacon, scrambled eggs, biscuits, and gravy; topped off by fried apples and coffee. It was Chris’ favorite meal… but not today!
“Good morning, Sunshine!” his father boomed in a tone which was both overly bright and tinged with sarcasm. Frank and Molly exchanged glances and shared slight smiles.
“Mornin’…” Chris mumbled, and then asked, “Have you seen my keys?”
“I have them,” his father said, after taking a drink of coffee.
“Well, could I have them?” Chris asked impatiently.
“Nope.” Hank replied evenly. “You’ll have to ride the bus this morning and probably will for awhile.”
“But I have a test this morning and I planned on getting to school early so I could study!” Chris lied. “And I have basketball practice after school, so can’t take the bus home.” That part was true.
“Not gonna happen…” Hank stated evenly.
“But Dad…” Chris exploded. “That’s not fair!”
“Not fair?” Frank exploded in kind, rising from his chair and dropping his fork to the floor. “I’ll tell you what’s not fair… I had to do your chores and mine… that’s what’s ‘NOT FAIR!’ And now I have to go in late to work because you decided to get drunk and wreck your pick-up last night! Now Dad has to get it fixed… THAT’S what’s ‘not fair.’” Catching a breath, Frank added towards his father, “You ought to sell it, Dad! Chris doesn’t deserve it!”
Molly grabbed the older brother’s arm, “Calm down, Frank. Your father will handle this. You’re gonna spoil your breakfast…”
“Actually,” Hank began, his deep voice resonating through the room. “Chris is right. It isn’t fair… it’s generous!” Pausing for effect, he then continued, “God has graciously given us a family farm. He has honored us by allowing us to work together as a family and has blessed the work our hands. We live a bountiful life! I am thankful for being able to share life with the love of my life, who treats me better than I deserve… especially by giving me fried apples for breakfast… I am also blessed by having two strong, smart sons who I get the pleasure of working with every day! This farm is our farm, boys… It is your farm… Your home! It is God’s gift to us. God gives us himself and each other. And that is beautiful.”
After the room was quiet for several seconds, Chris quietly asked, “So… can I have my keys?”
With a slight smile on his face, Hank said, “Nope!”