The Slow End, Chapter One

The Slow End
Chapter One

“Adam, could you come into my office for a minute?” the Cedar County Parks Director called out as Adam Horst entered the county administration building in Cedar City, the county seat. Adam detoured into the office, and sat down at Gary’s invitation. Bill Wilson, a Human Resources assistant, was sitting there, also.

“What’s up, Gary?” Adam asked. They had been working together on a proposal for a federally funded historical preservation project to restore an old saw mill. Although he knew better because of Bill’s presence, he had to ask. “Has the money come through?”
“No, Adam, it hasn’t. I just talked to our congressman and it looks like the money won’t be coming here at all.” Gary Butler hesitated, then added, “In fact, Adam, I’m afraid that without those funds, I can no longer afford to keep you on the payroll. I’ve got a check here for you that includes two weeks’ severance pay and your accumulated vacation pay. There will be info coming to you later regarding your 401k funds.” Gary got up and shook Adam’s hand, then gave him the check. “I really hate to lose you, but there isn’t any way to keep you on right now without those grant funds. Good luck!!”

Adam had worked for the County for fourteen years, the last five as a Project Manager working with environmental groups and government agencies to preserve the wildlife habitats and historical areas of the County. The last project they’d completed was the creation of the Cedar County Heritage Park, which was located just across Shawnee Creek from his home. The park consisted of the Iriquois Trading Path, part of which had originally been a Native American trail, historic properties, and recreational areas. Shawnee Creek, a tributary of the Cedar River, was a favorite spot for fishing, swimming, canoeing, and camping. The project they’d just lost the funding for was the restoration of Benson Mill, a historic landmark that was located inside the boundaries of the Heritage Park. Other future plans included a historical museum, and the implementation of events to bring the heritage of Cedar County to life.
Accompanied by the HR assistant, Adam packed up his personal items and left the Administration Building. He was numb, although his termination was not a complete shock; he knew times were tough and no job was secure these days. Still, he felt unanchored without his job. Adam got into his car, and drove over to the bank to deposit his check.

Ahead of him in line was Terry Lincoln, who worked for the Benson Township Parks and Recreation department. He was a frequent partner with Adam’s projects, but was on vacation that week; he hadn’t heard yet that their latest collaboration had been rejected. Terry commiserated with Adam on losing his job, and mentioned that he’d heard that old William Thomas was stepping down from running the Animal Shelter because of health problems. “I’d go over there to check that possibility out, if I were you,” he said as he took his turn at the teller’s station.

After Adam finished his own transaction and got back into the car to leave, he thought, why not check it out? He drove to the Animal Shelter, located behind the City’s water treatment plant. Judging from the cacophony surrounding the building, the shelter was pretty full. Adam parked at the lower end of the lot, and walked to the entrance. He went inside, and explained the reason for his visit. The lady who welcomed him introduced herself as a volunteer, saying, “I’m sure you’d be well-qualified to serve as the shelter’s director, but I’m afraid we’re not going to hire another director. Wilma, here,” and she pointed to a middle-aged woman who was sitting at a desk in the reception area, “has been the clerical staff here for many years, and knows everything there is to know about the shelter. We can save a lot of money going with her as manager. She not only works for an hourly wage, but we expect that she will be able to continue working part time hours and still get the job done.”

“I see.” answered Adam. “I suppose she doesn’t need any benefits either.”

“Well, her husband is on the maintenance staff at the high school, and he has a good benefits package, so she doesn’t need any from us.”

“So, it looks like you are all set. Great talking to you!” Adam headed for the door to go outside. Wilma smirked at him as he passed her desk, but he just smiled and nodded at her.

Out in the parking lot, a pickup truck was just pulling in beside his car. A grim-faced man was driving, and a young boy sat crying in the passenger seat. A huge black dog was in the truck-bed, hooked to the cab with a leash. The man got out and started to unhook the dog from the truck, but the boy interfered by climbing onto the bed and hugging the dog, who gave him slobbery kisses. “Please, Daddy, don’t take Tucker in there! He’ll miss us, and Bobby says that they kill dogs who go to the shelter! Please, I’ll make him behave, I’ll make him do whatever you need him to do to be able to stay with us!”
“Now, Billy, you know that your mama’s sick a lot with this new baby, and the doctor said that she’s allergic to Tucker’s hair. You don’t want your mama or your little baby brother that isn’t even born yet to suffer just because you want to keep this flea-bitten old mutt, do you?”

The man finally got the leash unhooked, and started pulling the dog to the back of the truck-bed to get him off. The boy tried, but couldn’t keep the dog on the truck. As soon as he reached the ground, the big dog turned to the boy and started licking his salty tears. Then he pulled the man over to where Adam stood watching, wagging his tail and hoping for Adam to pet him.

“This sure is a friendly, nice looking dog.” Adam said conversationally. “What breed would you call it?”

“He’s a Newfoundland Dog.” The man replied shortly. “The boy doesn’t understand, but we just can’t keep him. Some nice family with lots of room will take him and he’ll be just fine.” He faced Adam, but Adam could tell that his words were for the boy as well.
“I could use a big dog.” Adam found himself saying. “He’d have acres of land to roam out at my home, as well as kids to play with. Besides, they always neuter dogs that are placed in the shelter. You wouldn’t want that to happen to him, would you? Tucker — that’s his name, right? — deserves better, don’t you think?”

The man, looking slightly relieved, agreed to let Adam have the animal, after they exchanged addresses and phone numbers. Adam invited the boy, along with the rest of his family, to come visit Tucker any time. He took the leash and got the dog into his car. Tucker barely fit into the two-door subcompact, but Adam pushed the passenger seat back as far as it would go, and the dog settled down for the ride.

Billy had hugged the dog one last time before letting Adam take him, and once the dog was ready to go, he stopped crying. The man gave Tucker one last pat on the head, got the boy and himself back into the truck, and they left.

A movement at the window of the shelter’s office betrayed somebody’s interest in what was transpiring in the parking lot with the dog. Adam saluted in the general direction of the building before driving off, crossing Shawnee Creek downtown and heading upstream towards home.

Old Farmhouse Lane

Adam drove along Shawnee Creek on Blue Slate Highway for a couple of miles, and turned onto a narrow road that went past a small older housing development. There were two old farmhouses at the end of the road, a few hundred feet past the development; this was what was left of the Horst family property. Adam’s grandfather had sold the rest of their land when speculators acquiring land for suburban housing gave him an offer that he couldn’t refuse. Farming that land wouldn’t have yielded him one-tenth of what he sold the land for.

The road ended in a circle where the farmhouses and their outbuildings and yards were located. The properties extended in back to a small stream at the base of a slope that steepened as it rose, into bluffs overlooking the valley. After meandering past the farmhouses and into woods on the other side of the lane from the housing development, Muskrat Run emptied into Pine Creek, which eventually emptied into Shawnee Creek.
Adam pulled into a driveway beside the first house, and stopped the car. “Well, big fella, this is home!” Adam told Tucker. The dog stuck his head out the window and began barking excitedly. Adam’s two children, Tim and Maria, came running out of the house to see what all the noise was about, and made a great fuss over Tucker. Adam told them how he had rescued the big dog, omitting the tale of the other events of his day to share with them later.

The kids spent the rest of the day playing with the new dog. They introduced him to the other members of the Horst menagerie — a golden retriever named Blondie, a huge tabby with the improbable name of Fluffy, and a pair of rabbits, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum — and then took him outside to explore the rest of his new territory, where he happily jumped into the run at the back of the yard to cool off. He rolled in the shallow water and then leaped to the bank, shaking water all over the kids. Adam told them to hose off the dog and to dry him with towels before he could go back inside. The kids also needed showers by the time they were done with Tucker. While they were getting cleaned up, Adam sat with the dog on the front porch, shaded from the afternoon sun.

Adam’s wife, Sarah, was an organic gardening specialist at the County’s Agricultural Extension office, who worked with community gardeners and 4H groups. She was mostly called on to help people to grow flowers and landscape plants sustainably, but encouraged folks to grow food plants as well, at every opportunity. Adam had texted her a basic account of his termination, but didn’t follow through with updates on the rest of the day’s events. She had been busy working with gardeners in the city, and he didn’t want to keep disturbing her.

Sarah came home that evening with a new power drill for Adam, as well as an assortment of nuts, bolts, and screws. She deposited them on the front porch, and gave him a hug, eying the big dog with a look of complete mystification. Adam repeated the shelter story to her, and she took it all in stride, determined to be optimistic no matter what it took; so long as they got through it together. When the kids came back out, all clean from their showers, he told them about the loss of his job. He and Sarah assured them that life wouldn’t really change much for them.

Tucker blended into the family well, patiently accompanying Adam as he worked around the property on his various projects, and playing with the kids. He was an intelligent and affectionate companion, although inclined to splash in the run in any kind of weather. Adam tried contacting the family he’d gotten Tucker from several times to let them know how well the dog was doing, but he never did reach them. He hoped that Billy had been able to get another dog, and that his parents and the baby were well.
“““““
The Horst’s house was red brick, built in the German tradition, with two front doors – one side for everyday living and one side for formal occasions. The second floor had several bedrooms, and a bath, while the third floor had been converted into a master bedroom suite.

The neighboring house was very similar to Adam’s home, and in fact both houses had been built by Adam’s great-grandfather and his brother, who shared the farm that they’d inherited from their father. The brother had died without any surviving children, so Adam’s grandfather had inherited the whole property. The second house was now the home of Adam’s Aunt Leslie, and her husband, Ron Sullivan. Ron was a civil engineer who worked for a large firm based in Cedar City. Leslie loved children; she’d been a teacher for special needs children for many years. She had given birth to one child, but had a heart big enough for many more. Their son, Dave, who had been killed while serving overseas in the military, had two children who lived with their mother, Tanya, in Cedar City. Tanya allowed Heather and Zack to spend time with their father’s parents, although she didn’t visit.
“““““
For the rest of that summer and fall, Adam worked at projects that he’d wanted to implement, but had never had the time for. He rarely found time to miss his old job, and often caught himself wondering why he’d ever gone to college in the first place. Of course, he’d never have met Sarah if he’d not gone, so that was just one more proof that everything seemed to happen for a reason.

One of the family’s first goals that fall was to turn the back porch into a greenhouse, capable of keeping them in fresh veggies year-round. Sarah had been wanting one for years, and even had old windows, rescued from garage sales and flea markets, to use. Adam would just need to enclose the areas under the railing, and attach the windows to the porch, she thought. Adam drove upstream along the Shawnee Creek, across Pine Creek, to the nearby general store.

Where the Highway turned to go around the mountain, rather than over it, the road split; the Highway followed Pine Creek, while Creek Road continued to follow Shawnee Creek. Adam drove a few hundred yards up Creek Road and then turned into the parking lot of ‘Hannah’s Mercantile’.

The Mercantile

The Mercantile had been a family business for over 200 years. Wilford Smith had moved from the East Coast with his young family, crossing the Cedar River on one of the first wooden bridges to span that waterway, and fording Pine Creek to reach the western frontier of the time. Along with his wife and four sons, Wilford traveled with a large wagon full of all of the farming equipment and supplies needed to start his own homestead. He and his older sons had cleared land, planted crops, chopped firewood, and built a cabin that summer, getting it finished just in time for the birth of his fifth son, Hiram. Wilford succumbed to a high fever two months later, after he had spent several days in the freezing rain harvesting his last crops to get them through the winter.

Hannah and the boys had survived that winter through careful rationing of the grains, fruits, and vegetables they’d managed to collect that year, and through hunting. When spring came, she sold most of the farming tools and supplies that they had left to other settlers, as well as charging them for beds, feeding and caring for their stock, and feeding them breakfast to send them on their way in the morning. The next year, and in succeeding years, she had the older boys make trips to the east coast, buy supplies and cart them to Shawnee Creek, to sell to the folks travelling through. Their place soon became known as Hannah’s Crossing.

With the help of her boys, and the boys’ families, Hannah was able to survive without having to remarry. The oldest boy, Fordham, married young, bringing his orphaned wife, who was even younger, into the household. Margaret was the only survivor of a fever that raged through a family of pioneers during their second spring at the Crossing, as their train of wagons headed further west. Fordham and Margaret produced one daughter and three sons, who also helped with the family enterprises as soon as they were big enough to handle the work. Daniel, the second son, found a bride, Amelia, among the families that had turned back because of broken wheels, sickness, or for other reasons, settling near the Smiths. They had three sons. The middle son, Tobias, and his wife, Laura, had only two daughters. Samuel and Tabitha had two daughters and four sons, as did Hiram, and his wife, a Native American girl. Oota Dabun, called Deborah by her husband’s people, was from one of last clans of Native Americans in the area.

Most of the early pioneers who wanted to avoid the major migration routes along Cedar River followed Shawnee Creek upstream to Shawnee Pass, where they crossed over Blue Slate Mountain. Blue Slate Highway, built several generations later, followed Pine Creek to Cougar Pass, a lower pass than Shawnee. As internal combustion engines became the power of choice for transportation, roundabout routes which added miles to motorists’ trips became feasible; the faster, more powerful motors shortened travelling times tremendously.

When the first interstate highway through the area was built, it crossed the Shawnee at Cedar City, where the Creek emptied into the Cedar River. It followed the Cedar River to a gentler route into the mountains, rather than climbing into the mountains past Pine Creek. Although the interstate did provide an exit connecting with Blue Slate Highway, it didn’t get much traffic. The folks who still lived at Hannah’s Crossing struggled to survive as their community became more and more a forgotten village.
“““““
Sandra Farley Smith, mother of Jerome Smith, whose widow now ran the Mercantile, was heiress to the Farley Dry Goods fortune. Her ancestor, Jeremiah Farley, had started the business in Cedar City during the civil war, amassing millions through his military procurement contacts; influential friends of the family during the mid-nineteenth century. Farley’s Dry Goods Store had flourished throughout his leadership, and grew during the management of his son, Richard, Sandra’s great-grandfather; by the end of his lifetime, they were operating successful department stores in seven other cities, including the state capital.

It wasn’t until the mid-twentieth century that the Farley stores began to falter. Robert, Sandra’s father, sold the business to a retail corporation headquartered in the state capital, which soon closed the original Farley Store in downtown Cedar City, although some suburban store locations continued to exist.

Sandra grew up on a huge estate near the state capital, went to private schools, and lived a privileged life. Her father bought race horses from the proceeds of selling the business, one of which was a championship-winning filly, White Lightning. Sandra and Mark Smith met at the races and the two became enamored of each other, or rather, Mark became enamored of Sandra’s lifestyle. Sandra was pleased by the attention the handsome young man showed her, and their wedding was the biggest gala of that season for the capital area socialites.

The couple had settled down at the Smith home behind the Mercantile, so that Mark could run the business, but Sandra wasn’t very happy living out in the boondocks, even with a child to raise. To placate her, Robert Farley bought a farm next to the Smith property, installing the retired White Lightning to, hopefully, breed more winning racehorses. Along with the mare, a stallion from good bloodlines, and some goats for companionship, Robert installed a Farley cousin to manage the farm. Despite Robert’s efforts, Sandra continued to escape to her family’s estate as often as possible through the years, especially when Lightning’s progeny proved to be mediocre racers at best.

Mark had trained his only child to manage the Mercantile, handing the reigns over to Jerome as soon as he could. Once that was accomplished, Mark, who had retained his good looks and courtly manner, escaped to the state capital scene, joining his wife at her family’s home and hobnobbing with the movers and shakers there.

Jerome was a competent manager, but was more interested in pursuing other interests than selling general merchandise. He was fascinated by high society, like his father. Jerome married a girl he met at the parochial school he attended — a foundling who lived with an elderly couple who had adopted her — because he thought her naïve enough to allow him to mold her into what he wanted in a wife. Mia bore him one child, a boy they named Ford. After Ford started kindergarten, Mia began helping out at the Mercantile, taking over most of Jerome’s responsibilities while he pursued his own interests. A year later, Jerome met his end at the base of a large tree, in the tangled wreck of his favorite car, a vintage Corvette.

The Mercantile was located on Creek Road, the original road to Shawnee Pass, a quarter mile past the split where Blue Slate Highway turned to follow Pine Creek towards the interstate. The original cabin that Wilford had built on the property still existed, now being used as a small storage area for seasonal items.
“““““
“Hi, Adam.” Mia greeted him, grinning at memories of past conversations with the man who’d just come through the door. “Still wanting to preserve ‘Hannah’s’ for the ages?” Adam had repeatedly tried, without success, to convince Mia to have the Mercantile apply for the State and National Registers of Historic Landmarks. She always laughed at the idea, insisting that they were running a business, not a tourist trap.
“Actually, Mia, I will not be bothering you about that again.” He replied. “Times are still tough, so the County cut my job this time around.”

“What I do need today is some lumber and nails to turn my back porch into a greenhouse for Sarah.” Adam walked back through the store as he was talking, not acknowledging the sympathy Mia tried to express as she struggled to keep up with his long strides. Mia Smith was a dark woman, tiny and unassuming, but no less a matriarch than her late husband’s legendary ancestress.

Adam laughed to himself as he pictured Mia dressed as Hannah in some never-to-be living history enactment — she’d fit the role perfectly, he thought, although she wasn’t even related to the original Hannah, so far as he, or anybody, knew. She helped Adam pick out the right lumber, screws, and other items needed for the project as he described it to her, and then called for Randy Farley, Mark’s second or third cousin — she couldn’t keep the relationships straight, not having any family ties of her own — to load the materials into the store’s truck and follow him home. Over Adam’s objections, she insisted that Randy help unload the supplies as well.

“It’ll do me good to get him out of my way,” she insisted. “He needs something to do to burn off all that excess energy, anyhow.” Mia lightly slapped the slow-moving Randy on his arm, taking the sting out of her comment. Randy was a good worker; a perfectionist who irked her occasionally with his thoroughness when she’d overlooked some detail in her rush to get things done.

“Now, Mia . . .” Randy started to protest, until he saw her grin. “I think I’ll insist on staying to help Adam. He looks like somebody who might appreciate my finer qualities. Don’t expect to see much of me for the next few days.”

Adam denied that he’d need any help, but both Mia and Randy insisted. “Nate can help around the store while I’m helping Adam. He never does anything, anyhow.”
“““““
Randy’s older brother, Nathaniel, now oversaw the horse farm, which had been largely forgotten by the rest of the family. He certainly had time to help Mia, especially since his youngest daughter was taking care of the livestock. Abby had an affinity with animals, and Nate had gladly left the actual farm operations in her capable hands as soon as she finished high school. Her folks had wanted her to attend college, but she refused to go, insisting that her place was at the farm.
“““““
Old Farmhouse Lane

Back at Adam’s house, Adam and Randy unloaded the materials, and began tearing apart the railing on the back porch. It was the first week of school for that year, and after Tim got off the bus down in the development – walking the rest of the way — he began helping too. It wasn’t long before there was a bellow from Ron Sullivan, who had just pulled into his driveway after ending his workday.

“What in tarnation are you doing, Adam?” he demanded to know. “You’re going to ruin your perfectly fine house, if you’re not careful!”

Adam explained his ideas for converting his back porch into a greenhouse while Ron stood listening impatiently. “Adam, you’ve got a good idea there, but you’re going about it all wrong. Let me get my tablet, and I’ll figure out what you should do.”

While Ron calculated on his ipad, Adam, Randy, and Tim watched. In a few minutes, he finished making his plans, wrote a list on a slip of paper, and handed it to Adam, telling him that’s what they really needed to do the project right. He got his van out and followed Randy and Adam back to the Mercantile for the proper materials — the greenhouse would extend well beyond the porch, and they needed cement pilings and four by fours, as well as planking, plywood, and lots more screws, among other things. Randy loaded some of the smaller items into Ron’s van, promising to come out early the next morning with the rest of the supplies, and to help with the work.

With so many helpers, the construction of the greenhouse was soon completed. Adam let Sarah decide what to plant and where. Although he hadn’t ever lived on a working farm, he had learned many things about gardening and agriculture from Sarah, who had a passion for growing things, especially useful plants. She had designed and built a garden in the back yard, with a section of perennial vegetables and fruits, as well as herbs. That fall, they filled the greenhouse with their favorite vegetable plants; tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, peppers, kale and other greens, lettuces, scallions, carrots, and radishes; as well as strawberries, and citrus trees to round out their diet. Adam and Sarah were both well-pleased with their increased self-sufficiency, created by the addition of the greenhouse. Together they dug up more of the yard and put in a cover crop, preparing a larger garden for the next growing season.
“““““
Throughout that first winter without his job at the County, Adam spent many hours job-hunting each week as well as working on projects. At least once a week he’d connect with one of his former co-workers or college buddies in efforts to find a job through networking, but he got no results. When he conducted internet searches, or applied directly to companies on their websites, he rarely even received acknowledgement of his application, let alone got an interview. Adam pounded the pavements at business complexes, at suburban shopping centers, and in Cedar City itself, but nobody needed his talents or skills, apparently. As the weeks turned into months, he found himself spending less time actively seeking work and more time working on skills to improve the family’s standard of living without needing more money.
“““““

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