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Another long story...

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I did not ski today. I am sitting in a hotel room in Utah, unable to speak above a whisper, unless I croak out something unintelligible. So I waited out this illness, and will ski tomorrow at Deer Valley, but until I can, here's a little story I wrote that I hope you'll like. It's called,

****************The Savior of Spoots*******************

It was 1969, and the year before, the blue chalk marks numbered 308.
I was nine that summer. I was excited about spending my vacation at Grandma and Grandpa's farm, and for two weeks before school let out, I packed and planned and dreamed of the fun of doing nothing an everything, intoxicated by the idea of leaving concrete and city noises behind for the serenity and space of the country. I spent hours daydreaming in Mrs. Kemp's fourth grade classroom, already smelling the musty barn stuffed with old straw and cows in queue, waiting to be milked. I could feel the dry soil on my bare feet, every step producing tiny dust volcanoes as I ran, arms extended, through the corn that blotted out the sky. Gnarly trees that grew the sweetest red apples waited for me to climb them. Blackberry bushes- wild, thorny, and overgrown, the fat green berries begging the sun to ripen them - knew nothing of the birds and small girls who would pick them clean by late August. Math problems and compound sentences drifted in and out of focus, and were finally forgotten for the freshly mown hay and fruits of summer.
I arrived on a Friday, and followed Grandma around for a week, till the routine of all her fun became tedious: mopping, weeding, cooking, cleaning, washing clothes with soap shaved in slivers from a hard bar of lye into the steaming water of the washtub. (Grandma was hopelessly old-fashioned and refused to be modern at all costs. Hard work will keep the Devil away, young lady, she would say, accenting each word with the wag of one finger. Those newfangled things are just what he needs to work his evil, you mark my words. Hard work never hurt anyone.) I thought it did, and I saw from her hunched back and lumpy fingers from getting caught in the wringer a hundred too many times, that I was right.
When my chores were done, I sought Grandpa's company. He was infinitely more interesting, and in my opinion, not quite so foolish. I found him behind the barn one day, bent over, intensely and methodically nailing chicken wire to a wooden frame of some sort.
"Whatcha doin, Grandpa?" I asked, sucking on a tart piece of rhubarb.
"Oh, I'm fixin' this trap here. Mama complained about those "spoots" that keep her martens away from the birdhouse. She's always got something bothering her, and she's gotta bother me about it."
Grandma spoke English mixed with German whenever she was mad or excited, and I guess it rubbed off on all of us sooner or later. If she saw a rabbit, she would point and say, "Zites!." I never knew if that meant "rabbit" or "look"or what, but I still say it, even though I don't know what it means.
"What're spoots? Is that German for birds?"
He leaned back on his stool and eyed me for a second, then brought out a slim metal can of Velvet tobacco and a pipe and started stuffing it.
"Danged if I know. That old lady's got more words in her than a dictionary. She's got a word for everything, now, don't she? A spoot is a sparrow, a little brown bird."
He sucked noisily on his pipe while I studied how he did it. I might like to try that someday. It sure smelled sweet, like the buckwheat pancakes and syrup we had for breakfast.
"So the spoots walk in here and can't get out, right? I don't get it. If they can get in, why don't they just go out the same way? Are they stupid or somethin?", I asked.
"Well, here's how this works. See this front part? It's like a funnel set sideways. The spoot sees the corn, walks up this funnel part and drops down on the corn. This little hole is just big enough for him to get in, but he can't walk upside down to get back out the hole. He'll just fly around in here till I'm ready to empty it. I've got a hinged door on this other end to get 'em out."
Vanilla smoke drifted around his head while he admired his work. I was fascinated.
"Neeto. So whadya do with the spoots when you trap them? Do you let them go where they won't bother Grandma's martens?"
"No, honey, I drown 'em in the cow trough. Wouldn't be no good if I just let 'em go again, now would it? They'd just come back. These birds just pick at the garden and chase away the songbirds. These birds don't serve a purpose around here."
"You kill them!? How can you kill them? That's cruel!"
"No, it ain't cruel. They don't feel a thing."
He started nailing on the wire again, sucking deeply on the pipe that hung from one corner of his mouth. The horror of what he said hit home like a thunderclap. Gentle Grandpa, tenderly milking the cows, giving them names and speaking softly to them about the day's events, shoving a cage full of birds under the water. Comical Grandpa, hoeing weeds in the garden, knobby knees blushing pink in the hot summer sun, old straw hat casting a ragged shadow on the ground while he sings "Yellow Submarine" off-key, waits for the bubbles to stop surfacing. God-fearing Grandpa, dressed in his best blue suit, holding Grandma's elbow as he walks her up the church steps every Sunday morning, afraid she'll break if he lets go, yanking the trap up and out, still birds dripping brackish water on his shoes. I had seen it all.
Machine-like, my bare feet turned and took me away to solitude. All afternoon I moved from place to place, touching, thinking and feeling. Geese and chickens scrambled for choice bugs in the hard-packed dirt of their pen. Barn cats crouched in corners playing statue for any mouse who braved the open spaces. Plump green caterpillars munched leaves and sprouted stinky orange feelers when I poked them. I swiped some mint from the garden and chewed the tangy leaves while I made a promise to myself that no birds would be casually killed this summer. I would free them because it was the right thing to do, the only thing to do.
My trip around the farm had brought me full circle; the trap was finished, the bait was set, and the birds would soon come. I sat on a fence post guarding the cage, the weight of guilt and sorrow lifted, and I felt almost giddy with heroism. I couldn't wait to set the birds free! I prayed for them to enter the trap. Oh please! Please! I wanted the birds to feel grateful to me for my generous, selfless acts. But the birds did not come by suppertime, and I left my post feeling somewhat disappointed I would play savior tomorrow.
With morning came my four cousins, visiting for the weekend with my aunt and uncle. We got a war started with stick guns and gravel, espionage being the game of the day. A truce was called for lunch under the oak in the front yard. I knighted myself the Savior of Spoots in command of the Black Army, and the trap was forgotten while war raged down on the farm. The grilling of prisoners was hard work, and by dusk we fell exhausted into our tents, bivouacked in the truce zone under the crystal shine of a three-quarter moon and a billion stars.
Sunday morning, dressed in frills and tight, shiny shoes, we trooped off to church, each of us praying that God would be on our side of the endless war. Grandpa cooed over how nice Grandma looked today, and all things were right in the world. Back at the farm after church, the smell of roast beef whipped us into a frenzy. Dinner was inhaled as politely as possible, and the battle was renewed with zeal.
Toward evening, I had cornered a know spy from the Red Army behind enemy lines and was escorting him at stickpoint through the barn, hoping to get back to camp undetected, when I noticed blue chalk marks on one support beam. "1968" was written in shaky numbers at the top, and scores of lines in groups of five covered two feet of the foot wide post. At the bottom was a total "308" and below that, "1969" with three rows of marks. Ordering my spy to a halt, I stared at the marks, wondering what it meant. I determined it had to be a record for the number of eggs the hens laid last year, and when my POW agreed with my theory I told him to shut up or he'd never see the light of day again, and we moved out cautiously.
The sun was beginning to cast long shadows as I stepped through the barn door. Grandpa was leaning against the fence, pulling on his ever-present pipe, looking very poetic and tranquil in the cool of the barn’s shadow. Puffed with pride over my acquisition, I marched my charge over to him to announce that the war was as good as won. My spy had totally forgotten the war and was staring in awe at the water trough on the other side of the fence.
“Grandpa, I caught a spy and we’re gonna win the war!”
“Yep, I see you have,” he said in a halo of smoke.
The spy, who noticed what I hadn’t, got up on the fence and leaned over for a closer look.
“What’s in there, Grandpa? What’re those bubbles coming from?” he breathed.
I froze, the thoughts from two days ago slamming into focus immediately, the visions of what I would see when I looked sent stabbing pain through my temples like an ice cream headache gone berserk. War and pride flew away, and I looked….
In the murky water of the trough sat the trap, bubbles rising within it as if it were just starting to boil, flurry of wings beating against the wire mesh two feet under the surface, muffled yet distinct, a miniature panic thumping desperately for a way out, any way out. Oh, please! Please!
“Caught a mess of spoots in my trap, Mel,” he said. “Bet there’s 15 in there today. They’re thick this year, thicker than last year, I think. I caught over 300 last year, and I’ve already got around 150 so far. Ought to break the record maybe, eh?”
“Wow.” Mel was staring, speechless.
I watched, both repelled and fascinated, wanting to run but unable to tear my eyes away from the trap and its ghastly bubbles, glad for the dark water that hid the birds from sight, for to actually see them might have driven me insane.
When the bubbles stopped rising, I wrenched myself away and raced for the sanctuary of others. Oh, please. Please, for the noise and laughter of others, bare feet spewing dust in small volcanoes, and I ran, the Savior of Nothing...

[ February 06, 2003, 10:57 AM: Message edited by: Bonni ]
post #2 of 2
Thread Starter 
Sorry about the formatting. Indentations don't work on this for some reason!
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