Wes Boyd's
Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online

Winter Layoff
a novel by
Wes Boyd
2011, 2013

Chapter 17

The work continued to go quickly. Every day they could see some continued improvement in the house. Some things took longer than others, of course. Getting the vinyl siding on proved to be a problem – if the group had forgotten anything while they were making plans in Spearfish Lake, it proved to be scaffolding. They actually had some but not enough, so that slowed them down. At that, some work was done from the loader bucket of the backhoe, and some scrap lumber rescued from debris up the street also helped them with improvised scaffolding. With the siding completed, it really began to look like they were within reach of a completed house.

The house was heavily insulated, much more so than was local practice, just a carryover from these people building normal houses in Spearfish Lake, where it was much more important. Indeed, a lot of space on the semi-trailer had been devoted to insulation, with bundles of it used to fill out odd corners both there and in the furniture truck. Ken was of the opinion that while it was probably a little overkill as far as heating was concerned, a well-insulated house would cut air conditioning costs in the summer, and since they’d brought the insulation with them nobody was in a mood to argue with him.

Before long they were getting toward the front of the semi-trailer, much of which was stacked with sheet rock to be used for interior walls. Once the interior walls were up and covered the house became a lot quieter, and it seemed like it was closer to being done – and it was. On the eighth day after the rescue party from Spearfish Lake had arrived someone drove to the airport outside New Orleans to pick up Greg Schoonover from Jasper Electric and one of his workers to do the electrical hookup. There were places in the project that had been held up to wait for his arrival. Indeed, a lot of the rough work of the wiring had already been done and passed code inspection, but Greg and his helper dealt with the tricky stuff on the fly. There still was no power – it hadn’t been hooked up yet – but a generator provided enough to test the circuitry and make sure everything worked. Greg also hooked up the combination furnace and central air conditioner that had been brought down in the furniture truck.

Without further prompting, the guys from the electric company came by on Monday and hooked up the electrical power, and the generators that had run ten and twelve hours a day for the last eight days fell silent. There was still plenty of work to do, but it was detail work, things like painting – Rachel proved to be a good painter and was in the thick of that project. In another couple days, the project was clearly reaching the point where the end was in sight.

The only thing that kept the place from being able to be occupied in the next few days was that they still hadn’t been cleared to use the sewer, although it had been hooked up. Jim had made a couple more trips back over to the city office, but the guy there said there was no real hope of getting that ready to go by the time the rest of the house was completed. At least it was on the schedule for another week or ten days or so. While this was not unexpected, it was still disappointing when Jim had to bring the news back to the rest of the group.

“Darn,” Randy said when Jim brought the news. “I’d really hoped to be here when your aunt and uncle see the place for the first time, and a lot of the crew feels the same way.”

“I know,” Jim said. “I actually have only talked to them on the phone once since this project got under way, and they’re very grateful about what everyone has done. I think they’d like to thank everyone personally.”

“The problem,” Randy said. “Is that a number of people need to be heading back by the end of the week, including me. I left some work hanging at the office, and I really need to be getting back to Nicole. I mean, I suppose we could drag it out another day or two, but not another week or two. Do you suppose it would be possible to get them down here, even if it’s just for a day, so those of us who need to head back can start on their way?”

“Well, I suppose I can call and ask,” Jim told him. “Aunt Rita thinks it’s very stressful on Uncle John to make a long trip in a car, and that’s a long haul for them, even one way.”

“How about seeing if you can get a motel room for them in, oh, Hattiesburg?” Rachel suggested. “Make it for two nights, that way they can split it up into a three-day trip.”

“Worth looking into,” Jim said. “I’ll head downtown and give them a call.”

“Why don’t you let me do it?” Rachel offered. “I haven’t, uh, let them know we’re quite as far along as we are. It might be fun for all of us to see how surprised they are.”

“Is this something like how you guys didn’t even let me know you were coming down here with your house kit in the first place?” Jim snickered. “You really like your surprises, don’t you?”

“Well, sort of,” Rachel replied with a grin that reminded Jim of the proverbial cat and canary. “You said you didn’t want to get their hopes up, and Ken and I have done our best to avoid that.”

“I wonder why I told anyone I was even thinking about this,” Jim sighed. “It sure got out of hand real fast. Go ahead, have your fun. I’d like to see them surprised about as much as anyone else.”

“OK,” she said with a huge grin. “Bob has most of another load to go to the collection point. I’ll stop off at the phone bank on the way.”

Rachel headed over toward the dump truck, which was parked on the far side of the street. As soon as Bob dumped the loader bucket into it, she climbed in and started it up. “She sure has been having a good time with all this,” Jim remarked to Randy as they stood there watching.

“Yeah, she has,” Randy nodded. “She needed this about as much as anyone. More than some. This is about the happiest I’ve seen her in a while. I mean, she’s always polite and cheerful, but this is something beyond that. You know about her ex, don’t you?”

“Maybe more than I should. It’s one of those things we’ve been talking about after everyone else goes to bed.”

“I’ve noticed that the two of you have been spending a lot of late evenings together, and I’ve been wondering about it a little.”

“We haven’t been doing anything much,” Jim said defensively. “Just talking about one thing and another. We both have ex problems, you know that. They’re not the same thing, but they’re something we have in common. It gives us something to talk about.”

“Well,” Randy shook his head, “it’s good that she’s talking about it with someone other than Nicole and me. She probably hasn’t told you how bad it was, but it was bad and she’s pretty much kept it bottled up. If she’s letting some of it out now, then maybe she’s getting over it.”

“Yeah, I’m finding out a little of that myself. I mean, about me. I’ve told her a few things I hadn’t even admitted to myself.”

“Well, it’s good that you have that for common ground. Rachel is, well, I don’t know how to say this but she’s been in a shell, and every one of us in her family has worried about it, including Jared, and he’s only ten. She used to be a pretty fun person, but that idiot she married just about sucked the life out of her. I’m glad to see her coming back a little. I’m really glad to see that she’s finding a friend outside the family.”

“I guess I’ve always thought of her as a friend,” Jim replied. “I mean, she’s always friendly and nice, but we’ve talked about things the last few days that I would never have imagined telling her a month ago.”

“All I can say is that she seems happier than she was a month ago,” Randy told him. “But this is kind of an adventure and a vacation for her, like it is for me. Maybe that has something to do with it. I wish I could stay around a little longer, maybe see if I could work on some other projects, but I guess I can’t.”

“I’m sure there would be something for you to do,” Jim replied, happy to be off the subject of Rachel. Yes, she’d become a friend, and it had been fun. They’d talked quite a bit, laughed a bit – and yes, on those nights they’d been alone when they left the fire, there had been those kisses, powerful enough to make him wonder if something else was happening. He had enjoyed them and had been sure that she did, too. But did they mean anything? If they did, what? As much as he liked her, it seemed pretty unlikely that things could go much further. Not only was she Randy’s older sister, but again there was the fact that she was a college graduate and he was a guy glad to make it out of high school and with a diploma. It seemed like a big gap to throw a bridge across.

Jim pulled his mind back from his musings about Rachel and finished what he was saying to Randy. “Maybe if Bob and I were to head back we could leave you the backhoe and dump truck to play around with,” he continued in an attempt to nudge Randy into staying around for a while.

“Nice thought,” Randy said. “But I really do have to be heading back. Norm may have his political issues worked out, and if he does there’s going to be another big job for the summer to get organized for. Besides, Nicole is only about six weeks from her due date, and I want to be there for that in case the baby comes early. It’s getting a little close already. It would be nice to stay, but I’m afraid it just can’t happen.”

“If you think you have to, then I guess you think you have to. But you’d be welcome.”

“Yeah, well,” Randy shrugged. “It was good to get away for a couple weeks in the winter and feel like I was doing something useful. This has probably been one of the best vacations I’ve had in years. I can’t see how they’re going to have everything done down here they need to get done by this time next year. Maybe I could come back down here then for a few weeks.”

“Let me know if you decide to do that,” Jim told him. “There’s still going to be a lot of work to do down here then, so I might just come along with you. I was talking with Aaron, the old Amish guy, the other day. He said they’re probably going to be back down here next winter doing the same thing, and they’d be glad of having some more help. At least you can be sure they’re not going to be rebuilding casinos.”

“Might have to think about that,” Randy nodded. “I’d kind of like to see how they go about things, anyway. It might be that there could be some others who would be up for an expedition down here next year too. There are already some guys talking about staying on for a while.”

“Yeah, I’ve been hearing that. Sounds like a good idea to me. I’m thinking I might hang around until they get the sewer fixed, just on general principles. I haven’t made my mind up about it yet, though.”

In the next couple days they finished the project, doing last minute little things ranging from covers on switches and electrical outlets to hauling in the last of the furniture from the furniture truck and setting it up. The house looked just a little barren, not quite lived in yet, but Jim thought that it wouldn’t take long for Aunt Rita and Uncle John to deal with that – and it was something they’d have to do for themselves, anyway.

A few things dragged on into Thursday morning, but everything was as done as they could get them by the middle of the morning, when they expected Rita and John to arrive. Finally someone looked up the street and saw them coming, and yelled out to everyone to get ready. The semi had been parked so that it obscured the view of the house until someone was right in front of it – it had been that way since the beginning. When the car came into view in front of the house they could all watch as Rita jammed on the brakes and slid to a stop.

Jim went over to the car, along with some others. “My God!” Rita said, her eyes full of tears. “Is that ours?”

“Sure is,” Jim said.

“But . . . but . . . Rachel said there were some things we had to do!”

“Well, there are, I guess,” Jim said. “Nothing terribly important, though, just stuff like sheets and cookware and dishes and the like, but you’ll have some time to deal with that. There’s a problem with the sewer so you can’t move in yet, but it ought to be dealt with in the next few days. I’m planning on staying around until that’s taken care of.”

“Jim,” Aunt Rita said, still sobbing. “I just can’t believe this. You said you’d do what you could to help, but I never expected this to happen.”

“To tell you the truth, I never expected it to happen like this, either,” Jim told them. “Or this soon, but a lot of people came through for you when I wasn’t expecting them to. Now, if you want to pull into the driveway, you can meet them, and we’ll show you your new home.”

It still took fifteen very emotional minutes just to get them out of the car and to push John up the wide wheelchair ramp to the back deck of the house. “This is unbelievable,” both of them kept saying. “I never dreamed that something like this could happen.”

It was a relatively modest house, not a palatial mansion, but both of them said it was better than the old house had been, and much better than they could have dreamed. There were plenty of hugs, and lots of tears – not only from Rita and John, but from the construction workers from Spearfish Lake who had turned an impossible dream into a reality.

After a good buffet lunch served up by Bud, Randy called out, “Hey, everyone! We need a group photo of everyone involved in this project. How about we do it over behind the sign? This is another quality house built by Clark Construction of Spearfish Lake, Michigan, except that this one has been built in Pass Christian, Mississippi!”

It seemed like a good idea, and everyone on the site gathered around the “Quality House” sign on the front lawn. Rita and John were next to the sign, with the rest gathered around, and the house was in the background.

It was then that a minor problem arose – while Randy’s digital camera had a timer, he hadn’t brought a tripod, and there was no good place to set the camera to get the group shot. Jim was just about ready to go pull a stepladder out of the back of the semi-trailer, where loading for home had already begun, when they heard the clip-clop of a horse coming up the street. Jim looked up and saw Aaron coming toward them with his horse and buggy. “Hey, Aaron,” he said, loud enough to be heard, “I know it isn’t very Amish, but can you take a picture for us?”

“Yah, I can do that,” he said, reining the horse in to a stop. “Only I doubt I know how to operate the camera.”

“No big deal, just point it and push the button,” Randy told him.

Jim hustled back over to the group and got next to Rachel while Randy gave Aaron a brief instruction. It only took a matter of moments for Aaron to take several shots of the proud moment. Once it was completed, Randy and Aaron went back over to the old Amish man, who gave Randy his camera back, while several other people stood around nearby. “You got it done then, I take it?” the old man said.

“Except for the city turning the sewer back on,” Jim explained.

“Ye have done a nice job and built them a beautiful house,” Aaron said. “Ye are to be congratulated.”

“It really wasn’t a big deal for this group,” Randy said proudly. “It just took the thinking of it, and then the doing it.”

“Yah, that’s often the way, isn’t it?” Aaron smiled.

“So, Aaron,” Jim said, “What can we do for you today?”

“I came over to seek a blessing,” he replied. “We have been doing well on our project, but we’re running out of lots that have been cleared. Several times we have been promised machinery to remove the debris that has piled up, but somehow it never shows up.”

“Over at the Beach Boulevard project, I’ll bet,” Jim snorted.

“Likely so,” Aaron sighed. “We’re clearing the next lot mostly by hand. The horses can drag some of the smaller items, but they’re carriage horses, not draft horses, and, well, it must be much like it would be if you were trying to plow a field with a car, rather than with a tractor. I happened to think that you must be about done with your equipment here, and thought you might be able to help us out for a few days.”

Jim glanced at Randy, who smiled and nodded his head. That was all that was needed. “Not a problem,” Jim said. “I want to stay behind for a few days until they get the sewer turned on, since the city tells me they have the same problem with equipment and Beach Avenue. As long as I’m here I might as well do something useful. I could probably be over there this afternoon, or tomorrow morning at the latest.”

“Tomorrow morning would be fine so long as we are sure you are coming,” Aaron smiled. “We have already lost days due to the casino project, and lost days mean lost work.”

“I’ll be there,” Jim told him. “I don’t mind telling that joker who tries to get every loose piece of equipment over there where to go.”

“Aaron,” Randy piped up. “What do you say we firm it up? I think a handshake is as good as a contract and I suspect you do too, but have you got a dollar?”

“Yah,” Aaron grinned. “But why?”

“Give me a dollar and Clark Construction will have a paid contract with you. That’ll give Jim another argument when he tells that guy where to get off.”

“I will call that a dollar well spent,” Aaron grinned as he reached for his wallet.

The deal was quickly done. Aaron thanked both Randy and Jim. “Go ahead and keep using the Clark Foundation credit card for fuel,” Randy told Jim. “It shouldn’t add up to very much.”

“And it’s still tax deductible that way, right?” Jim grinned. “The only problem is that it would be nice to have someone else here to drive the dump truck. And I suppose I ought to have my truck here to stay in.”

“Just stay here,” his Aunt Rita said. “You know about the problem with the sewer, and it would be easier for you to deal with it than it would be for us.”

“Well, I’d sort of figured on that, at least till you guys move back in,” Jim told her. “Besides, I didn’t really want to leave the house sitting here with no one around. But it would still be easier for me to have a second set of hands to drive the dump truck. Bob,” he asked Coopshaw, “could you stay behind?”

“I could if I had to,” Bob admitted. “But I really ought to be getting back north. My son is giving my wife some trouble, so that means I’ve been gone long enough. He needs to get straightened out again, and I’d figured on heading back. In fact, I was sort of thinking of asking if I could drive your pickup home, and that way you could drive the dump truck when you had to head back. But you know, several other guys are planning on staying around if they can find some project to work on, at least as long as it doesn’t involve the casino.”

“Yeah,” Bud said. “I think it’s half a dozen or so. I’m thinking about staying around for a little while myself, so we’d still have the motor home to live in.”

“I should not think it would be difficult for my people to find something for them to do,” Aaron said. “We have a camp set up a couple blocks away from the project where we’d be willing to have you stay.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Jim said. “One of those guys could drive the dump truck, and then drive my pickup home when the time comes.”

“Good enough,” Randy said. “Jim, I’d say you can hang around here with the dump truck and backhoe for, oh, a month or six weeks. By then you probably ought to be thinking about getting back home, because if we have an early spring we’ll be getting needing it, and we’ll probably want to have Ray go through both of them again before we really get rolling.”

“Yeah, something like that,” Jim said. “The only thing I really need to be getting home for before spring breakup is to get my fish coop off the ice before it melts.”

“I’ll watch and if it gets to be an issue I’ll have someone go out and haul it in,” Randy told him. “In that time you ought to be able to get a ways ahead of a crew of Amish carpenters.”

“Maybe not real far ahead,” Jim shook his head. “I’ve been over there more than you have, and these guys work fast.”

“You need not get too far ahead,” Aaron pointed out. “We shall be heading back to our homes not much later than that, certainly by the end of March. Most of us have fields and farms that will be needing attention not long after.”

“Sounds like it ought to fit,” Jim said. “I should be able to take a day or two off if the city needs help with the sewer. That’s the one I’m really worried about, anyway.”

“Yah, and you may be able to find other places where it would be of service,” Aaron pointed out.

“OK, that sounds like it’ll work,” Jim nodded. “Bob, you might as well go ahead and figure on driving my truck back, and taking anyone who wants to ride with you. Just go ahead and leave it at your place with the heaters plugged in, and I’ll swing by and pick it up when I get back.”

“All right, everything sounds good to me,” Randy said. “Let’s spend the afternoon getting the place cleaned up a bit and getting all the tools and stuff loaded. Then, we can tear down and hit the road after breakfast in the morning.”

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