Wednesday, September 5, 2012
Oscar, and the Poor Farm ((or, the Almshouse) (1980))
Old Oscar was an odd old fellow, whom never quite put together Chick Evens’ capriciousness. Had become accustomed to his abrupt visits that he viewed them all as matters of course, never knowing the underlining reasons for them. Should it ever be necessary to be told them, perhaps he would have?
Evens, always asking questions, as the old man quietly looked up at his face. Not once leaving the bench in the garden at the Poor Farm, till the last.
“Best leave and let you get some afternoon rest,” said Evens, more often than not, when he felt the old man was tired, or he was tired and wanted to leave. The old man with his warm flannel shirt, and thick wool socks on, and sweater in the scorching heat of a Minnesota summer; he was eighty years of age or more: of which he had sat facing White Bear Avenue, sat in the same iron and wooden bench each day—day after day, after lunch, the old farm house in back of him, rebuilt to accommodate the old, dying, and handicapped of the city. The last home they’d ever see.
Old Oscar had no friends, his family never visited him, what was left of it, but Evens, and as long as Evens visited him, which was on each Saturday throughout the summer of 1986, he had that friend: half past noon he’d arrive. Oscar would take his friend by the hand and ask warmly, “I’d sure like some ice-cream,” and Evens would walk down a half mile and fetch him some, bringing it back half melted, but nonetheless, the old man never complained.
The old man got to love him: well, love is a big word, perhaps, care for him is well enough, at least well enough to ask for that treat now and then.
Thus, Saturday after Saturday passed, and they talked to each other, and Evens continued to ask questions, telling himself, ‘The sooner I have all this down the better,’ he was in a way getting tired of running out to the old farm each Saturday, although he was starting to like the old man.
The old man started to say time and again, “I’m tired to death of living, in this rundown cold, smoky, cracking—once upon a time farmhouse; all night long groaning, dismal. I shall be dead by autumn, I hope.”
And so was the notion of the old man, and Evens on his way home would write all this down for his psychology class at the University of Minnesota, where he was studying: it was to him a project.
“What is the purpose you keep coming?” asked Oscar, once again.
He could have told him, but he told him “I can’t say,” as if threading a needle. And then autumn came, and Evens’ project was over and he went to see Oscar, and he was no longer there: the bench was empty.
To bear a noteworthy resemblance to old Oscar, the bench had somehow accumulated the old man’s residue, leaving within it, a part of his character, he could sense this—that is, to that of Chick Evens of our story, it was most unexplained.
His reports had been several of a gaunt and grizzled old man: aging, dying, no longer healthy, in a wholesome sense: friendless, alone and lonesome, feeble but somehow, holding onto a smile while in quicksand. On the other hand, some secret impediment had debarred Evens from the enjoyment and riches of his passing “A”, in his psychology class. Perhaps for concealing his motive, which is to say, at any rate: Oscar had died without him disclosing the ‘reason,’ the real reason, for the visits.
Now he felt a lurking distrust within his character, difficult to account for, if even to try and describe. “Yes,” cried his soul, “Tomorrow I will set about it.” But the deeper he thought about it, the more it became irrevocably lost to some hidden vault within his mind, and only once put onto paper with ink in the form of a poem, cynically cover in a shroud, published in his first book, yet to be published, covered in metaphor/personification, and hence, unrecognizable—and thereafter, buried in the truth—sunken in the sea for twenty-six years, only now to resurface for one last recall, in the form of this vignette, which is in real time, and bona fide truth.