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              It was a blustery weekend in Muskrat Flats. The wind was conducting a symphony as the poplars bordering the vineyard...

Monday, September 1, 2008

"Teach Your Children, Well ..."

There were strange happenings in Muskrat Flats last week, and it is beginning to seem like that is what the locals expect. That is why they live there.

There are many reasons why people end up living in the Flats. Some folks such as Jeremiah Smith came into town with the sole intention of staying the weekend and moving on. Little did he know that he would take up permanent residence putting his degree in Organic Farming and Renewable Land Management to work for him and his lovely new bride.

Jerry graduated from Hampshire College, a fine institution where in a non-traditional academic setting, he honed the farming skills he heard he had inherited from his grandfather.

Jeremiah Smith arrived in Muskrat Flats one summer morning about 20 years ago. He had been traveling around the country after he graduated from college, not quite sure what he wanted to do or where he wanted to go. Gomer Eckstien, a friend from Amherst College, and a Muskrat Flats native, told him about Silver Days and encouraged him to come and check out the scene.

He was very amused by the antics of the Hibernian Flatlanders as well as the re-enactment of the first Silver Days inauguration ceremony. He was very interested in the concept of the Farm and Agricultural Museum and fell in love with the rustic nature of the whole community. He was really starting to feel comfortable in Muskrat Flats when something caught his eye. It was more than something ... someone caught his eye.

In the vendors area in front of a row of neatly manicured lavender plants, near the Victorian Style Railroad station constructed under the watchful eye of of long deceased Sheriff Coleman Hawthorne III, was a tent where locally produced wine was being sold. He heard some live Grateful Dead coming from a boom box inside the tent. He was interested in trying a sample of the wine but not as interested as the vision of natural beauty which grabbed his attention and bolted his feet to the ground.
Her name was Jenny she was about 5 foot 11 and had long brown hair. She was wearing a black tank top and a colorful batik skirt. The bells attached to her ankle bracelet chimed in rhythm with the music as she swayed along to the beat. She was the first hula hoop dancer Jeremiah had ever seen. He had dated many women throughout his college career, but he had never witnessed such grace and beauty. She danced around seeming as though she wasn't even concentrating on keeping the hula hoop going, yet the over sized black and yellow ring kept its speed traveling up and down her svelte body. She looked somewhat Eastern European in her facial features. Perhaps she was a runaway from a Russian Circus, he mused. This led to him immediately coming up with her new nickname, a nickname she would not hear for about 6 months, Sveltelana.

She continued to ease through her dance as she brought the hoop down to her ankle jumping as if she were skipping rope. The hoop then moved up her body, over her hips, past her neck and lovely face to her hand, raised high over her head. It traveled back down her arm slid down past her breasts. She had her eyes closed, which was a good thing because Jeff was starting to realize he was not only staring but becoming envious of the intimate physical contact she shared with an inanimate object, that hula hoop. When she did open her eyes the first ones she made contact with were Jeremiah's. He was absolutely lost, stunned like a deer caught in the headlights. It was too late. He was in love. She took pity on this cute tourist and began the conversation by simply saying "Howdy, Stranger!" He was destined never to leave Muskrat Flats, not without her at least. But he stayed, he was home.

Jeff is now the director of the Agricultural program at the Muskrat Flats Farm Museum and Historical Archive. Sveltelana, heads the department which is the main profit center for the agricultural museum, putting her hard earned degree from the University of California Davis campus to work as she tends to the many grape varietals she and her staff turn into award winning wines. Their "Running Rats" Nouveau Beaujolais placed first in it's division in a wine competition hosted by Appellation.com in 2007.

Jenny and Jerry were at the museum. It was crowded and there were farming demonstrations happening all day long. A few blocks away the Oddfellows were hosting their annual MDA Charity Run and Labor Day Picnic. They were standing near the entrance to the museum when they ran into their longtime friend and neighbor, Jeff Nelson. Jeff is the owner/operator of Wake Of the Flood Plumbing. His young daughter Jane was was with him smiling and listening intently to the conversation which had turned to Jerry and Jenny quizzing Jeff about a date they had heard he had earlier in the week.

"So, she invited you out...?" Jenny Asked.

"Yeah ... Dude, it was so dysfunctional." Jerry asked,

"She doesn't live in the Flats does she?"

"No, she is from up the river a piece, she lives on the West Side."

Jenny smiled. Two of her workers hail from West side, a rare breed they are, in a good way of course, It must be something in the water she thought. Jeff Continued.

"Honestly, it was more like a job interview that a date. She told me about her, I told her about me ... I mean told her everything including all of the addiction bull shite, but she knew about that already." Jerry asked

"You did?"

"She read my blog, and decide to contact me anyway." He laughed and continued. "Oh, course I told her everything. It was all about honesty, I wasn't going to screw it up." He sighed and continued,

"So, She asked me what I wanted in a woman and I basically said, honesty."

"Right, on..." Jerry chimed in. Jeff began to smile,

"So, it was then she decided to tell me she was living with her boyfriend!"

"Dude!" Jerry exclaimed, Sveltie just started laughing.

"She leaned in for a kiss, I am ashamed to admit it but I kissed her back..."

"Daddy!, she has a boyfriend!"

"I know, I know...well she quickly decided that we probably should go any further apologized and then took off."

"Good for you, Jeff. That worked out just fine," Sveltie said.

"The funny thing is, by the time I checked my computer the next time I went online, she deleted me as one of her friends, she put up her boyfriend's picture instead of hers on her profile and she updated her "about me blurb" to say that she is living with a wonderful man, the love of her life and they are to be married." All three of them burst out laughing. Jeff's daughter just slapped her hand against her forehead. Jerry said,

"Dude, you're lucky you didn't end up in twelve pieces in a chest freezer somewhere." Sveltie added,

"Yeah, she was going to boil your bunny, Holmes" Jeff smiled and sighed,

"I know, I know, I think I learned my lesson. No more internet dates." They began walking to the Oddfellows to get some lunch.

The route to the Oddfellow's Hall is just a short walk from the entrance to the Farm Museum. They took a right out of the museum and headed West up Beacon St. At the Intersection of Beacon and Main they took a right for one block and then another right onto McKernan St. McKernan is a one way that feeds right into Petersen, where the benevolent order has their home base.

There were motorcycles everywhere. They had been hearing them all day. They started appearing as they walked down McKernan by the time they hit Petersen bikes were lined up like dominoes along both sides of the Street. In the parking lot of the Oddfellows Hall, the participants of the MDA Labor Day Run were feasting at the Labor Day picnic.

Bikers of all shapes and sizes with their companions were staring up at the sky. Gomer Eckstien was doing a sky diving demonstration. His target was a huge bullseye set up in the middle of the grassy area at the Petersen St. Skate Park across the street from the hall. Gomer was circling down in a tight spiral leaving a trail of green and orange smoke, which was coming from an apparatus strapped to his ankle. He hit the ground safely and right on target ... a good thing since his hard core Klezemer band, Gomer Shabbos and the Hook Nosed Satans was scheduled next as part of the day's entertainment. Gomer's assistants grabbed his chute and he began to head across the street to meet the cheering crowd. Gomer looked over and saw a guy sitting on a bench. He waved and said,

"Hey, Coley." The man looked up briefly nodded his head and acknowledged,


As the smoke cleared, Jeff his daughter and his two longtime friends settled in for their portion of the barbecue. They watched as Gomer set up his gear. He had changed from his jump suit to all black and was wearing a decidedly ethnic looking broad brimmed hat. He was putting together his clarinet and the fiddler was tuning up.

Jeff looked around. Across the street he saw Coley. Coley was one of the locals, he was a veteran of Operation Desert Storm and someone Jeff and Sveltie had gone to high school with. He had always been an very intense character, even in high school. As Jeff looked on, Coley was doing what he could always be seen doing. He was dressed in camouflaged shorts with a large overcoat and a winter cap. Inappropriate dress for the 80 degree temperature in the Flats, that day.

Coley was sitting in his usual spot next to his two wheeled laundry basket. He was furiously doing hand written calculations in a weathered and tattered composition notebook he carried in that basket. He was obsessed with numbers, so the people in town thought. But there was a little more to Coley. He had a plan, as crazy as he was, he had a plan.

What the locals from the Flats didn't know is that Coley is short for Coleman. To the general public, Coley is another lost soul, another scarred and disfigured war casualty. Although strapping and strong in outward appearance, the scarring is in his mind. Coley is one of the many descendants of the the boozing and fornicating founder of the Muskrat Flats, Sheriff Coleman Hawthorne III.

In a famous paternity suit in 1970, Coley's grandmother had secured a settlement from Sheriff Hawthorne's estate. She was the Grand daughter of one of Hawthorne's little bastards, a mean spirited man who inherited only his father's taste for whiskey. When she found out about her lineage, she did what any struggling mother would do, she tried to get her due. The case was settled quickly and quietly. A portion of her estate was put into trust for her only living relatives, her daughter and her grandson.

Coley grew up in Muskrat Flats and had a pretty normal childhood, but there was something odd about that boy. He was always a loner which didn't concern many people because he was also very bright and compassionate. He was always seen tending to the wounds of other children and wounded animals. His mother thought he would go to medical school, perhaps grow up to be a great surgeon. But two things happened in his 19th year, his mother died and he enlisted in the Army.

By the time he enlisted in the Army, he was well aware of the secret his mother had kept hidden from him so many years. She always worked, but they seemed to live beyond their means, they certainly didn't seem to live on a medical tech's salary. When he saw what his mother's estate was worth his eyes widened. He could live comfortably for the rest of his life on just the interest alone. But the work ethic instilled in him by both his mother and grandmother prevented him from doing so. Off to Iraq it was.

Iraq was too intense for him. He worked in a field hospital and had the best intentions, but was wholly unprepared for the carnage and heart ache he would experience.

He tried getting jobs when he got back, but had lost the drive to move forward in his life. He soon just holed up in his mother's house. He painted and he wrote and he drank . He continued to drink for years until he couldn't take it anymore. One day, he just stopped.

He ventured out into the public. He went for walks and picked up litter and interesting gimcracks he encountered along the way. He became more and more visible downtown. Folks who knew him gossiped, concocting stories about how he had been a resident at Walter Reed and the local VA hospital for all of these years. Everyone who tended to the house or provided a service got paid every month, like clockwork. The taxes were up to date, even though they never saw their client. Nobody really associated Coley with Emma Blackstone's kid, the hermit who lived on the fringes at the end of Promontory Lane, the wealthiest man in Muskrat Flats.

The locals certainly didn't think the drab looking homeless guy with the wire basket shopping cart was responsible for so many civic minded improvements in the Flats such as the rehabilitation of the railroad at the Farm Museum and the construction of the Petersen Skate Park, or the 1o sets of field pipes donated to the Hibernian Flatlanders so they could expand their Bagpipe instructional program in the public schools.

As he sat in the Skate Park. Coley could hear Gomer Eckstien whip up his band with his toe tapping brand of hard core folk music. Coley went through his composition book and began another equation. He had taken to obsessively figuring out how much money he had accumulated from interest in hourly increments. It was mentioned earlier that he did have a plan. He was in therapy and he was making progress.

He figured that soon he would retire from his current lifestyle and get a job, volunteer of course. He thought he would like working in the vineyard, tending the grapes which became the product which would cause him so much anguish for over a decade. He thought that maybe he could influence them positively and give the wine good karma he might reduce the number of sick and suffering alcoholics out there.

He usually slept through the night but occasionally he would awake inside of his cardboard refrigerator box, which was nestled in the middle of his mother's neat and tidy living room. to arrive at the most recent calculation of the state of his interest. He smiled to himself when he saw the the number, soon he could retire.

Gomer finished up his first tune and the Hook Nosed Satans took advantage of the break to tune their instruments. Gomer took the time to thank all of the sponsors, the Oddfellows for their wonderful food and of course the annual anonymous donor, the one who donated frequently to local causes.

"To that anonymous donor, whoever you are, you make Muskrat Flats a better place to live!"

The crowd hoisted their drinks and cheered. Jeff watched as Coley packed up his stuff and began to move along. He thought he saw Coley say something, but obviously couldn't hear. He watched as Coley trudged down the street.

"What are you looking at, Daddy?"

"Someone I used to go to school with, honey."

"You know him, is he a friend of yours?"

"Not really, but he is a good guy, he has some problems."

"Like you had "problems?""

"Yeah, kind of, but I don't think he drinks anymore."

"That's good. You be a good Daddy you don't drink either."

"I won't honey, not today." She hugged him. Jeff wondered, again what Coley had said.

It was a reply to Gomer's schpiel. Coley simply said,

"You're welcome Gomer, Muskrat Flats is a great place to live."

Once again you will always find me ...

Running Hard Out of Muskrat Flats.

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