The Dead Woman in the Back Yard
Hollis and Dovey Pickle.
No, I ain’t making those names up, our landlord and lady who lived next door to us for eight years in Willow Glen. They must have been close to ninety then, the both of them, and their kids probably made oodles of money when they passed, selling off that prime piece of San Jose real estate.
Pepper and Daisy their Boston terriers always welcomed us on our visits. Pepper showed his appreciation by backing up to the wall heater and letting rip the rankest, most ill-digested canine fart to be wafted around the room.
Spent many a balmy weekend sitting at the picnic table in our backyard with Hollis while he regaled me with tales of his days as a deputized federal marshal and heavy equipment operator (“I grabbed hold of a 440 volt line on a wellhead once. Made my hair stand up!”). While he railed against the evils of marijuana, we got happily stoned on a gallon jug of his son-in-law’s home-made sherry.
What? Oh, yeah. The dead woman in the back yard.
Our house was a ramshackle yellow thing where we lived through several jobs, an eye-opening stint in graduate school, and increasingly frustrating attempts at getting pregnant, but we had the most glorious back yard. Out beyond the very happy persimmon tree over the septic tank and our beds of ranunculus was Los Gatos Creek. Summers it was dry. Winters we would sometimes stand out back and wonder if we ought to load stuff in the car. Over it all hung a huge old elm.
Diana was clipping the suckers at its base one summer day and, grabbing an armful of cuttings, threw them over the bank (as Hollis had encouraged us to do) and realized too late that she’d tossed the lopper down twenty steep feet of blackberries and rip rap. I decided that weekend to try and retrieve the tool.
Halfway down a most unwelcoming riverbank I spotted an odd-looking branch wearing panty hose. I came back up and dialed 911. “I think there is a body in my back yard.” Within minutes two paramedics arrived. I thanked them for their celerity but told them they were probably too late. They followed me back to the creek and peering down confirmed, “Yep, that’s a body.” A squad car appeared as the EMTs left and the officers said “Yep, that’s a body.” Told me the coroner was on the way. Two fellows in very nice suits with a body bag arrived and were apprised of the situation. Before they scrambled down into the creek bed they advised me, “You might not want to watch this,” to which I replied, “From this point on, there is nothing going to happen that will be worse than my own imaginings.
“ I shut down the barbecue that I’d started. I wasn’t going to be grilling that afternoon, and sat at the picnic bench. A skull appeared at the edge of the lawn, a ribcage, armbones, legbones, the lopper.
Down the street from us was an assisted care facility. The year before a woman with dementia had wandered off in the night. Days were spent searching with dogs up and down the stream bed. She had found her way to the pile of concrete chunks below our house, curled up in a fetal position and fallen finally asleep.
A day or two later a daughter knocked on our door seeking closure and a finger bone.
And a ring.
―Robert Lee Haycock, Antioch
Heimganger loves the parlor,
Heimganger loves the hearth,
Heimganger loves to stay home,
And never wander the Earth.
Heimganger loves the kitchen,
Heimganger loves the stoop,
Heimganger loves to stay home,
And never fly the coop.
Heimganger loves the garden,
Heimganger loves the porch,
Heimganger loves to stay home,
For travel he carries no torch.
Heimganger is not my thing,
Heimganger is not my style,
Heimganger means more housework,
When I leave home I smile!
from the most famous heimganger of all:
I dwell in Possibility–
A fairer House than Prose–
More numerous of Windows–
Of Chambers as the Cedars–
Impregnable of Eye–
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky–
Of Visitors–the fairest–
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise–
Emily Dickinson (via Carolyn Waggoner)
The End of My Heimganger Year
In 2016, I embodied heimganger. A year ago I wrote that my goal for 2016 was to heal my bad hip. Wishful thinking. I slipped hard on ice a few weeks later, and finally heard my husband’s pleas to visit a doctor, who said, “There’s only one way to fix your problem,” and pulled from his white surgeon’s coat a mock up of total hip replacement apparatus. Soon my husband functioned as my legs, wheeling me once a week to teach in Truckee (teaching in a wheelchair is difficult) and doing everything else for me that needed doing. I could no longer manage a walk through the market (people probably think I’ve moved away) or even driving my beloved 5 speed 2000 4Runner named Isabel. I gave the keys to one of my sons, who took over a variety of town tasks for me. I stayed on the farm and poured my energy into this web site, leaving the farm only to teach or schlep myself up the stairs to my primary care doctor in Grass Valley. (One hand on rail, one hand on cane. Heft. Balance. Repeat.)
All this sounds quite miserable, but I was actually happy. After years of traveling every summer for family crises or work, I was ensconced on a chaise lounge under the oaks on my patio. I sipped coconut water and dozed in the breeze, book on my lap. I picked my way a few feet over to the stock tank bath tub my husband had devised for me and filled with well water and epsom salt, soaking as I looked up at the swaying green branches. I worked at my desk and even made decent money. My oldest and son and his wife were in town for the summer, and they visited often, cooking up gourmet Mexican food and home made pizza. Other family was near. Friends visited.
It was around then I got my first hip replaced and my husband was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer called sarcoma. I healed and hobbled and he persevered bravely through radiation, chemo, and surgeries. He gave the keys to his beloved Tundra to our other son, who took over all the tasks that remained. The two young men and the wonderful young woman one of them brought to live with us operated our household and farm, bringing us food and tempting us with a variety of healthy beverages they’d discovered. My husband and I had both become heimgangers, and these remarkable young people our staff.
Now, on the Solstice, my husband is a few mini rounds of chemo from being cured and I am learning to walk on my second bionic hip. The Tundra and the 4Runner are being cleaned and preened for their returns to us, as the boys bravely return to the grandma cars they can’t wait to sell. The wonderful young woman is packing her bags to go teach in Thailand. And I, more grounded and stronger than I ever thought possible, am looking forward to venturing out in 2017, finding myself strolling through airports and alongside small Michigan lakes with my oldest son, to driving down back roads I just met and seeing how many rivers and creeks I can visit with our German Shepards Bonnie and Hayduke. The world seems welcoming. We did it! And now it’s time to move beyond it, explore and stretch and learn new ways of being. –Carolyn M Crane