Grantville January 1635 Genucci’s Funeral home

Vernon looked over the full house at his wife’s funeral. The place was packed. Juliet, his daughter-in-law, sat between him and Zane holding Vernon’s left hand in her lap like Melvina so often had. He’d put his hand there out of habit. Juliet was holding onto it tight, like it was a life line. Whether it was for his comfort or hers was an unasked and unanswered question. Melvina had been the family’s anchor, the voice of reason, the grand matriarch. Oddly enough, this was as true, or more true, for her daughter-in-law but not for her son or husband. Vernon started to remove his hand once but Juliet didn’t let go so he left it even though it didn’t feel quite right; the chemistry wasn’t there. Not once did Vernon, even once, start to lean over to whisper an aside into her ear, as he had so often and so commonly done with Melvina.

Instead, he was talking freely to his wife of fifty years . . . or at least to her voice, which was still there in his head as lively and insightful as ever.

****

“Even with Fran putting out the extra chairs there are still people standing,” Vernon’s thoughts said.

“Why’s Fran doing that? Where’s Freddy?” his wife’s voice asked.

“He’s a pilot in the air force, remember? Maybe we should have gone to the bigger funeral home.”

“No, Vernon, I don’t care. This is my funeral and this is where I wanted it,” Melvina’s voice answered.

“Back before the TV went dead, there would have been plenty of room for the family and friends.”

“Vernon McCabe! When the TV died? You mean the Ring of Fire?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Vernon, why can’t you just say the Ring of Fire, like everybody else?”

“Cause that ain’t the way I think of it. Now a big chunk of this here crowd is vendors and folks from down at the farmers’ market.”

“Vernon, nobody calls it the farmers’ market anymore. Mostly the farmers take their wagons to the wholesale market out at the fair grounds.”

“Well, back when I could watch ball games on TV they called it the farmers’ market.”

“Yes, Vernon,” her voice drawled out in exasperation. She usually started anything she wanted to say to him with his name. The way she said it was most of what she wanted to communicate. The rest was usually commentary. “The town council wanted the farmers and gardeners to use the picnic shelter in the park next to the swimming pool to sell their produce on Saturday mornings.

“They called it a farmers’ market even if it was mostly garden stuff. Back then, it was just a little extra money. Nobody was counting on the market to make a living. That first summer the Thuringen Gardens took the site over for a beer hall. No one much cared. There wasn’t a whole lot extra. A lot of folks still had lids for their canning jars and the refugee center needed anything anyone could spare. The second year people started showing up selling produce and yard sale junk on Saturday and then Friday and Sunday too, and before long it was all week long. If you had stuff out of your garden you could take it down to the market early and someone from the grocery stores would be along to see if you had anything they wanted. After that you could leave it on consignment with one of the regulars or open your own table.”

“Melvina, why are you telling me things I already know?”

“Because, Vernon McCabe, you’re a forgetful old coot.”

“But you were doing it even before we got married.”

“Well, Vernon, back then you were still wet behind the ears. Someone had to look after you, make sure you remembered things.”

“Right! You weren’t but a year older. Shoot, for the month of December we were the same age.”

“Hey, you were seventeen at the time. A year makes a lot of difference at that age. Besides, girls mature sooner than boys. That was back then. Now you’re a forgetful old coot.”

“Well, at least I’m not dead yet.”

“Don’t count on that taking very long. Besides when people catch on that you’re talking to me after I’m dead and gone they’ll lock you up in the loony bin.”

“We ain’t got one.”

“So? They’ll put a ten foot fence around the house, hire a keeper and make one.”

“Look,” Vernon said, “is that Adam Himmler? Ain’t he the kid you almost had to throw out of the park to get him to clean up? Yeah, that’s him. Remember, you told me all about it when you came home that first afternoon after Edith sent you down there to check on things back before they sent her off to Prague.”

****

Adam Himmler looked at the old lady in the casket and his mind went back to the first time he ever saw her . . . .

“Young man, that table is filthy! You’re selling things for people to eat. Take everything off the table and wash it down with soap and water. Tomorrow, if it isn’t clear to me that you washed the table off before you set your veggies out, you won’t be opening up again. Is that clear?” Melvina McCabe demanded.

“But, I don’t have soap and water.”

“There’s a water spigot there,” she pointed to the public restrooms. “You can buy soap there,” she pointed to a table selling lye soap. “Ask the chicken-plucker to loan you a rag and a bucket and tomorrow bring your own.”

Adam cautiously approached the stall. Janos asked, “Plucked or live?”

“What?” Adam asked.

“Plucked or live? Your chicken? Do you want it plucked or alive?”

“No. I need to borrow a bucket and a rag.” He pointed to Melvina who was talking to the basket maker. “She said. I’ve got to wash my table off.”

“You’re lucky.” Jano’s answered. “I’ve got to bring a brush and scrub the floor tomorrow morning before I start, and wash everything else down too, and I can’t just put the feathers and other things in the trash can anymore. I have to take them home, or I can’t come back.

“Here’s a bucket and a rag. Bring me two tomatoes and a cucumber when you come back.”

At the stall where a woman who looked older than Melvina but wasn’t much over half of her age offered cakes of lye soap for sale Adam asked, “What’s the smallest piece you’ve got.”

She pointed to a one-inch cube.

“I only need enough to wash off the table.”

Gretta glanced at Melvina who was telling a used clothing seller to leave the space under the roof to the produce vendors, “The sunshine won’t hurt the clothes and it is hard on the veggies.” Gretta looked at the bucket and pointed to the rag.

“This?” Adam asked holding out the rag.

Gretta grabbed it out of his hand, gathered up a few flakes and a crumb in it and gave it back to him. “Thanks,” Adam said. Gretta glanced at Melvina again and still did not say a word. After Adam returned the bucket to Janos, he gave Gretta two tomatoes and a cucumber also.

The next day Mrs. McCabe looked the table over and nodded her head in acceptance. “Tomorrow wipe the table legs off, too.” Then she actually smiled. Adam breathed a sigh of relief. He knew his mother would be furious with him if he lost the right to sell the garden surplus in the park.

That was back before Momma remarried. They were living with an up-time family at the time. Both the up-timers worked. Momma cleaned, cooked and kept the garden although Adam did most of the weeding and picking. What she didn’t put on the table or dry for the winter, she sent to the park to sell. The up-timers provided room and board in return for Momma’s cooking and cleaning.

Adam’s sister Anna’s job was all the income the family had. So selling stuff in the park was important. He didn’t mind. It was boring just sitting there most of the day but it got him out of the house where Momma would find something for him to do. He didn’t need to push the reel mower over the front yard more than twice a week. Momma was still trying to get the up-timers to get a goat. She wanted the milk and there was plenty of pasture going to waste that had to be cut since it wasn’t being grazed.

Mrs. McCabe looked at the table and laughed. He’d laid the tomatoes out like a face, with the cucumbers for hair and the herbs for eyebrows and beard. “You should bring a book to read, young man.”

“We don’t have any,” Adam said.

The next day Mrs. McCabe stopped at his table. She looked at the legs and nodded to say it was clean enough, and then she reached into her bag and handed him a sketchpad with half the pages missing and a mostly full box of colored pencils. “Here, draw me a picture of the chicken plucker’s booth.”

The next day Adam had the pencil box sitting on top of the pad when she came by.

“Well, let’s see how good you are,” She said picking up the pad. “I thought so. The way you mixed the riper and greener tomatoes and the way you turned the yellow sides of the cucumbers to make your face look like it had depth . . . Now, can you do it as a single color line drawing that looks like a woodcut on a broadsheet?”

Adam nodded.

Melvina handed him the pad and went off to talk to other vendors.

The next day she told him to make it smaller. The day after she had him draw it on a block of wood four inches square and a half-inch thick. Then she handed him a carving set and said, “Let’s see if you can cut it into the wood shall we?”

When the article she wrote about the market ended up in one of the newspapers using his wood cut, Adam remembered his mother’s surprise. When someone from the paper came by the market with a block of wood and a sketch, Adam thought the man seemed a bit put off when he found out how young the woodcarver was. But, there was a deadline.

“Kid, we need this when we open in the morning. Can you have it ready?”

Adam ended up making as much as his sister that summer. Momma was not at all happy when school started and the new paper stopped using him. “Sorry, kid. Look, come on back after school on Friday and you can cut a block for the Sunday paper. But Mrs. McCabe would have my scalp if I let you do this when you should be in school.” Momma was real unhappy about him losing the job. But, there was nothing she could do about it. Now he was through the eighth grade and he was cutting wood blocks full time. “Okay kid, but you are going to take evening classes or I won’t keep you on as a carver. Melvina wouldn’t like it.”

****

“There’s Janos.” Vernon thought. “He’s doing a bang up business selling dumplings, ain’t he? What’s he up to now, five or six carts? How’d you ever finagle that one anyway?”

“Who said I did?” Melvina’s voice replied.

“I’ve seen the way you smiled every time you saw one of his pushcarts. Shoot, that grin on your face almost made me think you had money tied up in it.”

“The only money I put in it was to buy a gallon to bring home that first day he was selling them in the market.”

“The only thing?”

“Well, I bought another gallon to send to Anne, and I suggested to a couple of people that they should have dumplings for lunch.”

“You suggested dumplings for lunch? Just how strongly did you make that suggestion?”

****

Janos looked at the folded card the funeral home handed out. Mrs. McCabe’s age was a shock. He’d known the bossy up-timer was old, but, he’d never dreamed how old. She was too full of life to be that old. Even laid out, it hardly seemed possible to think of her any other way than he remembered . . . .

“Young man, you can’t leave your wastes in the trash cans. It draws flies.” Those were the first words she ever said to him.

“The cans aren’t that big and you fill them up too fast. You don’t want flies around things people are going to eat. From now on you just plan on taking your wastes back home with you.”

She looked over his booth. “And another thing, you’ve set up permanently. I guess that’s all right for now. You might have to pay a fee in the future, though. But I’m telling you right now, if everything isn’t washed down before you leave tonight and that floor isn’t scrubbed before you start tomorrow, you won’t be coming back. We have got to keep things clean or people will get sick!”

A week later she asked him, “Janos, what are you still doing here?”

“This is my job, Mrs. McCabe.”

Melvina snorted. “When are you going to get a real job?”

“What else can I do? I tried the mines and they said I had closet phobia.”

“Claustrophobia?”

“Yes.”

“Well, there are other things in life.”

“Mrs. McCabe, I am saving my money. One day I will lease a farm. I am too old to be an apprentice.”

“You listen to me, Janos. This is West Virginia. You can be anything you want to be. Get your act together, young man. Find an opportunity and go for it. Plucking chickens for that cheapskate you work for is no way to live.”

Months later Arch Pennock set him up selling dumplings. That first day Mrs. McCabe bought half a dozen bowls for different people and ordered three gallons. One she took home and the other two she gave away. She was telling everybody how good his dumplings were. The business was up and running almost overnight; the way she had of prompting people to buy them had a lot to do with it early on.

****

“Look there’s Dietrich,” Vernon thought.

“Poor man,” Melvina’s voice answered in Vernon’s head. “He works so hard and has such big dreams. He deserves to get ahead. It just never seems to work out for him.”

“Yeah,” Vernon answered his late wife’s voice. “When the canning lids from back home were all used up he started buying up jars and filling them with dried tomatoes and dried summer squash. He put them in an oven to keep the moisture out before he screwed the new, tinker made, lids down and dipped them in wax. Worked, too. We’ve still got a jar from three years ago.”

“It wasn’t that long, Vernon.”

“Well, it seems like it. Then a canning company opened up with that line of glass lids with the wire to hold them down and a cork ring to seal them. Now Dietrich buys the empties down at the market and fills them back up with what ever he can get cheap when he can get new cork rings. Otherwise he’s still filling them with dried stuff and sealing it with wax.”

“Well,” Melvina’s voice said, “He and his wife are making a living out of their kitchen. Did you know that they found the evaporator in the basement?”

“Yeah, you told me.”

“They’re buying the place, you know, they’re not just renting it.”

“You’ve got to admit that beef stew he puts up is first rate.”

“And his wife keeps a spotless kitchen too,” Melvina said. “Every night at five he picks up his daughter and any jars she’s bought, in that pushcart of his. Then he buys up whatever produce the vendors will sell cheap. He can’t compete with the cannery’s volume but the grocery stores take everything he puts up. If he could get a steady supply of cork instead of having to buy what’s left with the cannery getting first dibs, he could stick with making the beef stew. One of these days somebody is going to come up with rubber for the canning lids and then maybe their business can take off.

“That daughter of his is reading from when she gets set up to when she closes down. Did you know she’s reading for law?”

“Yeah you’ve mentioned it, two or three times.”

“Don’t get sarcastic, you old coot.”

“Well, quit telling me what I already know.”

“How am I supposed to know what you remember and what you forget?”

“You’re in my head. You ought to know what I’m thinkin’.”

“Yeah? What’s our wedding anniversary date?”

“I forgot it one time and you’ve been giving me fits about it for decades.”

“Only an absolute idiot could forget something like that!” Melvina said. But Vernon could hear the humor in her voice and it brought a smile to his face.

****

Juliet noticed the smile and elbowed her husband. She was sure Vernon was losing it. She’d even suggested they should think about getting a court-ordered competency test and put the old man in the nursing home. Just yesterday, she’d told her husband, “Zane, you know I love him, but he’s going to need someone to look after him. He’s losing it, I tell you. I don’t think he’s admitting she’s gone. I caught him talking to her, I tell you.” The smile on his face was all the proof she needed, as far as she was concerned.

****

“Look, there’s Alois,” Vernon thought.

“He looks funny in a suit.” Melvina’s voice said. “I don’t think I ever saw him without his leather apron. I still think he’s the best basket maker in town.”

“That’s just because he works out of the market. You can get a good basket in the grocery stores or the hardware store.”

“Yes, but if you want something made to order instead of a stock basket you have to go find a basket maker and everyone knows where to find Alois.”

“That don’t mean his baskets are better,” Vernon told his wife’s voice.

“Oh, and I suppose that don’t mean he’s more flexible either? If he ain’t better, why is he always backed up with people waiting when they could buy stock items off the shelf just as cheap?”

“You might have a point there,” Vernon said.

“Might? You old coot! Humph! Look there’s Maria.”

“Who’s she?”

“I’ve told you. She runs the bakery co-op booth. Different housewives make bread for her. She sells the bread fresh, and day old. At the end of the second day anything left goes to the Catholic church’s free food bank. Look, there’s Ludwig, he’s got the milk and cheese co-op booth.”

“You set up the co-ops didn’t you?”

“Well, there wasn’t any point of half-a-dozen people sitting around trying to sell two loaves of bread or a gallon of milk apiece.”

“Melvina, you spent entirely too much time down at the market.”

“I don’t know what you’re griping about. It was your idea to enclose the picnic shelter with straw bales through the winter. Otherwise, the co-ops and other regulars would’ve had to shut down when the weather got too bad. And you’re the one who built that oil drum wood burner to keep the place warm.”

“Well, you were bound and determined to be down there every day and I didn’t want you getting sick.”

“Like that worked,” Melvina’s voice laughed.

Vernon let out a soft moan and he closed his eyes trying, unsuccessfully, to hold back the tears. Zane elbowed his wife by way of saying “see, everything is normal.” Then he joined his father in trying not to cry.

A few weeks later

“Dad, Juliet and I think you should sell the house and move into a room down at the nursing home.”

“Zane, the only reason I’m going down to the nursing home is to look for a woman who still has her teeth and her mind and who doesn’t have any family who wants her. I’m sure she don’t want to be down there anymore than I do. Those places will kill you. Being around all of those old people is contagious.”

“Dad, that’s just plain silly. You shouldn’t be talking about marrying a widow at your age.”

“Who said anything about getting married? It was the twenty-first century and now it’s the seventeenth. We could just shack up.”

“Dad!”

“You’re right. I know it. I ain’t going to find a girlfriend down at the old folks home. They’ve already given up and they’re just waiting to die. I don’t need that in the house. Ain’t no point to it unless I just want to pay for another funeral.”

“Dad! Get real. Speaking of the house, Dad, the place is a mess. It looks like you haven’t vacuumed or dusted in weeks. You need to hire a cleaning lady.”

“Ain’t nobody here but me. I’ll pick up before I have company over.”

“Are you even doing the laundry?”

“I do it when I need to.”

“You mean when all of the towels are dirty or you’re completely out of socks and underwear. If you won’t sell out, you need to hire some help. If you can’t afford it, you should sell the place and get a room. You really should anyway.”

“Maybe I should find a young widow with kids and start another family. This house is rather on the empty side.”

“Get serious, Dad.”

“Who says I ain’t?”

“The grass isn’t growing on Mom’s grave yet!”

“So, I should wait for spring?”

“Look, Dad, quit teasing. I know you miss her. But she’s gone. You’ve been caught talking to her more than once.”

“Zane, she don’t need to be here for me to talk to her. After fifty years I know what she’s going to say before she says it.”

“So you admit it?”

“If you mean do I admit talking to your mother? No. If you mean do I admit talking to her memory, yes. It ain’t the same thing.”

August 1635 Grantville

There was a rapping at the back door.

“I’ll get it.” Zane said, leaving the couch and the evening’s movie on TV.

“Dad,” Zane asked, when he opened the kitchen door. “What’s up?”

“Zane, I’m going to sell the house, unless you and Juliet want it.”

“Ahhh . . . have a seat. Juliet, get in here.”

“But, the movie is . . . “

“Juliet! Get in here now!” Zane demanded.

“Vernon? What’s up?”

Zane answered, “Dad wants to know if you want Mom’s house. He’s ready to give it up.”

Juliet sighed. “I know that its got to be hard, Vernon, but it’s for the best. They can look after you at the nursing home and we can stop worrying about you.”

“Who said anything about a nursing home?”

“Well, you’re giving up the house and we assumed . . . ” Juliet said before Vernon cut her off.

“Nope. I got a job offer in Finland. I’ll be gone for at least a year. No point in leaving the house empty that long, and I don’t want to rent it out.”

“Finland! Are you crazy?” Zane said, looking flabbergasted.

“Well, the folks at the state department in Magdeburg say Finland is still part of Sweden these days. But, yeah, Finland. They’re building a paper mill in Finland and they’ve offered me a job.”

“Dad, that’s a thousand miles away,” Zane objected.

“Closer to fifteen hundred actually,” Vernon answered.

“Vernon, Zane’s right. This is crazy. You just tell them no. You’ve got no business going that far at your age,” Juliet said.

“Look, you’ve been after me to give up the house. I thought you’d be happy.”

“Vernon, we wanted you out of a house that was too big for you to take care of, and in an old folks home where you would be looked after. We don’t want you goin’ off somewhere and getting sick and dying with no one to look after you.”

“No, you want me to move into the nursing home and get sick and die right here,” Vernon said, a little harshly. “Look, I’m going to be their number one consultant. I’m sure they will take very good care of me.”

“Dad, the trip alone could kill you.”

“I don’t see why; it’s a train ride to Magdeburg,” Vernon said. “The rest of the trip is by boat. But you might be right. On the other hand, moving into a nursing home will kill me for sure. Ain’t nobody gets out of one of those places alive. Now, do you want the house or should I go see a realtor?”

“Tell them to get somebody younger,” Juliet said.

“There ain’t nobody younger. There ain’t nobody else in town who ever saw a working paper mill, much less worked in one. It’s settled. I’ve told the state department I’d go, and I’m going. The only thing you’ve got to decide is whether you want the house or not.”

“The state department can’t make you go,” Juliet said.

“They ain’t making me.”

“Then why are you going, Dad?”

“It pays well, it’s something to do, and it will keep me from being stacked up like cordwood with a mess of other unwanted old geezers who are just waiting to die.”

“Vernon, you aren’t unwanted and the nursing home isn’t like that. They don’t stack people up like cordwood.”

“Juliet, just you wait until nobody wants you around and your ungrateful kids want to stick you in one.

“I ain’t going to do it. Somebody not only wants me, they actually need me, or at least they need what I’ve got tucked away in here.” Vernon tapped the side of his head. “I’ve got a job. It pays more than I’ve ever made in my life. I’d be crazy not to go.”

Finland Early Winter of 1636,37 KymiRiver Mill Works

Kristiina, Countess Anna Marketta Bielke’s personal confidant and business manager, watched along with Vernon and Aappo, one of Vernon’s three understudies, as the mill girls packaged the first run of market quality typing paper to come through the belt driven shears.

“That’s it,” Kristiina said with a smile, “paper, suitable for printing books, or running through a typewriter. What the count had in mind when he decided his wife was interested in a paper mill. We will have something besides wrapping paper and brown bags to ship as soon as the weather breaks.”

The old man had been right. He said Grantville would buy the brown paper. They had a contract with a distributor in Grantville for an ongoing delivery schedule of wrapping paper and the brown paper bags.

But this was what the count envisioned. Printing quality white paper would be their bread-and-butter product line.

“Sorry it’s taken so long,” Vernon said.

“Vernon, it’s only been six months. Our business plan allowed a full year for start up after the construction was done and we budgeted for two years. You’re way ahead of schedule.”

“Do we run the irregular rolls of white paper back through the pulp tanks?” Kristiina asked. Once the chemists got the color pale enough to call it white, they still had a struggle getting the desired weight and finish. There were almost as many rolls of white paper that weren’t suitable for printing as there were of brown.

“No,” Vernon said. “I had Carlo design the bag shop to be reconfigured to make a waxed paper. It won’t be as good as what we had up-time but it will be as good as the handmade stuff they’re selling in Grantville these days and it will be a lot cheaper, so you will have a good mark up. You’ll need a boat load of paraffin from Wietze as soon as you can get it though ’cause you’ll run out of brown paper for the bag line before mill number two is up and ready to cut its teeth on more brown paper.

“I’ll see the second mill up and the waxed paper line running come spring and then head home when the summer weather gets here. I ain’t going through another passage like I had getting here.”

“Mr. McCabe, you were caught in an unseasonably early storm,” Aappo said. “It is usually safe to take a boat in the spring and the fall. Not that you’re not welcome to stay as long as you are willing to. You’ve told us you’ve taught us everything you know; but then something else goes wrong and you’ve got the answer and it’s something you never mentioned.”

“Yes, Vernon,” Kristiina said. “What would it take to get you to stay at least another year? Would a raise do it?”

“Now that is something to think about,” Vernon said.

Kymi Mill Complex Late winter 1636/37, Brown Paper Bag shop

“Psss, Kaari, the old foreigner is coming this way.” Leena whispered.

Kaari smiled. The old man was kind and friendly; he liked to tell jokes. A lot of the time they were only funny because he mangled them when he told them in Finnish. Kaari laughed even when she didn’t get them. Word was that the bag line was his idea. So she and her mother wouldn’t have a job if he hadn’t been here. Working on the bag line wasn’t hard or heavy, but it was tedious and boring. The paper soaked the oils out of her hands and left them rough. Her shoulders and neck were always stiff at the end of the day. But working the bag line was definitely better than going hungry.

“Keeri?” Vernon asked, by way of a greeting. “How is the line running? Are there any problems?”

“Every thing is fine, Herr McCabe.”

“Call me Vernon. Do you know why the man threw a clock out the window?”

Kaari shook her head no.

“He wanted to see time fly!” Vernon laughed. Kaari laughed too, while wondering why anyone would be so foolish as to throw something as expensive as a clock out of a window. True, foreigners were rich. But surely no one was that rich. The old man worked his way around the line, stopping to chat when he knew someone by name.

Back in the main office, Aappo—speaking in German since that was the language they had in common—asked him, “How was the bag line running?”

“Fine,” Vernon said.

“Did you talk to Kaari’s mother?”

“Yes.”

“Did you ask her?”

“No.”

“Vernon, you’ve got to do it sometime?”

“Aappo, this isn’t like going out to dinner and a movie. I spoke to her. Let me get acquainted. You don’t just blurt something like that out.”

“Are you sure you don’t want someone else to ask for you? Kristiina will if you ask her to.”

“No, I’ll ask her. But let me work up to it.”

****

On the walk home after work Kaari’s mother said, “The old stranger stops to talk with you every time he comes into the bag shop. Did he tell you the joke about the idiot who threw a clock out the window?”

“Yes, Äiti.”

“I saw you laughing. Can you explain why being so wasteful is funny?”

“No. Äiti, I can’t. But he laughed, so I laughed.”

“Well, strangers should be strange I suppose. But if he can afford to throw a clock out the window he must be very rich. Do, you have any idea why he always stops to talk with you?”

“No, Äiti, I don’t. I guess it’s because I am nearest the door he comes through.”

“One of the women, on my end if the line, heard he is thinking of staying. If he does, she said, he wants to build a house and get married.”

“At his age?” Kaari laughed. “That’s silly.”

“He has no family, Kaari. Maybe he doesn’t want to die alone. You could do a lot worse than marrying a rich stranger.”

“Äiti, don’t be silly. He’s old enough to be my father.”

“Child, he’s old enough to be your grandfather, which is beside the point. Or it is the point. If he marries you, you would shortly be a rich widow. If he can afford to throw clocks away, you would be a very rich widow indeed.”

“That is ridiculous,” Kaari said.

“I thought so too. But today he stopped and talked to me. He called me as ‘Äiti.'”

“Äiti, half the girls on the line call you Äiti.”

“Yes, because I am old enough to be their mother. In his case, I am young enough to be his daughter. The women on my end of the line talked it over after he left. The others think it is the old stranger’s way of announcing that he is interested in becoming my son-in-law.”

“That is the most ridiculous thing I ever heard of!”

“Think about it, Kaari. If he gets married, he will build a house. You would have a widow’s rights. Would it be such a hard thing to be a rich widow?”

Kaari shuddered. The idea of sleeping with someone that old sucked the warmth right out of her.

Two weeks later

Psssst. Kaari, here he comes.” Leena’s whispered words from the other side of the bag line were free of any lightness or mirth.

Karri knew from Leena’s tone the “he” she was referring too was the old foreigner. The same words, with a different inflection, would mean Aappo was coming and would have caused Kaari to smile and glance about while her heart raced. Kaari concentrated on her work and fervently prayed, “Please, Lord. Please don’t let him stop.”

Kaari glanced at her mother who was working on the front end of the paper bag line. She saw her mother smiling and shuddered. Äiti liked it when the old man stopped.

****

“You be nice to him,” Äiti told her repeatedly. “There is nothing wrong with being a rich young widow. And at his age you will be a widow very shortly.”

“But, Äiti, we both have jobs, now. We aren’t going hungry or cold. I don’t need to be in a hurry to get married.”

“You just want to wait for that young Aappo to get established. I’ve seen how you look at him and how he looks at you. Don’t be a fool, girl. Five years from now, when he can afford to get married, what makes you think he will marry you? He is going to want someone with a dowry. Right now, he’s too young, and a young man only wants one thing. What he wants now and what he wants five years from now are two different things. You watch yourself around that boy.

“Yes, we both have jobs. Thanks to the new countess. Yes, we’re saving a little money. But a job that came out of nowhere can go away just a quickly. These paper bags are a new thing. What if people decide they’re not good enough and won’t buy them? You know cloth is better.”

“But paper is cheaper, Äiti.”

“If it won’t do the job, then it is a waste of money. If people won’t buy them, then we are out of work. Your father and his goat herd are dead and gone child. We have nothing to go back to; yes, there is a little money under the hearth. But, if one of us gets sick, it can be gone in a moment. You listen to me. You be nice to that old man when he’s being nice to you!”

“But he’s nice to you too!”

“Child, he calls me Äiti just like you do. That proves it. He’s just being nice to the mother because he’s interested in the daughter.”

“Maybe he thinks it’s your name.”

“That is just plain foolish. You be nice to the old man. Do you hear me girl. And stay away from that boy Aappo.”

****

Kaari saw her mother smile. She knew her mother’s eyes would not leave her for more than a fraction of a second until the old man moved on. Working the bag line without looking was no real problem after the first month or so. Kaari’s Äiti, Hanna, worked the front end of the line. She wrapped a piece of brown paper around a light wooden box and glued it into a squared tube. A quick glance to get the glue on right and the rest could be done by feel.

After the tube was set, the box went through an oven to dry the glue. Then it came out to the middle of the line where the box was set on its end, the paper was slid up the right height, and the bottom of the bag was folded and glued before it went back in the oven to dry. When it came out of the oven the second time the third line took the bags off the boxes, folded them flat and stacked them for shipping. Then the naked boxes made the loop back to the front end of the first line.

The rolls of brown paper being used to make bags were an accident of development. They came off the paper-making machine while the old foreigner got the process working correctly. Eventually, what the old man called “typing paper,” suitable for printing books, started rolling off the machine. The bag shop was something to do with the rolls and rolls of brown paper and a way of providing employment. It was simple work, if repetitive. It paid well enough to get by and once your hand roughened up and you got used to doing the same thing over and over again, it wasn’t a bad job.

“Good afternoon, Kaari. Are you having a good day?” Vernon asked.

“Yes, Mr. McCabe,” she replied without looking up.

“Any trouble with the conveyer belt today?”

“No, Mr. McCabe.”

“Well, have a good day then.”

“Yes, Mr. McCabe.”

The old man moved on and Kaari breathed a sigh of relief. Later she saw him chatting and laughing with her mother and chills ran down her spine.

****

As they walked home after work, a very excited Hanna said, “We have a lot to do when we get home. The house must be spotless.” The two of them were living in one of the dozens of log cabins built in the shadow of the paper mill to house the laborers in the new mill complex. Each cluster of four one-room apartments had a shared central room with a water spigot and flush toilets. Each apartment had a cast iron cooking stove and there were heat runs keeping the floors in the cabins warm in the winter and the lane running to the mills free of snow.

“Mr. McCabe asked if he could stop by the house tonight to discuss something important. He is going to ask for your hand. I’m sure of it.”

“Please, Äiti, I don’t want to marry an old man.”

“Yes, I know. You want to marry a boy. He is no more than a child,” Hanna said with a voice full of scorn. “We’ve been over that several times. It is not a decision you can make. Older, wiser people who are thinking with their heads and not with . . . ” She paused. ” . . . some other part of their body, know what is best. In the long run, you will thank me.”

“But I have a job. I don’t have to get married.”

“Kaari, have you noticed that they are running out of brown paper? Do you see them making any more? What will happen to the bag line when the paper is gone? Be sensible, girl. Mr. McCabe is coming to ask for your hand. I will say yes and you will smile. What do you want to do? Spend all of our savings on new goats and go back to going hungry and cold and freezing all day while watching them in the fields?”

“That is what we planned to do when we first came here, Äiti.”

“Yes, but this is better.”

“But, Äiti, I . . . “

Hanna cut her daughter off. “Enough. I have decided! Do you hear me? This is how it is going to be.”

“Yes, Äiti.”

****

In anticipation of the day, having researched Vernon McCabe’s preferences, Hanna opened the expensive coffee and sugar she bought at the company store. When the old American arrived, sugar cookies were just coming out of the oven and coffee was perking on top of the stove in the borrowed coffee pot. The floor was swept, every flat surface wiped down, and everything that could be put away was.

There was a knock on the door. Hanna brushed her clean white apron and opened it. Oddly, there were two men at the door instead of one.

“I will see you later, Vernon,” Aappo said, and departed.

“Äiti Hanna, may I come in?”

“Certainly, Mr. McCabe,” she said with a smile for Vernon, a glaring glance at the departing young Aappo and a second glance to the largish package tucked under Vernon’s arm. “Let me take your coat, and please have a seat at the table. May I get you a cup of coffee or can I offer you something else?”

“Coffee will be fine, thank you.” Vernon looked around, “Where is Kaari?” Vernon asked.

“She is at the neighbors. Important things are to be discussed.”

“Oh, yes, they are and I need to talk to her,” Vernon said.

A puzzled Hanna opened the door to the common bathroom and called out, “Kaari?” A second of the four doors into the common room opened.

“Yes, Äiti?”

“Come. Mr. McCabe is asking for you.”

When she was back in the room she shared with her mother Vernon said, “Kaari, you look lovely as always. But, why are you looking sad? Here, this is for you.” Vernon slid the parcel across the table. “I think it will warm you up.”

Inside was the heavy wool coat with a linen lining she had been looking at in the company store. It was expensive and Kaari hadn’t even mentioned it to Hanna. Their old fur coats would do just fine. It was a grand gift indeed, something she wanted and would never have bought for herself. But the look on her face reflected only anxiety.

“Kaari, there is something I wish to ask you. I am thinking of not going back to Grantville. If I stay here I will want to build a house and get married,” Kaari’s sad face looked even sadder. “With that in mind, I was wondering what you would think about my marrying your mother?”

The room was absolutely quiet. You could have heard a pin thinking about dropping. The loudest noise in the room was the perking coffee which competed with the mill noises in the distance. Kaari and her mother were both on the verge of fainting, one from relief and the other from shock. In the lingering silence, Vernon was beginning to think he had made a big mistake, that he had read all of the signs wrong and that they were going to say no.

Finally, in happy shock and surprise, wanting confirmation that she had indeed heard what she thought she had heard, Kaari asked, “You don’t want to marry me?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, girl. I’m old enough to be your grandfather. I’ll be robbing the cradle if I marry your mother, if she says yes, when I get around to asking. But, I won’t even ask if you don’t approve. After all, you might not want a stepfather, or you might not like the idea of her marrying an older man.

“Besides everyone knows you’ve been making eyes at Aappo and he’s so in love with you his tongue is practically hanging out.”

“No,” Hanna said, “Aappo is too young to get married.”

“Nonsense,” Vernon said. “He’s years older than I was when I got married to Melvina, may she rest in peace.”

“He is not established. He cannot afford a wife.”

“This is a marriage we’re talking about. It’s not like he’s wanting to buy a cow or something.”

“No. It is not a good idea, I do not approve.” Hanna said firmly.

“Well, that is something we had better talk about, because if I marry you,” Vernon said just as firmly, “I’ll have something to say about it and I think it’s a great idea. He’s got a good job with good prospects. She’s got a job. They wouldn’t have any trouble making ends meet.”

Hanna shook her head and asked, “But how much longer will she have a job? They are running out of brown paper.”

“Yeah, we’ll be making more, but right now we can sell all the typing paper we can make. Besides, outside of Grantville bag sales are slow taking off. So, when we run out of brown paper for bags we’ll turn the bag shop into a wax paper line. We built the drying ovens with that in mind. The bag shop will stay busy until we run out of white seconds. By then, we’ll have the second paper machine up and we’ll do another run of brown paper.

“As for being established, I’m going to build a big house with lots of rooms, the kids are welcome to one of them . . . shoot, I’ll build them a suite. Then you can look after your grandchildren when they come along if Kaari wants to keep working, and I can watch the little ones play when I’m too old to work. When you get too old to look after yourself you can move into the suite, they can have the house and you can have some privacy if you want it.”

“We thought you were going to ask to marry Kaari,” Hanna said, still trying to deal with the blow to her schemes and dreams. “It would be a good match.”

“And how long before she’s a widow? Are you wanting to put me in an early grave? Besides, Aappo would never forgive me. Kaari would never forgive me. My late wife would never forgive me. My son back in Grantville would never forgive me. I’m not sure he will anyway, but what difference does that make? His wife would die of embarrassment if I gave her a stepmother who is younger than she is. It’s bad enough to have one her own age. They’re going to think I’m nuts just for getting married at all. But they’re a long way off and they don’t have a thing to say about it anyway.”

The conversation was not going the way he thought it would. He had really thought she would have said yes to the question, even if he didn’t directly ask it. “But that is another conversation for another day.” Turning back to Kaari he asked, “What about it? Is it okay with you if I want to marry your mother?”

Kaari actually squealed, she threw her arms around Vernon and hugged him. “I think it would be a wonderful idea.”

Vernon looked at Hanna, “I think we need to give your mother some time to think about it.”

“B-b-but, in th-in the shop,” Hanna stuttered slowly, “you called me ‘Äiti.'”

“That’s your name, isn’t it? Äiti Hanna?” Vernon asked. “That’s what all the girls on the line call you.”

“No, Mr. McCabe,” Kaari explained. “‘Äiti’ means mother. She’s older than almost everyone else, they heard me calling her Äiti so they did too. But you’re older than she is, so when you called her that she thought it was your American way of saying you wanted to be her son-in-law.”

“Ohhhh,” was all Vernon said. Again, the silence lingered. At last, Vernon said, “Well, I’ve asked what I came to ask, I’ll be on my way. You talk it over with your ma—” Vernon briefly paused and chuckled. “Your Äiti, and see if you can’t get her to warm up to the idea.” Vernon left without having had a cup of coffee or a single cookie.

When he was gone, Kaari looked at her pale-faced mother. “It’s different when it’s you who will have to learn English and try and figure out all of his odd ways, and warm his cold feet on a long winter’s night, especially when you think of having to look after an old man until he dies, isn’t it?”

Her mother stared silently in shocked comprehension at the door Vernon had closed behind him.

Aappo was waiting out of sight, in the cold. As soon as Vernon turned the corner he asked, “Well, how did it go?”

“Not as well as I had hoped. Aappo, are you sure this is a good idea?”

“What happened?”

“You were right. Kaari liked the coat, and she liked the idea of me marrying her mother. Ait-I mean Hanna . . . she didn’t say no, but then she didn’t speak up and say yes either. So I didn’t push it by actually asking.

“I don’t know, Aappo. Are you sure this is going to work?”

“Don’t worry, Vernon. It will work out. Give her a little time. She will say yes. All the reasons she had for it being good match for Kaari are just as good for her, and Kaari isn’t about to let her forget a single one of them,” Aappo insisted. “She isn’t going to let you slip through her family’s fingers now that she doesn’t have to marry you herself. Give them a while, you’ll see, she’ll come around.”

Vernon was sure he heard a hint of desperation in Aappo’s voice.

Kymi Mill complex early spring 1637

Vernon was looking over the floor plan of the house he wanted to start building as soon as weather allowed.

“Vernon,” a stern voice said in his head. “That won’t work.”

“Why not?” Vernon answered.

Then he thought, “Melvina? But, you’re dead?

Then he demanded, “Where the hell have you been for the last four months?”

“Vernon!” the voice chided. Then, “Watch your mouth, you old coot! Surely you didn’t expect me to hang around while you courted and married another woman? That wouldn’t have been fair to me, it wouldn’t have been fair to her, and besides there was no way you were going to get her to say yes once she figured out you spent all of your time talking to your first wife.”

“Well, if you feel that way about it what are you doing here?”

“Because, Vernon, you’re making a big mess of things and I’m tired of watching you screw up,” Melvina answered inside his head. “It’s not like I went anywhere. I’ve been here all along. Shoot, you old coot, you know I ain’t nothin’ but your alter ego.

“Now, take your pencil and mark out the stairs. Well go on, do it!

“Now go all the way to the left and put them back in. No Vernon, not there, put them on the outside . . . yes, like that. Okay, now draw the same floor plan to the left of that so you have a duplex with a common stairs.”

“I don’t want to be a landlord.”

“You aren’t going to. That’s for Aappo and Kaari and their kids.”

Vernon pointed to the two room suite with a separate bath and kitchenette, in the old plans.

“That won’t do Vernon. Those kids’ll need more space than that.”

“But, Melvina, by the time they need it, I’ll be gone and Hanna can move into the apartment. Then they can have the rest of the house.”

He indicated the new plans, “That’s going to cost a lot more money and . . . “

“Vernon McCabe, don’t be such a skinflint. You’ve got the money, spend some of it.”

“Well, I won’t need this then.” Vernon said as he started to cross out the second bath and kitchenette.

“Yes, you will. The housekeeper deserves a bit of privacy.”

“Housekeeper? Who said anything about a housekeeper?”

“You listen to me, Vernon McCabe. You can’t expect Hanna to take care of a baby and do the house work.”

“Kaari can take care of her own babies.”

“I’m not talking about Kaari’s. I’m talking about yours.”

Mine?”

“Yes, Vernon, yours. Hanna’s been sick every morning for the last week and a half. What did you think it was? Morning flu?”

“You never needed any help when you got pregnant.”

“Vernon,” the voice was stern and scolding, “I was a barefoot, dirt poor, dumb hillbilly teenager who thought she could live on love. I wasn’t forty-two years old. Besides, if we had had the money, you had better believe we would have had a maid, and a cook and a yardman.”

“A yardman?”

“Vernon, this is Finland, remember? It snows here. It snows here a lot. You hated shoveling snow when we lived in Michigan, and that wasn’t a patch on what they get here. Who do you think is going to shovel it? You certainly aren’t, not if you want to live long enough to hear Hanna’s baby say ‘Daddy’ for the first time.

“So you just push that attic roof up another four feet and add some dormers for the help and you’ll need a bathroom up there and another kitchenette.”

“Is all that really necessary? A yardman?”

“Yes, it is. Vernon, look out the window. You aren’t a poor dumb hillbilly in West Virginia anymore. You’re gentry now and here the gentry all have live-in help.”

“Hanna hasn’t said anything about it.”

“Of course not, Vernon. She’s got this dumb idea that you are the man of the house and she’s waiting for you to hire a maid or, better yet, tell her to hire a maid. And Vernon, I’ve got to tell you, the poor woman is bound to be wondering what’s wrong with you that you haven’t seen to it yet.”

“Are you sure about that?” Vernon asked.

“Of course I’m sure about it. Look at the countess. Look at Kristiina. For that matter, look at the Rainaldis. They all have staff.”

“The countess is filthy rich and she’s a noble.”

“Kristiina isn’t rich and you aren’t going to claim the Rainaldis are nobles. You’re gentry here, Vernon McCabe. You married Hanna, so that makes her gentry and you don’t ask a lady of quality to clean her own toilets. Not in this day and age. Not in any day and age.”

“You always did!” Vernon said, setting his mind to get stubborn.

“Vernon, grow up. Listen to me. You might as well do it now. She’s going to need help with a kid at her age. Besides, when you put in a for a land grant from the king of Sweden so you can open an acid-free, parchment-quality, paper plant you need to look like we’re quality folks who will know what to do with the land and the people. You need to look like you’re part of the upper-crust and you will have to have a staff to do that.”

“Put in for a land grant? Are you sure they do that? Why would I want one, even if they do?”

“Vernon, you’re an idiot. You’re pushing eighty and when you’re gone all Hanna is going to have is what you’ve managed to save up.”

“Well, she’s got a good job on the bag line and . . . “

“That’s another thing, Vernon, it’s past time you told her to quit. You can’t have your wife working on the line, especially when she’s pregnant. I know you were figuring she’d keep working for a living after you’re gone or that with what you’ve saved up, and since she’d own the house, she could mooch off of Kaari and Aappo as a live-in babysitter, but that was before you got her knocked up.”

“Are you sure she’s . . . “

“Yes, Vernon, I’m sure. So are you; so quit asking. And quit changing the subject. I’m telling you, the only thing you’ve got left is the parchment process. Well, it’s worth a fortune and you know it. They got the paper mill out of your head for nothing or next to it. You’ve either got to open your own plant or get the countess to give you a slice of the next one. And a whole loaf is better than half a loaf.”

“But why would the king give me a land grant?”

“Why wouldn’t he, if you ask? He’s got enough sense to know a good thing when it shits gold in his pocket. Between plywood and paper, Kymi is going to be a real asset. Anyone can see that. He owns half of Finland. He can let the land sit idle or he can give you a thousand acres of raw forest and in a year or two, start collecting the taxes off of another paper mill.

“You just have to let them know that’s the price for the next process. They’ve seen what you can do. They know what you’re worth. All you have to do is ask.”

“Melvina? I don’t know about this. Are you sure this is a good idea?”

“Of course you don’t know, Vernon. That’s why I’m here. Like I said, you were about to mess up big time.”

“Are you sure this is going to work?”

“Listen to me, Vernon McCabe. If you present yourself like genteel quality, they will treat you like genteel quality. If you want them to think you’re worth the bother of being given a land grant, you’re going to have to look the part and that means building an impressive house.

“Now quit talking to yourself, you old coot, and finish up that drawing like I told you to so that Rainaldi boy can draw the plans up for you before the weather breaks and he gets himself back off to Magdeburg.”

Vernon picked up a clean sheet of paper. “Okay, Melvina. I’ll do it your way; a big duplex with room for staff on the third floor. But there’s one thing I want to know.”

“Don’t worry about it, Vernon,” the voice of his wife of fifty years said in the back of his mind. “I ain’t going to talk to you every day. But I’m not going to sit here and let you make a mess of things without saying something, either.”

****