Book Excerpt From:
The Dance Hall ‘The End Of A Hundred Year Waltz’
“Finding something to do is harder than actually doing something,” Edward tells Betty plopping himself down in a chair.
“How can you be bored?” Betty asks him while working around the kitchen in their old two-story farm house, “I can think of a million things to do.” The winter months have been wearing long for Edward, but there are finally hints to spring in the air.
“The high temperatures for the day are getting higher and there’s more daylight hours now at least,” he tells her.
“I already heard the weather report,” she tells him, trying to get on with her work.
“Maybe we should discuss selling the farm,” he mentions.
“I thought we already did that,” she tells him, keeping busy.
“I know we did. I just wanna make certain that’s what we want to do.”
Betty replies, “Matthew’s asthma is so bad in the summer months, staying on the farm isn’t really an option. I think we should try and find a buyer for it and sell it. I thought we already agreed on that.”
“I suppose then,” Edward agrees, neither disappointed nor happy, thinking about his son, and leaving the farm he’s grown to love. “I’ll get it listed with a realtor right away. I suppose we have to.”
After rejecting low offers they receive from their neighbors, one year later they get an offer they think they can live with.
“Do we accept it then?” Edward asks Betty, trusting her judgement.
“It’s the best offer we’ve gotten so far,” she admits. “I think we should,” she tells him deliberately and purposely, knowing it’s a major decision they’ll both have to live with.
In the spring of 1973 a family purchases the 80 acre farm and old two-story farm house. “Their family’s as nearly as large as ours,” Betty tells Edward smiling, watching the people walk around, looking over the house.
“I see that. I was thinking, with the money we get from selling the farm, we should build a new house on that property just down the road, on the lake,” Edward suggests, “where the old house burnt down.”
“I thought we were going to move to town? What about Mathews asthma?” Betty asks him, confused by her husbands suggestion.
“His asthma is better. He’ll be okay. The doctors say it’s getting better.
I think we should build a four-bedroom, two bathroom rambler, so everyone has plenty of room,” he tells her.
Built on the same land and near the same sight that their former home burnt down on, nearly fourteen years ago.
“First, we need to have an auction to sell off all the farm equipment. The tractors, plows, combines, hay balers and other tools we’ve accumulated over the years running the place,” Edward tells her.
“You better get it going then,” she tells him.
Auction notices are hung all over the nearest towns and advertised in the paper. A mass of interested farmers, in hats with the names of seed corn and bean producers etched on the front, come to the auction. Some buyers and some just curious onlookers, park their farm trucks along side of the road nearly a quarter mile in each direction off the driveway.
The auctioneer, a tall lanky man in a cowboy hat, rambles off quick numbers and prices, “who’ll bid a hundred dollars for this wagon? Gimmie a hundred, gimmie a hundred, who’ll gimmie a hundred?”…. “How about these fence posts? Lets start the bidding off at fifty dollars. Who’ll give me fifty… fiddy fiddty fiddy dollars.” Bidders raise their number marked on a card, high in the air for the auctioneer to see. “Sold! For fifty dollars.”
There are people everywhere, walking around, looking over the things Edward has placed around the yard for sale, and with the nice weather it lasts all afternoon.
With the sale of the farm finalized and the auction over with and until construction of the new home is finished, Edward and Betty decide to rent a place nearby. A newer three-bedroom farmhouse that’s not far from where they were living, and not far from where they lived when they were living with grandma and grandpa.
Betty and Edward have five of their ten children left at home to uproot and move. The rented home is nice. It has running water, hot water, and a working bathroom. A clear step up from the old farmhouse they just sold without any indoor plumbing.
With mixed feelings, moving day arrives for them. “You start packing up the smaller and lighter things, and me and Harold and the rest of the guys will move the furniture,” Edward tells Betty with conviction in his voice.
Out goes the old brown couch, and matching easy chair.
“Just throw that out on the burn pile,” Betty tells them, with a sour look on her face.
“I need you girls to box up everything. Everything,” she tells Carol and Theresa, whose come out to help. “Be careful with anything made of glass. Wrap them in paper so they don’t break,” she adds.
The men are soon carrying out the dressers and bed frames. “We’ll load the dressers up on the trucks without the drawers in them, but if you want something out of the drawers take them out now, or otherwise we’ll just take them and haul them out with whatever’s in them,” Harold tells his mother.
“Just take them. But be careful everything inside of them doesn’t drop out all over,” she tells him.
“I’ll be careful,” Harold assures her.
For three days the family works from early morning into the evening emptying the house, as another crew in the rented house sets things up. Just before dark, the last few boxes get taken out. “Well, that’s it,” Edward tells them, “that’s the last of it.”
“I suppose everyone’s pretty tired,” Edward asks everyone.”
“It’s been a long three days,” they all agree.
Stopping at the land the new house will be built on, Edward and Betty talk.
“In our thirty plus years together, Edward, I put up with your drinking and chasing, and had your children,” Betty wants to talk seriously to Edward.
“Are you mad about something?” He asks her, genuinely.
“I’m not mad. I’m just reminding you.” She looks at him, trying to convey her feelings “Our beginnings were about as humble as it gets. We were nearly penniless, moving from place to place, living with your parents after the house fire. Buying the farm with its eighty acres and farm house was a good idea.”
“What are you getting at?” he asks her.
She continues talking. “We raised ten kids, one with bad asthma. He just about died a couple of times after he was born. We’ve been through a lot. I’ve been through a lot.”
“What are you getting at?” He asks her again.
“You starting to drink again and breaking your promise.”
“Don’t worry about it. We’re building a new home for us and our family.”
“I do worry about it. I worry about it all the time,” she tells him. ‘Surviving life, in general, is maybe the least a person can do,’ Betty thinks.
Life has tested Betty many times over the years, and just surviving is all she can sometimes even hope for. Her struggles with her kids and her husband, make even just surviving a plateau she can aim for. What’s uncanny, Is the grace and humility she gleans out of it, and comes away with in the end, in spite of Edward, or maybe because of him.
Betty turns away from him and walks towards the plot of land where the new house is going to be built, leaving Edward alone on the hillside. He stands alone on the hillside, looking around, envisioning moments from times before the old house burned down. Moments when his oldest kids were small and he was young. Not long after he returned from the service in the Army, from World War II, and the Philippines and Okinawa, Japan.
‘What a dreadful time in my life that was,’ he thinks about the war.
‘I feel like I’ve come full circle. Coming back here to live, back where I started. It’s like a new beginning and it feels right. I’m fifty-two,’ he thinks shaking his head from side to side, his age troubling him, as he looks around at the lake and vast areas of open space and farmland all around him.