Chapter 15 Water, Whiskey & War


Agnes took yet another sip of wine. “So you found your way up the mountain after you got home from California and your bus was parked in a new place and Susan was there waiting for you. That was after the movie at the Hotel Universe or before. I’m confused. You told me about overhauling the bus and the wreck and coming home to no bus. Then you told me about the movie and now we’re back to the bus?”

“So here is the rest of the story about the bus, you were wondering earlier,” I told Agnes.

“So there’s more.”

“Oh yes. And there’s more than just the bus and Susan and the woods. But it’s the core of my next couple of years. Anyway, now I’m living in the bus at Roland’s place in the woods when I’m not off trucking. Roland had taken me in as a charity case after the motorcycle accident the year before. I had been working as a mechanic at the truck dealer in town but while I was away recuperating, the shop burned to the ground.”

“Ouch!” said Agnes. “Things just went from bad to worse.”

“Yeah, it kinda did.”

Roland’s place was 40 acres of rented pasture toward the top of a mountain where it began to flatten out. There were small lakes and ponds off to the east. Alder trees had long since encroached on the pastures. Most were 25 years old and about a foot in diameter. The landlord was happy to have us cut the trees to reclaim the pasture.

The house was post-and-beam construction built mostly of old-growth cedar about the turn of the century. It still had it’s original, hand-split shake roof. The siding was 12-inch, hand-split cedar boards about 12 feet long, spanning the posts. The roof was cedar poles for both rafters and purlins. In summer you could look at the roof from underneath and see daylight streaming towards the attic floor. It never leaked a drop. There was a wide porch that ran along the long south side. There were several wooden boxes filled with kindling and split wood for the cook stove. Tall, narrow windows offered good light, installed in a day before electric lights. The sashes opened bottom and top for ventilation and had four mullions each with panes of glass that had started to droop. All the cedar had weathered to a silver color, tinged with green moss in the shady spots. It was impossibly picturesque.

There was a small pasture west of the house and a wagon road leading up into the woods along the creek. It was on that road that Roland first wanted me to park the bus; completely out of sight of the house. That was fine except it was very dark even in winter with the leaves off. After a while I convinced him to let me park in the pasture in sight of the house.

By summer ’76, a year after we met, my relationship with Susan had grown into something approaching a romance. It was a bit of on again, off again as Susan got a job in late spring on a tug towing to Southeast Alaska and I’d found a trucking job hauling hay out of Montana. But we managed to see each other for days at a time when she was in port. Sometimes just before leaving town I’d drop the trailer at the truck scale a couple miles from her house and park the tractor around the block from the Hotel Universe. We’d go to the 4700 or maybe the Moon then spend the night together. I might not see her again for weeks. She sent me letters from tiny towns in Southeast Alaska I’d never heard of, “Thinking of you in the yellow bus in the green woods.” Her’s was a pretty regular run and she was in port about every 10 days. Susan loved Roland’s place with the bus in the pasture. She came out from the city whenever she could.

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