With a broken-down oven, in a hotel kitchen, on an uninhabited island
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March 3, 1956
Only about half the number of people come to Ma’s funeral as to Dad’s. And Paul didn’t even bother to show up. I might have been madder if he did, anyways. At church Father Dietz didn’t have much to say about her. A woman’s life is not worth as much as a man’s, especially on a farm. And farm people learn not to expect much from the world so they are not much surprised when something bad happens. At the cemetery everyone seemed more interested in seeing how deep the frost line was in the hole where the casket goes down, even Uncle Fred and Uncle Arnie. That’s the way it goes around here, especially now that it’s almost spring. Their lives depend on what they put in and pull out of that frozen dirt.
March 7, 1956
I have been trying to clean the house and sort through Ma’s bundles. There is so much garbage. There is nothing here for me no more: 3 barn cats, 27 cows, a dozen grade heifers, and a bunch of machinery I don’t know how to run. Fred come by after the funeral and says he wants to rent some land and take over some of the herd. Fine with me. I remember once that Paul says to me that he could turn this place into a Garden of Eden. He don’t know what it takes. Me and him would of had a life of slavery. I hope he rots anyways.
March 10, 1956
Fred and Arnie come by early today and said they was going to take two dry cows to the butcher. One of them cows put up quite a fuss and landed in the manure pit. What a sight. It was like it was in quicksand. We tried using a plank for her to walk up, but she wouldn’t budge. She was almost up to her neck in manure. Finally Fred threw a rope around her neck and tried to pull her out with the Farmall. Her neck broke and she died right there. Arnie hauled her out and washed her off and then slit her throat. They went and took her to the butcher anyways. Seeing that cow in the manure pit reminded me too much of what my life is like.
March 13, 1956
I went to Sheboygan and met Grace at the Palladium for a show. She says she was real sorry about my ma. I told her how Paul didn’t show up. Then she says Paul told her to tell me he wants me to give him back the bracelet he gave me for an engagement present. Grace could tell I was burning up so she says, You tell him you smelted it down and bought yourself a enormous RCA television. No, I says, tell him I traded it in for a Buick. That will get him going.
March 18, 1956
I was still mad about the bracelet so I went out drinking with Grace and Lena. We got to a tavern by Cascade and Wayne and Will Hoetsch was there. There was good dancing and that Wayne bought me a cheeseburger. I was getting too drunk to dance and Wayne started dancing with Lena so I drove home. When I got there I started thinking about what a hell hole I am in. It was freezing because the stove had gone out. I started to make a big fire and then, I don’t know why, I started putting dishrags on the stove and some of the chair cushions and then I went outside and waited to see the whole house catch on fire. But nothing happened. Them dishrags was probably too damp. I wanted to go back to the tavern and see Wayne but I had dropped my purse that had my car keys in it somewheres outside so I started walking back to town. I took the shortcut through the woods. I must of been real drunk. I walked for what seemed a long time but I knew I hadn’t gotten very far. I tripped on a log and landed on the ground. My body was so heavy I couldn’t get back up. I laid there in the dark and I could hear my heart beat. I thought about that cow and Paul and how satisfied my ma was before she died and how all the blood and shit gets mixed together. It started to snow and I knew that if I didn’t get up I could die from the cold but I didn’t care. If I died Fred would come to my funeral and get right down on his hands and knees and measure the frost line in my casket hole. The snow was melting on my face and my skin was like metal. I felt small shadows moving on me and then I fell into a hard sleep that I couldn’t get out of. When I woke up the sun was very bright and there was new snow. I got up and walked home. I could see something on my coat. There was hairs all over it. Gray and red and brown animal hairs.
March 25, 1956
I have been sleeping in the toolshed. I can’t live in that house. It wears me down just to look inside. I took a walk today and left a gift of food near where them animals saved me.
March 27, 1956
I have moved into the toolshed. I don’t never want to go back in that house again. I got everything out of it that I will ever need.
March 31, 1956
I have been living in the toolshed since Sunday. Fred come by and brought me a nice potato and a pork chop. He says I can’t go on living in a toolshed. He thinks I should ask Grace if I can share her apartment and get a good job typing for a lawyer. He thinks I am beside myself with grief because of my parents passing and my being 30 years old and not married yet. He don’t know I don’t never even think about my parents passing. It’s a relief to have it all finally over. Ma was sick for so long and then she started to make them bundles. She would find a sock or a spoon or a page from a calendar and then wrap it all in waxpaper and tie it up with some baling twine. I would have to spend half the morning trying to find the missing can opener. It was starting to make me go batty. Then one day I finally seen what she was doing. She was just trying to make everything neat and clean so she could die and not worry about leaving a mess behind. That is what she really wanted so I let her bundle everything in sight. I even brought things down from the attic just so she could wrap them up. Pretty soon bundles was everywheres. The whole living room was full almost to the ceiling. I couldn’t stand it no more so one day I says, Ma! You did it! This is wonderful! Everything in the house is finally bundled! I am glad I did that. She seemed so proud of herself. After that she laid in bed and listened to the radio. She got in some peaceful days before she went. Arnie and Fred can think whatever they want. Maybe it’s good they think I am acting crazy out of grief. Then they won’t ask me to explain everything I do.
April 16, 1956
Every day I have been going to where the animals saved me. Finally today I seen the fox. He walked around in a circle and then left. Now I know I should move out in the woods.
May 2, 1956
The weather is getting warmer. I have taken apart the toolshed and dragged it board by board into the woods where I am going to put it back up again. It’s taking me longer than I thought it would. The nails are so tight.
May 10, 1956
It took me all week to hammer the shed back together. The roof was real hard. Two raccoons have been hanging around watching me. I gave them some of my jam sandwich.
June 4, 1956
I went to Mead Library and took out some Zane Grey books on Grace’s card. I plan to eat jam sandwiches and read for the rest of my life.
June 12, 1956
It’s been real hot. I am reading lots of books and sleeping in the afternoon. Different biographies are very interesting. People sure make a mess of their lives. It don’t seem many people end up the way they thought they would.
June 23, 1956
I get up early and eat breakfast in the field some days. There are a lot of rabbits out there. They come by every morning and sit until it gets too hot.
July 12, 1956
I am in a sour mood. I wasted the whole morning thinking about Paul.
July 30, 1956
I picked 10 quarts of raspberries the other day. I went into the house, but only in the basement to get some canning jars. Between me and the raccoons we are going through a pint of jam a day. I have spent today and yesterday making jam. I hope this batch will hold us for a while.
August 15, 1956
I went to see a movie with Grace and Lena at the theater on 8th Street. I love to look at them stars painted on the ceiling. Maybe I will paint some stars on the ceiling of the shed. Grace says Wayne asked her where I been all summer. I think Grace is wondering too. I says I been waiting for the lawyers and the insurance men to get done figuring out my inheritance so I can buy the Riess mansion. Lena’s eyes popped out 3 miles. Now I got them whispering in the washroom.
September 30, 1956
My hands got blisters on top of theirselves. I chopped 3 cords of deadfall for my cooking wood. Fred says I should move back into the house before it gets cold. I told him he could move in there and get away from Arnie for once and they could quit sniping at each other. He says he will think about it. I hope he does. I could use the rent money.
October 1, 1956
I have read 31 books so far. And 12 National Geographics. They are real good and the pictures are very interesting. I am glad that I don’t have to travel anywheres and meet people and try to speak their language. I have a hard enough time figuring out people I have known all my life.
October 12, 1956
It’s getting colder at night. The woods is beautiful with lots of colored leaves. I made two small pillows for them raccoons because I know they start their winter sleep soon. It will be lonely here without them all winter.
October 23, 1956
Sometimes I wish I could use instinct the way the animals do. I don’t know what I should do with my life. Some days I feel OK but I am still so tired. I don’t know how I ended up here. It’s not like anything really bad ever happened to me. It’s just that I got worn down like the way water can smooth down a stone over time.
November 2, 1956
I was in the shed this morning and I heard a goat bleating real loud outside so I run out and there is a 6-point whitetail buck with a arrow sticking out its back. I never knew a deer could make a sound even. I pulled out the arrow (it was only in a little ways) and put a bandage and some mercurochrome on it. The deer will be fine. It’s a good thing he knew where to come. I am going to have to keep some more first-aid supplies around here. I had completely forgot about hunting season.
November 5, 1956
Arnie and Fred are teed at me because I put up NO HUNTING signs everywheres. They says a lot of my dad’s friends and theirs have always hunted here. I says, Well if they are such good friends then how come they didn’t even show up at your sister’s funeral? They didn’t say much after that. I bet people have been asking them about me. I should put up a big sign on the road that says DORIS KOPPLEMAN IS RICH NOW. SHE LIVES IN THE RIESS MANSION AND HAS A ENORMOUS TELEVISION!
November 26, 1956
I am feeding 3 baby mice that are the size of jelly beans. The mother did not come back today. She probably became dinner for that loud owl I have been hearing. The mice are too small to even drink out of a doll’s bottle so I am letting them suck on strings dipped in milk. I run the strings out of a bowl and it works like a wick. It looks like I have a miniature Sinclair station in here.
November 28, 1956
I must be getting used to the cold. It was only 15 degrees last night but I didn’t feel cold. Maybe I’m getting fatter and that helps keep the heat in.
December 5, 1956
I tried on all my skirts and they all fit so I don’t think I am getting fatter. My legs and arms seem like they have more hairs on them. Maybe that’s why I don’t feel too cold.
December 12, 1956
I have been alone for so long now that I am wondering if I am going to forget how to talk. It seems hard for me to control my voice. It cracks all the time and goes eeeeeeeeeee if I say tea or bee or see. My vocal cords must be getting weak. I can’t decide if it would bother me if I lost my voice completely or not. It would make it easier if I never had to explain anything to anyone. Fred and Arnie say I should move back in the house before it gets any colder. I still don’t feel cold but I’m going to get them to haul out one of the wood stoves in case I start to.
December 19, 1956
I thought about Paul last night but it was for the last time.
January 1, 1957
This is a new year. I took some kerosene out to the ice on the pond and wrote GOODBYE 1956 and then lighted it on fire. I was going to write HELLO 1957 too but I run out of fuel so it says GOODBYE 1956 HELL. That was so funny I even laughed out loud till my stomach hurt. But it felt good, like I had suddenly taken a bath.
January 4, 1957
My legs are hairier than a man’s and my voice is almost all gone. I don’t know what I should do about it.
January 8, 1957
I am busy springing the traps by the river. Also I am taking any live animals that I find and bandaging their legs. I have saved a few this way but some are dead already. I have a small female otter with a bone coming out her paw. I am going to town with Fred this afternoon to get supplies. I am worried he knows what I am up to. I don’t want to have a argument with him because I want to go to the cafe and have a cheeseburger and a cup of coffee. Also the library is open from 1 to 3 and I can get a animal first-aid book.
I sang “Home on the Range” 6 times this morning to exercise my voice.
January 9, 1957
The animal first-aid book was not very helpful but I got some good supplies from Adams Pharmacy. This morning I found a dead possum in a trap so I took apart its leg and put it back together for practice before I operated on the otter. I put the otter’s bone back where it’s supposed to be and sewed up the skin. I made a splint with a twig and used some candle drippings to make a cast.
January 10, 1957
The otter is sleeping in a box by the stove. I keep wondering if she is breathing.
January 12, 1957
The otter is looking better today. She has been trying to peek over the top of her box.
January 13, 1957
The otter gnawed off the candle wax and part of the bandage. I had a real hard time trying to make a new one.
January 15, 1957
Never keep a otter in the house. They are as crazy as monkeys. The shed looks like a tornado hit it.
January 26, 1957
I let her go. It was time. I am going to miss having her around. She is the first thing I have really cared about in a long time.
January 28, 1957
The otter must of missed me too. She come by today and I made us some oatmeal with brown sugar. I was glad she come by.
February 1, 1957
There was a lot of snow last night. I am not feeling too good. My throat hurts.
February 3, 1957
I am feeling worse and worse. Either I am boiling hot or freezing cold.
February ?, 1957
I woke up today. I think I was asleep for a long time. But I am feeling a lot better. I remember being taken somewheres far away. It was night and everything was quiet and I could see fields from high up. I never felt so light. I traveled a long ways but when I got there I felt like I wanted to go back right away. I heard some odd rattling noises and that woke me up. The noise was the trees knocking ice off theirselves. I must of slept right through a ice storm. My door was stuck shut and I could see the trees was as sparkly as a chandelier. For the first time since fall I felt real cold so I made some tea from black-eyed Susan heads and melted snow. I put a fire in the stove and looked out the window all day. I felt like I was that girl in her house after it landed in Oz.
February 15, 1957
I was asleep for nine days.
February 16, 1957
I needed to get some things so I drove to Sheboygan and looked for Grace. I didn’t find her till almost dinner time and we was both starved so we went to Kneever’s and had a enormous supper. She has been going around with Will Hoetsch. He gave her a heart-shaped charm for her bracelet on Valentine’s Day. She wanted to go out dancing but I says I just got over being sick. I told her about my otter and she seemed impressed.
March 2, 1957
Arnie says he will rent the house from me. He says he will give me a little bit every month and make sure the house don’t fall apart. He’s going to put in central heat and rip out the woodwork and put up some nice paneling in the living room. That should really improve the house and at least make it more modern. Fred says that under the plaster is part of a log cabin. I believe it.
March 10, 1957
I ordered over 300 maple seedlings and 400 pine seedlings. I am going to plant the field between the woods and the house with them. That way the woods can grow. And when I have had enough I can move back in the house. I am in no hurry.
March 14, 1957
Today I seen two blackbirds swoop down and attack a sparrow. They pecked so hard they tore the wings right off it. Things go in and out of balance with people and animals all the time. It’s hard to know when to move forward or when to go back. The trick is to stay close to what feels right I guess. I lived with my ma and dad all my life but they never taught me as much about living as being in the woods has. There are things about me that I never realized was in me before. If I had decided to have a easier life I wouldn’t of learned as much as I have.
March 16, 1957
There has been so much rain I have tarps on the roof and on the floor of the shed. There is mud everywheres and my clothes and boots have black mold spots on them. Everything will have to be soaked in bleach and dried but the air is so damp nothing will dry in it.
March 20, 1957
I almost smacked right into Wayne Hoetch today coming out of Adams Pharmacy. My heart must of skipped a beat and I got all red in the face. He asked me if I wanted to go out with him and his brother and Grace next week and I says OK. He has got real problems with his herd he says. They got bad lungs and now 9 heifer calfs have died of pneumonia. I says to him, Wayne, I know I should mind my own business but cows don’t have bad lungs. They just can’t take all that barn air. Cows are meant to be out in pastures where they can breathe fresh air and if he would get them out of the barn they would do a heck of a lot better. I bet it works too. I wish sometimes I could act like a lady when I am around a man but that is a part of me that is missing.
March 25, 1957
I went out dancing with Grace and Will and Wayne. I had to borrow a dress from Grace because mine are all moldy. We had a good time and really cut up the floor. Wayne asked me if I miss farming. I think he is fishing around about me. It was real late when I drove home. There was so much fog alls I could see was the road and the mist in the headlights. That is pretty much how I have been living my life, not being able to see far enough but moving on ahead anyways. It sure is good I know where I am going or else I could of gone all the way to the edge of Wisconsin and not even known where I had been.
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