The Tower

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Chapter 3

Bacon sizzled on the griddle. I turned it over, letting the smell of if waft up into my face. I loved the smell of bacon. We didn’t get to eat it often, but after last night’s victory, Mom had thought it would be a nice treat.

I quickly checked the biscuits in the oven. They still had a few minutes to go, so I turned my attention back to the bacon, and began moving finished pieces over to the serving plate. I doubted if anybody would miss one piece, so I picked one up, and had just taken a bite when Mom walked in with Jenny.

“You’re incorrigible.” She chided and brought the basket of eggs over to the stove where I was cooking. “No sneaking before breakfast.” She was chastising me, but there was a smile on her face. She snatched the remainder of the piece of bacon from my hand and popped it in her mouth.

“How do you want your eggs?” I asked as I removed the tray of biscuits from the oven. My eyes looked over at the rest of the bacon. Before my hands were free to grab another piece, Mom carried it over to the table where Jenny was setting out silverware. She looked up at me and smiled, oblivious of what I had heard from the soldiers the night before.

“Scrambled.” They both said in unison.

With breakfast on the table, we all sat down. Mom led us in prayer and we began to eat.

“I’m so happy for you.” She beamed. Usually, I would have eaten this attention up, but I couldn’t get away from what was eating me up inside.

“It was really Ed that won it for us.” I stuffed a biscuit in my mouth, trying to avoid being asked any more questions.

“Not the contest, silly.” She took my hand. “Jenny told me about the baby!”

“Oh, right.” My mouth was still half full, so I was able to get away with the short answer.

“And congratulations on the contest,” she continued, “I’m sure the prize money will help.”

“It will help. I’m sure we’ll make do somehow.” I felt guilty for that little barb, even though nobody had noticed it but me. I thought I was going to explode.

Jenny must have sensed that something was wrong, because she didn’t try to engage me in conversation. My excuse of falling asleep with a book for not having gone to bed the night before was pretty thin, and I’m pretty sure that she knew something was bothering me.

Ed was right, though. If I wasn’t going to leave her, then telling her would likely cause more problems than it solved. I had resolved not to tell her I knew. But how could I not tell her? My mind wrestled with the fact that not telling her was dishonest, but then again, she hadn’t told me, so we already had trust issues whether or not I told her. I didn’t see how I could stay with her after what felt like the worst betrayal, but I couldn’t leave my wife and unborn son to fend for themselves either. This was going to drive me crazy.

Escape was the only option, and as I cleared my plate I made a decision to get out of there as quickly as possible. I needed to clear my head. I needed to get some perspective on things.

“I’ve got to go into work.” I announced

“But it’s Saturday.” Mom protested.

“I can’t help it. A few of the heifers seemed listless this morning, and I’m worried it might be milk fever.” I was appalled at how easily the lie escaped my lips. “And if I want to stay in line for the promotion, I need to be the guy who’s always willing to be there.”

I took my plate to the sink and washed it. There was no need to spend too much time on it or to rinse it, because Mom always re-washed everything I did. I wasn’t the best dishwasher when I still lived at home. I wiped my hands dry on my shirt. Normally this would have raised an objection from Jenny, but she said nothing. I kissed mom on the cheek and headed out the door.

It was a pretty brisk morning. Not that unusual for early November, but I could tell that this was going to be another cold winter. I buttoned my jacket and started for the farm. The sound of a door closing behind me filled me with dread, and I knew Jenny was there before she spoke.

“What’s going on, Rock?” I turned to face her. She hadn’t bothered to put her coat on, and her cheeks were already starting to gain a rosy color.

“Nothing’s wrong. I just have a lot on my mind.” I hoped it would end there, but I knew with Jenny that that would not be the case. She let out a sigh that became a visible cloud in the cold morning air.

“Don’t tell me it’s nothing. I know you well enough that I can tell when you’re hiding something.”

That makes one of us. I was so angry and hurt at that moment, I knew that if I spoke the results would be disastrous.

“Jenny, I’ve got to get to work.” I needed to tell her something. Had to get out of there before I let something slip.

“There’s nothing going on at work. We talked with the Duchesnes last night, and if it was milk fever, they would have mentioned something.”

“Milk fever comes on fast,” again, I was surprised at how easily the lies rolled from tongue when I wanted them to, “You know that.”

She still looked doubtful. Maybe I wasn’t as good of a liar as I worried I was.

“I saw William early this morning. He was worried about a few heifers, and I promised I would stop in and check on them.”

“Are you sure that’s all?” Her cheeks were now bright pink.

“Honey, I’m just trying to make sure I get the promotion. I have a lot on my mind with the baby.” At this point my biggest worry with the baby was whether or not it was really mine. In one night of stewing over what I had heard, the story in my head had grown into the stuff of legends. “Now get inside before you catch cold.” I placed a small peck on her cheek and turned to go to the farm.

“I love you.” I heard her say behind me as I walked. I coughed, pretending I hadn’t heard, and continued walking.

There was nobody in the hay barn, so I milled around for a few minutes, taking a quick visual inventory of stock. We had more than enough to get us through the winter. The heifers were in the next barn over. I figured I would check on them and then head over to Ed’s house to get myself centered again before going back home to Jenny.

“Who’s down there?” Jeff and Andy’s father, William appeared at the loft railing. His office was in the loft, and he always seemed to be there. “Rock, what brings you here on a Saturday?”

“Just seeing if there’s anything that needs done, sir. We’ve all been kind of busy with the harvest festival, so I thought I’d get a head start on getting caught up.” He waved for me to come up.

“That was a hell of a job you guys did last night.” He sat down at his desk. “Jeff and Andy were none too pleased, but well done.”

“Thank you, sir.” He motioned for me to sit down. “But it was really more Ed than me.”

“Well, that’s true.” He chuckled. “I was sure when you dropped that bale that my boys had it. Impressive.”

I smiled. It was good to hear compliments from Duchesne. He didn’t give them out that freely, so if you ever got one, you knew he meant it. With all of the other thoughts weighing on my mind, I decided that I could use a bit of good news, and that now was as good a time as it would ever be to ask Duchesne about a promotion.

“Mr. Duchesne, I’ve been working at this farm for ten years.” I hated the way I had started. I wished I could go back and start over, but life doesn’t do that for you. You have to keep pushing forward. “I think I’m a good worker.”

“You’re a great worker, Rock.” I could tell that he knew where this was going. He didn’t interrupt me, neither to stop me nor to make it easier for me.

“A year ago, when the feed manager’s position opened up, I wasn’t chosen, but you told me to keep working hard and something else would come along.” It was now or never. I couldn’t stop there. “Sir, the dairy manager position is opening up, and I want it.” I was actually pretty pleased with the way I had ended it.

Duchesne didn’t like long, drawn out explanations. If you ever made a mistake on his farm, the best thing to do what to tell him what mistake you had made, not why you had made it and how it wasn’t really your fault. If you wanted something, it was best just to say what you wanted up front.

Duchesne looked at me for a moment, thinking. “No.”

“No?” I was devastated. “But you just said I was a great worker.”

“You are, Rock.” He looked up at me. There was a kind strength about his face that I had always admired. But at that moment, I wished there had been less resolve in those eyes. I could tell before he continued that the answer was going to stay no. “But I can’t give you the dairy manager position.”

“But, sir, I-

“Rock, you really are a great worker. You always give a hundred percent, and you do what you’re supposed to without having to be told or reminded, but you’re not management material.”

“Why not?” I wondered if the problem was more in my last name than anything else. It was no surprise or secret that every one of William Duchesne’s sons was in a management position. “I know more about the dairy operations of this farm than anyone.”

“You know the work side of it, Rock, but not the business side. A good manager would be able to use the expertise of a worker to get the job done, but there isn’t anybody turn to when you have a business side issue. Decisions have to be made - sometimes hard decisions.” His face seemed genuinely sympathetic, making it difficult for me to be angry with him, but I was angry, I needed to be, I deserved to be.

“When my mother sold you our farm, you promised her that I would become a manager someday.”

“Hold on there, Rock.” He put his hands up in protest. “I don’t know how your mother explained the situation to you, but I never made a promise like that.” He sighed. “I told her I’d bring you along, show you the ropes, but I never promised management.”

I stood there, silently wondering if there was anything I could do to change his mind, but I knew that he would not. Duchesne was not a man who was swayed easily, and I didn’t have anything logical with which to counter his argument.

“You have the potential. I see it in you, but you’re a worker, not a businessman. In order to keep a farm running well, you have to be both. Your father was both. He was a great farmer. Your mother, not so much. She was too close to the workers, had trouble giving orders, and couldn’t make the tough decisions. You’re a lot more like your mother than your father.”

“My father also drank himself to death,” I added, dryly, “and left my mother to raise me and run a farm with no experience or help.”

“I don’t pretend to know what went on at home. And only God and your father know what happened out there that night. But your father was a good farmer, a great businessman, and a respected member of the community. And if you ever hope to be promoted beyond your current station, you need to be more like him.”

“In what way?” I loved my father, but I didn’t see my mother as having been a bad role model. She took over the farm after his death, made sure all of the workers always got paid on time, and did the best she could. She just didn’t have farming in her blood the way Dad had.

“You need to show that you think about the business side of things. You need to know the difference between taking a chance and taking a risk. Prove to me that you’re ready and willing to be a man of action, and I’ll promote you, Rock.”

All in all, I guess it could have gone worse. A nagging part of my mind still held on to the thought that had my last name been Duchesne instead of Haversham that things would have been different. I nodded.

“Well, as long as you’re here,” He picked up a slip of paper from his desk, “I need somebody to deliver milk to the army base. Up for it?”

“Yes, sir.” I wasn’t about to say no after just having asked for a promotion. I hoped showing him that I wouldn’t take his rejection personally and just focus on the job would show him that I was ready.

He tossed me the keys to the milk truck. We had all been taught how to drive, but I had only driven it twice since then, and both of those were within the boundaries of the farm. But he wanted me to show initiative, so I left without another word.

Posters lined the walls of the military office, promising young men between the ages of 18 and 25 the life they could have if they joined the army. As if to accentuate the point, the ornate decorations gave a feeling of wealth. The smell of leather from the officer’s chair, the mahogany desk, they all promised a life better than the one I had. Too bad I’m over twenty-five, I thought. Right now even the military seems better than this life.

The captain was signing the form for the milk truck and noticed me looking at the posters.

“Thinking of signing up?” he asked.

“I think I missed the deadline.” I pointed to the age requirement on the poster.

“Well, you’re in pretty good shape.” He said, “You could probably get a waiver.” He had switched into his recruiting mode without the slightest pause.

“No. I don’t think I’m cut out for the military.” My eyes wandered over to the next poster. It was the same poster that had been on display at the harvest festival the night before.

“Too late to sign up for the climb?” I asked.

This time, he didn’t shift immediately into sales mode.

“Are you kidding?”

“No.”

I wasn’t kidding, either. At that moment, I was dead serious. I don’t really know what I was thinking. Part of me saw it as a chance at citizenship, part of me saw it as a means to provide for the baby on the way. But to be honest, there was a part of me that saw this as a way to stick it to everyone that I felt had slighted me. In hindsight, that was pretty juvenile. I’m pretty sure that every teenage boy has said ’They’ll miss me when I’m gone.’ to himself once or twice, but I was not a teenage boy. I was twenty eight, married, and had a baby on the way.

“There are still openings if you’re serious.”

He was back into sales mode. He walked me through the awards first - what I would get just by signing up. Then he proceeded to tell me the bonuses that were received by reaching certain floors. Finally, and he spent the longest amount of time on this part, he told me what would happen WHEN I reached the top. I would be a citizen, with all of the money I had earned on the climb and the status of a hero to boot. He explained how most climbers (he conveniently left out the words ‘who survived’ here) went on to get high paying jobs or even became celebrities. And then he told the story of Scott Diedrich.

I had heard the story a thousand times. Everybody in Wisconsin knew the story of the only person from the state ever to have reached the top of the tower. While he droned on, I was imagining my winnings.

I wasn’t arrogant enough to think I would reach the top. To be honest, I didn’t much care at that moment. Providing a good life for Jenny, the baby and my mother while at the same time making everyone realize how sorry they were seemed reward enough. With the signup payment, the bonuses for the tenth, twentieth, and fiftieth floors, they would be comfortable for a long time.

“I’m in.”

The captain stared at me for a moment with disbelief.

He handed me a contract, reminding me that this was binding, and once I had signed up there was no turning back.

I signed it with no hesitation.

“Usually this takes a day or so to process, but I have to send the receipt for the milk into the central office anyway. Can you wait a few minutes?”

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