Because I want to tell the stories of this place, I listen as closely as I can, especially to the older people. And I try to remember what they said, how they said it, until I can write it down.
Today I got a surprise visit from Albert. He was a dairy farmer and for many years worked a second job at the college in housekeeping. In his retirement, after he sold his cows, he continued to clean houses with Mary, a housekeeper from the college who had struck out on her own. They also cleaned the retreat center where I work. In addition to his jobs with Mary, Albert also cleaned the Sales Barn, which is where they auction cattle every week in Albany.
A little over a year ago he had a stroke, and I hadn't seen him since. I thought of him often, and I missed hearing him talk. He has a thick Central Minnesota German accent, one of the few left. He has had a complete recovery, looks just like his old self, and told me he is still cleaning one house, just to keep seeing Mary once a week, and he still cleans at the Sales Barn. "Just got a 42 cent raise," he told me, laughing.
I asked about his wife's health, and he said she's up and down. She has been having trouble with her esophagus and had to have surgery. "For the surgery, they had to give her three pints of blood," he told me. "Then, about a week later, she was two pints low."
"She had internal bleeding?"I asked.
"Ya, and she was in pain. It was getting down in her stomach, so you wouldn't see where it was going. A week later she needed four more pints! They did another surgery then. You only have seven or eight pints in your whole body. My wife, she's a little thing, and she didn't have half her blood!
"So anyway, that did it, no more bleeding, but it was too tight then. She had to take these big pills, calcium. I'd cut the tablet in half, but it would still get stuck and she'd bring it up. Then she'd eat the cream of wheat or the soup I made for her; that was all she could eat. She was gettin' real depressed.
"I went back to the specialist and I said, 'Doc, do you think maybe you got it on there too tight? Nothing can get down the pipe. Maybe if you went back in and just sort of loosened it a bit to let more pass through, that might help.'
"Know what he says to me? He says, 'Well, that's a good idea. Let's try that.' The specialist! Why did I have to tell the specialist this? Then they do another procedure and they sort of stretch it, and there's no bleeding and that seems to work."
"How is she now?"
"Oh, it's been a week now and she's eating just great. She can eat everything and is putting weight back on."
"Al," I said. "You talk about your wife like she's a piece of machinery."
"You know, a pint low, like oil. And stretching, or loosening, like working on a pipe."
"You're right, it is like my machinery."
"That's why you knew better than the specialist. A lifetime fixing machinery."
He laughed at that one, but he had to agree.
We made plans, once this snow is gone, for me to come out and see his place-- he has 30 acres-- and he'll show me his tractors.