“All the ladies at coffee thought I was crazy. They couldn’t believe I was doing this.”
“This” is talking with me. Faye is bustling around the brightly lit kitchen on this Sunday afternoon of spring forward – the annual trade-off of a precious hour of sleep for another hour of sunlight. She was up literally at the crack of dawn baking rolls for a big church breakfast – which today is actually an hour before the crack of dawn. She’s got roast cooking in one crockpot and potatoes in another, and she’s helping me follow the “crazy cake” recipe from her church cookbook. We’re baking it in my America cake pan; it’s the featured dessert at tonight’s supper.
“Rosalie was going to call me at three and make sure I was okay.”
I look at the clock. It’s past three. “Did you call her?”
“No! ‘Cause I told her that Christine [her daughter-in-law] was coming over, Danny is here, the kids are coming for supper. Don’t worry about me. I said I would worry more being her!” She chuckles. “Her” means me.
There’s an abundance of positive energy, Midwestern pragmatism and good humor packed into Faye’s petite 5’2” frame. You just feel good being around her. She’s got a lightning-fast wit, and you know that nothing gets by her. She’s sharp as a tack and funny to boot.
“Was Dan on board with talking to me, or did you have to talk him into it?”
“Oh, heavens, he thought it was a good idea.” She nods to her husband of fifty years, sitting at the kitchen table. “He trusts everybody. You get in this town, and you just do.”
“We don’t trust people like we used to,” Dan remarks. “But the world makes it that way, you know? How do we change it?”
“I think it’s too late. The drugs and that stuff are taking over the world,” Faye sighs.
Dan looks out the big kitchen windows at the light brown grass dotted with patches of white snow. “The way the world is today, just seems like … you look at poverty, a lot of that comes from the usage of drugs, ‘cause they need money for that. And the good old American doesn’t work like he used to work anymore.”
Let me tell you, if there’s one thing I’m sure about Dan, Faye and the family members I met, it’s that they are Workers. Dan has farmed his entire 75 years, and when Faye wasn’t busy raising five children, on top of tending to chores, she worked in a factory. She retired a couple years ago after 25 years. Steve and Chris, their two oldest sons, now run the farm, but Dan still meets them there every day. Steve and his family have lived there after Dan and Faye moved two miles away, into “town,” a small Iowa enclave of fewer than 400 residents. This is a family with a deep sense of responsibility toward each other, their church and their community. They don’t spend much time with their feet up.
“America’s still a good country to live in, but I think we’re not as good a country as what we have been,” Dan continues. “I’ll sit here and read the papers, and as you get older, you kinda slow down and think things out a bit. On TV – ‘course I’m not a TV person, she mighta told you that already – I think TV should only work for news, weather and sports.” He winks at me. “Nightline is a good program … they spruce it up to make it interesting. Faye likes to watch Hallmark. It always ends up nice, you know?”
I do know. I like happy endings tied up in nice little bows too.
Faye weighs in from the counter behind Dan. “I bought that Nebraska show, ‘cause I thought it would be so great. And I was very disappointed in it. Vulgar! The mother [character] was supposed to be a slut. She talked dirty. She ruined it.” She shakes her head, clearly concerned about the quality of Best Picture Oscar nominees these days.
“We’ve seen two movies together,” Faye tells me.
“Did you ever see the movie Grumpy Old Men?” Dan nimbly picks up Faye’s ball and runs with it, a move perfected over 50 years and repeated throughout our visit. I shake my head no. He gives me a big grin. “Ahh, hell. You gotta go see that.”
“And Smokey and the Bandit.” Faye chimes in.
Those are the two movies they’ve seen in the theater.
“I’d rather go to a dance and dance,” Dan explains. “But now we’re getting too old for that. We like the polkas and waltzes yet, you know. With the younger generation, it’s the wild stuff – but I try and do that when we dance. When we have weddings and stuff.
“I remember the first time I danced with a girl,” he says with a glint in his eyes. “I was a freshman and we danced the polka. And the girl’s livin’ yet today, but the poor woman, she can hardly get around. We still talk about that when I bump into her. She lives down in the neighboring town.”
He gets back to the topic at hand. “I get very frustrated, and then you lose confidence in your government. It’s sad that I should even say that – you got people in how many countries, they don’t have the freedom to vote, you know. So okay, you don’t really like the way your country is run, then why don’t you run for senator or representative, see what you can do? You almost get to the point of, ‘If I’m a real good person and really concerned about my country, if I get in there, how long am I gonna last? In order to get along with the other guys?’” He is visibly frustrated. “Sooner or later the politics gets into it and just takes over. It’s sad.”
“You know, it’s still a great place to be. We’ve done some traveling now that we’re older, and it’s always good to be back.” Faye plays the role of diplomat a lot, I think.
“We still have a lot of freedom,” Dan agrees.
“Where have you traveled?” I ask them.
“We went to Brazil; we went to Australia and New Zealand,” Dan muses. “We went to Hawaii with a group when we were younger, you know. We did go to Vegas one time – I said everybody’s gotta go there one time just to see how the other side of the world lives.” He smiles. “I don’t care to go back, you know.”
They both light up at the prospect of going back to Alaska, one of their favorite trips.
“Ask him if he’ll ever take me on a cruise,” Faye winks at me. Dan hates the water. I know this because we talked about family vacations to Lake Okoboji when the kids were small. Dan would drive back to the farm, about an hour away, twice a day, to do chores and feed the livestock. Twice a day. On “vacation.” Which didn’t bother him because he didn’t care to spend any time on the lake anyway. (Workers.)
“What if that is her all-time favorite thing to do?” I ask Dan, trying to plead Faye’s case.
“We’re not in the box yet, so maybe it could happen.” Dan grins. Faye whoops, audibly amused.
Faye spots her friend Rosalie outside, casually walking near 923 Oak, likely checking up on things since Faye neglected to call at the designated hour. Faye chuckles. “I’m going to invite her in to meet you,” she says to me, walking outside. I excuse myself to use the restroom, and when I come out, Rosilie is standing with Faye at the kitchen island, admiring our America cake that just came out of the oven. She is also petite, blonde and looks decades younger than her 76 years.
I walk over to her and smile. “Hi!”
“How are ya?” She surveys me with a smile.
“It’s nice to meet you.” I say. “I’m not an axe murderer!”
“I didn’t know what you were!” Rosalie laughs. We hug. This is a town of huggers, and I’m digging it.
“You’re a brave person to do what you’re doing.” Dan looks at me, and I feel a warm sense of paternal pride. “‘Cause you are exposing yourself to most anything possible. But yet I know you’ll get through it. But you know what? It’ll be a hell of a book, you know.”