I came home from working an evening shift at the hospital and found a package from Mr. Greta on the dining room table. It was wrapped in brown paper and plastered with stamps. My children were in bed and Arnie was asleep on the sofa with a magazine on his chest and the television blaring.
As I turned off the television, Arnie mumbled in protest, “I’m watching that.” His eyes were closed when I looked at him. Slowly, he lapsed back into the long, slow breaths of deep sleep.
At the dining room table, I ripped open the package and found a set of Laura Ingalls Wilder books. I knew if Arnie had been awake, he would’ve been teasing me about my elderly boyfriend who liked sending gifts.
Pushing the torn wrapping paper aside, I examined them and wondered how despite loving to read, I had managed to reach adulthood without being familiar with them.
My correspondence and friendship with a man born 47 years before me, was hard to explain. I liked to think of our friendship as a divine gift. Although I seldom mentioned how stressful my life was to my elderly friend, the cares dissipated as we doled out bits and pieces of our lives to each other.
Mr. Greta loved remembering his happy childhood living in what was now my home and playing alongside the nearby river. He clearly adored his mother. My letters from him helped me look at the ‘big picture’ beyond the medical problems of my youngest daughter, my life as a full-time mother to both children, a full-time hospital employee, a full-time wife and housekeeper.
I deduced that Mr. Elton Greta had one brother. His mother took care of them and the homestead while his father, who sounded rough and unpleasant, worked in Marshfield. He came home only on the weekends. In those days, fording the river, then traveling six miles to Marshfield on foot would have taken a long time.
Mr. Greta told of a band of Indians living in a camp east of the house along a small creek that fed into the river. In the early years they would sometimes visit Elton’s mother to trade for things like flour and sugar. The river provided fish and attracted game for all.
Some of Mr. Greta’s memories were poignant. He once wrote of a summer evening where he was sitting on a swing under a large river-bank pine tree. The evening sun was golden, coming in slanted rays through trees west of their home. Dew was beginning to dampen the grass. In the summer kitchen, his Ma was frying potatoes for supper. Being hungry, the smell was like heaven.
The Greta Homestead held an auction on March 31st, 1913 before it was sold. I wondered, but never asked if the sale and move was because his father had died. Elton said the weather on the day of the auction was like summer.
After everyone had gone home, Elton’s mother put the money from the auction in a bag, tied it shut, opened the basement trap door and threw it into the basement. A shady looking person came by the house as they ate their evening meal. He asked where the money was from the auction. Elton’s Ma said she didn’t know. I thought, “How clever!” She didn’t see where it landed, so she truly didn’t know.
Through the years Elton worked many different jobs, but I was under the impression he worked the longest for National Cash Register (NCR). Margaret, his plump, but very dear wife had arthritis in her hands. He wrote that when she canned, he had to tighten the canning jar lids for her. I knew little about their grown children, but read often about the large lot where he raised fruit trees in his mid-western city.
Mr. Greta didn’t send many gifts to me, but the ones he did were memorable, like the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. He also sent me a large box of apricots from his trees. They were extra precious since I knew that few apricot blossoms survive our cold Mid-Western springs. Once, he sent me jars of fruit that he and Margaret had canned. But the gift he sent, that my grandchildren are totally in awe of, is the portable manual typewriter. They didn’t know that keyboards came before computers!