From the Relief Society Magazine, March 1958 –
Wee Pine Knot
By Edna H. Day
Margaret Davenport stooped to retrieve the morning paper from the front steps where the boy had flung it, and carried it into the kitchen.
Jim was finishing the last of his hot cakes. It would soon be time for him to leave for the law office where he worked and hoped someday to be a partner.
“Want to see it for a minute?’ she asked. “You have time.”
Jim looked at the headlines, turned to the sports for a brief perusal, and then glanced quickly at the ever-growing columns of Houses for Sale. It had become a game with them, a just-for-fun morning diversion.
:Listen to this one,” he said, turning the paper inside-out and folding it so he could see it more easily. then he read a new one, beginning, For Sale, by Owner. “Sounds like a honey.” He glanced expectantly at Margaret, who was clearing the table and stacking the dishes in the sink. “Has a dishwasher, too.”
“And a counter-top stove, and a wall-oven, and all the latest gadgets. Let’s buy it.” She always played the game, but lately her tone had been a bit wishful.
The home which they were buying was a remodeled older house. It was adequate for their present needs, she supposed, but it was anything but glamorous. Not like Jack’s and Phil’s, certainly, nor Bob’s and jean’s new split-level, nor the ranch-type beauty which Jim’s boss had just built in the exclusive Lloyd Park addition.
“I’m afraid we made a mistake when we bought an old house, Mrs. davenport,” he said, “but it looks as though we’re stuck with it.” This, too, was a part of the game.
“See you tonight,” he said, as he drew her close and planted a kiss on her soft lips. Jim could still thrill her with his parting embrace six years after their honeymoon. He never gave her a quick peck directed somewhere near her mouth in the preoccupied fashion of some husbands. His parting caress was always the same sweet ceremony it had been in the beginning.
“Bye, daddy,” chorused the four-year-old twins, Jane and Jamie, standing, pajama-clad, in the door of their room.
“See you,” Jim called, as he dashed for the bus, just rounding the corner.
“Come get your breakfast, you two,” Margaret called. “And then out to your sandbox. I have to wash.” She couldn’t help thinking how nice it would be to toss the clothes into an automatic washer and go on with her work. Drying clothes in the lovely old back yard wasn’t too bad in the summer, but a drier, too, would be a mighty handy appliance in the wintertime.
Margaret gathered clean sheets from the cupboard in the hall. Its shelves were unhandy, and the knobs were old-fashioned. She contrasted it with the plain beauty of the ones in the Long’s new place which had doors concealed in the lovely wood paneling.
She carried two pairs of sheets into the children’s room and proceeded to make their twin beds. It won’t be long, she thought, until another bedroom will be a must.
Her washing out of the way, Margaret cleaned the bright living room. It was pleasant and comfortable, but she couldn’t help thinking that wall-to-wall carpeting would be much easier to clean than the rug surrounded by polished floor, and she had always wanted a fireplace.
I’ve really got off to a bad start. I suppose we should stop our silly game, she thought ruefully. Both of us are beginning to look at this place with a jaundiced eye. Determinedly she put extravagant thoughts out of her mind for the remainder of the day.
“Come, get ready for dinner,” Margaret called to Jamie and Jane, playing int heir plastic wading pool. “Daddy will be here any minute now.”
But when Jim came he was not alone. “Met Dell as I was leaving the office, and we decided to take a look at our place and see what he thinks he could sell it for. Not that we want to sell it, dell understands that,” he added somewhat sheepishly, “but it’s nice to know how much it is worth if we ever did want to sell it.”
While dinner became cold, she and Dell and Jim toured the place. Nice yard, good location, Dell agreed, but these old houses were a pain-in-the-neck when it came to selling them, unless, of course you could find someone who preferred that sort of place. Certainly it wouldn’t ever increase in value with all the new building going on in town. Dell drove off, while the Davenports fed their hungry little ones and put them to bed, and then ate their belated meal.
“It’s a good thing our vacation starts Monday,” Jim said, as they prepared for bed. “Window shopping for houses is getting beyond a joke.”
Margaret agreed that they were playing with fire, but it had been fun. She had had a long day, and was soon asleep, but Jim lay staring at the moon as it peered at him through the branches of the huge old elm outside the window. If they should ever move, he surely would miss that old tree. But it would be great to have a rumpus room with a fireplace, and a terrace for summer entertaining, if a fellow could afford to entertain when he had a terrace.
The phone rang early the next morning. it was Dell. “How about looking at a place or two I have listed, and how would tonight suit you?” he wanted to know. “Won’t cost you a cent to look,” he urged.
“Want to?” Jim asked Margaret, who was setting the table.
“Want to what?”
“Want to go with Dell to see a couple of new listings he just acquired?”
Margaret’s black eyes sparkled. She loved to look at new houses. “What can we lose?” she said.
She was fairly bubbling when they returned home. “I didn’t want to rave about the split-level house in front of Dell, but wasn’t it wonderful? If I had built it myself I couldn’t have been more pleased. Not too big, and yet plenty of room. It’s the only split-level I’ve ever fallen in love with. Only seven steps down to the playroom, only five up to the bath and three bedrooms. Kitchen, living room, dinette, utility room, and bath on the main floor; walled terrace, partly beamed and partly covered for rain or shine, fireplace in both the living room and play room. Did you ever see a play room with an outside entrance before, Jim?”
“I haven’t seen a lot of features that house has. I surely like it, too! Built up on that little knoll, overlooking the houses below, it was perfect!”
“Darling, do you think we could consider buying it?”
“’Fraid not, honey,” Jim said. “We can hardly keep our heads above water now. Even if we could sell this place right away, which Dell doubts, the price of the split-level is three times what this one cost, and our equity would scarcely cover the down payment. But we’ll do some figuring if you want to.”
A few nights later Dell called to ask if he might bring a retired couple to see their place. It seemed to be just what his customers wanted.
“Oh, but Dell,” Margaret said, in panic, “we really didn’t list our place. We don’t know yet if we want to sell.”
“Well, I don’t want to stampede you into anything. Think it over.”
The phone rang again. This time it was Bob inviting them over to have charcoal fried hamburgers with him and Phil. “Sorry it isn’t steak,” bob said, “but we’ve forgotten what a sirloin tastes like since we saddled ourselves with this darn house. We didn’t know when we were well off. if you want to learn thirty ways to cook hamburger, just buy yourself one of these new homes and you’ll …”
“Whoa! Whoa!” interrupted Jim, “that’s just what we have been thinking we might do.”
“Well, don’t – take it from me. How soon can you come over?”
“Can’t make it tonight, Bob. We have to get ready for our vacation in the morning.”
“Vacation! What’s that? It’s been so long since we had one that I didn’t know they existed any more.” Bob sounded bitter.
Jim’s face was sober as he hung up the phone.
Eleven o’clock came before Jim and Margaret finished loading the car. “Surely wish we had a new station wagon,” Jim said, “even if we are leaving the twins with mother, this car is bulging.”
“I know, but it’s cold in the pines, and heavy clothes are a must. And we have to take our camp outfit. We may not be able to find a cabin. We should have made reservations.”
No Vacancy read the sign on the office of the lodge where they had planned to stay.
“Wouldn’t you know it?” Margaret was tired after their long drive, and the thought of camping out had lost its charm.
“I’ll ask if there might be a cancellation later.” Jim’s long legs were slightly cramped as he pulled them out from under the wheel.
“Looks like we’re in luck, after all.” He emerged from the office, jangling a bunch of keys. “No cabin, but an old couple just listed a private home for rent. no electric lights, but there’s a gas lantern. No water in the house, but there’s a pump in the yard.”
“Nope. Tub in the shed.”
Margaret groaned. “Oh, well, I bathed in one when I was a kid.”
“All babies do,” said Jim.
“Not as a baby. Teenager. You forget I never learned city ways until I went to college.”
Jim laughed. This vacation was going to be fun!
“Oh! How adorable!” Margaret exclaimed as she caught sight of the little cabin set in the midst of an area of more pretentious summer cottages. All were constructed of peeled and varnished logs, but their cabin looked like a terrier among mastiffs.
Wee Pine Knot, she read the name, which had been cut out of wood in block letters and glued to a green board. “And doesn’t it look like one, nestling there among those tall lodge pines? I know I’m going to love it.”
The stoop was covered with a piece of carpet, to keep the deep black loam from tracking into the cabin, and as the door swung open Margaret tried to see everything at once. The walls were rough-hewn, the small windows were curtained, the floor was covered with a print linoleum. A couch, spread with a patchwork quilt, stood at the side of the room. A wood-burning heater occupied one corner, and a round table and several chairs were in another, while behind the door was a steel cot which could be made into a double bed.
“Cabin sleeps eight,” the man said. “Take your choice of the accommodations, lady.” He seized her and whirled her around the room. “But where …?” then Jim caught sight of the ladder leaning against the wall, and the loft made of logs overhead. Eager to explore, they scurried up the ladder and found two more double cots. A tanned deer-hide rug lay on the floor.
The kitchen contained a range, a bench for the water bucket, and a basin, an old-fashioned kitchen cabinet, a homemade pine table, more chairs, and an old-fashioned ice box. Everything shone from much polishing.
“Look at the old chopping knife for making salad.” Margaret touched the sharp edges with her finger. “I haven’t seen one of those since grandma discarded hers when we bought a food chopper for her.”
“Let’s unpack.” Jim caught her hand and pulled her along. “if you know anything about gasoline lanterns, you know we’d better get settled before dark.”
Fishing, hiking, bird-watching, boating, the ten days passed on fleeting wings. Once they went dining and dancing at the resort hotel nearby, and one afternoon when it rained they stayed in the cabin and read Shakespeare from one of the books on the well-stocked shelf.
“Only four days more,” Jim said. “If you’ll give me a list, I’ll drive down to the store and get a few things to last us until we leave.”
He had just driven out of the yard when Margaret was astonished to see a little old woman coming down the path to the door. They hadn’t had a single caller during their entire stay.
The visitor smiled as Margaret opened the screen to admit her. “I hope I’m not intruding. My name is Sarah Wakley. I came to get my old friends, here.” She waved her hand at the books on the shelf. “My daughter told me I had better not leave them in a rented cabin; some lazy tenants might make a fire with them some cold night. however, I see that they have been in good hands.”
“Thank you,” Margaret said, simply. “We have enjoyed living in your lovely summer home.”
“Oh, this isn’t our summer home. We live here the year around. It’s the only home my husband and I have.”
“You live here in the winter?” marveled Margaret. “Isn’t it cold?”
“Yes, indeed, twenty below zero, and sometimes the snow piles up to the window ledges. However, the road is always plowed out; we have a post office here, and the highway goes through to Wyoming. It isn’t a palace, but we are content. That’s why we call it ‘Wee Pine Knot.’”
“How stupid of me!” Margaret exclaimed. “‘Wee Pine Knot’ also means ‘We Pine not.’ What a delightful pun!”
Mrs. Wakley chuckled. “They say a pun is the lowest form of humor, but they also say that Shakespeare was the soul of wit, and he was a punster.”
“We feel very lucky to have had the privilege of renting your home, Mrs. Wakley.”
“You are the first to occupy it. We haven’t rented it before, but my husband had to have an operation for cataracts on his eyes. He’s in the hospital now. He built the cabin or we couldn’t have had it, but he hasn’t been able to work for a year or so. Fortunately, we had money sufficient for our needs until this operation came up.”
“Money sufficient for our needs” – that phrase seemed to ring a bell in Margaret’s memory, but she couldn’t for the life of her remember where she had heard it before.
“We will be going home in a few days now,” Margaret said. “I hate to leave this delightful place.”
“Where is home?”
“We live at 152 Jackson Street in Fall River.”
Mrs. Wakley gave a startled gasp. “That was our old home,” she said. “We lost it during the depression. We had a home that would have done for us very well, but we wanted something better. We would have made it, too, if all the breaks had come our way. We learned that most people can’t expect all the breaks, and should never spread themselves too thin. We also learned to want what we have, even if we did have to learn the hard way.”
“I’m terribly sorry,” Margaret said. “I feel like an interloper.”
“Not at all. The house has been sold several times since we had to give it up. We knew better, really. Our Church had cautioned all its people to get out of debt and stay out, but we wouldn’t listen. People must learn for themselves, it seems.”
“Yes, so it seems,” Margaret agreed.
Jim returned from the store and met their charming guest. He urged her to permit them to take the books to town for her, since she had come on the bus and it would be hard for her to get them home. “That way, we won’t lose track of you,” he said, with his friendly smile.
Four days later, they pulled into the driveway of their own home. “Surely good to be here,” Jim said, as he unlocked the door, walked to the refrigerator, and took out a bottle of pop. “Will there be time for me to get a bath, with honest-to-goodness hot water out of a tap before we pick up the kids?”
“Go ahead. I want one, too. Surely is good to be home, is right.”
As Margaret started to the basement to get some meat and vegetables for dinner out of the deep freeze, the telephone rang sharply. Jim answered, and Margaret paused to hear who could be calling them the minute they arrived.
“This is Dell. I wondered if you were home. How was the trip?”
“Wonderful,” Jim said, and waited.
“Say, how about bringing that couple over to see your place? They’re still interested in it.”
“Okay,” said Jim, “in a year or two. This place never looked so good to me in all my life.”
Margaret smiled as she went on to the basement, for she guessed who was calling.
Jim unloaded the car while she started supper. Then they were ready to go for the twins. Surely would be good to see them, they agreed, as they reached the door. Then Jim shut it again, drew her into his arms and said, “how about making this our ‘Wee Pine Knot’ home until we can be pretty sure of being able to pay for a better one and still go on vacations?”
Margaret’s kiss was answer enough.