Friday, October 23, 2009

Death of a Tenant

We received "Norma's" obituary last month from our neighbor in Ohio. "Norma" was never actually our tenant. Our niece inherited the part of the farm where the old house stood.  Then again, maybe "Norma" wasn't really a tenant at all. Don't tenants usually pay rent?  "Norma" and "Ralph" were living in a decrepit old house down the road when Dad died in 1983.  After the funeral, they asked if they could move into the old farmhouse. "Until we get back on our feet" was the way "Ralph" put it.

Somehow they never managed to get back on their feet.  Maybe the loss of Ralph's foot to diabetes had something to do with it. Anyway, Ralph lived there--rent-free--for the rest of his life, probably ten or twelve years.  Norma continued to live there alone until 1999. The insurance company refused to renew the insurance, so our niece let the local fire company burn the house down as a training exercise in 2001.

Norma and Ralph  knew how to live off the land, even though it wasn't their land. Ralph gathered all the wild ginseng he could find and sold it to dealers. He also trapped a wild turkey and broke its wing, proudly explaining to my sister-in-law that he was using it as a decoy to lure other turkeys. My sister-in-law was furious. After she threatened to report him to the game warden, the turkey quietly disappeared. Ralph and Norma disingenuously asked my husband if he had made off with their turkey.  Before its disappearance, it guarded the place ferociously. When my husband once rolled down his car window to talk to Ralph, the turkey rushed up and pecked him on the arm.

Which brings me to Joey, who was first their dog and then ours. Joey actually lived with their son, Eddie, who had a mobile home across the pond. Eddie kept Joey tied up outside and threw dogfood on the ground when he thought of it. Eddie had a girlfriend in town, so he wasn't home much. One day he told Dad that he could no longer keep Joey and had taken him to the pound. Dad sprung him in the nick of time and he became our dog. When my husband went out to Ohio to plant trees, he'd take Joey along. On one of these visits, he stopped the car to talk to Ralph.  "There's my old pal!" Ralph boomed, reaching into the car to pet him. "Grrrrrrrr," said Joey, backing away.

During the eighties and nineties, no one in our family allowed deer hunting on the farm. We found out later, however, that Norma issued hunting "permits" behind our backs, collecting fees from all comers. My husband never knew about this until the game warden called him in Maryland to ask him if he wanted to press charges against a group of about 2 dozen hunters he caught trespassing on our land.  Norma was playing a risky game. One guy--a local legend-- refused to pay her fee.  When Norma told him he couldn't hunt, he cooly raised the barrel of the gun and pointed it straight at her.

Even after she moved into an assisted living facility, Norma continued to share ownership of the land with us in her own peculiar way. Our sister-in-law recently asked a group of strangers what they were doing on her land. They said, "Oh, Norma told us that we could hunt for mushrooms here."


Lena said...

Wow what characters they were. I bet you could fill a book with stories about them. You write so well!

Golden To Silver Val said...

Its amazing how some people scheme in order to make ends meet and survive. This couple seemed to have been quite adept at using other people's possessions to further their own needs. It will be interesting to read about them again if you can put some stories together. Thanks for this one.

Judy said...

Cynthia - checking in to see what is going on in Merlin. Can't believe this is a true story about these tenants who were truly astonishing survivors. Love from Judy (and Ed) out on the Illinois prairie where the ground is too hydrated for harvesting the corn and soybeans but the color of the trees has never been so vibrant. Our Gingko tree is at its peak. All the leaves will probably drop tomorrow.

Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

This is not related to your post, but for 1609, you could try Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I of England (he's the one who had his head chopped off).

Cheryl said...

I was going to write the same thing as Lena when I looked over and saw what she wrote. Then I looked at Val's. Yes, they were characters and schemers, and they did what they had to to survive. Sounds like a book to me too.

PS. I normally eat many bags of candy corn during this season. Just the thought of them brings on the craving.