Knocking on Doors, Deleted Scenes

Deleted Scenes: As I enter the turn in the self-publishing process, I thought it might be fun to post some “deleted scenes.”  I hated to cut anything, but some just didn’t further the story quite enough. Here’s the first one, about one of my favorite feed customers.

It is true what they say about a salesperson and her customers — the relationship often becomes more personal than business.  My sales calls on the Williamson’s were that way.

CORA WILLIAMSON

Cora Williamson lived in a white farmhouse up on a hill set back from the section road about 300 yards.  She had a comfortable larger sized home, probably built in the 1930s, well cared for and clean. She shared it with her second husband. The barn and smaller outbuildings huddled around it were for the sows and baby pigs.

Her husband, who was many years her junior, was the decision-maker in theory, but Cora and I developed a friendship and bond that I still recall fondly.  My sales rounds were on a regular basis–in the feed business back in the day that meant four routes on a five-day basis–and I always looked forward to visiting with Cora.

I’d turn off the blacktop to their long uphill gravel drive, scanning the fields on either side looking for her husband. In the summer, Cora had a well-tended flower garden that greeted me as I walked up to the side door that lead to the kitchen.  Cora always invited me in, where we’d sit at her Formica and steel legged kitchen table, have coffee in her no-frills coffee mugs, and if her husband was there, the three of us would visit. I’d spend a few minutes talking feed, but most of the time feed would be the secondary topic. I felt a bit guilty that I was “wasting” time by chit-chatting, but looking back, it was this extra time with the customer that helped me maintain a semblance of normalcy in an abnormal situation.

“Normal” at that time, would have been a man, probably the son of a farmer whose farm could not support another son, peddling feed products.  Women folk stayed out of the men’s work.

I knew that I was an anomaly in an ordered world. But I had always felt out of the ordinary — a woman in business, not a man; a racial minority, not a majority; going to Stanford, not Montana State or in this case, Iowa State; being a farm kid, not a city kid. Even when I was really little, growing up in an area that had a large Crow Indian population, I felt different because I was neither Indian nor White.

Having to work at being accepted helped me break ground in the early years.  It was nothing new to be questioned on who I was.  It was old hat to answer the “Japan” questions. And now answering the questions about how I got to Iowa and how I had become a feed salesperson.  And I knew that it would be women like Cora who would eventually be as important to my success in the field as the “men folk.” I couldn’t get between them; I needed Cora, and women like her, to support me and encourage their husbands to buy from me.

Because Cora trusted me–as a person, and as a saleswoman–her husband could buy feed from me.  And I figured that Cora had more influence on her husband’s decision on which brand of feed to buy than she let on.

I learned a lot about life from Cora. She was a classic farmwife with German roots, short salt and peppery hair permed and curled with a hearty and healthy midlife thickening waistline.  She had grown children herself, who were leading traditional lives in Iowa.  She had married the man down the lane, who had helped her after her husband died.  We talked about baking, cooking, and gardening.  I still have her rhubarb crumb cake recipe.

I often wondered what attracted her to her second husband. He was a nice enough man—medium height, medium brown hair, growing stocky from her German cooking. He was mild mannered, never saying much, but agreeable. They led a quiet life up on that hill, never out carousing or in town after dark but had a comfortable companionship and a devotion to each other you could see and hear in their quiet exchanges.

Cora’s home was less than five miles north of town, a straight shot up the section blacktop.  One wintery evening, her first husband had gone into Clear Lake to the local tavern, alone. It turned out he did this often after the farm work was done. It was a typical small town bar, locals lined up to the rail or sitting around battered tables in heavy chairs, chatting, drinking beer or swilling a whiskey and water. The windows were positioned high up, covered with local posters, insulating the customers from life on the outside. The darkened space was lit with neon beer signs and dirty light bulbs. As the evening wore on, the snow conditions worsened, a full-blown Iowa blizzard.  At midnight, he left the bar, tipsy but upright. The wind was howling, the snow horizontal. On his drive home, his car ran off the section road, less than half a mile from their house on the hill.  He got out of his car and began walking towards home.

Snow storms in Iowa can be fierce and unrelenting.  The temperatures fall easily to the minus 20s.  The fact that it is farm land also means there are no trees to block the wind so in blizzard conditions it is not uncommon for visibility to drop to zero.  I-35 that dissects the state from north to south is often closed due to high winds and blowing snow.

I picture in my mind how he looked—his body tangled in the barbed wire fence only yards from the house. Plaid wool coat flapping, one glove hooked on a barb, the bare hand dangling. Skin blue and frosty white. Eyes staring unseeingly up into the clear blue sky of the frigid day after. Frozen solid.

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