The Walrus Blog

Moving House, Pt. IV

A grandfather moves his house down a prairie road in the 1950s, only to be stopped by overhead telephone wires
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The hospital TV room soon became our second home. Day after day, prayer after prayer. People came from all over, some even as far away as Saskatoon and Regina.

In the meantime, Grandpa Albert couldn’t get much time with Frank alone. So he took me home and we walked out along the coulee looking for coyote tracks or wild strawberries, not saying much because Grandpa said, Hey, there’s not much we can say.

But I didn’t mind. The strawberries were sweet and the dog was fun to watch bouncing along on its three legs, pissing in gopher holes.

A week later the hospital phoned and said it finally, finally happened.

Grandpa Albert came into the living room and said, Well, that’s that.

After the funeral, which was held at Temple Baptist Church in town three days later, the preacher took Trudy aside and said, I think you’d benefit being closer to God.

Trudy looked at Grandpa trying to catch his breath walking up the stairs of the church and knew that moving to town, moving closer to the church, to the support of church-going people, might be the only thing that could save them. After all, she wanted Grandpa around in the afterlife too.

This brings us to the night of the fight, complete with the Bible throwing incident. You see, it started off innocently enough. Grandma made a great meal of venison, stewed with potatoes and sweet apples.

A lovely meal fit for a king, she said sweetly to Grandpa.

I don’t know if I can eat yet, said Grandpa.

If you don’t, you’ll dry up and blow away. It’s bad enough Frank’s gone, don’t go starving to death on me, said Grandma. Then she kissed him on the forehead. What’s going on in that great big brain of yours all the time?

Grandpa sighed, I’m thinking about what you will do if I ever get hooked to a machine.

Nobody’s getting hooked to a machine, she snapped. We’re as fit as horses.

I don’t want no machine hooked to me. I want to go quickly. Don’t drag it out, woman, whatever you do.

I’ll tell you what, Grandma smiled, you move this precious house of mine into town and I’ll try not to kill you. Deal?

Grandpa thought about it for a second.

Grandma kissed him on the cheek, Deal?

Grandpa grabbed a piece of apple off her plate. Deal, he said, kissing her back.

Later, though, Grandpa went downstairs to the basement and brought up some liquor. For dessert, he said.

Grandma sent me to my room because she said a seven-year old didn’t need to see an overgrown dope get drunk for no reason.

It was shortly after this the fight started. Maybe after Grandma tried to pour the booze down the sink. Or it might have been after grandpa poured a shot into her tea behind her back while she was looking up some Bible verses. Something about God having mercy on the unbelievers.

He was my brother, goddammit, said Grandpa sulking off to the porch. He was my flip side. He was indeed.

At any rate, the next day grandma packed her bags and moved into her cousin Gertie’s house in town. When you move my house here, I’ll move back with you, she said on the phone to Grandpa, who was still nursing a vicious hangover.

Two weeks later the house movers came and jacked the building up and onto a flatbed trailer.

The same day Grandpa nearly fell over from having a migraine. He got dizzy looking under the house. He got dizzy looking around it, over it, you name it.

Later on the way home in the half-ton, Grandpa was especially quiet. We could see the house, Grandma’s house, he called it, sitting on the edge of the horizon, the red truck hooked to the front of the flatbed, Murray waving at us from the place where the house used to sit a few hundred feet away.

We pulled up to the big oak trees and sat under the swaying shade, the wind sending sweet clover smells in waves through the open window. I pulled at the door handle.

Hold on, Grandpa said, there might be something wrong with me.

Oh no! Just like Great-Uncle Frank?

Two peas in a pod, that’s us all right. But listen, I don’t want you to say anything, you understand, anything to Uncle Murray about this, you hear me? Promise me.

I promise, I said, hopping out of the half-ton and into the light.

The day of the move. Hotter than usual. Quieter too. The three of us sitting in the cab of the red truck, our heads half turned to the right, always checking behind, feeling the weight of the house creak and crack above our hair. It was then Uncle Murray noticed the telephone wires.

And so here we sat. Halfway home. About two hours later the American tourists showed up. Then Grandma drove up in Gertie’s Studebaker. The preacher, Leo, wearing fat billowing pants, got out of the car and said in a very loud preacher’s voice that he had blessed this move, this house and even the men working here. Amen!

What about me? I asked.

Especially you, he said with a sickly smile showing teeth that reminded me of little white pills.

Grandma inspected the house from top to bottom, running a gloved hand along the boards, stopping near the closed front door.

Grandpa met her there with his gloved hand. Listen, he said, there’s something wrong with me —

Tell me something I don’t know, Grandma snapped.

Something crazy in the head —

Look, whatever you do, don’t wreck my house.

And with that, she beetled back into the Studebaker with the pinched-faced preacher and drove off.

Murray walked up to Grandpa and they both watched the dirt trailing the car finally settle down.

It’s a hard life, Murray said, wiping the dust from Grandpa’s cap, his shoulder, his neck. If it’s not one thing, it’s another.

Unhook the truck, said Grandpa.

Who me? I asked.

Murray, he said. Unhitch the goddamn truck, get out my chainsaw and let’s hook up the winch.

Are you thinking what I’m thinking, Uncle Albert?

Why not, said Grandpa.

And so they cut off the top of the house, right through the attic windows. Uncle Murray mostly. He used the chainsaw like a giant sword. Grandpa helped by supervising from the upstairs, pointing with his gloved hand. He never looked down.

Then they winched it off and bang! it fell onto the road and nearly knocked what was left of the house off the flatbed. Then Murray used the truck to drag it out into Sam Pierce’s quarter section, out into the swamp of cattails that let loose a small storm of white fluff as the truck drove through dragging the attic and roof behind.

Grandpa said, Goddammit, drop it off there, Murray. I’ve always liked the view from here.

And so Uncle Murray did.

And then we hitched the truck back up and chugged down the road, Grandpa sitting beside me looking at all the pretty town houses crawling by, his head in his hands.

I’m never going to get rid of this headache, I just know it, he said quietly.

To be continued…

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