Right after college, I moved to a town with 2000 people and a bunch of pigs — real ones, the kind that grunt and poop and lift the gate latch with their noses.
I saw something run past the window of my rented farmhouse. At first I thought it was a deer until I put on my glasses. Nope, the pigs were out again, and now they were on the highway.
I called the landlord, who was also the superintendent of schools. He had arranged for me to live in his farmhouse so that I would come to the middle of nowhere to teach high school Spanish.
“Throw dirt clods at them,” he said. “Just get them off the highway!”
I was twenty-two and hadn’t established clear renter/landlord boundaries. Was it my job to get the pigs to move? Of course not, but I went outside in my bathrobe, grabbed some dirt clods from the yard and walked down the circular driveway to the highway.
When the first clod hit a pig’s back, it turned at look at me. I realized the quarter-ton animal could take me out if it wanted to. I ran back into the house.
Moving to the town was like stepping back in time. I got several phone calls that first month.
“What church are you attending?” the nosy stranger asked.
“I haven’t decided,” I said.
“We’d like to invite you to the Methodist church,” she said.
“We’d like you to try our Episcopalian church,” the woman said. “We will come pick you up.”
“No thanks, I said. “I’m not Episcopalian.”
“A school teacher should attend church!” she said.
The college boyfriend came to visit for a long weekend. Two days later, the landlord called.
“Sue, there is talk around town that you have a man sleeping in the house with you.”
After that the boyfriend parked his car behind the barn.
A few months later, the boyfriend and I called it off. He was gallivanting around the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor, and I was stuck in rural Nebraska teaching teenagers. What was the point?
People in town heard of my new availability.
“Have you met Chuck Waters?” a teacher asked. “He’s the most eligible bachelor in town. He owns the used car lot.”
“No”, I said, “but I’d like to meet him.”
Winter set in, and I was too busy grading papers, writing lesson plans and creating tests to think about Chuck Waters.
Then one Saturday, in February, during a light snow fall, he pulled off the highway and knocked on my kitchen door.
He was squatty, bald, and twice my age. These days, I wouldn’t have opened the door, because in the Bay Area there are some angry, crazy people. Yes, there probably were angry and crazy people in Nebraska back then, but not as many and not standing on the porch in 20 degree weather.
“Hey, I am Chuck Waters,” he said, straightening his Corn Husker belt buckle.
I shook his hand. “Sue Middleton,” I said.
At least I was smart enough not to invite him in, although his bare head had snowflakes cascading off of it.
“Do you want to go out sometime and get a steak?” he asked. “I love a good steak. Maybe tonight? My treat.”
“Uh, I am really busy with lesson plans right now,” I said. “Maybe another time.”
“Okay then,” he said.
He wiped the snow off his head and put on his Dekalb seed corn hat as he walked to his new truck.
Was it his lack of hair, the twice my age-ness, the belt buckle, or my general unhappiness with my job choice that made me turn him down? Or the fact that he caught me off-guard, that my hair was dirty, or that there was a good movie on TV that night?
One will never know. Two months later, after Salt Creek spilled its banks and flooded the farmhouse, I had a good excuse to move to Omaha.
Wouldda Couldda Shouldda
If I would’ve stayed in Nowhere-ville and married Chuck, we would’ve had a large family of bald children. I would have quit my job to home school them, and we would’ve bought the vacant split level out by the highway. My ex-landord’s pigs would’ve wandered down to our place, where Chuck would’ve pulled out his shotgun and sent them to piggy heaven. We would’ve borrowed Bill Farley’s roaster from his Two Corners Saloon and Dance Club. Then we would’ve had a pig roast and invited the whole town, even the Episcopalians.