The story so far:
Jim pointed across a field to his house and told me I could drive around to it: he and Paul were walking, despite my insistence that we could all fit in the front seat. I drove slowly, to give them time to arrive before me. I didn't really need to, as the road snaked around, passing two ponds and going over a stream before heading uphill. Then the fork Jim told me to look for appeared and I was finally at his driveway. I surveyed his place – a smallish older house with a barn and a few outbuildings. I didn't see any livestock and the barbed wire fence was rusty: when there was any. The fenceposts had to be 30 years old; green with moss and a dull whitish grey with no bark left. The grass was too long for cattle to have been grazing, except near the side of the barn: that was packed earth with little islands of grass tufts. So maybe a cow or a few horses. Or sheep.
I drove up as Jim and Paul came up to the house from the barn, carrying a basket of eggs. I was somewhat less excited about breakfast, now that I had time to digest the situation. Jim motioned me into the house, so I followed, locking the car.
Paul looked about 15 years old. His lanky frame matched his father's. Obviously, they didn't spend much time gaining weight in front of the nightly sitcoms. They both wore faded jeans and blue work shirts. Jim's greying brown hair covered about half his head, while Paul's dark brunette mop overflowed. Both had piercing blue eyes, with Jim's looking a bit paler.
We entered the living room; furnished in early post-modern yard sale. A striped pale green davenport (or was it just threadbare?) sat behind a scarred coffee table of what looked like burnt walnut. Burnt from the contents of the overflowing ashtray, no doubt. An old console tv set was across from that and a black Naugahyde recliner from 1952 complimented the couch nicely.
The kitchen was uniquely appointed. A rather new microwave was on the table with a coffee pot – which I noticed was almost full – and a few tattered placemats. Behind that, a fridge hummed noisily in the corner, tucked under cabinets full of dusty glasses and powdery plates. An electric range from the 60's, complete with exhaust hood and stove was on the far side of the room near the sink. Paul sat at the table and Jim motioned for me to do the same.
“I'm the cook,” he grinned.
As I sat down, I got an indication of how old this farm probably was. Against the near wall, by the door, sat a grand old relic. It was a large, at one time probably white, wood cooking stove. Through the grime on the door, I could make out some large, raised lettering spelling out Glenwood. It looked like it had been used as a handy flat storage surface for the last umpteen years and was grimy and greasy from years of use before that. I'd guess it was from at least 1920 – maybe even earlier. I asked Jim if he realized that it would come in handy someday.
“I was thinking that the other day. I don't know enough to use it, though. Probably burn the house.”
“You'd have to remodel a bit to make it safer,” I admitted. “Take a bit to get it going. But when you have no gas and no electricity, it'll cook and keep the place warm.”
His house consisted of 4 and one half rooms. The living room and the kitchen, two bedrooms and a half bathroom. As I found out later, they had a shower rigged in the barn. Drafty, but servicable. For lack of anything better to do while Jim cooked and Paul dozed in his chair, I started naming off things Jim could do to survive in the coming years. I loved history and engineering and never realized that I could put the two together until that day. I hadn't planned much for my own survival, but here I was, rattling off everything I could think of to make Jim and his son safe.
“Howard?” Jim had a serious and somehow mortally sad look. “ I know you must be in a hurry to get west and find your woman. But I was wondering....”
“Sure, Jim. You're cooking bacon and eggs and I'm drinking coffee. I'm a pushover at the moment.”
He laughed a sort of choked up laugh.
“Uh. Well.” His eyes were moist and that made my stomach knot up. He lowered his voice, looking sidelong at Paul.
“Doc says I might not be around for his twenty-first. He's sixteen now and I ain't got a lot here for him. I'm scared as hell. These ideas you been coming up with. Well...” he paused, shaking the tiniest bit.
“I'll give you anything around here you want,” he blurted out. “Anything at all, if you stay a week and help me fix this all up.”