Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Sunday evening we went out visiting. If it sounds Old World, that is pretty accurate. We were invited to Rita and Maurice (pronounced Morris) Palmersheim's house. Maurice and Rita lived in their house long before there was a development surrounding them. It was all open land belonging to the monastery. There was the hog farm where we live now, and farmland, and not really anything else. Maurice is 85 years old and Rita is 82, headed toward 83. They are very sweet people, kind and helpful to everyone. Maurice has a shop he keeps warm with a wood stove where he does repairs on lawn mowers, snow blowers, and other machinery. He also repairs cars. Currently he's working on the car belonging to one of the two local chiropractors, who lives behind them. One of the biggest surprises to them is how much they like all their neighbors. They were worried about the subdivision, but now Rita says she likes all her neighbors, the nicest people. Maurice tells us about someone down the street who cut down a tree and is giving him the wood to burn in the wood stove in his shop.
Maurice and Rita's house is neat and spare. Rita loves birds, has two canaries (she used to have many more) and numerous things with images of birds that she's received as gifts or has made and painted. Despite being avid crafters and collectors, the house is not filled with things. The linoleum table in the kitchen is 52 years old, as are the matching chairs, steel frames with light aqua blue backs over white seats. There are seat-covers on the back but the plastic doesn't appear ripped anywhere. There is a full set of six chairs, which you hardly ever see. And I've looked! In the living room corner was a large doll Rita had dressed and painted and set up as the Infant Jesus of Prague. He holds a little globe and wears a crown. He is encased in a plastic box so she doesn't have to dust him. She brings out a standing cut-out painted Infant Jesus of Prague whose place this doll took. The cut-out has crazed paint and is over 70 years old. On a breakfront is a large plastic altar that lights up. Maurice got it for Rita as a gift from the Catholic bookstore, 50 years ago.

They have a new television that somehow looks old, because it's a small screen and bulky. They bought it because of the switch to digital signal. Their old television broke, and usually Maurice would have gotten it repaired, but this time he wanted one with a converter box in it. They have a satellite dish, however.

We sit and visit, and pretty soon they get out accordions and play. One is sitting beside my chair (a Hohner exactly like the one at right, compact and shiny nickel plating), and Rita gets Maurice to go get another one and they play. She asks if I "remember" the songs, but I've never heard any of them. They're old German tunes you hear these days at Polka Masses and not really anywhere else. They do play "How Great Thou Art" for a closing tune. Then Maurice plays a tune on a harmonica. Then he goes and gets out a large concertina and plays a few songs on that. This is by far the most enjoyable part of the evening. Not because Rita and Maurice are uninteresting to talk to, but I can't say anyone has ever played accordion for me in their living room before!

Steve and Maurice talk, and Rita and I talk. She's quite hard of hearing so it's not always easy. She tells me about raising their two children, both adopted. Her son was "part colored," she says, and had a hard time in this small town. It was very painful for her. Later I find out he was half Native American. He still struggles, working construction in Virginia. He'll probably make it home this summer for their 60th wedding anniversary. Their daughter lives a few towns over. There aren't any photos of the children or grandchildren, though she does get up and shows me baby pictures of the two children.

After awhile we move to the kitchen and Rita serves us apple pie. The apples are from their tree, but she doesn't make crust anymore. They eat healthy now and she doesn't have lard in the house for pie crusts. She uses frozen roll-out crust, Pappy's, the same kind I use. I say it's good because they use lard in it.

At 9 p.m., we go home. I feel happy and as so often with the people of this place, privileged to be invited in. It's February, and there are little cliffs of icy snow in places, though the roads and most of the ground is clear. Next time we will walk over, and see Maurice's workshop.

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