There is a lake bordering the Southwest side of my property, it’s fairly large, and I have several hundred feet of shoreline, mostly trees and brush, with a few open areas. The rest of the lake is surrounded by National Forest, with the county road running along the western tip.
Every so often campers will wander onto my land, so I make a habit of checking over that way weekly during the summer months.
Usually I just point out where they are, and if they seem nice enough, let them stay. Well, early in June a few years ago my dog Bogart and I were making a pass down there and encountered a couple with a tent set up, and signs they were planning a longish stay. They looked in their late twenties or early thirties, he was 5-7 or 8, brown hair, with the tan and look of a man that works outdoors. She was maybe 5-3, medium length auburn hair, freckles over pale skin, more than that I couldn’t tell, since it was a chilly day and they were dressed for warmth.
When I come on a camp I like to announce my presence, so called out, “Hello the camp.”
They both sort of jumped, then he called me in.
I introduced myself and then explained they were on my land, and that’s when the first problem cropped up; he said his name was Dave Jensen and she was Marjorie Franklin, and he was sorry, he didn’t realize they were on private land. At that her head did a quick twitch, and in fact, so did mine.
“Son, I came from over along the road, and if you’re driving a blue Ford pick-up, you just lied to me, and that’s no way to start out. ”
His eyes widened, and he took a deep breath. Then he dropped them down and mumbled an apology, “I’m sorry, we got here last night and didn’t know…”
At that point I cut him off and said, “That’s two. You’re parked within twenty feet of a ‘private property’ sign, I think you should camp elsewhere.”
That’s when she spoke up, ” We’re running out of places to go.”
“Are you broke? Homeless?”
“Yes. We’ve both lost our jobs, run out of un-employment, and never did have much savings. I sold my car, and moved in with Dave when I couldn’t afford my apartment, and a few weeks ago he lost his and we’ve been living in campgrounds, but now…we don’t have the money for camp fees and food and gas.”
“What kind of work did you do?”
“Well, I was in real estate, then office help, then anything I could find.”
“Construction. Mostly rough framer, but really anything that pays”
“Alright, my name is Murphy. You can stay here for a while, but I do require you keep a clean camp. Also, you may want to move farther up in the trees. You’ll get more shelter from the wind and the bugs are less bothersome.”
“And dig a pit toilet well back from the water.”
I whistled up the dog and headed back up to the house, thinking as I went. I remembered early in my adulthood when I was scuffling for work with a wife and two young kids. I’d take any job I could find. Even worked in a porn shop for a while, but was happy to find something better. Never did have to tent live, though.
I should give you some personal background.My name is Murphy, Josh Murphy, I’m in my mid sixties, pretty fit, but with the aches that come from working hard for a living. I’m only 5’6”, but 200 lbs, I like to think most of that is muscle. I was in the Navy after high school, made Rate in electronics, and served aboard a Destroyer, with several tours off Viet Nam. After the service I worked at several aircraft companies in Southern California, and married. Eventually we moved up to the Northwest, where I finally caught on with a local utility, and found a career.
By then we had two kids, a house, a couple cars, and of course the usual dogs and cats. I made good money, was reasonably lucky in my investing, and had a decent pension when I retired. My wife and I bought this 25 acre parcel in the Cascade foothills thirty years ago, when land was reasonably cheap; we built a four bedroom, two bath cabin at the upper portion of a meadow, in the wind shadow of a large hill. There were several out buildings, including a barn I used as a garage for my truck , two cars I had restored, and a small tractor, the loft had been converted to a rough apartment.
We had been married thirty years when she developed cancer, and within three years had passed. Since then, almost five years, I lived alone. The last three retired.
The next week I was busy around the place, running into town, meeting up with a couple friends. You know, the usual stuff we all do.When I finally checked back on the couple, I was impressed with the site. They had moved as I suggested, and the camp was clean.
Dave wasn’t around, and when I called, “Hello the camp.”
Marjorie responded “Hello the Landlord.”
A sense of humor. I liked that.
So I sat and we talked. Bogart came over and gave her the sniff test, then sat at her side with his chin in her lap, she idly rubbing his ears as we chatted. That big black dog knew a softie when he saw one. Dave, it turned out, had found a couple days work, and would be back around sunset. She was staying busy around camp, then just walking the woods, but not being a ‘nature girl’ didn’t know what she was looking at.
The more we talked, the more I got the impression of a smart woman finding herself in a difficult situation, and trying to make the most of it. I also had a better look at her since she wasn’t wearing three layers of clothing. She may have weighed 120 lbs, and her shape was pretty nice, if still covered by jeans and a sweat shirt. Her eyes were blue-gray, with golden flecks. There were the beginnings of lines around her eyes and mouth, probably indicative of the stress she had been going through.
After a while I suggested we walk around a bit, and I would give her some nature lessons. As we strolled I named the various trees and plants, pointed out a few of the birds around us, including an Osprey sitting in a tree at the side of the lake. I noticed as we walked how stiffly she was walking and commented on it.
“I’m not used to sleeping on the ground.” she said with a wry smile.
“What about Dave?”
“He’s not much better, but working helps him get the kinks out.”
“I may have a solution. You two come up to the house when Dave returns and I’ll buy you dinner.”
I pointed up the hill, then headed home.
I wanted to keep things simple, yet fancier than camp food, so opted for spaghetti, salad and wine.Before they were due, I grabbed a shower and shaved several days worth of stubble off my cheeks, then donned clean jeans and shirt. I was feeling nervous, but put it down to not having entertained for several years. Even so, I kept fussing with my shirt, combing my beard, pacing about.
They came up the hill just after 7; She had changed to a flannel shirt, and he was in jeans and sweat shirt with cut off arms.
I welcomed them in, and both took a moment looking around.He was first to speak, “Wow, this is a nice place. Looks well built.”
She just said “It looks very homey, but I don’t see much of a woman’s touch.”
I realized I hadn’t mentioned my wife, so gave them a brief rundown as we did a short tour of the downstairs.Back in the kitchen I put the spaghetti on, it takes only ten minutes to be just right, and the sauce and salad were ready.The wine was a Merlot, I served a glass while the pasta cooked.
Before the pasta was finished Dave had finished his first glass, and was looking around as if expecting another. I shot a glance at Marjorie, who had barely touched her’s, and she cast a worried look towards him. I poured him another, smaller amount, he looked up at me but said nothing.
We sat at the table, and both ate as if it had been a long time between meals. Luckily I had made a lot of spaghetti, and they, especially Dave, made deep inroads in it.
When everyone was finally satisfied, I got up, reaching to clear the table. Dave sat back, but Marjorie jumped up insisting that since I had cooked she would take care of it.
Dave still hadn’t moved, except to pour the last of the wine, and throw it down in one move.
I looked toward the kitchen, and there she was; doing the dishes and humming!
I started to say something, she just said, “Let me do this.”
“Okay, but make it quick, we need to talk, and it’s going to be dark when you head back.”
She quickly finished up and joined us. Dave had taken my easy chair so Marjorie and I sat on the couch.
“OK,” I began, ” I have a rough but serviceable apartment over the barn. I’ll make you a deal. In exchange for a roof, a bed and running water, Marjorie…”
“Call me Madge.”
“Ok, Madge, will do some housekeeping for me, and you Dave, perhaps you can do some of the ouside stuff I’ve been neglecting.”
Almost before the words were out of my mouth, Madge was nodding, and Dave was frowning.
“Well,” He said, “what if I’ve got a job?”
“We can work around that. Perhaps do things in the evening or on weekends.”
“Hmm, I’d like to think on your offer.”
“Fair enough, let me know.”
After a little more small talk, with Madge looking at Dave in a way I’d seen from my wife when I had screwed up, they headed back to their camp.
Even before I had closed the door, I heard Madge saying “What do you mean you need to think it over?” After that they were out of earshot, but I had a good idea the kind of night Dave had ahead of him.
I closed up, heading to bed. Sleep did not come quickly, as it normally does, instead I kept picturing those beautiful eyes and auburn hair. The fact she jumped in to help, and her ready acceptance of my offer impressed me, but I suspect she felt anything was better than that tent.
The next morning, while I was having my first cup of coffee, there was a knock on the door.Well, I know there aren’t many people that would stop by at 6:30, and Bogart would have barked if a car came up the drive, so I just shouted “Come in!” and took another sip of eye opener.
In came Madge, breathing a bit hard, and all red in the face.
“Are you ok?”
“Oh yes”…” I just wanted to catch you before you went anywhere.”
“Yes, I’d like to take you up on the apartment, and doing housework would be a pleasure after that tent.”
“He’s still thinking, but he’ll come around after he takes one more bath in that cold lake.”
The smile said she was never going back in that lake again, and didn’t care if Dave did or not.
“Well, that’s fine. Would you like some breakfast? I have ham, eggs and toast. And of course the coffee is on the counter, help yourself.”
“Sounds delicious, I’m getting real tired of Granola bars for breakfast. You just stay there, I’ll cook. How do you want your eggs and how many?”
“Two. Over medium. I’ll do the toast”
We quickly whipped out breakfast, and again I was astonished how quickly she ate. She caught me looking at her and said, “I’m sorry, this is only the second real meal I’ve had in weeks. Everything else has just been the very basic stuff I could cook down there.” Waving in the general direction of the lake.
Once we were satisfied, we pushed our chairs back, drew more coffee, and studied each other for a few moments. When Madge took her coat off I had noticed the nice fit of her jeans, suggesting a curvy shape, but little fat. But now, looking at her directly, I could tell she had medium sized breasts, a slim waist and no extra weight. Her face was lightly tanned, and her freckles stood out proudly.
Meanwhile she was looking me over. Now, I’m not handsome, just an average looking older guy whose hair and beard were going gray, and a small paunch in place of the flat stomach of old. After a long look she broke into a big smile and proclaimed I was the best looking Santa Claus she had ever seen.
I decided she was the best Elf I had seen, and said so.
With that, the ice was broken, and she just started chattering at me. I guess being alone so much, she had a lot of words stored up. It seems she had known Dave from her real estate days. She was one of several agents, and he would do maintenace and repairs on properties the agency owned. I gathered they had been friendly, but that was the extent of it. When the office pared back, both had been let go. She picked up work as an office temp, then in retail for a little while, then clerking in a convenience store, then nothing after that. She went through her unemployment, her savings, then sold her car. When she lost her apartment,Dave lent her his spare bedroom.
During that time Dave had been able to pick up day jobs to keep himself going, but they started getting farther apart, and he lost his apartment also. For the next few weeks they lived in campgrounds in the area, but when the choice came down to food or fees, they found my place.
“I’m surprised Dave lied to you. Once was bad enough, but twice? I am sorry.”
“You didn’t lie, so no need for an apology. Just how well do you know him? Are you guys more than friends?”
“No. He’d like to be…but I just haven’t felt that tingle – you know what I mean?”
“Sure, I had that with my wife when we met. She must have too, because a few months later, she told me she was sure I was her One. Ten months later we were married, and I never regretted it.”
“Did you ever fight?”
“Oh Yeah. We had some real donny brooks but luckily we didn’t both say divorce at the same time. The making up was just as intense as the fighting. After a few years, the fighting dropped way off, the love making became calmer. But still intense.”
“Do you miss her?”
“Sure, but life goes on, and I still have the kids.”
“Where are they?”
“He’s in San Diego, she’s in Denver. He’s a corporate recruiter, she’s a lawyer.”
“Wow, pretty good.”
“Yes, I’d like to think so. Hmph, look at the time, if your going to do this I should show you the apartment.”
We strolled over to the barn, up the stairs. The apartment was really just one large room, with a separate half bath. When she saw there was no bath tub or shower a look of disappointment flicked over her face. Madge took a deep breathe, and said it would do.
I’m a softy when it comes to the women anyway, and this one was near my daughter’s age, good looking too. There was no way I was going to deny her a hot bath or shower. So I suggested we get her stuff, then she could clean up at the house.
With a squeal, she jumped into my arms, declared she loved me, and planted a big kiss smack on my lips. I may have been surprised, but I wasn’t about to turn that down! She stayed in my arms for several moments more, looking into my eyes, then broke into a big smile and said “Let’s go get that stuff!”
We quickly hiked down to the camp site, Bogart running all over as he always does, Madge seemingly holding herself back from a full sprint, probably in deference to the old guy. When we got there, everything of hers was already packed, ready to go.
“Ahh, does Dave know your moving? Isn’t he going to be pissed if you’re not here?”
” He knows, and I don’t care if he’s happy or not. Right now there are only two things I care about – a hot bath, and a soft bed. After that, I’ll worry about anything else.”
With that we picked up her few things and headed back up the hill, but a whole lot slower than coming down. Except for the dog that is, who seemed to be going happily nuts over all the scents he picked up.
Once again we chatted as we walked. Or I should say she did. I just nodded, or threw in the odd word here and there, but she was happily talking, and I didn’t mind as I was enjoying the sound of her voice. Suddenly she stopped, looked at me for about ten seconds, and out of the blue just asked me, ” How do you know if you feel the tingle?”
All I could say without betraying the quiver in my throat was “You’ll know.”
Again, she just stood there looking at me then said, ” I thought so.”
Then she quickly turned and headed back up the hill. After about twenty feet, she turned to look at me, rooted to the ground in shock, and asked if I was coming with her or not.
All I could think of was, “Anywhere.” Again she turned to look at me and I realized I had said that aloud. She gave me a quick smile, turned and strode off again. I couldn’t help but notice how well the jeans fit her shapely butt.
When we got back to the house, she turned towards the barn, but I stopped, asking where she was going? She paused, and started to point at the barn apartment, when I shook my head and pointed to the house.
“I have four bedrooms, three unused, I’m sure we can find one for you.”
“Yeah, come on, there’s a bath waiting for you.”
Well, she looked through the three bedrooms, picked the one she liked. I pointed out her bathroom, the hall closet full of towels, told her ‘enjoy’.
An hour and a half later she finally reappeared. Her hair shone with red highlights, she had lightly applied makeup, she had on a clean pair of jeans and a light colored tee shirt. On her feet were a pair of sandals, her toe nails appeared to be freshly painted.
“You have no idea! Thank you, thank you, thank you. But what changed your mind about the barn?”
“Just call me Softy. Would you like some lunch? Then we can discuss your duties around here.”
While we ate, we discussed how I wanted things done. I explained most of the house had been just ignored so the first thing had to be dusting and cleaning. Probably tackling the sheets in her bedroom should be done also. She just kept smiling and nodding her head, as soon as we finished eating she cleared the table and got busy. I went outside to take care of some things I had noticed needed doing.
About four I came back in, Madge was busy in the laundry. There was a pile of sheets on the floor and the washer and dryer were humming away.
“What would you like for dinner?” She said, “I’m cooking.”
“You see what’s in the freezer and surprise me. I’m going to get a shower.”
As I was coming back into the kitchen, still drying my hair, I saw Dave’s pickup pulling into the yard. I stepped out to greet him as he opened his door and swung out. “Is Madge here?”
“Yeah, she’s inside cooking. Come on in.”
“Thanks, I was a little worried about her. I was pretty sure she was up here but…”He paused, “We may be just friends, but I still feel responsible for her right now.”
Madge saw him come in, walked over, gave him a hug, told him he was just in time for dinner, and could wash up while she set the table. I started to reach for the dishes, only to find myself being shooshed out of the kitchen, “No, no. I said I’ll do it. From now on this is my kitchen. You stop at the door.”
“What if I want coffee? Or a snack?”
“There will be a pot on the counter. And you don’t need the snack. I want you to lose a few pounds.”
“We’ll talk later. Go sit. I’ll take care of things.”
About then Dave came back, asking what was going on. All I could do was shrug my shoulders and say I thought I had just been kicked out of my own kitchen. We sat in the den, just talking about his day and the job he had been on. He did apologize for the lies when we first met, explaining he just couldn’t admit to being homeless.
About then Madge called us to the table. It was nicely set, and she had made up a dinner of yellow potatoes, ham slices and vegetables, with rolls on the side. As we sat, she explained she had done the best she could with the limited supplies I had. She had made enough to include Dave as she was sure he would be there.
That was probably the best meal I had, outside of a restaurant, in several years!
As we ate, Dave explained his current job was over, and he had decided there just wasn’t enough in the area to sustain all the carpenters in the Local plus all the non-union guys, so he had checked the books, and it looked like there was more work in the San Francisco area. He planned on heading south in the morning. He asked Madge if she was all right with that? She said he needed to go where the work was, but she was just fine here.
I told him to go pack his gear, if he hadn’t done it already, he could sleep in a bed tonight.
While he was gone, Madge and I cleared the table (at my insistence), then she made sure there was a bed made up for him. When he returned I pointed out a bedroom and the bathroom, told him to feel free to enjoy a shower, then join us out on the deck for a drink and a view of the sunset.
The large deck with a variety of chairs, tables and chaise faces west-toward the Olympics. The view was the usual early summer sunset; reds and oranges fading to blues and grays as the sun disappeared behind the mountains. We were quiet as the sky slowly transitioned to night. Finally Madge seemed to let out a breathe, and said, “Wow… I can see why you sit out here in the evening. Is it like this every night?”
“No, some nights are better, some have more clouds, even rain at times. I take them as they come.”
With that, we headed for bed. I put the seat cushions away, protecting them from the morning dew, then went to the bathroom attached to my bedroom, Dave went to the other. Madge picked up our glasses, turned off the lone light in the kitchen, and went to her room.
Once again I tossed and turned, pictures of Madge as she came from her bath running through my head. This began to worry me, as I hadn’t been concerned about women since my wife’s death, and, she was much younger than me. She was, moreover, a good looking woman with an easy smile and beautiful eyes. I was definitely feeling confused, worried I may have made a mistake inviting her into my home. I did finally sleep, and when I woke the next morning felt much more rested than expected.
At breakfast, we talked more with Dave, hearing his plans to find more permanent work, get another apartment, just settle down.
“It’ll probably be years before I want to go camping again,” he said with a small smile, “but eventually I’ll explore the Sierras, maybe Death Valley too.”
While we walked Dave out to his truck I carefully asked how he was fixed for money.
“I have a couple hundred from this last job. Would you like part for Madge?”
“No,no. I just wanted to be sure you’ll be all right. Will you have enough for you’re needs? You know, gas, food, maybe a motel?”
“I can make ‘Frisco’ in about twenty hours driving, so may only need one night at a motel. I should be fine. But thanks for asking any way.”
I shook his hand, wishing him luck. She hugged him, saying thanks for all he had done, telling him to keep in touch. As he drove down the driveway, Madge stepped next to me and put her left arm around my waist, I automatically put my right around her shoulder. She leaned into my side, quietly saying, “I’m going to like it here.”
“And just how long do you think you’re going to be here?”
She looked at me and said, “a very long time.”