Chapter 3 continues

The story so far: Allen meets his students.

He fell quickly into the habit of eating lunch every afternoon at Hilma's Café across the road from the school, sitting on a stool at the counter with Dave Meyers and Orville Christopherson. The latter was a fortyish man of some bulk who had been at Stone Lake for several years and taught junior social studies and bookkeeping. When Christopherson wasn't eating or talking, Allen noticed, he hummed to himself. He was a bachelor. Allen asked him what the people who lived in town did in the evening.

"They sit and listen to the radio mostly," Christopherson said. "Sometimes they get together to play cards. On Friday or Saturday night they might go to the movies — it doesn't matter what's showing. Some of the men might spend a little time in the taverns, if their wives let them. On summer evenings they work in the yard and on the house. Or fix up the car. Oh, and from December to March, everybody goes to the basketball games."

Allen laughed. "So I've heard."

"There seem to be quite a few musical activities in town too," Dave said.

Christopherson chewed his food for a moment, nodding at the same time. "You've probably heard that Jack Palmer, the principal, was a big factor in bringing music to Stone Lake. He's the band leader, also the choir director at the Lutheran church. There's a little chamber ensemble, too, a string quartet that Magnuson mentioned the other day. I'm a member myself. We give several small concerts during the year. And many of the auditorium programs at the school emphasize music. We try to invite orchestras or soloists or various groups from Bemidji and Crookston, even from Minneapolis and St. Paul, to come in every year. Last year we had a marvelous violinist from Duluth."

Allen asked him what instrument he preferred and was surprised to hear that, although Christopherson was comfortable with any stringed instrument, he'd been the drummer in a small band when he was young. Allen couldn't imagine anyone less likely to be a drummer than the heavy-set, placid man sitting next to him eating meat loaf and mashed potatoes.

"Is there a little theater group?" he asked.

"No such thing. Of course there's a junior and senior class play every year, for what they're worth."

"No book-reading groups?"

"I don't think anybody reads anything but the paper. It comes out once a week. We share it with eight other towns."

"So if I asked someone on the street what his favorite novel is," Allen laughed, "I wouldn't get many answers?"

"I think you'd get some strange looks instead."

Dave asked if there was a town drunkard.

"If there is, I've never met the man."

"What about a town prostitute?"

"No such thing. If there was, the good Rev. Mayfield would get rid of her fast. Mayfield is chairman of the school board. Miracle Mayfield, his name is. If you're Lutheran, you might want to attend his church. If you don't, he thinks you should. I sing in the choir myself."

"Miracle Mayfield? His first name is Miracle?"

"He swears it is."


Allen fell easily into a routine. Every morning he ate breakfast at The Food Box before going to school — toast and coffee, and a little chat with the waitress. He ate supper there every evening as well, usually with Dave Meyers, and found that by buying a meal ticket he could eat on $1.50 a day. In the evening he liked to walk by himself. He missed the city, it was true, in which he could walk for miles and miles and never see the same place twice, sometimes coming across magnificent old churches and marvelous old houses. In the city, he loved to go downtown, visit the lakes and parks, drop in on his father, go out with him for coffee and a piece of pie. But he liked the small town too, the quietness, the order, the smell of the pine trees and the country air at night, the sky full of bright stars above.

Occasionally he ran into one or two of his students on the street, especially downtown. Most of the girls he encountered talked to him more freely than they did in the classroom, and were surprisingly pleasant, more intelligent than he had thought. Had he been in a position to date them, he might have done it. Except — where would they go? When he asked them what they liked to read, they mentioned books like "The Virginian," "Black Beauty," "My Friend Flicka" and "Seventeenth Summer," and authors like Louisa May Alcott and Edgar Allan Poe.

Rarely did he stop to talk to any of the townspeople. At night, if he had no papers to read or lessons to prepare, he read "Othello," "Madam Bovary," and James Joyce's "The Dead," although he was not sure that he really understood the latter. He went to bed at 11 o'clock every night and slept well.

At the end of two weeks he received his first check, a little over $100. He was being paid $1,800 for the year. There were 1,800 people in the town. Which meant, he told himself, that each one of them, like it or not, was paying him a dollar a year to teach.

He thought that he could easily save half of his salary — or more — to return to graduate school next year. That is, if he decided not to stay in Stone Lake.

Tomorrow: Chapter 3 continues.