Father and son
On the evening of November 30, Jan was sitting up late going over some bills. Toward midnight he felt thirsty and went down to the kitchen, where he poured himself a glass of fruit juice. He sat down on the kitchen bench and drank in small sips while his eyes wandered over the objects round him. He always enjoyed seeing the kitchen spick-and-span, especially at night when the farm's food-factory was at a standstill, as now. He composed in his mind a chapter-heading in the old-fashioned style: "From the Hearth to the Electric Kitchen." He recalled from childhood all the carrying of water, and the limited hygiene as a consequence. He himself had carried hundreds of gallons of water, under the yoke. The well had dried up every summer, and the distance was great to the river Lagen. Even at other seasons this had happened. So they finally had bought pipes, and a pump that always went on strike. His father had complained about such an arrangement, until he grew tired of complaining, hardly able to hide his malicious joy when there was trouble with the pump: "There you see!" The old man was still caught in the superstition that the labor of water-carrying and wood-burning must remain. He didn't say right out that it was God's intent in His unchangeable wisdom, but it was about what he meant: women and children must work themselves to death. Jan tried to enumerate the many fields where people still adhered to custom, because it was custom, and once and for all accepted; and while he every Christmas Eve read the Gospel as his father and forefathers before him, he wondered why people didn't get rid of their peevish God. Was there in all the earth any people so steeped in the catechism, as the Norwegians? As a compensation they had deserted religion's heaven-reaching cathedral and moved down into its sewer. The farmer sat on his tractor but thought with his wooden plow, absorbed long ago; and as long as possible he had let his Rebecca fetch water at the well—until Rebecca finally had made life sufficiently miserable for him.[p. 270]
Jan's revolt against his father apparently had taken place quite painlessly. No one except Jan knew about the furious storm that had raged. One day in 1937 Jan had placed the farm's records for the last ten years on his father's desk, gathered together with much effort from slips of paper, bills, his father's own statements over the years, and much else. He had pointed out all the shortcomings these records contained, the decline they indicated; he had hinted cautiously that after another ten years there might be no Venhaug any more.
The deciding impulse to take up the fight had come to him when his father had almost accidentally let it be known that he intended to sell some of the forest land.
The fight had been carried on in deep silence. The father said nothing for a couple of months, but did not force the forest-sale. He started to age and avoided looking his son in the eyes during the whole time. Jan by and by arrived at the point where he didn't know what to do with himself. The silence lay over the whole farm. Father and son no longer heard human voices, so to speak.
One Sunday morning in the fall Jan had made ready to hunt grouse. His father asked if he could come along. Jan squirmed under the almost frightening question, and at last his eyes met his father's. They were tired and sad; his father stood there silently and was asking reprieve. Jan had a wild feeling that some victories were too expensive; he would have liked to throw his gun on the floor and start crying. Instead, he replied calmly something about having seen these big birds in such and such a place lately (he hardly recognized his own voice), and his father replied eagerly that this was correct. As they left the house both knew that eyes were watching them from the windows.
They walked a long time through the forest and nothing was said. As soon as they had left the yard Jan managed to walk behind his father, and when the first bird took wing he called out, "Your shot, Father! I'm not in a good position."
Then they sat down, each on his stone, and looked at the grouse. His father pulled out a hip-flask from his pocket and said, "This calls for a drink!"
Actually neither one of them cared much for liquor. They drank, looked some more at the grouse, and sat a long while sizing up each other. It would have been obvious that his father should have the first shot, and he had never offered Jan a drink before or brought liquor on a hunt.
Jan kicked the moss with his boot-heel and did not look up as he said, [p. 271] "I did write down a few lines, and I know well how it could be taken, but I'll never get rid of Venhaug."
His father coughed and said, "Well, I realize as much. I never thought you would."
Presently he added, "It seems matters do repeat themselves—I didn't put anything in writing to your grandfather, I wasn't inclined that way; it happened in the barn; I yelled out at last: 'To hell with Venhaug!' In the evening he told me matters had gone too far when I could use such talk.'
Now a long silence ensued. The father took up the thread again: "I don't wish to cede with 'reserved rights.' That kills a man—and it was not to the advantage of either the father or the son the last time things were so arranged. That you too must think of when your time comes. You have taken over now, and there is little need of papers. I only ask you to get your electric pump first of all—otherwise I'll wonder why you don't get one. That's all, Jan. That's the way I want it. And now for the first time in months I shall enjoy a drink." He put the flask to his mouth, then handed it to Jan. When both had had their fill, the father said, "Jan, it isn't as bad as you perhaps think, but in one sense much worse than such colts as you can realize. I have saved money while Venhaug stood still. You will have your troubles, but tonight when I put everything on the table—it's silly, Jan, but I'm anxious to turn over everything and issue your legal power."
Jan was glad his father had not at that time brought up marriage and heirs. Nor did he mention it later, not until he lay dying. It must have cost the old man a lot to let the subject rest. At one time his father had almost insisted he get married. He had also hinted at some good "wife-timber," fine women in every respect. That time the storm had passed by. Jan had rather expected his father to get furious at the reply he had ready, but when Jan with irritation pointed out that it was he and not the father who must sleep with the girl, the old man started laughing. Jan wondered how his father would have taken the daughter-in-law he got. Yes, Felicia had money. That would have carried weight with his father. And she knew what she wanted. He would have respected that too. But his father had eyes all around his head, and could hear like a forest beast. Some ghastly noise would have risen heavenward had two such millstones been put to grind together.
Copyright © 1958 by H. Aschehoug & Co., Oslo, Norway. Used by permission. English translation copyright © 1966 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. All rights reserved. Use of this material falling outside the purview of "fair use" requires the permission of the University of Wisconsin Press.
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