We began our life together feasting on grilled cheese sandwiches in a cold and lonely Minnesota bus depot. I loved my new husband, Lars Larson, but I truly missed the luxurious warmth of my grandmother’s Thanksgiving table: the glow of candles, the delicious aroma of the turkey, the camaraderie of my legion of cousins who couldn’t pass the yams without a generous portion of outlandish storytelling.
Shivering in a paper-thin coat that had been quite adequate back home in Georgia, I watched more snow than I ever dreamed existed pile up on the streets outside. “What if it doesn’t stop?” I worried.
Lars, the idiot who lured me here, just laughed. “Eat up. We should get back to the Ho Hum before the roads get bad.”
You might have already guessed: the Ho Hum Hotel was not the Ritz.
And so began my life in a foreign land, also called Last Chance, Minnesota.
The next day we set out with two missions: buy a warm winter coat to replace my Southern jacket and procure our first apartment. It was Friday, and our furniture was scheduled to arrive on Monday. That’s when we discovered Last Chance had a housing shortage.
Wearing a new down parka and lug-soled lumberjack boots, I toured one of our few housing options: a drab two-bedroom duplex apartment that looked like a palace compared to the others we’d seen. The landlady assured us that the neighbor next door, a quiet woman of considerable age named Birdie, would be no trouble. “She sleeps most of the time,” said Leda the landlady.
Lars could see my disappointment as we walked through the small kitchen, an uninspiring living room, and down a hall to two tiny bedrooms and a bath. “We really can’t be choosey, Sam,” he whispered. “We’ll look for something better in a few months.”
The apartment did not give me the cozy feeling that I had hoped for in our first home. I sighed. Lars took that as a yes, and I tried to think positively. As Grandma G used to say, When the good Lord gives you lemons, pitch them in the neighbor’s yard to rot and head to the nearest bar.
The snow did stop by Monday. Lars dropped me off at the duplex with a kiss and a smile. He was geared up to be the best assistant principal the Last Chance Elementary School had ever seen. While he was herding small humans, I would be in charge of directing the burly ones: the movers.
As I approached the duplex, I found the front door wide open. Power cords slithered out of the apartment through the snow to a loud generator in the front yard. Climbing over the snow bank, wading through the unshoveled sidewalk, and stepping over the cords, I shouted, “Hello?”
“C’mon in,” yelled Leda. Our landlady was crawling on the living room floor with a man she introduced as Fergus. They were in the process of unrolling, tugging, laying, and tacking down a carpet.
“It’s freezing in here,” I said, hunkering deeper into my coat.
Without pausing in her work, Leda said, “Had to shut off the power to fix the furnace. Ferg and I need electricity for our tools. Luckily, Ferg has a generator.”
“What are you doing?” I asked, pointing to the carpet. “This wasn’t here when we viewed the apartment on Friday.”
“Nope. This is a special surprise for you two newlyweds.” It was an ugly drab-colored carpet.
Suddenly Fergus swore. “Got another rip here, Leda, but I can patch it. The couch will hide it.” He gave the carpet a jerk that made me wince. “I told you buying this used carpet from the dentist’s office was risky. This stuff has already been stretched to hell and back.”
“Oh hush, Ferg. This will look real nice when we’re done.” Looking up at me, Leda said, “You did bring a couch, didn’t you?”
I headed outside, plunged up to my knees in a snow drift, and dialed Lars on my cell phone. He answered after the third ring, “How’s the place look? Has the furniture arrived?”
“We’ve got a problem. We don’t have any power or heat, it’s twenty-five degrees, and we have a carpet in the living room.”
I could hear kids charging down the hall in the background. “I don’t remember a carpet. What color?”