Family Farm

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June 1, 2015 by The Citron Review

by John Messick

 

The house I where I was raised is not haunted, though as a child I believed it could be. Long before we moved in, a farmer had murdered the county sheriff outside my bedroom window. My father found the newspaper clipping in the wall, crumpled in sawdust.

In 1916, a man named Beranek got into a fight with a neighbor over stud fees to a horse—that is, Beranek’s mare birthed a colt of mysterious origin, and the neighbor owned the only stallion. The neighbor demanded payment.

The sheriff, a man named Olson, whose great-grandnephew would later punch me in the ear after a middle-school gym class, came to investigate. Beranek warned him. “You step foot in my barn, I’ll shoot you,” he told Sheriff Olson.

The sheriff ignored the warning, went into the barn, and when he came out, Beranek emptied his shotgun. He didn’t shoot the deputy. As kids, my brother and I were not allowed even toy guns, although we helped bury the rabbits Dad killed with a .22 long rifle. He said they ate the lettuce.

Old Man Beranek had eleven kids and a wife and had recently emigrated from Lithuania. He let the deputy ride back to the county seat twelve miles away, where a posse gathered and returned to retrieve the sheriff’s corpse. Beranek let the posse arrest him without a fight.

At the trial, Beranek pled temporary insanity and lost. The judge gave him 25 years. While he was locked up, the barn burned and was rebuilt. The fields went fallow. Two weeks before he made parole, his wife died. They say he blamed his sons for her death.

Once, when I was about fourteen, I called my father a jackass. I don’t remember why. He shoved me hard up against the barn with his forearm, pinned me there until his eyes grew sad. He didn’t speak. When he released me, I marveled at his restraint.

Beranek returned to the farm. The horses were gone. Brook trout coursed through the stream in the old pasture. The roofs on the buildings bulged toward collapse. It would be fifty years before my father would repair those roofs, turn that pasture into an orchard.

Beranek became a hermit and a clock repairman. The old man spent the rest of his life alone, fixing broken cogs and minute hands. Perhaps he sought to reclaim those hours spent in the state jailhouse, or those years not spent with his dead wife.

My parents have spent three decades exorcising ghosts from this house. The fields produce now. Brook trout still hide in the creek. When he finished remodeling, my father laminated the newspaper article, and returned it to its place inside the wall.

 

John Messick’s essays have appeared in Tampa Review, Rock & Sling, Superstition Review, and other journals. A graduate of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks MFA program, he lives in Homer, Alaska where he works as a sled dog handler and freelance journalist.

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