In Fair Heber City
David Johnson yawned as he woke up on an average Tuesday morning, with the sun peeking out behind the clouds of the suburbs of southern California, David got out of bed and got ready for the day. Stepping out of the shower, he glanced at the pay or quit notice from the landlord, started to brushed his tee- David stopped in his tracks and ran to the kitchen counter and to the notice, and read “Hello Mr. Johnson, We have noticed that you are very behind on your rent, you have 5 days to get us the money you currently owe us or our lease agreement will be terminated.”-Mr. King.
David sat down on the counter and squeezed his eyes shut tightly.
Even after living in this house for almost 2 years and couldn’t believe the cost of California rentals. “Thank God pay day was today”. He thought to himself. David and his team had been working on section of a new two story building for 2 weeks now, and was told he would get a bonus from this job when it wrapped. David quickly got ready, and hopped into his 1998 Toyota Corolla. After dropping his son and daughter off at kindergarten and preschool and then began his 20 mile drive to the construction zone.
Once he arrived, David maneuvered the crane over the huge metal supports for the top of the building, and gripped and placed them, holding their positions while his team installed crossbars to keep them in place. One false move and everyone was at risk - it was exciting to put a building together, but tension built up during the day. After the regulated 9 hour day, David waited in line with his friends to receive payment for the week, and explained his situation to them.
“I got a note from my landlord, I can’t afford to stay in that house if I stay with this job, It just feels like we don't get the bigger contacts anymore,” said one worker.
“I think we’re all in some trouble,” said Jim, David’s close friend.
“I heard from a buddy that the company is struggling at the moment, I hope not though, my wife lost her job last week and has been having serious problems finding another one close by. We have a newborn daughter, and babysitters are expensive,” said a newly hired man behind them in line.
“David Johnson” called out a woman from behind a desk.
David walked over. “Hi I am David Johnson, number 87, I worked 45 hours this week and was also called told by my manager last week that I would receive my promotion?”
“Ok David, let me see your total,” she said, punching numbers into a calculator, your final paycheck comes out to $785, thank you for being a part of Katco Inc.”
“Wait, Katco is going out? What is going to happen to all of the people who work here? Why weren't we informed earlier?” David was barely able to hold in his heavy breathing.
The secretary told the same story she had repeated dozens of times that morning – the company’s lawyers had told the staff to keep details quiet, but she could not stand to deliver the bad news without any explanation. “We found out yesterday morning, two of the foremen had a little side business going on - selling our purchased construction materials direct from our sites, down to copper piping and cement. Had no idea – until our line of credit was called and we got an injunction to stop work. Company’s remaining assets were seized, and our customers are suing us. We’re headed for Chapter 11, and those two guys made their money and high-tailed it out of here.” She was weary.
“Unload your stock, if you bought any on the company plan,” adding bitterly, “if you can get anything for it before the hammer comes down.”
David searched his memory – it wasodd, how materials would show up, but there never seemed to be enough, and they were told resources were being shifted. What chumps we were. Then, correcting himself – it wasn’t Katko’s fault that the company got cheated. It wasn’t my fault we got cheated. But it’s my job, and Rebecca’s, to figure a way out of it, he thought miserably.
As David drove home, he started doing the calculations, $950 + the $700 he might have been able to get for the car without it missing 2nd gear, take-out food and school and taxes, there was no way that his family would be able to get scrape together enough money to make it in California. Rebecca’s job, though steady, did not bring in enough income to support the family singly, either. Both David and Rebecca needed to work to make it in California.
When David got home, Jenny and Tommy as usual attached themselves to his leg. Walking bow legged with a five-year old glued to one leg and a three-year old glued to the other, he walked slowly toward his wife, with none of his usual spring, and the color washed from his usually ruddy face. Rebecca knew instantly something was wrong.
“Jenny, put your crayons back in the bin! Tommy, put your clean clothes upstairs! I am going to trade both of you in for a couple of better-trained monkeys!” Rebecca shooed the giggling toddlers in the direction of their chores and turned back to David.
David explained the situation to Rebecca – he was now jobless. And that they would be evicted if they didn’t get the rent money in time. Toys scattered around the room, the warm California sun lighting up the half-set table, the children’s pictures taped crazily to the walls with blue painter’s tape – this little house was a home. A home that David was not sure they could afford.
“Let’s talk while you set the rest of the table and I get the food out – I picked up sub sandwiches, I had a few orders to fill late – there was a mixup at the pharmacy with an elderly lady, wrong meds – had to go on back in to straighten it out, so I just got here myself,” said Rebecca, moving slowly to the counter to pick up the sandwiches. Rebecca’s slung her white coat across the banquette, the children’s smiling faces beaming from the buttons on the pocket just under her name stitched in cursive in light blue thread. Rebecca didn’t make a lot of money at the pharmacy, but that had never stopped her from being the most dedicated worker there – she wouldn’t allow any mix up with someone’s meds, but it meant that she frequently worked late.
David spilled out the story while they unwrapped the sandwiches together. David’s shoulders slumped even deeper as he got to the part about the stock.
“Like we were ever far enough ahead to be big time Katco investors, right Babe?” David’s laugh was bitter, and sad.
“Well, we can pick up a lottery ticket maybe,” retorted Rebecca, immediately regretting her joke. “Seriously, David, we’ll figure this out. Maybe you can pick up some work at Rite-Aid. I can talk with Judy to see if there are some hours available.”
“Starting at the bottom at your shop, that’d clear me what, 9 bucks an hour? We can’t make it on that, even though you are clearing 14 now. Two salaries like that are okay in Heber, but not here.”
“You want to go back?” Rebecca asked, with a sharpness that even surprised herself. “No way – we don’t ever move backward.”
David’s memory turned back 10 years. Two couples in their 50’s yelling at each other, a note taped to a refrigerator, reading “We’ll write soon when we find a place,” fresh plate of cookies on the counter – as if that would ease the blow of two families’ firstborns, leaving, splitting, ditching. Heber was a small town with big conflicts – there’s nothing like a feud between neighbors, and the Johnsons and the Fitzgeralds ran one of the biggest feuds in town. No one could even remember what had started old Ben Johnson and Hal Fitzgerald at each other all those years ago, but from sitting at opposite ends of church to walking a wide berth around their yards, the two men showed in every public way, that they just could not stand each other.
“Rebecca, it’s just as easy to fall in love with a Martin, or a Kapnick, or a Boyd, as it is a Johnson,” said Mary softly, stroking her daughter's hair as she confessed her crush on young David Johnson. Mary did not take it seriously – just puppy love, she thought – not worth winding up Hal over. The kids would move on quickly, they were only 17.
They didn’t. They stuck to each other like glue, every morning before school, every afternoon after school. David wrote clumsy poems for Rebecca and scrawled love notes in his crablike script. Rebecca helped David with his math homework, and giggled and looked away with every offering of poem or note. David’s math improved and so did his poetry. Rebecca rewarded his 12th poem with a kiss, finally, on the cheek. And it was finally settled – David said, that’s it, we’re always going to be together. As usual, Rebecca just laughed, but knowingly – it was she who’d kissed him finally, after all.
Veronica Mae Johnson was more forceful than Mary, but if anything, more indulgent of her oldest son’s romantic ideas. Ben was hard on him, wanted him to succeed, but so very hard. Ronnie remembered when Ben had been funny, crazy, spontaneous and fearless. But life in construction had shaped him into a person with bills to pay, schedules to keep, loads to deliver and trusses to haul. She remembered a time when she was even younger than David was, fearless, careless, thoughtless, and free. So even though she disapproved of the relationship, she loved her son too much to fight it.
Much to their parents disapproval, the two remained inseparable. Even with different majors in college. David studied to get a bachelor's degree in construction engineering, while Rebecca studied to become a pharmacist.
After College, Rebecca and David went back to Heber City, where they tried to find their first jobs as College graduates. But quickly after they return, their families begin to fight again, and they decide to leave for southern California. Kitco's offer to David was a godsend, they thought - the company required that its staff all start on construction sites to learn the business, but promised fast promotions and unlimited potential. So much for potential. Rebecca found work quickly, but the hours were long and there was no upward mobility at a franchise. But she loved her work, and dreamed of striking out on her own, with her own shop, someday. But with two little ones and bills to pay, there never seemed to be enough left at the end of the month to save for any dreams. But the sun was shining, no one was fighting and they were determined to make it.
“I really don’t think it would be a good idea if we left- the kids love it here and i’ve got a good thing going at Rite-aid, it could be bad if we go back, how would I work?” said Rebecca.
“Heber City is full of potential job openings, it’s perfect for the construction industry, and you could always find a job there, and the kids would love it!, can you imagine how good of skiers they could be if we started them soon?, Heber’s only 50 miles away from Alta and Snowbird, that’s almost nothing, and not only that, but we have our parents for sitters if we need it, and everything is less than half the price it is here!” replied David, his mind full and racing with all of the possibilities. “Heber City would be the perfect place to start a construction company too, and we could make lots of money with that.”
“But if we go back to Heber, we’d have to go back to our families to stay for a while, when we usually visit, it’s short enough that no fights start, but what about long-term, how likely is it that they’ll be just as nuts as they were if not worse?” replied Rebecca.
“I think that once they see the kids again, they’ll finally realize that we are happy together, and if they don’t then we’ll have to teach them ourselves” said David, thinking hard about what he had said.
Rebecca could not allow David to walk away from his dream and back into despair. She smiled at her best friend. “Alright. I’m in.”
4 days later, David and Rebecca load the last hastily taped cardboard box labeled kitchenware into the rented U-Haul truck. Rebecca walked through the house one last time. She remembered seeing it for the first time, and immediately knew that this was the house. From the location in the school district, all the way to the Jack and Jill bathroom for the kids that they wanted, She could tell that it was the one, and even though it needed lots of work, she knew that this was the house for her family.
Once they arrived after the 700 mile drive, they pulled into their new home, which had 4 bedrooms and 2 baths and 2 levels, and was almost half the price of the house they had lived in, and half the price. The next day, they moved all of the boxes into their new house and began unpacking. Well, half of them did, Jenny and Tommy ran away to play hide and seek in the unpacked all while giggling, “I’m in a box!” laughed Tommy.
That night, there was a knock on the door, and when it opened, the Fitzgerald and the Johnson families came in, they brought toys for Tommy and Jenny, candies, flowers, and food. Once the table was set and the food was ready, David and Rebecca started talking about what they wanted to do with the house, it was all fine, until Hal Fitzgerald, who had been glaring at Ben Johnson for over 5 minutes disagreed with Ben about the color of the house. “I think this house would be better if you painted a light green” said Ben, looking at the walls.
“Ugh, really, green, who chooses green for the color of a house?, If your going to paint the house, have some sense and paint it blue.” Replied Hal, clearly wanting to start a fight, and before long the 2 couples were yelling at each other, right up until the moment David smashed his glass down on the table and everyone went quiet. “Why must you 4 always make such a big deal out of everything?” He yelled, his voice echoing around the empty rooms, “Neither of you have had any real reasons to argue in over a decade, and if you want to come back here to see your grandchildren I recommend restarting your relationship with each other pronto because we are not going to put up with it anymore!
”The room went silent, and nobody spoke for about 30 seconds, until Hal Fitzgerald cleared his throat and said, “On behalf of me and Mary I would like to apologize to Ben and Veronica” “We apologize as well” replied Ben, with a smile on his face.
“We could pick...turquoise?” Ben said, smiling. Everyone smiled at his compromise.
“We need a restart and we want your help. We love you. We want to build a family here, and all of our family is in this room. Can we please work together.” Everyone listened intently to Rebecca. “I just want to raise the kids and do the work I love.”
“And I want to build things!” said David. “Just like you, Pop.”
Hal bowed his head. He knew his son was counting on him. And though Ben had been jumping on his last nerve for decades, he had managed to raise a smart, kind daughter - a woman that his son would always love. “See here,” said Hal. “Suppose Rebecca ran her own shop. Costs a lot to build something like that. Unless of course, we all pitch in.”
Ben could hardly believe his ears. “Hal you old son of a gun, you’ve beaten me out of project after project over the years. But us old guys could build something together for these two. We’ll build it just how my daughter says, though.”
David was over the moon. “And it will be the first job by J&F construction! Whaddya think, Rebecca?”
“Here’s what I think. Drugs and interactions and customers are one thing - but I’m a numbers person. Rebecca, if you could use an accountant, I’d be glad to help out,” Mary looked helpfully at her daughter.
“Well, someone is going to have to teach these children what’s what. I suppose I could dust off my books and teach two little monkeys to read,” laughed Veronica, smiling with delight to see her son’s expression.
Heber Drugs opened 8 months later. In the back room, lit with large windows uncommon in a pharmacy, two children babbled at their Grandma. Next to them, their other Grandma entered numbers in a ledger. Mom, in a white coat, worked the front, while Dad put in the last door lock on the medicine cabinets. And two old guys, who spent decades in a feud, sat on the back porch together having sodas, and watching as the sun set over Heber - two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Utah