By Jim O'Leary
An e-mail newsletter for and about Waverly people, used with permission in the HLW Herald and on this web site.
Nov. 25, 2002
The story of Lorin and Audrey
Although I wrote this as a short story and it's therefore fiction, my first cousin Audrey told me it was pretty much the way it all happened between her and Lorin.
It doesn't have much to do with Waverly although Audrey really fell in love with Waverly whenever she visited us.
Unfortunately Lorin never saw Waverly. The way I got to meet him was on our first visit back to South Dakota after our move to Waverly. It was a funeral we went to. Lorin was a strong manly teenager. I was 8 and he was my instant hero. He even caught me a horned toad to take back to Minnesota in a matchbox.
LORIN O'LEARY AND AUDREY O'LEARY
When she got up every morning, the first thing she always did was run out to the hen house and reach under the hens' warm rumps to take their eggs, even though she often got pecked by the stupid hens.
The hens sat on nests of hay on the shelves Lorin had made. She would put the eggs in a brown paper bag, run past the old pump and on into the kitchen where her mother would exclaim to her at the wealth she had found and give her a little hug. Here was breakfast, and maybe lunch and dinner.
Then Audrey would run to the barn to find Lorin. He would be milking and sometimes he would let her take a couple of pulls herself at the teats while she sat on his lap on the three legged milking stool.
She loved it when Lorin would squirt some milk to her kittens, who would stand on their hind legs like circus dogs dancing around. Some of them would lean against the wall like drunken bums shaky on their hind legs and then jump at the rope of milk Lorin aimed their way. She also knew that later she would get to spin the cream separator. She was a good strong farm girl for eight years old.
After the milking she would run back to the house to play with the baby. She liked to change him and help her mother give him his bath. His name was Robert and Audrey knew he was the prettiest baby in all of South Dakota. She was trying to teach him to talk even though he was only five months old, but he was such a smart baby!
One day, Lorin had her help him paint a tool box. On one side he painted her pet name, "Lolo" in white and on the other side he painted HELP THE FINNS. Lorin said the Russians had gone into Finland to kill all the Finns.
He called her "Lolo" because when she was a baby she couldn't say "Lorin" but called him "Lolo."
He also made a swing for her from an old tire and a rope and hung it on a tree branch in back of the house.
He used to bring her little animals he rescued and he taught her how to give a baby bottle to bum lambs.
He brought her earthworms so she could go fishing in the creek. Sometimes he brought her home one of those awful beasts called horned toads but Audrey wasn't afraid of them.
One day while they were in the garden hoeing weeds, he said, "Lolo, I don't know how to tell you this, but I have to go away for a long, long time."
Audrey said, "I won't let you go!"
She felt like she was going to cry: the choke in the throat, the flush in the face, the tears starting to come. She said the only thing that came to her mind:
"If you want to run away, take me with you. I can cook for you. I can wash the clothes. I can help, honest I can."
Lorin said, "Naw, Aud, it isn't that. I need to make some money to help out the folks. I can go off into the woods like Uncle Pat, out there in Washington. I can help him cut down trees and make some really good money and send it home to the folks."
When Lorin hugged her goodbye at the train depot in town that June, she tried hard not to cry but she had an awful big lump in her throat. She was only 8 so her mother helped her write letters to him every week.
Six months later, when he came home for Christmas, the whole family was there to pick him up at the train and Audrey was the first one he hugged. Boy, he was strong!
That last day was a Sunday and they took a picture. There were her older sisters and her two other brothers and the baby and their mother and father. Audrey got to stand right next to Lorin on the cellar door where they all posed. Lorin was kneeling there, on one knee, and his two married older sisters were smiling and stooping over above him, each with a possessive hand on either shoulder and looking up at the camera as if to say, "He's mine. He's mine."
Audrey was looking straight into the camera with a dead serious face but Lorin was looking over at her and smiling. Their father was holding Robert the baby and gazing down at him with the adoration always reserved for the baby of the family. The mother had her hand on Dan's shoulder. Dan was just three years older than Audrey, a really good brother, but not as yet tall and strong like Lorin.
Earlier that morning, Audrey had Lorin tie the blue ribbon in back of her white dress which she always wore to Sunday Mass. She had put a blue barrette in her hair, the one he had given her for her birthday. When Lorin later spotted her crying with her head down over the kitchen sink, he picked her up and she put her face into his neck and cried while he talked softly into her ear.
"I'll be back next summer, Honey. Okay? I'll write you and I'll send you something from the coast. Don't forget I love you, okay? Take good care of the baby. And take good care of Mom and Dad too."
After the picture, Lorin and his father headed for the car and Lorin got into the driver's seat. Audrey followed him to the car. He rolled down the window where Audrey stood by the car door and he gave her a smile and a thumbs up like the pilots did in the movies. When he turned on to the road that ran past the farmhouse, he slowed down, looked back over his shoulder, smiled and gave Audrey one last wave.
Then she ran back to the house and up the stairs to look out the window. She watched the car climb the long hill past the Schmidt place until it disappeared over the other side of the hill on its way into town. She stayed at the window until her mother came to fetch her.
Now it was June again, and Audrey, Dan and their father were hauling hay with the team and wagon down near the creek. The air was still and hot and they were all very quiet. Meadowlarks made all the noise there was.
Then the three of them stopped and looked up when they heard a car coming and stood stock still when they saw Uncle Jerry drive up right next to the hay rack. Aunt Agnes was in the front seat with him and a cousin was in the back. Their father looked down from the hay rack at Uncle Jerry when Jerry got out of the car seat and came over to the hay rack. Dan and Audrey heard their father say, "It's about Lorin, isn't it?"
Nobody said anything as Uncle Jerry handed him the yellow telegram. Audrey got into the back seat of Uncle Jerry's car between her cousin and her father, who put his arm around her. Dan climbed up on the hay rack, sat on the iron seat, took the reins and started the team towards home.
A few days later the coffin came in on the train. The undertaker told them to have a closed casket wake: "His head's just too smashed in. You wouldn't know him."
He was waked in the parlor of the farmhouse, the parlor they only used for company.
Audrey's mother kept the house going but when she and Audrey were alone in the kitchen and before all the company started coming for the Rosary, she pulled Audrey aside.
"Honey, you just have to do this but don't tell a soul. Go down to the shed and get me Lorin's tool box and bring me a screwdriver, a hammer and a pair of pliers. And don't let anybody see you and don't tell anybody. This is our secret, Honey."
Audrey ran out and got the tools for her mother, even though she knew what her mother was up to and that it was somehow wrong.
Her mother pried open the lid and she and Audrey looked inside and saw Lorin. They could see where the boom had caught him on the side of the head and they knew he had died instantly. It was Lorin. Lorin.
Her mother said, "He looks so peaceful, so peaceful."
She crossed herself then and so did Audrey and then her mother gently closed the lid. Audrey ran back to the shed with the screwdriver, hammer and pliers and put them back into Lorin's toolbox. She never told anyone her secret: that she was the only one in the family who got to say goodbye to Lorin.
More than 50 years have gone by and I have always stayed close to my cousin Audrey. I always knew she would be a success in life but I was amazed that this farm girl from South Dakota would win national honors in Real Estate and that year after year she would be named as the top realtor in El Paso, Texas. She could sell to anyone and outsell everyone.
I have finally figured it out. On her recent visit to us in Corpus Chrisi, we talked about Lorin, and I came to this conclusion: The reason Audrey made such a success of her life and the reason she achieved her stardom was really quite simple.
All she ever had to do was to remember her big brother Lorin and what he thought of her.
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