"Sure is! And I been shoppin'!"
Mel patted a brown paper bag on the seat, then turned on his headlights.
It wasn't more than half an hour to his place, and we talked along the way. He was a repairman, he told me, and he specialized in sporting equipment. He scouted the rural area in which he lived for people with broken guns, fishing reels and outboard motors. He fixed them and took what they could afford to pay. He hunted and fished himself, and his wife grew vegetables and canned them. They had two children.
"I been married three years now," he said, smiling again. "Susan and me are doin' pretty damn good!"
After we left the two-lane, we bounced and skidded a mile or more over a narrow tree-lined dirt road. Mel's house was really just a shack—the sort of place I'd seen in movies like Tobacco Road.
"C'mon in, Mike! Get warm! Eat!"
The place was sparsely furnished but clean. In the living room were a large overstuffed couch, a few wooden chairs, a table for meals and a wood stove. A small Christmas tree with homemade decorations stood against one wall, and a door near the tree led to a bedroom. There was a small kitchen, an even smaller bathroom, and that was it.
Susan, a tall, strong blonde with green eyes, was six or seven months pregnant. I didn't hear her say more than 50 words the whole time I was there, but she seemed pleased that a wet stranger had showed up to spend Christmas Eve. The children, a chubby blonde girl of two and a year-old red-haired boy, were as lovely as any I have ever seen.
I changed clothes in the bathroom and stood by the wood stove to get warm. For dinner we had vegetable soup and lunchmeat sandwiches. "It'll be better tomorrow," Mel said. "You stay and eat with us tomorrow noon, and then I'll drive you on out to the main road. Or you can stay another night if you want to."