Joel Gettrich had worked hard all his life, made a lot of money and retired with his wife to a small farm town in a fertile valley. On a large green knoll across the street from the five-year old cannery he built a modern split-level house with big glass windows. The windows didn’t face the wide green fields behind the knoll; they faced the cannery. The window of Joel’s Idea Room, as he called it, where he spent many a happy hour tinkering with various materials, faced the cannery, too.
A year before his retirement he and his wife had been out on a Sunday drive, taking whatever road came to hand, on the lookout for something new. It was still fairly early in the morning when they came out of a low mountain range and saw the great expanse of snow-white almond blossoms covering the foothills, circling the valley floor like coconut on a donut, and below, in the flat valley, miles and miles of earth being turned over by dozens of tractors. In the center of this white and brown bowl stood a small town, and at its northern edge a heroic-looking plant. Stainless steel pipes gleamed steadily in the sunlight as they twisted and curved and ran for hundreds of yards around a gigantic concrete root. Three slender stainless steel stems shot straight to the sky. The culminating flowers did not disappoint. Dark gray, low, and billowing slowly out, was one; a lighter gray, almost white, was another as it rolled and spread upward; in the center, above these two, rose the masterpiece, the pure white steam that curled like a ballerina’s arm, pointed a finger and touched the sun, then bloomed into an even purer white against a pure blue canvas sky. Joel and his wife immediately fell in love with the plant and decided to find out all they could about it and the surrounding town.
The name of the town was Integrity. Its business was farming and its biggest employer was The Best Cannery. The town had a small shopping mall, a few thousand people and several dozen streets. It also had, to Joel’s great delight, a large green knoll on which was located a small park right across from The Best Cannery. Joel and Amy came back to the valley several more times that year, sat on one of the benches in the park and enjoyed the sights. Finally, Joel bought the knoll, paying a steep price, but a very good price to him, since he got what he wanted.
He and Amy were very happy. Eating breakfast at dawn started the day off just right. They could look out their kitchen window and see the first kiss of sun on cloudy steam, lean across the table and touch their four lips. At night, before going to bed, they could stand at the living room window, Joel’s arm around Amy’s shoulders, and see the dark and solid forms of the smokestacks glance along the stars. All summer long trucks overflowing with tomatoes lined up at a gate far to the Gettrich’s right and came out at a gate far to their left—one continuous parade of millions of tiny red plump ballons and well-directed, successful work.
They had lived there for about five years when Joel read an article in the local paper about Nash Flinton, the owner/operator of The Best Cannery. The article said that Mr. Flinton was a strict, competent boss, loved his job, demanded their best from his employees, worked twelve hours a day, was fifty-five and lived with his wife, a successful landscape painter. Glancing up from his paper, Joel could see someone standing at the cannery’s office window and wondered if that was Mr. Flinton.
Later that day, while sawing a bit of wood in half in his Idea Room, Joel had a totally different idea. It was coming up on Thanksgiving Day, Joel’s investments were doing spectacular, and he felt a great sense of benevolence. “Damn it! I’ll do it!” Joel got on the phone, made some calls and issued a few orders.
Just past twilight, when the office lights of The Best Cannery blinked off, men and trucks were on the move. They stopped in front of Joel’s house and immediately the men jumped into action. In the beams of a half dozen spotlights men climbed ladders, cranes lifted and swung their cables, there was a roar of motors and the clank of steel on steel. An hour before dawn the job was done. The men and the trucks roared off and all was silent and still, except for the continuous stream of steam as it rose up lightly and veiled the stars.
Joel and Amy were as excited as two little children on Christmas morning. They sat drinking their coffee, waiting for the sun and a sign of movement in The Best Cannery office. Fifteen minutes later Nash Flinton, a lean, hard-bodied man with direct dark eyes, a smooth high forehead and a mouth which seemed always on the verge of smiling, walked into his office and stopped. What he had come there to do suddenly vanished from his consciousness. Instead, he looked and saw what he had done.
Reflected in a fifty foot wide, one hundred foot high mirror standing above the Gettrich house, stainless steel smokestacks and steampipes soared straight up into the sky, while their blossoms and flowers flowed, spread out, bathed in the sun, and announced the glory of man.
Nash Flinton stood with his feet set out, his hands on his hips, his face raised, and looked upon his work and smiled. Then he walked out a seldom used door, crossed the yard and the street, and stepped up to the Gettrich front door. Stamped on a gold nameplate was Joel and Amy Gettrich. As he raised his hand to knock, the door opened and Joel stood there and said, “Now, I don’t want any arguments, Mr. Flinton. Though it wasn’t your intention, because of your hard work and your love of life, you, and The Best Cannery, have been giving me and my wife the most beautiful spectacle day after day and night after night. I thought that if you were the kind of man you appeared to be, you would love to have a view of the achievement of your life. You might say that I was giving something back.”
“That’s Joel to you”.
“All right, Joel, call me Nash. Joel, how about you and Amy stepping over to my office for a few minutes so you can see what a Helluva job you did.”
Joel leaned back and laughed, then shouted, “Amy! Bring the coffee! And an extra cup for Nash! Damn, it sure feels good to be right about a man!”
And off the happy threesome walked, from The Best Cannery to The Best Cannery.
‘Mirror, mirror! Who’s the most beautiful in the world?’
‘Why, of course, it’s man’s productive sail unfurled!’
“…the pure white steam that curled like a ballerina’s arm, pointed a finger and touched the sun…”. Extraordinary imagination. And exactly the sentiment I felt seeing, one day, the steam from a trash company chimney billow up.
Thanks, Sam. There is actually a cannery in my hometown of Woodland, Cali. out of which pours the biggest steam-pillows. Beautiful stuff.