Mr. Vincent and Mrs. Amanda Lane,
Congratulations on fulfilling your payment obligations for account number 73-443. Enclosed please find a Satisfaction of Lien statement, clear deed, and all other relevant documents for ownership of real property at 111 Howard Drive, Lawndale, MD.
Thank you very much for your business and we hope you will remember us in the future.
Dressed in loose slacks and a nice blouse, eighteen-year old Amanda crossed her arms in anger and frustration as she glared at her father. "I'm wearing pants because they're comfortable. I don't have to wear a skirt."
Still in his Building Maintenance uniform, Pete Lodzyck glared equally hard at his daughter. "Pants are not appropriate attire for a young lady to wear in the State Department offices."
"Daddy, I told you. I'm not taking that secretary job. I don't like what they're doing in Vietnam and I won't work to support it."
"Young lady, now that you're out of high school, you need to learn a little responsibility. I pulled a lot of strings to get you that job!"
"And you didn't bother to ask if I wanted it."
"Darling." A medium-build woman with brown hair, Renee Lodzyck said, "A secretary is a fine way to meet nice young men. Once you marry one, you can stay home and make pottery as much as you want."
"So, is that what you want to do?" Pete leaned forward. "Make pottery?"
Forcing herself not to back away, Amanda replied, "As a matter of fact, yes."
Pete shot back, "Do you really think you can make a living at that?"
"I want to at least try."
"Then you better get to work." Pete started to walk away and said over his shoulder, "If you're not taking the job I got you, I'm expecting rent the first of July."
Amanda stretched out on her bed and stared at the hand-painted posters on the wall. She focused on one she'd made at the start of her junior year after seeing the Beatles perform on television. "Well, John, got any suggestions?"
After several moments of silence, she said, "I didn't think so, but at least you make a good listener."
"I have a good foot treadle-powered throwing wheel and know where to buy clay and glazes. I can start making things here and sell them locally. One problem: I need a kiln." She went to the window and looked out into the suburban Maryland sky. "Forget new, I hope I can find a good used one. Hey, maybe there are some ads in the art magazines."
She pushed a lock of amber-blond hair away and started looking through magazines and a couple of underground newspapers. "Hopefully what I've got in savings will cover it."
Over an hour later, she said, "Lawndale? Where the hell is Lawndale?"
Amanda followed the small map the lady at the main office had drawn. She knocked on the door of the art studio and slowly opened it. Beyond, a bearded man with long hair was talking with a middle-aged woman. She looked up and waved Amanda over.
Amanda pulled the clipped newspaper ad from her pocket and held it out. "Hi. I'm hoping to buy the kiln you have for sale."
The lady shook her head. "I'm sorry; I just sold it to this man."
Amanda's shoulders followed her heart in sinking. "Please, do you have any more for sale?"
"No, we don't."
The bearded man said, "Hey, know how to use one?"
Amanda nodded. "Yes."
"Groovy. Could you show us?"
"Who are 'us?'"
"Free Lawndale. Oh, yeah. Hey, I'm Winston, most call me Bear. We're trying to live a natural and free life."
"What do you need a kiln for?"
"Makin' our own cups and plates and stuff, so we don't have to buy 'em."
Amanda thought, maybe I can sell them some lessons. and said," Tell you what, buy me some lunch and I'll show you how it works."
"I'm good with that."
At twenty-one, Vincent Lane had seen a lot in the three years since he'd become a stringer photographer for several newspapers. With curious amusement, he studied the large wood-framed house near the end of the street. The front yard was roughly cut and the back was planted with vegetables. Several older vehicles were parked on or around the driveway. A small sign out front said, "Free Lawndale Community. All welcome."
Vincent went to the door and knocked. A young woman in a blouse and skirt featuring an exotic print fabric opened it. "Hi."
"Good morning. I'm Vincent Lane, with Mid-Atlantic News. I'm here to take some photos of your community."
"Sounds cool. Hey, I'm Rose." The woman turned and yelled "Hey Bear! The picture guy's here!"
While waiting, Vincent could see the living room of the house featured a lot of hand-made decorations. The furniture was used and mismatched, but the posters and wall hangings were colorful and imaginative. A term that could also describe several of the individuals moving through the house.
After a tour of the house and garden, Bear directed Vincent to a door set in the ground of the back yard. "It's taking time, but we are becoming more and more self-sufficient. Down here is one of our newest residents."
They went down the steep stairs to a small underground room. The shelves designed to hold canned food were filled with a wild assortment of ceramic creations. In the center of the room, Amanda, clad in shorts and an undersized shirt, sat on a stool shaping something on her pottery wheel. Vincent stopped and raised his camera to record the graceful vision before him.
"Need to wait until she stops, man. When she's makin' something, the rest of the world don't exist," Winston explained as Vincent continued to take photos.
Amanda completed turning up the lip of the plate on the wheel and looked up. "Hey Winston, who's our guest?"
"Vincent, he's a newspaper photographer."
"How do you like our place?"
Vincent clicked the camera shutter to capture her warm smile. "I'm starting to like it a lot."
Vincent started the timer and quickly moved to sit with Amanda, two-year old Summer, one-year old Wind and tiny infant Penny.
After the camera flash, Amanda said, "Thanks. Mom and Dad like to see pictures of the kids."
"At least they came around. They do love our kids, even if they're still a little wary of me."
For a moment, Vincent briefly let his frustration at his own family's coldness get to him. We're the black sheep of the Lane family. As if my drunken brother Max or my stuck-up sister Bernice have done any better.
"Can you help me up? I'm feeling tired," Amanda softly asked.
"Sure." Vincent knelt, took Penny in one arm and put the other around Amanda's waist.
"Hey, I'll watch Summer and Wind. Stay with your old lady," Rose said from the doorway of the room. When Vincent nodded in thanks, she picked up Wind and took Summer's hand. "Come on, let's go help Maggie grind flour."
Vincent carefully helped Amanda to the small bed in their room. "Easy, you only got out of the hospital a week ago."
"I didn't like that place." She stroked Penny's cheek. "Hey Early Bird, want to stay with Daddy for a little while?"
Penny murmured and held onto Vincent's shirt. He kissed Amanda and said, "I'll take care of her; get some rest."
She pulled the sheet over her legs and curled up. "Night."
As Amanda's eyes closed, Vincent shuddered at the memory of those horrible minutes in the ambulance when he almost lost her. He carefully cradled his daughter. "Come on, let Mommy get some sleep."
On the television, Amanda, Vincent, Winston and Rose watched the line of gaunt men in loose clothes exit the military transport plane. The first one saluted and said, "We are honored to have the opportunity to serve our country under difficult circumstances...God bless America."
Winston released a weary sigh. "It's really over and they're coming home."
Rose wrapped her arms around her knees. "Speaking of over...I'm sorry Bear. It's been a great trip, but I'm headin' out."
Winston slowly rubbed his face. "I guess you got a jump on the rest of us, Rose." He looked around wishfully. "We can't keep the place going like this. My Dad willed me the house to raise a family in. I didn't raise anyone, but I've been a part of a great family. But now, I'm gonna have to sell the house. I'm figuring everyone will need to move out in a month or two."
Amanda twisted around. "I don't want to go anywhere. I'm happy here."
"I'm sorry Amanda, but I don't have a choice. I've used up the last of our money, we haven't had enough people to properly tend the garden in a year. Hell, the only thing that's kept us afloat has been your ceramics and Vin's photography."
"But I where would I put my kiln?"
"Winston." Vincent kneaded his hands together. "Would you consider selling the place to Amanda and me?"
The loan officer carefully pointed to each number on the paper as he talked. "Here's the loan amount of fifteen thousand dollars, your interest rate of seven percent, loan period of thirty years - meaning the contract will be fulfilled in April twenty-oh-three, and your monthly payment will be ninety-nine dollars and eighty cents." He shifted his eyes to Amanda and Vincent. "Any questions?"
Feeling uncomfortable in the suit he hadn't worn since moving in with Amanda, Vincent fidgeted in his chair, but said, "No."
The banker thrust a pen into Vincent's hand and placed a stack of printed paper in front of him. "I'll just need your signatures on a few forms. We can start here and here."
Vincent slumped to the floor and worked to catch his breath after getting their bed into the master bedroom from the room they'd used upstairs. When he was ready to get back on his feet, Amanda came in, followed by their children.
She said, "The children are so happy to have rooms of their own."
Summer hugged his legs tightly. "Thanks Mommy, Daddy! I've got a room like a big girl."
Wind pushed on his older sister. "Yeah, now I don't have to share with icky sisters."
Penny pushed Wind. "No, you're icky."
Amanda looked down. "Children."
Vincent told them, "Go up and start thinking about what you want in your rooms."
The three youngsters shouted with excitement and rushed upstairs.
Vincent embraced Amanda. "Having a place for a darkroom and a guest room will be great."
"And my kiln is safe." She warmly kissed him. "Thanks. I know I'll always have a home."
He held her closer and closed his eyes. I hope so. I lied through my teeth about how much we earned.
The man behind the desk set the portfolio down and took his reading glasses off, placing them into a shirt pocket. "Impressive work, Mr. Lane."
Once again in his old suit, Vincent slowly released his held breath. "So, you think it's up to your magazine's standards?"
"Close enough for me to offer you a trial assignment. If it passes muster, American Geographic will take you on as a regular."
"That's great." So is what they pay.
"I hope you don't mind travel."
"I got used to it when I was a stringer photographer."
"Good, because you're heading to Nome, Alaska."
"Dad, I'll be fine. Yeah, I know my ex was a big mistake, but now that I've got the court order to garnish his wages for child support, I found a place of my own again," Summer told her father while she packed a suitcase.
"I know, but your room will always be here for you."
"Yeah, yeah, Mom and her butterflies."
"Hey, does this mean I don't have to keep getting shanghaied into baby sitting?" Thirteen-year old Jane quipped from the hallway.
"Yeah, you're off the hook for now." Summer closed the suitcase and looked up with a smirk. "At least until you have kids of your own."
"As if. Anyway, I'm off to the park. See ya later." Jane waved and jogged down the stairs.
Vincent adjusted Wind's tie and tuxedo collar before stepping back. "There."
"Thanks, Dad." Wind beamed and hugged his father. "I'm so excited. Claudia is perfect! We'll be together forever."
When Wind released Vincent, Amanda stepped in to embrace her son. "Wind. You look so happy."
"I am. Though also a little sad. I'll miss this room."
Amanda said, "You're always welcome."
"I'll remember that. But we're off to California after the honeymoon. Don't know if we'll have a chance to come back any time soon."
Penny put her arms through the backpack straps and pulled it up onto her shoulders. "Mom, Dad, face it. Your generation tried and failed. Now it's up to mine to try and make a difference."
Vincent puffed on his pipe and said, "If you insist on going down there, remember this one piece of advice: always keep enough local cash for a good bribe in a safe place. You'll never know when you'll need it."
"Dad, that is so euromale-centric."
Amanda hugged her and kissed her cheek. "Have a nice trip. We'll keep your room ready for you."
"Like I'm coming back here any time soon?"
"Well, you never know," Amanda admonished.
"Yeah, I'll think about it. But there's a big future in teaching hemp fiber cloth production. I've got a vision. Give the oppressed survivors of Old World colonialism the means to economic independence from our vacuous merchandise. So, I better get going, my bus leaves in half an hour."