He followed me home

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(Host) Commentator Willem Lange has rarely brought home stray animals. But he’s a sucker for stray people.

(Lange) In my childhood, I never pulled that he-followed-me-home trick depicted by Norman Rockwell. But shortly after Mother and I were married, I started bringing home human strays. We were living in the Adirondacks, far from sources of external stimulation. Our only fun, as with Robert Frost’s lonely bender of birches, was what we made ourselves: a winter-long Scrabble series, Canasta, and listening to “Rawhide” on the CBC. So I started bringing people home.

Do you remember the assembly programs you had in school? Magicians, parakeet and dog trainers, adventurers – they came through every couple of months to brighten up the school routine. Outstanding among them were Rudi and Emma. Rudi was German, and had traveled down the Amazon on a raft powered by his motor scooter. On the way he’d collected several large snakes, which he displayed on the school stage. He’d also collected Emma, an Incan, who stood at one side of the stage, smiling and pointing to Rudi like a magician’s assistant every time he did something unbelievable. Naturally, I took them home.

They stayed several long, long days. Every morning Emma woke up sick and unable to think of eating, with no idea of the cause. Mother knew perfectly well what it was, but couldn’t bring herself to tell her. Meanwhile, Rudi took an illicit shine to our jolly baby-sitter. But at least he didn’t bring his pythons into the house.

One November, two Mormon missionaries showed up at our door. Were we believers? Would we like to know more about the Latter-Day Saints? Somewhat guiltily, we said sure, reflecting that the seven study sessions they prescribed would be as stimulating for them as for us. So we plowed all the way through The Book of Mormon, which I found fascinating.

At the end of the last session, we politely declined to pursue the investigation further. Then Mother had an inspiration. “Look!” she said. “You’re going to be away from home on Christmas. Why don’t you come for dinner?”

Which they did, but one of them had had an emergency tooth extraction that morning. He brightened up a little during dinner, but chewed gingerly; he still couldn’t feel the swollen side of his face. His partner carried the conversation, while he suffered in silence at his corner of the table.

When dinner was cleared, Mother brought in a plum pudding with a dish of hard sauce. She sliced it and passed it around. But she’d mixed some Christmas spirits into it: a pretty stiff dose of Barbados rum. She’d forgotten these kids had forsworn all stimulants. There was a low moan from the dental end of the table. We spun around, and our missionary was gone, under the table, out like a light.

There’ve been dozens more over the years, but now I usually call first to see if it’s all right.

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer, and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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