Dispatches from Quarry Farm: The Quadrennial

Caretaker Steve Webb and his son are the only year-round residents of Quarry Farm. Steve provides us with occasional, not always altogether reliable, updates from the premises.

The power is out and the rain is coming down nice and steady. We haven’t had rain all summer so this is especially good for our world.  It was dry. Like so dry that it hurt my bare feet to walk across the grass—and I have tough feet, I’m always walking barefoot in the summer. It was so dry that I had to water the flowers twice a week, which feels weird because flowers, in most cases, in all cases in my case, are not food.

At least I’m not one of those people watering grass, they’re the real monsters, is what I tell myself to fend off my frivolous, flower-watering guilt. Plus, I’m the caretaker of Mark Twain’s summer home, Quarry Farm. Part of my job is to have beautiful flowers. And to be honest, after nine years, I’m getting pretty good at it. I’m not about to let my little miracles of nature, that I’ve been nurturing since March, dry up. Especially before the big show.

We have a Quadrennial conference this week from today, Thursday, until Saturday. Thursday and Friday take place down on the Elmira College campus and Saturday, the big finale, is an all-day event up here at The Farm. Twain scholars and writers from around the world travel to be here at this conference. It’s the Caretaker world cup and you bet your ass that I’m going to shine.

I’ve been putting in the extra hours for the past week or so to get the place in tip-top shape. Hedge trimming, mulch laying, paint touch-ups, organizing, lighting, dusting, sweeping, but no mowing—it’s dry remember? I’ve been circling the house, taking notes, getting it all in line. There are circus tents in the yard. Two with purple and gold stripes, Elmira College’s favorite colors, and one rental tent big enough for five to ten elephants or about 150 Twain scholars. There are two porta-johns—not suitable for any elephants—and a cleaned-out garage for the catering crew to stage their production.

Everything’s pretty much in line but I planned on taking the rest of the day for final touches. But then, around 1pm, in rolled a massive, if-I-had-hair-it’d-be-standing-up kind of storm. The lightning cracked so close that I reflexively ducked and the cats ran for the closets and the dog paced the house panting and twitching. The light flashed through the windows and the trees bent sideways like a Buddhist parable, opting out, just barely, on breaking. The rain was so heavy it shot off the roof and cleared the gutters. It formed little lakes that were dry deserts only minutes before. Then the stove-clock went black, and my teenage son groaned in what I instantly knew to be the loss of internet service. I thought about my finishing touches as the rain slowed from torrential to nice and steady and a little, Mona Lisa smile implicated my contentment as the trees breathed a sigh of relief and the grass remembered springtime and I sat back and listened to the sound of a job well done.