The enclosure that Aunt Phyllis mentioned in her letter to Howard was more than a little surprise; but more about that in a moment. In the meantime, you should know that Phyllis Tabor lived at home until the week before she died.
Phyllis Tabor—one of Fennimore county’s “Daughters of Flight”, a title she shared with her twin Ella Rose—might have attained “greater glory” in the bigger world, if she’d wanted it. But the Dirty Thirties brought her home to tend the family business with her younger brother Warren. Ella Rose was engaged in missionary work in China (from which she never returned) and brother Dwight had died in childhood; Mary Grace was too young. So Phyllis and Warren shepherded Tabor Industries through the late Depression and war years. By 1950 their diversification and employee profit-sharing had saved the company.
Phyllis continued to live at home with her widowed mother Lucy until Lucy died and maintenance of the old house tipped the balance between nostalgia and nuisance. She moved into a small apartment above Van Kannel’s Drug and sold her interest in the business. But the Tabors aren’t the sort to slip discreetly from the scene. So Phyllis continued to fly into her sixties and was easily recognized round and about town in her red Indian “Chief” motorcycle with sidecar, one of the last produced by the company in 1953.
During the second half of her life—though she couldn’t have known there would be a second half—Phyllis accomplished many things. She learned Chinese and made a trip there to investigate the 1937 disappearance of her sister. She taught engine maintenance at the high school. She taught her nephew Howard how to pickle and preserve. She taught Sunday School at Saint Joseph-the-Carpenter with her good friend Rev. Chilton Fanning Dowd and disagreed on certain theological points with pleasant persistence. But more important for our story, in 1957 at the age of forty-five Aunt Phyllis bought a decrepit farmhouse near Fahnstock and undertook a fifty-year renovation that gradually whittled the old place away until it had been transformed as “Howard’s Dead End”.
With apologies to both Carl Larsson and E.M. Forster, that house has been brewing in my head for twenty years or more, and it’s time to give it birth.
Oh, and the surprise in her letter to Howard was a deed to the property with a curious proviso: the house would be made available as a writer’s retreat to any who applied. If you’re looking for an out-of-the-way spot to conceive the Great American Novel, I can put in a word for you. The landlord’s a friend of mine.
[…] for your writing project (a rough outline) and will include them with this note. There is also a surprise for you and Rowan, a gift I hope you two will enjoy long after I’m […]