The other day I was driving on County Route 16 when I noticed the ruins of an old barn. Upon closer inspection I realized it was the remains of a block building that had been built and used by a man I once knew. His name was Ziggie Pupecki and I got to meet him through the efforts of my Aunt Ruta who fancied herself as a kind of matchmaker. I was a kid from Brooklyn who liked farms and he was a farmer. But, that wasn’t the only match my aunt wanted to make. Ziggie was an eligible bachelor who was at that time about forty years old. One August afternoon, Aunt Ruta had Uncle William drive us out to the Pupecki place where she intended to secure a photograph of the farmer that she would send to my aunt Kay who was living with her young son in a furnished room in New York City. In Aunt Ruta’s mind, here was a man that needed a woman and a woman that needed a man. She thought they would make a great couple and once she had that idea there was no stopping her. I was about thirteen at the time and was not at all interested in my aunt’s plans. I had come along with my dog Pinky because I was told I’d get to see how a farm operates.
While Uncle William leaned against his Plymouth smoking a pipe, Aunt Ruta was in the house getting the photograph from Ziggie’s mother who was scheming with my aunt to find a woman for her son. At the time, the farmer had no idea that they had plans for him. He came out of the milk house and asked of my dog, “Does he chase cows?”
I didn’t know if this was something good or bad and answered, “He chases cats!”
It was almost milking time and I followed the farmer out into the pasture to bring in some stragglers. He told me to let Pinky loose and sure enough my dog took out after some logy Holsteins, making them trot in the right direction. I had no idea that my little black and white mutt had any herding abilities. Ziggie was very pleased with this and invited me to stay on at the farm for a while. I guess Aunt Ruta had expected the invitation because she had stashed some clothes and my new BB gun in the trunk of the car.
So, for a time I stayed on at the “Pupetski” farm – that’s what Aunt Ruta called it. I rose early to help with the milking and went to bed not long after sunset. There was no television in the house back then. I guess after a few days Ziggie sensed that the city kid was getting bored so one night we headed for a movie at the Capitol in Richfield Springs. It felt like a return to civilization. A horror movie starring Bela Lugosi was playing. The farmer fell asleep in the middle of the movie.
Besides working hard at his dairy, Ziggie had another job at some kind of mill or factory. Before he’d leave for the day, he’d plan a couple of chores for me to do but mostly I had a lot of time on my hands. One morning after I had finished cleaning the barn I picked up my BB gun and crossed the road to sit in the garden next to the house. I shot at various targets, a fence post, a bird, an old wooden bucket. Then my eyes came to rest on this shiny metal sphere that was about the size of a basketball. I figured it would ring like a bell when my BB hit it. It was sitting on a cement pillar that was about three feet tall. I took aim and squeezed off a shot. Incredibly, the thing disappeared with a crashing noise that sounded like a window had been broken. The ball had been made of glass!
Mrs. Pupecki came running out to the yard to see what had happened.
“What you do?” she exclaimed.
“I didn’t know it was glass,” I said.
“That was expensive thing,” she shouted.
I walked over to where the ball had been. Putting together the thousand pieces that lay on the ground was impossible. I knew I was in trouble and stayed clear of the house for the rest of the day.
Ziggie’s mother went out to talk to him as soon as he got home. I braced myself when he came over to me and told me to get the gun. I pictured it bent and broken in a garbage can. To my surprise when I returned, Ziggie had several beer cans lined up on a fence. He took the gun and shot down a couple before handing it back to me. Then he told me to shoot. The message was clearly made without one cross word.
I intended to buy another ball for Mrs. Pupecki with money I didn’t yet have. I felt guilty for a long time, but unfortunately I never got to replace her treasured ornament.
Aunt Ruta’s match making plans seemed to have disintegrated like the ball. The photograph was sent to Aunt Kay but I guess she wasn’t cut out for the country and Ziggie never got to meet her. I heard he was married some years later – and that he had had a difficult life. He’s gone now. All that remains is the block foundation of a barn, and the photograph that Aunt Ruta had once sent.
Terry Berkson is an author living in Richfield Springs.