Chapter 1 Summary

Yogi Johnson looks out the window at the snow-covered yard of the pump factory where he works in Michigan. He thinks of a line from a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley (either quoted or attributed by Johnson to “this writing fellow Hutchinson”):

If winter comes, can spring be far behind?

He hopes it is true again this year. Near Johnson, a fellow worker, Scripps O’Neil, also looks out to the crated pumps. Scripps is tall and lean with a tall and lean face. When the spring comes and the snow melts, the pumps will be moved down to the train station, where they will be loaded onto flat cars and freighted away. Yogi thinks of Paris, where he had once spent two of the happiest weeks of his life. That happiness, like everything else, is behind him now.

Scripps has two wives in two separate cities in Michigan: Mancelona and Petoskey. He has not seen the wife in Mancelona for almost a year. The two of them often got drunk together. When Scripps was drunk, he and his wife were happy. Scripps thinks the drinking makes him strong. He has a daughter named Lucy, but he calls her “Lousy.” One night, Scripps awakened after being drunk for three or four days and realized he lost his wife. He walked back along the train tracks to find her. He tried to walk on the rails but could not do it, so he continued walking on the ties. It was a long walk into town, but finally Scripps saw the lights of the switchyard. He passed the high school; he thinks there was nothing Rococo about it. He compares it to the buildings in Paris, but he has never been to Paris. It is his friend Yogi who went there once.

Yogi continues to look out the window and realizes that it will soon be time to shut up the pump factory for the night. When he opens the window a little, he feels the chinook (a warm breeze that heralds spring) blowing. The workmen, many of whom are Indians, lay down their tools. The foreman is famous in the factory for having once made a trip as far as Duluth, Minnesota, where a wonderful thing happened to him. He wets his finger and holds it up in the air, feeling the warm breeze. He shakes his head and tells the other men that it is a regular chinook. The men silently put up their tools and the half-completed pumps and walk out to the washroom to clean up before going home. Outside there is the sound of an Indian war whoop.