The Broken Furrow part 1
by Leroy N. Keim of New Castle, PA
The big horse in the furrow shifted his feet and dropped over on his right hip. The creak of the harness and the soft jingle of the trace chains brought Paul out of his reverie. Almost as if he were waking from sleep he looked around him at the bright world of this field he had been plowing in for two days now. The field lay in a long curve along the hillside, steepening as it approached old man Finch’s woodlot, which covered, completely, the top of the hill, and fell away into the river valley on the other side. Paul always stopped the horses here at the end where the whole farm lay along the gentle slope to the north, until the view was swallowed up in the swell of Jack’s mountain, which seemed to go on and on into infinity to the northeast. Paul’s heart always lifted at the panorama spread out before him, but today his mind had overwhelmed his other senses to such an extent that he became suddenly aware of the bright sun, and high drifting clouds, and birdsong, and the mixture of scents of freshly turned earth and the pungency of the covering of manure he had spread here last week, and was now turning into the soil along with the slowly greening clover and timothy. He had turned the three Percherons into the new furrow, set his plow and then stopped the horses to rest them before making the return trip across the field.
Paul loved to plow, loved the view of the play of strong muscles across broad rumps, thick legs in their regular stride; loved how the jointer tipped the little strip of sod off to the right before the share came along, ripping a broad slice of the hillside and sending it flowing over the moldboard to lie against the preceding furrow.
But today he was unable to enter into the spirit of the work as he was accustomed to, and he sighed as he stepped off his plow to go forward to check the harnesses on the horses. He lifted the collar on the gray mare and pulled a piece of mane forward off her sweated shoulder. She pushed her head against his chest and he had the distinct impression that she was unhappy with him and sensed his detachment from the job at hand. The black geldings seemed restless too. One of them stepped sideways into his teammate in an unaccustomed way and Paul wondered suddenly how long he had been sitting there staring at nothing. Guiltily he looked along the field at the unplowed area and swung quickly onto the plow seat, and picking up the lines started the horses on their march back across the field. Paul plowed steadily now, only stopping the horses to rest occasionally. As the sun dropped out of sight behind the trees on Finch’s woodlot, Paul plowed the last furrow to finish up the east side of the field.
Paul had always been a bit of a loner. He was an only child and had learned to entertain himself when he was not helping his Father, or in the very early years, his grandfather, around the farm. His grandfather had died when Paul was in grade school and Paul’s father had a weak heart, so Paul had begun the work of a man at a relatively young age. He had always loved the farm and wanted to do its work from childhood, following his grandfather and father and learning to do the work almost before he was able to do it. His grandfather said that,” Paul was a natural born farmer.” And Paul’s mother and father would watch him fondly as Paul cared for the livestock or helped in the work of the fields in any way he could.
Now as Paul watered and unharnessed and fed the tired horses he thought sadly back to those happy years. After feeding and checking on the sheep and hogs, the other mare and two foals, Paul turned toward the dark house with a certain dread he was not accustomed to feeling. He had long considered himself completely content with his life on this farm, and in his participation and trading of work with the neighbors up and down the valley, to whose houses he was sometimes invited to share in a meal, or to a coon hunt on a moonlit night, or to a butchering or christening. Except for trips to deliver livestock to auction or a farmyard, an occasional meal at the café in town, or a farm auction somewhere in the county, Paul stayed on his farm. He felt that he had plenty of social life. But two days ago his friend Avery had stopped to see him as he rested the horses at the end of the furrow, and casually mentioned that Betty Borders had come back home and would be working the scale at the Borders Feed and Storage in town, and something had changed for Paul, and he had been a little preoccupied ever since. Paul was in his late forties now and though the years sat easily on his shoulders, there was a faint touch of gray at his temples and the moustache that covered his upper lip was becoming peppered with gray.
Entering the house, Paul washed and ate, then not feeling like bed yet, he pulled his rocker close to the wall lamp and began to read the weekly paper that was published in the village. On the second page his eye was caught by a small block ad stating that Betty Borders had taken the position of weigh master, at Borders Feed and Storage, and was beginning work on the following Monday. Paul let the paper rest in his lap and for the second time that day his eyes seemed to be looking at something not really there, and his mind began its journey, unbidden, into the past.
Paul had been in his senior year in high school when the Borders family moved into the village and assumed the operation of what had been Joe Bentley’s feed mill, for as long as Paul remembered, although his father remembered when it belonged to Joe’s father.
Betty was a Junior that year but she soon noticed a tall senior who was too shy to talk to her until they were given adjoining seats in Study Hall. After awhile they would talk a little when they were dismissed, Paul began to wait for her outside after school and would walk her home when he could catch a second bus to his home. Paul had been overwhelmed that, by what seemed to him the prettiest girl he’d ever seen, would pay attention to him. After awhile their classmates began to consider them a couple, and at school functions or neighborhood gatherings for which Paul could find time away from the farm, they would be together. Paul took to drifting into town on a Saturday night, either with his parents while they shopped for the few things they bought in town, or by himself in the pickup. Some times they would meet at the drug store’s soda fountain, or Paul would whistle softly to her from the sidewalk, and they would sit for awhile on the front steps or on the swing under the arbor out back. And always they would talk, that is, Betty would, and often her talk was of the future and how exciting it would be for them to attend college together. She talked of how they might enter some profession together when they were sure about what they wanted to be. Paul would look off into the distance, sometimes he would tell her,”he wasn’t sure about the whole college thing, and that he already had a job which he loved.” Then he would say that “they didn’t have to decide tonight, but his father would have to have a hired man or rent the farm to someone if Paul left,” and he stopped just short of saying that he could never let that happen. Betty would tell him,”he was smart and could enter any profession or business he would choose and he shouldn’t spend his life as a farmer when he could be so much,” and Paul grew quiet and tongue-tied and at those times he would remember something he needed to do at home and would leave before Betty could see the hurt in his eyes, or he would say something he might regret. And he would lie awake and tell himself that he loved her too much to make her unhappy, but sure that he could never live out her dreams for him. For Betty’s part she hoped desperately for some sign of weakening in Paul’s resolve, but could not bear to give up her dreams and would confide to her best friend that,” she despaired of ever changing his mind and that was why she loved him, but she just knew she could never be a farmer’s wife.” In this manner they spent a large part of Paul’s senior year and while they remained close any talk of their futures became more infrequent, and both hoped that the other might be weakening or that something would happen that would bring a change in the other’s viewpoint. Paul comforted himself with the thought that she would be there for another year at least, and he would bring Betty to his home, and she would be kind to his parents, and she seemed to enjoy their walks across the farm, and sometimes across Finch’s hill to the river on the other side. Paul took great pains to stop at those places where the view was the best and would tell her about who lived in the places they could see, and all the history of the long valley that was so dear to him. Betty would listen quietly while he talked and sometimes his eyes shone like they did when he looked at her, and her heart would break, and she would ask him to please take her back. And suddenly he would be embarrassed that he had forgotten how she felt, and they would go back quietly, each in their own sorrow. Still they would not give each other up, and both became masters at hiding their deepest feelings from each other.
One morning during the early spring of Betty’s senior year, Paul’s father said at breakfast, “Paul, I’d like you to take a load of wheat to Borders this morning. I’ve got some taxes to pay and a load on the box wagon ought to about cover it, with enough left over for something you might want from the hardware.” As soon as he finished eating, Paul headed to the horse stable where he backed the black geldings out of their stalls and spent a half hour currying and brushing their already clean coats to a high shine. Pausing briefly he opened the harness cabinet where his grandfather’s heavy brass-studded team harness still hung. They only used it now when he took a team to the fair for the heavy team trials, or rarely, on the road. But Paul and his father kept it oiled and shined the brass on it every year. Paul collared and harnessed the black horses and watered them before hitching to the triple box wagon on the barn floor. Driving to the wagon shed, he backed the wagon carefully inside where the wheat and oats bins were overhead and there were chutes out of the bottom of each bin. Opening the slide gate under a wheat bin, he let the wheat cascade into the wagon and moving the wagon forward a little at a time he soon had it filled. Replacing the spring seat, Paul drove the team to the hitching rail in front of the barn and clipped the hitching chains onto the horses’ bridles. Going quickly to the house to wash and put on a clean hat and coat, he spoke briefly to his Mother before untying the horses and climbing to the seat and turning the horses into the road to the village.
He had been thinking that if he could pass the High School at ten o’clock he might just be in time to see Betty if she was outside on the morning break. Relaxing on the spring seat he let the big geldings settle into the long stride for which they were famous. Paul thought again as he looked across their broad backs that he had never seen better horses than these two, which were the results of his father and grandfather’s forty years of breeding Percheron horses.
Paul wished that Betty could see them as he did, and he had convinced himself that the sight of the big horses, and good harness, and wagon with its heavy load of wheat, would help her to see the substantial nature of the life which he loved so deeply. With a stop at Clingan Corners to let the horses rest, Paul turned onto the street leading past the High School just as there was a rush of students onto the sidewalk in front of the school, and small groups of young men and women began the walk around the block that was a morning ritual there. At the sound of steel shod hooves and steel tires on the brick street, many of the students swung around to see what was coming toward them. Breaking out of a little group was Betty and some friends, and as their eyes met Paul began to raise his hand in the school salute, when Betty suddenly broke free of her girlfriends, and stepping quickly to the curb, she stomped a petite foot, and the pent up frustration of the past two years burst out of her in an angry wave as she hissed, “Paul Wilson! Isn’t it enough for you to be nothing but a farmer?! Do you have to be a hick and drive those stupid old horses too?” Paul’s arm froze in midair and he felt the familiar redness creeping up the back of his neck, and he spoke sharply to the horses to “Get Up!,” and at the uncharacteristic sharpness of the command, the horses broke into a trot, and Paul looked straight ahead as the wagon lumbered past the surprised and bemused students. Later Paul couldn’t remember much about the unloading of the wagon at Borders, and when Betty’s older brother who worked there came out to chaff him a bit, he couldn’t seem to think of any good comeback, and drove away as soon as the clerk brought him his check. He drove the long way around to avoid passing the school on his way home and it seemed to Paul that some curtain had fallen over his heart and he would never uncover it again.
On Saturday night when his mother asked him to take something along for Betty’s mother, he had promptly left the table and gone to his room, not coming out until he heard his parent’s bedroom door close, when he slipped out and sat for a long time in the hallway of the barn with the two Border collies lying at his feet. He never responded to his mother’s inquiries about Betty, and after Paul had gone outside again in response to some questions from her, his father said, “Better leave the boy alone, Mary. Something bad has happened between them and he needs time to work it out in his mind.” She quit asking him about her, and Betty was never spoken of among the three of them again.
Paul seldom left the farm after that, except to help a neighbor with some work. He’d ask his father or mother to pick up the occasional small thing he might need from the village. But he threw himself into the work of the farm like never before and it was an unusual occurrence when Paul was not present when a sow farrowed, or a ewe lambed, or one of the gray mares foaled. The litter of spring puppies got more attention and early training than any puppies they had ever had before. Mary worried about her son, but his father would say, “Mary the boy’s under the best therapy in the world—this farm—and we’re mighty lucky to have him here, what with the way so many boys are leaving the farms to go to college or high paying jobs somewhere.” And she would sigh and turn away.
Paul had a bad time when he was helping old man Finch with some late hay and the old man said, “I hear the Borders girl is leaving for some Ivy League school in the East next week.” And Paul almost went to see her, but he didn’t in the end. And the day after she left there was a card in the mail and all it said was, “I’m sorry about how it worked out. I couldn’t help myself. I wish I could love what you love. Betty” Paul cried then, the deep grief of a strong man that was dreadful to hear, and no one did, except the collie that was with him, and he whined and pushed himself against Paul’s knee until it ended and somehow something was finished and something begun, that Paul could not have explained, but which he felt clearly enough, and the deep sadness of the summer began to lift from his heart.
That fall, as Paul and his father evaluated the corn crop, they decided they would need more crib space, so Paul began to excavate an area on the west end of the wagon shed to extend the building across its entire width. After the ground had been prepared, Paul turned his attention to getting out the timber to be sawn for the project. With the help of a barn framer from the next county and the assistance of a dozen neighbors, the new addition was framed and roofed in one day.
Paul began husking corn in the middle of October while his father spent a week finishing up the details such as doors and shoveling ports on the crib sides and sealing the overhead granaries. Several times before Thanksgiving, Paul and his father spent a day helping a neighbor finish a patch of corn, or to help to buzz several loads of wood for a wood stove where help was scarce. A couple of times after Thanksgiving a team or two with high-sided wagons turned into the cornfields on their farm, and neighbors helped them to get the last of the corn into the new crib before Christmas.
Sometimes Paul would catch his father with an odd expression on his face as he leaned against the wagon, or spreader, or the workbench in the shop, and Paul began to insist that he spend the cold days, especially, in the house, and that he allow Paul to do the work of the farm by himself.
Except for the worry about his father’s health, Paul thought he had never enjoyed a winter as much as that one. Grinding feed, looking after the needs of the livestock, training the last of the Border collie pups still on the place, and starting a pair of two year old fillies on the breaking sled after the snow came, kept Paul happily engaged in the things he enjoyed the most. On stormy days he might build a fire in the forge in the farm shop, and with his father’s advice, make new horse shoes from bar stock or forge a pair of hinges for a new gate or make some repair to a piece of machinery. And often they talked, and one day after Paul had almost mentioned Betty, but then didn’t, his father said, “Paul when you’re plowing sod on that stony piece on the north end of the top field and your share hits a rock, and the plow jumps off to the side and breaks the furrow slice, you don’t quit plowing, you just get off and turn that slice back over by hand.” And Paul turned quickly to the task he’d been working on, and though he said nothing he realized his father was telling him something important.
It was two summers later, when on a hot July noon Paul drove the black geldings and the cultivator up to the hitching rail at the north end of the barn when he saw Linda for the first time. She was reaching through the bars of the gate, rubbing the nose of one of the colts that had come up to the barn for water with the gray mares. Paul felt the old shyness constricting his throat for a moment, but as he stepped off the cultivator she turned and smiled and said, “Hi. I’m Linda. My father came to look at a ram and I came along. I hope it’s O.K. to look at your horses, the men are over at the sheep barn.” Paul could never quite remember what he said at first, but finally managed to say, “of course it was O.K. to look at the horses and would she like to see the yearlings and two year olds after he unhitched”?, and she said, “Oh, yes!” And he remembered to say, “I’m Paul.” And somehow in the familiar acts of tending to the tired horses he relaxed and suddenly they were talking as though they had not just met.
When they walked into the small paddock where the black yearling fillies and the gray two year old geldings came up to greet them, Paul found himself saying “We’ve stayed with our horses. My grandpa and my Dad have been breeding these horses for more than 40 years now and I intend to keep the line going too,” and then catching himself and looking quickly to see her reaction he was gratified to see the serious look on her face as she nodded and said, “of course you will. It would be a real shame to lose all of those years’ efforts because someone thought horses were outdated. My father would never have gotten a tractor if he’d had a son to help him with his work, but he doesn’t believe that I’ll take the place of the boy he didn’t have. We still have a team, of course, they’re just chunks, not big horses like these.”
By the time their fathers had finished the business about the ram, Paul and Linda had become very comfortable with each other, and for his part Paul wished for time to stand still and the afternoon to wait! As he cultivated through the long afternoon, Paul kept seeing wavy black hair that was not on the Percherons moving up and down the long rows ahead of him, and flashing black eyes and white skin and white teeth framed in a smiling mouth, and he thought as he rested the team in the shade of a maple at the end of a row, that maybe he could turn that broken furrow back over!
By noontime that Saturday Paul had finished the cultivating and spent an hour cleaning the pickup and loading the ram Mr. Stoll had bought. Paul and his father headed towards the north end of the valley through the pass in Jack’s Mountain and into the small valley on its north side. Following the crude map Mr. Stoll had given them, they located the farm on the west slope of the valley. When Mr. Stoll insisted that they come to the house and sample his wife’s raspberry pie before they unloaded the ram, Paul suddenly felt the familiar tension creeping over him at the thought of meeting these new people. Stepping through the door behind his father, Paul saw Linda look up from the sink, and the quick smile he had dreamed about since Tuesday almost put him at his ease.
After the pie and coffee the whole group went out to see the ram, and after he was installed in his new quarters and Mr. Stoll and Mr. Wilson, in the way of stockmen everywhere, went off to look at the flock on pasture, Paul and Linda walked slowly to the shade of the maples behind the house. After awhile Paul was able to tell her how he felt, and she said,” yes, he could come to see her.” And so through the rest of the summer and fall and winter,Paul became a familiar figure at the Stoll farm, and in that little valley.
When the snow began to melt in the next spring, there was a wedding in the village church, and Paul brought Linda home to his father’s house where they set up housekeeping in the two rooms on the west side in which his grandparents had spent their last years.
It seemed to Paul now that his life could never be more perfect, and he and Linda took over the work of the farm that spring as his father’s health declined, and he marveled at how she was adept at almost everything, from lambing and farrowing, to planting corn with the black horses. His mother would insist that they eat with them if Linda was going to be a farm hand, and so the four of them grew very close through that summer, and the effect of the vigorous young couple’s work on the farm was evident to anyone who took time to look as they passed along the valley floor.
Paul’s father would get out to the barn and sit in the driveway and whittle, or walk around to the livestock pens and lean on the rails and watch the new arrivals, and when Paul or Linda would come by he would talk about his idea of the perfect ewe or sow or mare, and although it was all familiar to Paul, he would listen carefully and try out his own opinions against his father’s experience, to hear the detailed explanations his father would give, again. And then his father became too weak to come outside by himself anymore, and one morning he didn’t wake up when Paul’s mother called him.
After his father’s passing, Paul came to rely on Linda more and more to help him to choose the ram to use, or boar, or to decide which stud colt was good enough to save as a stallion. Sometimes he thought that she had absorbed more in six months with his father, than he had learned his whole life. She would laugh and say, ”he knew all of it and she had just skimmed a little,” but Paul would shake his head and say, “I couldn’t farm without you anymore,” and marvel how she had become the center of the life of the farm, as well as his own life.
Gradually the three of them adjusted to the new circumstances and Paul’s mother moved a few of her things into the rooms Paul and Linda had been occupying, and they took over the main part of the house. Mary still insisted on doing most of the cooking and housework, but she and Linda shared the hens and the garden, and on winter days when Paul worked in the barns or farm shop they spent time together sewing or quilting, and that winter they worked together at sorting through the accumulations of several generations of Wilsons, which had found its way into the spare rooms and attic and cellar of the house. Sometimes Paul would help them to move a heavy trunk or chest which no one had moved for many years, and together they would pore over old documents, or photos, or manuals, until the hundred year history of the family’s tenure on the farm became evermore familiar to them. Paul and Linda became very interested in the history and life of the farm, as it had been lived out by the preceding generations, and at night they would sit with Mary, and Linda would record her memories, and the stories Mary had heard her mother and father-in-law tell about their life there, and the stories they told about Paul’s great-grandfather’s coming to this place. Paul began to look around the buildings with new interest that winter, and was surprised by the number of things no longer in regular use, but which were well preserved, still hanging and standing as they had been left by the last generation to use them. Once when they were talking about these things, Linda suggested that they might build a building in which they could store these items, and where they could be preserved for generations to come, and Paul began to draw and make lists of building materials, and one night, in the second spring of Linda’s life on the farm, he went to see a barn builder who agreed to come that summer and cut the timbers for the frame of the building they envisioned.
That was a happy summer. Good rains fell as needed. Pastures were lush and the lambs fattened quickly. Paul and Linda spent much of every day together doing the work of the farm. Often they used two teams, each with a mower or rake or cultivator, or they worked together shocking wheat or oats. Those days when several neighbors came for threshing or for framing up the new building, Linda would help Mary in the house, preparing the great meals that were expected wherever groups of men gathered to work.
That fall while resting their teams against the high slopes of Finch’s woodlot, Linda told Paul that, ”she believed he would become a father by spring,” and Paul said, “If it’s a boy we’ll name him after our fathers,” and took her into his arms. Paul tried to insist that she stay at the house more as the season advanced, but Linda only laughed and said, “I’ll need to do that often enough next year,” and she would join him by mid morning as he husked corn or nailed siding on the new building or cleaned the barn.
After twenty years Paul still felt a measure of pain as he remembered that terrible day in late fall as the sleet was hissing against the windows of the shop and the fire was gently sputtering in the shop’s stove, and the door of the shop opened, and Linda stepped in, and smiled at him as she latched the door behind her, stepped quickly towards him, said “Paul,” slumped against him as he stepped forward and caught her as she fell, lifeless, into his arms. The coroner said that it was cardiac arrest, and Paul nodded and went back to the farm. Even now, after these many years, he could remember the awful sense of loss and hopelessness that settled over him that winter. He finished the siding on the new building, hung doors and windows, and then stayed away from it for the rest of the winter. He and his mother would sit quietly together of an evening and very little was said between them. They would fall asleep eventually, each in a chair or a sofa and finally one would waken and urge the other to go to bed.
Paul did the necessary work to maintain the life of the farm, but for the first time in his memory it failed to hold his attention. He sat sometimes for a couple of hours in the shop by the stove staring at nothing, and feeling only a tired numbness. Occasionally a friend stopped in and they would talk a little, or a customer for livestock would break him out of his quietness for awhile, but the winter dragged slowly by, and Paul felt as though nothing could ever seem good again.
In March the lambs began to come, and Paul, more wakeful now than ever, spent most nights in the sheep barn attending the lambing ewes, catching naps now and then on a pile of straw in an empty pen and depending on the collie bitch to alert him to a ewe in trouble. On the third or fourth night, he could never remember clearly now, Linda came into his dream, and she was urging him to attend a ewe, but he resisted her saying, “It’s no use now, Linda. Without you there’s no reason to do it.” And she said, “Do it for me,” and Paul came fully awake suddenly, and the collie was whining and tugging at his jacket, and Paul stumbled a bit as he hurried after the dog who led him to a small group in an end pen. Suddenly Paul remembered that this was the lot that Linda had selected from the yearlings to keep for breeding in the fall and they had argued briefly about which ram to use with them. And she had said, “I’m almost certain your father would have put the horned ram with these to give them a bit more width over the loins,” and he had looked again and said, “Yes, I believe he would have.” Eagerly now he looked across the pen of ewes, and saw in the corner one standing apart a little, and as he watched her, she strained briefly, and then relaxed and panted. Speaking quietly to the dog, he opened the gate to a small pen and going back to the pen containing the young ewes, with the help of the dog brought the straining ewe into the alley and slowly worked her into the small pen. Quickly now he washed his hands and the ewe’s vulva and inserted a couple of fingers gently inside, and discovering the head turned down he worked his fingers along the lamb’s cheek, getting one finger into the corner of its mouth, slowly repelling its head while drawing the nose to its proper position in the vulva. Feeling under the jaw with two fingers he could not feel any feet, so gripping the jaw in his fingers he began a gentle traction. The ewe began to strain again, and between them they soon had a very lively lamb on the straw of the pen. Placing it at its mother’s head, Paul washed again, and again inserted a couple of fingers and could feel two feet coming his way. Straightening up he waited and after a few more strains, two feet and a nose were followed quickly into the cold night air by the body of another lamb. Placing it by its sister, Paul carefully closed the gate of the pen. Suddenly Paul noticed the soft chuckle of the ewe accepting her lambs, and he looked about him with a new interest. All along the one side of the long barn were these small pens where a ewe could lamb in privacy away from her fellows. Most of them contained a ewe and two lambs; several had only one, but a couple had three. In one of the large pens opening into the yard outside were six ewes with thirteen lambs which were born the first day of the lambing, and Paul realized now that though he had attended all, and even assisted some of those births, he had not noticed or remembered that soft chuckle with any of them. “Linda,” he said out loud, “without you I’m not much of a farmer anymore.” And the hot tears welled up again, but strangely, deep inside, a tiny spark of enthusiasm flared briefly and through his sadness Paul noticed a new smell in the night air. Suddenly the thought of spring and green grass and new earth turned up and these lambs chasing each other over the buttercups in the meadow sneaked its way into his mind, and he smiled briefly, and went quickly now through the barn looking for other ewes that might need to be separated from their group.
At breakfast that morning Paul’s mother noticed that even though he didn’t say much, there seemed to be a different look in Paul’s tired eyes, and she said, “You smell like a sheep, Paul. Take a bath and go to bed. I’ll keep an eye on the sheep this morning.” Paul smiled tiredly and thanked her, and did as he was told and slept until evening.
That spring Paul engaged a neighbor with a tractor to plow for him, though he still plowed the smaller strips and harrowed and planted with the horses. In June he heard about a neighbor’s son who was looking for work so all through that summer the two of them made the hay, harvested wheat and oats and moved livestock from field to field as needed. Though it was not as good a year as the summer before, there was enough, and the livestock seemed to be even better than usual.
Paul and his mother spoke easily now of his father and of Linda and of what they would have said and done about the many decisions which needed making, and Paul fell into the habit of talking to Linda as he went about his work when he was alone. And sometimes he looked up quickly, almost expecting to see her, she seemed so close, and the sadness was never far away, but as his father had said those years before, “this farm was the best therapy this boy could have,” so it was now, and Paul’s enthusiasm for the life of the farm grew strong again. When the work slowed down in the fall, Paul began to spend time gathering up those items around the farm that he and Linda had built the new building to house. Sometimes Paul would see an auction advertisement which contained older farm items, and if there were those his collection lacked he might buy a few. His interest in the earlier machines and methods grew, and while some folks thought him a fool, a few began to stop in to see his collection, or maybe to bring something they thought he might like.
Paul and his mother’s lives settled into a comfortable routine after that first terrible year following Linda’s death. Paul made a few adjustments in his farm plan, and being a young man and strong he continued to do the work of the farm and raise good livestock, mostly by himself. Most years he could find a young man to help out where he needed help the most, but as the years passed, it grew more difficult to find help to thresh or husk corn, and so one winter Paul bought a small tractor and a plow, a pull type combine and a one row corn picker. He never sold the good horse drawn machines the farm had, and he still used his horses nearly as much as before, never using the tractor to mow or haul or plant. Paul always plowed some with his horses, especially the steeper fields or such years when the weather held good in the spring and the work was less rushed.
Paul’s mother’s health began to fail a few years before Paul turned forty, and he had hired a woman to help her keep house, and garden, and finally to care for her when she could no longer do for herself. She lingered until the week before Paul would be forty-two, when she slipped away.
Once again the feeling of loss was overwhelming for a time, but Paul was perhaps better prepared for her passing, and after a time he adjusted to the silent house, and began to bring one of the young dogs inside with him at night, and to develop the housekeeping skills necessary to keeping a few rooms going.
And now Betty was back, and here Paul suddenly looked around him as though he had just awakened from a long dream. He stood up slowly and stretched, and went to the door and let the dog out, and looked at the dark sky, and smelled the smell of the fall night, and said out loud, “I wonder how the mature Betty would feel about hick farmers who drive stupid old horses these days.” And he thought, “I still have a pair of big black horses, I still have my grandfather’s heavy team harness, I still have a good triple box wagon, and a granary full of wheat. I just believe I will see how the mature Betty will feel about the combination come Monday morning. She can’t hurt my feelings much anymore if she snubs me, and if she doesn’t, well Dad, maybe I can put another broken furrow right.”
– to be continued –