July On the Farm: The Dale Saga Continues
And We Continue
I’m not sure how much longer I’ll continue with this. I started this series to grab your attention and get you acquainted, in a roundabout way, with my first novel, “The 12/59 Shuttle From Yesterday to Today.” It all leads up to my attempt to write the sequel to that novel, which I’ll be starting soon.
Well, I’ve done that. All the characters in this series of short stories will be in that sequel, and I guess I just wanted you to get to know them a bit in advance.
Two people I admire and respect greatly keep telling me that “The Shuttle” is their favorite work written by me. Without a doubt I’m a better writer than I was when that novel was written four-and-a-half years ago, but there is something about that book that I absolutely love and cherish.
Perhaps it’s the motley crew of characters, all quirky and all instantly likable. Perhaps it’s the two central themes of the book….that love alters reality and that we really must start taking care of our planet.
Whatever the reason, I feel compelled to write the sequel and this continuing short story, about the Hollis and Dale families, is a taste of that sequel. I hope you are enjoying it.
When we last visited the Dale farm in Charles City, Iowa, Astarte and Hope Hollis were paying a visit.
Shall we join them?
July on the Farm
July in Iowa….blistering….water leeched from the ground, underfoot a crackling of dried grasses as I make my way to the barn for the tools needed to fix a broken fence-line. A gentle breeze offers no respite from the heat and only serves to push the dust across the backyard. Fifty yards away, a dust devil dances in the fields. Our twelve-year old Lab, Buster, is having none of it. He’s camped under the back stairs in the shade. He eyes me as I walk slowly away from him, probably deciding if it’s worth the effort to follow me. He decides it isn’t.
Swallows play tag in the rafters as I enter the smaller of two Dale barns, defying logic as they weave to and fro, narrowly missing aged hardwood with each maneuver. If they’re thirsty they don’t show it, and I find them to be exhausting. This is the tenth day of the current heat wave, the second of the summer, and heat means critters and crops in dire need of water. In the distance I can hear the great Kubota sprinkler doing its best to water the northeast section. I make a mental note to move it in an hour as I grab the wire cutters and a spool of wire.
I hear giggling from the hayloft and looking up I see Hope playing with our daughter, Heather. Hope and her mother, Astarte, have been with us for a month, and rarely is Hope found without our young daughter in tow. I wave up at them.
“Good morning, Mr. Dale,” Hope yells down at me. Heather only giggles as her tiny fingers wiggle in my direction.
I’m struck, once more, by the radiant beauty of our ten-year old visitor. Sunlight streams through the upper window and frames her golden head, giving the impression of heavenly hosts smiling upon her. She is simply beautiful in all ways, peacefulness and grace on two legs.
“Good morning, Hope. Your mother says breakfast is ready and to hustle to the kitchen.” I wave as I carry my load out to the waiting tractor. Chores don’t wait for cooler temperatures. In fact, they multiply, so I quicken my steps. I toss the wire on the back of the old John Deere and hear the voice of my lover.
“Not so fast, Sugar! Here’s some lemonade to keep you hydrated.”
God she’s a beauty, my Cajun girl from New Iberia, Louisiana. Her brow is wet, her sundress sticking to her skin browned by the sun, her smile still capable of stirring my loins and making me as horny as a young bull. I smile as she hands me the glass dripping with condensation. She kisses me and I consider picking her up and carrying her off to bed.
“I know that look in your eyes, William. You just keep the one-eyed monster in your pants. There’s work to do. The next group of writers is due in an hour, and we’ve got a new family arriving this afternoon to stay in the bed and breakfast, so drink your lemonade, give me the glass and we’ll both get back to work.”
It’s been this way all summer. The big barn has been packed with artists for retreats, and the bed and breakfast business was constant. In fact, since our trip to Oregon in the spring, the crops have grown as never before. I looked beyond Sarah at the acres of corn, six feet tall and still growing, their stalks dancing with the breeze, their leaves rustling a tune of fertility for all to hear. Up at the end of the driveway, my sister Jeannie was setting up the produce stand, and two cars were parked waiting for her to start selling fresh eggs and summer lettuce. Inside the farmhouse I could hear Ma and Astarte laughing.
Life is good!
Break for Lunch
The morning is gone before I know it and I drag my weary bones into the kitchen for lunch. It’s a good weary, though, a weary born from hard work and satisfaction from providing for one’s family and working in harmony with the earth. As I walk into the kitchen I am blown away, once more, by how lucky I am. The Dale women, Ma and Jeannie, are setting the table. Sarah kisses me on the cheek and Hope is bouncing Heather on her knee. Astarte pours ice water into glasses and gifts me with smile. Six women, all so important in my life…..all are my life.
Ma points at the chair and commands me to sit. I sit.
We are all seated within a matter of minutes. As is our new custom we hold hands and look at Hope, our ten-year old minister of love.
“Mother Nature,” she says. We are gathered together, in love, for sustenance. Bless us with your bounty and we, in turn, promise to treat you gently and never betray your trust in us. Wherever people are gathered in love, there love shall always remain and flourish. Remember, always, love alters reality. Amen!”
Ma passed me the rolls. “Your father is smiling down on you today, William. He’s proud of you, son, and so am I. Hell’s bells, I’m proud of us all. Six months ago this farm was about to go back to the bank and now look at us. Too damned busy to know which end is up. My, my, my, how our lives have changed since we met the Hollis family. Astarte, we are in your debt.”
“There is no debt, Mrs. Dale,” Astarte said. “We are supposed to be together. As surely as the river flows to the sea, my daughter Hope flowed to Heather, and our families flowed together, small streams joining to form a powerful river, a river of love, a raging river that will overflow its banks and irrigate the parched landscape where the rest of humanity awaits. It was all predestined, don’t you see?”
That’s how she talks. I admit, it’s a bit disconcerting at times, and most times confusing, but her sincerity is never in doubt and I gotta tell you, I’m becoming a believer in whatever she’s selling.
Sarah takes a bite of chicken, wipes her mouth and releases the same question I’ve had for months.
“I still don’t understand, Astarte. Why us? Why you? Why are our families joining? You say your mother, Sheila, sees the future. You say you do as well. Hell, Sugar, I don’t even know how that works. And you say our daughter is going to help your daughter in some religious effort. Now Asti, you know I love you to bits, but I’m still having a hard time wrapping my brain around all this. Can you give us some proof? Some tangible evidence that what you say is true? This is our daughter, and she’s the most precious thing in our lives and damn, friend, I need something concrete.”
My book on writing
The Blind Shall See
Astarte only smiled, and her beauty radiated outward and we all found ourselves smiling in return.
“You want proof? Is Mother Nature required to prove her existence? Can we prove the existence of love? Can we count the bounty of compassion the way we count coins?
“Still, I understand. Let me ask you this, Sarah. When was the last time you spoke to your Maw Maw?”
“Well, it was last week, Asti. I called her up and we talked for a good half-hour.”
“And how was your Maw Maw at that time?”
“She seemed fine. She said she was busy at her church volunteering. She said she was a bit tired but that was to be expected of an old woman who has lived a long life, and she said she loved me.”
“So, she didn’t tell you that she is dying and will be coming here in two days?”
No one said anything. The silence weighed down upon us, broken only by the grandfather clock ticking in the parlor. Tears formed in Sarah’s eyes but words refused to leave her lips.
“Don’t be sad, Sarah. When your Maw Maw arrives in two days, the proof you seek will arrive with her. I promise you, your Maw Maw will be fine. Now, who wants some blueberry pie, fresh out of the oven? We’ll need to save a piece for my mother, though. She will be arriving in two days, too, about the same time as Maw Maw. It wouldn’t do to have Maw Maw die without my mother here, would it now?”
And Now We All Have to Wait
Next week, all shall be revealed, so I ask you all to be patient until next week’s installment.
In the meantime, remember, love alters reality.
2016 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)