June Visitors on the Farm: The Dale Saga Continues
Thank You for Returning
For those of you who are unenlightened, this series of short stories follows the lives of the Dale family, farmers in Charles City, Iowa. As many of you know by now, this family has made friends with the Hollis family from Olympia, Washington, a family who comes to us from my very first novel, “The 12/59 Shuttle From Yesterday to Today.” It’s a fun writing exercise, joining the two separate stories into one story line. It is also necessary for the sequel I am planning on writing in the next year or so, a sequel I’ve been planning since I finished “The Shuttle” four-and-a-half years ago.
So welcome to Charles City, Iowa. The birth of Heather, the daughter of William Dale and his wife-to-be Sarah (with an “h”), happened in March. Life is busy on the farm in June. Crops are growing, the new agritourism business is flourishing and two visitors have arrived totally unexpected.
I was putting plugs in the old John Deere behind the barn when Ma yelled from the house.
“William Dale, stop what you’re doing and come say hello to our visitors.”
It was hotter than Aunt Hazel’s tamales, one-oh-two in the shade, and any excuse to go inside and drink lemonade was a good excuse on that day. I wiped my hands on an old rag, tossed a ball to our old collie (which she totally ignored) and made my way to the ninety-year old farmhouse to see what all the excitement was about. The sky was pale blue, robin-egg blue, as though its brilliant hues were dulled by the shimmering heat. The poplars whispered in the slight breeze and small dust clouds rose with each of my footsteps.
I kicked whatever dirt I could off my boots on the back porch, entered the kitchen and immediately smiled. How could I not? There was my wife-to-be, Sarah, holding our daughter, Heather, flanked by my mother and sister and they, in turn, were smiling at our guests, Astarte Hollis and her daughter Hope from Olympia, Washington. I was stunned silent by the wave of beauty before my eyes. How could one man be so damned lucky?
Astarte Hollis and her daughter Hope were timeless beauties. Astarte stood about five-four, slight of build with flowing, raven hair and delicate features. She wore a flowered sundress and was, as always, barefoot. Her daughter Hope was a foot shorter than her mother, ten years of age, also slim, also barefoot and she glowed golden as sunlight from the window washed over her long, blonde hair. They both appeared dainty at first glance, but there was an inner strength to them that radiated outward.
“What a fantastic surprise,” I said as I hugged them both. “To what do we owe this unexpected visit?”
Astarte, who is a minister of sorts back in Olympia, with her own church and adoring followers, kissed me on the cheek then held me at arm’s length. Her eyes latched onto mine and held me tightly.
“Hope wanted to spend time with your daughter and I agreed it was important she do so. She and Heather have important work to do in the future, and the sooner they bond the better, William. I wasn’t needed back home, and my church will survive without me for a month or so, and, well, here we are. I hope you don’t mind. I can help you on the farm while Hope and Heather get to know each other. We developed new irrigation techniques for the fields back home and I think you’ll find them helpful. So I’m afraid you’re stuck with us for a few weeks.”
Sarah stepped forward with our daughter, held her out and handed her to Hope.
“Then that’s settled. Hope, why don’t you begin bonding with Heather, and I’ll show your mother to your rooms?”
Later That Day
The women worked on indoor chores while I tackled the endless list of outdoor jobs. A farm does not rest. It does not take a day off for visitors. There are always fences to mend, animals to feed, cows to milk and crops to tend to. About three that afternoon, my sister Jeannie’s boyfriend, Frank Olsen, stopped by after his workday, and he helped me split firewood from an oak that had been felled by lightning early in the spring. Any day now, I thought, Frank was going to pop the big question to my sister, and I was pretty sure what her answer would be.
We shut it all down at six. Clouds moved in from the west and brought a respite from the heat. Ma decided we would have dinner outside under the giant elm, as long as the mosquitoes were accommodating, which they were. Fried chicken, potato salad and iced tea were carried to the picnic table and we all sat, held hands and listened to Ma say grace.
“Thank you, God,” she said. “We are all so grateful for the bounty you have given us, and for bringing our special visitors to us, safe and sound. May you continue to bless the Dale and Hollis families. Amen!”
Hope continued to hold our three-month old daughter, Heather, who smiled happily and looked as content as a child can be. I smiled because, well, why wouldn’t I?
Sarah took a bite of the potato salad and turned her attention to Astarte.
“Astarte, I’m hoping, and I say this with all the love that is in me, that you aren’t quite as secretive or enigmatic as your mother. Could you please give us some idea what is going on? What is it that you see happening in the future, and what part will Hope and our daughter play in it all?”
Astarte put down her fork and smiled. The fading sunlight framed her from behind, giving her the appearance of having a halo, her onyx hair flowing in the soft breeze. She was the personification of tranquility. One could not be in her presence without feeling at peace.
“A fair question, Sarah. Do any of you know what my name means? No? My mother named me after the ancient goddess Astarte, who was the Phoenician goddess of love and fertility. My church is based upon the principle of love and specifically upon the belief that love alters reality. It comes as no surprise to you all, I’m sure, that the world is in trouble. There is a dominance of fear and an absence of love. I wish to switch those two. I wish to make this world fertile so that love will grow strong.
“I am laying the foundation. My daughter, Hope, will continue in my footsteps and your daughter, Heather, will help her. Together they will accomplish great things in the years to come.”
None of us spoke. Crickets and frogs could be heard in the distance. Somewhere a dog barked. One of the calves bawled from the barn.
A Revelation of Sorts
Finally Sarah found her voice.
“Astarte, you speak with such conviction. How do you know these things? Our daughter is only three-months old. Your daughter is ten? How is it possible to know what they will do when they grow older? I mean Sugar, I don’t even know what I’m doing tomorrow, let alone years in the future. What makes you so certain?”
Astarte again smiled and nodded her head.
“Sarah, William, friends, when I say ‘love alters reality,’ I’m not being trite. I mean those words in every sense of the way. How do I know these things? My mother, Sheila, has seen them happen.”
“I’m sorry, dear,” Ma said. “What do you mean she has seen them happen? The future? Your mother has seen the future? Is that what you are saying?”
“Yes! That’s exactly what I am saying. Now, it’s been a busy day, and Hope and I are tired from the trip, so if you don’t mind, we are going to our room to relax. We’ll talk more about this tomorrow. Love to you all and good night.”
In Bed That Night
I held Sarah in bed that night as the room cooled and the curtains blew softly. I buried my face in her hair and inhaled her, my Cajun gal from New Iberia, Louisiana, my best friend and the mother of our child.
“What do you make of it all, Sarah?”
“Sugar, it’s hard to grow up on the Bayou and not open your mind to possibilities. My Maw Maw was a believer in Jesus, voodoo and gris-gris, so I most definitely do not reject this as ridiculous. Can Sheila and Astarte see the future? I don’t know, darling’, but I do know that love alters reality. It already has for me and it has for you. Will our daughter become some cult or religious leader? Hell if I know, but I can think of a lot worse things for her.
“All I know for certain, William Dale, is I want you to make love to me. I want to feel you inside me. I want to share in your strength, and on this night, in this room, I want our union to light up the sky and alter reality. Can we do that, William Dale? Tomorrow we will deal with tomorrow. For now, this woman requests love.”
And That’s Where We’ll Leave Them
For now…but I’ll be back with another chapter in the near future.
As I’ve mentioned before, this series of short stories was inspired by my first novel, The 12/59 Shuttle From Yesterday to Today,” written over four years ago. At the time I had planned on writing a sequel, but time has a way of altering plans, so it was all delayed until now. I’m working on some things with these short stories, jockeying into position for when the sequel is ready to tell. Call this foreshadowing of a sort.
Anyway, I hope you are enjoying the Hollis and Dale families. Until next time, remember, always, love alters reality.
2016 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)