Note: If you like anywhere in rural Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, or Tennessee, this is for you. Kenneth.
My name is “Bill.” “Bill Engle.” Simple name. Because I’m a simple man. My pa was a simple man. And his pa before him. Why complicate things, I always say.
I’ve never asked my country for a red cent. Never. I’ve not even asked for one moment of recognition. I don’t feel as I’ve earned it since I farm for my living.
Having to be recognized is like being patted on the back for clocking-in at your job every morning. Useless. Needless if you ask me.
I asked for this life of living and working the sod for my next meal. No one pushed it on me. And I didn’t argue when it came my turn to “take my turn at the wheel” to grind the meal for another day’s bread. My pa farmed. And his pa before him.
But great grandpa and grandma died early in the Dust Bowl. Funny how the fate that smiles on you one day can turn on you the next. Speaking of gramps and granny, maybe “this” year “Margie Catherine,” my misses of over 55 years, and me can take off one day and visit their unmarked graves on that god-forsaken plot in Oklahoma.
Farming is like being hypnotized in one of them traveling carnivals. You know it’s a trick, but somehow you wake up being lost in thinking about something else.
That’s what I did when I married “Margie.” I was a young buck of seventeen then, full of vim and fire in my belly ready to conquer the south and give her a rainbow when it rained. Funny. She’s still waiting on her rainbow.
Never knowed of her muttering one complaint. Even last year when the cotton crop didn’t make it. “Margie” kept on doing the house things and I kept on scorching my neck in the Alabama sun, hoping that the banker would stay away from our twenty-acres.
I wonder if God had it planned for me and “Margie” to understand what it’s like to live and breathe in near-poverty? Oh well. I ain’t no preacher, so I’ll just let that be for now.
As for religion, I confess that “I” have yelled out to God when “Carcass,” my old mule would get stubborn on the hottest days and just not move. And somehow me and “Margie” made it through a lot of lean falls and winters on a lot of “Margie’s” praying and a whole lot of “who knows how’s” we did it.
“Carcass” died a few years ago long about the time that our crops were just barely making it above market prices. The banker, “Mr. Jessie,” said that something had to be done if “I” was to keep on farming.
“buy yourself a tractor, Bill,” he said. “you can tend more land with a tractor,” he kept on insisting.
So with the money he lent me, I bought myself a John-Deere. Dangest contraption. Used gas instead of just plain corn. Loud too. Scared most of my chickens to death.
You know something. Them folks out Hollywood way has made folks like me out to be something of an American hero like that Davy Crockett or Dan’l Boone. Heck, we are just farmers. That’s all. But in the moving pictures they make, “we” look happy most of the time, always kissing our wives and growing more cotton an corn than can be hauled by a ten-mule team.
If I had just one wish it would be that the men who make these pictures would walk behind me just one day when it’s time to plant or even at harvest time. Betcha their movin’ picture business would head toward a slump for our lives, the farming life, ain’t nothing glamorous. No sir.
My papa didn’t lie to me when I come to him on my eighteenth birthday and told him that I was ready to start farming. I won’t forget the look on his wrinkled face. He looked like death hisself. “son, are you shore?” papa asked in a soft voice.
“yes sir, I am,” I said, hoping that he would be proud that I had growed to be a man.
“son, you don’t know what yore-a gettin’ into, do ya?” he asked.
“no sir. I guess I don’t,” I replied.
“ain’t a glamorous life, son. Best that ye’ join up with the Army or go into a big school so you can get away from the dirt that never gets out from under yore fingernails, and the sweat that never stops runnin’ like a wet weather spring down yore neck. It don’t stop, son,” papa said with tears in his eyes.
Papa was seldom wrong. My oldest brother, “Tom,” well, he passed when he was 23 from pneumonia. He was trying his best to work his way to the north so he “could find decent work,” he always bragged.
Poor “Tom.” I miss him at the oddest times. Like when I am sitting in the only shade I have, at the end of my cotton rows, near the ol’ oak that is old as God. I sit there when I have dinner to eat and “Tom” pops-up in my mind. Oh, boy at the devilish fun we had, skipping school, fishing in the backwoods creek and swipin’ ol’ man “Pepper’s” watermelons when they was in season.
Oh well. Memories never made a cotton crop, so I climb back on my tractor and live on the hope that “Margie” and me can finally pay this tractor, seed and loans we owe off this fall. Now if I was pressed to tell the truth, I would tell you that I miss “Carcass,” too. She was more reliable than this machine. I can tell you that right now. All’s I had to do was pay her some ‘ttention and she was okay to work.
But you know something. A man if he wants something bad enough, he will work hisself to the bone to get it.
Like I was with “Margie” and this farm when it was only ten acres, a long time back. Way back when I had a full-head of wavy black hair. Yeah, buddy. That was a long time back.
Then there are days when I think of our two sons, “Mark,” who works for the highway department in Atlanta, and “Dwayne,” who owns an appliance-repair store in Birmingham, Alabama.
As for their baby sister, “Cathy-Jean,” only God Himself knows where that girl is these days. She up and married a man named, “Barry Wilson,” a writer, and little “Cathy,” soon realized that marriage was more than roses and candy.
A whole lot more.
Then I hear people like the smart-talking “big shot” I ran into last week in our local Piggly Wiggly who was “sad” because of his city upbringing and wanted to live the simple life. Yeah, the simple life of a farmer like me.
There are names for people like him. “Nit wits.” Simple life, my foot. Where do these people come from, huh?
My “simple” life means me being up before sunrise, feeding my livestock, making sure that the weather is favorable for a 12-hour day in the fields, and hoping that my banker has left town and forgotten my monthly payment that is now three weeks past due.
Yeah, buddy. I live a “simple” life alright. Know what would have been funny? If I had been a magician with special powers to have traded places with that “nit wit” right on the spot, right smack-dab in front of the dog food section. That would have taught him a lesson.
I guess I run my mouth a lot when I should be more grateful for the good things I’ve been given. Even the things that I don’t have anymore.
Like my wavy black hair, oh yeah, I mentioned that. And of course, “Margie-Catherine,” whose grave is over yonder just beyond my apple orchard.
She always did have a love for that little patch of ground. She would sometimes giggle like she did when I first met her and tell me that in that apple orchard is where our oldest son, “Mark,” was conceived.
She might have been right. I was never one to argue with “Margie.” She had “that” look in her eyes. The look that made me feel like “I” was important, meant something, even when the gates of hell had opened wide on my crops, bills and them dadgum sicknesses that come hear taking little “Cathy” when she was only six days old.
Why do I still do this, farm for my living, now that it’s just me living here? Wish I had the answer.
Why do I sometimes yearn to hear “Mark” and “Dwayne” fuss and fight with “Cathy” over some stupid playhouse they had tore down? I guess that no matter how many hours I spend on this contraption, digging this dirt, shedding my good blood and sweat on cotton and corn crops that never set me up for life when they are sold, I always remember that I’m just a farmer.
A nameless, faceless farmer.
With just a memory, a priceless memory of his only love, “Margie-Catherine.”
And a man who hasn’t learned to “not” need anyone.
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