Fiction Fiction 2011

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“I knew that all the things we’d gathered there so many years would be scattered and gone. All that had held it together would come apart and be gone as if it never was.”

So there went Big, stumbling along in his version of running, and there went Grover ahead of him as fast as he could go and stay on the tractor, and there went Big’s hat, tumbling over the windrows like it finally had a chance to be free.

Well, it was Grover that caught the hat. He baled it and slowed down and went back to baling hay. He never gave Big so much as a glance. He didn’t even grin.

He and Big worked harder when Burley was with them. Burley was tuned up a little different. The people he ordinarily worked with, they went at it pretty hard. Burley was another one maybe not easy to tell about. He wasn’t, you might think, all that serious, and yet he was. Time was, this country was full of tales about Burley Coulter. He was a right smart older than me, but I remember him when he was young. He had good looks and ways the women taken to. You’d accuse him of something outlandish you’d heard about him, and he’d say, “If they told it at the store, I reckon it’s a story.” Or he’d say, “That must have been the day I found myself lost.” And he had a way of looking at you. You had to love him. There was a time or two, a night or two.

But he had that seriousness. More and more, I think. He saw his family through their hard times. His friends too. He was a neighbor.

But, Lord, how they did carry on—him and Grover and Big!

Well, them old times are gone forever, but people were neighbors then. Your kinfolks were your neighbors, and your neighbors were your neighbors. You worked together. You saw each other in Port William on Saturday night, and in church like as not on Sunday morning. Now that I’ve got mainly nothing to do, I think and think about them all. It just seems natural to me now to expect to see them again over on the other side. I think of us all together, paid up somehow, and complete.

For a long time after Grover and I got married, we were tenants on other people’s places, taking half of what we earned from the crops, which I’ll say was hard sometimes. I mean you could have a hard thought or two about it. But for people with no land, that was what was possible, and was all right, a chance maybe to get ahead. We got half of the cash money, what there was of it, and back there in the ’20s and ’30s, there wouldn’t be much. But we had our old ways. We had a garden, of course, and milk from our cows and meat from our hogs, and meat and eggs from our chickens, and our patching and mending and making do. And so we had our living.

The place we lived on longest was the old Levers place. Mr. Robert La Vere grew up on that place in the old house that a long time later we lived in. He was known back then as Jappy Levers. But he made a lawyer out of himself, and then he went by J. Robert La Vere. He hadn’t been long dead when the tenant before us gave the place up, and we moved there. Run-down as it was, it was the best place we’d had, and we stayed on there until my mother died and I inherited our home place.

After Mr. La Vere was gone, his widow, Miss Charlotte, saw to the farm, and I’m telling you! She was something like nothing else. To see her come riding up in the backseat of that big car, wearing her hat and her fur and her white gloves and looking straight ahead through her little specs, you’d have thought she was the queen of Hargrave, which in a way she was.

She was just about the best thing that ever happened to Grover. She couldn’t tell a cow from a bull, but she had no end of advice about farming. She would decide the barn cats were too thin, and tell Grover to see they got more milk, or more mice. We would take garden stuff to her when we had extra—we tried to have a little extra for her—and she would wonder if the green beans were ready in March, or roasting ears in November. Grover enjoyed everything she said, and remembered it all, and could talk just like her.

Her driver and man of all work, Willard Safely, would pull up in front of the barn and blow the horn. If Grover was anywhere around, he would pretty soon show up. He would always stand back a ways from the car so she had to roll her window down and stick her head out to talk to him. Her way of doing that completely tickled him, but he would have the soberest look on his face and nod his head and say “Yes mam,” “Yes mam,” and memorize it all so he could tell me first thing, and then at town.

The next place we lived was our own. My mother and daddy didn’t have but one child that lived, and that was me. By the end of the war my folks were both gone, and we had no good reason to stay with Mrs. La Vere, “Miz Gotrocks” as Grover liked to call her, and so we moved home.

It was not a big or a fine place, a hundred and fifteen acres more or less, some of it steep, but my folks took good care of it and kept up the buildings and fences, and so did we. We were changed by having it, in all the world our own place, more maybe than we were changed by having the children. Grover was Grover, and he’d have been Grover if we’d owned a thousand acres or the whole county. But the hundred and fifteen that was ours made us feel permanent and serious, in a way safe, as we hadn’t been able to feel before.

We didn’t change anything much. We kept the best of the things my folks had and the best of the things we had. We stuck to our old ways of doing for ourselves. And we did all right. Grover always felt at home wherever we were, but I got back some of the old at-home feeling I’d had when I was a girl growing up. It was fine for me.

Back in 1920 was when we got married, both of us young but born in different centuries. Maybe that counts for something, but to look at us you wouldn’t have known. I’ll have to say we didn’t waste any time starting a family. Billy was born in nine months just about to the day. Grover would look at me when I began to show and just laugh. He’d say, “I reckon that must have been some night!”

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Wendell Berry is a farmer, an activist, and the author of numerous essays, poems, novels, and short stories. He has received the National Humanities Medal, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Lannan Literary Award, among other honors. He lives in Kentucky.

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