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.”

Grover would work as hard to play a joke as for a living. Well, I’ll tell you exactly how he would do.

After the pickup balers had been in the country a good while—this was after we had got settled finally on our own place—Grover and Big went in partners and bought a pretty good baler, secondhand. Big was worthless at anything mechanical, so Grover took charge of the baler, always pulled it with our tractor, and did the baling. Grover loved an old tractor. He liked to fix things and he liked to drive.

One summer Big had a field of red clover to put up for hay. He got it mowed, and in a couple of days Grover went over and raked it as soon as the dew dried. After dinner he went back with the baler. Big had got Burley to come to help with the hauling. They were sitting on the wagon, waiting for Grover to bale a round or two before they started to load.

It was a blustery day, and the wind blew Big’s hat off. He started after it but couldn’t gain on it. When it blew past Grover, he pulled out of the windrow he was baling, put the tractor in a higher gear and cut in ahead of Big. Burley was just paying careful attention to see how it was going to turn out.

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.

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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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