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.”

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!”

And then in a little more than a year we had Althie. And then I lost a baby. And then six years went by, and then it was Nance, and then Sissy, and then Stanley, named after his grandpa and nearly spoiled to death by all the others. And after him, no more.

“Getting ’em’s one thing, and raising ’em’s another.” Grover made a saying out of that. You get ’em here, and then you have ’em to take care of and worry about.

Althie, I’ll say, was the best—the best one of all of us. The three littlest ones were raised by her as much as by me. She would be carrying them around and looking after them. Playing at being a mother, I thought, sort of doll-playing, but I pretty soon realized that when she was with them I didn’t need to worry. She put them first, and was always watchful.

And she hadn’t hardly got them of mine raised before she married Tommy Greatlow from down here at Hargrave and started raising her own.

She’s getting old herself now, and her health is bad, her heart, but she drives in here every day to see how I am and what she can do for me. Her heart is poorly now, maybe, because she’s given it away all her life to anybody that needed it, always doing for somebody. She and Tommy are still out there on their good farm in the river valley with the world dug up all around by the sand-and-gravel company. And they’ve got one boy, looks like, who’ll stick there and go on with it. He’s thirty-two, Tommy Junior is, a good boy, good to me.

The others, Althie’s, but mine too, are gone, long gone, scattered off to city jobs all over the country. When the time came for me to leave the old place, Althie and them of course couldn’t take it on, for they already had all the land they could look after, and having to depend on the Mexicans part of the time, as it was. The rest of them, children nor grandchildren, couldn’t even think of it. There was nothing in it for them, as they sometimes pointed out to me, nothing anyhow that they wanted.

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Wendell Berry’s most recent books include What Matters?: Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth, The Poetry of William Carlos Williams of Rutherford, and Leavings: Poems. This story is set in 1991.

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