The Trouble With Father

OUR farm began somewhat in the manner of a hobby and has continued as our principal means of eating. What used to be a perfectly good place to live has now become a farm. Productive, they tell me. Too productive for me. In fact it is rapidly gaining the upper hand and will eventually destroy us all. Isn’t there an old saying that you can’t control nature? Well, even if there isn’t, we’re all finding out about things in general.

You wonder how anyone can complain of a good crop and a successful farm? If I weren’t intimately concerned with one, I might wonder too. Our main troubles are with conflicting temperaments, views, and personal problems. My family is intellectual and basically lazy.

Weary from a week of school, business, or the care of a large house, our family of six sits down at the dinner table on Friday night. With averted eyes we wait in silence for the inevitable sentence.

My father at the head of the table tries to act as if he didn’t know what it was all about. He is a well-built man of forty, with a handsome face, no excess weight, and very positive ideas. We shall call him Ray. He is a hard worker and a demon for perfection.

At his right sits my thirteen-year-old sister, Jan. Opposite him sits my mother, Helen. At his left, I sit. I shall call myself Ann. Next to me is my brother, Chuck, of seven wise years’ growth. Upstairs in bed lies the real master of the household, innocent for the moment, my small brother Sam, ot three mortal years.

After the exchange of daily occurrences, the dreaded topic looms large. What will our week-end project be? Resignation is plain on every face except Ray’s. He is efficiently cheerful.

“Tomorrow we tackle the corn.”

“And what, kind sir, are we supposed to do with the old dried-up field corn?”

“First we cut it down and —” Here he is interrupted with a polite request to go out and help feed the calf that is just being taken off the milk from the cow and must be forced to eat after her starvation period of three days. Fifteen minutes later he returns to his stone-cold food, much disheveled and slightly subdued.

Saturday morning arrives, and everyone carefully oversleeps. Then Kay starts to read a book. But the hour can be put off no longer. Ray takes off his glasses and brusquely orders us out to the fields.

What goes through his mind must be something like this: —

“Must work every minute to bring that corn in. Where is that machete? Oh, here it is. Wrong place. Must remember to scold someone for not putting it back on the right hook. I shall cut ten rows this morning. Make Helen do five at least.

“Why aren’t they here? They’re letting me down. Well, I’ve done almost all the work this summer; I might as well do the rest. Here they come. I must try to be fair. Helen probably had to plan the meals.

“Swing, Blow. Swing, Blow. There really is a lot of pleasure and profit in this work. Swing, Blow. I can’t understand why the children’s faces are so grim. Ann didn’t really have to do her homework this morning. She can easily stay home from wherever that place is that she wants to go. Swing, Blow. Helen is quite helpful, but it will be a fine thing if she doesn’t go to the village this morning as she planned to. Save the tires.

“Swing, Blow, Swing, Blow. Jan isn’t doing that piling right. Chuck isn’t working hard enough. Swing, Blow. Got to get this done. Swing, Blow. Gets a little tiring after a while. Swing, Blow. Swing, Blow. Must keep going. My back is breaking. Swing, can’t stop. Blow, work. Swing. These blisters are opening. Wish Helen would work faster with that machete. Swing, Blow.”

He scowls at Jan and Chuck, who are throwing cornstalks at each other; at Sam happily playing in the newly plowed ground with the only good t rowel. What should he do with them? It isn’t only that. They’re messing up the ground, and have made it impossible to have a machine cut the corn because of their continuous games of hide-and-seek. Ray bears all that without complaining.

“But why can’t they understand? Understand that you have to do, do, Work. Now. Hard. It has to get done before winter creeps up behind. We must finish it now. Now. Why can’t they understand ?”

Desperately, he drives himself on, on.

A woman’s work is never done, they say. Make that women and children, and it ‘s a fact. During the week, my father takes it easy, just being a publisher. But we? Oh, no. For the scandalously long hours from 10.00 A.M. to 1.00 P.M. (haven’t I read somewhere about maximum hours and child labor?) we slave away in the garden. And we can’t even try to beat the game, because there’s a checkup every night.

A pleasant little walk with Ray. “Come into my spider, said the parlor.” No, that’s not right. Well, how about an E pennant for energy, effort, expletives, and eggs? I must tell you about our chickens someday.

  1. RAE EVERITT is the daughter of a Boston editor and publisher. Her father is also an energetic farmer, and this is what it feels like to be enslaved in a Victory Garden.