A place for thought.

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Wheat #11

By the time Toby arrived in his bib overalls with his white hair brushed and looking much more awake Jack had the round plastic covered kitchen table set with plates, glasses and the necessary hardware.

“I found a couple of baked potatoes so I made them into hash browns,” Jack announced as Toby found his chair at the table.

“Smells like you found the bacon too.”

I did,” Jack answered while scooping some scrambled eggs onto his and Toby’s plates. “Scrambled okay?”

“This is great,” and very little more was said other than pass this or pass that until most of the meal had disappeared. At this point Toby steered the conversation and started filling Jack in on how things would start the following morning and what Jack was expected to do. At one point he drew a map of the fields on a paper napkin and numbered the sections, “We’ll start here and work our way back around.” Toby talked until the napkin was just a mess of pencil lines and Jack started wondering how he would remember all these things. “But I’ll be right there,” Toby added seeing the glazed look in Jack’s eyes. “Come and walk with me,” Toby said and leaving the dishes on the table they started a walk through the blue stocks with Toby talking non-stop and Jack trying to keep up both with the information and with the pace of Toby’s steps. The day progressed and Jack knew much more about the production of grain then he would need to know in order to watch custom harvesters who already knew their jobs well. Toby talked about water cycles and pump repair and problems with rodents. Sometimes he sounded like a father giving his son last minute instructions before sending him off to college, other times the farm took the part of the child and he spoke of protection and providing needs. Jack stopped trying to remember everything and just listen to the love Toby had for his fields of grain. The middle of the day found them at the back of the barn standing in the shade of the silo.

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Wheat #10

I want you to help,” said Toby getting right to the point. With Toby in his house shoes Jack was just a little bit taller than the older man. Standing just inches away looking down at him Jack noticed, for the first time, the lines of age around the man’s eyes and a tiredness even though the day had just began. Toby had always handled the ranch on his own, even the repairs to the barn roof had been Toby’s chore until the last couple of years. It occurred to Jack that the uncle he had known all his life, as the white haired stick of energy, was getting old. “Today we spend getting ready for the harvesting crew,” Toby continued. “I’ll oversee most of the action and make any decisions that need made. You’ll be my runner, picking up things I forget, which I seem to do constantly and getting messages from the field to the barn and things like that,” he paused a second and then added, “are you game?”

Jack answered immediately without taking thought, “sure, it sounds like fun.”

“Fun? Well, yes, I suppose it could be fun,” Toby grinned at Jack. “But it’s going to be a long day and this is new for me too so you’re going to have to step in and stop me from trying to do everything.”

Jack’s only thought was to get started, “I’m ready.”

“Hang on. We’re going to take it real easy today. I need to save myself for tomorrow. We start with a nice breakfast with a lot of conversation,” Toby said as he started the walk back to his house. He turned his head and asked over his shoulder as he walked, “How are you with eggs and toast?”

“You mean cooking them?”

“I know you can eat.”

“Sure, I’ll make breakfast,” Jack answered feeling good about having the task.

“Good,” Toby said as they walked into his home. “I’m taking a quick shower and then we’ll eat.”

Jack was left alone to hunt through the kitchen, finding pans and food in the places they are usually found and had breakfast well on its way before he heard the sound of water rushing through the pipes to Toby’s shower.

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Wheat #9

Jack climbed the steps one last time. He had the map of the roof holes in his back pocket. Just the first edge of the sun lit the top edge of the mountains as he stood and stretched on the ridge of the barn. Toby continued to sleep in the house below. All the house lights were out. With just enough natural light to begin Jack lined up the map with the roof; lines of nails showed him the position of the rafters. He found the first hole, brushed the edges clean, dabbed a bit of caulk into the indentation and then moved to the next hole being careful none were missed. One missed hole would cost a climb up and down the silo. He took extra care on the last strip of roof at the front of the barn and the fifteen minutes work took a full half an hour, not because he was dragging his feet but because he was doing his best.

“How’s things going up there?” Toby shouted from the ground. He was still dressed for bed in dark blue sweat pants and a dark blue sweatshirt.

“All done. Be right down.” Jack shouted back. He gathered his tools and walked the ridge back to the steps. He dropped to the ground the things that would not break and carried the rest down the steps. By the time he reached the ground Toby had already picked up the unused caulk filled tubes, brush and putty knife from the ground and they walked together to the storage room.

“First thing in the morning we harvest the grain. I want you to help,” said Toby.

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Wheat #8

“So he didn’t say anything about what he wants done but he wants me back in the morning just before the sun comes up,” Jack put a hunk of baked chicken into his mouth and waited for the response.

“You finished with the roof and he asked you to come back in the morning?” Jack’s father had put his fork down and was looking straight at Jack as Jack chewed.

“Did he tell you to bring anything or dress a certain way that might suggest the nature of the work?” his mother sat in front of her plate no longer eating waiting for Jack to finish with his bite of chicken. Jack decided to make sure he chewed his food properly and to not talk with his mouth full. Sally, not taking part in the conversation continued to clean her drumstick.

With a final swallow Jack answered, “I didn’t quite finish. I’ve got maybe half an hour’s work left.”

“So he just wants you back to finish up,” his father stated and returned to his food.

“No, I offered to finish up and he said he has some other things he wants me to do.”

“At harvest time?” his father asked.

“At harvest time. We walked around and he was telling me about how to tell the best time to harvest and everything we looked at matched up. It’s time to harvest right now, according to Uncle Toby.”

Jack’s father put his fork back down, “he walked you around the field and talked about the wheat?” he leaned toward Jack and waited for an answer.

Jack toyed with the idea of putting another piece of chicken in his mouth and making his father wait for his answer but seeing the look in his father’s eyes he thought better of it and answered, “He told me all kinds of things. We walked and talked for about an hour.”

“About the wheat?” Jack’s father said.

“Mostly,” said Jack. Jack’s father sat back in his chair and went back to his dinner, chewing slowly, deep in thought.

Sally pushed her empty plate forward and asked, “What’s for desert?”

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Wheat #7

“So there’s just the one strip of roof you haven’t checked yet?” Toby asked after we had already discussed my progress. We each held a sandwich made with thick sliced, blood red bread and plenty of turkey and greens. I finished the big bite I had just taken, remembering my father’s advice.

“Yah,” I answered and took another huge bite of my sandwich.

“We should go ahead and map out any spots you missed when we’re done here.”

“I finished chewing and said,” okay.” The best part of the yearly roof maintenance was the checking for missed spots from the inside of the dark barn at midday. Even the smallest pinhole would look like the brightest star in the sky. We took a piece of paper and drew all the rafters and the ridge on it so I could reference where each hole was when I was back on top. We closed the big doors and the inside of the barn became as night. At first I could not even see Toby standing right next to me but as our eyes adjusted we could see good enough to walk around without stumbling. The strip of roof I had not repaired showed nine holes, a couple of them big enough I might be able to stick my little finger though but most small. We walked slowly back and forth and from side to side looking for the smallest pinhole, each time we found one it would be marked on our map. The cool darkness, the patience required, and working side by side with Toby gave the afternoon a faraway feel, like we had left the world behind.

“Only four,” I said with a bit of pride in my thoroughness.

“Only four,” Toby agreed. “Not bad for a kid.” I put the map in my back pocket and headed for the big barn doors planning to finish the last fifteen minutes of my work. “It’s too hot up there. Come back in the morning,” Toby said as the bright light from outside caused us temporary blindness.

“All I’ve got is fifteen minutes worth. I can handle it,” thinking of the bike ride to and from the farm for nothing more than a quick climb up and down the circular steps.

“I’ve got some other things I need some help on,” Toby said with a grin that confirmed the honor he was bestowing on me. I grinned back my acknowledgment of the honor. “Walk with me in the field. I’ll show you how to tell when the perfect time for harvest comes.” We walked and talked for a full hour, examining stocks and leaves and heads of grain as we moved through narrow paths crowded by wheat. Most of the time Toby talked and I listened. But he took the time to answer every question that came to my mind, even the simple things that I should have known already.

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Wheat #6

Just before the sun peaked over the mountains to the East the red bike leaned against a blue bale of hay and Jack climbed the round metal stairway to the top of the barn carrying only a small plastic thermos of cold water. The tools of his current trade were where he had left them. Hawks and buzzards have little need for caulking guns and wire brushes. Jack took great care to walk on beams covered with tin and approached each tiny hole as a task that required his full attention. The sun rose in the almost white blue sky without a wisp of a cloud overhead. Thirty miles away next to the mountain range a few thunderclouds tried to form without much success, but on top of the barn the air remained dry as the heat of the day increased. The reflective nature of the tin bounced the heat back allowing Jack to toast evenly. Every so often Toby would shout from the ground, checking to make sure everything was going as planned, Jack would awake from his daydream of whatever passing whim he was devoting most of his thought to and holler back a report on his condition. When Toby hollered lunch most of Jack’s workday was already complete and only a small section of roof still needed his attention. Jack started to ask for another half an hour to finish but remembered (from the year before) the job would not be complete without the dark barn test and hurried down the ladder to a lunch he knew would include fresh red bread which would restore his energy as nothing else could.

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Wheat #5

The first circle of homes are made almost entirely of wood, wooden porches, wooden floors, exterior walls covered with paint covered redwood boards, and interior walls covered with wooden slats before a heavy coat of plaster. Even the shingles on the roofs of the oldest houses were once wood shakes although now most of the shakes have been replaced with less flammable materials. The second circle of houses is mixed, with some wooden sided homes still persisting, but stucco sided homes with slightly brighter colors and smaller or non-existent porches. And with each additional circle the homes adapt to the current style at the time of their being constructed. The newest homes are the farthest from downtown. The oldest homes with the larger trees and narrow streets are close to town.

The wide soft tires of Jack’s bicycle appreciate the first of the blacktop covering of the first paved road leading to The Village and he relaxed a bit to enjoy the level, relatively smooth surface. He peddled past the grocery store waving back to a few people who waved at him. He turned onto the one cross street at the corner with the Penney’s store and then almost immediately made a left onto the first lane of homes. At the second oldest house in town Jack steered the old heavy bike off the road and across a green lawn. He slid from the oversized seat and let the bike continue on its own until it hit the side of a hundred year old oak tree in the center of the yard, an action he repeated almost everyday and an action that had so far done little damage to the tree and would never harm the ancient bicycle.

Jack climbed the four wooden steps to the wide porch and let the screen door slam behind him as he entered the house.

“Mom! I’m home!” he shouted to the empty front room and plopped down onto the green flowered sofa, which took up most of the room in the room.

“Stay off my furniture until you’ve had your shower,” Jack’s mother shouted from the kitchen without looking to see if her warning was needed.

Jack groaned like an old man as he removed himself from his soft nest and proceeded to take care of the action needed before he would be allowed to rest.

“Have some more potatoes Jack,” his mother passed the bowl to his sister and his sister sat it in front of his plate. Jack looked at the scoop of potatoes still on his plate and ignored the offer.

“Toby says the crop will be great this year, it certainly looks good,” Jack said as he continued to work on the meatloaf, potatoes, and green beans still on his plate. Without quite finishing chewing he added, “the heads are a full inch thick and bright, bright red.”

“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” his father said with quiet authority and went back to his usual silence.

“Did you get to eat some right from the field?” Sally, Jack’s younger sister asked, a bit in awe of her older brother.

“Of course I did,” Jack bragged. “And you should have seen the bright red bread Toby sliced for lunch. It had to have been made with pure red grain.

“Well, that should take care of that cold you were trying to catch,” his mother said with a bit of envy. “I wish there were more of the red grain then we could all live as long as Toby.”

“How old is Toby?” Sally asked interested in anything but her dinner. She had heard the answer many times.

“No one knows,” her father gave the proper and honest answer in between bites.

“Your grandfather helped him in the field when he was your age just like you did today, and Toby was an old white haired man back then.” Jack’s mother said just to watch Sally’s eyes grow big with amazement at the story she had heard a hundred times. “The blue stocks only grow on the square of land Toby owns. It will grow nowhere else in the whole world.”

“In the whole world,” Sally repeated the words like she was reading from the Bible, or maybe praying. She was, once again, impressed.