The old, heavy, brush painted, tank of a bike bounced in and out of ruts in the cow wide path following the most direct path to Uncle Toby’s. Jack sat up straight in the oversized seat and kept both hands on the handle bar. He was thinking about the weekend, about sitting next to Ellen in church, about school starting in a few weeks. This morning would be all about hand chopping the wheat. The bailers would show up this afternoon and he would help some with stacking the bails in the barn but most of that would be done by machine. The sun was already sitting on top of the mountains when he parked the bike next to the house. The barn doors were open and Toby was already inside the barn raking up the last bits of last year’s straw. Jack stood at the open doors watching The Uncle put a hand full of the blue stocks into a wheelbarrow – nothing would be wasted.
Toby noticed Jack at the door and leaned on his rake, “’bout time you showed up,” he said with a grin that announced he was fine with Jack’s time of arrival.
“Us young guys need our beauty sleep,” Jack responded letting Toby know he knew he was kidding.
“Us old guys seem to want to sleep all the time,” said Toby, shaking his head at the shame of getting old. “I remember when I’d work day and night at harvest time.”
“It’s all that blue dust,” Jack offered. “I’m still energized from being covered in the stuff Friday.”
Toby looked at Jack, remembering how things used to be. “You may have something there,” said Toby. “I’m around this stuff so much I forget its effect,” he picked up a few stocks from the wheelbarrow and rubbed them between his fingers. “All my life,” he said quietly, more to himself than to Jack.
“I’d better get started, said Jack.
“I might come out and give you a hand when I’m done here,” stated The Uncle. “Might do me some good to get a good coating of blue dust.”
Jack watched for Toby from time to time while he chopped at the stems of grain. He chopped the stocks close to the ground and then picked up handfuls. He leaned each handful of wheat on the edge of the trailer and gave the heads a glancing blow dumping the grain, chafe and tops of the stocks into the trailer. He threw the stocks onto the nearby piles of straw the combine had left behind. It was slow work but he could look behind him and see progress. Toby found other things to do and never showed up to help. When lunchtime came Jack headed to the farmhouse where a picnic of sandwiches and soup waited on the porch steps. They munched on the blood red bread and watched toward the West for the equipment that would bail up, stack and place the bails of straw in the barn.
Wondering why Toby had never come out to help Jack asked, “Would it be rude of me to ask your age?”
“It’s not rude to ask, but I never answer,” said Toby. Jack accepted the answer; he did not need to know. “I’m one-hundred and thirty-two years old.”
Surprised at being answered and at the answer Jack said, “I thought you never answered.”
“Well, you’re special,” The Uncle said, dead serious. And then he added, “don’t tell anyone,” just as seriously. “It messes with their heads. Everyone knows I’m old but no one is sure just how old.”
“People in The Village do live long lives. But I’ve never heard of anyone living over a hundred ten. Wait, ole lady Sarah was a hundred and fifteen.” Jack paused a minute to let the hundred and thirty-three sink in, “So, it’s because of all the red grain you eat?”
“Old Lady Sarah? That’s nice. What am I, really old Toby? But the grain surrounds me, I work in it and I consume a lot of it. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been sick.”
Jack notice a cloud of dust about a mile to the West, “here they come,” he said while pointing down the dirt road.