The sun was already a well defined half ball of burning fire by the time Jack leaned the brush painted red bike on the bales of blue hay next to Toby’s house. The house was dark inside so Jack began the task of releasing the tractor from its anchor at the silo. The task was not entirely new and the necessary tools were nearby. He started the tractor and moved it ahead a few feet once it was loose from the auger. He left the tractor running at an idle so slow he could almost see the individual fan blades on the front of the little diesel engine. A deep rumble filled the valley and the smell of the exhaust felt like work about to be done. Jack looked toward the house, no lights showed through the wood framed, paned windows. He moved the tractor to the far side of the barn, backed it into its spot, and pulled on the knob that would shut off the flow of fuel. The tractor chugged into silence. There was no sound. The sun had cleared the mountains and Jack could already tell it would be another hot day. He watched the rolls of cut straw lying in the field. He knew what his next task would be and eyed the hay rake sitting next to the tractor considering whether or not to go ahead and hook it up but decided to wait just in case Toby had other plans. He let the morning become, which it would despite anything he could do and he walked around the barn and up the porch in front of Toby’s house. It was still early and the inside of the house was still dark and quiet so Jack sat down on the swing for two at one end of the porch and let its subtle squeak announce his presence to Toby. Minutes went by. He could smell the hay starting to bake; the smell was more than pleasant, it filled him with a general feeling of health and well-being. In town people would take a bit of straw from Toby’s field and make a tea when someone was sick or felt a cold coming on; breathing the steam from the cup would keep the sickness away. Jack wondered if Toby had ever been sick. And then he worried at the lack of sound coming from inside Toby’s house. He started to move toward the door and then he heard water running through the pipes in the wall of the house and settled back onto the swing. The sun was well above the mountains when the screen door amplified the squeak of the swing and Toby poked his sleepy round head out the doorway.
“Come in,” Toby said leaving the door open but allowing the screen to close. Jack followed him into the kitchen where Toby sat at the round table still rubbing the sleep from his eyes. Toby waved one hand toward the stove as an invitation to Jack and Jack took the hint without questions. As Jack found their breakfast Toby made his unnecessary excuse, “I’m getting old Jack. Take my advice and don’t let it happen to you.”
“My dad says there is only one way to avoid it,” responded Jack. The Mr. Coffee machine started gurgling its black/brown liquid as Jack broke some eggs.
“Yah, avoid that too.” Toby said, sounding like he could use another hour of sleep.
“My dad also says you were old when he was a boy,” said Jack.
“I looked old, this is the first time I have felt old. I thought the wheat made me immune. Turns out, I was wrong.” Toby stretched out his short legs and hugged himself to get a kink out of his back. Jack took two thick slices of blood red toast out of the oven and smeared them with butter, turned sausage patties and flipped the eggs to cook their sunny side. He found orange juice in the refrigerator and poured two glasses. Toby continued the process of an old man waking up and let Jack have complete control of serving the breakfast. They ate in silence for a while. Just the clink of stainless ware and the crunch of toast could be heard. “Have you ever thought about being a farmer?”
Jack was surprised at the question but answered quickly, “I think it’s the best life possible. I’ve never considered it because my father has no land and being a farm hand is a different thing,” this wasn’t the first time he had thought in this direction.
“Farming the blue stocks is something different. It requires more of you. I’m not sure I can explain it but you become part of every crop, there’s a joining.”
“I’ve heard other farmers say the same thing.”
“Yes, but I think this is something more. I can’t really compare, this is all I have ever done,” the rest of what Toby thought he thought to himself and the conversation became normal breakfast chatter, leaving the question and the reason for the question behind. Toby helped with cleaning up and by the time they stepped out onto the porch the heat of the day greeted them like opening the door of a pre-heated oven.