Farming in the winter contains a lot of sitting in coffee shops talking about great past accomplishments but Uncle Toby had taken little time for upkeep and maintenance over the last few years and always had plenty of work set aside for Jack on Saturdays. This morning had been spent hauling all of Toby’s things out of his bedroom, finding places to stack them, and now Jack held a putty knife in
his hand as he searched for small holes and dents to dab a bit of plaster patch into. Toby sat in a wooden backed chair watching Jack’s every move and looking for places he had missed. He had the chair tilted back resting against a part of wall it was okay to scuff because it was about to get painted anyway.
“So it sounds like you’re going to pass all your classes,” Toby said after listening to Jack’s report on how finals had been.
“Hardest thing so far is deciding which classes to take next semester,” Jack said while he pushed a tiny bit of patch into a pinhole with his thumb. He looked over at Toby and with a grin said, “I have to decide what I want to be when I grow up.”
Toby let his chair’s front legs fall to the floor looking more like a child about to get scolded by his parents than an old man, “Want to be a farmer?”
“Need land for that. Being your farm hand is great for now but not for the rest of my life.”
“What if this land was yours?” Toby said like it was no big deal.
“Great, sign it over,” Jack said wondering where The Uncle was going with this.
“I never had kids, wife’s been gone for thirty years, I’ve out lived all my close relatives, I’d like you to take over in a few years, when I’m too old,” Toby got kind of a far away look in his eyes and added, “If you say you want it I’ll put you in my will,” he looked Jack right in the eyes letting him know he was dead serious.
Jack stopped patching and just stood next to the bedroom wall rubbing the dry patch off his thumb, “I’d say yes, but I’ll need to talk to Ellen first. You sure?”
“Are you two that serious?”
“I’m gonna ask her to marry me before she has too much time to think it through,” Jack said with a nervous laugh.
“Okay, take your time, make sure she wants to be a farmers wife, get a degree in something you like, a farm this size leaves you with a lot of spare time.” It was hard for Jack to keep his mind on painting the bedroom after Toby’s offer. He thought of a thousand ways to present the idea to Ellen.
“Of course you’ll take the farm if he offers it to you,” Jack’s father returned to his chicken and rice assuming the conversation had come to an end.
“Well, he might have other plans, Ebb, not everyone wants to be a farmer, after all”, Jacks mother was always there to defend his rights.
“He wouldn’t be a farmer. He would own a small farm it would take care of all his needs. Uncle’s farm takes care of itself, a few weeks two or three times a year is all it requires, he could do whatever he chooses the rest of the time.” Jack’s father stared at his wife daring her to keep him from his dinner.
Jack broke the silence, “I’ll have to check with Ellen. I can’t make a decision like this without talking to her first.”
“Ellen,” both of Jack’s parents spoke in unison. His mother nodded to his father that he could take over.
“Why in heaven’s name would you need to talk it over with Ellen?” Jack’s father asked while his mother continued to nod in agreement, looking directly at Jack.
“If she’s going to be my wife she…” Jack didn’t have time to complete his sentence before he was hearing a long dissertation on the evils of marrying too young, of why it is important to find the absolute right girl and that four months of dating wasn’t near enough time on which to base such a decision. Jack listened and smiled and nodded but he knew Ellen was the girl he would live the rest of his life with. Dinner was finished long before the conversation ended and then throughout the night as his parents thought of information Jack needed they would break into the television show they were watching, yelling through the restroom door to give him additional information he needed to prevent him from ruining his life.
Even as he relaxed between the covers of his bed his mother gave him one more encouragement to, “think.”
“She is a very nice girl,” Jack’s mother said to her husband as he lay beside her in their bed.
“Of course she’s a nice girl. He couldn’t do better. Her parents are two of our oldest friends.”
“Remember when they were both just learning to walk and we made jokes about how someday they might marry?” Jack’s mother said in a whisper. “He’s just so young.”
“He’ll wait. I’m pretty sure he understood,” Jack’s father assured his wife.
“He’s just a kid.”
“We were just kids.”
The ride into town had been abnormally quiet. Jack was lost in thought and Ellen’s attempts at polite conversation had all failed. The little pick-up hummed around the corners as the two lane road found a path between foothills. A small brown bag containing a muffin for Ellen’s history professor sat on the dash separate from her own lunch which was stashed into her book bag behind her seat.
Jack cleared his throat before he broke the silence, “that extra five muffins a week must cut into your families supply of the red wheat.”
“It’s worth it, history is a much better class if he gets his muffin. He gave us an actual lecture last week and it was slightly interesting,” Ellen waited to hear what had kept Jack quiet.
“What if you could have all the red grain you could ever want,” asked Jack leading up to his bigger question.
“I’m trying to cut back. I want to know what kind of person I am without it,” Ellen said, not giving Jack the answer he had expected, his script would no longer fit the situation. It would need a major rewrite so the trip returned to silent mode and the tires of the small pick-up could once more be heard gripping the corners of the black asphalt strip between the two towns. Jack dropped Ellen off at her school and drove across town to his school thinking about some of the things his parents had said and realizing, for the first time, that they might be right. Maybe he should wait, at least until after finals.