The Farm Hand
A Rick Beck Story
Editor: Gardner Rust
For David Miller
Editor: Gardner Rust
For David Miller
Up To Our Ears In Corn
The machines coughed and the cows mooed their too-early morning call, as the rooster crowed a curious unconvincing squawk and then repeated it. He sounded as if he, also, had been abruptly awakened by the noises of the pending day's work. I blinked my eyes to clear them of the fog, but the world was still pitch black.
My instincts told me I could roll over and go back to sleep. After all, Pa would take care of the morning rituals, and there was something to be said for those first unclear moments, after not enough sleep and an earlier than usual start to a new day.
I lingered in my half-awakened state for another minute or two before dressing. Ralph and Jacob were curled up under the same blanket that they had pulled over to the open window in the loft. The noise hadn't phased them. I wasn't ready to rouse them from their peaceful sleep. It would be good to get a cup of coffee in the presence of only adults.
"Morning, Robert," Sven said from the dark as my feet hit the ground.
"Why didn't you get me up? I could have helped get the machines ready."
"No point in two of us getting up to do something one of us can do," Sven observed.
"I'm supposed to be running things and I was lecturing my brothers about not getting up on time at supper last night."
"And you delegate where you can or you'll wear yourself down before we get the work done. I don't mind. I enjoy the quiet, boss. Coffee is ready."
Sven's big hand fell on my shoulder again as we walked past the idling machines unable to talk loud enough to be heard. His was a comforting presence and while I was the boss, he kept me on an even keel.
We sat across from each other and Jake delivered cups to us and quickly came back with the pot from the burner, filling them with the steaming black brew.
"Morning, Jake," I said, dumping two spoons full of sugar into it as I stirred.
"You ain't a gonna put no hard candy in there, is yeah?"
We all chuckled and Jake brought biscuits and butter to the table, snatching the sugar bowl out of my reach.
"How'd you sleep, Jake?" I inquired.
"These will be the long days," I said. "Trucks will be here at first light and they should keep coming until dark."
"We'll see to it those corn cribs are filled, after the trucks stop running. There's a lot of room in the bottom of the barn," Sven suggested. "We can use the window, put a chute there and back the corn wagon up there.
"Yeah, that's a good idea," I agreed.
"You boys eat up these eggs," Jake said, filling each of our plates with scrambled eggs and crisp bacon.
He sat next to the sink drinking his coffee and eating eggs. The only noise came from the machinery, but it didn't take long for the children to get into the act.
Ralph and Jacob shoved each other, while trying to get through the door at the same time and the inevitable argument erupted. They tried again with no better result.
"I was here first," Jacob said, bouncing one shoulder off the door jam and the other off of Ralph.
"Shit, too, you'll be last one to your own funeral. You ain't never been no where first," Ralph complained, bumping his shoulder against Jacob's determined to get in the kitchen ahead of him.
It was apparent to everyone if one of them hesitated an instant, they'd both clear the door fine, but neither boy would yield, until Jake charged at them wielding the huge wooden spoon menacingly. In an instant the physics of the situation was solved and the two boys scattered into the room and away from Jake's threatening spoon.
"I was there first," Ralph advised Jacob.
"Boy, I's a gonna be washin' you mouth with soap, when you gets done today," Jake said, waving the spoon under Ralph's nose.
"It wasn't me. It was him. I got there first."
"Your mama may not be here but I ain't a havin' that talk from the likes of you, boy. You come in here and sit down like a gentleman and keep hushed, now, and don't be back sassin' me."
"Yes, sir," Ralph answered meekly, scooting his chair closer to Sven's, until Jake withdrew the spoon back across the table.
After getting their cups full of coffee, they sat quiet in their chairs waiting for Jake's delivery of food. It was about the only thing that calmed these two down.
"You want I should wake Junior and Kaleb," Sven offered, after pushing his plate away.
"No, let them rest. They'll have plenty to do once the trucks are done for the day. These two can burn off some of that energy cleaning up the cut corn after breakfast," I said.
"I's can drive if need be," Jake said. "Once I get the roast in the oven I'll only need an hour to do taters. Maybe I'll slice up some tomatoes and cucumbers and onions out of your mama's garden."
"Good, we'll need all the help we can get. You speed them trucks up when they come. We're paying enough so that they don't need to be dallying around. They took their good old time yesterday getting to town and back."
"Yes, sir," Jake said. "I'll direct 'em to the gate as quick as they turn into the drive."
"Make up a pile of sandwiches so we can keep working over lunch today. We'll just eat enough to keep us going until suppertime, when the International isn't any good to us."
As first light came Ralph and Jacob dashed out into the field with Ralph mounting the International and Jacob running along behind tossing corn into the corn wagon. Sven and I were soon easing the tractors back into the corn. For the first time I needed a jacket to keep me warm until the sun came up.
Once the wagon was full, I began looking for the trucks. It was past time for them to be coming through the gate. As I came back from my run to the end of the main field, I saw Ralph and Jacob breaking away, heading for the gate to empty the wagon.
There were no trucks in sight and the sun was rising higher in the sky. I studied that sky for signs of rain clouds. The Fall rains were going to come, whether or not the harvest was done. I watched the gate for a sign of the trucks.
They're absence was creating extra work that put us farther behind. Crosby knew the harvest depended on his trucks and a farmer survived or went under according to how fast he brought in his corn. My disposition soured even more the later it got without Crosby's trucks on the job. I didn't like it.
Sven waved his arms as he drove toward my machine. I wasn't sure what was on his mind, but he had my attention. When he stopped his machine and leaped to the ground, I stopped to watch as he ran toward the house.
At the same time I caught sight of Ralph and Jacob running toward the house. I didn't know what was going on, but I got off the machine and ran through the gate to see a bottleneck at the head of the driveway. In front of the bottleneck was Mr. Crosby's car. I had no idea what would be of such importance to stop our work.
Jake was dusting himself off after picking himself up just beside where Sven had forced himself in-between Kaleb and Mr. Crosby. What the hell was he doing out here? He never left the feed and grain during harvest. I ran the rest of the way, moving between all my help to face Crosby and his truck drivers, who all seemed agitated.
"We're waiting for those trucks," I said, pointing to the three trucks lined up behind Mr. Crosby's 36 Chrysler.
"What in the world is going on," I asked, standing between our line and their line. "We're waiting for those trucks. The suns been up an hour."
Mr. Crosby moved around the right side of his car and away from where Jake, Sven, and Kaleb were standing. Sven looked a bit like a referee, holding Kaleb's shoulders in a way that kept him from moving forward. Crosby came up to me with fire in his eyes.
"That damn boy ought not be telling no white man what to do," Crosby said, spitting his words and a plug of tobacco from his mouth as he pointed accusingly at Jake.
I looked toward Jake who I hardly recognized because he'd pulled himself up straight. He stood almost as tall as Sven. They were towering compared to the five foot nothing Crosby whose girth more than made up for his lack of height.
"What did you do, Jake?" I asked, looking at a man with a seething anger in his eyes.
Jake met my eyes with his saying, "I done what use told me, Mr. Robert," and the look on his face sent a chill running through me.
I'd never seen Jake look imposing without that wooden spoon, but gone were the bent bones as he stared at Crosby. I could see a gathering pride in his demeanor but I didn't know what brought all this on. Crosby took that time to explain.
"You better get these niggers off'n here afore I'm a talkin' to your paw on it,"
In an instant Crosby was leaning back across the hood of his car with Sven's thick forearm forced up under his pudgy little chin. Two of the three truckers took a single step forward before reconsidering going any further.
"Get off me you big ox," Crosby complained.
"Let him up, Sven," I ordered, still not sure where we were heading. "My father's not able to run the farm right now. I am. These are my hands and I'd appreciate you showing them some respect, Mr. Crosby," I tried in spite of my instincts that told me that I wasn't going to get very far trying to be nice.
Sven glanced over his shoulder at me and the look on his face told me the gentle man I knew had a limit to his patience. My brain was frantic in its search for a way to disarm the situation so we could get the trucks moving. Crosby wasn't about to allow his objection to my hands go without being addressed.
Sven slowly eased his elbow out from under Crosby's red chin. The difference in their size was remarkable.
"You sure you want me to let him loose, boss?"
"Let him up. I'm sure this is all a misunderstanding. We're adults and we can work it out. These are my hands, Mr. Crosby. My hands are on my farm."
"Yes, sir, If you say so," Sven said, backing off a step before folding his arms across his chest. "I don't wants to hurt them other two boys, but I wouldn't mind hurtin' this here one. He looks like he could use a little hurtin'."
"Nobody needs to get hurt, Sven," I said, sensing my right hand man was running interference for me. "Those trucks need to be under my machines, Mr. Crosby. Coming out here to interfere with my operation is slowing down our harvest. I think we have a contract saying sun up to sun down until I say otherwise. It's close to two hours after sunup and them trucks aren't under my machines."
Crosby's eyes stayed on Sven. Two of his drivers stood at either corner of the first truck, but neither made another move toward Sven to aid their boss. My mind raced for leverage. I'd never had to deal with ignorance before and I found it distasteful, but I needed his trucks and at the same time I needed to keep the trust of my men.
"I aims to talk to your paw, after I leave here. He's going to be mighty interested in the goings on up here. Mighty interested. I didn't believe it when my men told me you had a nigger driving a tractor up in here."
Jacob and Kaleb moved to their father's side, when the word nigger came up the second time. Crosby noticed they had closed in on him and then he remembered Sven was a bigger worry and the front of his shiny new car. I could see the man measuring the distance his retreat might take with the distance the men he was insulting were away from him. He got nervous.
"I'm in charge, not my Pa. You upset my father, Mr. Crosby, and you aren't going to like what I do," I said, losing track of my purpose and showing the man I did not like his attitude.
"Yeah, right, boy. I'm standing here shaking. Can't you see? Just because you say you're in charge, it don't impress me none. My deal's with your paw."
"You want I should be impressing him some, boss. Please, let me have him," Sven said, faking a move toward Crosby while having a menacing sound in his voice.
This caught me by surprise. This was a new Sven.
Crosby rolled out of Sven's reach, putting his arms in front of his face. He moved in-between the two truckers who moved up beside Crosby's car. The third truck driver sat behind the wheel, disinterested in the standoff.
"Nah, he's all mouth. He doesn't want any trouble. Do you, Mr. Crosby?" I asked, as Sven backed up to stand next to me.
"I'm not sitting still for this. I'm not a man you can threaten. I'll turn them trucks around and then, where will you be?"
Ralph moved up to my other side and Junior stood beside Ralph. My mind continued searching for a way out of what could be a damaging delay, but I was not kissing this bigots ass.
"You've already broken your contract with Pa. If you get those trucks rolling and get out of our way, I'll honor what you and Pa agreed to," I said, remembering Pa's conversation with Mama the day he and Crosby shook on their deal.
Pa thought Crosby needed us more than we needed him. I needed to use that information to my advantage, but how?
"Who was the other fellow you know has trucks for hire, Sven?" I asked, trying to hit Crosby in his wallet.
Sven gave me an odd look, like he didn't understand, but his agile mine caught up with me in a flash, and he turned a confused look into a matter of having trouble answering my question
"Awl, boss, You know I ain't no good with names. He's a man I drove for over near Des Moines. He's got five trucks he was trying to rent last time I heard. I can take you to him," Sven said happily, as if he was sure that would please me. "Two bucks per truck per day less than you paying this man. Says farms are going under and he can't keep his trucks busy. I might could talk him down another fifty cent or so. He was beaten the bushes for a way to rent 'em last week. You said your Pa already made a deal for trucks. I told him we didn't need him."
"What man?" Crosby said, alarmed by this news. "I got a contract for all your corn. That corn is mine, boy. You violate that contract, I'll break you."
"Contract calls for sun up to sunset. Sven, is the sun up?"
"Yes, sir, boss. Suns been up more an hour."
"Sun's been up going on two hours, boss. This hayseed ain't loaded an ear of corn and his trucks sit here empty."
"Mr. Crosby, since you don't seem willing to honor your end of the contract, I'd say I'm within my rights to find someone who is willing to supply me with trucks. How do you think that'll set with Pa? He won't be on his back for long."
"Your father knows about these things. I can work with him. He won't go back on his word. I know your Pa. He honors his word."
"You don't honor yours, Mr. Crosby. How do I know you won't pull this shit tomorrow and the day after? You're holding me up, Crosby. Either get out of the way so your trucks can load corn or take them back where you came from. I don't need you."
"Robert!" Ralph blurted.
"I might lose half a day looking up that other fellow, but he wants my business, not get in my business. My Pa might feel some loyalty to you, but I don't and I'm running things now. I'll go where a man gives me the best deal and keeps his word. To me that makes good sense."
"You got no choice, kid. Lose a day and them rains is a comin' that much closer. That'll about wipe your daddy out. You want to take that chance?" Crosby said, kicking the dirt with the tip of his shoe.
"You see, I don't need to deal with the likes of you, Crosby," I said disrespectfully. "I don't trust a man who goes back on his word to a man whose hurt."
"You can't do that. Your paw contracted with me. He contracts with me every year. I've got the paper on it. You can't take up with someone else. That corn is mine," he said, sounding a bit flustered by my stand.
"I tell my paw you came out here causing us trouble, while we're trying to bring in his crop. Shit, you know good and well what Pa'll say about it. He won't waste any time straightening your ass out. The only reason I don't let Sven have you is my Pa will be pissed there ain't nothing left of you for him to throttle."
"I'll get the pickup truck, boss. We best get over there while it's early," Sven said. "He can be out here before lunchtime if we don't need to do much bargaining."
"You can't do that. You can't break our contract. You'd do that over a pack a niggers," Crosby spat as Sven stepped out a giant step toward the stubborn man.
"Keep that moron away from me," Crosby said. "We got a contract and you better honor it or else."
I looked up into the sky toward the sun.
"Yes, we had a contract, but the sun says you broke it and now, you're wasting my time. I think if you apologize to Jake here and get those trucks busy, well…. Did he hit you Jake?"
"No, sir, boss. He pushed me some. I lost my balance is all. I seed he was a lookin' for trouble right off. Weren't no way to avoid it."
"You ain't seen no trouble yet, nigger," Crosby spat at Jake.
Sven had Crosby's shirt balled up in his hand before I knew it and the truck drivers started to move closer, expecting a fight to start. Ralph, Jacob, and Kaleb moved into the gap that had opened between them and their boss, and they lost interest. Three against one seemed fair to them, but four against three made the odds a bit longer, even though the boys were no match for two big men. It was easy to see Sven would dispatch Crosby in about ten seconds, and then he'd turn his attention toward them.
"Sven," I said firmly, and he stepped back to where I stood.
"Awe boss, we aren't going to use his trucks. Let me hit him. Just one ought to do it."
"He was wantin' to get out in the field to bother you, boss. I asked him polite like not to do that. I remembered you saying to let them trucks out there right off. He parked in front of the trucks and all I done was ask him to move," Jake said.
"That nigger stood in my way," Crosby objected.
This time Ralph went for Crosby but Sven caught him around the waist and yanked him back into neutral territory.
"Calm down, champ. He ain't worth it. Besides if there's any stomping to do, I aims to be doin' it."
"That man's a better man than you'll ever be," Ralph said, pointing at Jake as his red face announced his rage.
It was strange seeing my brother stand up for something or someone else. I wasn't prone toward violence, but I was proud of Ralph for caring about Jake.
"Ralph, use don't needs to be fightin' my fights," Jake said, still showing no sign of the bend that came with him to our farm.
The pain of defying his years was starting to show on his face, but he refused to bend to the likes of Crosby.
"You're done, Crosby," I said, spitting on his shoe for good measure. "I've done all I can to reach some compromise, but you keep insisting you're going to run my farm. That isn't happening. You broke the contract with paw. You and your trucks can go now."
Crosby turned amber and waved his arms wildly, screaming, "Get 'em out ah here. Let that god damn corn rot in the field. Back up! Back up," he screamed like a man possessed. "You ain't heard the last of this. I'll be talkin' to your paw, boy. This ain't gonna set well with him."
"You bother Pa and you'll wish you hadn't," I said bluntly. "I can't be responsible for what Sven might do," I said, patting Sven's bicep.
A minute later the last truck was going back out our lane as we stood blocking the empty driveway.
"Wish you hadn't done that," Sven said. "I hope you know what you're doing."
"I know," I said. "I let him get away with that and he'd be on our backs for the rest of harvest. He'll be back," I said, remembering Crosby wasn't in any better position than me and I was betting he needed my corn more than he needed to approve of my hands.
"What harvest?" Junior yelled at me. "What harvest! You just sent the damn trucks away. How do you suppose we're going to get a hundred acres of corn to market without trucks, Robert? Are you out of your mind? I knew you couldn't do this."
"We'll see, Junior. Maybe I am crazy. Jake, you got any coffee?" I asked, "You boys take a break and then, I want you picking up the corn and filling those bins. We might need to eat a lot of corn in the end."
"Yes, sir. All use can drink, boss, but I hopes you ain't doin' this on my account."
"No, Jake," I said, climbing the steps and going into the kitchen. "I'm doing this on my account."
I waited for Ralph and offered him my hand. He looked at it as if it might be loaded before he shook it, looking into my face to see what it was all about.
"Proud to have you for a brother, brother."
"Yeah, likewise," he said, smiling broadly. "I sure hope you know what you're doing, brother."
Jake poured coffee into my cup as I sat wondering what to do next. Sven came in and stood next to Jake, who sat in his chair next to the sink with his coffee. All eyes were on me.
"You sure told him," Sven said. "You get right mean when you get your dander up."
"Yeah, I do. He's useless. He came up here looking to push me around. And you, 'I ain't no good with names, boss.' You sounded like some lummox from the sticks. You had him convinced you were a quart short of a gallon."
"Yeah, It took me a minute to know where you were going, but he's the only man I know with trucks, boss, and that's a fact. What's going on inside that head of yours? What aren't you telling us?"
"I'm thinking he isn't going to come up here and cause trouble, because he doesn't like my choice of hands. I'm thinking he doesn't get to do that. I'm thinking we'll wait awhile and see what blows our way. We'll find what we need."
"Yeah, but what about the trucks?" Ralph said. "Robert, times a wasting. We need the money for that corn in case you forgot."
"He'll be back," I said boldly, hoping I hadn't over played my hand. "He'll be back."
"Sometimes it be smart to bend in the wind," Jake said. "The good Lord he do provide, but he gots limits."
"I didn't see you doing much bending," I said, looking at the way Jake sat. "Besides, you said the Lord would provide and I trust you, Jake. I'm proud of all of you if anyone's interested."
"Some things I don't bend to. Some men you best not bend in front of. Good Lord has his hands full. You creatin' more ain't a makin' his job no easier."
"I believe that. Hows about you rustling us up some pancakes. I'm starved. We can relax. No point in cutting any more right now. You want to go out and shut down the machines, Sven. No sense in wasting fuel. We got a few hours I figure."
"Yes, sir, boss. I wish I knew what you were up to. A couple days ago you were a green kid we could talk to. Now, I ain't sure what you is," Jake said, reaching for an apron. "Corn fritters do. I done brought in some fresh corn. You know, it's just a layin' around out there in your field."
"If we've got to spend the morning eating, corn fritters sounds good to me," Sven said. "I'll get to those machines first."
"You be awful sure I got me enough corn for dem fritters," Jake remarked.
"We just might have us more corn than we know what to do with," Sven said, eyeballing me suspiciously as he went outside.
"Corn fritters and a doss of humble pie if I've miscalculated," I said.
"Fritters and pie and I'd like to know how you're figuring to get this corn to market. I hope you've got a plan, Robert," Junior said.
"The good Lord he be a lookin' after fools and little children," Jake lamented as he banged the big wooden spoon against the huge bowl as he battered his batter.
"Well, let's hope he's watching after this fool or we'll be up the creek," I said. "I was pretty sure of myself, when I was proving to him he couldn't push me around."
There was no doubt in my mind that I was doing the right thing when I wouldn't buckle under to Crosby, but sitting there in the kitchen with everyone wondering what I was up to, I wasn't so sure I shouldn't have done whatever was necessary to get the trucks rolling.
There wasn't much talk as we shoveled in our second breakfast of the day. Once I had my fill I leaned back in my chair and looked over my hands.
"You guys need to get back to picking up corn," I said. "Those trucks will be back in another hour."
"What trucks?" Junior asked in a yell. "You sent the damn trucks back, Robert. You need to go apologize to Mr. Crosby. Tell him we're sorry and we want them trucks back pronto."
"We don't work for him and he isn't telling us how to do our business," I argued, still wanting to believe I was right. "Crosby isn't at Feed and Grain. I figure he's leaving Des Moines about now."
"He's got a contract," Junior said. "You do know about contracts? What's he doing in Des Moines."
"The hospital," I said.
"He's gone to tell Pa what you done?"
"I don't figure he'll get to Pa. Mama will listen to what he has to say."
"You knew he would go there and you still told him to leave?"
"From where I sit, he voided the contract he had with Pa, when he didn't get the trucks to the field on time," I said with a certainty. "He's dealing with me now. He wouldn't dare mess with Pa's hands and he isn't messin' with mine.
"You let me worry about it," I said and I was starting to worry.
The kitchen emptied again as the boys went back to work. They all knew I was waiting, but for what they weren't sure. I figured Crosby wend to the hospital and he would end up talking to Mama and not Pa, who she'd protect from the likes of him. I had an idea what she'd tell him and then, I figured he'd be back. I was doing a lot of figuring but I wasn't sure of any of it.
Two hours after our war with Crosby Feed & Grain's owner, I sent Sven out to start the machines. He stared at me for a minute, shook his head, and followed my orders.
"Turn 'em on, turn 'em off, yes, sir, boss."
I watched the boys empty the corn wagon in our rapidly filling cribs. Ralph pulled the wagon down under my combine, once Sven got it running. Ralph was waiting for me to come out. I took several walks out to the back porch and watched the activity, waiting to see if I'd overplayed my cards. The later it got the more worried I became. I began to rehearse my apology to Mr. Crosby. The taste it left in my mouth was bitter.
I sat back down and drank more coffee. Every noise I heard brought me to attention. Just as I was becoming convinced I'd made a major mistake, I heard the sound I'd been waiting for.
The sound of gravel crunching under Crosby's car brought a smile to my face. The car eased up the driveway and turned to stop next to the porch. Crosby was rehearsing what he would say to undo what had been done earlier. His car door shut and Jake turned with an odd look on his face as his eyes came to rest on me. Mr. Crosby tapped firmly on the glass. Jake turned back to the sink saying softly, "Fools and little children."
"Come on in," I said as the door opened. "Well, Mr. Crosby. How are you this fine day? We got some fresh coffee here if you like and Jake makes the best corn fritters," I said, buoyed by his return. "You really ought to take a taste. Heavenly."
"I'll match that other fellow's rate. I'm sorry if I caused you any delay. I'll keep that extra truck on at no charge."
"Yeah, I thought I counted a forth truck yesterday. I figured you didn't want to waste time getting it to market."
"It's been a hard year on all of us, Robert, and you know I keep my word and always have," he said, sounding deeply repentant as he twisted his hat in his hands, looking down at the green linoleum floor.
"How's my Pa a doin', Mr. Crosby? I won't have time to go over there today. In fact we're running several hours behind on the harvesting."
"Your Mama said he was sleeping and he's some better from the way he was yesterday. She said, I should tell you to work things out as best we can, but you're… you're in charge, now, she said. I told her I wanted to do right by her and your poor badly hurt paw. We've been doing business for nigh on twenty years, your paw and me and his paw with my paw. Wouldn't do to part company at this late date. No, sir, I aims to honor my customers as best I can, and so I said, I need to go put things straight with that boy, I said. Your paw being injured and all. I figured it was the right thing to do, Robert, Mr. Sorenson," he said, looking up only when he said my name.
He crumpled his hat in a tiny ball all the time looking powerfully worried about my answer. Mr. Crosby was having second thoughts about his interference in my business.
"The trucks?" I asked. "I can cancel those other trucks if yours are here first. That's how I see it, Mr. Crosby. You are now a little over four hours late getting them to my field today and that just won't do. I'll expect them to be here on time in the morning."
"Yes, sir. They're waiting to come into your driveway as quick as I signal."
"I suggest you signal."
"I will, Robert, …Mr. Sorenson."
Crosby stood at the top of the steps and leaned out, waving the trucks forward. By this time everyone had come to the gate. Once Ralph saw the first truck he ran to move the corn wagon out from under my tractor.
"Before we're finished, you owe this man an sincere apology. I can't deal with a man that takes it upon himself to abuse my help and doesn't apologize for the misunderstanding."
"What?" he said alarmed for his dignity as he took a half glance at the very black Jake.
"That ain't necessary, Mr. Robert. I stumbled some and I… might have been a bit short with the man."
"You were following my orders, Jake, and Mr. Crosby argued with you, because you weren't his kind of hand. I want him to apologize, because that's not the way we do business on my farm, and it never will be, not this year and not next year, Mr. Crosby, and I'm not my father. It's you and me doing business now, and we only go back four hours the way I see it. I've no loyalty to you but I will do business with you if you keep your word."
"Yes, sir," he said and then he lifted his eyes to meet Jake's. "I'm sorry for any misunderstanding. I never meant any harm," Crosby blurted, and he squirted out the backdoor before I could make any more demands on his dignity.
Jake washed the last few dishes from our second breakfast and cast a weary glance in my direction. I picked up my coffee cup and drained it.
"Thanks, Jake," I said, and I turned to open the door.
"Thank you, boss," he said firmly without looking away from the sink. "That was a good thing you done."
"Nice day for work, Jake. Lots of work to do."
Mr. Crosby and I did business, until he died of a heart attack six years later. There was never any difficulty and he seemed happy to have my business.
Times were changing in Iowa and I felt the change inside myself. I can't say I enjoyed the responsibility I'd inherited, but the events of that particular day made me smile more than once over the years. How I got the corn in is still a mystery to me.
When I went out, Ralph had walked up to the gate and stood with his hands on his hips as the first truck passed. He glanced in my direction, wondering how I'd bested Crosby. Junior stood in the field and waved the trucks past. I followed the second truck into the field, jogging back to my combine as the machines belched and rocked. I threw my jacket over my seat and went back to work.
It was another perfect clear Iowa day and the corn was waiting and the trucks never stopped coming.
Just after seven o'clock, I released Crosby's trucks as the last light disappeared. We cleaned ourselves up some and went in for supper. Jake had been bringing sandwiches and different things to keep us going during the afternoon. We'd made real inroads and the progress was now evident.
The corn was coming in and two more days we'd be harvesting the bottom and if the rains held off, while we were in the lowest portion of the farm, we'd have the biggest part of the harvest done by weeks end with the sloped fields yet to cut.
We were all dragging that night. Right after I slipped into my bedding, I found myself listening to Ralph and Jacob talk, while lying in the open window. They were looking out at the full Harvest Moon and buzzing like old friends. I remembered Sven's reminder about my attitude, and so, I held my tongue and didn't interrupt their youthful chatter. What two so different boys had to say to each other was a mystery to me but the two of them always had their heads together as I recall.
"Hey, boss, you mind if I pull my bedding down here. Those boys talk too, much. They'll go on all night and we'll have to drag them out in the morning."
"Call me, Robert, Sven. My father's the boss."
"Sure, boss. You accounted for yourself quite respectably today, and I'm still trying to put all the pieces together."
"Just doing what needed doing."
"How'd you know he'd come back? How'd you know just when he'd come back? You've been holding out on me, Robert. I'm pretty good at judging people but I never figured you for a tactician."
I knew by the sound in Sven's question that he suspected there was some slight of hand at work. I swore him to secrecy and then explained how I overheard my father telling my mother that Crosby needed us more than we needed him.
"Count me as one of those happy to work for you, Robert. You're a good man, and I've worked for a lot of men who weren't. You impressed everyone today. I think you won your brothers over today. They'll follow you anywhere after today."
There wasn't much I could say after that. Sven's words were a benefit I hadn't expected. If there was one thing I wanted more than anything else, it was Sven's respect. To me he was the best man I'd ever known and having him on my side was helpful in those hard times. A lot of things had changed in little more than a week and I was in the center of the storm. I couldn't imagine facing it without Sven at my side.
Ralph had a new appreciation for my orders, being use to staying close to the edge himself. Junior thought I was crazy or worse yet, a fool, but he approved of the outcome and I'm not sure his view wasn't the correct view. I felt better about myself, having made my stand and not regretting it.
Jake and his boys seemed more relaxed and trusting on the latest farm where they worked. I wasn't as certain as my actions might indicate. While having colored hands wasn't unusual in our neck of the woods, having one give orders to a white man was unheard of.
Everyone would hear the story of Crosby's last stand, as told by his truck drivers. Crosby would say he let it go because of my Pa. Then, the town would be left to make up its mind if I had crossed some invisible line they thought was there.
No matter the gossip, we went back to work each morning and the trucks were in the field at first light. Once we finished the main fields we headed for the bottoms. We'd had two quick showers in two days and I cast a weary glance at the sky with every pass I made.
I once again prayed for the rain to hold off for two more days and we'd be done. I'd push my hands to work after dinner tonight and I'd get them up two hours earlier in the morning. We were so close that I wanted to get every ear of corn harvested.
I never thought we'd be able to do it but we were so close now that I began to believe this was going to be the best harvest in years.
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