The Farm Hand
A Rick Beck Story
Editor: Gardner Rust
For David Miller
Editor: Gardner Rust
For David Miller
I was unable to resist the candy as we headed back to the farm. Offering the open bag to Sven, he reached in for a piece and we both smiled at the varied flavors we found.
"Thanks," he said, after savoring the piece he picked.
It took a few minutes before we'd satisfied our sweet tooth and I picked up where we left off.
"Thank you for driving."
"Won't be much time for trips the next few days," he said.
"Nope," I agreed with other things on my mind. "Who's George Palmer?"
"How did I know you would ask that? There are some things guys don't even discuss with friend's they've become comfortable with. To this day I'm not sure who he was. I know what he was and he was more than happy to share it with me and my brothers."
"Well, then, this can be a test of your philosophy. I think I can handle it. Tell me what he was then."
"You do persist. When I was thirteen the Palmers moved in with us. There was Nels, Stan, George, Henry, and Ingrid. She was the only girl."
"Yes, if it was a boy, I'd wonder about his parents. Moved in with you?"
"It was the year the bank took their farm. The parents had no where to go and their kids were mostly young. The Palmers matched up with us in age, except my sisters were all older than Ingrid. Henry was my age. George was Daniel's age, 15, Stan was Mike's age, 16, and Nels was John's age, 18. Ingrid came before Henry and after George. My parents had Stephen that year but he passed during the sickness back about 1919 or 20. I only vaguely remember it. I was little. We lost Alvin that year, too. He was the youngest, coming after Stephen and passing before him by a month or two."
"That's sad. Why did they move in with you?"
"My Mama wouldn't put a stray dog out. She said in the old country, when something happened to a family, it was neighbors who took in the kids. They were never separated. Whoever took them, took them all or none at all. We took them all, thinking the Palmers would get back on their feet after a few months."
"Wow. Your entire family is sainted."
"We had a home. They didn't. It doesn't take saints to see what needs doing. Three years later they left when we lost our farm. They were mostly grown, except for Henry and me were still mostly boys."
"No one to take your brothers, huh?"
"No, we were one of the last farms in our area to still be owned by the people who settled it. New people didn't share our concern for one another."
"Here, too. Only two other farmers and us are left. I'm sorry. You were telling me about George Palmer's influence on your life. He didn't become a priest?"
"No, George definitely wasn't priest material. It started when George and Daniel kept sneaking off. Every time Papa turned around, Daniel was amongst the missing. I didn't get along all that well with George at the time, so I never knew what they were up to. He was a bit of a pest as I recall and he liked hanging around Henry and me. Daniel took to following him like a puppy dog. Daniel was quiet and kept to himself, until George showed up. What he saw in George was beyond me, but it all came out later on. I never thought much of it and Henry never mentioned what was going on, although he said later he knew but wasn't of a mind to talk about it.
One day Papa caught them trying to mate up in the loft. I think Papa suspected something like that, because he had started asking about where those two took off to every afternoon. He had told John to keep an eye out and one afternoon, after chores were done, he eased up on them in the loft before they could get unhooked."
"Mate? Unhook? Boys can't mate."
"Daniel was playing the bull to George's cow and once introduced, the bull seldom forgets where to find satisfaction. He said Daniel looked like he'd done died and gone to heaven. He was working up a sweat on top of old George who didn't seem to mind at all."
"Ah! I get the picture now."
"Papa separated 'em as quietly as possible, confiding in John about the details, because he was putting George in John's charge to keep him and Daniel separate at night, which offered them endless opportunity to pick up where they left off."
"He didn't punish them?"
"Well, keeping them separated was considerable punishment of a sort. Papa tended to believe you got the best results by removing temptation and while the initial separation was a success, John found temptation to be insurmountable. Seems John was a bull in his own right."
"You're telling me that John and George were…."
"George was fair haired, fine featured, and smooth as a baby's bottom. John said he beat his hand by a mile."
"And you came by this knowledge how?"
"The same way we all did. Do you want to hear the story or not?"
"George rivaled Ingrid in physical beauty, and it was something a kin to putting the fox in charge of the hen house, only the hen was asking for it. Nels, on the other hand, sharing John's room, had taught fair haired George most of what he knew about bulls and cows some years before. George was more than willing to share his talent as long as Daniel was allowed visits after the lights went out at night."
"With his own brother?"
"Not unheard of on farms. Brothers often sleep in the same bed. Ralph mentioned your previous arrangement before you went to sleep in the barn."
"Ralph has a big mouth. I moved out to the barn on my own."
"He said he angered you and he regretted that you still held it against him. I had asked him what your problem with him was. He wouldn't tell me until that bit of news slipped out and your reaction says you are no stranger to boys playing bulls and cows together."
"I moved out there so it wouldn't come up."
"It comes up with some boys more than others, Robert. It's hard to resist an available source of pleasure for lustful energy, when so few exist." "
"Well, I wasn't that source," I objected. "He might have seen me as a cow, but I didn't see it that way and so I moved to the loft."
"Well, George merely brought the subject to the attention of my other brothers and then me. I was quite jealous by then once I found out even Henry was taking George up on what he so willing was giving out."
"I was heading in the other direction," I said, feeling defensive.
"Ralph didn't go into it, but that's quite interesting. My brothers and I might never have discovered on our own, but even if we never did, that doesn't mean it doesn't exist as an option. It's a complicated subject and one seldom discussed and once discovered you must draw your own conclusions. It's best not to judge other people too harshly."
"Not so complicated that my Pa wouldn't have introduced an old fashion belt licking if he had known what Ralph was up to or why I moved out of my room."
"That's one way it's handled. Papa figured you accept it and move on, as best you can. It made neither George nor Daniel good or bad boys. It was obvious to Papa that they both took to the activity and that meant you handled it with some caution. Papa wasn't a tantrum type man, unless it created disharmony that hindered the corn from being brought in. By moving George out and putting Daniel in with Henry and me, problem solved, or so it appeared to Papa, but it merely spread our knowledge that much faster. Instead of two boys doing it together you had two boys doing it with the rest of us, except Mike. He never showed much interest, but he had his hands full with Amy."
"John and Nels were both…?"
"George played his cards carefully, seeing to it that John and Nels had no reason to complicate his life, which left him free to spread his wares as he pleased."
"It all sounds complicated to me?"
"Daniel showed Henry what George taught him and in Daniel's absence, Henry was more than happy to share his talent with me. After being embarrassed by Amy, any practice I could get was okay by me."
"So farmers' sons is no joke? You have lived. How do you decide who to take on once you get to a new farm?" I asked, not certain I wasn't put off by the intriguing boldness in his words.
"Robert, I don't decide. I walk up a driveway. I'm hoping for work to keep myself fed. I hope I find good people with good hearts. Once I'm there, and when someone expresses an interest… well, the road is a lonely place to be. A farm can be almost as lonely, so I don't take on a job without realizing that I'll be around the folks who live there. Someone says something, asks a question, pries into my past, I respond in kind and look for common ground. At times that common ground is a bed or a loft."
"Ralph! He sure moved out into the loft quick enough?"
"Ralph is a fine young man. He treated me like I was welcome. He made me feel welcome. As I said, it isn't always love, but the friendship someone offers. I don't often turn down affection, even if it's only in the form of a hug or a touch. Ralph has a bold curiosity and no shame. It's a nice combination."
"Ralph is so… so… exasperating," I sighed.
"Ralph is clear on who he is," Sven said. "He doesn't apologize for his curiosity or his passion for life. He allowed me to know him and for that I'm grateful. I like Ralph."
"He's a kid. You're a… a… grown man," I said, unhappy with the idea.
"Ralph is every bit as much of a man as you. He's probably a bit less worried about what people think of him. There are three years between us but time matters little to friends and new farmhands. Years between you aren't nearly as important as the minutes you share."
"What do you see in him?"
"I don't see anything in him. He's on a farm where I work. I treat him the way he treats me. He helps pass the time in a most pleasant way. I won't lie about it. It beats argument and dissension."
"I've seen him with you. He touches you. I mean he really touches you. I know he isn't going to make a cow out of you. What do you get out of him acting like that?"
"A touch isn't so threatening as the idea of touching or of being touched. Ralph may be infatuated with my build, because he finds it admirable. He wants one like it. So, he touches me. Believe me, he doesn't touch me in the way he touches the girls he courts."
"Ralph has run off more girls than I can count. He talks to them like he's in a pool hall or a bar. He doesn't leave much to the imagination. Why they go for it is one of those mysteries of life."
"He's direct about his interest and doesn't waste their time hinting around. All the girls don't respond, but he has a fair amount of experience for someone his age."
"He tells you about the girls he's…. I'm not like my brother. I told you I didn't want kids or responsibilities yet."
"When I'm alone out on the road, Robert, I dream of being with people. Having a laugh and getting along, enjoying their company. Affection is beyond expectation. When someone I like offers me affection, I'm unlikely to refuse. I've told you I'm weak, when it comes to the involvements of the heart. There being only two genders from which affection comes, I don't make demands on the source. I'm grateful whenever I find myself appreciated. For those who have all they want or desire, it might seem immoral, but I don't live their lives, I live mine. I don't judge anyone for their peculiarities and I don't expect them to judge me for mine.
"My life was warmth and harmony until I reached sixteen. I figured I'd grow up, marry, have a family of my own, and I'd be quite content in that life. I wasn't allowed to follow that plan. I found myself out on my own. There was nothing to do but take life as it comes. I no longer have set plans, because I don't know where I'll be tomorrow, if I'll eat, go hungry, or be shot crossing someone's land. I take what comes my way and I'm grateful for the times when I'm on a farm like yours. It's as close to being home as I'm able to get now. I didn't decide to wander the countryside and I don't decide which person might offer me comfort in different degrees. I merely take affection from those who offer it."
"You are bold. Will I become as bold as you once I leave home?"
"I do my best to embrace life, Robert, and I won't apologize for being honest. I accept the pain life brings me, so, don't expect me to deny the pleasure, when it presents itself. That might be noble but it isn't any fun."
"I hardly know anything about you. Ralph seems to be the only thing we have in common and we disagree on him. I haven't been around and I've never been exposed to that much living. I admire you. I don't judge you. I don't think I could live like that."
"Let's hope you never need to find out, and Ralph has nothing to do with you and me. I'm your employee, Robert. Not something I'm prone to forget."
"You're my father's employee. It's only by accident I'm in charge."
"I'm working for you. I take your orders. You run the farm. It's how things are even if you choose to deny it."
"I see it as more than that. I know I don't show it at times but I appreciate all you've done. I'd like to be half the man you are."
"You'll find your own way in your own time. If you are open to what life offers you. You'll figure it out as you go along. I can only tell you that I have no plans that go beyond the current harvest. We can sort out the future once the job is done."
"I'll need help if I'm going to succeed, but I want you to stay on as my friend not an employee."
"I told you I'd stay. If I'm not your hand I don't know what I am."
"You know more about running a farm than I'll ever know. You're stronger, have more stamina, and you're smarter than me. I see you as my equal. I can't do this without you…. I don't want to do this without you. I depend on you."
"It's been a long time since I put down roots. I loved my family more than I've ever loved anything else. Now we're all spread in the wind. I only know where Maw is for sure. Miss Himple came along. She only wanted to teach me about the world.
"Having a live-in teacher who gave you her undivided attention for four to six hours a day was enlightening. Falling in love was a bonus, because I was lost and lonely. I needed loving. We were split up by tiny little minds of people who know nothing of love. Their purpose in life is to make certain no one else can be in love.
"They couldn't stand the idea of a strapping young lad living with a spinster lady. I ask you who had the dirty minds, the two people in love or those who yelled insults from the street because of what they suspected might be going on?
"I've spent a long time getting over Glad. I went back to her house last year. She'd gone. I'm sure she left to escape the scrutiny of the self righteous. Putting down roots can be painful, when you're forced to move on without much notice. Takes time to get used to the idea of giving up everything you have and starting over again."
"I envy the life you've had. I don't know anything. I've never been anywhere," I complained.
"You've got a home, Robert. I can't tell you what that means. You only learn how good it is to have a home, after you lose it. I was careful after Glad. I'd spend a few months on some farms, but I never stayed too long. Along the way I learned my lesson about staying too long and how much pain you suffer when it's time to leave."
Sven was a man of the world. He'd been places and done things. I admired him for it. If I had to be stuck on my famly's farm, I was glad he was with me.
"You'll always have a place here, Sven," I said.
"I know," he said, smiling big.
He did know too. He didn't sound like he was interested in going anywhere. That suited me just fine.
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