Donald Freed
International Playwright
and Master Teacher

A Half-Century Later

By Lance Fogan

Chugging in neutral, white-gray exhaust spewed serpentine-like, twisting from the periscope-pipe up front of the brightly-painted orange Allis-Chalmers tractor. For a moment I watched the smoke dissolving into the cloudless sky. I had attached the field mower and I was at the hill’s apogee, squinting, apprehensive and exhilarated, ready for the steep downhill ride. It was hot, mid-summer on that rural road sixty miles from Buffalo, sixty miles from home and from Mom. I was seventeen. I was proud and confident, driving for over a year now. My junior high school year would start in another six weeks. This farm drudgery that I had sought out was a preliminary requirement for a future admission to Cornell University Vet School.

Frank advertised summer farm work with pay plus room and board for boys. The family called me “Buffalo.” They joked about a New York City kid who worked for them a few summers before. The farm family laughed telling me he looked clueless when told to “close the gate.” For them, that was a “city slicker.” But my ambitions had changed. These filthy dairy animals and my summer temporary farm home did it. They taught me more than I can thank them for. I’ll be a human doctor; I’ll forget becoming the veterinarian that I had thought about, read about, and planned on since eighth-grade.

I looked down; my sturdy ankle-high shoe below my blue-jeans pressed on the studded metal clutch pedal as I shifted the gear lever. Low gear would slow the tractor’s speed minimizing wear on the brakes. Whoa, speed was picking up. Faster, whoa, faster. I pulled the accelerator stick down on the steering shaft cutting fuel but the tractor kept picking up speed. The gears were in neutral! The clutch hadn’t engaged! Oh no! Should I jump? No, too dangerous now. Too fast! I saw myself pressing on the brake as hard as I could with my right foot and then, downhill we skidded off to the side. The huge machine’s two small front wheels were too close together to maintain balance. A huge bump and up and off the road, tipping on two wheels a short distance and into the shallow gully alongside the black asphalt. Over we went, the graveled stones scraping off my skin, and then the tractor crushing me. I saw my broken ribs ripping through my chest. I was blowing pink bloody foam rhythmically, slower and slower.
Stop thinking! Concentrate on the bottom a quarter mile below. We’re going to have to just go—straight down. Faster and faster. My shirt billowed. Telephone poles and the neat corn field rows, like ridged-fingerprints, rushed past. Just concentrate. Hold the steering wheel. Don’t turn! Don’t turn anything. Don’t do anything. Hold steady. If I can just get down to the bottom onto Dry Creek Road.

I drove on that same spot two weeks ago. It’s been over a half-century. The sturdy white two-hundred year-old farmhouse with the large kitchen picture window from which no one apparently had witnessed my near fiasco as a boy, passed on my left. I had never mentioned that near disaster to my employer then, now my dear friend. Some lowing cattle inside the red barn across the driveway were just visible through the open barn door as I drove by. That smell again; that fresh, organic, pungent sweetness of silage brought it all back. Smiling, I envisioned myself then—clean-shaven and with a full head of black hair under my beaked-cap: working on the silo, shoveling out grain to the Holsteins chained by their leather collars in their milking stalls. Doing this, I would look into some of their large round dark eyes and see bovine inquisitiveness staring back at me while they chewed. I can imagine hearing their occasional moos and the squealed screams to their sisters and calves—herd animals. Every day Doc Webster’s morning radio news show featuring farm and weather reports blared out over the metallic automatic vacuum milking machines with their rhythmic sucks, sucks, sucking sounds. Another sound was the electric fence pulsator. Its rhythmic ticking box on a wall verified the mild shocking power available to many of the nearby pastures’ fences. The cattle wouldn’t try to force their way through. I still can see tails swishing flies, cows shifting weight from foot to foot, with an occasional hind leg kicking at a milking tube pulling its udder. If one of the vacuumed tubes was dislodged a loud hollow suck-sound could be heard all over the barn and one of us would rush to replace it. I would dodge dark, rich green, sour-smelling liquid evacuating from under an occasional tail, splashing, plopping, forming large flat pancakes with smaller emerald satellites, like the universe on the barn floor, later to be scraped into the gutter cleaner that moved it to the manure-spreader at the far end of the barn.

My dog, Bagel, accompanied me on the farm that summer. He was constantly barking. That was partly due to the genetic part of his mongrel-self that was Pomeranian, a breed known for its perky feistiness, and secondly, probably from my own type “A” personality.  Bagel had to be tied up during milking so as not to upset the milking cows. After chores he and I’d walk through the pastures; Bagel would run, bark and chase rabbits and other animals. During our nine years together, as “a boy and his dog,” Bagel was hit by cars twice before the fatal third time four years later when I was a college sophomore. I witnessed many of his simple partial motor seizures. He would yelp and then extend his left-sided limbs, pant and foam a few times and then gradually relax over a minute or so, without incontinence. We never sought veterinary treatment for him and it didn’t seem to interfere with his life. Did his focal epilepsy have any influence in my becoming a neurologist?
The farm was modern fifty years ago. Now, moneyed larger dairy operations were squeezing out these smaller family farms. Frank knew years ago that his two sons would be the last of the four family generations on this land. His grandfather came from the Civil War to the farm. Frank’s farm-raised grandchildren are Harvard educated lawyers, Yale and Cornell graduates, and aspiring physicians. Those among them not up to these regimens will be truck drivers and clerks.

There’s Frank and Mary’s house now, set in a shimmering green pasture down the hill, at the end of that black asphalt so ominous on that day in 1956. Two hundred yards behind Frank’s home is a smaller house where their divorced son, Bruce, lives with his three teen-aged sons. The hillside behind these homes is gorgeous; lush green meadows backed by a forest. Frank and Mary built their ranch house eighteen years ago, moving out from the two-century old farmhouse where their older son and his family now live. On most annual summer visits for my day on the farm I relate a story to Mike’s now adult children. Their dad was three in 1956, energetic and a boy into all kinds of activities. Farms dangle ever-present dangers before us, from machines, animals—both large and small—chemicals and structures. Any, and all of these, can position a person into quick oblivion, especially a child. At meals in his highchair, Mike’s head would start to nod and then drop into whatever food was on his plate. Frank would look over at his son and gently say, “Mary, take the little guy up to bed.” Now, Mike’s kids look at their dad and laugh as I re-told these stories. So would Mike, whose young memory couldn’t register these exact episodes. Once, Mike retorted, “You know Lance, it just makes me feel good inside to know that there’s someone out there in this big world who thinks about us, who remembers the W…. family.” Our gaze met, we smiled.

Meal times that summer so long ago were precious to me, and not just for the chickens and meats with vegetables from the garden and the tastiest gravy on mashed potatoes, accompanied by the freshest cold, only hours-old full-fat, unpasteurized milk just out of the milk house cooler. The flies and other insects had been mostly trapped in the paper filters that we poured each five gallon can of collected warm milk through in the barn. The cream on top was saved for coffee and morning cereals. Usually, there’d be eight around the table; Frank’s parents, Frank and Mary and their children; the girls aged seven and five, three year-old Michael, and me. Bruce hadn’t been born yet. Often hired help would sit with us at meals. They’d hire on for driving the hay baler and rounding up the bales, or filling the W… silos with harvested corn and silage. The conversations, the mutual respect, the laughter and the mannered calm voices intrigued me. I was learning, and I felt so satisfied and connected—this is how people and life should be. A hired man for the day would start out on politics, and say how foolish “Harriman’s Folly” was. “That mile of four lane highway comes from nowhere and then goes nowhere, just sittin’ there for two years.” This discussion was over the delayed work on Governor Averill Harriman’s highway project that was part of Eisenhower’s now fabulously successful interstate highway system. The senior Mrs. W… would take up on something else, as, “Frank, are you going to go after those three heifers over ta’ Galen’s pasture? Galen called to tell us they got out down on the Dry Brook pasture. Two of ‘em freshened last night and one of their calves don’t look too good.” A heifer that “freshened” is dairy farm lingo for a cow that gave birth and now would start producing milk again, the cow’s raison d’etre. Once its ability to be a mother and produce milk ended it’s off to the abattoir. The W…’s large freezer in the garage was loaded with all kinds of cuts of meat from their own stock, butchered and dressed in Falconer a few miles away. The freezer held venison, too, from successful nearby hunting.

At the table one day Franks’ mother told me to get a chicken among the thirty to thirty-five from the chicken coop upstairs in the barn. They supplied eggs and meat. I was to kill it so that she can pluck off its feathers for a nice chicken dinner with biscuits and gravy. She looked into my face and saw terror. Reassuringly, she told me to just catch and wring its neck, or else chop its head off. Uh, uh. I couldn’t. She let me off the hook, but the family got quite a laugh out of it.

We usually finished morning milking and clean-up chores at eight-thirty. We’d open gates and let the cows out to pasture. Some hung around the calf corral mooing at their babies until we shooed them away. Then, following the women’s rules and entering their command center, we’d leave our manure-covered shoes in the wash room next to the kitchen, lean over the large white sink with its extra- long spout and scrub up to our elbows with powdered soap grains. Two hunting rifles hanging on the rack over the sink always intrigued me. Occasionally following evening milking and chores I’d take the little twenty-two caliber and hunt for frogs. After a few days of living with a couple hundred cows and their manure, my obsession to clean it off my clothes and skin immediately, or faster, evaporated very quickly. I had become a farmer, but not the farmer that the W…s were. They just used their bare hands to wipe clean any equipment that had just got splattered with the green, smelly slop.

In the large kitchen around the breakfast table we’d make small talk and plan the day’s work. Eggs, bacon, cereal with bananas swimming in full-fat milk with extra cream poured in, buttered toast with coffee was our usual “farm” breakfast. It was exciting to just enter the kitchen because the air was full of smoky bacon frying and the comforting aromas of toast and brewing coffee. I could even separate out the buttery smell of bubbling, snapping frying eggs from all the others. As we ate we watched the “Today Show.” The M.C., Dave Garroway would be engaging in antics with his chimpanzee mascot sitting on his desk, J. Fred Muggs. The Andrea Doria had slammed into another ocean liner off Nantucket in the Atlantic in July, 1956 and the high drama of it slowly sinking over a few days, dragging with it forty-six lives, focused our interest. The black and white TV set was atop the refrigerator against the far wall. Next to it was the large picture window over the kitchen sink. The window looked out onto growing corn fields, distant gentle, forested slopes, and onto cattle milling and walking around in the most lovely, emerald green pastures.

The old man, Frank senior, Frank’s eighty-year old father, was the “pater familia.” Deeply furrowed and tanned face, he usually had a cigarette in hand; he lived close to an oxygen tank in his bedroom during his final years. His wife ran the kitchen and the vegetable garden. A very plain appearing woman in dowdy house dresses and laced thick black short-heeled shoes that sheltered heavy flesh-colored stockinged feet betrayed her graduation from Cornell University in 1920. Too frequently she requisitioned me away from my field labors with Frank to weed the garden; my most detested boring work, but, I concede, needed to be done.

Frank was thirty-two at the time, and Mary, blond and attractive, was a few years younger. Not born to farm life, Frank recently told me that her family didn’t think their marriage would last. Mary has thrived for sixty-five years as a farm wife and mother of five, managing the books and handling the computer and E-mail. During my summer on the farm she often helped out in the milk parlor, washing down the milking machines and other equipment and hosing down the parlor’s concrete floor wearing jeans, or dungarees as we called them then, and high rubber boots. She still enjoys reminding me how I screamed and nearly fainted when she dug a splinter out of my hand with a pin. I laugh with them—now.

Years later, Frank told me that after they had agreed to hire me they were all apprehensive. When I drove down with my mother, my sister and my brother-in-law for my interview-visit they learned that I was Jewish. The Walkers all wondered, what does a Jew eat? Wouldn’t I want special food? Would their food be alright for me? We recently reminisced how fifty years ago, the one time that we went to a movie in Jamestown, ten or so miles away, I sat across the aisle from Frank and Mary watching Gregory Peck in “Moby Dick.” Frank leaned over and whispered loudly, “Hey, Bagel. Go get us some popcorn.” We figured that two ladies behind us must have been Jewish because this caused all kinds of tittered laughter from their direction. Bagels weren’t ubiquitous as they are in 2011. The W…s hadn’t really known Jews. No one in their farming community or their Grange and other organizations did; all they knew about Jews was from their bible classes.

Approaching the W…’s farmhouse my eyes bounced left and right again and again, searching the fields. There was no traffic besides my car; all was isolation. It was mid-day; no people, no animals. Is that a tractor in a field over there? Maybe he’s working down at the silo behind the house? I didn’t see him, but I was smiling. My car’s tires scrunched as I slowed and pulled onto the Walkers’ gray graveled circular driveway around one o’clock. No dog. Great! I carried the two pies I ordered at the usual roadside stand near the Chautauqua Institution—Frank’s favorite rhubarb and the other cherry—my traditional gift every summer.

“Wellll, come on in, stranger. Frank’s still out in the field mowing,” Mary says, greeting me at the front door. Country life suits her. Mary’s wide, sparkling smile and joking eyes animate her mostly smooth eighty-two year-old face. She wears a colorful short-sleeved V-necked tee-shirt and bright red shorts. Sneakers and white anklet socks complete her wardrobe. This farm family is a part of America’s mainstream. We hug, chat and catch up on family news as she works over the stove and sink and pantry in her modern kitchen. I see shucked corn, probably picked from their few rows of sweet corn out back a couple hours ago, ready to go into the pot. My gaze skims the counters; what else are we having for lunch? We talk as I amble around the kitchen and dining room looking at family pictures and past trophies and awards for state and local Frank W… and Sons Farm champion cows and bulls. There midst Frank’s collected cards on his eighty-seventh birthday is the card I sent from California. It’s one of my homemade specials, humorous as usual, featuring recent photos, and some decades old, of the W…s. Mary chuckles saying, “Oh, yeah, that one got lots of attention, all right.” I look from the card back up at her. It started in 1956. Despite our changed physical appearances which harken over half a century I’m here—our friendship is cherished and strong.

Through the sliding glass door I see several fluorescent red and green-tinted humming birds hovering at the feeder hanging on the back porch. Their wings blur as their long needle-like beaks poke it for its sweet nectar. A cylindrical rain-gauge and large circular thermometer are attached to the wooden railing of the porch; their critical information attest that I’m in farm country. These stand out from the deep blue sky and a few huge, billowing, wrinkled clouds, mostly white but with pearl-gray at their scalloped edges. No rain today.

Then, the there’s a chugging rumble of a heavy tractor on the gravel in the front driveway. I open the front door. “Home bossies! Home boss! Home bossies!” I yell the sing-song greeting of the cow-call we used fifty years ago. Back then, the herd hearing it hopefully would start moseying down on their own from the pasture to the barn gate to be let in for morning milking without any more prompting. If they made no move, I’d have to walk the quarter-mile through the heavy dew, get behind the herd of seventy or so cows, wave my arms and start that yell. The cows would start ambling down.

Frank’s face lights up. At eighty-seven, he easily climbs down from the tall, huge-wheeled green tractor. He’s dressed in pale green shorts with a plaid blue-white and red short-sleeved shirt. He removes his tan baseball cap—beak facing forward— none of today’s youthful acting-out beak-backward style. Today, this dairy farmer’s Nike shoes, once white, are now soiled. He removes his hat. His tanned face and twinkling soft blue eyes latch onto me with a smile and then an embrace. That same intelligent, inquiring and no nonsense light is in his eyes.

 “Hey, doctor. How are you? It’s nice to see you again. Is that your sister’s car?” My embrace presses on a slab of solid muscle, his bald head peaks about three inches over mine. Frank’s left knee seems to curve out—slightly side-ways—as he walks; an old injury. In fact, all of the Walkers seem to have escaped loss of limb and life, to date. As a medical student in Buffalo I scrubbed in on a case. A farmer had pushed some hay down into a combine, a very common and necessary farm machine. In the blink of an eye both of his arms were pulled off at the shoulders into the machine. I marveled at the unforgettable, grotesque site on the operating table. His head and torso were exposed above the sterile sheet with bloody, armless shoulders. The senior surgical resident cleaned the wounds, closed up vessels, stretched skin over the remaining muscles and bones and sewed him up.

I stand by Frank at the back sink and we talk as he washes up for lunch. He dons his bifocals, skims through the mail and shows me a local newspaper article that amused him that morning. He laughs telling me how “this black mayor in Newark is right on, telling the black inner-city kids in his own city to pull up their pants. Colorful undershorts are not something to show off….Jeez, good for him, of course they need to be told that, don’t you think so, Doctor? Why sure they do.”

Mary serves us some fresh boiled corn on the cob, and a tasty Bolognese pasta sauce on fresh slices of store-bought sliced bread. The meat sauce was made out of venison; the deer was shot with a bow and arrow by their eighteen-year-old grandson. Frank says that he’s not much of a student, but he’s won archery competitions. The boy has a side firewood business; he’s good with a power saw.  Frank drinks their own fresh unpasteurized, non-homogenized cold milk. It was brought down in a metal two-gallon can from the barn up at his son’s house last night. But, me? This doctor drinks water; I’ve had enough artery-clogs to date. But, nearing the end of his ninth decade, Frank laughs and slathers more butter on his corn. We all enjoy some of each of the pies I had brought. Frank gobbles up my fat-laden pie crusts that I slide over to him. Both Mary and Frank have a flyswatter close at hand. Several times one, or the other, deftly slaps it and there’s a stunned or dead fly lying on its back. Bare fingers then gently pick it up and it’s deposited in the garbage disposal. I watch them do this as we sit around the dining table talking. Now, this old germ-conscious farm boy wouldn’t touch any fly with a bare hand. They’ve done it for almost a century.

Frank wants to update me on his farming operation and the rest of his world. I walk to the guest bedroom. Half a century ago I was at Frank’s beck and call as a boy-worker on his farm. I grin seeing Frank’s clothes laid out for me as a peer in Frank’s life now. I glance into the mirror. Frank’s long deceased parents are in a picture alongside. That phone call re-emerges. I was a young neurologist in my new position in California forty years ago. His elderly mother, whom I had known well, had had a stroke and was unresponsive for several weeks in the local hospital. We discussed what the doctors had told the family. There were no brain scans then to show precisely what the problem was. It appeared that it had affected the vital brainstem; she was comatose. She had had a long and productive life. I had suggested that it sounded like she would not recover, and if she did, she, and the family, would not appreciate her lack of quality of any future life. Frank had said that that’s what he thought too, and that he’ll tell the doctors to turn off the breathing machine and the feeding tube and let her die, peacefully. On several occasions over the years Frank comforted us both by saying how much he had appreciated my candid advice then.

I change into Frank’s shirt and pants and hat that Mary’s lain out and chuckle as my belt cinches in the waist that’s several inches bigger than mine. Mary won’t mind washing these clothes, and I better not return to my sister’s condo at Chautauqua later tonight smelling like a barnyard. In the garage I pick up some boots that accommodate my shoes inside them—perfect for some barn-wandering over manure-strewn floors and muddy paths.

On almost every annual visit Frank takes me around showing me his world. We pull up driveways and drop off ears of his just-picked sweet corn. In addition to all of his other roles, achievements, talents and responsibilities, he’s a diplomat. If no one is at home he leaves the half-dozen piled up at their door. “They’ll know it’s from me,” he says when we’re back in his truck.
The cab is dusty. The black torn seat and floor are scattered with a large wrench, some wire spools, and a ball joint on the floor to attach some equipment on a tractor. Empty candy wrappers lie on the floor and seat, along with an empty soda can on the floor. His sons and their kids drive this truck, too. The floating compass rolls on the dashboard as we drive. An empty box labeled “Bull Semen” is on the floor. The Walker farmers instill expensive prize-bull semen that they’ve chosen out of a biographical catalogue into their own cows. No need to pay a vet. I’ve seen Mike do this. He corrals the chosen good milk-producing cow into a confined space against a wall, dons a plastic glove that reaches to his shoulder, and then, standing behind the cow that’s trapped inside the metal-piped corral, he pushes the vial deep under the tail through the cow’s vagina up to his gloved shoulder, and injects the semen into the birth canal. They’ll hope for a heifer that will become a good milk-producer in about ten months. If a bull calf is birthed, they raise it for a few months and when it’s no longer cost-effective feeding that calf, they sell it to the meatpacker for veal chops and calves’ liver.

Some houses are well-cared for, impeccably maintained. They’re modern with lovely lawns and vegetable gardens. Crows and red-winged birds cry and whistle as they swoop and rest on nearby fences and garden poles. Tomato plants loaded with small green and larger red fruit droop, surrounded by neat rows of peppers, lettuce, beans, melons and carrots. Some of these folks had purchased an acre or two from Frank, built their homes, and work in the nearby towns or in the City of Jamestown. Other properties, though, are run-down: chipping paint, windows that are cracked or covered by sheets or even boarded up, leaning walls, overgrown lawns, some with chickens gloriously plumed in all sorts of colors and sizes in the driveway. Their heads drop a few inches one way, and with a cluck and a croak, the head quickly rises up dropping again in another direction while taking high, ataxic steps with long-nailed toes on reptile-scaled legs. Then it runs up a muddy entrance into a disheveled, cob-webbed barn where one or two swishing bovine tails can be seen in stalls. Dust particles swirl in the light peeking through windows. Rusted farm equipment in disrepair is parked helter-skelter on the property.

Those who respond to his knock are always glad to see him. Some are old, but they’re not like Frank. Many are in failing health, slowly reaching the door with walkers, canes or crutches. Frank had already filled me in on their conditions. Head scarves on pale, thin women—chemotherapy and doctor appointments fill their days. After their greetings Frank says, “I want you to meet a friend of mine.” Their eyes seesaw between Frank and me as we shake hands and smile. “He’s a doctor from California. He worked on the farm with me when he was boy in high school up in Buffalo. Can you believe that? I really don’t for the life of me know why he keeps coming back to visit, but he does, and we’re glad to see him.” Frank grins as he says this, and they usually smile back with a raised eyebrow. I explain that I feel so privileged to know Frank and his family, and the experience over fifty years ago linked a part of me to their world, to agriculture, forever. I tell them that I don’t just drive by farms and animals and fields in uncaring ignorance like most city folks. I appreciate what’s going on and I understand all of the skills, knowledge and hard work that are involved in successful farming. I emphasize again that I feel privileged to know their world and to make these visits. Their smiles and head nods express approval. Some joke on why he let me leave his farm so many years ago. I see Frank watching me. Then I feel his heavy, crusty hand on my shoulder.
We spend a couple hours on his tractor raking dry grass mowed down a day or two ago into rows a couple acres long. Tomorrow this hay will be baled into huge, six-foot tall cylinders, automatically tied with twine to keep that shape by the baler that will be attached to the tractor’s power-take off at its rear. The tractor’s engine powers most of the very expensive—all  potentially dangerous—farm implements that make modern farming so much easier and productive compared with a century ago, or with third-world countries. These huge cylinders of hay left in the field will then be picked up by a front loader attached to the front of a tractor and lifted onto a wagon to be hauled off to the barn for winter cattle feed.
Frank’s in the driver’s seat; I’m standing up next to him, leaning back on the large rear wheel’s fender, holding on. We occasionally talk over the loud engine as he drives up and down the long rows of cut hay. Otherwise we’re quiet, comfortable with our silence. Up one row, then the front wheels turn, straighten, and roll down the next row. The chocking, thrishing, and rolling sounds of the machine are mesmerizing. “This is my best thinking time,” Frank tells me.

The horizon is stippled with corn rows. Months ago there was nothing there. Now there are acres of animal feed. New heifers are born and old cows no longer milk-producers disappear. The tractor drives up and down starting and finishing another circle. The sweet and clean smell of freshly cut hay makes me smile.

A picture returns. I see the youth that I was over half a century ago spinning a tractor’s steering wheel to stay even with the rows. My bare arms protrude from an old favorite dark brown short-sleeved sweat-stained shirt with white buttons and thin white stripes. My worn dungarees, my heavy ankle-high work shoes, and my bespectacled face shaded by my tan beaked-cap are all very clear to me.

We chew on some dried grass—the farmer’s way. I snap photos of us on the tractor with my small pocket camera. We share family histories and a few intimacies from our youth. We talk about the choices people make throughout their lives and we agree that we’ve both done okay. He tells me of the family’s finances and their future. Amish people have expressed interest in purchasing the farm. His deliberations with them reveal they’d revert all that’s modern back to the Amish way, the way life and work were a century ago; they’d remove the electricity, phones and all motor-powered equipment and bring back genuine horse power. Frank told me that he said to them directly that he couldn’t understand how they could do that, how they could reverse all modern progress that he’d put into the farming operation. “That’s our way,” they replied.

Frank tells me that this will be the last generation of W… farmers. It’s too expensive now to compete with the big corporations. Mike’s kids—Frank’s grandkids—are in professions, a lawyer, and another hopefully, a physician. Mike’s daughter married into a large successful dairy farm family in the eastern part of the state. Mike’s wife, the mother of the recent full-scholarship Harvard Law School graduate, came from a Nebraskan farm family, but she doesn’t work on the farm. She teaches courses touching on physics and farm soil composition at the local junior college. She also is a Chautauqua County Farm Agent.

Frank and I are silent rolling up and down the field raking hay into long rows; the roar of the tractor engine penetrates our ear protectors. After some moments Frank looks at me and says, “I may not have that much money, but look all around us. You say that you don’t know if there’s a God or not. You told me that, but,” and he gestures, extending his hand out, saying, “Where did all of this come from, Doctor? Look at this gorgeous place. Why, I’m a rich man.”

For more than two decades I’ve made these annual summer visits. We are in our twilight years now, he not far from a century of life experiences while I approach three-quarters of a century. We part at the front door. “Drive carefully, Lance, and say ‘hello’ to your sister and brother-in-law.”

We smile and hug firmly. A momentary gaze burrows deep. “See you next summer, Frank. Bye, Mary.” I turn and walk, crunching gravel, to the car.

A blossom opens,
Warm rays of sunshine nurture.
The ripe fruit falls home.