Well, I’ve been promising this one for a while, haven’t I? The thing is, this isn’t exactly the whole story. But every time I worked on the second half, I realized that it was actually more like the middle third and the final third, and it was driving me crazy! So, I decided to cut it off here and will shortly have the middle third ready for you to read and comment on. Also, just in case you care (and you must, or you wouldn’t be reading this, yeah?), I wanted you to know that there are now a total of 8 stories completed (this is only the 6th posted) and 12 outlined. I am very excited about this… Now if I can only make something of them!! POLL: Should our narrator have a name????? Please let me know if you think so, and if you think so yes, do you have a name choice???
Farming can be a lonely profession even if you’re lucky enough to have a family in it with you. You can share some of the burdens and maybe even some of the work with other farmers, but when it comes right down to it those are your crops and your animals and those rocks are in your fields and it’s your persnickety tractor so sometimes farming gets a little lonely.
Judah McIlroy does have a family. His parents have retired from the home farm and lived in town now. They come into the cafe almost every Friday for the Senior Supper Special because Mr McIlroy really enjoys fish and Mrs McIlroy won’t have it in the house until it comes out of tin with a red Clover Leaf label. His two sisters married farmers. Judith is a teacher and has a vegetable garden beside the house where she specializes in heirloom tomatoes. Susanna became nurse and when she married told her husband and his family that the only crop she would take a personal hand in producing would be children; they have seven. And while Judah’s brother does farm, it’s at his wife’s father’s farm which one used to produce a lot of tobacco and where Joshua and his wife are doing well now growing ginseng and other medicinal herbs.
Living in the old farmhouse on his own now, Judah leads a well-ordered life. He runs a feedlot that does well for his customers and he grows a lot of grasses and grains that he either uses or sells through the grain mill and he keeps a couple of pigs and a few chickens because he likes bacon and eggs for breakfast. He plays poker once a month as he’s done for more than 20 years with a varying group of friends from high school and on Thursdays he comes to town.
Now like all good farmers, Judah is in town more often than just once a week. A good farmer needs to check in at the co-op pretty regularly just to see what’s going on and he likes to pop in on his parents at least twice a week but Thursdays are Going Into Town day.
It starts with a stop at the mill, checking on prices, maybe doing a little haggling and maybe taking part in the exchange of gossip that men call sharing news. Then he drives down to the other end of town, to visit the Riley Bros. Outdoor Work & Play Emporium to see what they might have in stock that’s new because a man can always use a new fishing rod or maybe a new set of wrenches as the Riley Bros do carry everything you can use outdoors. Then he comes back up town to stop in to see Ed King.
Ed is Judah’s oldest friend and a townie born and bred. Like the McIlroy’s tend to run toward farming or other professions that can be done outdoors, the Kings are office professionals like accountants and lawyers, which is what Ed is. Sometimes Ed has time to have a cup of coffee with Judah and sometimes he doesn’t but it’s often just the saying hello and see you Friday, it’s Pete’s turn to host is enough. After Ed’s, he goes to get his parents and takes them shopping to the drugstore.
Judah and his father had a bit of blow-up a couple of years back when Judah talked to their mutual doctor about what Judah thought was a change in his father’s behaviour. Turns out Judah was right; his father’s cardiologist had prescribed a drug that wasn’t working well with a drug that the GP prescribed. After it was all explained to everyone involved and Mr McIlroy went on some different meds, things just sort of worked out that on Going Into Town day, Judah would take his parents to the drugstore buying his own things but watching what they were getting. All while enjoying their company of course.
After maybe a little more shopping and definitely a little more visiting with people along the way, he makes sure his parents get home safely, and then Judah comes back downtown to the cafe where he has lunch. Mrs Busy asked Judah once why he didn’t bring his parents with him for lunch and he just chuckled and said that his mother only agreed to supper on Fridays because of the fish and she would never understand paying someone to make lunch for them when she could certainly still make a pot of soup thank you very much!
Judah and Daddy have one of those easy friendships that men seem to have with each based on a mutual interest or two and the knowledge that silence sometimes sounded pretty good when two people are just sitting there. Although Daddy doesn’t get out hunting too much any more, he can manage fishing a little better, especially when Judah takes him to the farm where there’s a wonderful trout creek. It doesn’t always matter if you catch a fish or not Daddy says, what matters is testing your determination against the trout’s wiliness.
So when Judah comes to the cafe for lunch, there’s lots of fishing talk but also book talk, because both Daddy and Judah love to read and the books don’t even have to be about manly outdoor things to be of interest to them. Of course, when they’re lucky enough to find books about hunting or fishing, they are thrilled as they were with the series of Gerald Hammond books, until Miss Elizabeth told Judah one day that Mr Hammond had decided to retire from writing. Daddy and Judah could not figure out how a writer retires because it wasn’t like farming or even running a cafe which require at least a little bit of physical activity because writer’s only have to sit and, well, write.
Mrs Busy always has fresh-made peach cobbler on Thursdays even if the peaches are frozen from last September. In a community where pie is king, Judah loves cobbler and prefers peach to other fruits. And because it’s his lunch, Judah starts his meal with cobbler and cream. Then he has soup and then a hot roast beef sandwich with lots of horseradish and coleslaw on the side.
It’s a ritual we go through every Thursday Judah and I when I ask him if he wouldn’t rather have the hot vegetables of the day and he says he likes Mrs Busy’s coleslaw more than frozen peas even if Mare did grow them. I take great comfort from Thursdays. It’s like my world is working when he comes in and we tease each other about frozen peas.
But then I noticed that my Thursdays took a little shift. When Judah comes in for lunch, he is himself, warm smiles and a little chat with Daddy, but then instead of sitting at the small round table near the door and Daddy’s place at the register, he was now taking the square table by the window. It’s a table Daddy can very easily slip under if he needs to be in his chair that day and if he can get away from the register and if he can’t, well, it’s not so far away that they can’t still talk.
Judah would sit in the chair that faces west. The first week he did this, I thought at first he just wanted to take advantage of what was the first sunny day in what seemed like months and let it go at that. But when it happened again the next week, and the week after that, I started to wonder. And I started to watch out the window when I could, to see what Judah was seeing.
Right across from the cafe is the Town Hall, which isn’t the town hall any more, the offices of the town having moved to a combination garage, council chambers and offices at the far of town just before the bridge, some five or six years ago. Town Hall is now a community arts centre and the source of more ugly discussions than any of us want to remember and most of us don’t any more. I thought at first Judah might have been interested in what was being planned for the opera house or the meeting rooms, and was reading the big electronic sign out front which was forever breaking down, I’m not going to say why.
But then, on the third week, Judah and I were looking out the window at the same time and we saw Diane McLellan get out of her minivan in the parking lot beside Town Hall and look right into our big front window. And she smiled and Judah smiled at the same time. My. Judah and Diane. This was complicated. Not in the least because Diane was married to the one man in town I can honestly say I hate.
My mother used to say that in all the ways I was not like her, my ability to just let things flow over me was probably the biggest. Where she would have huge enthusiasms and get excited, I have a tendency to watch and wait, hoping for the best, sometimes even working toward it, but never getting too excited when it happens, or doesn’t. And I’m that way about people too. I pretty much take them as I find them, knowing that most of them will turn out to be pretty good people, and also knowing that I can just ignore the rest.
The exception to that was Tom McLellan, and it’s about Town Hall, and maybe I’ll tell that story some other time, after I’ve had some wine and there’s a lot of pie leftover from lunch. What’s important is that I hate Tom McLellan, and I like Diane, his wife, even at the same time I’m afraid for her because I’m pretty sure that the bully I know behaves even more badly towards her. And what is also important is that I like Judah even more than I like Diane and seeing such sunshine on two faces that normally don’t get a lot made me smile too.
But then came my Scottish grandmother’s tingling senses and I thought about a bully and a couple of kids and a lonely farm road and I knew that maybe those smiles should also worry me some.