I hope everyone had a fantastic and restful Thanksgiving weekend. Maybe you braved the crowds on Black Friday or hit up the internet for great deals. I'm hoping you too a little time to read something just for fun but if not, I have the perfect thing for you...Chapter 5 of Down The Dirt Road... Jennie is learning that even the best laid plans often go astray...
The sun hung low in the sky by the time Jennie made her way back to the house from the barn. Momma sat on the wide front porch bathed in cool, welcoming shade. A pitcher of ice cold, fresh lemonade on the round glass topped table, condensation running down the sides and pooling on the glass. Chunks of lemon and a half dozen or so raspberries floated in the pale yellow liquid. Jennie’s mouth watered at the thought of the sweet tartness passing over her tongue and cooling her overheated body from the inside out. Momma sure always knew the right thing to do.
“You look beat, Jennie girl. This heat’s too strong to stay out in it for so long.”
Momma looked plenty exhausted herself; eyes red rimmed, black smudges that ran deep beneath them. Momma still hadn’t been sleeping. Jennie sighed as she dropped into the other chair.
“Don’t worry Momma. I spent most of the day in the barn, away from the sun. Had a lot of cleaning to do in there.”
“You know, sweet pea, I can hire someone to keep things running for a while. Your Daddy left us enough life insurance to get us through the rough patch.”
“I’m fine, Momma. Keep the money in the bank. I can handle it.”
The work kept her busy. Focusing on the animals and the chores occupied her mind and discouraged heavy thinking.
She poured a glass of the lemonade. Condensation ran down her arm leaving streaks in the dust and dirt that had accumulated on her skin during the day. The ice cold liquid chilled her throat and worked its magic on her insides. She drank the whole glass down in one long swallow. Momma watched with disapproval but she didn’t say anything about manners or lady like behavior. Propriety seemed to have gone with Daddy to the netherworld.
“What about when you go off to school next week?’
“I’ve been thinkin’ ‘bout that all day. I’m pretty sure I’ve got enough credits to graduate now. I’m gonna go in and see my guidance counselor tomorrow. See ‘bout early graduation and skippin’ my senior year.”
Sadness filled Momma’s eyes again. “But what about college? Your future? Your dreams?”
Jennie’s skin prickled with angst as Momma asked the questions she knew she would but hoped she wouldn’t.
Her voice was firm when she spoke again. “This is my future now, Momma. The farm—you—need me here.”
“Your whole life, all you ever talked about was getting out of here.”
“My whole life I expected Daddy to live forever.”
Jennie’s words hung in the air between them, suspended by the sadness that enveloped them constantly the past few days since John Marshall had passed. There was no disputing that his death had changed their lives and the sadness had become as much for themselves as for him.
Neither one of them spoke for a long time. The sun continued to set beyond the horizon and dusk began to settle in around them. From down by the pond, a bull frog croaked, initiating a cacophony of crickets, cicadas and beetles that serenaded them as they sat.
“There has to be another way, Jennie girl. I mean, I never wanted you to leave but now I don’t see how you could stay. Your Daddy’s death shouldn’t change your whole life.”
“But it did, Momma. Don’t you see that it already has? I’m sorry Momma. But things have changed now. All we got is each other and Daddy’s dreams. This farm was his life, his dream. It’s all we have left of him.”
“But what about your dreams, sweet pea?”
“I’ll make new dreams. You had dreams when you were my age but you spent a lifetime here with Daddy. Farm life was good enough for you. It will be good enough for me too.”
“I fell in love with your father. Love makes people do things they wouldn’t have imagined doing on their own. I willingly gave up my plans because I wanted to be with John. He was a farmer, it was in his blood. He hated going to the factory every morning, he couldn’t wait to get home and get outside with the animals and the hay fields. I wanted to be with him and he needed to be here. But you aren’t making your decisions willingly. You are trying to live your father’s life for him and he wouldn’t want that for you.”
“If he cared so much about what I wanted he wouldn’t have left us.”
The words left her mouth before she had the chance to even think about biting them back. She felt horrible instantly and the look of raw pain on her Momma’s face caused a surge of guilt to well up from deep within her gut.
“I’m sorry, Momma. I shouldn’t have said that. I don’t seem to have much control over my tongue these days.”
Momma reached across the small table and placed a hand on her only daughter’s arm. “Your father was so proud of you. From the day you were born, pride oozed from his pores whenever he held you. You were the first thing he thought of when he woke and the last thing we talked about before he fell asleep. He had high hopes for his baby girl and it would sadden him greatly to know that you are going to give up everything to stay here. Selfishly, I want you with me. I don’t want to be alone. I can’t do the things your Daddy did or that you can do. So, I say, do what you think is right.”
The hand on Jennie’s arm began to shake in slight tremors. Momma yanked her arm back and dropped it into her lap, fear in the green eyes so much like her daughter’s for the briefest of moments. An odd sensation washed over Jennie. Something wasn’t quite right, she could feel it but Momma’s expression had become shuttered. Jennie recognized the look- she wouldn’t be getting any answers to any questions that night. Their conversation was over.
She stood and stretched. Her back ached and her muscles were sore. After Michael had left, she threw herself into mucking out the stalls, replacing the hay bales and doing some general organizing in the messy barn space. Daddy was a good man but neat and organized he wasn’t.
“I’m gonna take a hot shower, Momma.” Her stomach rumbled loudly as she picked up her empty lemonade glass and made her way toward the door to the house.
“Maybe you should eat something first, sweet pea. You haven’t eaten much more than a finch does since… since… in a few days.” Elise’s voice broke as she tried not to have the say the words. Jennie knew exactly how she felt. The word dead was so final and if she refrained from voicing it then maybe John Marshall wasn’t actually gone for good. Her ears automatically strained to listen for his old Ford coming up the rutted lane.
She had been ignoring Daddy’s truck for almost a week. It still sat in the drive in front of the house exactly where he had last parked it on the day he gave her a ride home. She resisted the urge to throw rocks at it and curse. Its very presence reminded her that she had been so wrapped up in her own problems that she hadn’t even noticed that Daddy was dying. It couldn’t stay there. She couldn’t walk by it each day, a constant reminder of his absence. Maybe tomorrow she would drive it out behind the house; park it by the old tool shed in the corner of the hay field. Yes, that’s what she would do. It would become a memorial out there, a memorial to the man that had so lovingly cared for it for so many years, believing in its solidarity and refusing to tarnish its reputation by replacing it with a shiny new one.
“I’m still not OK with you not going to college.” Momma called to her softly from the shadows.
“I’ll take some courses at the community college, OK?” She called back just as softly.
“OK. It’s a start. We will talk about the rest another time.” Momma’s voice had become barely more than a whisper. There was so much sadness in her words, it just about broke Jennie’s heart.
“OK, Momma.” Nothing her mother could say would change her mind. She knew what she had to do and going off to college wasn’t part of that plan any more. “I’m gonna go wash up and grab something to eat.”
“I’ll be there in a bit, dear. I want to sit out here with your father for a little while.”
In the days since John Marshall’s death, Elise had taken to sitting on the front porch in the evening hours. She claimed she felt closer to him. John loved the outdoors, maybe it did bring them closer, her sitting out there like that. aWho was she to judge- didn’t she spend her days in the barn with the animals?
The only thing she planned on judging now was how hot the water was in the shower and how comfortable her bed was.