The Farm Hand

Written by Rick Beck

Edited by: Gardner Rust

Chapter 10

What's Next

My brothers and I sat around the kitchen table in silence. Sven stood with his back leaning against the door and his hands folded in front of him. I wasn't the only one deep in thought about our future. I felt like the eldest brother for the first time in a long while.

Ralph cried at dinner, as we ate the food Mama had been preparing for us. Once the food was on the table it gave us something to do. Only the sound of silverware on plates and requests for items of food interrupted the silence. Even tragedy couldn't cancel out the body's need for nourishment. We ate to stay alive and little more that night. There was nothing to do after we ate but think.

Sven sat pensive, leaning on his elbows with his hands folded together like he was lost in prayer. The rest of us sat numbed, trying to find a way to deal with what happened and what was to come. I'd need to get organized before we could start harvesting. That was what I was expected to do. Sven shared what was on his mind and he knew more than I knew about organizing the work.

"I know people who'll come help with the harvest. I can get two, maybe a man with two near grown sons. They were sharecropping nearby this spring. I might be able to find my brother John. He was near here a few weeks back. I'll put out the word I need him. He'll come running if he can, but he may have already taken work by now."

"Pa won't want that many strangers on the place," Junior said. "He don't cotton to strangers. He gets uncomfortable with men he don't know, Robert. You know Pa."

"Your Pa needs help, son. He's in no condition to handle the affairs of this farm. We've got to see to it that it gets done. He'll rest a lot easier knowing we're up to the task. That means Robert's in charge of decisions now," Sven said, looking up at me with a certainty in his voice. "He'll decide what's best and we'll abide by it."

Ralph questioned the idea with ideas of his own.

"Robert? He don't even want to be here. Mama keeps him safe from Pa. She been coddling him for years."

"It's up to us now, Ralph. We can all pull together or we can pull this farm apart," I said, making it up as I went along. "Pa hires hands every harvest, Junior. Without Pa we need more help than ever. Sven, if you know men who'll come to work I can't offer 'em no more than Pa offered you, but if they'll come I'll be glad to have them.

"We were barely holding on and without Pa I don't know if we'll make it, but I'm doing all I can. I expect no less from you. Mama and Pa are depending on us to get it done."

"When a man needs help, money don't mean a thing. The men I'm thinking of will work on my word if they know it means saving a man's farm. I'll make no promises, except they'll get paid before I do if there's any money after the bills are paid."

"That's settled," I said. "Sven you see about the help. Use the Ford truck in the morning."

"They'll work and not even know if they'll get paid?" Ralph asked. "Who are these people? Never heard a such a thing."

"People who know what it means to lose a farm. They won't stand by and watch another man lose his if there's something they can do about it."

"We got beef in the smokehouse, hams, plenty of eggs being laid and milk. They'll get fed well," I reasoned. "Lord knows who's going to do the cooking."

"Helping someone is always good for the soul," Sven said. "They have big hearts. You'll see."

I was never sure how to take Sven. I found myself trusting him to do as he said, because I never knew him not to. My two brothers weren't so easy to convince, but because it was Sven, we agreed to let him bring us help. I had made the first decision with everyone's approval, but we didn't have the help yet.

Sven's mind was clear and he seemed to know what you did when you got in a tight spot. It left me with one more debt to pay. Sven gave his loyalty to my father and now he was giving it to me. It was a powerful motivation to succeed, because he wouldn't have done as much if he thought we would fail.

We were up trying to cook coffee well before dawn. I knew to start all the machinery before we sat down to eat. I managed the coffee, while Ralph whipped up something he thought was pancake batter. I was never quite convinced, so I fried some eggs and bacon just in case. We probably had the best cook in the county at our house and we could hardly boil water without her.

Mama had never been so sorely missed as she was that first morning. How we'd make it through harvest on that menu was a mystery.

We moved the combines into the main field to see if they were working properly. Sven had the International that attacked Pa down on its tires as Ralph and Junior watched.

When we took a break for coffee, Sven told me he was going to see about the help. I didn't question him as he drove away, heading toward town. We went back at the corn for several hours, filling the corn wagon that was pulled behind the International. All the machines were working fine and we broke for lunch a little early, figuring we were ready for the trucks the following morning. When I called Croby's Feed and Grain to order them for the following morning, Mr. Crosby sounded surprised and he tried to get me to hire hands through him but I knew better.

Lunch was a haphazard affair with us cutting bread so thick we could hardly get our mouths around our sandwiches. We were novices at running a harvest and no better qualified to run Mama's kitchen. She made it look so effortless that I figured it wouldn't be all that difficult, but we'd been in control for three less than satisfactory meals and the kitchen looked like a cyclone had hit it.

"When are you going to get Mama?" Ralph asked once he'd wrestled his sandwich into submission.

"You know Mama ain't coming home until Pa does," I said. "We got to do this ourselves."

"We're gonna starve to death," Junior said. "You ain't going to go see about Pa?"

"Yeah, Robert, I want to know how Pa is," Ralph said.

"They said no one could see him until this afternoon. There's no point in us running over there until tomorrow. We got work to do."

"Mama can't just sit there, Robert," Junior said.

"She knows all those church ladies in Des Moines. I'm sure she went to see them as quick as we left. You don't have to worry none about Mama," I said. "The best thing we can do for them is work and let Pa heal."

Junior stood at the window pumping water into his glass when I heard the truck on the gravel in the driveway.

"They're niggers," Junior said aghast. "Pa wouldn't hold with letting a bunch of them up here, Robert. You best tell Sven to carry them back where he got 'em."

"Junior, I'm going to tell you just once: I told Sven to handle it and we all agreed. I don't care if they're blue-eyed Presbyterian Kangaroos. Beggars ain't in no position to be choosey."

"Lord have mercy," Ralph said, leaning against the sink. "They's black as pitch. I hope you know what you're a doin'."

"We didn't ask what color the help was coming in. I don't want to hear another word about them being coloreds."

"I didn't say anything," Ralph said. "Boy, you sure are asking for it, Robert. I hope no one else finds out."

"This ain't going to set well with Pa," Junior said.

"Pa ain't here and that's that," I stated flatly.

My brothers and Pa shared a natural aversion to all things new. Strangers, save the random hired hand, weren't necessarily welcome much past a meal or some chores.

We ambled out onto the back porch as Sven escorted the three of them around to look up at the three of us, who they'd come to aid.

"They ain't ete this morning," Sven said. "If it's okay, boss, I'll cut them some ham for sandwiches to hold them until dinner? Whatever that's going to be?"

"Sure. Welcome to the farm," I said as Junior groaned, moving back from the stairs. "Not much in the way of food prepared. Whatever we got we'll share. I'm Robert, this here is Ralph, and the grim one over there is Junior."

"Don't you be worried none about food," the bent old fellow said, stepping around Sven to face me. "I'm Jake, sir. I'm a cook and bottle washer right after I's a farmer."

"Mama ain't going to hold with no one running loose in her kitchen. You know how fussy she is," Junior said, finishing the last of his water as he went back into the kitchen, shaking his head.

"Don't mind him. He's a bit long on mouth and short on manners. We can sure use someone who knows his way around a kitchen. I was a little worried about how we were going to get enough to eat," I lamented.

"Ask and you shall receive, son," Jake said, doffing his cap. "These are my sons, sir. The long lanky fellow is Jacob and Kaleb may be short of stature but is able to work from sun up 'til dark without complaint."

"It's dark all right," Ralph said, following Junior back into the kitchen.

"Yes, sir," Jacob said, pulling the hat off his head and stepping subserviently out from behind Sven to present himself for inspection once named.

The youngest boy grumbled something and did not make his presence known to me otherwise, choosing to stay behind Sven, and yet he failed to stand far enough away from Jake's long black arm and the old man adroitly popped his youngest son on the back of the head, saying, "Keep shut. He de boss. You de hand."

"If youse'll show me that kitchen, I'll see what old Jake can do with what you gots. I can keeps us all alive for a spell on a corncob, a ham bone, and a fresh pot a water."

"We've got a little more than that," I assured him, as we headed for the kitchen in a long stream.

Jake was old by anyone's standards, how old I never knew for sure. He was a big bent black man. He bent over when he walked, when he stood still, and when he sat. There was a distinct drawl to his words. He'd been share cropping in a nearby town, but the equally old farmer had lost his place during the summer. The bank threw Jake and his boys off the place and the corn was plowed under about a month before it could be harvested, giving them no reason to return.

"Junior, you stay with the clean up. Take Kaleb with you once he's done eating so he can see what I need him to do. Ralph, you take Jacob with you. You can spell each other on the International. Make sure he knows the controls first. Sven and I will drive the combines and we'll leave Jake here to see what he can rustle up for supper. We'll be filling the corncribs, until Crosby's trucks come in the morning. By that time we should all know what's expected.

"I can spell you on the tractors if you like, sir. Won't take no time to be pullin' a meal together."

"You can handle a combine?" I asked.

"Well, sir, anything with wheels I can fix or drive, or fix while I'm a driven if need be."

"Not much he can't do," Sven said. "Don't let that bend in his back fool you none. Jake can outwork me any day in the week. He was the first man that came to mind, when I knew we needed help."

"These are some hard times for poor folk, let me tell ya," Jake said, after talking sorrowfully about the acres of corn he had lost, when his hard work was plowed under by a bank that had no interest in corn or people.

"I told him the circumstances. No money guarantee but work and they get paid before I do, if we do better than break even," Sven said.

"It's not much of a deal," I said, swirling the coffee in my cup while thinking about getting back to work now that the social amenities were done.

"No matter the money. I'd rather work than sit idle. If that work keeps a man on his land, alls the better."

"We sure need the help but not much of a deal."

"More an we started out with this morning, son" he said, giving me an easy going smile. "The Lord, he do provide."

I wondered how we'd ever get the crop in. We weren't much better off than before, except we had three more mouths to feed. I saw diminishing prospects but what was done was done. At least we could keep them fed for a time and the three of them had to increase our production by some.

I found myself responsible for other lives that had nothing to do with mine. I suppose it was uncomfortable for all of us that first day.

We continued our preliminary duties, readying the machines, adjusting for the cut, and filing a corncrib while going through the motions of what would become a full time job the following day, when the harvest went into full swing. Jacob and Kaleb had no problem keeping up and things ran smoothly throughout the day.

Later we sat quietly around the table, except for, "Pass the butter, the beans, or the biscuits."

Jake had somehow cleaned the kitchen so that you couldn't tell we'd left it a mess from our poor attempts at staying fed. He'd remade the meal from the night before, adding some of this and that, so he said. It was a respectable meal under the circumstances, but it wasn't Mama's cooking.

Our new guests were quiet. Jake stood at the sink to eat, serving us when we needed something. Kaleb and Jacob sat at the small table where Mama kept her bread drawer.

The lack of conversation seemed foreign, but what was there to say. Jacob and Kaleb went outside once Jake started on the dishes. Sven and I retired to the back porch and took Pa's place, watching the night sky blossom. Ralph and Junior sat in the swing without their usual conversation. I had no idea what was running through the heads of the people I'd suddenly become responsible for. My head was a buzz with everything and nothing. I didn't have any idea how I'd get done what needed doing.

I spent a restless night after getting our new hands settled into the bottom of the barn in a large pile of hay. Dawn came all too early, but not for Jake, who had coffee ready and griddle cakes going by the time I started the tractors.

The trucks came on schedule at dawn as first light appeared on the horizon. They'd continue coming by our contract for ten days to take away the corn.

The day wasn't particularly hard but it was long. Taking care of the small details seemed to be an endless job. Keeping the boys working was a task fraught with danger. Both Junior and Ralph seemed to have accepted my authority but we hadn't run into anything out of the ordinary.

When I passed the International with Ralph and Jacob pulling the corn wagon, Junior and Kaleb were close behind, tossing random ears into the rolling bin. I detected some smiles and good cheer as the boys worked together, each trying to outdo the other in quantity of corn they recovered and the speed in which they did the job. My uncertainty about our new hands seemed to be without foundation.

Kaleb was younger, close to Junior's age, shorter in stature, but a bit bigger boned. He was a contrarian in most respects, wanting nothing to do with Jake's happy attitude, or Jacob's willingness to serve, favoring a bit more skepticism, but not so much that he could be disliked. To prove it he won over the most difficult member of my family first, Junior, who had his contrary moments as well. The two of them became fast friends, and after spending his first night in the barn with us, Junior had Kaleb sleeping up in his room by the end of the second day, much to Jake's alarm.

Junior was fast to find fault with the best of us and just as fast to forget his findings. He was an easy going sort otherwise, who learned lessons from the people he knew, but frequently disregarded them when faced with facts. He tried to fit but refused to remain obedient to bad ideas. He was more like me than I cared to admit in those days. We were both easy to convince once we knew the truth of things, but truth wasn't always easy to come by.

Jacob was Ralph's age, tall but slight, with his carriage making him seem taller than he was. A bundle of energy and motion but polite in every manner. He'd learned to become part of the background and was good at disappearing, even when he was there in the kitchen with the rest of us. The same couldn't be said of the way he worked. He used his considerable energy to achieve the maximum result from his labor.

While the interactions were strained that first day, Ralph and Jacob learned to work together like a fine machine, each being able to anticipate the actions of the other. When the work slowed and they took a break, they could be seen lying side by side, laughing and talking and at other times wrestling good-naturedly in the corn silk.

The trucks drove easily along side the lumbering combines. Once loaded they drove the corn into town. With three of Crosby's trucks this year there was less time spent loading our corn wagon, which then had to move the corn from the wagon into the trucks once our corn bins were filled. On the first day the trucks came from about five in the morning with the last truck leaving us shortly after seven that evening.

We could keep cutting as long as we wanted, using the lights on the combines, but it doubled the work and it was much more difficult seeing the loose corn that didn't make it into the trucks or the corn wagon. The first thing each morning the four boys would clean up the rows we cut after dark, while we went back to loading the trucks at first light.

Later in the day the International pulled the corn wagon behind us, collecting the corn we left in our wake as we loaded trucks. By that time most of the loose corn was picked up and the pace for the four boys slowed.

Everything was going fine after two days of loading the trucks. We had cut well over a quarter of the corn in our main field. The International followed us, collecting the corn we'd left in our wake. It was how Pa did it and my actions were dictated by my memory of Pa in most instances. The rest I made up as I went along.

My mind was finally off Pa and involved with what needed doing. We seemed to have enough hands, even though most were small hands.

The sky was full of large billowy white clouds and that rarely meant rain. Everything seemed to be going in our favor and we'd continue this way until the trucks were finished. The feeling that we were going to be okay crossed my mind by the end of the second day.

The fields filled up with exhaust fumes and the din of machinery running back and forth in the ever so slowly dwindling rows of corn. The trucks came and went and the routine had taken hold.

Jake brought lemonade and sandwiches to us early in the afternoons. We'd stop the machine as he stood by encouraging us to drink our fill before moving on to the next machine. He used the swathes we'd cut in the corn as his avenues of travel. He was remarkably agile, seeming to have no difficulty getting up on and down off the machines with the refreshments in hand, although, when I looked at the bend in his body, I imagined everything he did to be difficult.

After dark Jake waved a lantern next to the gate to bring us in for supper. My first instinct was to forget food, but my back had grown stiff and I felt anything but agile climbing down off the machine as it belched exhaust into the night air.

I'd driven our new combine last harvest, sharing the duties with a Spanish fellow Pa hired for the task. It never seemed like I was in the seat all that long before I was being replaced.

I didn't recall any stiffness from it last summer, but it was now a year later, I was a year older, and I rubbed my back as I walked toward the house. The trucks had made their final runs for the day and it was back to filling corncribs until the trucks would return at dawn.

Sven and I walked away from our tractors with a dozen empty cornrows separating our machines. Meeting at the gate, he nodded, waiting for me to pass through first. He put his big hand on my shoulder as we walked, saying nothing for the longest time.

"You've had a fine day for yourself, boss. I'd say we cut a passel of corn today. Fine job."

"It doesn't seem like enough," I said sincerely.

"Won't 'til that last field is cut. We've got hard workers and we'll get it done."

I hadn't paid much attention to the sky all afternoon and had no idea if the rain clouds had joined the billowy kind. Once the rain started, we'd be hard pressed to finish what we'd begun. It took ten days to complete the harvest last season with Pa in the lead. I didn't expect to be done in twelve. Besides, we were doing the easiest fields first.

Once we hit the slopes and the bottom land our progress would slow. For now, all I wanted was to cut as much corn as fast as we could. That's not how Pa would do it, but I wasn't Pa.

Ralph and Jacob walked together in front of us, trying to occupy the same space at the same time, playfully nudging each other off balance. They laughed, seeming not to have a care in the world. They'd given up on the International once it got too dark to see, so I assigned them to help Junior and Kaleb in cleaning up after us, until suppertime released them from any further duty that day.

I'd let them rest up after they ate, but Sven and I would work several more hours.

The smell of cornbread came on a wisp of evening air, making my stomach growl. I took the steps two at a time and went into the kitchen to see what else was cooking. For an instant I expected to see Mama at the stove, but reality returned to me all too fast.

There was fried chicken, kale from Mama's garden, and Jake was working on mashed potatoes, tossing in butter and adding milk as he beat it together with vigor and the biggest spoon in the house. He was devoted to his chore and paid us no mind.

Five minutes later the kitchen was a buzz with boys and all of them were talking at the same time. In my mother's kitchen you minded your manners and didn't dare get in her way. Jake was less demanding and tended to stay to one side, requiring little from us. The table was full of familiar bowls and platters, but the food had an unfamiliar look.

Almost immediately the forks and spoons started to clang against my mothers dishes. There was laughter and conversation, as plates were filled. No one hesitated to dig in after a long days work.

Jake cleared his throat loud enough to stop us all in our tracks.

"Dear Lord thank Thee for your bounty. Bless this farm and all who dwell here. Amen."

Once I took note of the seating arrangement, I became less interested in the food. Off at one corner of the kitchen sat Jacob and Kaleb. Their plates were in front of them already prepared with no room for bowls or platters.

After we all had food, Jake sat on a chair next to the sink with a steaming cup of coffee at his elbow. I was in Pa's chair and Sven was in Mama's. Ralph and Junior faced each other, fencing for the choicest pieces of chicken.

I finally decided to take my half prepared plate to join Jacob and Kaleb, forcing my chair into a tiny spot, which made it impossible to eat.

Jake stood, spilling his coffee in the process. He looked alarmed. Jacob and Kaleb looked at me like I might be somewhat daft.

"Mr. Robert, they ain't gots no room as tis," Jake mentioned cautiously as the two boys looked dismayed.

"That's funny. I had too much room over there. Maybe we ought to all eat together at the table and we'll see there's room enough for all of us."

"Mr. Robert, white folk and coloreds don't be sittin' at the same table. We got our place."

"I've never been around... colored folk, and I suppose I'm white folk, but if a man is good enough to work for me he's good enough to eat at my table no matter his color. Let's all just be plain folk," I said, because it sounded fair to me.

I sat Kaleb's plate beside Junior and Jacob's plate beside Ralph before moving my chair back to where it had started.

Kaleb didn't take any convincing at all, picking up his chair and dropping it down beside Junior. It took Jacob a bit longer to make the move to follow his food, but he sat his chair beside Ralph, checking for any objections before sitting in it.

I asked Jake for some of his coffee, and when he got up to fetch me a cup, I scooted his chair to the corner of the table next to me. When he brought me my coffee, he studied his chair, seeming not to recognize it.

"Jake, bring your plate over and we'll make room," I said, knowing it was a tight squeeze.

"I don't eats much, Mr. Robert. I nibbles while I's a cookin' and coffee is about all I need by this time."

"Then, bring your coffee," I ordered. "Well, this is a fine meal you've made us, Jake. Thank you."

"Not as good as your Mama's I'm sure, but the best I could do with what we gots."

"This is some pretty good cornbread. Pass me them mashed taters," Junior said, smacking his lips as he reached for more.

Sven maintained his silence and concentrated on his food. Jake drank his coffee for a few minutes to be polite before moving his chair back to where it was before I moved it. There wasn't much I could do about the way he felt but I knew what I felt and I wanted it to be clear not with words but by action. I'm not sure that my Pa would have agreed, but he wasn't here and I was and this made me more comfortable with my new hands.

Junior took Kaleb out to show him his dairy cows after they finished. He sold cream to some families and delivered it on his bike early each morning. Junior took real pride in them, not wanting anyone else to tend them. While he'd never shown any particular interest in the corn, he wanted to take charge of the cows from the first day. I supposed he didn't like the ground so much as the animals on it.

I listened as the two youngest boys scampered off the porch, laughing and joking like they'd known each other all their lives. I reached for one more piece of cornbread and caught Sven smiling my way as Ralph and Jacob got up to play checkers on the table Jake had put in the corner. They laughed and argued and fussed with each other as they played, oblivious to the rest of us. Ralph was a hard bird to figure. He was usually too busy to take up with anyone and in a couple of weeks he'd taken up with Sven and now Jacob.

"Best not fill up so much you don't feel like getting back out there. We can get a few more hours in I reckon," Sven thought aloud. "Maybe let the boys call it a day. They've done their share and that International ain't to be trusted comes the night."

"Yeah, I agree," I said, feeling tired and wishing I could call it a day. "Fine meal, Jake."

Jake nodded and sipped his coffee with his crooked fingers tangled in the handle of the small cup.

"We can help you clear this stuff up. Boys can lend a hand. We'll need them out before dawn to pick up the corn we cut tonight. The trucks should be here after first light."

"No, sir. You boys go on. I'll take care of the dishes. I'll have me some molasses cookies baked by and by. Them and cool milk will be tastin' mighty nice once you calls it a night."

"Sounds good to me, Jake," I said.

Sven walked next to me as we headed back toward the waiting machines. He walked at my speed for a change and I was glad to have him there.

"That was nice," he said.

"Yeah, Jake's a good cook. I don't know my Mama would sit still for him cooking in her kitchen, but it sure beats going hungry."

"No, I mean you, boss."


"With the boys, nice," he said, and said nothing more splitting away from me as we closed in on the idling combines.

The machine wiggled and waggled over the ground as it coughed up corn and spit out the remnants. I had been trying to do something that Sven approved of since the day he walked up our driveway. This was the first time I felt like he approved of me. That didn't help my back none but it did put a smile on my face. Needing his approval was still a source of mystery to me, but I did need it and was happy when I got it by doing something that felt right to me.

Our new hands had that beaten down look, when they came that first day, like they weren't sure what was expected of them, but they were sure that no matter what they did, someone would find fault with it. I knew what that was like and I did my best to make them feel at home. It's not something you expect a man to tell you about, because he probably wouldn't know what to say, but the look said it all and it haunted me from the first time I saw it.

I'd once seen the same look on a farmer I knew all my life. His pain ran deep after being forced off his farm. I'm sure he was rooted in the land before someone came and ripped him up by those roots. The farm was in his family for generations and he'd worked it for twenty years. Then, one day, it didn't belong to him any longer and he didn't know what to do. He might never know what to do again.

Leaving the only life they'd ever known, leaving places their grandfathers had cleared and furrowed out of the wilderness with their bare hands left them feeling they'd somehow failed. Now, a bank owned their farm, after they made payments on it for about a hundred years, never being able to make enough to get clear of the note. No matter how hard they had worked or how many hours they put in, it was never enough.

Times were hard and the banks didn't care how hard you worked or how many years you'd worked the land when they came to throw you off.

We'd been luckier than most, until now, and our luck had seemed to be running out, but if I could salvage the farm, these seemed like the people I could do it with. While I wanted to drive into Des Moines to find out about Pa, there was work to do. Mama and Pa were on their own, leaving me to wonder what would become of us all.

While Pa and I hadn't had much to say to each other for some time, I realized I loved him and the things he stood for, even when I didn't feel the way he did about things. It took real character to do what he did without ever complaining or asking for his do.

My family was rooted on the land, but the responsibility was now on my shoulders and I couldn't be sure I was up to the task. It wasn't Sven's farm and it didn't belong to any of our new hands, but if I managed to hold on for another year, they'd be as responsible as me. I'd be grateful if we were still here at years end. My first day of harvest, 1937, I had no reason to believe we would still be there at years end. I'd do the best job I knew how to do, hoping we'd get our corn to market before the price started to fall.

The next day went well. The trucks came empty and went away full. Jake came out to spell me after lunch, suggesting I take a break. My back had stopped aching and there was a pleasure in seeing the corn getting cut row by row. Everything was running smoothly.

My brothers stayed engaged, and Jacob and Kaleb created a competitive atmosphere that kept Ralph and Junior on their toes. They didn't want to be outdone by hired hands. It was all good-natured fun and I let them do it whatever way they liked, as long as it got done.

As I pumped water over my dusty head Sven surprised me. He seized the handle out of my hand, pumping for me.

"You should go to town," Sven said in definite tones.

"Can't stop now. They expect me to be working."

"You need to see about your Pa. You'll feel better when you do. We've got this under control. Jake and I can run the machines."

"Where's your combine?" I asked, worried about it sitting still.

"Ralph's running it."

"Ralph? He's libel to run over the rest of the help," I blurted.

"He'll be fine. I've got Jacob watching him. I showed him how to run it yesterday. You've got to trust him sooner than later if we're going to keep those machines running. We're all going to wear out. Use the help smartly and we won't wear out before it's done."

"I don't know what I'm doing," I said, letting him know the truth. "What I know is, Ralph is a cutup who doesn't take anything seriously."

"Give him a little responsibility and he'll surprise you. You've surprised me. I wasn't sure how you'd react but you've taken charge. Now, give Ralph a chance to help you. He knows what's at stake."

"You realize if I fail, for the rest of his life my Pa will tell everyone how his son lost his farm the year he got busted up?"

"I don't intend to see you fail. This is about all of us doing all we can. We'll get it done if we work together. A good farmer delegates where he can and keeps something in reserve for the final push."

I watched him speak and felt like we weren't having the same conversation. I didn't feel confident or able, but I knew what I felt didn't enter into the picture. I'd been watching my father do it for years and now I had to do it.

"You've got confidence and you know what it takes to get all this done."

"This isn't on my shoulders. I'll help you but I can't be you. Your mother will want to know about the harvest. Your father will rest easier if you tell him we're bringing in the corn on time."

"He won't believe I can," I said. "My father has no confidence in me."

"Then, you'll show him and he'll believe."

"Thanks," I said, having a bigger view in mind. "I know I've acted foolishly. It's just that I never pictured myself doing this."

"It's what you got and you'll deal with it. There isn't much about life you can predict, Robert. You take what comes your way and do the best you can. If you're lucky things go your way, and if you're not, you do what needs doing to make things right."

The only way I could keep Ralph and Junior from going with me to the hospital was to leave Ralph in charge, and Junior wasn't about to leave the farm in his older brother's hands, knowing Ralph better than anyone. When I left, Ralph was driving my combine and Sven was back in his. Junior had taken charge of the International for the first time, filling the corn wagon, when the trucks were all on their way back into town.

It was a less stressful ride to the hospital. I still believed this was a temporary arrangement and I'd be turning the responsibility for the farm back to Pa in short order. Sven had just told me about not having much control over things that happen to you, but as usual, I heard what I wanted to hear and I didn't listen to the message in his words. What I wanted was what I expected. I believed that's the way things would be, until it was obvious they weren't.

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