Goats and Bugs

by Nick Brady

Chapter 15

George spent some time with the milk distributor, Henry Johnston, asking him how to configure an automated milking area in the barn. They would need to pour a concrete slab, construct new stalls and provide for the storage tanks and the plumbing required. The goat pen should be moved, the laying boxes would need to be expanded, and an outside area with shelter had to be built if they were to start keeping pigs. It was complicated, but George tried to start on a plan, working through what was needed step by step,.

When he sat down at the kitchen table with Ely and Bobby, and tried to explain what would be needed, they were impressed. "This looks pretty good, George, but it will be a lot of work," Ely said. "Where do we start?"

"I think this gives us an idea of what we'll have to do, but I don't know how much material we'll need or how to do the construction. We'll need help with that."

"We might be able to get some advice from Sam Gutierrez, the high school Vo-Tech teacher," Ely suggested. "I've known him for a long time, and he's a good fellow. Maybe he could help."

"Would he talk to us?" George asked.

"I bet he would," Ely smiled. "Let me ask him."

A week later Ely was all smiles. "I talked to my friend, Sam," he announced at supper. "He said he could come out and look things over next weekend. If I know Sam, he'll be hungry."

"You think he'd like chicken and dumplings?" Bobby asked. "I can make that ahead so we could eat anytime."

"It wouldn't hurt if he was in a good mood," Ely grinned.

"Give me a general idea of when he'll be here, and I'll do my best."

Sam was to come out on Saturday. Bobby boiled and cut up a fat rooster, diced up potatoes, carrots and green beans, and made a pile of dumplings to drop in the pot. The pot of hot broth was left to simmer on the stove. He was ready.

Sam drove up to the house just before noon. Pepper barked to announce his arrival and Bobby, George and Ely went out to greet him. "Here he is! How you doing, Sam?" Sam was a short, stocky man with a big smile. Ely shook his hand and slapped him on the shoulder. "You know my son Bobby, and this here is George. We've sort of adopted him."

"Good to see you again, Bobby, You've grown since I last saw you. Nice to meet you, George. I hope you know what you've got yourself into. They're likely to work you to death out here."

"As long as they feed me. You know, Bobby's a pretty good cook," George said as he shook the man's hand.

Bobby grinned. "I was just getting ready to put together some chicken and dumplings if you're hungry."

"Well now, I wouldn't want to impose on you, but if you're sure it's alright, I suppose I could eat a bite," Sam tried not to sound too eager.

"Not a problem," Bobby assured him and headed for the kitchen while Ely and George walked him to the barn.

Ely briefly explained the ideas for expanding their facilities that Henry had suggested. They looked over the existing facilities for the milking operation, and the hen boxes. They introduced him to Bonnie and Clyde and mentioned the possibilities of keeping some pigs. Sam asked a few questions and looked around the space. "We need to lay all this out so we can see what we've got," he said.

"I drew up a floor plan if that would help," George volunteered.

"That would be a good start. Could I see it?" Sam asked, and they went to the house to see George's layout. "This isn't bad at all. Did you do this by yourself?"

"Bobby helped me measure everything," George said. "The dimensions for the loft are on the back. We only had one big sheet of cardboard." Sam looked it over and nodded appreciatively.

"Have you had any drafting experience?"

"No, but I've seen some pictures of blueprints and got the idea from that," George admitted. "It's not done right, but I think all the measurements are correct. Will that help?"

"This is a good start," Sam smiled. "Let me look this over, and I'll get back to you. I'll show this to some of my Vo-Tech students." They went out through the barnyard, walked down to the pond and into the woods beyond.

"Mr. Johnston gave us some good suggestions for a new milking area, and we need more boxes for the hens," George told him. "But I don't know how to figure out how much material we need, or how to do the construction."

"I see," Sam nodded. "That's the sort of thing we teach at Vo-Tech. Let me get back to you on this." They started back to the house where they were greeted by some good smells.

"You guys are just in time," Bobby greeted them. "I hope you're hungry."

Sam raised himself up on his toes and sniffed. "If I wasn't, I am now."

"That Bobby's a pretty good cook," Ely boasted. "I don't know what we'd do without him."

"George usually makes us a salad, but he was busy, so I tried to fill in for him," Bobby said as he ladled out big bowls of his creation. Chunks of chicken were swimming in a thick broth of colorful vegetables, topped by big fluffy dumplings. "Sit down and see what you think, Sam."

Sam needed no further encouragement and dug in with enthusiasm. "This is mighty fine, Bobby. Can't remember when I've had better."

When Sam paused and looked up from his plate, Ely asked, "Do you think we can get ourselves ready for this expansion?"

"Oh, I think so. George has made a good start on laying all this out. I'll run this by my senior boys and see what they think. There are a couple that are looking for a senior project. We might be able to help you with it. You'll have to cover the cost of materials, of course."

"Oh, I'll do that," Ely nodded. "But it's just me and the boys out here, and none of us have done anything like this before. We'd appreciate any help we can get."

"Do you know what you want to end up with here?" Sam asked. "We need to know what we're shooting for."

George handed Sam several pamphlets and brochures that the milk distributor had given him. "There should be a lot of helpful information in these. Ely has talked about expanding the herd to 30 or more cows and maybe 60 laying hens. We'll need to have a milking floor and laying boxes for them, facilities for a small herd of goats, and maybe even some pigs in the future."

Sam looked through them as he finished his lunch. "This will be helpful. We can scale these up or down as we need to. Thank you, George."

"Would you like another helping of chicken and dumplings, or maybe a slice of pie?" Bobby interrupted.

"Well now, that's a tough choice. What kind of pie would that be?"

"It might not be any good. I'm not much for making pie, But we had some apples that I didn't want to go to waste," Bobby smiled.

Sam took a deep breath and rubbed his ample belly. "It so happens that apple pie is about my favorite. I might try a slice of that."

"Coming right up. Would you like some vanilla ice cream on that?"

"Apple pie a la mode? Oh my yes," Sam's smile broadened. "I couldn't say no to that."

Bobby laid four plates of pie and ice cream on the kitchen table. Sam's was the largest, and it quickly disappeared. He smiled again and winked at Bobby. "Boy, you are going to make some lucky woman a fine husband. That was the best apple pie I ever ate."

Before Bobby could answer, Ely said, "I think I might have to keep him here on the farm. Who'd cook for us if I let him go?" Bobby looked grateful.

They walked Sam out to the gate and saw him off. "I'll get back to you," he waved as he drove off.

"I did my best," Bobby sighed as they walked back to the kitchen.

"Oh, he'll be back" Ely laughed. "Just in time for dinner, I would guess. That was a fine pot of chicken and dumplings, Bobby. And where did that pie come from? I don't ever remember you baking a pie before."

"That was my first attempt. It turned out pretty good, didn't it?"

"That was awesome! I hope it wasn't the last," George smiled.

Bobby rolled his eyes. "Pies are a lot of work. Don't expect that every day."

"I haven't had a pie like that for a long time," Ely said with a quizzical look. "Where did you get the recipe?"

"Out of that old recipe book," Bobby shrugged.

"Old book? Could I see it?" Ely asked.

"Sure. Here it is," Bobby pulled an old cookbook from a cabinet over the stove and handed it to his father.

Ely looked at it, opened it and read at the flyleaf. He flipped through the worn book, its pages spattered with cooking stains. Some of the pages had hand-scribbled notes. His face took on a somber expression. "This was Ruth's. Where did you find it?"

"Up here in the cabinet," Bobby pointed over the stove. "How do you think I learned how to cook?"

"Did the chicken and dumplings come from that?" George asked.

"Yeah sure, everything came from that," Bobby looked surprised. "Is this my mother's cookbook?"

Ely nodded, his eyes growing wet. "She got that as a wedding present. I never knew what happened to it. I guess it's been over the stove all this time. I never really looked for it."

Bobby hesitated for a moment then stepped to Ely and hugged him. "That's how I learned to cook, Dad. I guess my mother taught me." They held onto each other for what seemed like a long time.

Bobby whispered into his father's shoulder, "I love you, Dad."

Ely inhaled, his breath catching. "I love you too, Bobby. I love you more than I can say."

After a minute they relaxed, and Ely handed the old book back to his son. That was all that was said.

Bobby looked at George and walked out the kitchen door towards the barn. George hesitated for a moment then ran after him. When he caught up to Bobby, he walked quietly beside him. When they got to the barn, Bobby went up the ladder to the hayloft, and George followed. They sat down with their backs against the bales of hay. George waited for Bobby to speak.

Bobby sat with his knees drawn up to his chest and his forehead resting on his folded arms. After several minutes he raised his head and looked at George. Bobby's face was wet with tears. He opened his mouth as if to speak, then looked away. George put his arm around his shoulder and pulled him a little closer.

"I'm glad you're here," Bobby said softly.

George patted Bobby's shoulder and leaned back a little. "You OK?"

Bobby breathed deeply then sighed. "I guess. I don't really know what to say. I never thought about that cookbook being my mom's. I guess that meant a lot to my dad."

"What did it mean to you?"

"It's hard to put into words. I guess it connected me to her. Like I had been touching part of her and didn't know it."

"You said she was teaching you how to cook."

Bobby nodded his head up and down. "Yeah, it feels like that. Does that sound spooky?"

"I don't think so. There are lots of ways that people can touch us. Whenever you read a good book, the writer is touching you in a way. There's nothing spooky about that."

Bobby sighed with a catch in his breath. "My mother died when I was seven, so I don't hardly remember her. I remember she was nice and she had red hair. Sometimes Dad will say something about her, but usually, he doesn't say much at all. I know he loved my mom, and I'm sure he misses her. I guess it's hard for him to talk about. I wish I knew more about her."

George tightened his arm around Bobby and rubbed his shoulder again. "I bet she was a good cook. You know that."

Bobby made a funny sound. George couldn't tell if it was a chuckle or a sob. "I guess."

After a minute George asked. "How do you feel?"

"I don't know. It's kind of like I found something I didn't know I'd lost. I guess I'm happy and sad at the same time."

"It meant a lot to your dad," George suggested.

"Yeah, it did. I don't think I ever saw him cry before," Bobby said.

"You hugged him. When was the last time you did that?

Bobby shrugged. "I don't remember. A long time ago I guess."

George hesitated, unsure if he should say what he was thinking. "Then you told him that you loved him, and he said he loved you. You told me one time that you never said that."

Bobby shook his head. "I can't remember the last time that happened. Maybe when I was a little kid. I don't know."

George waited a little while more then asked again. "How do you feel?"

Bobby leaned in against George and hooked one arm under George's knee. "I'm really glad you're with me otherwise I would be up here in the loft crying all by myself. I wouldn't let anybody else see me cry."

George hugged a little tighter. "It's OK, Bobby. I won't tell anybody. It's OK to cry sometimes."

Bobby held George's leg, put his head down on his knee and began to cry, first a sob, then a wail as his body shook. George wrapped his arms around his friend and rocked him from side to side. "It's OK, Bobby. It's OK to cry. Get it out." They did that for quite a long time. When the crying stopped, George kept holding him and felt his own silent tears run down his face.

After awhile Bobby straightened up and leaned back against the hay. "I'm sorry," he whispered.

"What for?"

"For being such a crybaby."

George took a breath. "When was the last time you cried for your mom?"

"I don't remember. A long time ago I guess."

"Maybe you had to make up for lost time,"

Bobby nodded, "Maybe."

"What do you think your dad is doing right now?"

Bobby replied thoughtfully, "He might be crying too. He wouldn't want anybody to see him doing that."

"You and your father are a lot alike," George observed.

"Yeah. I guess we are."

They sat like that, leaned against the hay bales with their arms around each other's shoulders for a long time. Finally, Bobby straightened himself and stood to brush the hay from his shirt. "We need to do chores so I can go and see about supper."

George followed him down the ladder to find Pepper waiting for them at the bottom. "Go get the cows, girl!" Bobby called to her, and she set out to do her job.

The solemn moment had passed.

The chores done, they found Ely sitting in the kitchen wearing a smile.

"Hey, Dad. I was just thinking about what to fix us for supper," Bobby told him.

"You already cooked up one fine meal today. What would you think about visiting the Corner Cafe for supper?" Ely asked. "We could call this the cook's night off."

George grinned, and Bobby clapped his hands and shouted, "Yes! That works for me."

They drove into town in Ely's pickup. When they parked in front of the little diner, Ely mused, "I wonder if those noisy boys will bother us tonight?"

"I bet they won't," George said quietly as Bobby elbowed him in the ribs.

George and Bobby wanted the chicken fried steak, Ely wanted meatloaf. They enjoyed a quiet meal with no interruptions. When it came to dessert, Ely ordered a slice of cherry pie. "I'd usually get apple but after the piece I had for lunch, I know I'd be disappointed," he said.

"There's still a couple of pieces of that apple pie back at the house if you're interested," Bobby grinned.

"I'm interested alright," Ely assured them. "I might have to hide the rest of that pie."

"Don't worry, Dad. We'll put your name on them," Bobby smiled.

True to his word, Sam called in a few weeks to tell them that he had two senior boys who wanted the barn remodel as a project. He suggested bringing them out on Saturday to form a plan. The visit would coincide nicely with lunch time.

When they came out to the farm, Sam introduced the boys as Wayne Harley and Daniel Isley. As seniors in the Vo-Tech program, they were required to design and complete a commercial level project in order to graduate. Wayne was of medium height, slender and fit looking. Daniel was taller and powerfully built. Bobby, George, and Ely introduced themselves and shook hands all around.

Sam made a bit of a speech. "What we want to do today is let Wayne and Daniel get a handle on what needs to be done. When they understand what you want, then they can get started. After today I'll leave this up to them. It's their project, and I won't interfere. But, and this is a big but, if they get in trouble, I will try to help them behind the scenes. And if you have a problem, Ely. then you should talk to me about it, and I will see that you are satisfied. When these boys are finished, you should have a first-class operation. That's our goal. I imagine you will have plenty of questions as we go along. Do you have any questions right now?

"That sounds good to me. No questions right now except to ask how can we help you boys," Ely asked.

Wayne was carrying a cardboard tube and appeared to be in charge. "I want to go to the barn so I can take a look at it. I got the floor plan you drew up." He looked at Bobby and George. "Who did that? It looked pretty good."

"Um, I did that," George raised his hand. "It was pretty rough. All I had was a piece of cardboard."

"That didn't matter; I copied it off to some better paper that we can use to detail the additions. I would like to have one of you as my primary contact. Who might that be?" Wayne asked.

Bobby and George both looked at Ely. Ely looked at the two boys. "I trust both of you to do your best at anything you set out to do. I kind of think that the right person for this might be George. What do you think Bobby?"

Bobby smiled. "I think you're right, Dad. I can help a lot, but George is the idea guy."

George was surprised by this. "Hey, I'm just the hired hand. Shouldn't Bobby be the one to take the lead?"

Ely didn't answer but looked at Bobby to respond. "I think you should be the contact.," Bobby said. "We can help you in any way we can, but I agree with my father. I think you're the best one to do it. You can be sure that we'll be right with you in all of this. Will you do it?"

George swallowed hard and nodded his head. "I'm not sure you're picking the right guy, but if you have that much faith in me, then I guess I can't say no."

"Well then, that's settled," Ely smiled. "Why don't you boys get started?" With that, Ely and Bobby started back to the house.

"I might fix us a little lunch, so we don't send you guys away hungry. Come up to the house when you're finished." Bobby called back over his shoulder.

Sam grinned. "I'll go up to the house and leave you boys to it. Come up when you're ready."

George looked around at Wayne and Daniel. "OK. Where do we start?"

"Let's go look at that barn," Wayne grinned.

Wayne lagged behind looking for something in his cardboard tube while Daniel walked next to George and spoke for the next time. "Wayne is the brains, and I'm the brawn," he joked. "Actually, I can do more than that, but Wayne really is the smart one. He's the planner, but he can't do it right unless he has all the information he needs. You and I will help him get that so he can do the job right." Wayne observed. "We can get it done if you two will help us. Your brother looks like a capable guy."

Daniel assumed that George and Bobby were brothers which pleased George very much. "You're right about that. Bobby can do anything."

When they entered the barn, Wayne pulled a large roll of stiff paper from the cardboard tube and showed it to them. It was George's floor plan redrawn in a very professional way. They looked at the existing areas and talked about traffic flow; how cows would pass through the barn.

"I'd like to see the loft area above the barn," Wayne said, and they all climbed the ladder and looked at the long wooden floor. "We can run the electrical wiring and plumbing up here then drop it down to the milking floor. We can store feed up here too, and build chutes to drop it down below to both the cows and the hens. We can utilize this area."

Daniel moved around the loft taking photos with his cell phone. When he walked through the loose hay he uncovered a pair of undershorts that had been accidentally left behind near the bales of hay. "Lots of ways to utilize a hayloft," he chuckled. George blushed but offered no comment.

When they returned to the barn floor, Wayne suggested that the goats would need to be moved from the barn and they would need to build shelter and pens outside. The same would be true for pigs if they were to be added later. He and Daniel conferred with each other and seemed to be making a plan. As they talked, Daniel had been taking photos in all directions.

"I think we can come up with something," Wayne looked satisfied. "We'll lay out a preliminary plan and sit down with you to see if it's what you want. This could be a fun project. We'll need to get this done before school is out. Are you guys up for some construction work?"

George grinned. "Sure. We're good cheap labor. You tell us what to do, and we'll do it,"

"OK then," Wayne said. "We'll get to work on this and submit a plan to your dad. If we jump on this, we might be able to get back out here next weekend."

George was very pleased. "That would be great. Ely is really excited about this. I think his main concern is how much it will cost. He'll have to get a loan for all this."

"Daniel is pretty good with cost estimates. I think we can rough out an estimate and then tweak it when you decide how you want to modify the original plan. How does that sound?"

"That sounds great!" George said enthusiastically. "When you guys are through here, we can go to the house and see what Bobby has for lunch."

"Sure. Hang on, and we'll be ready." Wayne and Daniel talked with each other for a few more minutes then turned and started for the house.

When they entered the kitchen, they found Bobby at the stove. Ely and Sam were sitting at the kitchen table laughing about something. "Here they are," Ely looked up. "Are you boys ready for some of Bobby's cooking?

The kitchen was filled with the smell of chicken frying in the skillet. "Have a seat guys. As soon as I make some gravy out of the chicken drippings, we'll be ready."

Ely pulled out a pair of folding chairs and set them at the table, so everyone had a place to sit. On the table was a platter of friend rooster, a bowl of steamed rice, a pitcher of cream gravy and some ears of sweetcorn. "Is iced tea OK for everybody?" Bobby asked.

When they sat down, George noticed that something was missing. "I should have made a salad," he said.

"There's plenty to eat," Bobby assured him. "You were busy at the barn, and I forgot about it. Let's eat so you can tell us what you think about our project."

Watne looked at Daniel, and they nodded to each other. "If you move the goats outside and shift the laying boxes to the other side of the barn we can lay out a good milking area for up to forty cows. Any more than that and you will need to add on to the barn," Wayne suggested. "We have a source for used lumber that has been salvaged from construction sites. The main expense will be the concrete slab and the wiring and plumbing for the milking machines. Your distributor might know of a good deal on that. We'll try and get a layout and rough cost estimate ready for you by next Saturday. How does that sound?"

"Sounds to me like you boys know what you're doing," Ely smiled broadly "Let's see what you come up with next weekend. I'll have to see about financing all this. The Farm Bureau might be able to help, and there is always the bank. I don't have any debt so I should have decent credit. This is a gamble, but I've wanted to do something like this for years. I reckon this is as good a time as any to expand. We appreciate your help in this, Sam. Wayne and Daniel are smart boys and will keep us out of trouble. Bobby and George are good helpers and so am I. Looks like we're ready."

Sam grinned, "Thank you for your confidence in us, Ely. This will make a top-notch senior project for Wayne and Daniel and hopefully will set you up for a more profitable operation. We'll try to be ready by next weekend." Sam helped himself to another piece of Bobby's fried chicken. "We'll probably come out at about the same time if that's alright."

"I think that will work," Ely said. "Now, Bobby. Is there any pie today?"

"Coming up," Bobby said and slid another apple pie on the table.

"Oh, my," Sam clapped his hands. "You keep feeding us like this, and we'll be out here every weekend."

Bobby smiled, "That's the idea."

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