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Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Curve

Wade Harmon died Saturday, driving his John Deere eastward on the back forty. The tractor idled until it ran out of fuel, and when he didn't come in for lunch, Mavis walked outside and saw it, green and yellow standing out against the long, brown prairie furrows.
She ran to him, but there was no diesel left in the tank with which to carry him home.
My Betty went to their house the next morning with egg-and-bacon casserole and fresh biscuits.  They'd laid Wade out in the parlor on a cooling board, the old timey way, in a suit and white shirt, shined shoes and tie.
The next afternoon, people gathered at the graveside to speak of all the ways that Wade had touched their lives. Back in the '60s, Wade had rounded up all the family farmers and started  Kansas' first  co-op. In those days, we all believed that the communal way of sharing would keep us safe from the long reach of Con-Agra and Archer Daniels Midland, those agribusiness giants spreading across the heartland like a cancer, squeezing the little guy out.
Later, folks gathered back at Harmon's farm, some to eat, others to stand by the tractor shed with flasks and tell more stories.   Trevor, Wade's eldest, walked me down the rows of spring wheat -- freshly green and hopeful -- to the spot where Wade had died.
Grief has a steep curve, and each of us  -- sons, wives, best friends -- has to climb that curve somehow and make it down the other side. 
We talked until the light was gone, talked about who would harvest the crop, about Mavis' future, about tractors and ethanol and prices of corn, two men on a patch of ground, navigating the curve of grief the best we could while whipoorwills sang their dirge and the stars leaned down a little closer.

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