Westcott Family Farm
Copyright© 2021 – Nicholas Hall
“My lovely living boy,
My hope, my hap, my love,
My life, my joy”
(Guillaume de Salluste, Seigneur Du Bartas)
Janet sat quietly at the table, sipping on an ice tea I’d fixed her and nibbling on a protein snack Andy wanted her to have plus the protein drink she’d have mid-afternoon, as I worked preparing lunch and dinner. The pork roast went into the Nesco along with carrots, onions, and potatoes (eschewing the frozen mixed vegetables I’d originally planned).
The minute steaks, covered with a couple of cans of mushroom soup, went into the oven. I had a container of fresh mushrooms in the refrigerator I’d add to the dish about fifteen minutes before serving. Topping each steak with the mushrooms and slices of swiss cheese I also had in the refrigerator would make perfect mushroom/swiss sandwiches for lunch. Along with some frozen French fry’s I’d slip in the oven, milk, and canned fruit cocktail should be enough for the boys to have for lunch. Janet assured me her boys were not picky eaters and would eat almost anything placed before them.
Mattie wasn’t far from his mother’s side the entire time I worked about in the kitchen. He did, however keep a constant vigilant eye on me, assuring himself of my presence. Lunch in the oven, dinner in the Nesco, I poured myself a glass of ice tea and joined my sister at the table.
“There,” I concluded, “lunch taken care of, dinner, and sandwich meat for tomorrow when I’m gone. Andy has to work so I’ll have to sort out which of the boys will be around for you.”
“Jacob,” she snorted, mildly upset and angry, “I’m not dead yet. I can manage just fine. Robbie will be working and Mattie and someone else will be with you, so it’ll be just fine. Don’t worry so much.”
She was right, but it still didn’t stop me from fussing. Mattie looked at me, smiled his sweet reassuring smile, acknowledging his mother was still capable, yet, of managing his brothers.
“Jacob,” she asked after taking another sip of tea, “can you afford all of this- you know, having the boys and all? They’ll need college and stuff later on. I wasn’t certain how I’d do it, but I’d have tried my damnedest, but now, well, I just can’t and won’t be around to see it, much less high school graduation.”
I saw Mattie’s eyes mist over, but the little trooper didn’t cry out loud. I hesitated in responding to her question. Not because I was fearful of providing it nor did I think Janet would find it unsatisfactory or unfair, but Mattie was there and I wondered about the advisability of sharing it with her and him. I was more concerned with the tone of finality it’d have concerning the provisions I’d made just a few years ago. Dad, when he died, left the farm to Mom and when she passed away, Janet and I inherited the entire estate on an equal share’s basis, including the net profits. I’d been salaried ever since I came home to work and as the years progressed, so did my salary. Between Andy and me, our combined personal incomes were comfortably in the six figures.
“Yes, Janet, we can. I don’t just mean Andy and me, but you as well. Mom hasn’t been dead that long, but she left the farm to both of us.”
I let that fact register with her before I continued.
“I’m salaried by the farm and it’s a good wage, higher than many people in the area make. You and I share the net profit from the farm each year. The cash flow on the farm is great. We’ve had some good years and some not so good years, but recently they’ve been very good. I keep a cash reserve to provide for cash flow during the unproductive months and enough to carry us through three bad years if necessary so our bank balance is excellent as well as our credit line.”
“In order to hold down taxes and not show too high an income from the farm, I’ve invested in new equipment, buildings, and other capital project, trying to make the farm more efficient and productive. It takes a bundle just to put the crops in the ground, care for them, harvest, and then market the produce. As you know, the work is very labor-intensive necessitating hiring some large crews of seasonal workers. Most come from local sources, including the university and high schools. At some point, I think we may have to add a small permanent crew, including a foreman, but I’m not ready to take that step yet. Personnel costs are a significant outlay of our operation. The entire operation has grown tremendously since you left home. I’ve expanded the markets and contracts for our produce.”
Operations on the Farm changed significantly since Janet left home so many years before. No longer did we start our own plants from seed in our greenhouses. We used the greenhouses to bring the thousands of seedling plants I purchased from dealers to planting size, transplanting them in the spring at times optimal for harvest and after the last frost, hopefully. I hired part-time help, usually retired individuals or folks who only wanted some part-time work to supplement their income or give themselves some extra spending money. It worked well for me since there was a ready labor market in the area and at the university. My employees were loyal and returned year after year, except those at the university who moved on.
Most crops were hand planted, using a tow-behind planter which plowed a small furrow and then covered it, after an employee sitting on the planter extracted a plant from a flat, inserted it in the furrow. We used three UTV’s for pulling the planters, some harvesting, and for general transportation around the farm. The tractors we had we used for plowing and preparing the planting beds as well as cutting, baling, and hauling hay and straw. Planting field corn, oats, sweet corn, combining field corn and oats, and planting and harvesting potatoes were all by custom services. It was more economical, but less profitable, for me to have this done rather than own the expensive equipment to do the job. The contractors also furnished the trucks to haul the field corn, oats, and potatoes to market sources for me. Again, it reduced my net profit, but well worth it.
Livestock was on the Farm for a purpose; to help rid us of excess produce through feeding, provide nutrients for the fields, and some income to the Farm, as well as personal use of the meat. I generally didn’t keep hogs through the winter. I purchased feeder pigs in the spring and marketed them in late fall. Beef cattle were purchased as feeder calves, pastured and fed supplemental feed, put to work in the field corn and sweet corn fields after harvest, and marketed when they reached an optimal weight, generally before I purchased the next herd in the spring.
The asparagus, the first crop to be harvested each year, was harvested by my part-time help. The people working the field were older, experienced, and damned good, knowing what size spears were marketable, cutting them properly, and boxing as they cut. The harvest generally lasted three weeks or so, depending on the weather, before I fertilized the crop ground and let it grow for another year. The work wasn’t easy and hard on the back, so I really cut some slack for break times, providing hot coffee, snacks, soda, and water. I also paid per hour, but it was on a “draw plus commission basis.” I paid, in addition to the hourly, a bonus for each pound harvested each day. Again, it cut my net profit margin to between seven and ten percent of the gross sales, but it was well worth it. Most of the crop was sold by contract off site and was a very lucrative part of our Farm income.
Potatoes, generally white except when processors wanted some reds, in the fall, were sold to processors and the culls (ones not acceptable to the processor) were bagged into fifty pound sacks with our name and logo on them. I did raise about ten acres of reds and the same of yellows or goldens for sale from the Farm. The processor also bagged these for me. These potatoes were sold from our “potato” trucks I sent to key locations in the fall for sale to the general public. I advertised the location, sent the trucks, and generally sold out within a month. I carried no inventory over in winter storage. If there were some left, it went to food pantries, schools or the university, and meal sites. It not only provided meals but was an excellent tax right-off. I did the same with other summer vegetables as well.
Most of the fruits, such as apples, plums, pears, peaches, nectarines, cherries, apricots, and blueberries were trucked in, along with early crops of vegetables not available from the Farm until later. This meant canning tomatoes, melons, zucchini, squash. Cauliflower, cabbage, and other items were also trucked in during the early summer. All the trucked in produce was clearly marked with place of origin. When our crops were ready, we stopped trucking in much, except for fruit since we didn’t grow any. Generally, I hoped for a net profit of between twenty and thirty percent for produce I trucked in. I offset some of the costs by shipping and providing at auction our own, such as strawberries, potatoes, pumpkins, squash, Cauliflower, some asparagus, and sweet corn.
Again, I paused, expecting some questions from her, but none were forthcoming. Mattie, however, seemed to be absorbing every word I said, sorting it all out and committing it to his memory.
I explained to her the provisions of the will, the thousand dollars to her, and the fact I invested it for her. I did explain how, before Mom died, I convinced her to make her a beneficiary as half owner of the Farm should she return home within ten years of Mom’s death. I just didn’t think it was fair Janet received so little and I received so much.
“I instructed our attorney to establish a trust account in your name with me as the trustee and beneficiary, where we could deposit your share of the net profits of the Farm. Since I couldn’t find you or heard from you, I didn’t know if you were alive or dead, but hoped you were alive to claim the trust. If not, it’d go to me. As of now, you are part owner in the Farm and have a sizeable trust in your name.”
“Alive for the time being,” she said wryly.
“The money is yours anytime you want it or need it. Although living here with us now, even knowing what we do, you really don’t need it. Andy and I, along with the Farm, can comfortably handle the financial obligations concerning your health care and, yes, even the funeral costs.”
Janet looked at Mattie, sad in the face, tucked up tight to his mother, turned her eyes toward me, pleading, “What do you think I should do, Jake?”
“How about having our attorney set up an educational trust for your sons to be used for post high school education? Your share of the farm, if you put it in your will so it won’t end up intestate, will go to the boys. If something happens to me, my will and the fact we’re married, gives my share to Andy.
Janet nodded her approval, but hesitated.
“What?” I asked.
“I didn’t know about the farm so when I met with the attorney, I didn’t mention it.”
“No problem; give him a call after lunch and take care of it, okay?”
Janet sighed, shoulders sort of slumped, bringing an arm around her by Mattie.
“It’s just going to be so damned tough leaving the boys,” she said softly, sadly.
She knew very well Andy and I’d do our level best to raise her sons as our own, but still the thought of dying wasn’t easy since it meant leaving the ones she loved. I didn’t need to remind her of any of that. Instead, I chose, through tear filled eyes, a lump in my throat, and with a heart aching, “Janet, you’ll really never ‘leave’ your sons. Part of you lives in each one and every time I look at one of them or they look at each other, they’ll see something of you.”
We both sat quietly, understanding our future- me without my sister, her sons living here where she wanted, and her in the graveyard next to mom and dad. A low, groaning sob from Mattie brought us back to the reality of a situation, reminding us of a boy and five of his brothers who’d have a difficult time dealing with and reconciling the death of their mother. Although they knew it was going to happen, they still tried their best to deny the inevitable.
I stepped forward, wrapped Janet and Mattie in my arms and we had a good cry. The sounds of the truck rumbling down the lane from the county road to the house caught our attention. Mattie and I walked out to the porch in time to see the truck stop in front of the house and Scottie, Eddie, and Jamie bound out of the back, giggling, laughing, and chattering like magpies.
Andy and Davey emerged from the cab of the truck and headed toward me.
“Where did you find those three?” I asked flipping my thumb to the others.
“Walking down the lane toward the house,” laughed Andy.
“With our peckers hanging out,” hooted Eddie.
“Yeah,” roared Jamie. “We were trolling!”
Oh my god, life was going to more than just interesting with the six Westcott boys.
“Hold up guys,” Andy shouted. “We need to unload the truck and get the bedroom stuff upstairs.”
Andy and I started carrying the mattresses, Davey and Scottie started on the desks and dressers, Eddie and Mattie began unloading and carrying bed frames and headboards, while Jamie hauled sheets and blankets.
“We’ll put this together after lunch,” I announced.
“Oops,” commented Andy. “I forgot something. Left it in the truck.”
He brought forth a plastic bag and handed it to Mattie.
Mattie peered inside, began to laugh and dance around in a happy dance, thrust his hand inside and pulled forth a package of batteries for his CD player and a new CD by Lang Lang. Happiness for him was music. Uncle Andy got a big hug and a kiss. Such a happy boy!
The mushroom/swiss steaks were a great hit. After we cleaned up, Andy and I carried Janet up the stairs so she would be there as we reassembled the beds, positioned the dressers and desks, and made the beds up for occupancy that evening. The boys were great help and really excited about having their own beds. The only one not there was Robbie, now working, but would be home soon. The first thing Mattie did when the bedrooms were done was flop down on his, put new batteries into his CD player and listen to his new CD.
Andy and I carried Janet back down stairs so she could rest. She was seated in an easy chair, sort of dozing, so we headed back up the stairs. I heard the front door open and started down the stairs, assuming it was Robbie coming home from work. Stopping half way down, I overheard him telling his mother about his first day of work.
“It’s a real job Mom,” he said excitedly. “Uncle Jacob let me go to work with the field crew and we moved beef cattle to a new pasture.” He stopped for a minute before adding, “I really like working with the livestock and so does Paulie.”
“Who, eldest son, is Paulie?”
“He’s my age, works on the crew, and is ever so nice.”
“That may be, Robbie, but be careful. Be certain before you become totally and completely involved with him. How do you know he’s like you?”
“His eyes, Mom, his eyes. Every gay boy knows to look there.”
Robbie said some other things I couldn’t quite understand, but Janet responded, “I’m so pleased you like the work and living here. It’ll give you and your brothers a chance to earn a respectable living rather than the way I did.”
“But you had us to take care of Mom,” Robbie pleaded. “You loved us and we love you so it was okay.”
“I know, but it’s better we’re here. You and your brothers stick close to your Uncle Jacob. He’ll take good care of you and you can learn a lot from him.
Robbie mad some muted comments. Janet hushed him, “I know, but don’t cry my sweet, loving, oldest son. It’ll all be fine and maybe you won’t have to worry so much about the little ones, okay? Now, go clean up, you stink of dirt, sweat, and cow shit.”
It was a good time for me to make my presence known.
“Robbie, is that you? If so, give your brothers a shout. I’ll show you all how to take care of the hogs before you clean up.”
“Oh, the old swimmin’ hole!
When I last saw the place, the scenes was all changed like the change in my face.”
(James Whitcomb Riley)
I rounded up my nephews, told Janet we were on our way to the pig pens, to which she wrinkled up her nose in disgust, and made no further comments. By the look on her face, I knew she was repulsed by the pungent smell when she and I had to feed and water the critters. She just couldn’t have been as maligned as I thought I was at having to clean the chicken house each spring. If she thought pig shit stunk, I thought chicken shit was much worse.
Nephews trooping behind me, we arrived at the hog yard (pig pen). I pointed out to the boys I bought mixed breeds of, forty pound or so, feeder pigs. Since the breeds were mixed and I wasn’t picky except for price, they were relatively cheap. We had a dozen this year.
I explained we fed them commercial hog feed and dated (not saleable) produce from the gardens at the farm and left over from the vegetable and fruit stands, except for that we donated to the various soup kitchens and food pantry’s. The hogs were sold whenever they reached around two hundred pounds in the fall or if not, before winter set in. I didn’t carry any over from year to year. We’d also turn them loose in the sweet corn and field corn fields after harvest if we hadn’t sold them yet. They’d share the picked fields with the beef cattle we had.
Pointing out the automatic waters and feeders, I explained we had to check them each day to make certain the waterers were working properly and the feeders filled with commercial feed. The one-sided feeders were located along the fence line on one side of the pen, unlike when I was younger. Then, the feeders were located in the hog yard and I had to go into the yard to fill them. The pigs would jostle you and root at you while you tried to fill the feeders.
I made the change to filling the feeders from the outside by locating feeders along the fence after I read of some farmer in Iowa falling down in his hog yard and the pigs proceeded to chew him up, leaving bones and pieces of him laying about or human DNA in pig shit all over the hog yard.
The bags of feed for the hogs were in the small livestock barn along with commercial feed for the cattle. We also kept all of our supplies and equipment there as well. Once the boys were more familiar with the farm and our operations, I told them I’d show them how to operate the ATV’s and one of the small tractors to use in hauling feed or other items in the wagons and trailers we had. In the meantime, we’d use five gallon buckets, filled to appropriate levels for each boy to carry, to transport feed to the feeders.
Eddie was the first to notice the three foot by four foot plywood panels hanging on hook on the side of the storage room.
“What are those pieces of wood with the hole in them used for?”
“If,” I explained, “you have to go into the hog pen for any reason, you use one of those to keep the pigs from getting at you.” Taking one down, I demonstrated, holding the panel using my hand in the hole, how it could be used to keep a pig from getting close to you by using the panel as a barrier. By keeping it between you and the pigs you would be safer than not having it.
“Why?” James asked.
So, I told them the story of the Iowa farmer.
“No shit!” David gasped.
“Yep! Right down to the scraps!”
I could see the wheels turning in each of my six nephews. Finally, Robbie declared in his authoritative older brother voice, “Nobody goes to the hog pen alone to feed the pigs! Understand?”
His brothers all nodded, eyes wide as we walked backed, carrying buckets of feed, to the hog pen. The boys were really cautious filling the feeders, keeping their eyes on the hogs as they did so. Didn’t hurt them one bit to be over cautious. A dozen pigs could make short work of a small boy.
Scottie, looking the pigs over carefully, asked, “Are they boy or girl pigs, cause some look like they have a dick?”
He frowned in thought before, humping his hips back and forth in an obvious gesture, “Don’t they ever try to ….you know?”
“If they do, it won’t do any good. The males are castrated, you know have their balls cut off when younger, and are called barrows. The females are called gilts.”
As I spoke, six pairs of hands automatically reached for their crotches, evidently trying to reassure themselves they were still intact or in chagrin thinking of losing the family jewels.
“They stink!” declared James and smelling his shirt, “We do too!”
Chores done, we trooped back to the house. Janet was sitting on the porch enjoying the late afternoon sun when we arrived. Her greeting to her sons was simply, “You stink! Go clean up!”
“Pig shit sure do stink, Mam,” declared Jamie, imitating Mr. Sickles, “but Uncle Jacob declared, breathe deep and enjoy, that’s money you smell!”
Where the hell he heard that, I have no idea!
The boys just started to obey their mother, when I announced, “We’re going to the lake to swim. That’ll take some of the stink off.”
“We don’t have suits!” David responded.
“Don’t need them; we’ll skinny-dip.”
“Do that mean what I think it do?” Jamie asked in his Sickles accent.
“It do; bare-assed naked.”
“With our peckers flopping around like popcorn in a pan?”
“Maybe me,” interjected Davey, “but you,” pointing at Jamie, “will just sort of wriggle like a worm. Now, Mattie, that baby will just swing like a pendulum.”
“Enough!” I said, “Get ready.”
A shout of from the rest of them signified their excitement, but was halted when their mother ordered, “Put on shorts and tennis shoes to wear going to and from the lake. I’ll not have you running down the lane advertising your better parts or stepping on a nail or something soft and squishy.”
“Like what soft and squishy?” quizzed Scottie.
“Like bear shit!” she laughed.
“Bear?” he squeaked.
“Around here?” asked Jamie, eyes wide.
“Janet,” cautioned, “we haven’t seen a bear around here in years. Don’t worry about it boys, just get something to cover up with and a towel to dry your butts with.”
Feet pounded into the house and up the stairs, all except Robbie.
“Uncle Jacob,” he asked, “Can Paul Boyer come with us? He has to wait for his grandmother to come and pick him up and he’s waiting down at the office.”
I nodded my approval and Robbie raced off to the office to inform his new friend. It wouldn’t be the last time Paul would join us, especially now since his grandmother would be starting work on the next Monday.
As the boys were getting naked and dressed in shorts, Janet and I waited on the porch.
“Jake,” she asked, “would it be okay if I came along? I’d like to enjoy the lake while I can. I’ll wear a shirt and shorts. I don’t really want the boys to see how thin I’ve gotten.”
“The water is pretty cold, Sis, so I wouldn’t advise going for a swim.”
“I know, I remember only too well. I just really want to sit on the beach, soak in the sun, maybe get my feet wet, and enjoy the view. You know how pretty the lake is, so relaxing and so comforting.”
She was so right! There’s something about the water, the expanse of the lake, the gentle lapping of waves against the shore, and today for her, her sons enjoying the water as we did when we were kids.
Janet headed toward her bedroom to change. Feet thumping down the stairs, giggles and shouts, announced the arrival of my nephews, sans Robbie, excited to doing something “naughty” so they thought. Skinny-dipping wasn’t all that unusual at Wescott Farms, but it was new to them.
Robbie and Paul Boyer arrived about the same time and I detoured them from accompanying the rest of us, asking them to help Janet to the beach.
“It’ll give you the opportunity to introduce Paul to your Mother,” I advised Robbie.
Robbie smiled at my suggestion and nodded his approval. The way he looked at Paul, there was no doubt in my mind, my oldest nephew was smitten with Paul Boyer. Paul didn’t appear to be backing away from it either.
We were just off of the porch on our way to the lake, when Janet stepped out onto the porch and I overheard her ask, “Robbie, who is this handsome young man in your company?”
Mattie had my hand in his, swinging our arms as he sort of skipped as we walked. Eddie and Jamie were on my other side chatting like a couple of excited chipmunks spotting a bowl of peanuts.
Lakeside, I stopped my crew before they entered the water.
“There’s a few rules we follow around here. No one swims alone! If there’s lightning, leave the lake and head for the house. No diving from the dock; jumping feet first is okay. If you’re under twelve, whether you can swim or not, an adult or one of the college workers must be with you. Enjoy yourselves, respect the water, and watch out for each other.”
I knew the younger ones would wait for either Andy or me to take them, but knowing boys will be boys, I needed to caution them. I didn’t think Robbie or Davey would take unnecessary chances, but I’d only known them for a couple of days. Only time would tell.
There was some hesitation by the boys in dropping their drawers, but when I kicked off my shoes and stripped myself to my natural state and started for the water, my nephews followed suit. As a group, their forward motion into the lake water stopped at varying depths, regulated by their height, when the cold water reached their balls!
Jamie and Eddie, since they were the youngest and shortest, suffered the impact first. Their mouths opened, their eyebrows shot up in surprise, tummies sucked up as tight as they could, and yelps of “It’s cold” and “freezin’ my balls off!” cascaded from their mouths and out into the lake air.
Mattie, on the other hand, was a quick study, stopping knee deep in the water, watching his brother’s reaction, and waited for me to come along side of him. He started to shiver, not so much from the cool water, but anticipation what he thought it might feel like given his brother’s rather descriptive and expletive remarks.
I took his hand and slowly walked with him into the water. When the water just started to tickle the end of his cock and he could no longer stand on his tip-toes without full contact, he reached up, clasped me around the neck, and pulled himself up to my waist, where he promptly wrapped his leg around me, securing himself, he thought, to safety. He was wrong!
I continued walking, carrying him with me. Even when I waded to belly deep on me and his precious jewels were fully submerged, he made not a sound, except for taking a real deep breath!
“Cold isn’t it, Mattie?”
He nodded and gave me a questioning look.
“No, Mattie, it’s not like this all summer, but it’ll be cooler than a public pool or lakes you may have experienced down south.”
Slowly, slowly, he slipped down my side, releasing first his legs, then his hands, until his feet were securely on the lake’s sandy bottom. He stood for just a minute or so before joining his brothers.
The four of them stood, hesitating, trying to decide what to do in such a large body of cool water. The slapping of bare feet on the dock and a shout by a voice, not Robbie’s, declared, “The last one in the water is a Fat Republican” and a naked body catapulted off of the end of the dock in a cannonball, swooshing water in all directions. He was followed by a second naked body, this time Robbie, screeching, “AM NOT!” launching himself into the water in a similar manner, again geysering water around and all over.
I turned quickly to check if Robbie delivered his mother and saw her sitting on one of the park benches we had near the beach, smile on her face.
Paul and Robbie’s antics were all it took to start the fun and all hesitancy on the part of the rest of the boys vanished. Climbing up on the dock and jumping in, the shorter, younger ones nearer to the shore than Robbie, Paul, and Davey, the laughter, shouts of joy, and actions of the boys brought smiles and laughs to my face and to their mother’s.
Wrapping a towel around my waist, I joined my sister on the bench.
“Fun to watch, aren’t they?” she remarked as her sons romped in the water. “I’ve enjoyed them so much over their short lives, from the time they were born until now and every day I have left.”
Her remarks and the look on her face bespoke of the intense love she felt for her sons.
“I’m so happy I came home, Jacob, and thankful you took us in. My sons will have a good home!”
Choked up, I could do little else by nod and give her a reassuring hug. We sat quietly enjoying each other’s company, and watching the boys. Janet finally asked, “Jacob, would you take me for a walk to the beach so I can wade in the lake?”
Securing her arm in mine, I assisted her when she rose from the bench and held it while we walked to the lake and stepped in. From the corner of my eye, I noticed Robbie give a tilt of his head and a flick of his finger to Davey, who immediately left the play and slowly moved toward where we’d stepped into the water. He stayed in the lake, but also stayed behind us, ready to help if necessary.
“You know, Jacob,” Janet said reflectively, water to mid-calf, “I made one hell of a lot of bad choices in my life, but I don’t regret making the choice to come home or in keeping each of my beautiful boys. They’ve brought so much pleasure and comfort to me over the years. No matter how tired I was or sore from too many tricks or if one was particularly rough, I could always count on the boys to pick me up with hugs, kisses, and listening to their happy chatter having me home.”
What could I say other than swallow back tears and nod my understanding.
“I’ve been so fortunate,” she continued, “and gratified you and Adam will raise my sons as your own.”
We walked together, each of us deep in our own thoughts, unspoken words of sorrow and of joy, of being reunited. Janet was my twin, shared the womb with each other, lived our early years together, and now, being together at her life’s end! It was hard to take, but she helped me accept the inevitable. I didn’t like the outcome of this particular act in the play of life, but I had no choice. The lines were written and now we must see it to the end.
“I’d hoped,” she expressed with regret, “to be able to see the boys off to their first day of school here at home, walk with them to the end of the lane to put them on the school bus, and to be there when they came home.”
“Remember,” she reminisced, “when Mom met us with a hug and a small treat bag for each of us? Usually cookies.”
I laughed aloud since I remembered it well! “Yeah, you’d always eat all of yours before we walked half-way up the lane and then want one of mine.”
“You always shared it with me too. Never complained, just gave it to me. I thought, at the time, you always saved one back for me.”
“I have to confess,” I responded, “Mom always put an extra one in my bag since she knew you’d ask.”
“I’ll be damned!” she laughed.
“You might make it to school starting in the fall, Janet.”
“I don’t think so, Jake, if the doctors are right. I’ll be lucky to make to the first of August.”
Again, silence settled over our conversation, as we turned to walk back to the bench. Davey made a not too subtle abrupt turn as well.
“Shadow?” Janet asked.
No sooner had I settled her back on the bench to rest before I asked someone to take her back to the house, when Mattie came scrambling out of the water heading toward me. The way he walked, legs spread as wide as he could and still walk, and the desperate, anxious expression on his face, alerted me something was amiss!
He stopped n front of me, spread his legs wider, and slowly, hesitantly pointed down to his crotch, specifically to a place on the inside of his right thigh, about three inches below the juncture, and an inch or two from his balls and cock, depending on how he stood, where a small, black, wiggly, aquatic worm-like creature was attached.
Mattie looked absolutely horrified! His hasty and abrupt departure from the water and play with his brothers, attracted an audience, all eager to see what type of creature was secured to his inner thigh. The only one not particularly fascinated was Paul who declared, “It’s just a leech,” and reaching over between Mattie’s legs, plucked the creature off. Fortunately, the leech was not well attached, so only a small red spot remained. As surprised as Mattie was by Paul’s action, it didn’t stop him from grabbing Paul’s arm before the leech was discarded so he could inspect it.
“Lesson time,” I thought and proceeded to tell them what it was, how it lived, what it fed on, and how to remove them, after reassuring the group there was no danger from them.
“Fish love them,” proclaimed Paul. “Especially walleye!”
That may be, but there was no love for leeches as far as Mattie was concerned. He decided to sit on the bench with his mother and me.
“Your Uncle Jacob had one stuck to him when he was about your age,” Janet commented, attempting to relieve any anxiety on Mattie’s part. “Stuck tight, right at the base of his dick. He was so petrified and afraid of it, he made me pull it off. Squealed like a castrated pig when I did. So loud, it brought your Grandmother Walcott to the porch. I suppose she thought I was in the process of butchering my twin brother.”
Mattie laughed aloud, looking at me questioningly.
“Yep, Mattie. It really happened,” I said, adding, “we’ll put some first aid cream on the spot when we get back to the house.”
“The buyer needs a hundred eyes, the seller not one.”
[Jacula Prudentum 390]
Mattie rested, dozing peacefully on the seat of the large refrigerated truck I was driving, between Davey and me. I’d thought Davey may have slept as well, but he’d been awake ever since we left the farm around four in the morning.
Dave, as I discovered he preferred to be called since he announced he’s be a teenager, all of thirteen, in a couple of months, was a quiet, pleasant companion, saying little by nature rather than by choice, studious, inquisitive, intelligent, and the real scholar of the bunch. Probably not as intelligent as I thought Mattie was, but still no slouch either. For that matter, all six of my nephews seemed above average in intelligence and certainly outstanding as far as looks were concerned. Perhaps, it is just pride on my part, but so what!
Dave’s main intellectual interests seemed to be mathematics and science. I learned when his brothers had problems with math homework, Dave was the one they went to. If they had science projects to work on, Dave’s help was enlisted as well. He was patient with his brothers and seemed to enjoy the challenges of each and every project. I was surprised when I discovered he was most anxious to take this road trip with me. It didn’t take much for me to decide to add him, along with Mattie, to my crew for the day.
He appeared most anxious to take the trip with me to our wholesaler. The few questions he asked were pertinent to our business, but most surprising to me was his interest in the business portion such as determining how much to purchase, what the right price would be for making a profit, what might constitute a bargain, and what sort of profit did I hope to make.
I explained I used last year’s records, keep meticulously by Mrs. Jenkins our bookkeeper, which products sold well, the cost, the markup figures I used to determine my selling price, and quantity purchased for resale; all of this in relation to my overhead, the cost of doing business.
“I try,” I said, “to average a twenty to thirty percent net on all produce I truck in so it means keeping my costs as low as possible and moving the produce as quickly as possible. That’s called rapid turnover and ensures fresh produce in our markets.”
When it came to quality of the produce I purchased, all I could say was to pay close attention as I examined each “lot” for sale.
“Much comes from years of experience. Determining quality is more than just looks, although that is important, but taste, possible shelf life, and ripeness or lack of it, are just a few of the many things I consider.”
Mattie was awake when we stopped for breakfast. The wholesale warehouse opened at seven and I like to be there when it opened.
“Eat up, guys,” I advised as we sat down at a table. “I understand the warehouse is short of help today so we will have to help load what we buy. Always eat before you shop. You’ll use your head instead of your stomach to make wiser purchases and less.”
I paid the bill with our credit card, but asked for a receipt as well. Dave, watching me closely, as I recorded the expenditure in a small ledger book I kept in my briefcase. I looked up, noticing his interest and simply said, “Always keep good records, guys. Good books make good business and helps the bottom line.”
We arrived at the warehouse about ten minutes before opening. I opened my briefcase and took out a clipboard and a hand-held electronic calculator. Mattie looked at me questioningly while Dave asked outright, “What are those for?”
I showed them the paper on the clipboard. I explained it was a print version of produce items Mrs. Jenkins prepared for me each time I sought out items for purchase at the wholesale house.
“My main purchase items today are the #1 (table) Tomatoes, and #2 (canning) Tomatoes. I know these items are from out of state and according to the wholesaler’s flyer, he has an abundant supply of them.”
I showed them how she listed the various items purchased the year before, the price we paid, the retail price we charged, net markup, length of time to sell, and profit on the item. The list also included the most recent retail market price charged in local stores and markets.
“I try to keep our market price below the current retail prices in town. The local retail price is what I call my upper target price to charge, so I try to keep it slightly lower. I can quickly calculate my cost per unit, mark it up, and see how it compares to the local prices. If I have to lower the price to stay within my markup range, I do, although I’m also quick to not make a purchase if it falls below that range. I don’t like to lose money.”
Mrs. Jenkins has several retired folks, who work for us seasonally, who willingly seek out retail prices of comparable produce in the local stores and keep her up to date. We don’t pay them for this but they do receive a one hundred dollar bank gift card on their birthdays and special monetary gifts at Christmas.
“Couldn’t you put all of this on your Smart phone?” David inquired.
“I do, but I also like a paper copy, sort of hands-on method as well. I guess I’m just old-fashioned that way. I think it keeps me from making foolish or non-profitable decisions.”
“Good records make good business and money!” David remarked with a wide smile.
Mattie just sort of digested all of this, much like his breakfast earlier. He certainly belonged to the clean plate club I noticed as he ate. The more I thought on it, the more I realized a sit-down breakfast in a restaurant for both of the boys was probably a real treat. I didn’t imagine it happened very often in their young lives.
The twenty-six foot “reefer” was the larger of the two refrigerator trucks we used on the farm. I decided I’d need it this trip, given the sale bill my distributor sent to me and posted on line. I intended to pick up a goodly number of Number One and Number Two (canner) tomatoes and blueberries as well as some other fruit shipped in from down south, and an assorted number of vegetables. I wanted to look at his peppers, cauliflower, radishes, lettuce, carrots, and green onions for a starter. What else I might purchase depended on what I thought would sell or really a bargain.
We were met at the door by a sales clerk (Customer Service Representative aka-CSR) who’d accompany us as we perused and shopped out way through the rows of produce Using an electronic hand-held order pad, he scanned in my customer account number, automatically opening my “shopping cart.” It’d record items, quantity, price of the purchase, adjust the warehouse availability inventory, and notify the Order Fulfillment Crew (OFC) to begin assembling my purchases near the loading dock.
Reaching the tomatoes, I opened a box, they came in twenty-five pound boxes, took one out, and examined it carefully. Motioning the boys closer, I pointed out the uniform size, the nice bright color, and the firmness of the fruit.
“Notice how bright and inviting the color is? The fruit is not too firm, being underripe, or soft, indicating over-ripeness, so it’ll keep well. Smell it,” I instructed, “notice it has a fresh, tomato smell and pleasant.”
I pulled out my pocket knife, selected a tomato from the box marked “samples,” chose one and sliced it in half. I cut a slice for each of us and invited the boys to taste. The tomato had a sweet yet slightly acid taste, didn’t hang heavily on the palate, and a fresh from the garden flavor.
“Ordinarily, I like to sell out all of our Thursday purchases by the next Wednesday. If need be, I could hold these over until the second weekend without too much deterioration in quality. Tomatoes continue to ripen after picking so we have to watch them closely.”
The #2’s were irregular in size, shape, and color, although none were underripe. Perfect for canning, or eating for that matter. I ordered the same amount as the year before. I explained to the boys we’d have plenty of opportunity to make tomatoes available again several times throughout the summer.
The blueberries were packed in cello-wrapped one quart containers in twenty-five pound lugs (boxes), helping to preserve the quality and reducing my labor costs. They were firm, good dark blue color, popped when squeezed, and had a strong sweet, juicy blueberry taste when eaten. I ordered the same as the year before.
“I’ll sell these out fast,” I noted to the boys.
There were some early Georgia peaches and nectarines available. The early fruit was a little firm, with some greening around the stems of the peaches, but would ripen to a point, and then turn pithy. They didn’t have that “juice running down your chin” quality, but would do for canning. I ordered slightly fewer than the year before, again noting to the boys better quality would be here later in the season.
I bought several lugs of cherries. They were dark red, multi-purpose cherries, good for pies and not bad for eating or sauces.
Vegetables were next. The green beans had a nice green color, all about six to seven inches long, firm pods with well-developed seed inside, and “snapped” when broken. They were in bulk, thirty pounds to the case. I ordered the same as the year before.
Cauliflower is always popular and we stopped raising it several years before.
“Boys,” I said picking up a head, “notice how white and firm the head is. There’s no browning on the top or black spots visible, the leaves, although trimmed are still firm, the fleurettes or flowerheads are tight and firm.”
I ordered a little more than the year before. The sweet bell peppers, red and green, were nicely sized, firm, no wrinkles, and when tasted, had that sweet, fresh, pepper taste and “snapped” when a strip was bitten into. I ordered the same as the year before. The radishes were bundled in one pound bundles, but I ordered less than the year before. They sometimes sold well and sometimes didn’t. I passed on the green onions.
In less than two hours we were done and ready to load. The warehouse would tally my bill and present it at the dock. I’d pay with a check before I could load. I backed out truck up the loading dock and a forklift operator began moving pallets of produce to it. Fortunately, there was a young man there to assist us as well. The forklift was able to drive into the truck, settle the pallets, two high as I slid sheets of three-quarter inch plywood over one layer so the weight wouldn’t damage the layer underneath.
When our purchase was all loaded, I asked the dock foreman if he had any tomatoes, peppers, or onions which were unsalable. He was aware I generally picked up such produce and distributed it among the food pantries or free meal sites. This time, I had a church group, who ministered to the needs of the Latino community who wanted to can up some salsa for distribution and use at their community meal site, so I had a special interest in tomatoes, green and red peppers, and onions, other than the fresh green ones. We left with ten boxes of tomatoes, two of mixed red and green peppers, one of Jalapenos, and a twenty-five-pound bag of white onions. I called Mrs. Jenkins and told her to contact Pastor Rodriguez and tell him what I had and that we’d be home around one or one-thirty.
Ted and Lee, my crew chiefs had the “roller tracks” set up and several workers ready when I backed the truck up to our warehouse containing the two walk-in coolers. The ramp-like roller tracks made unloading and transporting the produce from the truck to the cooler quick and easy; at least easier than carrying each one by hand to the cooler. The boxes were carried to the ramp and gravity would carry it down, where momentum would propel it along the ramp over the rollers, with assistance from an employee, to the crew waiting near the cooler, where they’d carry it inside and stack it.
Ted, tentatively anticipating the produce to be sent to each of our three farmer’s markets, set those cases aside in three different stacks. Our own stand near the road and the seasonal market we had in town, where a large quantity of the merchandize would be sold, would be kept in storage and delivered as needed. We didn’t overstock any of our market places, in fact, tended to understock. I preferred to sell out each day. It reduced waste. There are times, however, we’d guess wrong and we lose some produce for sale, but still of sufficient quality for donations to the various organizations assisting those in need for either meals or their pantries.
Mrs. Jenkins stood by watching the process and remarked how good the blueberries and tomatoes appeared.
“Couple those blueberries with our strawberries and we should sell the lot before Monday morning,” she announced.
I couldn’t disagree with her.
We’d just finished unloading the truck when Pastor Rodriquez arrived in his pickup truck. Accompanying him was a young Latino lad about Mattie’s age, by the looks of him.
Pastor introduced his companion as Luis Andres. “He’s pretty shy,” Pastor said with a smile. “His Mom is one of the ladies who’ll be working the kitchen this afternoon so I brought him along to help.”
Introducing David and Luis, I added, “We’re used to shy. Mattie doesn’t say much either.”
I saw Luis sort of smile bashfully at Mattie and give a little wiggle of his fingers to say “Hi” to Mattie. Mattie grinned shyly and returned the gesture.
It didn’t take us long to load the peppers, tomatoes, and onions into Pastor’s truck. They were preparing to leave when Luis gave a tug on Pastor’s sleeve, looked up at him, expressing on his face some concern!
“I believe,” Pastor said, “Luis needs to use the restroom. Could someone point him in the right direction?”
Mattie was suddenly gone from my side, extended his hand out to Luis, who clasped it quickly, and the two were off to the men’s room.
“Looks like Mattie found a friend,” I commented with a smile.
“Lord knows Luis needs one,” Pastor sighed, “after all that poor lad’s been through.”
Before I could inquire, Pastor quickly said, “It’s a long story, but will have to wait until another time.”
To be continued: