ORIGINALLY WRITTEN JERRY ENGLER
Yes, Harlan Medlam was driven by love to sleep on the bench in the elm-green dappled shadows at noontime.
But he was also given to sitting up from time to time, rubbing his stomach where his dinner digested, then rubbing again at his gray-black hair as he listened to his wife of 55 years, Florence, still washing pans in the kitchen.
His shiny dark eyes followed her silhouette moving beyond the window screen, and he nervously smacked his lips, grimacing and ungrimacing his farmer’s nut-brown face a couple of times.
The woman worried him. At dinner she’d said, “You know that bungalow house the Pattersons want torn down is 30 by 30. Whoever does that gets all the lumber for the work. You know that’s thousands of board feet of lumber- probably easily more than $500 worth. And if we don’t get it, somebody else would.”
She swept back her long gray hair and grinned at him under her pale blue eyes, glowing with avaricious need.
“If you have the wheat planted within the next two weeks, we could work on it every day after milking before we had to be back to milk again, and we could have all the lumber home before it was bitter cold, before Christmas anyway, or only a little into January.
“Of course, I’d be sorting it with you,” she added. “The worst of it could be some stove kindling, too, and you could still get some time to cut wood down in the timber, and take care of hogs in the meantime.”
“Dad-rat-it, Florence, you know the two boxcars out here are each half full of old native lumber we haven’t had a need for yet.”
“But we will some day,” Florence said. “You can’t ever have too much. This has been a good hay season, so you’ve rented the second barn to Paul down the road, but we still have the pole building. You can move all the lumber there together so it’s more available, and you’re more likely to use it or we can sell it. We’ll get it organized. Then we can do something different with the box cars.”
“That’s a lot to expect from an old man,” Harlan Medlam said with a sigh. “Besides, the old truck’s in the pole building, and it has junk all over the floor already.”
“You can do it-we can do it-just get at that disking. Get it done.”
Harlan Medlam smacked his lips unhappily, remembering the conversation. Then reaching down the bench where he had settled in for his noon nap, he picked up his false teeth to pop back in his mouth and his cap to put on his head.
Before he could move, Florence was popping out the kitchen door to call, “Harlan, Harlan, you’d better be getting back to the field. You need to get it disked as soon as you can. Can’t turn the next cash over if you don’t move on.”
“Move, move, move, dad-rat-it. Can’t get any rest around here, dad-rat-it. Turn that dime, grab that nickel, all the time, dad-rat-it,” Harlan griped.
But he moved just the same, slowly and stiffly. Soon the orange Allis tractor was roaring down the driveway with the disk squealing behind it like usual because Harlan Medlam didn’t use much grease.
Hearing those squeals down the road, Paul looked at the young guys who had been bucking 70-pound bales for him, hooks at their sides as they sat on the edge of the hayrack wagon behind the green tractor following their dinner.
“Sounds like Harlan’s headed to the field, boys. Doesn’t spare much grease for the machinery, that’s for sure. Jimmy, Joe, Rick-you guys remember, greasing and maintenance pay.”
Soon Paul’s crew was in the alfalfa field, walking alongside the wagon to stick hooks in bales, and throw them on. In the distance Harlan turned the black earth in fine furrows, ready for a final harrowing before the wheat was sowed.
The hay boys stacked the latest load in the big tin barn that gleamed in the hot summer sun at Paul’s, stuffing the last few bales up in the peak of the roof.
“Look here, boys,” Rick said. “This meat thermometer I brought out says it’s 135 degrees in here.”
Wearily they finished.
“At least this afternoon we’ll start on a new barn at floor level at Harlan Medlam’s,” said Joe.
Their shirts were sweated through. They sucked from the water jug eagerly, but careful not to be so fast they became sick either. They brushed the stems and leaves from hair and clothes while standing to let the breeze cool them as the rig moved to the next fields.
They pulled into the gate next to where Harlan Medlam had pulled in to go disk. There, to their surprise, set Harlan’s orange Allis- parked, but running with a roar at full open throttle. Underneath the Allis lay Harlan, eyes closed and mouth open.
“Is he dead?” Jimmy asked, his eyes growing wider.
Paul, who had gotten off the tractor to come stand beside the boys said, “No, I don’t think so. You can kind of see him breathing, his chest moves a little. And there’s his teeth on the tractor seat. He’s OK, just asleep. He wants Florence to hear the tractor so she thinks he’s working.”
Paul paused. “Dad-rat-it,” he added smiling at the old man who began to snore.
But later that night, Harlan learned that Florence had wondered in the distance at the steadfastness of that hum which failed to strive with clods, no up-and-down roars where the earth was tougher.
“Harlan,” she said, “guess you ought to have that field ready tomorrow. I’ll come out toward evening to see you finish it up.”
Harlan looked at her, smacking his lips, “Guess I ought to have it done. I’ll get up early to make sure.”
And at gray daylight, he was on the doorstep knocking at Paul’s.
“Paul, thought you’d be about ready to go by now, be six in another hour. Been thinking about how you might not have enough storage for all the hay. Guess I could trade with you so you could use those two boxcars at my place too.”
“Well, maybe, Harlan. What do you have in mind?”
“I have to finish that field I’m on fast, really fast. How about you spare a tractor and disk, and one of those boys to run it while I run mine, and we’ll call it an even deal, your disk and a man for a day for the boxcars.”
“Sounds fair enough, Harlan, although it’s a tough time to spare one of the boys when we’re hauling. But, we’ll just do it.”
So, Jimmy and Rick watched a little enviously as they drove by sweating and tired with loads of hay while Joe ran a John Deere and disk up and down one side of the field with Harlan Medlam’s Allis on the other side.
By five that afternoon, the last round of disking was done. Harlan headed home to bring Florence back in the truck to look at the field. Joe took the John Deere home, and rejoined the hay crew.
By eight that night, the weary hay boys were finishing up the last load before going home.
“Tomorrow,” Paul said, “we’ll be ready to start putting the hay in those boxcars.”
The next morning, Paul caught up with Harlan as he was beginning to leave with the harrow for the wheat field.
“Harlan, those boxcars are half full of lumber. We can’t pull hay in there.”
“Golly,” said the old man, “I kind of forgot about that. Well, at least you have a good crew of boys and the hayrack here. You can stack the lumber on your wagon, and I’ll show you where to put it. It’s a little inconvenient for me to go to the extra trouble, I guess, but you’ll have the boxcars then. See here in this pole building, just move that junk out of the way, and stack the lumber there. That’ll be OK. Hadn’t ought to take those boys long. I’d help, but you understand I got to get this field harrowed.”
The hay boys were tired with loading the heavy native lumber, and unloading it before they ever got to any hay that day. To make up for lost time, they all worked a little later that night, and showed up in the morning twilight the next day to begin earlier.
They were near stumbling as they finished stacking the last load before dinner, one bale at a time through the narrow boxcar doors while the mud-dauber wasps they had disturbed buzzed around them.
“I’m so hungry, I could eat two horses,” said Jimmy, big rolls of sweat carrying down dirt and hay grit toward his eyes while he mopped his forehead with a sleeve.
“Me too if I don’t throw up or die first,” said Joe.
They climbed on to the hay wagon while Paul started the tractor to drive through the barnyard. He stopped because Florence Medlam was standing by the orange tractor and harrow looking at him while Harlan was on his back on the bench under the elm tree.
“Everything OK, Florence?”
“Oh yes, everything’s fine. I’m headed out to harrow for a while so Harlan can take a nap. The poor old dear’s worn himself out, all this tractor work, and somehow he even got all that lumber moved out of the boxcars.”
Paul raised his eyebrows, and the hay boys looked at each other.
Then they all looked at Harlan Medlam as he sleepily raised to one elbow to grin at them exposing his pink gums.
“You boys have a good day,” he said. “Wish I was a strong young buck like you again, but now I need my rest. Work’s good for you, but sometimes I overdo it.”
Yes, Harvey Medlam was driven by love to sleep.
Or, as Paul noted to the boys later, “You know, he’s such a nice, nasty old man.”