Memories

Once in a while I run into a former student. I call them “former” students because “old student” somehow just makes me feel older. I live in a small community so the odds of running into former students is pretty good. I’m always surprised that those former students are all adults now because in my mind they will always be first graders or second graders or struggling high school students. They’re often difficult to recognize. They all change a lot between the ages of 7 and 57.

Most of them I remember, sometimes I need a hint (like please tell me your name) and sometimes I do not remember them at all. But I never let on. I am good at faking recognition. Quite a few years ago, I ran into one of my favorite high school English teachers and she did not remember me. Even after I told her my name and graduation date and what the topic was of my Senior English theme paper. I was wounded. I thought because she was one of my favorites that I must have been one of hers. I guess not.

Last week another former student found me. My husband and I were looking over a project which he was going to tackle soon and there, sitting on the dock of an old pond, was a man. He was fishing. In about 4 feet of water because the pond was being drained. Later I found out from him that fishing in 4 feet of water gave you pretty good odds of catching the fish that were in that 4 feet of water.

We talked a few minutes and then he recognized me. He got really excited and told me that he had been paddled at least once every year while he was in grade school. And he remembered that I had “beat the crap”out of him with a ping pong paddle and it was probably because he deserved it! By then my eyes were getting bigger and bigger and my brain was spinning because he still hadn’t told me his name. Finally he blurted it out.

I remembered him. He was a tall, good-looking youngster who I recall was pretty smart. His parents were very supportive and must have known he was a handful, because they said they would never hesitate to back me up if he needed discipline. As I recall, he never gave me a bit of trouble, except maybe on the playground where 7 year old boys tend to get a little wild. But he was a good kid and he graduated and was now fishing in a pond. And I still do not remember beating the crap out of him or any other student during my career.

I didn’t get a chance to ask him what he had been doing with his life or if he had a family or if he was happy, because my husband decided it was time to move on. But on the way home, I kept thinking about him and I could clearly picture him in my classroom. Sometimes I can even remember a student’s handwriting after so many years. Because if I taught them anything at all, it was to always put their name on their paper! He had nice handwriting.

One thing I have discovered over the years is how selective our memories are. Inevitably the students I meet remember things that I do not. Of course, the things that were important to me as a teacher were not the same things that were important to a first grader. Memories always get a little distorted as the years go by.

Come to think of it, I do sort of remember a ping pong paddle.

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Florence

I recently joined a Farm Wives Support Group on social media. Its been enjoyable to be a part of this group and share stories, concerns, problems, and solutions. I wish this had been around fifty years ago when I was a brand new farm wife.

Many of the posts are about trying to do it all; raising children, helping on the farm, working off farm jobs, trying to keep up with household chores. A recent post brought lots of comments on working the farm with family, sharing responsibilities with family, and trying to get along.

Which leads me to a story which has been a long time coming and is long overdue. The story of my mother-in-law, Florence. Along with my own mother, Florence was my support group.

Florence was born in 1915. Her mother died not long after she was born and she was raised by her maternal grandparents. Her Father had been a soldier in WWI and carried the burdens of a soldier with him, He returned home from the war, lost his wife, and found himself with a newborn baby. What happened next? It’s hard to say. Florence’s father later remarried and had two sons. But Florence remained with her grandparents.

There are pictures of little Flo with long curls, big hair bows, and ruffled dresses. There are also pictures of her with flocks of sheep and horses. Young Florence was as smart as a whip. Her grade cards proved that and her abilities and spectacular memory helped convince everyone that this lady was smart. When she married and produced four boys (an engineer, a farm/business owner, and two attorneys) everyone said they got their smarts from their Mother..

I didn’t meet Florence until I met her third son and fell in love with him. And that’s really where this story begins.

It was the summer of 1971. My fiance and I had set a date for our wedding. Florence and her husband, Henry, were looking for a house in town so that when I married her son, he and I could live in the farmhouse and they could retire in town. Unfortunately, time was running out and they still hadn’t found a house. She took me aside one afternoon and said, “You two can move in with us after the wedding. You are more than welcome. But I wouldn’t recommend it.” Then she gave me a look that I became quite familiar with over the years. “Read between the lines” is what that look said to me.

There were 4 weeks left before the wedding and my future husband was busy… farming. So Florence and I went apartment hunting; our first adventure together. I had no clue where to look but Florence did. She had already circled several apartments for rent in the local newspaper and we began to drive around and look at the possibilities. She saved one for last; I have a feeling she had already scoped them all out before we went searching. The last one was an upstairs apartment, very small, very cheap, and the landlords were willing to sign a short term lease for as long as we needed it. It was obvious that Florence was already acquainted with the landlord because while we were signing the paperwork, they had some great conversations. Thanks to Florence, we had a place to live.

Our next adventure was furnishing the apartment. We went to yard sales and again Florence knew which neighborhoods to visit and where we could find some good deals. We picked up some odds and ends mainly for the kitchen. I still have the cut glass fruit bowl purchased for twenty-five cents and the aluminum strainer, which was a dime. We had a hand-me-down bedroom suite (the one my parents started up with) and a couch and a chair from Rogers brother and his wife, an old TV, and a wooden kitchen table and chairs which had been in the basement of the farmhouse. Roger and I went shopping that next weekend and bought a brand new refrigerator and stove and a recliner. We were good to go.

Fast forward several weeks. The wedding took place. We moved into the apartment. I started my first teaching job. And the In laws found a house. Things were starting to fall into place. On a rainy, fall afternoon I finished up at school and headed back to the apartment. I climbed the stairs slowly… it had been a long day. When I opened the door … the apartment was empty. We had moved! Everything was gone except for the kitchen table which was loaded with the contents of the refrigerator and the cupboards. Since I was not notified that we were moving I can’t really tell you how it all happened. A few years later I asked my husband about that day. “It had rained and harvest time was fast approaching. I called a couple friends and they were not busy so we got several pickup trucks and loaded everything up and move it to the farmhouse. The same thing happened on the other end of the move…. My in laws had already moved a few things into their new house and Roger and his buddies had moved some of the big items. One thing I am sure of, my mother in law was not involved in moving anything out of our apartment. If she had, she would have packed up all the food and the contents of the refrigerator and brought it to the farmhouse.

I drove out to the farm and there she was trying to make sense of everything that was happening. She didn’t get any advance notice either of the move until the trucks started to back up to her back door. The best part of the story and the story that I heard over and over again through the years was Florence explaining how they had moved her washer and dryer … both still full of clothes.

Florence in the kitchen that would become mine.

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Harvest

Showers of rain bring a reprieve from the hustle of harvest; a mixed blessing.

Showers are almost always welcome and at this time of the year, the harvesters are thankful for the rest that it provides after long hours of work.

Shower also brings stress. Too much rain can damage the crops or affect the yields as well as affecting the timeline on the race to finish.

Farmers are used to this. We take what comes, we relax, we stress, we worry. There may be a bountiful crop but prices are low. There may be a less than average crop and prices are high. It’s all part of the farming picture and it repeats.

What farmers do know is that harvests always end: there are good years and bad. There are many risks, just as in any life. Hope leads us to continue the process; to persevere. Because it’s a way of life, because it’s a responsibility not taken lightly to provide for the world, because it’s what the previous generations have done and what we have learned to follow.

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Do You Miss Teaching?

Who hasn’t missed something in the past year? While I am not as isolated as some, my life has been turned upside down and like everyone else I miss the way it used to be. And suddenly I have been retired for ten years after 34 years of teaching, and friends ask me if I miss my career.

The easy answer I usually give is no, I have other things to keep me busy now. But that’s not really true. There are many parts of my career that I do miss.

I miss the sense of identity. As with any job or career, your colleagues and co workers are the people you spend your day with and they share with you common goals and common experiences. I miss common identity. When you spend a school year with the same students and share those students with other teachers you miss the little things… like the eye rolls between each other when that “certain kid” does his thing in your classroom. I miss the feeling of belonging to a group of people who share daily experiences and are working to make learning relevant to every student for every lesson.

I miss answering the question, “What do you do? Where do you work?” It defined me as a person. I remember driving away from school to begin a temporary leave and thinking…. who am I? It hit me hard and put me in tears for a while,missing that feeling of belonging.

1971 My very first class

I miss many of the physical parts of teaching. Getting ready for a new school year… some new clothes, some new shoes, but mostly preparing my classroom, preparing new lessons or old lessons with a new twist. Looking through the list of students for the year, figuring out how to reach students with varying needs and how to challenge students during the year.

8th period class on my very last day of school.

I miss lunch breaks, no matter how short, to let you take a deep breath, share a few minutes with colleagues or maybe just sit alone to regain focus for the rest of the day. Some of the most hilarious and memorable moments in a school year happen in the teacher’s lunch room. I was lucky enough to have a kitchen in my Life Skills classroom equipped with microwave, refrigerator and oven. It became a place for others to store their lunches and share lunchtime together.

One male colleagues always came in with the best leftovers, lovingly made and packed by his wife every day. We all looked forward to seeing what was on his menu One day he came in with some delicious smelling pasta. In the process of reheating and eating with a 20 minute deadline, the pasta ended up on the front of his white shirt. Before I could take another bite of my lunch, he had stripped his shirt off, grabbed some detergent ( I also had a washer and dryer in my room) and started to scrub off the stain. Then he threw it in the dryer and sat back down at the table… shirtless…. to finish his pasta. At that moment, the principal and a visitor to the building walked in.

I miss those few minutes right after school with the teacher next door and the “how did your day go?” conversation.

I miss the creativity I had to muster to create new ways to teach the same old stuff.

I miss the pride in my work and the feeling of satisfaction when things worked out well for a student. I also miss the disappointments shared with colleagues and students. Accomplishments, successes, and even failures make for great relationships… being able to share and work through things.

Do I miss teaching? Yes I do. But I also realize I would not recognize teaching as it is now and especially how it has been during the pandemic. I am in awe of the teachers I read about and talk with who are still in the classroom. They adapted quickly to an almost impossible situation.

I know this month teachers are in the midst of back-to-school planning and are scrambling to get everything done. I wish them all a great school year with many successes and hope they are able to enjoy some great lunches with each other creating great memories.

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The Upright Piano

Piano was my destiny.

I really believe that. From an early age, I was fascinated by the keyboard and the sounds. I was just past toddlerhood when I discovered pianos at both of my grandmother’s homes. Now that was a sign.

When I went to either Grandma’s house, I “played” and “played” some more until someone, usually my mom, said… “Enough! Quit pounding on that thing!”

I discovered that I could play by ear, sounding out Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Mary Had a little Lamb. My mom, yes the same one who told me to quit pounding, recognized that I had more than just an interest in making noise and annoying everyone around me. She began to attend auctions searching for used pianos. She found one we could afford and it was ours! It was no small task but we managed to move it into the house and parked it in the first room we came to – the dining room. I began my love affair with music.

The year was 1959 and the piano was an old upright piano that weighed a ton. It was not the most attractive piece of furniture in our home. It was covered with scratches and dings. The piano stool was a round one-seater style that would spin around pretty fast if you got it going. After about three mishaps with me flying off the stool and landing at the feet of my mom, it was replaced with a piano bench, with a heavy lid that revealed storage for sheet music and lesson books. It seemed like a bad design to me. That heavy lid smashed my fingers several times before I got that hang of it; the very fingers that I needed to make music!

The keyboard also left a lot to be desired. There were several ivory key covers missing and many were chipped. The key cover to Middle C was missing completely but that defect helped me locate my hand positions when I began to take lessons. F sharp was a clinker from the very start… I can still hear the twangy, awful sound that came from deep within the piano when I hit that note and I believe that the F sharp key on that old piano gave me an aversion to playing anything with sharps in the key signature.

The well worn pedals were difficult to push, especially when your legs weren’t long enough to reach, and they squeaked. There were a few keys in the bass area that didn’t play at all, in fact when you pushed them down, they stayed down until you pried them back up. As far as pianos went, it had definitely seen better days. But it was mine. A piano of my very own.

Mom quickly set me up with piano lessons in our little town with Miss Monce, who had quite a reputation as a great pianist and community member. She had already taught many willing and unwilling school age children to play the piano and was well respected by all. She provided me with a John W. Schaum keyboard chart that slipped behind the black keys on the piano. I caught on quickly and practiced until my fingers ached.

I progressed rapidly in my efforts and by the time I was twelve or thirteen I accompanied the Youth Choir at church, and played Pomp and Circumstance for the Eighth Grade Graduation ceremony. I moved on to accompany soloists (voice and instrumental) at High School Concerts and Contests and whenever I joined an organization that needed a musician, I took that office.

In the meantime, my Mom went to work at a local factory and found that she had a little more disposable income than she had ever had in her life. When I became a freshman in high school we took a trip to a music store and purchased a new spinet piano. It wasn’t brand new but had been used in the store to teach lessons for a few years so it was a bargain. Cherry wood, no missing key covers, no sticky keys, and it was in tune! The pedals worked perfectly and F sharp sounded like the voice of an angel. I was more than happy.

The old upright piano had been replaced. I don’t remember what happened to it. I missed it for awhile because that was where my love of music began.

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Will I Ever Be At Ease Again?

For most of you out there in the world, staying in and staying confined during the pandemic was difficult. It was for me! I had friends that didn’t change their lifestyles much at all. They had Christmas and all the other holidays with their families and had no ill effects. And then there were those who disregarded many of the orders from the CDC and paid dearly for it.

I felt like I was in the middle… I sanitized, wore masks, stayed home a lot but I also went to Walmart and ordered carry out. I cancelled our family get together because of my age and my husband’s age and our “underlying health issues”. I felt guilty and felt a little betrayed and even indignant when friends and other family members were not as careful as I was or didn’t share my fears and decisions.

I missed weekly activities with my two best friends. But we all have health issues and are all “of a certain age”. I still feel the need to justify my behavior, though I followed “the science”.

Yes, It had been hard staying in during the pandemic. But I didn’t realize how hard it would be to once again “go out”.

We’ve gone out for a meal a few times. The first time, I went home with my stomach in knots, sure that I had been infected by someone in the restaurant. I forgot how to interact with the server. I felt the urge to jump out of the booth and run back out to the car where it was safer. It was easier the second time but there was still the anxiety. I was angry because going out to dinner was supposed to be a fun and relaxing activity.. and it wasn’t.

I went to Walmart for the first time without a mask. I felt as if everyone there was judging me, whether they wore a mask or not. At checkout this sweet elderly lady ahead of me said to me, “It’s OK dear, you know you don’t have to stand that far back anymore.” I couldn’t move even with her permission.

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Sunflower House

Retired Ruth

A couple of summers ago I discovered an idea for a sunflower house.

To begin, a rototiller and able bodied operator are very helpful.

Three sides are enough, because you need to have an entrance!

A few weeks later, the sunflowers are growing, interspersed with some morning glories (for color contrast)

Keep growing! It needs to be a little taller so the grandkids can hide better!

Add a table and chairs for some fun!

Looking good! A great place for Grandma to hide on a breezy summer day.

Summer ends and frost comes and all good things come to an end.

Note:  I added some tall plastic garden stakes for the morning glories to climb.  Next time I will make it a bit wider.  When the sunflowers and the morning glories grew, they took up more space than I had anticipated making the sunflower house a little narrower than I…

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The Moody Blues

His name was Conrad. I don’t know if he was a full fledged professor or a grad student but he was the Instructor of Educational Psych class during Spring quarter 1970. And he wanted us to call him Conrad. Not Mr. whatever ( I don’t even remember his last name because we never used it). So we called him Conrad, hesitantly at first. It was so COOL! He wore jeans, shirts and sweaters and sometimes one of those corduroy blazers with the elbow patches. And shoes with no socks! He was so COOL.

He was there to teach us Psychology. And to provide us with 3 credit hours toward graduation. But first, he insisted that we know ourselves. His premise was…. how can you know anyone else without first knowing yourself? How can you know what you want to do with your life if you don’t know who you are?

Two years earlier, I had graduated from a little Midwestern High School that literally was in the middle of a cornfield and I traveled an entire hour from my home to a Midwest ern State University which was also in the middle of a cornfield. I was now out in “the real world.” I spent my senior year in high school still wearing dresses and skirts that needed to touch the floor when I knelt, and I had to ask my teacher for permission to go to the bathroom. Now here I was, wearing bell bottom jeans with ragged edges from dragging on the ground, tie dyed T shirts, no bra, and any piece of clothing made of leather with lots of fringe. My hair was getting longer and make up was no longer a necessity. I even had a pair of Birkenstocks. Out in the real world there was a midnight curfew on weekends at my dorm but quickly that was changed to “no hours”. Yes, the Times were changing fast and I was trying to keep up.

My roommates and classmates were eager for change. We didn’t like the way Society was trying to mold us into our parents. It was time to rebel. We couldn’t yet vote, but our male counterparts could be drafted and sent to Vietnam. The world was overpopulating so we joined ZPG (Zero Population Growth) and vowed only to replace ourselves in this world. We went to anti war rallies on the lawn of the university. We shouted and complained to each other and wanted nothing more than to live hand in hand as we stood together on the threshold of a dream. Which brings me back to Conrad….

I don’t remember much of what we learned in his classroom. It has been a long time. But I do vividly remember one particular week of class. Conrad had reserved the Grand Ballroom of the Student Union and class was scheduled to meet there for a week ; the Grand Ballroom, the size of a couple of high school gymnasiums with polished wooden floors.

It was to be the week we were to become enlightened. We were to “find ourselves” so that when we went out in the world, we knew who we were and what we wanted to do. Conrad enlisted the help of a record player and an album by The Moody Blues titled “On the Threshold of a Dream”. On the first night we sat on the floor in a big circle and listened to Conrad tell us what his goals were. Then all the lights were turned out and he played the album.

We could move about, we could lie down on the floor, but we were to fill ourselves with the music and the message of the songs and try to find our inner selves. I looked around at the other students. Our class of about 30 had grown somehow to many more. Friends of Conrad, I guess. Some students stood and swayed to the music, some appeared to be asleep, some quietly sat and listened. Over the course of the week, we divided into small groups and discussed current events and spent some time on team building activities. But it always came back to the music.

I hadn’t ever thought much about my inner self. I had goals but finding myself had never been one of them. I tried very hard to fit into Conrad’s mold but I wasn’t very successful. My world had always been filled with more practical things. Getting an education, finding a career, getting married.

Turning into my parents, I guess.

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Terminal Trouble

Harvest was in full swing and my farmer husband of two months came in the house and decided it was time for me to help out in the grain hauling capacity. As a farmer’s daughter, I had ridden with my Dad many times to the grain terminal or the elevator as we called it. Into the truck I climbed with a vague question for my husband…. “What do I do when I get there??”

“Just follow the truck in front of you. You will probably have to wait in line and that will give you a chance to observe what everyone else is doing. ”

It seemed simple. I was a recent college graduate. I should be able to handle this.

As luck would have it, when I arrived and pulled into the grain terminal, there was no one in sight. No long lines of trucks waiting to dump their grain. I glanced in the rear view mirror hoping maybe someone had pulled in behind me. I would just let them go around me and then I could see what I should do. Again… no luck. I waited a few minutes, praying for someone else to come along and then remembering … they were waiting for my empty wagons back at the farm.

I spotted someone down the hill leaning on a shop broom next to the huge silos and the grates that covered the pits where the grain was dumped and I thought… well that’s where I need to be. So I slowly took off toward the dumping area. I lined the truck and wagons up so that my wagon was direcly over the grate and the gravity wagon door could be opened to release the grain. I was feeling pretty good about this until the young man with the broom came over and waited at the truck window. I didn’t know what he was waiting for so I said, “Hi. I want to dump my soybeans here.”

“Where is your slip?” he replied.

“I don’t have a slip. Where do I get one?”

He looked at me kind of funny and said, ” Did you weigh in at the scales?” I gave him a blank look. “First time here? ” he continued. I nodded my head.

He proceeded to instruct me to pull on through, go back to where I started and pull onto the scales to be weighed. “After they weigh your outfit, you go inside and they give you a slip of paper with the moisture levels and other information. Then you come back down here and you can dump your soybeans.” He was really very nice about the whole thing. Maybe I wasn’t the only first timer he had ever dealt with. But standing alongside the silos were a couple of other workers who were getting a big kick out of the girl in the truck that had no clue where to go. I felt my face flush a bit, put the truck in gear and headed back to the beginning.

Wouldn’t you know? By the time I got straightened around and back in line for the scales, there were three other outfits in line ahead of me. I had plenty of time to observe the correct way to weigh my grain and go to the dumping site.

When I got back to the dumping site for the second time, I was ready. I had my slip. I smiled at the guy with the broom, “Long time… no see.” He grinned and took my slip.

And when I got home with my empty wagons, my husband said, “Must have been busy at the elevator today.”

I just nodded my head.

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Farm Wife Life

Back in the early 70’s, I was a young farm wife willing to do just about anything my farmer husband asked of me. I had grown up on a farm, which unknown to me was a prerequisite to becoming his life partner.

Even though I grew up on a farm there were many things that I was never asked to do as a farmer’s daughter. I had to do chores around the farm since we had dairy cows and hogs, but I had an older brother. He got to do some of the “fun” stuff like driving tractor and loading hay and straw bales and hauling grain to the grain elevator. Still, I knew pretty much what to expect, at least I thought I did.

I never really understood my mother’s advice which was “never marry a farmer.”

My husband knew how to delegate; something else which was unknown to me. The first thing he delegated me to do was plow a field with a two bottom plow. I had already received training in driving the tractors on our farm. There were three of them. An 1100 MF and a Case SC with a hand clutch, and a 2010 John Deere. So I hopped up on the tractor ready to work the ground.

“Where do I start?” I asked my husband.

“Go to the middle of the field and start a dead furrow,” he said. “When you get that done, you’ll see what to do next.”

“A dead what?” I questioned. I didn’t think plowing involved death and I wasn’t sure I wanted any part of it. I didn’t remember my dad ever killing anyone or anything while plowing. My husband rapidly, as is his manner, explained to me what a dead furrow was, after laughing hysterically and saying, “you don’t know what a dead furrow is?!?!?!?” This haphazard explanation became a standard in our marriage. I should have stopped it right then and there. But I was still blindly in love and eager to please.

So I said, ” Why don’t you go do the dead furrow thing, and then I will finish it.” I figured we may as well be partners in the crime. He agreed and the job was eventually completed.

The next thing he assigned me to do was to cultivate a field of corn. I had never done that before either, although he was incredulous when I told him that. “You lived 21 years on a farm and never cultivated corn?!?!?! ” There was less laughter this time. I could see he was rethinking his decision to choose me as his wife.

He took me back a long, long lane in a godforsaken area of weedy fence rows and spindly trees and pointed out the corn. It was about 8 inches tall in remarkably straight rows and my task was to line up the little digger things on the cultivator. I later learned that these little digger things were called shovels. I was to pull the cultivator behind the John Deere 2010 and cultivate the weeds that were growing between the rows of corn. He took off across the field, demonstrating how to raise and lower the cultivator on the ends of the field so as not to break anything. It looked pretty easy; I thought I could handle it. Then he drove off in his pickup truck with the promise of coming back to check and see how I was doing.

I started across the field, thinking I could go as fast as he did and thinking this job wasn’t going to take too long. But suddenly I discovered I had gotten a little off course and had plowed up some corn plants instead of weeds. Not sure why they didn’t plant those rows a little further apart. And then I noticed that if I wasn’t careful I was running over the corn plants with those big tractor tires on each side of my seat. That probably wasn’t good. With a little practice I began to improve my skills until I noticed that every once in awhile I missed an entire row or two of weeds. Ah, well, I thought… he probably won’t notice.

Four hours passed. I was dirty, dusty, thirsty and tired. My neck and shoulders hurt like the dickens from looking behind me at the rows of corn and fighting with the steering wheel to keep the tractor straight. I was also extremely sleepy. I didn’t know about the monotony of driving back and forth across a field for hours at a time. And no one had come to check on me!

Finally when I was nearing the end of the field, my husband arrived with an ice cold Pepsi and a candy bar. He looked over the field, and while I waited for him to tell me what a great job I had done he just looked at me and said, “I’ll finish this up. You can drive the pickup back home. Where are those cultivator shovels that are missing?”

I shrugged my aching shoulders…I had no idea what a cultivator shovel was but I hadn’t noticed any shovels when I climbed on the tractor. “Maybe you left them in the truck? ” I offered. He rolled his eyes.

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