Susan Elliot was angry and hurting. This was to have been a very special summer for her—sixteen, her driver's license, and Ken. Now she was riding in the car to her grandparents' farm, no, now it was her grandfather's farm, she reminded herself. Normally, this would have been a delight, but today every mile seemed to be taking her life from her. She really did enjoy visiting the farm, but for a weekend, not the entire summer. Her mother, who was driving, tried to make conversation, but Susan's sullen manner finally persuaded her to give up, and the two rode along in an awkward silence.
"It is so unfair," Susan said to herself as she stared out the window, seeing but not comprehending the passing view, lost in her thoughts. "Why do I have go and live with my grandfather on that stupid farm of his?"
Until a few days earlier, her life was so promising and secure. She had just earned her driver's license soon after her sixteenth birthday earlier that spring. It was in her purse beside her and she reached over to reassure herself that it was still there. It represented both her coming of age and her freedom, even though she still had to ask her parents for the use of the car. And, more importantly, Ken had asked her to "go steady" with him.
In the car, as it traveled nearer to her exile, she thought of Ken and fingered the gold chain that he had given her. She remembered with a smile that evening just before the last day of school when he gave it to her and that first kiss. Now Ken was gone, she would not see him for the eternity of the summer.
"Blast," she thought to herself and her face hardened. She turned to look out of the window away from her mother. "Why did grandma have to die? Why couldn't grandpa take care of himself? And why did he live on that farm?"
She had heard the story countless times. Her grandfather, Thomas, had grown up on a farm, but left it when he entered college. Upon graduation he had married Dorothy, the daughter of a doctor. He began work for a large corporation and in time worked himself up into the executive ranks. Within a few years of their marriage, Robert, her father, had been born. While he was growing up, the family prospered. However, during the summer after he had graduated from college, her grandfather suddenly resigned from the corporation, and he and Dorothy sold their beautiful home, bought a farm, and moved into the ramshackled house. Her grandfather's heart was in the farm life, and when his family financial responsibilities were ended, he had sought that experience that he enjoyed as a youth.
Susan shook her head. She could not understand why anyone would want to live way out in the country on a farm. Oh, it was interesting to visit for a day or so, but the isolation, the work, the dirt. How could anyone choose to live there? And now she was going to be stuck in that God-forsaken place for the entire summer! "Why did Mom and Dad have to get that ridiculous idea for her to go for the summer?"
"Sue," her mother tried again. "Please, be nice to your grandfather. You know he has been all alone for the past two months since your grandmother passed away. You staying with him will mean so much to him, and now that summer is here with all the chores, it is getting hard for him to keep up."
Susan did not respond, but she thought, "Well, let him sell that dumb ol' farm, then. Don't punish me by making me waste my summer."
To Susan the trip took too long as the miles slowly and boringly slipped by, and it didn't take long enough because she did not want to arrive. Her grandfather was waiting on the porch when they drove up. Susan quickly opened the car door, gave him a brief hug, then disappeared inside the house.
"Do you think this is a good idea, Mary?" he asked Susan's mother. "I really can get along by myself."
"We already went over that, Dad. With all the summer chores, you need some help. It will take some time, but Susan will be a great help, you'll see. And she will fit in."
"I hope so." he replied slowly. "But I don't think she likes the idea of being here though."
Susan's mother found her in the bedroom. She was certain she heard crying and Susan's eyes were red, but Susan had hurriedly wiped away the evidence when she heard her mother come into the house.
"Sue, we need to get your things out of the car, then I have to get back to the city. I wish I could stay, but I have to be at work in the morning."
After her mother left, Susan shut herself into her room, coming out only for supper when her grandfather called. After supper, she returned to her room.
"Susan, it's time to get up!" her grandfather called out as he knocked on the closed door to her room. "There are lots of things to do."
Susan rolled over in bed and with groggy eyes managed to focus on the alarm clock. It read 7:35. "Grandpa, it's not even eight yet." she protested.
"I know." he said. I thought you might like to sleep in, since this is your first morning, and all. I'm fixing breakfast for you now. It will be ready in a few minutes."
"This is summer." thought Susan as she lay there. "Why can't I have a summer like my other friends? They can all sleep in as late as they want. And I have to be stuck out here in the boonies." She lay there for a few minutes feeling sorry for herself, then with a great effort threw off the light blanket and sat up in bed.
It was more than a few minutes before she walked into the kitchen where her grandfather was busy at the stove. The air was thick with the aroma of frying bacon and percolating coffee. He did not say anything about how long it took her.
"How do you like your eggs?" he asked.
"I don't usually eat much breakfast." replied Susan quite sullenly. Then after a few moments, she asked "Do you have some orange juice?"
"There might be some in the freezer," he replied and pointed vaguely with the spatula in his hand. "I'm afraid we don't have any made up."
With a sigh of resignation, Susan walked over to the freezer and opened it. After a few moments, she discovered a can of concentrate covered with a thick layer of frost. "How long has this been in here?" she asked as she took it out of the freezer.
"I reckon Dorie bought that." he replied after a few moments of thought. "I am not much of a juice drinker, myself—a cup of coffee is more to my taste."
He busied himself with the cooking, and Susan mixed up the orange juice. "This isn't fair," she thought. "This is going to be a simply miserable summer."
"Are you certain, you would not like something to eat?" her grandfather interrupted her thoughts. "There is lots to do before lunch. We have bacon, or toast. There's some of your grandmother's raspberry preserves in the pantry."
The odors from the cooking food did make her feel a little hungry. "I'll take a slice of bacon and a piece of toast." she finally decided, partially out of courtesy and partially because her stomach was reacting to the stimulus.
It was only when they were silently finishing their breakfast, that her mind suddenly perceived the implied threat. "What did you mean when you said we have lots to do before lunch?" she asked. Her hazy idea of 'helping' was to spend most of the day reading—maybe cleaning around the house once in while and fixing a few meals. Grandfather would work on the farm, doing whatever a farm needs, but that would not involve her.
"This morning, I need to contour the peaches so we can irrigate them later this week. You can help."
"What does contouring mean?" she asked.
He smiled, "The ground is not exactly level. So we use the tractor and plow up dikes that follow the contours of the ground. That way we can fill each of the areas with water and it will soak into the ground around the trees and not drain down to the lowest point. That would flood the trees there too much and leave the others without enough water."
Susan groaned inwardly and thought, "There goes another day. Why did my parents have to dream up this stupid idea?"
It was not long after, that Susan and Thomas found themselves in the barn. He had already hooked up the tractor, and they were ready to start. "Would you like to drive the tractor to the field, Susan?" he asked.
"No thanks!" she said emphatically. "I don't know how." "And I don't want to know." she concluded silently.
"You have your driver's license, don't you?" he asked.
"Yes, but I have only driven a car with an automatic." she replied.
"OK." he said simply. "You sit here beside me, and I will drive us to the orchard."
By lunch Susan was hot, dirty, tired, and angry. This was the most boring work that she had ever done. Even house cleaning was more interesting. What puzzled her was how her grandfather seemed to happy by it all. He talked constantly about this or that, but always about the farm.
"Dorie and I planted these trees about twelve years ago." he had told her with a hint of pride in his voice. "Before that, this was an open field where we grew alfalfa. The fifth winter after we planted them was very cold. We had to come out every morning and light smudge pots to keep them from freezing. That tree," and he pointed to one, "had so much fruit one year that it split apart. We had to prop it and wire the branches together. See, how even now you can see the scars—they haven't quite grown over yet."
"No," she thought, "More than happy. He seemed to love it."
That night she cried herself to sleep—weeping over the thoughts of a summer lost, sobbing out her frustration.
June 20 was like the 357 twentieth-of-the-months that had preceded, but Susan did not know that when she awoke. She lay there silently cursing her fate until her grandfather called out to her that breakfast was soon ready. She could not understand how he could be so cheerful early in the morning. By the time she got up, he was shaved and dressed in clean clothes, or at least they had been clean earlier that morning. By the time she saw him, it was evident that a number of chores had taken their toll. "Why bother with being so neat?" she thought.
It was during breakfast that he announced. "I am going to town this afternoon. Would you like to come along?"
Susan replied without thinking, "Oh, sure!" Then in the next few minutes her thoughts ranged from one extreme to the other. First was the thought, "Wonderful, a reprieve from this prison!" Then she remembered what the town was like. One main street with a department store, a bank, a hardware store, a grocery, and a few shops and offices that did not have the least interest for her. "Great, what I am I supposed to do in town?" she asked herself. "After five minutes, what else is there to do and see?"
After lunch, Thomas changed his clothes from the usual work clothes to those that were somewhat more dressy. Susan put on a pair of shorts and tee-shirt. When Thomas saw her, he stared for a few moments, but did not say anything.
As they drove his pickup to town, he explained the purpose of their trip. "Today is the twentieth. Today the mortgage payment is due at the bank. I only have three more to make." It was with a little pride in his voice, that he stated, "For the past, almost thirty years, I have never missed a payment. When the twentieth fell on a weekend, I took the payment in on Friday." He paused, "Well, actually, there was the time I was sick, but Dorothy had a neighbor give her a ride into town, and she made the payment."
He pulled up and parked the pickup in front of the bank. Both he and Susan got out. She looked around, and decided to accompany her grandfather into the bank. It seemed that five minutes was entirely too long for that town.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Elliot!" called out the teller as they walked across the floor toward her cage. "Good afternoon, Janice." he replied. "I would like for you to meet my granddaughter. This is Susan."
"Good to meet you, Susan." the woman behind the counter replied with a smile.
"Janice has been taking my money for more than ten years!" Thomas said with a smile.
"You have a good memory, Mr. Elliot. Actually, it is almost fourteen years that I have worked in this bank." she said with a grin.
He opened his checkbook, Janice handed him a pen, and he began neatly to fill in the information.
"How long are you staying with your grandfather?" Janice asked Susan with a smile.
"Just for the summer," she replied. "I got here five days ago." With a great deal of effort, Susan managed a smile in return. Her inner struggle was interrupted by her grandfather.
"Here's the check." he said with a chuckle. "That makes number 358!
"And here is your receipt." Janice replied as she handed it to him. "Have a good day!"
"You too, come along Susan." he said as he turned to walk out of the bank.
When they were in the street, he turned to Susan and asked, "Do you need to get anything or go shopping? I need to pick up a few things at the grocery store."
She looked around and replied, "Maybe I will look in the department store for a few minutes."
He was waiting in the pickup when she came out. As she climbed in, she observed a bag of groceries in the back. He answered her unasked question. "I noticed we were out of orange juice."
Perhaps, although Susan would not want to admit it and preferred to think she was totally bored and simply went to bed early because there was nothing to do, she was beginning to awake earlier than she could have imagined with a certain anticipation of the day. Her grandfather was already up and working at the early morning chores.
Susan found him just as he was gathering eggs in the chicken coop. He had already checked on the water and fed the chickens. Susan watched him for a few minutes in silence. This seemed to be such a gross thing to do. The odor of the chickens was almost nauseating, and he had to walk through their droppings. She thought, "That is something I will never do!" And her body shuddered as she thought about it all.
He noticed her standing there as he was leaving the chicken coop carrying a bucket with several eggs in it. "Good morning, Susan," he greeted her. She walked with him back to the house where he put the eggs in a large refrigerator on the back porch. There were several days' accumulation.
"What do you do with all the eggs?" she asked.
"I give some to the widow Helen, who lives down the road, and I sell the rest that we don't eat. Dorie used the egg money to buy special gifts." His voice trailed off, and it was quiet for some time, then he continued. "I just put the egg money in the jar in the kitchen."
He removed his shoes before entering the house. Susan followed him into the kitchen. "What would you like for breakfast?" he asked. "I am going to fix a couple of eggs, bacon, and toast for myself."
Susan thought for a moment as she remembered how hungry she had become in the middle of the morning for the past few days. "That sounds pretty good to me." she replied. She sat in the kitchen and watched him as he fixed the food, getting up only to set the table and pour herself some orange juice.
When the meal was over, and they had put the dishes in the sink, her grandfather said, "I am going to disk the north field today. Do you want to come and watch? Or maybe you could drive the tractor?"
"No thanks." replied Susan. She could not imagine anything more boring than driving the tractor around and around the field, except perhaps watching. "It looks like it is going to be a hot day. I have some reading I want to do."
At lunch time, Thomas returned. He found Susan laying outside in the sun in her bathing suit. The dishes were still in the sink. He did not say anything, but quickly washed them and fixed a simple lunch before calling her into the house.
"Did you have a good morning?" he asked as they sat down to eat.
"Oh, it was all right." Susan replied, then thought to herself, "For a prison!"
In the evening, Susan found Thomas in the front yard on his hands and knees cleaning the weeds out of the roses. She walked out to see just what he was doing.
"I'm afraid I've neglected these," he said as she approached.
"They are so lovely," replied Susan.
"Your grandmother planted these. This bed of roses was the first thing she planted when we arrived. She always liked roses. We had a garden in our house in the city. She brought cuttings from those and planted them here. I think it helped her feel that this was her home." At this he fell silent and continued his work but rather mechanically as if his mind was miles and years away.
Susan asked rather hesitantly, "Did grandmother, ah..." She did not know how to continue. Thomas, stirred and looked at her, smiled and answered her unasked question.
"She was born and raised in the city. The farm life was quite foreign to her. But after she saw how much I wanted to live out here, she never said another thing against the country. I know she missed the city, but she never said a thing." He paused, then added, "I think she came to like it though."
Susan could not comprehend that possibility, but she did see the love of the place in her grandfather's words and actions. In order not to think along that path, she said, "I can understand how she might like roses. They are such special flowers."
He paused and looked at the bush in front of him, "This dark red rose was her favorite."
Susan noticed the sadness written on his face, but soon he sighed and continued. "I'm afraid I've haven't kept up with them as well as Dorie. She had a special touch for the roses. They were always so beautiful when she took care of them."
"Well, I think they are beautiful now," said Susan.
He smiled and nodded.
Susan was growing tired of the same breakfast. Thomas seemed not to mind his two eggs, two slices of bacon, two pieces of toast and two cups of coffee every morning. The evening before she had snooped around the kitchen and discovered everything she needed. She did not say anything to Thomas, but while he was taking care of the chickens, she set the table and fixed a huge stack of pancakes.
He came in and washing up. Susan proudly told him, "I fixed breakfast for us this morning."
"Oh, ah, well, thanks." he said and sat down at the table. He looked at his plate and asked, "Where are the eggs and bacon?"
"I fixed pancakes, grandpa. I thought we might like a change."
"Well, I usually have eggs and bacon, toast and coffee." he said.
"I know," she replied, "But for at least one day, perhaps we could have something different."
"I don't know. Well, maybe so."
They ate in silence. Susan was wondering what he thought, but didn't want to ask. Finally, as they finished, he said, "Those were pretty good, Susan. It has been a long time since I had pancakes. I remember when Dorie last made them." At that he fell silent and Susan thought she saw a tear form in the corner of his eye, but in a few seconds he straightened up and smiled at her.
Susan did not realize that it was the twentieth of the month until Thomas mentioned it at breakfast. The day unfolded much like the one exactly one month before. After lunch there was the ride into town; the visit to the bank; the cheery greeting from the teller, Janice was her name, Susan remembered; the exchange of the carefully drafted check for a receipt; and the ride back to the farm.
Susan did not notice it until they were half way through breakfast. Thomas had not shaved that morning, and he was wearing the same clothes from the day before. She decided not to ask him about it.
"Is today going to be a busy day?" she asked.
"Well, it shouldn't be such a hard day, but I do have to spray the peaches. And what are you planning today, Susan?" he asked.
"I am going to clean the house and do the laundry." she replied.
"Yes, that's important." He looked lost in thought for a few minutes as Susan cleaned off the table.
"I will see you at lunch, Dorie." he said with a tired voice as he put on his shoes and left the house.
Susan was puzzled. She watched as he disappeared down the path. "Why did he call me Dorie?" she asked herself.
Susan made pancakes for breakfast. Everything was ready when her grandfather came in from collecting the eggs.
"Breakfast is ready," she told him.
He washed up, sat down at the table, looked at his plate, then at Susan, and asked, "Where are the eggs?"
"I made pancakes this morning." she replied.
"I always have bacon and eggs, toast and coffee." he said.
"I know you like them, but I thought you might like something different. You seemed to like them the last time I fixed them."
"I always have eggs and bacon with coffee and toast. You know that Dorie," he replied and just sat there looking at his plate.
Susan felt crushed, but she said quietly, "Ok, I'll have them ready for you in just a few minutes." And she hurried to fix them.
"I have to take a load of props out to the peaches today." he announced after breakfast. "I noticed yesterday that they were getting quite loaded, and the limbs might break if they are not propped up."
"How do you get them out to the orchard?" Susan asked as she washed the dishes.
"I have a trailer that I fasten to the tractor. It won't take long to load the props from the barn. I should be finished by lunchtime. See you then, Dorie."
As he walked out of the house, Susan watched for a short time. His steps were heavy and his shoulder stooped, as if he were struggling to keep moving. She wondered, but turned back inside as he disappeared down the path.
Lunch was ready at the time that Thomas usually appeared. Susan had everything prepared, but he did not come. She waited for several minutes as her concern rose. She consoled herself with the thought, "It probably took a little longer than he thought, and he decided to finish up before coming to the house." After half an hour, she could wait no longer. She hurried out toward the peach orchard. On foot it took several minutes to get there, and her grandfather was nowhere in sight. She stopped and as her breathing grew quiet, she heard the tractor, and ran toward the sound.
It was sitting at the end of a row trees. The trailer still had a number of props on it. Her grandfather was slumped over the steering wheel. "Grandpa!" she shouted as she ran toward him. At the sound of her voice he stirred. She climbed onto the tractor, and he pushed himself up from the wheel and looked at her.
"Dorie, I'm almost finished—just a few more props." And he attempted to rise from the seat, but after a short struggle gave up and just sat there.
Susan put her hand on his shoulder. "It's all right, grandpa. Let's get you back to the house."
"No, he protested. There are only a few more props."
"They will be OK," she said firmly. He nodded weakly in agreement. "You'll have to show me how to drive this tractor."
The journey back was quite an interesting one, to say the least. Susan managed not to run into anything, but she drove the tractor up to the house instead of parking it near the barn. There she helped Thomas down and into the house.
"Lie down for awhile, grandpa." she said as she helped him onto the bed. "I will bring you something to eat."
He struggled to sit up. "I must finish, Dorie." Then he seemed to accept the moment. "Well, perhaps for a few minutes." He was asleep by the time she returned with some lunch, and she did not try to awaken him.
The afternoon passed quietly. Toward sunset, he awoke and stumbled out into the living room. "Grandpa, should you be up?" Susan asked as she hurried to him to steady him.
"I'm just fine." he said. "I could use something to eat."
"Here, sit down in this chair and I will get you something." she repled. He nodded and sat down heavily.
A few minutes later she brought him a tray with something to eat. He took a few bites, then put the fork down, and looked at her. "I don't know why I feel so tired. Maybe, it because we have worked a long time on the farm, Dorie." He stopped for a few minutes as if to regain his energy, then continued, "Next spring I want to plow under the alfalfa field and plant peach trees. I know it will take a few years, but the peaches should bring in more income than the alfalfa."
Thomas had shaved that morning, Susan observed, but the task was poorly done. He had nicked himself in two places, and there were parts of the stubble that had been missed.
He mechanically ate his usual breakfast and left the house without a word.
At lunch he did not eat very much, even though she had prepared one of his favorites. "I guess I'm not very hungry, Dorie. Today's the day." he said in such a quiet voice that Susan had difficult understanding him.
He sat at the table as Susan cleared the dishes and placed them in the sink. "Must get dressed, now," he muttered and struggled up from his seat. Susan went to her room to change, but when she came out he was not waiting in the living room as he usually did on the twentieth of the month.
She went to his room. The door was open, and he was sitting on the bed, not moving. She went in. "Grandpa, are you ready?"
He did not answer, but she saw his shirt was only partially buttoned and he did not have his shoes on. Quickly she took care of his shirt and helped him with his shoes. "Come on, grandpa," she said, "You're ready, let's go." She helped him to his feet and together they walked slowly to the door. "Do you have your checkbook?" she asked.
He stopped and slowly turned. Susan saw the checkbook on the dresser and picked it up. "I've got it."
When they got to the pickup, she said. "Grandpa, let me drive today." He started to protest, but than became silent and allowed her to help him into the passenger side.
The ride to town was silent. Thomas seemed to be lost in thought and unaware when the pickup came to a halt in front of the bank. Susan got out and went around to open the passenger door. He sat there looking straight ahead until she touched his arm and said softly, "We're here, grandpa."
The interior of the bank was the same as it had been for the past few twentieths. Today, at that time, there were no other customers. "Good afternoon, Mr. Elliot!" called out Janice from behind her teller's cage as he and Susan walked up. "I was expecting you!"
"It's time for a payment." Thomas said in a soft voice, that Susan and Janice could barely hear. "This is the last one." Susan placed the checkbook on the counter, and when Thomas did not move to pick it up or open it, she opened it to the next blank check. Janice handed him a pen, which he stared at then began laboriously to write the date with a trembling hand. What appeared on the paper was hardly readable.
"Here, let me help." Susan said quietly, and when he paused, she reached out and gently took the pen and book from him. She wrote out the check and handed the book and pen back to him for his signature. When he finished he carefully tore the check out of the book and handed it to Janice.
"That's the last payment, Dorie. The farm is ours now." he said.
Janice looked at the signature, and glanced up to Susan who had a concerned look since the signature was simply a jagged scrawl. She smiled and nodded to Susan as if to say, "It's OK."
"Thank you, Mr. Elliot," she said as she handed him a receipt. "The bank will mail you the deed and the other documents in a few days."
Thomas looked confused and just stood there.
"Come, we can go now." said Susan.
"Where's my deed?" he asked.
"The bank will mail it to you in a few days, grandpa." Susan explained.
"That's the last payment. Where's my deed?"
"It takes a few days to prepare the paperwork, Mr. Elliot. You will get the deed and other papers in a few days." Janice explained.
"We paid for the farm, Dorie and me. I need a deed."
"Could you give him the deed now?" Susan asked.
Janice shook her head. "I'm sorry, but it takes a few days." She paused. "Perhaps you could talk with Mr. Patterson, the manager. He's at his desk." and she looked over to the desks, each in its stall.
"Wait here, grandpa." said Susan. "I will go and talk with the manager."
She left him and walked over to a desk with a sign that read: JAMES PATTERSON, MANAGER. It did not take her long to explain the situation. His answer was expected. "It takes several days to get the file, prepare the paperwork, mail documents to the county and to your grandfather. It does not really matter, he has a receipt and the farm is really his."
"Grandpa has looked forward to this for thirty years. He has been coming in on the twentieth of each month—not missing a payment. Could you give him something, even if it were not official, that he could have now?" she pleaded.
He started to say no, but saw the desperate look in her eyes and behind her at the teller's window the old gentleman. "I guess so. Wait a moment." As he called to a secretary, Susan left and returned to her grandfather's side.
"Mr. Patterson said he will get the deed for you in just a moment. Let's go sit down." she said, and led Thomas to Mr. Patterson's desk, which was empty for the moment. When the manger returned, Thomas said slowly, "It's all paid for. Dorie and me have our farm. It's all ours."
Mr. Patterson smiled and looked from Susan to grandfather then back to Susan. "It has been a real pleasure for this bank to serve you, Mr. Elliot. My secretary is preparing your deed now."
"It's all ours, Dorie. We did it." Thomas mumbled.
Neither Susan nor Mr. Patterson knew what to say, and he busied himself with some papers from his desk. Susan and Thomas sat in silence. After several minutes his secretary brought over an official looking certificate that Mr. Patterson signed with a flourish. "There, it's now official," he said as he handed it to Thomas, with a smile. Susan saw that the paper was not really a deed, but her grandfather grabbed it anxiously. "You will get the, ahh, other papers, in the mail in a few days." he said to Susan with a conspiratorial smile.
Together, Susan and Thomas walked out of the bank. He followed meekly as she led him to the passenger door of the pickup and helped him in. The trip back to the farm was as silent as the one earlier to town. The only difference that Susan noticed was the paper her grandfather held tightly. When they reached home, he, for the first time since the bank, quietly stated in a voice that she could barely understand, "This is ours now, Dorie. We did it. This land is all ours."
As they started to enter the house, he stopped, then stumbled over to a chair on the porch and heavily sat down. "It's all ours, Dorie." he muttered.
"Grandpa, I'm going in the house to change my clothes." she told him, then turned and entered the house. As the screen door closed, she turned and saw him sitting there with the paper clutched tightly in his hand. She paused for a few moments and noticed his mouth moving as if he were talking to someone.
It only took her five minutes to change into her work clothes and when she walked to the door and looked through the screen, the chair where she had left her grandfather was empty. With a feeling a panic rising in her chest, she hurried out of the door and called out, "Grandpa!" Then she saw him and ran toward him.
He was laying face down at the edge of the lawn by the roses. In one hand the paper, now somewhat crushed and rumpled, was tightly held close to his body. The other arm was stretched out and in his hand he held a handful of moist dirt that he had scooped from under the dark red rose bush.
Susan knew, even before she checked, that he was dead. She would have thought she would have totally freaked out, but a calmness came to her. It was not a calmness that comes from total understanding, but a calmness that arises when a crisis situation has to be handled and there is no one else to do it.
By the time the sheriff arrived, she had also made a phone call to her parents. They were leaving as soon as possible and would be there that evening. Susan sat in the chair on the porch, watched, and waited quietly.
The ambulance drove up shortly after the sheriff. By that time he had taken photos and removed the paper from her grandfather's hand and handed it to Susan. The driver and his helper did not realize that she heard them as they rolled Thomas' body onto the stretcher and covered it with a cloth. "Looks like he really bought the farm!"
The joke swept over her without any visible reaction nor was there any flash of anger, but rather she suddenly understood. As the ambulance drove away, the tears came. "Will you be all right, Miss?" the sheriff asked. "I can take you to town to stay with someone."
Susan, stiffened, looked at him, and shook her head. "I can't leave. Things need to be done and, besides, my parents are on their way here. I need to be here when they arrive."
He nodded. "If you need anything, please call my office. Someone will be there all the time." he started to walk away, then paused, turned toward her, and continued, "Your grandfather was quite a man. There will be many people around here that will miss him." He smiled, then walked to his car and left.
Susan sat for awhile, holding the paper in her hand just as her grandfather had done not long before. Then, she wiped away the tears, stood, and went into the house.
Her parents arrived around midnight. They were tired, but spent another hour talking to Susan. When they awoke at seven the next morning, Susan was no where to be found. Her mother began to fix breakfast when Susan came in. Her clothes were soiled. She emptied her bucket of eggs in the refrigerator on the back porch.
"Where have you been?" her mother asked.
"Things had to be done, mother," was all that Susan replied. Breakfast was quiet. As they finished, Susan said to her father, "We are irrigating the peach trees this morning. I've already started. I will drive you out on the tractor."