I was driving to the General store one afternoon to get a few odds and ends. It was not enough of a list to go all the way into town for. Just the one or two little things you can’t do without on a Friday afternoon in the early summer.
I saw Woodbury’s tractor sitting in the field where he had been haying. The row was unfinished; the field was large and more than half cut. I drove on along the 4 miles to the store from our house, and then back. The tractor was still there, and so were a few pickup trucks and a group of people all standing around the tractor.
It must have broke down I thought.
Two days later our neighbor, Ryan came by with the news that old man Woodbury had died that day in the field, run over by his own tractor. The old fellows leave their diesel engines running; something to do with the startup motor, and his tractor was fussy about starting.
No one was sure how it got out of gear and rolled onto him while he went to check on something, right in it’s path.
A white cross marks the spot with his name and the date painted on it.
His grandson inherited the farm. He was already living there and doing the work, and he wanted to stay on, keep the cows and the fields as they were. He just needed to sell off a small parcel, down the road to help cover the costs of a new tractor and an addition on the barn.
His Grandfather would not have approved of the sale, but it would be out of the question to take on debt. Everything in the old man’s life had been between him and grudgingly, his version of god.
He had been a superstitious old man and did not understand the abstraction of paying back a loan over time, or the concept of a relationship with a bank. Simply put, he had no head for figures.
But especially not after what had happened to his brother Jacob.
His brother had lived Down East, which meant up the coast a few hours away and that much closer to the tattered edge of the United States. His brother Jacob was once young and had the tolerable appeal of a rugged outdoor man.
Jacob lived in a small cabin on a reasonable parcel of land that was all root and rock but had as fair a view as any that you could hope to see of the ocean and the sky. He lived alone and worked at odd jobs for the summer people who kept returning every year and increased in number as the Nation left the poverty of the depression and began to expand.
One summer a woman arrived who was maybe divorced, maybe a widow, but she became his companion and this went to Jacob’s head, and they spent all of their time together along with some of her friends and a stream of guests. They drank at nights and went out in the boat to fish in the afternoons and drank some more, and Jacob saw a side of his world in a way he had never known before.
Let’s say it was the drink, not the woman that ruined the man. Let us say that the man ruined himself and had fair opportunity to see that he might drown in those uncharted waters. He might have been blinded by desire that turned into greed, and then became an odd form of hope that would make a desperate man see angels where there are none.
It took a few seasons, but at the end of the cycle the brother came to live at the Grandfather’s farm, a broken man. He had signed away his life and then spent the remainder of it helping with the cows and maybe sometimes he would see the fields disappear into rolling green waves that recalled the ocean.
Let us just say that whatever happened, it was between the brother, the Grandfather and their grudging, version of god.