The Next Generation
Copyright© 2010 by Wes Boyd
Irene Niven looked out the window at her daughter, sunbathing in a brief blue print bikini. She found herself wishing that Judith wouldn't do that; she knew that somehow or another, it must not be good for her -- but there were so few things in life that Judith could enjoy, it was hard to make an issue over a little innocent suntanning.
Judith had enjoyed going to the prom a week ago, Irene knew; she had come home positively glowing, but had been so tired the next morning that she could hardly stay awake through church. It had been nice of the Sorensen boy to take Judith to the prom, Irene thought. Never the less, Irene could not help but think that the prom may have been too much excitement for her.
Irene turned back to her housework, shaking her head. It was so difficult having a daughter that was practically an invalid. There was so much that the girl wanted to do that she couldn't do, and so much that she had to be protected from that Irene was busy all the time -- but she knew it was a mother's duty, and she kept at it.
She wished her husband, Norman, could be a little more supporting. Why, Norman even wanted Judith to go to college! It was out of the question. It was a shame -- Judith had very good grades in high school -- but she wasn't up to it physically. It'd be better if she stayed at home.
She looked up at the clock. "I'd better not let her stay out there too much longer," she murmured to herself.
The phone rang.
Judith lay stretched out in the lawn chair, blissfully soaking up the rays of the warm spring sun. It was a wonderful feeling to lay out there almost naked in the warmth of the sun, still thinking about how wonderful it had been to go to the prom.
Since it was the height of the planting season, she still hadn't had that promised date with Ken. He'd been busy after school all week long. They'd had lunch together virtually every day that week, thought, and that had been special all by itself. It had made her feel more like a normal person, to have a guy a little bit interested in her.
Judith felt herself wondering just how deep Ken's interest might be. Probably he was just a little bit curious, she thought. Maybe being different made her a little bit exotic to him; if that was the case, his interest would soon pass -- but anyway, it was nice to cap off her high school career with having something of a boyfriend.
She was just thinking about rolling over when she heard her mother call, "Judith! Telephone!"
She wondered who it might be. Thankful that she didn't need braces any longer, she pulled her crutches to her, struggled to her feet and began to work her way into the house.
The caller proved to be Ken. "I thought you were planting corn," she said.
"The corn planter chewed up four bearings," he replied. "Can't get parts until Monday, so I've got the rest of the day off. Would you like to do something?"
"I'd love to," she said, "But I've got to go to the YMCA in Geneva for my therapy workout this afternoon."
"I could take you," he told her briskly. "We could catch a movie or something later. On the way out there, we could even come by here, and you could ride Candybar."
It didn't take Judy long to agree, even to the part about riding Ken's horse. "Bring a swimsuit if you like," she told him. "Part of my workout is in the pool."
He promised to come by her house to pick her up as soon as he could get cleaned up.
"What was that all about?" her mother asked as soon as the phone had been hung up.
"You won't have to drive me into Geneva this afternoon," Judith replied. "Ken offered to take me. Maybe we'll go to a movie afterward."
Her mother agreed that that was nice of him, but warned, "Don't stay out late or overstrain yourself. You just about wore yourself out with him last weekend, and you're not that strong."
"I won't. mums," Judith promised. "I'll be so tired after my therapy that I won't want to do too much else."
"Well," Irene replied, "I guess it's all right." She had mixed emotions about the therapy sessions. On one hand, they were necessary if there was ever to be any hope of Judith walking again, yet, they were extremely hard and tiring for the fragile girl. Irene often wished they would give up the hope of her walking and the tiring sessions.
"We'll be back pretty early," Judith promised, and went slowly to her room. She stripped off her bikini and began to find clothes to wear. Picking up her gym bag, she threw an exercise suit and leotards into it, then looked for her regular swimsuit. After all, a bikini was all right for laying around in her own back yard, but to wear one in public with a date was another matter.
The swimsuit wasn't where it was supposed to be, and she suspected it was still hanging up in the bathroom to dry; she'd have to wait until after she got dressed. As she began to pull on her underwear, she caught a look at herself in the mirror. From the hips up, she was pretty much a normal girl; but from there down, it was pretty bad. Her legs, especially, looked so bad that she almost never wore a dress, even to church, unless it was floor length.
She shook her head. "I'm really a wreck," she thought, and stopped dressing. She sat on the bed, her mind full of recriminations.
Ken had been very nice to her, and she was grateful for it, since he didn't seem to pity her. Yet, in the gym and at the pool, he was bound to see what she really looked like. It was bound to put him off; truthfully, it put her off, too.
"Well," she thought, "I guess it would be better if he knows the truth now, so things don't get too serious. Her eye caught the bikini she had discarded earlier. "I ought to wear that," she said, thinking of the scars that her tank suit would cover. She looked at the bikini for a long time before she threw it into her gym bag and began to dress with stolid determination, as if another dream were about to evaporate.
"Were are you going?" Chet Sorenson asked his son.
"I thought since we weren't planting, I'd go to town with Judy -- Judith Niven," Ken replied.
"You already told her you'd go?"
"Just got off the phone with her."
The elder Sorensen sighed. "Then I guess I can't have you go out and fit that sixty acres on the Duck Farm," he said.
"Didn't know you wanted me to," Ken replied. "I can call her back."
The Sorensens had a little over 700 acres to farm. They actually owned about 400 acres of that; the rest was leased from neighbors that had given up active farming. The parcels of land they farmed were scattered in small blocks over several square miles. This time of the year, there was always work to be done; the planter breaking down just meant more work.
"Well, I guess if you said you would take her, you'd better do it," Chet said.
"Just one thing," Ken's father went on. "It was very big-hearted of you to take her to the prom. But, don't go getting serious about her. She's probably a pretty good kid, but with her being a cripple, there's just too many problems you can have."
"I don't plan to," Ken replied. "It's just that she's always been so sheltered that everything we do is new to her, and that's kind of fun. I don't plan on getting serious with anyone for a while."
"Just make darn sure it's not with her," Chet warned again. "Remember your Uncle Ed."
Ed Sorensen, Chet's brother, had been badly shot up in Korea as a young man. With a leg and an arm amputated, the other leg almost useless, he'd been unable to do much for himself. The family had done the best they could to support him and help him out for over twenty years, until he had finally died in a veteran's hospital.
Ken could not really remember Ed Sorensen, except as an old man in a hospital bed, bitter over what life had handed him and not caring who knew it.
"I won't," Ken promised -- but he also promised himself that he'd remember that Judy wasn't necessarily like Uncle Ed.
Ken hadn't been quite right when he had said that Candybar had been around all of his and his brother's lives, but even Tom, six years older, couldn't remember when the roan-colored fillie had been foaled. In their younger days, the two boys had ridden the horse to a lather at times, but now, Candybar was an old horse, and had pretty well been put out to pasture with the beef cattle. Mostly a family pet, she was rarely ridden any more, and then only at a walk.
But, when relatives with young children visited the Sorensen farm, Candybar was always on their list of things to do, for she was gentle with inexperienced riders. It would have been hard to find a better horse for Judy to ride.
There had been no need for the Ford loader to get Judy up on Candybar's back; Ken just set her crutches up against a fence, picked her up bodily and set her in the tooled western saddle that had been in the family for years. He put her feet in the stirrups, for what it was worth, and had her hang onto the saddle horn with one hand, reins in the other. "Just sit there for a minute and get used to it," he advised. "Are you comfortable?"
"Well, yes," Judy said, thrilled to be sitting on Candybar's back.
"Can you stay up there pretty well?"
Judy leaned from side to side, and found herself able to pull herself back upright. "Yes," she smiled. "I really can. I think you were right."
"All right," Ken said. "Here we go."
Before Judy could voice any opposition, Ken took Candybar by the halter, murmured a quiet "Getup", and started to walk across the yard, keeping an eye on Judy to make sure she was staying in the saddle.
And she did. He looked back to see her sitting there, a big smile on her face. After a minute or two, he stopped. "Still all right?" he asked.
"OK," he replied. "'Getup' to go, back on the reins and 'Whoa' to stop. When you want to turn, pull on the reins in the direction you want her to go. Just walk her around the yard. Don't worry, I'll be right here." He stepped back a couple steps.
All of a sudden she looked a bit apprehensive. "Ken," she said, "I don't know about this..."
"Getup, Candybar," Ken replied.
Judy gave a little shriek as Candybar started to amble in the general direction of the house, but her face was one huge grin. She was really riding a horse! Ken walked alongside, a couple of paces away, until they were halfway across the yard. "All right," he ordered, "Turn her around and go back toward the machinery shed."
Judy pulled on one rein gently, and Candybar obediently turned slowly around to the direction they had come from. "I'm really doing it!" she said in an excited voice.
"I said you could do it," Ken smiled back.
Chet Sorensen watched them at a distance for a moment. He thought it was nice that he had a son that could show a poor girl like Judith a good time. His other son, Tom, probably wouldn't have gone to the trouble unless he'd been asked.
He turned back to the corn planter, it's hitch held high in the air by the bucket of the Ford loader. Without the bearings to fix the planter, still half-loaded with seed and liquid fertilizer, there wasn't much that could be done. Still, as long as it was out of action, he thought he might as well get some other maintenance done on it. It wouldn't hurt. Grease gun in hand, he began to go over the grease zerks to lubricate the equipment.