The Next Generation
Copyright© 2010 by Wes Boyd
Judith had a big smile on her face as she came out of her bedroom after changing out of her wet swimsuit. "You act like you had a good day," her father said.
"She was out at the Sorensen's all day," her mother explained.
"Mr. Sorensen is out of the hospital," Judith reported, sitting down on the couch.
Norman looked at his daughter circumspectly. "Tell me," he said slowly, "How's that old Farmall of theirs running?"
"Oh, it runs real good, Daddy," Judith told him.
"I thought so," he said. "Well, I've got only one thing to say."
"What's that?" Judith replied, getting a little suspicious.
Norman reached behind him and pulled out a baseball cap with "Willow Lake Farm Center" on it. "The least you could do is wear one of our hats. We don't want anybody getting the wrong impression. Next time, wear this," he said, handing her the hat.
"Oh, Daddy," Judith said, relieved. "How did you know?"
"What's this?" Irene asked.
"I was driving the feed truck out to Arvada Center this afternoon when I passed a hay wagon," he explained. "Guess who was driving the tractor pulling it."
"JUDITH! YOU were DRIVING a TRACTOR?"
"Mrs. Sorensen was going to," Judith admitted shyly, knowing she was in for it now. "But she had to go pick up Mr. Sorensen."
"JUDITH NIVEN! You KNOW you're not supposed to be doing something like that! You could have hurt yourself or even killed yourself on that thing. I knew that if you went out there today, you'd wind up doing something you shouldn't be doing..."
"Now just a minute," Norman said, but his wife went on as if she hadn't heard him.
" ... been seeing that Sorensen boy, you've been doing one thing after another that you shouldn't be doing. You're not strong enough to be doing those things. I think the only thing w can do to make you behave is to stop you from seeing him again. What do you have to say for yourself, young lady?"
Judith was in tears by now. "Every time I do something I can be proud of you ... you..." she cried, unable to force out more.
"Just a damn minute," Norman broke in angrily. He got up, and sat beside Judith, putting his arm around her. Softly, he said to her, "Did you do a good job?"
"I think so," Judith said quietly through her tears. "Tom Sorensen paid me."
"He did?" Norman replied, a smile breaking out on his face. "How much?"
Norman pulled his daughter even closer. "I know Tom," he said. "I don't think he'd have paid you that much if you hadn't been worth it."
Judith's tears let up. She looked at her father. Was he on her side after all?
Norman smiled at his daughter, and pulled her even closer. "Honey, you make me proud that you can do things we'd never dreamed you'd be able to do."
Yes he was! "Thank you, daddy," she whispered.
"Norman..." Irene said ominously.
"If they ask you to do it again, don't be afraid to say yes," he said. "And be sure to tell Tom Sorensen that I'm glad he asked you."
"Norman, she shouldn't be doing things like that," Irene said. "I don't think she should be allowed to see that Sorensen boy again."
Judith's father turned to face his wife. "She was doing something today that thousands of young people her age were doing," he told her. "We've gone though a lot of years that that was the best we could ever pray for. You should be happy for her, not angry at her." He turned back to his daughter and put the cap on her head proudly. "A day like this deserves something special to celebrate. What do you say that after dinner, we go into Geneva and get some ice cream?"
"Norman, we'll speak of this later," Irene said, getting up and going into the kitchen.
Sullen, Irene continued to prepare dinner. How could Norman condone this impudence? She'd given Judith an inch, and she'd taken a mile!
Ever since the accident that had taken poor Phillip from them, she'd bent over backwards to take care of Judith. And now, her thanks was to have the girl go behind her back at every opportunity to do something she shouldn't be doing!
Unlike Judith, Irene could remember the accident all too well. It had been late at night, and they'd been coming back from her sister's house. Norman hadn't been feeling well, so Irene was driving. They were going through an intersection, and a car crossing had hit their car in the rear. She and Norman hadn't been hurt badly, and Judith had somehow been thrown out of the car, but Phillip had been burned to death. It turned out that the driver of the other car had been drunk, and no one listened when he swore the light was green.
Irene had relived those horrible seconds time and time again. By now, she wasn't sure that she remembered the memory itself, or the memory of the memory, and she had never told anyone, but she was almost certain she could remember the flash of a red light before the impact.
The years that had followed had been terrible. Weeks went by before it could be said that Judith could be expected to live, and month after painful month went by as she lay in the hospital as the doctors tried to do what they could to repair the massive damage. Irene had felt sheer agony over what had happened to her daughter, and swore in her guilt that she would do what she had to do to make Judith's life comfortable.
When Judith had first come home from the hospital, she'd been little more than a painful, pathetic lump that had to be cared for about like a baby had to be. Little by little, in those early years, Irene could see improvement. It was a couple years before the wheelchair could be done away with on a more or less regular basis, and by then Irene had come to concede daughter would never be well again. With faint hopes, they kept up with the therapy and the continued operations, but the last few years, the gains had been so small that sometimes Irene had wondered if they were worth the pain and the trouble they caused their helpless little girl, who probably was going to be a housebound invalid the rest of her life.
Irene had felt pain along with Judith as the little girl had her dreams of being normal, but Irene was mature enough to know that they would never come to pass. She had to admire her daughter's spirit in trying things she couldn't do, and had tried to protect her from the disappointments and failures of not being able to do what she wanted to do.
Now, Judith was acting as if she were almost normal, going out with boys, going to dances, riding horses, driving tractors, and Irene knew that she was just going to hurt herself, or get herself into trouble, and be disappointed again. Irene wanted wanted to protect her from that.
Irene was sure that one of these days, Judith was going to try something that she couldn't do, and it would bite her back. She would be crushed by the reality that she couldn't do the things that other people do, Irene thought. On the other hand ... maybe Judith was getting to the point where she'd have to learn that for herself.
Norman came out into the kitchen, ready for the battle he knew was coming. "Look," he said. "She's a big girl. She's over eighteen. I think we'd better give her a little room in her life."
"I don't want to see her hurt herself or do something she shouldn't be doing," Irene said. "But she's getting so hard to handle, I can't keep up with her any more. I guess we really can't stop her if she wants to see the Sorensen boy, but I don't have to like it."
The Willow Lake and Arvada Center Methodist Churches shared pastors. Since each was so small, over the past thirty years a succession of pastors had tried to convince the churches to combine, and even after thirty years, they were still trying, every time a new pastor came to the church. The parishioners had come to expect it, but the pastors kept pushing it, with very little more hope of success than in the beginning.
One small gain had been made a few years before, when a pastor had suggested the youth groups of the churches combine. Since all the children went to the same school, and the groups were so small, a lot of effort could be saved, and there could be a wider range of programs.
The combination had been so successful that it had expanded into the creation of a combined young adults group, aimed at people just out of school through young marrieds. As luck had it, in recent years the high school group had become almost moribund for a nearly complete lack of Methodist high school students, and the young adult group had extended to include the few high schoolers, which nominally included Judy, a member of the Willow Lake congregation, and Ken, from the Arvada Center church. However, neither had felt they fit in very well, and neither had been active.
Now that they were out of high school, Ken and Judy were each more officially a member of the "Young Adults" group, and the talk of college, jobs, and babies seemed a little less foreign. Besides, it made for an acceptable date that Judy's mother couldn't complain about, so the two began to attend the biweekly meetings, in addition to their regular trips to the YMCA.
The folding chairs in the Arvada Center church basement were as hard as they ever were; they seemed especially hard that evening, for Ken and Judy had been busy with combining oats all day. Tom had allowed Ken to run the combine, and Judy had shuttled the gravity boxes full of grain up to the barn, where Chet, still in his wheelchair and cast, tried to help out by running the elevator. They had gotten done late, and had barely had time to race up to the lake for a quick swim before coming back, changing clothes, and going to the potluck dinner.
In the past weeks, Ken and Judy had agreed to try and avoid getting Irene any more upset than necessary. Still, in the four weeks since the first cutting of hay, Judy had found herself driving the tractor on several other occasions, combining wheat, baling straw and now, combining oats. While her father had come out on occasion to watch her work, her mother hadn't been allowed to know about her continued tractor driving.
The grain, at least, she, Ken, and Tom could handle without hiring other help. More help had been needed to bale straw, but by then, Judy was beginning to find herself an accepted member of the team, and that thrilled her. Ken was especially pleased that Judy could help with the harvest; not only did it give him more chances to be with her, but it gave him a chance to see her glow with a feeling of accomplishment.
"I'm still open to suggestions for an activity for August," Roger Griswold said. Griswold, who owned a farm a couple miles from the Sorensens, was more or less the group leader, and was also about the oldest member of the group. "As you know, we'd planned to go up to the church camp for a weekend in two weeks, but there was a scheduling goofup, and now that's out."
"How about a canoe trip?" Mary Towne suggested. "We went on one when I was in the youth group ten years or so ago, and it was a lot of fun," the short, stocky redhead continued.
"Sure," her friend, Marjorie Flack, added. "We could go up to some place like the Spearfish River on Friday night, rent canoes, and get back late Sunday. We could have a campfire, and cookouts, and a lot of fun on the river."
"I was a chaperon on that trip you're talking about," Griswold recalled. "I seem to recall that there was so much splashing I almost drowned."
"Fun, wasn't it?" Mary retorted.
"Well, if it's all right with everybody else, it's all right with me," Griswold agreed.
Judy turned to Ken. "What do you think?" she whispered.
"I don't know," he whispered back. "What do you think?"
"Do you think I could handle canoeing?"
"Don't see why not," Ken said. "On a trip like that, it'll be all back and arms, anyway."
"All right," she whispered. "Let's go."
"Absolutely not," Irene shrieked. "The canoe could turn over and you could drown!"
"Oh, I don't know about that," Norman defended; Judith had the good sense to take such a radical idea as a church canoe trip to her father first. "She can swim better than I can. Besides, you'd have a life jacked, wouldn't you, dear?"
"Oh, sure, Daddy," Judith agreed eagerly.
"Anything could happen on a trip like that. I won't have it."
"It's a church trip," Norman shrugged. "She'll have people we know with her all the time. I think it would be good for her to get out with some of the people from church. Judith, I don't see any reason why you can't go."
Irene stormed from the room, shouting, "Norman, we'll speak of this later."
Norman winked at his daughter. "Let me take care of this. Just have fun."
It was touch and go up until the last minute, not because of Judith's mother, but because the second cutting of hay was ready at the time corn silage was ready. Judy spent hours on the seat of the old Farmall, doing what she could to get the Sorensens caught up, but by noon Friday, they were still way behind. "Looks like we'll have to back out," Ken told Judy over lunch.
"Naw," Chet said. He didn't have to use the wheelchair as much now; he could get around on crutches some, and Ken had even seen him driving the hand-control modified Farmall that Judy usually drove. "Why don't you kids go ahead and go? You've worked hard -- especially you, Judy, when you didn't have to. You deserve a little time off."
The two didn't need much convincing. "We'll work right up to the last minute," Ken promised.
"There's enough to be done," Chet conceded. "Lydia, this afternoon, why don't you take Judy into town so she can get her things and the kids can leave right from here? I think I feel strong enough to drive HER tractor for a little while."
"Thanks, Mr. Sorensen," Judy said. "I appreciate that."
"I'll call the Griswolds and have them pick the kids up here," Lydia agreed.
"Mom, let's have that pie," Tom replied. "We've got a lot to get done before these two take off on us."
The Spearfish River was a good two hundred miles from Willow Lake, and getting there was a long trip in Roger Griswold's twelve-passenger van, which was pulling a trailer full of gear. It was a long trip. They stopped for hamburgers along the way, and afterward, Mary Towne tried to organize a hymn sing, but it hadn't gone over very well. Her husband, Jim, was perfectly happy to get away from their three kids for the weekend, and he, Ron Flack, and Roger had gotten into a discussion of motorcycles, while the wives talked about their kids.
Danielle Lee and Greg Jones had been a year ahead of Ken and Judy in school, and were now engaged, but waiting for Greg to get out of college; the four unmarried kids clustered in the rear of the van and listened to Greg talk about life at Western State: "And this guy I had for State and Local Government has to be the dumbest character I've ever met. He gets up in front of this whole classroom of people, and he drones on for the full period in one dull voice, and you can see people dropping off to sleep all over the place."
"Is the work that much harder than high school?" Ken wanted to know.
"Not if you work at it," Greg advised. "Some of the classes fill you up with work pretty good, but you can handle it if you keep your mind at it. The thing is, when you're in college, you're surrounded with people that want to be there, not like in high school where people have to be there. It makes a difference."
Judy stayed pretty quiet. Her father wanted her to go to college, but her mother was against it, and she couldn't help but wonder if she could handle the work. She'd done well enough in high school -- she'd had a solid "B" average -- and it was nothing to be ashamed of, but she'd found herself wondering if perhaps her teachers hadn't been a little easy on grading her.
After a while, the discussion turned to the trip they were going on. "I've never been canoeing," Danielle said. "I hope it's not too hard."
"A trip like this won't be hard, except for the water fights," Greg told her. "You been canoeing before, Ken?"
"Oh, yeah," he said. "I started back when I was in Boy Scouts. I even got the merit badge."
"Ever been on any big trips?"
"I was out for a week with the scouts once, but that wasn't all that difficult," Ken admitted. "The only problem was that we had to eat our own cooking. Bob and I had planned to go on a big canoe trip this summer, but we had to put it off when my dad got hurt. Maybe next year."
"What's that?" Judy said. "I never heard about that."
"Oh, sure," Ken said. "Bob and I were planning to go north, but we had to call it off."
Judy vaguely remembered something about a trip Ken and Bob had been planning for a celebration of being out of high school, but nothing had come of it. "So that's what it was all about," she remarked. "Where were you planning on going?"
"A long way from here," Ken said. "Way up in Lake Superior, there's this big island, Isle Royale. It's a national park, and really supposed to be wild. You can hike around it, or there are some canoe trips you can take. Bob's cousin was up there a couple years ago, and he's got some really neat pictures of moose and stuff."
"Canoeing out in Lake Superior," Greg commented. "That doesn't sound so good. I hear that water can get pretty rough."
"That's the neat park," Ken said. "Bob's cousin said you can make a big trip up there and never have to get out in the lake itself. You just stay on inland lakes and bays."
"That does sound pretty neat," Greg said. "I'll have to remember that."
They were all happy to turn into the campground; it was getting dark, and it had been a long trip. Once out of the van, they turned to pitching camp. They used the van's headlights and the light of a gasoline lantern to get the tents up somehow, and the chore took a lot of laughter. Ken had found a sleeping bag somewhere for Judy, and she unrolled it in a pup tent she shared with Danielle. Ken found room in the tent with Greg, and soon found himself discussing the dismal chances the Western football team faced that fall.