The Next Generation
Copyright© 2010 by Wes Boyd
Judy and Ken missed the next weekend home -- studying for midterms -- but they were home early every other weekend to make arrangements.
For Ken, having the apartment to go to made a change in his life style; in days, he found himself only eating and sleeping at the dorm. Bit by bit, things moved across town to his future residence. He was with Judy almost every night. Mostly, they studied, but they also planned, making list of things that needed to be brought on the next trip from Willow Lake.
The last weeks flew by in a hurry. Thanksgiving week was especially welcome, since it only involved three days of school. As soon as Ken's last class was out, he and Judy were in the Sunbird, heading back to Willow Lake.
"The next time we see Athens," he told Judy, "We'll be married."
"Seems strange," she agreed. "A couple of years ago, I'd never have thought it could every happen to me."
"Crip, are you happy?"
"Don't pinch me, Hick. I'm afraid I might wake up."
Irene's sister, Naomi Callison, and her husband, Peter, had children that lived far away, so they had Thanksgiving dinner at the Niven house, along with Ken and Judy.
At the wedding rehearsal that morning, Ken had been warned by Judy that the dinner would be what he might consider to be a bit on the formal side; it was driven home to him when he understood that he was expected to wear a suit and tie. Accordingly, he dug around in his closet for the suit he had not worn since graduation; and, at the dinner, found Norman also wearing a suit, something he was never seen in at the feed mill. Perhaps the most surprising sight of all was Judy; this was the first time he had ever seen her wear a knee length dress -- but he reflected that here, she was among family.
The small party sat around the Niven dining room table, which had been dressed with a cornucopia setting on a faultlessly ironed tablecloth. Each place setting had cloth napkins, and about three times the silverware Ken was used to.
"What are you studying at Western State?" Mrs. Callison asked Ken.
Ken explained that he was studying agricultural business administration, and that was about the end of any topics that might be considered personal. No mention was made of the wedding scheduled for the next day; and, in general, the conversation stayed away from anything controversial. The weather was a safe topic, so long as it did not get too agriculturally oriented.
Dinner began with a first course of French onion soup, served on tiny china soup plates; a second course of tossed salad and rolls followed.
"Norman, dear," Irene said by way of warning as she brought a small, perfectly browned turkey to the table. After sharpening a large stainless steel knife, Norman set to carving the turkey; Irene took the results, and placed them on exquisite china plates, along with servings of sweet potatoes, broccoli with cheese sauce, and oyster dressing with gravy. Irene had figured the meal exactly; except for a small bit of turkey, there would be no seconds and no leftovers. Ken had the good sense not to comment on anything, except to say the food was good.
After a dessert of chocolate torte, the party repaired to the living room for more polite conversation; here, the wedding was discussed, but only in the vaguest terms. "How many people are you expecting tomorrow, Judith darling?" Mrs. Callison gushed.
"Perhaps thirty or forty, Judy responded. "Ken has some relatives that are going to stay over at his house until tomorrow."
Ken rolled his eyes. The odds were that, tomorrow being his wedding day or not, he wouldn't see a bed tonight. He had hopes of spreading his sleeping bag on the sofa, but expected he'd wind up on the living room floor.
The plan was for Ken and Judy to go to Ken's house for the remainder of the afternoon and the evening meal; since Judy was going to be among people she didn't know, she went to her room and changed to a conservative pantsuit.
Halfway to the Sorensen farm, Ken pulled the Sunbird to the side of the road, got out, and began to peel off his suit coat, tie, and shirt. "What are you doing?" Judy asked as Ken began to pull on an old flannel shirt that, while not worn out, had seen better days.
"If you think I'm going in there in a suit and tie," he replied, "You're crazy."
Ken's mother had once told Judy that the family traditionally moved around among several relatives farms for dinner, and this had been the turn of the Sorensen's, despite the wedding. Fortunately, the farmhouse had a huge dining room, with plenty of space for extra card tables.
After the sparse holiday dinners at her parent's house, Judy was not ready for the mob of people she encountered. She never did get a firm count of the number of Sorensens and allied relatives that were milling around inside and outside the big old farmhouse. The kitchen table was piled high with leftovers; the refrigerator had reached its limits, and more was stored on the back porch. Lydia had not cooked all this; each family coming had brought two or three large dishes of something or other.
"Hi, Mom," he said, heading for a plate of cold turkey.
"Didn't you eat at the Niven's?" Lydia wondered as she watched her son tie into a handful of white meat.
Ken shrugged, speaking around a roll. "It was good, what there was of it."
"Now, quit that," Lydia said. "Go introduce Judy to some of your relatives. Most of them have never met her."
Judy was sure she'd never remember all the names or relationship Ken threw at her in the next five minutes. At that, she didn't have to deal with the younger children; this was Candybar's big day. "We usually have to drag them in to eat," he explained.
A groaning erupted from around the television set. "Which game is it?" Ken asked Tom.
"Packers and Lions."
"Tied up now, but the Packers were down by a touchdown."
There had been no football on the television set in the living room at the Niven house after Thanksgiving dinner. As Judy reflected that there was something else to get used to, Ken got interested in the game, which blared away in competition with a several cornered discussion that seemed to include farm machinery, cattle, and soybeans. After a while, the Lions picked up a Packer fumble on their own 13 yard line and ran it back for a touchdown, and Judy could see that Ken was lost to civilization. She gravitated back to the kitchen to talk with Ken's mother, and found herself in a group of about eight women ranging from about her age to somewhere in their eighties.
As not everyone had met Judy before, Lydia explained how Ken started going with her after Judy had lifted the corn planter off of Chet. "I tried to move it later," Lydia explained after telling the story, which Judy brushed off as being nothing much. "I couldn't budge it. Ken says he's seen her lift that much weight in the gym."
"It's too bad Ken isn't going to farm," Carolyn said. "She has all the makings of a great farm wife. She really loves driving that tractor that's been rigged up with hand controls."
Quite to Judy's surprise, except for Carolyn, no one made too much of a thing about her and her crutches. Eventually, the subject turned to her wedding night, and shortly after that, to memories of other wedding, and families, and babies; and Judy, without being told, could see that she was already a part of this family. It thrilled her.
Ken found himself falling asleep during the second quarter of the Bears - Tampa Bay game. Maybe it was time for some fresh air, he thought. Besides, up against Chicago, the Buccaneers didn't stand a prayer. He headed out to the back porch, where it was cooler and quieter. It was near dusk, and Ken found his father already on the porch, perhaps with the same idea in mind. "Never got the chance to ask," Chet said, "But how did the rehearsal go?"
"I think we'll be able to fake our way through it," Ken replied. "We'd have to wing it anyway. Our matron of honor couldn't make it this morning."
"You know," Chet drawled, "I've come to think a lot of Judy, and so has your mother. I think you two are a little quick about getting married, but I think she's going to make a fine wife for you."
Ken explained that they hadn't planned on marrying for another two or three years, but had decided they didn't want to wait.
"If she takes to being a wife as well as she took to working around the farm," Chet said, "She'll do all right."
"Yeah," Ken said. "It's too bad, in a way, that we won't be around farming that much longer."
"You're still against being a farmer?"
"I never was against it," Ken said. "I just gave up on trying to figure out a way to do it." They had been through this discussion before, and now Ken sought a way to change the topic a little. "By the way, how's the new combine working?"
"Worked, you mean," Chet said. That went through all the corn we had this year like a knife through hot butter. Never had a minute of down time; just changed the oil when it needed it. We really missed you and Judy hauling wagons, though."
"How'd you handle that?"
"We had Merle Watson come over with his semi and bucket trailer, and leave it parked near where we were picking," Chet explained. "Every time we got it full, we'd call him up, and he'd drive it either up to the bins, or over to the mill. I mean, you're hauling twenty tons at a crack."
"Often thought we ought to have a semi," Ken mused to his father. "Wouldn't have to be a real new one, but there's times like that when it could be real handy. And, maybe you could pick up a few bucks on the side hauling for other farmers, like Merle does. You could haul fertilizer in the spring, too."
"Tom's said that, too," Chet replied. "After this fall, it doesn't seem like all that bad an idea. Maybe we'll keep our eyes open."
They talked farming for another few minutes -- it was a comfortable subject -- until the conversation fell off. They sat silent for a moment or two, and then Chet spoke up, "Son, I guess you know I wasn't too hot about Judy the first time I met her. Well, she proved me wrong. She's a fine little lady. She's going to need some help now and then, and there's going to be times when she's too shy or too proud to ask. You just be sure you help her out when she needs it."
"I will, Dad," Ken promised.
His father went on with a warning: "Just don't be to quick to help out when she doesn't need it. I'm not saying to not be a gentleman with her all the time, but make sure you let her do things for herself. I guess you don't need me to tell you that. You watched what her mother tried to do. Don't let yourself be the same way."
"It's hard, Dad. But, I've had a year and a half to learn that. I'll remember it."
Thanksgiving supper at the Sorensen house was buffet style, on paper plates. Judy found herself eating at least twice as much has she had eaten at her parent's house, and still people urged her to try some of this or that. She was faced with a decision of which of six different kinds of cake to have for dessert; it all looked good, but her stomach was groaning. She wound up having none of them.
With some reluctance, Ken was dragged away from the television to take Judy home. She had a lot to do to get ready for the next day.
One of the first things Judy tried to deal with was more packing; she didn't want to take all the things she'd accumulated in her room to Athens, and realized it might set here for a long time, assuming her mother didn't pack it up in boxes. Irene was making sounds about taking over her bedroom so she and her father could have separate bedrooms, something that she had been dreaming about for years.
Judy went through her closet and drawers, packing now and then the odd item, knowing that a part of her life was ending. She might never sleep in this room again, after this night. She'd spent many painful nights here, many tear-filled nights when she'd been afraid that she'd never be a normal person again. Now, as she prepared to leave it forever, she reflected that she'd finally come to accept what had happened to her, and was prepared to get on with her life.
She found her leg braces in her closet. She hadn't had them on in a year or more, now; but she remembered all of the agony of having to use them, and putting up with the agony of hoping to be able to walk once again. Tomorrow was her wedding day, and once she'd hoped that she could walk down the aisle on that day, if it ever came, like a normal person.
With the braces on, she could walk, after a fashion, but now it didn't seem to matter any more. Was there any point in taking them to Athens? She couldn't think of one. They probably didn't still fit her, anyway.
She took off her pants and put on a pair of shorts, and found that her fingers still remembered how to fasten the braces, and how to adjust them so they gave her the least discomfort. Heaving herself to her feet with her crutches, she tried an experimental step, and then another, and found that she still knew how to use them, as well. Her steps were small, and still not terribly steady, and she felt glad of having her crutches in case she started to fall.
She remembered all the trials and tribulations she had gone through to get that far, in the dream of walking again. That dream had faded, now, and didn't seem as important as the life that was opening before her.
"Daddy," she called. "Would you come here, please?"
The weather in the latitude of Willow Lake can often be miserable in November, and Ken was surprised to wake up and find a bright, clear day that was almost warm. He couldn't help but wonder how many wedding guests would rather be out combining corn; it was certain that some wedding guests would have to shut down their machinery early in order to be ready for the ceremony.
Ken had wanted to sleep in; after all, he had a big day planned, and the hopes of a bigger night. However, sleeping on the hard living room floor in his sleeping bag kept his head bouncing up and down whenever anyone walked anywhere in the house; since this was a farm, and there were morning chores to be done, that bouncing started about five in the morning. Ken grimly held on until about seven, and then gave it up.
Out in the kitchen, Ken found his mother presiding over a hot stove, getting breakfast ready for the house full of guests. He didn't feel much like eating, but settled for a plateful of pancakes and sausage.
Feeling overfull, Ken set out on the one item he had planned for the morning. He didn't want to let the Sunbird get messed up, since there wouldn't be much of a chance to get it cleaned up again. Yet, he knew that some of his friends had other ideas, and he had hopes of keeping things under control.