The Next Generation
Copyright© 2010 by Wes Boyd
Spring - Summer, 1985
The soil chemistry final had been tough; Ken was glad to have it out of the way. When he and Judy had been back to the farm the weekend before, he'd left the Sunbird, and hid driven his father's pickup back to Athens. Now, as he drove to back to the apartment, he wondered how Judy was getting along with the packing.
They had been desultorly packing ever since they had come back to Athens following Tom's funeral, but now the time had come to finish it up. They hadn't been able to work on it during the weekends, since after about mid-March, they had gotten into the Sunbird after their last class on Fridays and headed for Willow Lake, usually getting in in time for Ken to get in at least a couple of hours on a tractor that night.
There was a lot of work on a tractor that Judy could do, too, and she spent most of her Saturdays and Sundays on a tractor seat as well, except for the time they spent in church. The tractor wasn't always the old Farmall she had driven the past couple summers; on one of his better days, Chet had taken time to rig hand controls on the 4630 and the old Ford used as a loader, as well.
Judy found she loved driving the big John Deere. It's cab was comfortable, with both shade and a heater and an air conditioner, along with the tape player that Tom had installed. She didn't get to drive the machine very often, because much of the work that had to be done with it was still beyond her, but both Ken and Chet took the time necessary to teach her to do some of the simpler chores.
When there weren't fields to fit or fertilize, Judy and Lydia worked at going through what had been Tom and Carolyn's house, across the road from the Sorensen farm. The house had once belonged to Chet's brother, Ed, and he had intended to farm the land that went with it. After coming back from Korea, Ed wasn't up to farming, so Chet had taken over the farm work while Ed lived there. When he died, Chet took over the farm and the house, and it had made a reasonable, if small, house for Tom and Carolyn after they married.
The house had never been kept up that well while Ed owned it, and Carolyn had not proved to be much of a housekeeper; it needed a lot of work. After Carolyn left, Chet managed to spend a few hours fixing things; Judy's father came out and did a lot of work on it. Lydia spent a lot of time cleaning it up, but there would still be much to do after Ken and Judy moved in.
Ken walked into the apartment, to find Judy sitting on a pile of boxes. "How did we accumulate that much stuff in less than six months?" he asked.
"Beats me," she replied. "I know it came up here a carload at a time, and it never seemed like much."
Ken looked again and shook his head. "There's wedding presents here we've never opened," he said.
"You still want to get out of here this afternoon?" she asked. "It'll be after dark before we get down to the farm."
"I'd love to stay over," Ken said. "But we're already behind schedule. There's corn waiting to be planted, and the weather looks like it ought to be pretty decent for the next few days. I'm glad we got the oats in last weekend."
Judy picked up her crutches and got to her feet. The last weekend had been rough; they hadn't gotten back to Athens until long after midnight, and she'd drilled Ken on his finals every inch of the way back. She felt like she'd struggled through her own; her heart hadn't been in her studying. "I hope we can get it all in the pickup," she said. "I hate to have you doing all the carrying."
"Not to be helped," Ken shrugged. "That's one of the things I knew I'd have to accept when I married you."
"Are you still glad you did?"
"Dumb question," he smiled as he picked up a box at random. "Of course I am."
Judy had learned a lot about what went on around the Sorensen farm in the couple of summers she had spent around the place, but now that she was there all the time, she found that there was much more to do than she imagined.
For instance, she had never had much to do with the beef cattle; the feeding and other chores had always been left to others. Now, Chet taught her how to use the Ford loader to grind and mix feed on the cobbled-up system Chet had built over the years, and haul feed and silage to the cattle in the loader bucket. She learned how to change loader buckets, then scrape the loading shed of manure, load it into the manure spreader, and haul it to a field and spread it.
At first, it took her a long time, not only because of needing practice, but for the need to get on and off the loader repeatedly to throw a switch or a lever. In time, Ken and Chet gradually modified the arrangement so she could do virtually everything from the tractor seat, by things like ropes and springs, and moving switches to where she could drive under them. In time, it only took her half the time it took in the beginning -- time that could be put to other things.
It seemed to Judy as if they would never get done with corn planting; they had more than 500 acres to plant, and Ken warned her that they would have to make a total of six trips across the fields before the season was cone. Most of the corn was planted in fields that had been corn the year before, so after Ken predressed the fields with nitrogen-rich anhydrous ammonia, he concentrated on running the big, expensive no-till planter behind the John Deere; Judy followed a day or so later, spraying herbicide as she had done the year before.
It wasn't all work, especially when it rained. After a rainfall, the fields would usually be too wet to work for a day or two; when that happened, Ken worked on machinery, and she could work on keeping up on her housekeeping, or occasionally go into the YMCA in Geneva for her workouts, which were now only taken when the chance arose.
One bright thing arose from having Lydia living right across the road. Judy confided her lack of knowledge about cooking, and Lydia began to show her the way around a kitchen. Frozen pizzas soon disappeared from the menu, and though Judy realized it would be a long time before she cooked as easily or as well as Lydia did, she could tell that Ken appreciated the difference.
One of the things they had missed in Athens had been close friends, so it was nice to renew their relationship with Bob and Lori. The spring was a busy time for Bob at the mill; he spent much of his time delivering fertilizer to farmers around Willow Lake. He spent long hours at it, and Ken saw him from time to time as he pulled into the Sorensen farm, towing a tank or cart full of fertilizer.
Still, though both Bob and Ken had been working long hours, they got together on occasion to play cards, catch up on the local gossip, or just talk. Lori was happy to show off their little boy, and announce the baby's latest accomplishment.
Farming was often the topic, though; one night, Bob asked Ken why he didn't side-dress liquid fertilizer between the corn rows while he cultivated corn, rather than doing it in two separate trips.
"I don't know," Ken replied. "You'd think it would work."
"L-L-L-Lots of pe-people do."
Ken shook his head. "I asked Dad to see what he could do to cut down on field hours, but I don't see a lot of change. I think we've got an awful lot of corn, considering."
"S-S-Save you a t-trip."
"I'll talk to Dad about it," Ken promised.
"Could s-s-sidedress with an-an-anhydrous, too."
"We've already put a pretty big shot of ammonia on," Ken said, "But another year, I'd like to skip the preplant, give the corn a good shot of starter fertilizer, then come in with anhydrous as we cultivate. It wouldn't waste away as fast."
"W-w-why d-doesn't y-your Dad d-do it like th-that now?" Bob wanted to know.
"Never has," I guess," Ken shrugged. "I'll have to try and talk him into it. I'm not looking forward to that. He's not always real crazy about my farming ideas."
Lori shuddered. If those two got to talking farming any more, they might never stop. "Hey, let's play some cards," she said.
The evening ended early; this time of year, the men and Judy had to get up early the next morning. On the way home, Judy commented, "From the way you talked to Bob tonight, you don't seem too happy about what your dad has you doing."
"I'm in no position to argue," Ken told her. "I can make a suggestion here and there, but he doesn't have to listen to it. After all, it's his farm."
"That doesn't seem right," Judy said. "You're the one doing most of the work."
"Yeah, I know," Ken said. "The thing is, there isn't much around the farm that I don't know how to do. The problem is, I don't necessarily know what to do, or why, so I don't want to be too pushy."
"Yes," Judy said. "But with all we're giving up to do this, it just seems your Dad ought to listen when you have an idea."
"You're already sounding like Carolyn," Ken smiled. "I've heard that before."
Judy was shocked. "I don't understand."
"Look," he said. "This isn't a commitment that lasts forever. We're farm hands, and that's all. Sooner or later, we can lease out the farm, and we don't have to worry about what's being done about the management."
"But why do I sound like Carolyn."
"It's hard to explain," Ken said. "But you have to look at it from her point of view. Carolyn was a city girl, and she didn't have any real view of what farm life was all about. Now, whatever else you can say about Carolyn, she isn't dumb. She was bringing home more money from her job as a pharmacist than Tom was making on the farm. Up to a couple of years ago, she really resented the fact that Dad was running things, and didn't have to listen to Tom or what he thought."
"I think I see," Judy said, shaking her head. "Was that why she was so bitter all the time?"
Ken nodded. "Sure, there was Tom, more married to the farm than he was to her, and she resented that. Whenever Tom tried to get Dad to do something, and he wouldn't, he'd tell her all about it, and all she ever got was the negative side. Eventually, she decided that the farm was Tom's job, and she wouldn't have anything to do with it."
"I remember her saying something like that," Judy commented.
"I know for a fact that she wanted Tom to pull out and get a job in town," Ken went on. "Last year, things were a little better, since Tom really was running most of the things, with Dad sick. I know Tom talked Dad into getting the big combine, and I'm pretty sure Dad doesn't think it was such a good idea."
"But what can we do?"
Ken shrugged. "This is the big reason I was reluctant to come back, but I didn't think it would make sense to try to explain it to you back in Athens. After all, you get along real well with Mom and Dad, and I didn't think you'd believe me."
"I guess you're right," Judy admitted. "I'll try not to let it get to me. What can we do?"
"We do the best we can, and we don't complain. I'm really not complaining, anyway. I know I've got a lot to learn from Dad, since there's a lot of stuff I never bothered to learn since I knew I'd never have to worry about it. I'm just going to work and hope that someday we can go back to school."
The summer wore on. After the corn was planted and sprayed, they had to hustle to get in soybeans.
The Sorensen farm was mostly a corn operation; both Chet and Tom had gravitated that way over the years, feeling that corn allowed them more profit. "The thing is," Ken explained to Judy one evening, "Corn is hard on the soil, so you have to make up in fertilizer what the corn takes out. To add to that, to get really profitable yields, you have to keep insect pests and weeds out of the field, and that means spraying and cultivating. Fertilizer isn't cheap, and neither is spray. And, even if you get a good crop, the market can be so low that you can't make a profit."
"So why all the other stuff?" Judy asked. "The wheat and the oats and the beans and the alfalfa?"
"Well, partly they're there for feed for the steers," Ken explained. "And partly, because it's good to put beans or alfalfa in a field that's had corn in it for a while. Builds the nitrogen back up in the soil, and gives us a chance to get some of the corn pests out of the field." He stared off into space for a moment. "I wish we could do it more."
"You're not happy about all the corn?"
"Yeah," Ken replied. "I'm not sure why, but there's something about all this corn followed by corn followed by corn that just doesn't set well with me."
Once the soybeans were in, it was time to cultivate corn. Ken asked Chet about Bob's idea, of sidedressing liquid fertilizer at the same time, using a special implement rented from the feed mill. "Seems like it might be more messing around, to have to deal with two things at once," Chet said. "But why don't you try it if you want to? It can't hurt."
That evening, Ken told Judy about Chet's approval of his idea. "It scares me, Crip," he said. "Tom would have had to work on him for days, showed him figures, and Dad would have had to work them out for himself. Now, he just says, 'Go ahead and try it.' It's like he doesn't care any more. I wish he'd see a doctor, but he won't."