The Next Generation
Copyright© 2010 by Wes Boyd
It felt good to be in the cab of the combine. Outside, the sky was a cerulean blue on this Halloween eve, but there was a chilly bite in the air.
The weather had not been this nice all month. While not a repeat of the year before, it had been wetter than the summer. Without a grain drier, Ken had to wait for the corn to dry on the stalk before he could run the splotchy-colored combine through it. The only thing that had kept him from pulling out his hair was that this year, he didn't have anything near the amount of corn to deal with that he'd had to face with the old Oliver 70 the year before.
He checked the grain bin in the mirror; it was getting on towards full. Judy ought to be along any time now, he thought. He looked up across the corn stubble, and saw the Farmall waddling toward him, pulling an orange grain box. The bin was full when he got to the end of the row, so he stopped to wait for the shuttle tractor to pull up.
As it pulled closer, Ken could see that Judy wasn't the only one on the seat. She was sitting well back; in front of her, holding the steering wheel, was a little black girl who couldn't have been more than ten or eleven. Over the noise of the combine, Ken could see Judy mouth the words, "All right, now pull on the brake lever."
The gravity box came to a stop right under the auger, and Ken threw a lever, letting the shelled corn flow. Then, curious, he swung down out of the cab and walked over to the old H. "Who's that driving for you?" he asked his wife.
"This is Charlotte," Judy said. "Beth Mohr brought her out for the day, and thought she'd have some fun out here. She can't use her legs, like me."
"I could till I got hurt," the little girl piped up.
"Do you like driving a tractor, Charlotte?" Ken asked.
"Oh, yes!" the little girl beamed.
"How would you like to ride a horse?"
"I don't know that I can," Charlotte said quietly.
"You can do anything you want to," Ken told her. "The horse's name is Candybar. Do you like that?"
The little girl smiled. "That's a nice name."
Ken grinned. "Well, after a while, we'll saddle Candybar up for you, and you can ride her."
"Oh, I'd like to."
Ken stepped up to check the grain bin; it was almost empty. "Oh, Ken," Judy called. "Dad called. He wants you to call him back while the office is still open."
Ken looked around the field. "One more box," he said, "And then I can bring up what's left in the combine."
It was almost an hour later before Ken came up to the house. As he drove the combine into the barnyard, he saw Candybar walking around the yard at an easy pace, with Charlotte on her back. Judy leaned against the pickup watching them. Ken parked the combine by the elevator, got down, and walked over to his wife.
"I keep thinking about getting another horse," Judy said. "That way, we could both go riding."
"Well, maybe," Ken responded, nodding toward Charlotte. "What happened to her? Car accident?"
"Worse," Judy said. "Gunshot. She really is paralyzed below her waist, but she gets around pretty good. I did tie her to the saddle, though."
"Good," Ken nodded, watching Candybar's gentle walk. "Beth's idea?"
"Sort of," Judy said. "I told her that if she had kids that could benefit from following me around for a while, to bring them out."
Ken smiled. "It seems to me that it wasn't so long ago that I stood out here and watched another girl ride Candybar for the first time."
"Worked out pretty good, didn't it?" Judy smiled, stealing a quick kiss. "Better go see what Dad wants. Oh, and Mr. Needham called. We've got a court date the day after tomorrow, and this time, it probably won't get continued."
Ken walked across the road to their house; if Norman wanted him to call during business hours, then he meant business, and the office was in Ken and Judy's house, now. It took a minute for his father in law to come to the phone, but his first words were, "Hey, where's that corn?"
"What corn?" Ken said. "Merle and his truck already brought you all I've got contracted for this month."
"Not quite," Norm replied. "I've got a contract here Tom signed better than two years ago."
Ken had never seen such a thing. "How much?" he asked.
"Forty thousand bushels."
The words hit Ken like a knife in the belly. He didn't have that much corn; he hadn't even grown that much this year. Might as well get all the bad news, he thought. "What's the delivery price?"
Ken could almost hear his father-in-law smile through the phone. "I hate to say this, but $2.15 a bushel."
Ken let out a long whistle. That morning, current corn was going for $1.61. "Norm," he said finally, "You got any corn you'd like to sell?"
"I got a whole elevator full. You can have what you want. Say, at $1.85."
Ken snorted. "I could go down to the care and get all I want at $1.75."
"All right," his father-in-law said. "A dollar eighty, and you won't have to haul it."
"You've got a deal," Ken told him. "I'll come in in a little while and do the paperwork." They talked for a minute or two longer before Ken hung up the phone. He walked over to the desk and turned on the adding machine. It coughed out a figure in an instant, and Ken let fly with another long, low whistle.
Fourteen thousand dollars profit in one phone call!
He shook his head. At the beginning of the year, he would have thought that a nice profit for the whole year. The balance sheet was really going to look good this year. He knew that kind of speculation could just as easily gone the other way, and maybe he was just as glad he hadn't known about the huge contract. Still, as a last present from Tom, it was a pretty good one. He wasn't sorry to take it.
He knew where it really came from. He bowed his head. "Thank you, Jesus," he said.
The gavel banged. "Case closed," the judge said. "Next case."
The Sorensens lagged behind a bit, to let Carolyn get out ahead of them. "Well, that's that," Ken said to Lydia and Judy. They walked outside under a gray November sky.
"Judy," he said, as soon as they were outside. "You've got a while before you go see the doctor. Why don't you drop by the license bureau and get the new plates for the Sunbird on your way. I'll hike on over to the bank."
"Ken, I'll go with you," Lydia said. "I've got some shopping to do. You and Judy can pick me up after you both get done."