Book Excerpt: Give Me a Home Where the Dairy Cows Roam
When I reached the top of the driveway after getting off the school bus one April afternoon, I couldn't help but wonder why Dad was standing on the stepladder next to the tractor.
I had never seen my father use a stepladder to fix a tractor. He didn't have to climb on anything to reach the engine. I also knew he wasn't filling the tractor with gasoline. The 460 Farmall was too far away from the gas barrel underneath the silver maple tree by the garage, so the hose wouldn't reach that far.
"What's Dad doing Needles?" I asked.
Our dog, Needles, had come to meet me, his tail going in circles. Needles was a Cocker-Spaniel mix we had gotten when he was a tiny cream-colored puppy with wavy hair on his ears. Within the first week, he had nipped my sister's ankles while she was hanging clothes outside to dry. She had exclaimed, "Get those needles out of here!" And the name had stuck. As Needles grew older, his color had darkened to light caramel.
At the sound of the word, 'Dad,' Needles' ears perked up, and his round, dark-brown eyes stared at me with sharpened intensity. Needles was Dad's 'hired man.' That's what Dad said, anyway. When my father worked in the field, the dog would either trot behind the tractor or, on warmer days, would find some shade at the end of the field where he could keep an eye on things. When we milked cows, he stayed in the barn, sometimes nudging aside the cats so he could drink some milk from their dish. And when Dad went on an errand with the pickup truck, Needles often rode with him.
"What's Dad doing?" I repeated. "Go find Dad, Needles."
The dog, his feathery tail still wagging, spun around and took off toward the machine shed.
I stood for a minute, listening to the redwing blackbirds singing in the marsh below our driveway-on-ka-leeee-eeeeee, on-ka-leeeee-eeeeee. From the pasture next to the barn, meadowlarks joined in-tweedle-ee-tweedle-eedle-um, tweedle-ee-tweedle-eedle-um.
As I turned toward the house, my books tucked in the crook of one arm and my jacket draped over the other, I still couldn't quite believe that the sun was shining. For the past two weeks, the weather had been cold and rainy, but today the dark clouds had gone away and the sun had appeared. During afternoon recess at school, it was so warm that we had all taken off our jackets.
Last night at supper, Dad said he wished it would stop raining, and I knew this was the kind of weather he had been waiting for so he could plant oats and corn, although he wouldn't start for a few days, not until he was sure the fields were dried out and that he wouldn't get stuck in the mud with the tractor.
Although I usually went into the house right away when I arrived home from school, today I set my books on the porch steps. The house seemed bigger, somehow, now that the snow had melted and the grass was beginning to turn green. My mother said our house was nothing more than a glorified log cabin-and in fact, underneath the siding it was a log cabin that had been built by my Norwegian great-grandfather.
The rumbling in my stomach reminded me it had been a very long time since lunch. I liked to eat a snack right away when I got home from school, but with Dad working outside by the machine shed, curiosity got the better of me and I figured I could always eat a snack later.
When I drew closer to the machine shed, I saw a green bottle standing on the engine cowling next to Dad's elbow and a wad of rags hanging out of his back pocket. Dad was wearing faded blue work overalls, a blue short-sleeved chambray work shirt and brown leather work boots. During the winter, he wore long-sleeved plaid flannel shirts, but during the summer, he wore short-sleeved shirts.
"What're you doing?" I asked.
My father looked up quickly, as if he were surprised that someone had spoken to him. Needles sat beside the tractor, keeping a watchful eye on Dad.
"Home from school so soon?" Dad asked, reaching for his pocket watch. "Well, yes, I guess it is that time already, isn't it."
I had asked him once why he carried a pocket watch. He said a wrist watch would get too dirty from the dust and oil and grease and would probably stop working.
"Why are you standing on the stepladder Daddy?"
The four-sixty had been around for almost as long as I could remember. It had been brand new when Dad bought it. He called the four-sixty "the big tractor," and he called the Super C Farmall "the little tractor." He used the four-sixty for all of the heavy field work. Plowing and planting in the spring, cutting and baling hay during the summer, harvesting oats in August-right around the time of my birthday or maybe a little later-and for picking corn in the fall.
The four-sixty was the prettiest tractor I had ever seen, with its bright red fenders and the alternating red and white sections above the engine. The rear tires, as black and shiny as licorice, were much taller than me.
Sometimes when Dad went to our other place (a second farm that my parents owned about a mile away), he would let me ride on the four-sixty with him. It was tremendous fun to sit on the red fender, right next to Dad, while the wind blew through my hair and Needles trotted beside us.
Instead of answering my question about why he was on the stepladder, Dad grabbed the green bottle and tossed it in my direction.
I reached out with both hands and caught it up-side-down. When I turned it upright, I saw that the label had the letters T-u-r-t-l-e-W-a-x printed on it.
"You're waxing the four-sixty?" I said.
Dad pulled another rag out of his back pocket. "Yup."
Now that I was close to the tractor, I could smell the wax, a bitter odor that reminded me of the way peach pits smelled. Every summer, Mom would buy a couple boxes of peaches to can. Homemade canned peaches tasted much better than the canned peaches from the store.
Several used rags occupied the little shelf on the front of the stepladder where Dad or my brother or sister put paint cans when they were painting. The shelf was knobby with drips of dried paint. Most of the drips were white because all of our farm buildings were white, although light blue drips from the kitchen and pale yellow drips from the living room were mixed in with the white drips.
I looked down at the bottle again. "But I thought this was for cars. And trucks."
Dad shrugged. "Well, yes, I guess it is."
"Then why are you using it on the tractor?"
My big brother, Ingman, waxed his car a couple of times a year, and my sister, Loretta, waxed her car as well. But I had never seen Dad wax anything.
"I wanted to get this done before I start the field work," he said, "to help protect the paint."
"Protect the paint? From what?"
"The sun," he explained. "Sun' s hard on the paint. Fades it."
I had to admit that the tractor did look nice. The red parts were bright and shiny, like an apple that's been polished, and the white parts looked as clean as puffy clouds drifting across a blue summer sky.
"The sun would fade the paint?"I asked. "Like the sun faded Mom's curtains in the living room?"
The curtains had been white with gold and brown patterns that reminded me of leaves drifting to the ground on a warm fall day. Mom said she liked the curtains because they were pretty and were made of heavy cotton and would be easy to wash. Except that after the first summer, the curtains didn't have gold and brown patterns anymore. They were mostly just white with pale brown streaks.
Mom said the streaks made her curtains look like they were dirty, so the curtains had been replaced with something Mom called "drapes" that were the color of ripe corn. Yellow was my mother's favorite color. Mom said if the sun faded her new drapes she was going to give up and leave the living room windows bare.
By the smile on Dad's face, I could tell he clearly remembered the episode with Mom's curtains.
"Yes, kind of like that," he replied.
He reached into his back pocket, pulled out another rag and held it up.
It was a piece of Mom's curtains.
"Mom's letting you use her curtains to wax the tractor?"
"Well, I don't know if she knows I'm using them to wax the tractor. They're not much good for curtains anymore, but they make dandy wiping rags."
I watched as my father rubbed a few more spots on the engine cowling. A breeze rustled the maple branches arched high above our heads. The maples didn't have leaves yet, but they were covered with fuzzy red buds that would soon turn into leaves. From the other side of the barnyard fence, one of our cows bellowed. "Mooooooo!" she said.
I turned toward the barn and saw a dozen of the cows standing by the fence, watching us. Most of our cows were black-and-white Holsteins.
Dad looked up and saw the cows too. "I guess they know it's almost time for their supper, don't they."
He climbed off the stepladder and turned to me. "Since they all seem to be expecting it, I suppose I'd better put them in the barn and feed them. And you should probably go in the house and change out of your school clothes."
"What's Dad doing?" Mom asked when I walked into the kitchen a few minutes later. She sat by the kitchen table with a cup of coffee and an oatmeal cookie and the newspaper spread out in front of her. We had lots of newspapers at our house. One that came once a week, and one that came every day. Mom was reading the one that came every day.
"How did you know I was talking to Dad?" I asked as I set my books on the table.
"When you didn't come in the house right away, I poked my head out the door to see where you were," she replied.
I might have known. My mother hardly ever missed anything that went on around the place.
"Dad just got done waxing the tractor," I said.
"Dad's waxing the four-sixty?"
"With Turtle Wax. And he used your curtains."
Mom frowned. "My curtains? What in the world is he doing using my curtains?"
She paused. "Oh-you mean the curtains I put into the rag bag. I knew he was doing something with the tractor, but I didn't know he was waxing it."
The hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach suddenly reminded me I still had not yet eaten a snack. "What's for supper?"
"Meatballs and gravy and mashed potatoes," Mom said. "I suppose you're hungry right now, though, aren't you."
She turned to look at the clock. "I don't think you're starving in the literal sense, but we won't eat for at least an hour, so I suppose a couple of cookies would be all right."
Last weekend Loretta had baked a batch of oatmeal cookies. I reached into the canister on the counter. Usually my sister made ordinary oatmeal cookies, but this time she had added coconut.
After I had finished my cookies, I went upstairs to change my clothes, and then a little while later, Dad came in the house.
"I hear you've been doing y our spring cleaning," Mom said.
"My spring cleaning?" Dad replied. "Well, yes, I suppose you could say that. We paid good money for the big tractor and it doesn't hurt to keep it looking nice."
"I also heard you used my curtains."
"They're not much good for curtains anymore," Dad said.
My mother sighed. "No, they're not."
Dad grinned. "Especially not since you ripped them up into rags."
Mom turned and made her way over to the table, grasping the back of one of the kitchen chairs to keep her balance. It wasn't so much that Mom sat down. She collapsed. The polio hadn't left her legs with enough strength to allow her to sit down gracefully.
"Roy," she said to Dad after she had settled into her chair, "since when do you have time to wax the tractor, of all things?"
My father shrugged. "What else am I going to do on a beautiful spring day when I can't get out in the field yet? Those curtains were just what I needed to do the job. If you don't mind, I'd like to keep them out in the shed to use for polish rags."
"Well," Mom said, "I'm glad my curtains are good for something."
Although that was the first time I saw Dad waxing the tractor, it certainly wasn't the last. In the following years on the first nice spring day, he would get the four-sixty out to wax it before he started the field work.
Every year, Mom and Loretta did their spring cleaning, too, washing walls and windows and curtains in the kitchen, the living room, the bathroom and all three bedrooms.
From what I could see, Dad had more fun than Mom and Loretta.
Instead of cleaning the curtains-he used the curtains to do his cleaning.
About The Author
LeAnn R. Ralph is the author of the books "Give Me a Home Where the Dairy Cows Roam" and "Christmas in Dairyland." ruralroute2.com" target="_new">http://ruralroute2.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
Veteran journalist Cokie Roberts, who joined an upstart NPR in 1978 and left an indelible imprint on the growing network with her coverage of Washington politics before later going to ABC News, has died. She was 75.
Roberts died Tuesday because of complications from breast cancer, according to a family statement.
A bestselling author and Emmy Award winner, Roberts was one of NPR's most recognizable voices and is considered one of a handful of pioneering female journalists — along with Nina Totenberg, Linda Wertheimer and Susan Stamberg — who helped shape the public broadcaster's sound and culture at a time when few women held prominent roles in journalism.
Indie press Galley Beggar has warned of the impact a no-deal Brexit could have on publishing after learning of "crazy" government requirements on distribution and warned it could put smaller publishers out of business.
The Norwich-based independent, which recently scored a Booker Prize nomination with Lucy Ellmann's Ducks, Newburyport, fears smaller publishers could be put out of business over legal uncertainty around Brexit.
Galley Beggar founder Sam Jordison outlined concerns around UK government and Publishers' Association guidance, and in particular government guidance suggesting that publishers will need to state country of origin or International Organization of Standardization (ISO) codes for their inventory. The government published its Yellowhammer contingency plan which details "worst case" scenarios for a no-deal Brexit last week. The document warned of channel crossing delays and disrupted trade across the Irish border...
... "We're terrified, we are genuinely terrified. There's all kinds of other reasons to object to Brexit but from a practical point of view it's going to completely screw us. The main concern is that this is potentially going to put people out of business. Not even potentially, it is going to put people out of business. Our margins are small so rising costs are already a nightmare – that's only going to get worse. Paper, transport are going to go up – even with a deal that stuff is problematic." ...
Elena Ferrante, the Italian author whose Neapolitan novels became a global phenomenon, is to publish a new book in Italy on 7 November – her first novel in four years.
Bestselling author Jojo Moyes has called on the government and the publishing industry to do more about the UK's "shameful" adult literacy record. In 2018, Moyes, writer of global hits including Me Before You and The Girl You Left Behind, donated three years of funding to charity the Reading Agency for its Quick Reads scheme, saving it from closure when its previous sponsorship ran out.
While she was "proud to be able to help out as a private individual", she is furious at what she calls governmental and industry failure to understand the importance of Quick Reads.
Dorothea Benton Frank, author of 20 novels set in the Charleston area and a beloved figure who for years split her time between Sullivan's Island and the New York City area, died Monday evening after a brief illness. She was 67.
Amazon has broken the worldwide embargo on Margaret Atwood's The Testaments (Nan A. Talese), which isn't supposed to go on sale until next Tuesday, September 10, inadvertently shipping about 800 copies to customers. This has infuriated indies, led to early reviews of the book around the world--revealing basic elements, and caused exclusive excerpts to be published earlier than planned. Altogether, the embargo violation stained the release of one of the biggest books of the fall season, Atwood's long-awaited sequel to The Handmaid's Tale.
In response to the situation, publisher Penguin Random House issued this statement: "A very small number of copies of Margaret Atwood's The Testaments were distributed early due to a retailer error which has now been rectified.... Not naming Amazon and attributing the problem to "a retailer error" irritated many indie booksellers for a number of reasons: some pointed out that if their stores had sold copies of the book early, it would be considered an embargo violation and likely lead to punishments, such as not receiving embargoed books ahead of publication date in the future. Many speculated PRH will not do anything of the sort with Amazon.
In a series of tweets, Raven Book Store, Lawrence, Kan., succinctly outlined the problem:
"It should come as no surprise that a certain huge online retailer is selling this book very close to our cost; if we sold it at their price we'd make $1.73 per copy. We've discussed before how this is unfair, and how we deal with it.
But now, not only is the huge online retailer selling it for a price we can't compete with, but they shipped out copies a week early. This increases the likelihood that someone who got it early uploads a bootleg copy online, cutting into sales for everyone.
It also gave de facto permission to places like the New York Times and NPR to publish spoiler-heavy reviews, which deflates the mysterious buzz about what's in the book. It's likely that less mystery means less vital first-week sales for everyone. I hope we're wrong."
Chanel Miller was known by the pseudonym Emily Doe at the trial of Stanford student Brock Turner, who was sentenced to six months in county jail for the assault. The sentence caused widespread anger given that Turner could have been jailed for up to 14 years for the crime. Many believed Turner had been given a lenient sentence because he was a white athlete from a prominent university, Stanford. Turner repeatedly claimed alcohol was to blame and that the encounter was consensual, while his father called the attack "20 minutes of action".
Miller is now releasing a memoir, Know My Name, which her publisher says will "change the way we think about sexual assault forever". Miller's 7,000-word statement at the trial garnered millions of views around the world when it was published online in 2016. She will also appear on CBS's 60 Minutes later this month and extracts from the interview, including Miller reading the statement, have been released this week.
Hundreds of readers in the US have received early copies of Margaret Atwood's heavily embargoed follow-up to The Handmaid's Tale, The Testaments, after copies were shipped out early by Amazon.
Security around the novel had been as tight as anything mounted for JK Rowling or Dan Brown's blockbuster releases – the judges for the Booker prize, who shortlisted The Testaments for the award on Wednesday, were warned they would be held liable if their watermarked copies leaked. But since Tuesday, readers have been posting images on Twitter of their freshly delivered copies, a week before the novel's official release on 10 September.
And The Guardian have just published an (officially approved) excerpt--see link below:
The shortlist for The Booker Prize, the U.K.'s top prize for fiction, has been announced. The list includes two former winners, Margaret Atwood and Salman Rushdie--even though Atwood's book doesn't publish until next week:
Margaret Atwood (Canada), The Testaments (Vintage, Chatto & Windus)
Lucy Ellmann (U.S./U.K.), Ducks, Newburyport (Galley Beggar Press)
Bernardine Evaristo (U.K.), Girl, Woman, Other (Hamish Hamilton)
Chigozie Obioma (Nigeria) An Orchestra of Minorities (Little Brown)
Salman Rushdie (U.K./India) Quichotte (Jonathan Cape)
Elif Shafak (U.K./Turkey) 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World (Viking)
Reese Witherspoon has named Lara Prescott's debut novel The Secrets We Kept as her September book club choice. This thrilling historical fiction, which publishes on September 3, is inspired by the true story of the CIA plot to infiltrate the hearts and minds of Soviet Russia with the greatest love story of the twentieth century: Doctor Zhivago. The Secrets We Kept is also a great hit with the 20 BookBrowse members who reviewed it for our First Impressions program--rating it a stellar 4.7 stars!