Lessons of the Field


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Matthew Snyder, Potsdam, NY
The Writing Contest for Young and Adult Writers
Runner-up in Category: Short Story, age 12-20

"That stone is heavier than a dead minister!" cried the old man. His companion, really no more than a teenager, grunted in agreement. The two were working in a field which seemed to get smaller every year despite the fact that they combated the brush, ever unyielding like a green army of trees, as it sprung up along the edges. They had been removing stones for nearly an hour, most of which were about the same weight as a large sac of grain, when they happened on this stone which at present refused to move.

The older gentleman attempted to pry the stone with a metal lever set on one of the smaller stones. His face was flushed and the sweat gathered in a great lake on the front and back of his shirt. "Hey Grandpa, better let me take over before you hurt yourself," suggested the younger man.

Grandpa let the young man try his best prying on the stone while he sat wordlessly in the tall grass, giving the youngster a chance to pry the rock free. The young man pulled and pulled until the lever slid off the rock and he fell to the ground. The lever followed the boy and connected with a dull thud on his skull. He just got up and, rather sheepishly, laughed and rubbed his head.

"Thought that might happen," Grandpa chuckled "You okay, John?"

By way of answer John picked up the shovel and started to dig deeper into the earth, clearly embarrassed, but still knowing that pride was nothing worth anything. "Whacha doin'... digging to China?" the elderly man continued as he dug out his pipe, cleaning it from his last capful, reloading it and lighting it.

John retorted, "I might just do that, but the problem is this rock is in the way and I'm gonna hafta dig round it." He then gave a crooked smile and continued to dig around the stone, just as a steam shovel might. After about five minuets of digging he then replaced the makeshift lever and fulcrum and pushed as hard as he could. This time it was John on top of the leaver because it only required half the force he put in to move the stone. Now that the hard part was over, he easily rolled it to the stone boat and loaded it.

"I guess this'll hafta be the last load today," Grandpa reflected as John hefted his burden onto the stone boat, topping the mountainous pile of grey granite already there. John then sat in the peak of the mountain, the place he had purposefully left himself to sit. It was nearly a mile to where they were dumping their load and he did not wish to walk.

Grandpa started up the tractor and then climbed into the seat. Along the way they needed to cross the street and as they prepared to do so their neighbor, Bill, stopped to talk. Bill was a man of about Grandpa's age and most of his family had already passed away. He supposedly had two children, though nobody ever heard from them, even Bill. As usual the talk lead to a dinner invitation, and as it was usually considered rude to refuse a willing host, he agreed have supper with Grandpa and his family. That was one of the lessons John learnt early; if you have you aught to be willing to give to another, and if you didn't, well, pride wasn't nothing worth anything.

Bill arrived in enough time to help with the preparations - another courtesy when you either were, or were close enough to be called, family. The family was standing outside the house, the ribs of a cow, already smoking in an electric smoker converted such that the access panel, generally used to add wood chips to smoke, would accept a piece of stove pipe. An old wood fire oven was used to supply the smoke. John was trying rather unsuccessfully to light the charcoal for the sausages. The charcoal did not have enough lighter fluid, or so his father thought, and as John touched a match to the charcoal, he poured on more. Luckily John dropped the match and backed away with a yelp as the flames were about to engulf his hand. The whole family, Bill included, roared with laughter. When the coals were ready, Bill placed some sweet Italian sausages from the kitchen onto the rack.

The dinner they ate was fabulous: the smoked ribs, and sausages, home grown potatoes, corn and some leeks that came from within their sugar bush. They enjoyed it all until there was little left, and what was left went to the dogs. After eating they sat in the screen house with a fire in what they called a flying saucer, for it did look much like one with its domed top and its rounded fire place supported by four cast iron legs. They talked of this and that until finally they came upon the subject of sugaring or the art of maple syrup making.

Grandpa recalled a man he had once seen run two enormous evaporators, both fueled by chord wood, "real chord wood, not a face cord, mind you..." and a homemade smoke stack made of old oil drums welded together. A real work of art - one could tell by the way he recounted every detail, and the way he relished in the remembrance of the sweet, true-maple taste of the ambrosia that true maple syrup is. He concluded by stating bluntly, "Real maple syrup is real maple syrup; fake maple syrup is just corn syrup that knows somebody."

Now it was Bill's turn to recount on his favorite memory. "Al, remember the time I took you up to The Maples on your wife's birthday. We were so liquored up I don't think we could see straight for a week."

"Yah," Grandpa snorted, "We must have looked like we had some kind of disease!"

"We did - it's called drunkenness!" Bill laughed "and when we finally got home, must have been around midnight, there was your wife waiting for you, frying pan in hand. Boy, was she ever mad at me; I didn't dare come over for a week! When I did finally come over she hit me over the head for good measure! For a while we had matching bumps on our heads!"

The rest of the night passed on in much the same way, Grandpa and Bill doing most of the talking, John the listening. He realized that he was now starting to be accepted as one of the guys. Mentally John compared to his own chilled hood to that of his grandfather and while he did this, he noticed that though there had been much technological advancement, the reality was that the two had been really about the same. The same course of events passed on from one generation to another, and all the lessons could be learned in one of two ways-by experience, or by listening to somebody else's experience. He recalled the experience earlier in the day with the rock that had been his grandfather's way to teach him and he now understood why his grandfather had let him fail; his grandfather had wanted him to learn and to remember. These thoughts were racing through his head as he changed for bed and attempted to fall asleep.

Upon awakening the next morning, John ate a breakfast of toasted homemade bread, eggs, and pancakes smothered with real maple syrup. After he had finished he went outside and walked to the field where Grandpa was already attempting to pry a rock from the ground, his face flushing and a lake forming on the back of his shirt. As John picked up the shovel he said, "Hey Grandpa, better let me take over before you hurt yourself."

As He then took over, Grandpa started to tell a tale of another time, the first time that he buzzed wood for his grandfather and as the day went on John learnt much that day and would for the rest of his life, all because of that field.