American Gothic

July 12, 2016

“There is a present to you out in the barn,” Orville says.

I walk out to the hulking old barn, all the way thanking the saints for what I believe to be in there, inside the high, sliding back door. Nestled in a box lid, are eight tomatoes. Eight homegrown tomatoes, red and ripe and sweet. In the next box are plump cucumbers, enough for twenty salads unless you’re like me. They’ll last until Thursday at best.

It is easy, eating green, and yellow and red and black.

Back on the front porch, Quilt Queen dabs at her face with a clean cloth. She is a sweater, like me. I lose a gallon of sweat on a treadmill.

“We used to think it was menopause,” Quilt Queen says.

“Now we know it is mental pause,” Orville says.

The porch sitting has become a twice a day event, with coffee in the morning, Dr. Pepper in the afternoon. It is a wrap-around, with the corner receiving north to south breezes and hickory tree shade. We can see the great egrets that fish in Orville’s pond, and the tallgrass prairie thick with blue chicory wildflowers and goldfinches.

By we, I mean Orville, me, Quilt Queen, Walt the next door neighbor, Ruby puppy and Reba the farm dog plus the two barn cats that sleep on the porch swing.

For some reason, the conversation turns to nicknames. Mine is Blue. Bev’s is Quilt Queen – I named her, I should know. Walter’s is Walt. And Orville?

“Toughie,” Orville says. He adds an extra word which I have promised not to reveal (I now have so many agreements with friends regarding ‘off the record,’ as to what I do or don’t write about), as in “Toughie – – – s.” It is hard to imagine that this banty rooster once had a reputation.

“I was small but deadly in my Catholic high school. I’d look around for the biggest guys and wrestle them after school. If the principal heard, he’s hit us with that big stick of his.”

Walt is eighty-five with a thick head of snow-white hair. He has a scowl that could freeze a teenage boy, but in fact he’s a pussy cat. His wife has Alzheimer’s disease and has recently been moved to a home. She is the love of his life.

“I’ve got the Ladies Auxiliary this afternoon,” Quilt Queen says. “I forget who is the hostess. If it’s me, I’ll stop at Dairy Queen and get an ice cream cake.”

“If it’s not you, bring the dang ice cream cake home,” her husband says.

A battered yellow car pulls up from the highway. Inside are a stout mom and two sons. She unrolls the passenger side window and says, “Is this here that blackberry place?” She has just passed a four-foot-long sign which reads, “Pick your own blackberries.”

She will find out that her blackberries are free. Orville, or should I say Toughie – – – s, has a policy that kids pick for free. He might turn a profit if he ever decided to run the farm in a business-like manner. If he was tough-ie enough.

Missing at today’s porch soiree is talk of Black Lives Matter or what a crook Hillary is or the five dead policemen. It will come again, come most days. I have a Black Lives Matter speech ready to go if and when the opposition chimes in.

I walk home with my tomatoes and cucumbers, my face smooshed with cookie crumbs, my teeth choked with blackberry seed wedgies. Scout the cat greets me and takes a long sniff. She knows Ruby Puppy and Reba and the barn cats well. She pats a cucumber with her paw and inhales its scent, a true vegetable and fruit lover.

The most beautiful sound in the world I’ve ever heard . . . “tomato.”

About Eugene Jones Baldwin

I am a writer: non-fiction, fiction, journalism (Alton Telegraph), essays (The Genehouse Chronicles) and have a website: I've published a couple dozen short stories and had eleven plays produced. Current projects: "Brother of the Stones" (available on Kindle), a book of short stories; "The Faithful Husband of the Rain, short stories"; "A Black Soldier's Letters Home, WWII,;" "There is No Color in Justice," a commentary on racism; "Ratkillers," a new play. I am an avocational archaeologist and I take parts of my collection of several thousand Indian artifacts (personal finds) to schools, nature centers, libraries etc. and talk about the 20,000 year history of The First people in Illinois. (See link to website) I'm also a playwright (eleven plays produced), musician, historian (authority on the Underground Railroad in Illinois, the Tuskegee Airmen) and teacher.
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