January 30, 2015

I hadn’t seen Farmer Orville and the Quilt Queen for a week. And since the day was sunny and windless and mild, it seemed like a good time to visit. I walked up the driveway and Reba the farm dog came running. She lay on her back, but when I got close she ran. This little drama was a game.

Orville, clad in new blue jeans and a too-big shirt, opened the kitchen door: “Reba, if you ain’t gonna defend our place and eat intruders I am gonna fire you.”

It was good to be home. My friend poured me a cup of coffee and pointed to the last bin of Christmas cookies but I refused manfully. We sat at the kitchen table and jawed about bald eagles and the thousand fat robins along the bluffs and how in the blink of an eye the strawberry field would be flowering and blackberry-bush-pruning would commence. I resolved to eat more blackberries this summer. I ate them last summer until my skin oozed juice.

New this year: My friend Farmer B. will be bringing some beehives to Orville’s north field, beneath the walnut trees. I will be assistant beekeeper, and I can’t wait.

Quilt Queen, fresh from a nap, made her entrance. They were expecting their fourteen-month-old great-granddaughter for a visit, so the talk turned to theories of child rearing, about which I know nothing. Apparently, great-grandparents know more about the subject than do the parents.

On cue arrived Grandpa and the baby, and Quilt Queen did that thing I do with my cat, talk ga-ga-goo-goo. The baby chirped like a bird and ran around the kitchen, looking and pointing at all the decorative plates hanging on the walls with depictions of roosters and chickens.

It was all frenzy and happiness—the kid hasn’t yet been told she’ll die. Quilt Queen pointed to thirty or so photos on the refrigerator attached by magnets and the baby went wild:

“Who’s that, my baby love? That’s your cousin Addie! Kiss Addie! Come on, kiss Addie!”

Orville covered his face with his hands. “You cain’t kiss a photo, wife. You will confuse her, and she’ll be grow up comfortable kissin’ pictures instead of humans.”

“Well,” Quilt Queen said, “I always kissed photos, and I caught you, didn’t I?”

“Yes, you did.”

Quilt Queen looked at me. “We met at a honky-tonk dance. He asked how old I was and I lied. I said I was eighteen. I was . . . seventeen.” Her husband shook his head. “It worked, didn’t it? And we kissed a lot, didn’t we?”

“So you went after the young things?’ I said.

“Oh yeah,” Orville said. “I’m dumb but I ain’t that dumb.”

Quilt Queen and Baby and Grandpa sauntered off to the livingroom. Orville tried to get me to eat cookies. I don’t know why I turned them down—I’m not that virtuous. I think it was about stale winter treats and the coming cornucopia of spring, of berries and asparagus and kale and radishes, how it might be a sin to eat the old and a virtue to dream.

“Reba wouldn’t let me rub her belly,” I said. “She offered it then she took it back.”

“There is another phrase for that,” Orville said, glancing toward the livingroom. “Reba is female after all. She is like all women.”

I said goodbye and walked outside, and Reba—of course—ran to me and practically leaped on her back, and I scratched her belly and her hind legs kicked, and she rolled and groaned and tried to lick my face.

“Ga-ga-goo-goo,” Reba said. Translation: “You know how to whistle, don’t you Gene? You just . . .”

I do know how to whistle. I know less about the nature of women than I do about childrearing, but I know lots of things parents would shudder to know. Like Orville, I liked the young girls best. Unlike Orville, I played Judas and Jesus in “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and girls were—uh—friendly.

Oh well. Winter’s barely begun. Plenty of time to get stuck in snow and freeze and curse the north wind and slide down the driveway and brood over the long dark days and the short nights and read the complete works of Jean-Paul Sartre and cry like Quilt Queen’s great-grandbaby girl when she learns that Santa Claus isn’t real, nor the tooth fairy nor the Easter bunny and oh, by the way, enjoy life because you’re going to die. In the meantime:

“Ga-ga-goo-goo,” said Scout the Cat when I got home. “And ga-ga-goo-goo to you, Scoutie.”

She licked the places Reba had licked and smelled the coffee odor on my clothes and my tuna fish sandwich from lunch and she searched for cookies and barn cats.

It was good to be home.

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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