March 9, 2014 

I stopped at Farmer Orville’s house on the Gene walk today. His wife Quilt Queen had a right knee replacement last week, but I’m happy to say she is fine. Except: “She has a shitty nurse,” Orville said. “She deserves better—look at me.”

To look at Orville is to look at the America of the great film, “Nebraska.” His face is a road map of deep wrinkles, tattooed with faded freckles and set-in grease stains, and his white hair is a fall crop, wispy and unmanageable. He sat in the kitchen he built, the ever-ready coffee pot on the stove, and the canisters of chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies and other devilish delights on the open shelves. He drummed his gnarled, hairy fingers on the great wooden table. Family photographs were everywhere. His Missouri Synod Lutheran God was omnipresent.

“See all them dishes in plastic sacks? They’re waiting for their rightful owners to pick them up. The church ladies and the home nurse and I don’t know who all, started bringin’ casseroles. They was afraid I wouldn’t feed—” He pointed toward the livingroom where Quilt Queen watched TV and healed. “I got sick to death of casseroles—don’t even want to hear the word again. That home nurse looked at me like I was pathetic.”

This from the nurse of the soil who kept peering through the east window and I knew what he was thinking: June strawberries, July blackberries, August cantaloupe, cucumbers, squash and tomatoes. I wasn’t psychic—stacks of seed packets filled a window sill.

We met last June when I walked past his sign: “Pick your own.” By October, I had feasted on sweet fruit and at least two thousand tomatoes. I was frugal, carefully weighing my sack of tomatoes only to have nurse practitioner and nutritionist Orville step in and stuff half as much fruit in the bag, as a bonus—organic, of course; Orville and the Quilt Queen preach the gospel of organic produce.

He has been worried about the nesting barn swallows in his two barns. “They ain’t a nook the damn cats can’t reach. They climb up bales, the walls to get them birds’ babies. I built some nestin’ shelves up high where the cats can’t go,” said the eighty-something bird nurse. “Only problem is, the dang barn swallows don’t like ’em. I go in the barns and talk to them. You think they listen? I am so old, I don’t know.”

I told Orville my birthday is this week and I may have been brooding for a few days. “Why, hell, Gene, you’re just a boy.”

I walked on home, having been scolded by Reba the farm dog for trespassing and not bringing dog treats, neighed to by the ancient, swaybacked brown farm horse in the meadow and given the cold shoulder by quintuplet wild barn cats, and nursed to rejuvenated spirit by a sprite with white hair and a cheerleader’s smile. And there was the promise of produce.

I had a friend in the hippy days. He was quite the womanizer. He was always changing girlfriends, pissing off my first wife because she’d like the girls then lose the girls. In the 80’s I had my right fibula removed and was recovering in the hospital, my bandaged right leg hanging in a sling above the bed. A nurse walked in, looked at me and smiled an eerie smile. She grabbed my right leg out of the sling and threw it to the bed. I screamed and tried to hit her. She told me women tolerated pain better than did men. Hospital staff had to subdue her before she hurt me more. Turns out she was an old girlfriend of my womanizing friend, out for a little revenge.


Give me a shitty nurse every time.





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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