Jeff was boiling water for tea while Elaine sorted out the last of the papers, still warm from the printer. Jeff’s parents, Dale and Donna, had just walked over from their house across the yard and were settling into chairs around the dining room table.
Six-year-old Connor shouted out from his bedroom. “Mommy, I’m thirsty.”
“I thought you were asleep,” Elaine called back.
“I’ll take him some water,” Donna said. “I haven’t seen him all day. Don’t worry Connor, Grandma’s coming!”
Finally, Connor was quiet, the tea had steeped, and the four adults were poring over spreadsheet printouts. Jeff had his laptop open, just in case anyone had changes to suggest, or wanted to look at some information Elaine hadn’t printed.
“Well,” Jeff said. “I think this is what we’re going to do.
“Geez, I wish we didn’t have to plant so much wheat,” Dale said. This wasn’t the first time Dale had seen Jeff and Elaine’s seeding plans for the 2017 season. They’d been working on it since before Christmas, and were now taking one last look to make sure everyone knew what crops they were planting where.
Commercial wheat was penciling in as the least profitable crop the Hansons were planning to put in the ground. “I know, Dad,” Jeff said. “But we’ve got to have some cereals in the rotation.”
“I hope we don’t have to spray for midge. But you’re right. We have to plant some,” Dale said. “I think this plan works. The numbers look okay. But do you really think green lentil prices are going to be this low?”
Jeff raised an eyebrow at Elaine. He’d said that same thing the day before, and Elaine had spent hours digging up forecasts and statistics to make her case. She found that stack of paper in the office, and it didn’t take long for her to convince Dale too.
“Wait a minute,” Donna said. “Are you planning to put those gluten-free oats on the Dixon quarter?”
“Yes,” Jeff said.
“Didn’t you seed half of that quarter to wheat in 2015?”
“Oh heck!” Jeff said. “I forgot about that!”
The specialty oat processors only bought oats seeded on land where no wheat had been seeded for two previous years.
“We’ll have to change that!” Jeff said. He turned to his laptop and started moving things around.
After they found another place for the oats, made a few other changes, double-checked the math to make sure they had enough fertilizer and seed ordered and on hand, Dale and Donna put on their coats and went home.
Jeff took the empty mugs to the kitchen sink while Elaine gathered up the papers. “That was fun,” Elaine said.
Jeff laughed. “Having Mom point out our mistake was fun?”
“It’s a good thing she saw that… But it’s pretty great that we get to be in charge of such a big project.”
Jeff hadn’t thought of it that way.
“I guess,” he said. He thought of a friend from university. “Dave’s in charge of all the marketing for a big new fungicide. He’s got a huge budget, but he calls me at least once a week to complain that his boss keeps meddling with the details.”
“And if seeding isn’t a big project, why was Visa investigating us for money laundering?” Even though they had pre-paid their credit card account, when Elaine had paid for a large fertilizer purchase with the farm credit card in December, the dollar cost had been so high that Visa had put a hold on their card for seven days to investigate unusual spending.
“You’re right,” Jeff said. “This is pretty great.”
“You don’t want more tea, do you?” Jeff asked, while he finished cleaning up.
On their way across the yard, Dale and Donna were on the other side of the equation.
“Doesn’t it seem strange, not being the final voice on these decisions anymore?” Donna asked her husband.
“Yeah,” Dale said. “It’s hard to watch. They’re seeding way too much land to canola.”
“Do you think so? You didn’t say anything.”
Dale took some time to answer. They heard the gravel crunch under their feet, then a coyote howling in the distance. The dog started to bark and Donna reached over and took Dale’s hand.
Finally he spoke. “It seems like just last year that I was that young guy, making the decisions while my dad tried to stand back and hold his tongue.”
“You did well,” Donna said. “And I’m glad you take Elaine’s opinions more seriously than Ed took mine. ”
“Times have changed,” Dale said. “And Elaine’s pretty sharp.”
Donna glared at Dale until he caught himself.
“That’s not what I meant,” he said. “Of course you’re sharp too! You caught the problem with the Dixon quarter.”
“I know,” Donna laughed, although she also added, “Elaine’s keeping all of us on our toes.”
Thirty miles away, Dale’s father Ed and his girlfriend Helen were sipping hot chocolate with extra marshmallows in Ed’s condo while they watched the latest episode of “The Bachelor.” (The week before Helen had told Donna, “I know, it’s silly for someone my age to have a guilty pleasure like that. Ed pretends to hate it, but he likes watching that red-haired girl stir up trouble just as much as I do.”)
When the show cut to a commercial break, Ed stirred the last of his hot chocolate and sighed.
“They’re all getting together out at the farm tonight to plan out next year’s crop,” he said.
“Why didn’t you say something?’ Helen said. “We could’ve gone out.”
“Ach. It’s a little rainy. Could get icy. Neither of us are great night drivers. And I know how much you like watching this damn dating show.”
“If you’d asked, I’m sure they would’ve done it during daylight hours.”
“I thought of that.”
Ed went off to the bathroom. By the time he came back, the commercial was over. It was another 10 minutes before he and Helen talked about it again.
“I remember my dad,” Ed said.
“Oh?” Helen didn’t know a lot about Ed’s father, but she knew William Hanson had been the first Hanson on the land. He’d left his parents and sisters behind to come West with his brother, before Ed was born.
“Even when he was an old man and he could hardly climb up on the tractor I couldn’t get him to stop telling me what to do. I almost started to hate him. So I tried to back off so Dale could take charge. Now Dale’s trying to back off and let Jeff learn the hard way. They don’t need me getting in the way of that fancy tango.”
“I understand,” Helen said.
“Sometimes an old man has to just sit back and pretend not to mind what happens…” He paused. “Besides, it won’t be long before Dale’s sitting in town watching trash TV while Jeff tries to let little Connor make all the decisions.”
Helen moved closer to Ed on the couch.
“But that kid’s going to plant way too much canola. And I sure hope they don’t go ahead and put those premium oats on the Dixon quarter. We had wheat there back in 2015.”