“Your husband’s not home to help out?” The trucker who’d just pulled his semi on to the truck scale in the Hanson’s yard looked a little uncertain. “Shouldn’t you call somebody?”
Elaine bit her lip to keep from saying anything she’d regret. “Don’t worry,” she told him. “I know what I’m doing.”
With her husband Jeff at an intercropping seminar for the day and her in-laws vacationing in Arizona, Elaine was in charge of loading trucks for seed customers. She hadn’t made a mistake yet, but this was a trucker who’d never been in the Hanson’s yard before. She forgave him, mentally, thinking, “He doesn’t know who he’s dealing with.”
Even if she’d been in the mood to enlighten the trucker about the role of women in modern agriculture, she didn’t have time. She needed to get the durum loaded, write up the invoice and get back to the house before four-year-old Jenny woke up from her nap. Elaine and Jeff were still trying to get the paint stain out of Jenny’s carpet from the last time the little girl had played in her room alone.
Elaine also hoped to have a chance to make some coffee before her neighbour came by. Not that Tara Hunter wouldn’t understand a delay, it was just that Tara had seemed a little distressed when she’d called to invite herself over.
Tara was a few years older than Elaine, but the Hunters lived just down the road. The two women had first met at a neighbourhood baby shower not long after Elaine had moved out to the farm. They’d laughed at the same jokes and become friends quickly. Now that they were old enough, Tara’s two daughters babysat for the Hansons quite often.
Truck weighed, Elaine guided the trucker to the right bin and got out her stopwatch to time the auger while the durum flowed into the truck. The older man looked on skeptically.
It wasn’t unusual for Tara and Elaine to meet for coffee. What had caught Elaine’s attention was the tone of Tara’s voice. She’s sounded upset.
“That’s likely good,” she told the trucker, waving him back to the scale to weigh up his load. She thought she heard him mutter, “We’ll see how she did,” but she decided to ignore him.
She was vindicated at the scale. Only two bushels short on a 1,000-bushel load. Not bad, she thought to herself. He gave her a grudging nod as he signed the scale ticket. “Guess you do know what you’re doing.”
Tara drove into the yard just as Elaine was on her way back to the house. Elaine smiled and waved. Tara waited for her on the steps.
When Elaine got there, she took Tara by the arm. “Let’s go in,” Elaine said. “I’ll put on some coffee. Unless you want something stronger?”
This made Tara laugh. “Better stick with coffee, I think.”
When they were settled into the comfy living room chairs with mugs of hot coffee, Elaine looked at Tara expectantly, and Tara started to talk. “Is that a new picture?” she said, pointing up at a new family portrait in the wall in the corner. “Who took that?”
Elaine looked her friend in the eye. “Did you really come over here to talk about photographers?”
That made Tara smile.
“I guess not.”
“What’s going on?” Elaine asked.
They’d only known each other a few years, but this wouldn’t be the first time they’d helped each through a rough time. When Elaine had trouble adjusting to life at home with her first baby, alone during the day while Jeff was out in the field, Tara had understood perfectly. “I felt the same after Madison was born,” she’d told a weeping Elaine. When Tara found out her mother died, she’d called Elaine to sit with her until John could get home.
Today, Tara started slowly. “March is a very long month,” she said.
“You’re telling me,” Elaine tried to help.
“There’s been so many days that the sky is just… grey,” Tara said.
“With the grey snow in the fields, you can’t tell where the land ends and the sky starts,” Elaine said.
“Exactly,” Tara said. “All that grey. But hardly any snow.”
Once she got started Tara picked up speed.
“We don’t know what’ll happen with the winter wheat. All that time in the cold with no cover.”
“Good question,” Elaine said.
“And if we don’t get some moisture, I don’t know what we can plant that’s going to grow. And these prices aren’t helping anything.”
Elaine kept nodding. “Jeff and I have been changing the numbers in our spreadsheets almost every day, trying to find a way to make things look better.”
“John… John’s not coping too well.”
“Oh?” Elaine said.
“Yesterday?” Elaine prompted.
“I shouldn’t talk about this.”
“It’s just between us,” Elaine reassured her.
“We got a notice from the bank. The five-year fixed-rate mortgage on those two sections of land we bought from Gustafsons is up for renewal. These higher rates are going to take more cash than we planned. Never mind the interest on the operating loan. And the bill for the combine repairs from last fall, when John’s brother put that rock through the header.”
Elaine just kept nodding. She knew exactly what Tara was going through.
“It’s not so bad for me,” Tara said. “I’m so busy driving the girls to all of their skating and gymnastic stuff. Planning the garden. I’ve been doing lots of painting, since I fixed up that great space in the basement.
“But John… he just can’t think about anything besides the farm. He spends most of the day in his office, staring at his computer screen. He’s been grinding his teeth so much at night, I can’t believe there’s any enamel left.”
“Has he talked to anyone?”
“Are you kidding?” This made Tara smile. “John barely talks to me! He’s not going to talk to a stranger.”
Elaine knew John was stubborn, and proud. And she wasn’t sure she’d be able to get her own husband to go to a counsellor, if it was Jeff in these circumstances.
“Maybe he could talk to Jeff?”
Tara looked doubtful.
“Jeff could take him out. Ice fishing, maybe? Before it’s too warm?”
“Maybe,” Tara said. “But John would figure out it was a setup.”
“John getting a little mad might be better than other things that could happen.”
“It’s funny,” Elaine said. “Why is it so much easier to deal with a crabby trucker or learn to load a truck or do the books than it is to know what to do when someone gets depressed?”
“Nobody expects it to happen in their family,” Tara said sadly.
“What’s going to happen?” said Jenny, appearing at the end of the hallway, groggy from sleep with her hair standing up on one side and a ragged blanket dragging behind her.
Tara looked down at her watch. “It’s late! I have to pick Madison up after school.” She stopped by the door to put on her coat. “Thanks,” she said quietly.
Elaine hugged her friend. “We’re all in this together,” she said. “Come back tomorrow.”