“You know,” 10-year-old Connor told his dad, “if I was running the grain cart instead of Grandpa, you’d have an extra person to help get the combine out of the slough.”
Jeff tried not to laugh. “One more year, buddy. You’re still a little young.”
Yesterday, Jeff had spent at least 20 minutes explaining the science of brain development, telling Connor that 10 wasn’t old enough to make quick decisions. “Let’s keep your grandpa in the tractor cab for one more season.”
Connor wasn’t pleased. “My friend Oscar runs the grain cart at their farm.”
“When did you see Oscar?” Jeff asked. The Hansons hadn’t had time to organize playdates for Connor or his younger sister for the last couple of weeks.
“We were playing Fortnite on our Xboxes,” Connor said. “We talked while we waited in the lobby for Braden.”
Jeff had no idea what Connor was talking about, but he felt reasonably hopeful that his wife Elaine was keeping an eye on whatever it was Connor was getting up to online. And they’d reached the field. “You’ll have to tell me more about this lobby later,” Jeff said. “Come on. Let’s get in the other truck.”
The first time Elaine had gotten stuck it wasn’t too bad, but Jeff could hear the embarrassment in her voice when she’d had to phone him a second time.
“Again?” Jeff had said. “You know you don’t need to run the combine right through those sloughs, right? The lentils in there are either dead or diseased anyway.”
Of course Elaine knew that.
“It looked dry!” she defended herself. “Nobody could’ve guessed there was so much mud.”
Jeff considered pointing out that their farm employee, Mark, had been running the second combine in that same field all day without getting stuck, but he decided it might be safer not to mention that. “I just finished unloading so Connor and I are on our way back to the field with the semi,” he’d told her. “Phone Dad and get him to unhook the grain cart. He can take the tractor over to you. We’ll leave the semi at the approach and bring the old pickup out to the slough and give him a hand.” He couldn’t help himself from giving her one small dig. “Good thing we left the chains in the truck after you got stuck last time.”
Wet low spots aside, harvest on the Hanson farm was as close to normal as they could expect. At first, the summer had been disappointing for the kids. They’d been excited about a family trip to North Dakota before the border closed. But the Hanson family spent time at local parks in July, taking day trips to nearby places they had never quite found time to get to before.
Their farm employee hadn’t had the summer he’d expected at all. In April, Mark and his fiancée, Jody, had cancelled their summer wedding. “It’s not safe for my parents to travel out from Alberta,” he said. “And Jody doesn’t think the guests will get a good enough view of her dress if she has to show it off over Zoom. We’ll try again in the spring.”
In mid-July, Jeff’s father Dale had broken some sad news during a morning coffee break out in the shop. “I’ve had a call from Helen’s son, out in Calgary,” Dale had told everyone. Helen had been Dale’s father’s girlfriend in the years before Ed died. Ed and Helen hadn’t loved the term “girlfriend,” but, as Ed had said, “I’m not calling her my ‘partner.’ We’re not buying an oil well together.”
After Ed’s death, Helen had moved back to Calgary to be near her family. “I’m not old enough for this seniors’ complex,” she’d told Dale and Donna. “But it’s close to my son. And if I move in now, I won’t have to move again.”
Helen’s area of the city had been hard hit by COVID-19, especially Helen’s complex. “They said she had a bad case,” Dale told the Hansons. “At least she didn’t suffer long.”
“When’s the funeral?” Dale’s wife Donna asked.
“We’re not invited,” Dale said. “Under the circumstances.”
Donna had cancelled her summer plans to go hiking with friends. When she wasn’t out with the rest of the Hansons, she was in town, redecorating Ed’s condo. She spent hours choosing paint colours and putting on nobody-knew-how-many layers of paint.
“Do you think your mom and dad are going to move into the condo?” Elaine asked Jeff one evening when the two of them were out in the truck, taking a crop tour.
“They aren’t talking about selling it,” Jeff said. “But I don’t want to ask. I don’t want them to think we want them moving out of the yard!”
Jeff and Elaine were both glad to have Dale and Donna on the farm. The kids loved spending time with their grandparents. And at harvest, Dale was invaluable swathing canola, and now in the grain cart.
Now Jeff and Connor parked the semi and got into the old farm half-ton Jeff had left at the edge of the field earlier in the day. One short trip across the lentil stubble later and they were parked at the edge of the slough, in front of the waiting tractor. “You stay here in the truck, buddy,” Jeff said. “Those chains can be dangerous.”
Jeff got out of the truck and lifted the chains out of the back.
“Getting lots of practice with this,” Dale said, moving over to help his son.
Jeff laughed. Elaine rolled her eyes.
Once the chains were ready, Jeff waved Elaine toward the combine. “I think we’re good. Go on and get in.”
“Maybe you should run it?” Elaine asked.
“Nah,” Jeff said. “You get right back on that horse that keeps bucking you off.”
Dale got into the tractor cab while Elaine climbed up into the combine. A wave and a hand signal and Dale was turned backwards in his seat, watching the combine jerk out of the slough behind the tractor, moving toward firm ground.
The combine didn’t seem damaged, Jeff thought. Dale’s tires were still rolling, pulling it just a bit farther ahead. But then Jeff realized the front of the tractor was just inches from the hood of the half-ton truck and headed straight for it. “Dad!” Jeff shouted.
Dale couldn’t hear that. He was still looking out the back window of the cab, watching the combine. Jeff made a run for the truck. Connor wouldn’t be hurt, but that old truck couldn’t take much more damage.
His jaw dropped as he watched Connor slide across the truck’s front bench seat, slip in behind the wheel, throw the truck into reverse and back away from the tractor, just in time to avoid the crash.
Jeff ran to the driver’s side of the truck, opened the door and put his arms around his grinning son.
“Wow!” Jeff said. “That was quick thinking.”
Dale was down from the tractor cab, mortified. “Good thing you were in the cab, Connor,” Dale said. “We could’ve had quite a wreck here.”
“Now it must be my turn to run the grain cart!” Connor said.
Jeff shook his head. “Sorry, kid. You’ll still have to wait.”