“I don’t know why he’s not answering his phone,” Dale said to his wife Donna.
“Remember the last time you got all worked up about Ed not answering the phone?” Donna said, looking up from her magazine. “He was at a fish fry in the trailer court.”
The first year his father had packed up and headed south to spend the winter in Arizona, Ed had phoned home at least once a day. Now that he’d made friends in the Yuma trailer court and was spending most of his time with his girlfriend Helen, Ed’s social life was more active than the rest of the Hansons at home on their farm in southeast Saskatchewan.
Dale ignored his wife and went down the hall to his office. “This has gone on long enough. What if something’s wrong? I’m going to look up the number for the trailer park office.”
While Dale was using Google to find the phone number, his son Jeff knocked on the door and came in. Donna poured him some coffee and passed him a slice of poppy seed cake.
“You haven’t made this for ages,” Jeff was telling his mother when Dale came back.
“Answering machine. The office is closed for the weekend,” Dale muttered.
“You still haven’t got hold of Grandpa?” Jeff asked. “Do you think maybe he decided to come home early?”
That would have been a relief. In the past few weeks, every time Dale or Jeff had asked Ed when he planned to come home from his winter holiday, Ed had dodged the question. “First you couldn’t wait for me to go, now you can’t wait for me to get home,” he’d said last week. “I don’t know why you’re in such a rush to get me back to that farm. Can’t you do some of the work without me?”
It wasn’t that they needed Ed to do all the work, of course, but Dale and Jeff knew it was going to be a busy spring. With all the crop disease across the Prairies, the Hansons’ phones had been ringing non-stop with calls from farmers trying to track down seed for 2015.
“What do you mean, you don’t have any more durum,” one frustrated caller had shouted. “It says you do, right here in the seed guide.”
“We had a little left last month,” Dale had said, trying to keep calm. “But it’s spoken for now.”
He’d put that caller on the growing waiting list.
“Too bad we took anything to the elevator at all last year,” Dale told his wife. “We could probably get a premium selling pumpkin seeds from your garden in this market.”
But now, in March, with most of their seed sold at a reasonable price, the Hansons were starting to worry about who, exactly, was going to be in the yard to load that seed into their customers’ trucks. They would need someone almost full time in the yard, as well as someone running the tractor and keeping the cart filled during seeding.
“Grandpa hasn’t seemed very interested in the farm this winter,” Jeff said to his father. “What if this is the year he decides he doesn’t want to work anymore?”
“People retire,” Donna said. “It’s not out of the question.”
“You don’t expect Ed to retire,” Dale said. “I just wish he’d answer his phone. He’s almost 80, you know. And living by himself.”
“He’s not by himself,” Donna said. “Helen will be with him, wherever he is.”
“He has his own trailer,” Dale said. Dale liked Helen, everyone did, but he still wasn’t quite ready to admit his father was living with her.
“Would you be happier if he spent all day on the phone with you? Wishing he was here?” Donna asked. “Or better yet, do you want him to spend all winter here? Driving out from town to spend his days with you in the shop?”
Dale sighed. “I’m just worried, that’s all.”
“Every year it’s the same thing,” Jeff said. “We think we’ve got everything handled, then we run around in a panic, trying to figure out who’s going to do all the work. Between people from Indonesia answering our online ads and retired farmers breaking their ankles falling out of our tractor cabs, figuring out how to keep farm help is going to drive me berserk.”
Jeff was right. Keeping skilled operators in all the equipment was one of the main challenges the Hansons had faced over the past few years.
“Maybe we should try another ad,” Donna said. “I know it didn’t go well last time, but the economy’s a little different this spring.”
Dale and Jeff nodded. With lower oil prices, there was already less traffic on the road in front of the Hansons’ farm.
“The last time we were going to advertise,” Dale reminded his wife, “you stepped up and took a seat in the combine. Maybe if we wait a few weeks, that’ll happen again. You might like running the sprayer. Do you even know how fast it can go?”
“Nice try,” Donna said. “But I’ve had these plane tickets to Peru for three months, and I’m not letting those other five women hike up that mountain without me.”
Dale was quietly shaking his head, wondering what had gone wrong with the universe, and why nobody in his family could ever just stay home when his cellphone rang.
He looked at the screen and breathed a sigh of relief. It was Ed.
“Dad! It’s good to finally hear from you! I was starting to think something was wrong!”
“For crying out loud, son. I’m not an invalid. You don’t have to phone me every five minutes to make sure I’m still alive.”
“It’s been three days since you’ve answered my calls!”
“You should find something else to do. We went up to Mesa to visit one of Helen’s cousins. Since we were there, we thought we might as well take a look at Flagstaff.”
“Can’t you answer your cellphone?”
“When I’m driving? And I’m not going to answer my phone when I’m standing on a platform looking out over the Grand Canyon, am I? Do you want me to fall into the gorge?”
“All right, all right. We were just wondering when you’re coming home. It’s getting pretty warm up here, and we’re going to have seed buyers lined up out the driveway by the first of April.”
“Oh?” Ed said, sounding like he hadn’t given the whole thing any thought at all. “I don’t have any idea when we’ll be home. I’ll have to see what Helen wants to do. I called to see if you could help me out. I signed up for one of those hotel chain points cards. It probably came in my mail. Could you root through my stack and find it?”
Dale took down Ed’s details, then pressed the button on his cellphone to cut off the call.
“Might as well try another ad, Jeff,” Dale said to his son. “Doesn’t look like anyone around here wants to work.”
Leeann Minogue is the editor of Grainews, a playwright and part of a family grain farm in southeastern Saskatchewan.