Dale’s phone started ringing just as his toast popped out of the toaster. He managed to pick up the call after the third ring.
It was his sister, Margaret. Since their father’s death, Margaret and Dale tried to keep in touch, talking on the phone at least once a month. Dale got up early, so Margaret would phone him while she was walking to her office in downtown Ottawa.
“He’s driving me crazy,” she was saying today. “I don’t know if I would’ve asked Richard to move in if I’d known he was going to retire so soon. He spends most days just wandering around the house. Watching movies. He’s got nothing to do.”
“Richard retired?” Dale said. He’d never paid much attention to Margaret’s latest partner. “How could he? He’s my age!”
Margaret tried not to laugh. “Richard’s two years younger than you, Dale. You could think about retiring, I suppose. But this isn’t about you. We’re talking about me.”
When Margaret finally hung up, Dale ate his toast and was almost finished his coffee when his wife Donna woke up and joined him in the kitchen. Dale poured her a cup of coffee.
“Do you think it’s time for me to retire?” he asked her.
“You know. Quit working. Margaret’s latest boyfriend is retired.”
“Oh. Richard,” Donna said. “What does he have to do with anything?”
“He’s younger than me. And he’s retired already.”
“You knew that,” Donna answered. “Margaret threw a big retirement party for him last month. She invited us out for it.”
“Must’ve forgot,” Dale said, not particularly concerned about Richard or his party, just wondering if his own best-before date was approaching. His left knee had been aching for the past few weeks (months, if he was honest) and he was using a lot of his energy trying not to limp when anyone was watching. “I’m not sure what I’d do all day if I retired.”
“That’s why farmers keep working until someone takes away their driver’s license,” Donna said.
“I’d better get outside,” Dale said. “I think I heard Mark, and Jeff’s probably in the field already.”
By 6:30 the Hanson’s employee, Mark, had helped Dale fill the drill and Dale was already making his first pass, silently grateful that Mark had made most of the trips up and down the ladder, saving his knee a lot of wear.
His daughter-in-law, Elaine, called him a few hours later. “Is this a good time?” she asked.
They’d made the plan weeks ago. This year, Dale would show Elaine how to run the drill. She could spell him off, and with one more person on the roster, the Hansons could keep the tractor running more hours each day.
Elaine had to send her kids to school on the bus and print off a paycheque for Mark before she could get to the field, but soon she was in the buddy seat of the cab, watching Dale and asking questions. Dale was trying to imagine all the things that could go wrong.
He thought of the spring he’d left an unseeded pass right by the road for all the neighbours to see. “If you’re going to do that, do it in the middle of the field. If you mess up by the road, we’ll have to put up a sign saying ‘It wasn’t me.’”
Elaine laughed. “Or we could put a sign up saying ‘It’s a trial strip.’”
“You’re going to be disappointed,” he said. “There’s no Sirius subscription in this tractor. You’ll have to time travel back to the ’90s and listen to local radio.”
“Don’t worry,” Elaine grinned, way ahead of Dale. “I brought a USB cord for my phone and I can use the line-in feature.”
It didn’t take Elaine long to catch on to seeding, either. “It’s more like a video game than heavy machinery,” she said. This worried Dale, but he had to admit Elaine was quicker to learn the new monitor system than he’d been.
“I think I’m okay,” Elaine said after a few incident-free passes. “If you want to go home for lunch, that’s fine. I brought mine out,” she nodded over at the cooler she’d carried in.
“If you’re sure,” Dale said. He wasn’t about to tell Elaine, but his knee was already ready for some time away from the tractor.
“As long as you can spell me off before 4:00. The kids need to eat as soon as they get off the bus or we won’t get to town in time for soccer. I don’t know why they need to start at 6:30. Or why boys and girls have to play on different days. Driving two kids to soccer four evenings a week is like a full-time job!”
On his way back to the yard in Elaine’s SUV, Dale started thinking about Richard’s retirement again. Then he thought of his own father. Until his stroke, Dale’s father had seemed to have more energy than Dale had right now. He’d have to do something about this knee. Before he didn’t have a choice about retiring.
Dale ate the sandwich Donna had left in the fridge for him before she’d gone to town. By the time he’d finished, his son Jeff was calling. “Dad, Eric Simpson’s on his way to the farm to pick up his spring wheat seed. Could you load him? Mark’s filling the seed tender and I won’t be back in the yard with the sprayer for at least another hour.”
Dale met Eric out in the yard and directed him over to the bin that held the last of the spring wheat seed. “Looks like a good year for it,” Eric said after Dale had started the auger and they were waiting for the truck to fill. “Lots of moisture. Good forecast.”
“Yup,” Dale said, looking down at his watch to gauge how much more time he’d need to get the right amount of seed on the truck. “Nobody ever lost a crop in April.”
“We can just hope it’ll be worth something by harvest time,” Eric said. “And that the government’ll be able to keep the railways clear so we can actually get something moved on time.”
“That’s for sure,” Dale said, on his way over to switch off the auger. “I’ll meet you at the scale and we’ll weigh up that load.”
“Still got it,” Dale thought to himself as he watched the digital scale readout and saw that Eric’s truck was just few bushels over the right amount. He filled in the invoice and took it outside for Eric to sign.
“You getting that knee replaced soon?” Eric asked.
Dale was stunned. What did Eric know about his knee? He barely saw Eric three times a year.
“Watching you walking over,” Eric explained. “My dad had that half-hitch limp before he got his done.”
Dale just gaped.
“He was out of commission for a few months, but he’s running full force again now,” Eric said. “You’ve got lots of work left in you.”
Dale remembered to say thank you and take back the signed invoice before Eric left. Maybe there was no retirement on the horizon after all.