By Thanksgiving, the Hansons still hadn’t solved the mysteries of Labour Day Monday. And they certainly never discussed them.
It had started when Jeff’s phone rang. After a half hour of shovelling long-spoiled grain out of an old wooden grain bin with temperatures in the high thirties and a sky filled with smoke from northern forest fires, he was glad to take a break.
Jeff wasn’t thrilled about shovelling, but he was happy about the need for it. “You won’t believe this canola,” Jeff’s father Dale had said, hauling load after load to the yard. “You’d better make sure we’ll have enough bin space.”
After some time with the calculator on his phone, a faded notebook and a stubby pencil he found in the glove box, Jeff realized his father was right. They wouldn’t have nearly enough room to store all of the grain in the field. “Don’t tell anybody west of Moose Jaw,” Jeff told Dale.
Harvest wasn’t great on the west side of Saskatchewan, but in the southeast, Jeff wasn’t the only farmer to underestimate the crop. On Friday, by the time he got to the parts department at the third machinery dealership in town, he realized he also wasn’t the only farmer whose Plan B was to borrow a grain bagger. “We’re out of grain bags too,” said the woman behind the counter. “There’s been a real run on these.”
Jeff moved to Plan C, which involved selling some grain for September delivery and spending Labour Day Monday shovelling out an old bin in the abandoned yard on land the Hansons had purchased a few years ago.
When his phone rang, Jeff took off his face mask and checked the screen. It was his wife, Elaine.
“Can you bring the fuel truck out to the combine?” she asked. “I’ve only got a couple of hours left.”
“Sure,” he said. “That was on my list.”
Jeff turned the music back up on his phone and got to work, and soon he was climbing out of the bin, heading for the cold pop waiting on the seat of his truck. He took a few steps forward, then stopped. His truck was gone.
“What the heck?” he said, looking at the empty space. He was sure he’d left it right there, on the approach near the bins, a seven-mile drive from Hansons’ yard down a little-used road.
He phoned his father. “Did you move my truck?”
“No,” Dale said, puzzled. Then Dale took a sharp breath and talked quickly. “Sorry son, I’ve got to go… Elaine’s hopper’s full. You know how it is.”
With his wife and their farm employee both running combines and his father hauling grain, Jeff called his mom. She didn’t know where his truck was, so he asked for a ride. “I’ll come get you,” she said, “but can you wait 15 minutes? I’ve got pies in the oven for dinner.”
Weighing a 15-minute wait against a seven-mile walk in steel-toed boots on a 39-degree day, Jeff agreed to wait. Exhausted from shovelling and from the week of late nights and early mornings, Jeff took advantage of the situation to stretch out in the shade of the small tractor he’d brought out to run the auger and close his eyes.
It was four hours later when Jeff woke up, confused until he remembered where he was and realized his mother hadn’t come to get him. He checked his phone and saw a recent text from Donna, saying she’d made his dinner and left it in his truck.
Jeff was bewildered, but also mortified. Everyone on the farm was working at top speed while he napped? He was supposed to be running the place, not lying in the grass. His father, his wife, hard at work while he lounged? What would they think?
Before he had time to make a plan, Jeff spotted a truck coming down the back road. He stepped onto the gravel, waved, and hitched a ride back to the Hanson yard with Brian Miller.
At home, Jeff found his own truck parked in front of the shop, keys in the ignition, and a Tupperware container on the seat. He phoned his wife first. “Everything okay? How long have you been out of fuel?”
“Um, I’m still fine. I… must’ve read the gauge wrong,” Elaine said.
“I’ll be right out,” he said.
Jeff hung up, relieved that she hadn’t asked what had kept him.
Hungry, he pulled off the Tupperware lid. He took out a ham bun, but was surprised to see two Oreos in a baggie in one container section. “Mom said she was making us pie,” he thought.
Donna had been horrified that afternoon, hoping nobody would come to her house before she got rid of the smell. What kind of grown woman, a grandmother, could get so distracted playing Tetris on her iPhone she’d forget to take pies out of the oven? “Just one more bonus,” she’d said to herself, several times.
When she’d finally come to her senses, the pies were burned black. Donna hadn’t burned a pie since 1997, and then only because young Jeff had been bitten by a wasp. Dealing with this devastation, Donna completely forgot to pick up Jeff. But then she looked out the window and saw Jeff’s truck parked in front of the shop, so she started making dinner.
In the field, Elaine was embarrassed too. She’d plugged the combine header and spent a tense hour, pulling on stubborn canola straw, sure that Jeff would show up any second. It was her fault. She’d been cutting too low and let too much straw onto the canvas. The rotor wasn’t plugged, but as she scratched her hands red for almost an hour dislodging straw, all she could think of was what Jeff would say. What if he thought she didn’t have the skills to be running the combine at all?
When she finally had the combine unplugged, she realized Jeff still hadn’t turned up. “At least with all that time stopped, I didn’t run out of fuel,” she thought. “I wonder why Dale isn’t here, waiting for another full hopper?”
Dale was also glad nobody was watching him. “How could this happen? After all the times I’ve done it?” he moaned. Dale had miscalculated the space in the bin. Canola had poured over the top just as he’d answered Jeff’s call. It had taken Dale almost an hour to clear the grain off the ground so nobody would catch him. “I hope Elaine hasn’t been calling Jeff to tell him she has to wait for me with a full hopper. They’ll think I’m too old for this.”
Meanwhile, at his condo in town, Jeff’s grandfather, Ed was the only Hanson feeling good about himself. “I’m still useful,” he was re-telling his girlfriend Helen. “Good thing we went out there. I know how it is when you start moving a bunch of machinery around. They’re lucky I saw Jeff’s truck out at the Richard’s quarter and drove it to the yard.”
“You keep your good deed to yourself,” Helen said. “You’re not even supposed to be driving. I don’t want anyone hearing I’m letting you take the wheel.”