Dale and Donna trudged across the Hanson yard, heads bent to keep the wet late-season snow out of their faces. They rounded the row of caraganas in time to see their daughter-in-law drive into the yard and park her SUV in front of her house. They watched Elaine climb out, carrying two large brown paper bags that she took inside.
“Looks like we’re having Chinese food,” Dale said.
“I hope she ordered enough for one more,” Donna said as they climbed the front steps. They knocked and Elaine pulled the door open.
“I’m glad you’re here, Donna,” Elaine said. “Jeff said you weren’t coming, but I brought home enough food for about 12 people. I start looking at Wong’s menu and I can’t help myself.”
“Next time I’m ordering online,” Jeff said from the kitchen, where he was pulling warm Styrofoam cartons out of the brown bags. “She can’t be trusted.”
While Dale and Donna were taking their boots off, Jeff and Elaine’s kids, Connor and Jenny, ran in from the living room.
“Did you get chicken balls?” Jenny asked.
“Can I have two egg rolls?” Connor wanted to know.
Soon Jeff had microwaved the dishes that had cooled off on the trip home, and the Hansons were loading their plates from a self-serve buffet.
“Vegetables! Both of you!” Elaine directed the kids. “There’s lots of carrots in this. You like carrots.”
“I thought you were volunteering at some concert tonight,” Jeff said to his mother after Donna had taken the chair next to him at the dining room table.
“The forecast is calling for snow until at least midnight,” Donna said, sounding a little upset. “My night vision is bad enough on a regular night. I’m not sure I want to drive all the way home from town in a spring blizzard. The rest of the committee’s going to have to fill in. Lucky for them, they all live in town.”
Jeff raised his eyebrows. It wasn’t like his mother to complain.
Soon Dale joined them at the table. “Maybe you should have some extra carrots like the kids. Might improve your eyes.”
Donna didn’t answer, but gave Dale the kind of glare Elaine had never seen from her mother-in-law.
Jeff called on his daughter to save the day with her latest story. “Jenny, why don’t you tell Grandma what you learned on the school bus this morning?”
When Connor had finished his third egg roll and the Hansons had read their fortunes out loud to each other, Elaine cleared the table while Jeff went to the office to gather a stack of papers he’d left on the edge of the desk. He brought the stack to the dining room, passing out a stapled set of pages to each grownup and sending the kids to the living room to play with Lego.
“I think we’re close to a final plan,” Jeff said.
Dale looked at the map on the first page. “Wheat on the Richard’s quarter? Not canola?”
“Did you see that map of all the clubroot they’ve found in this province? I think we should make our rotations one year longer. Where we can.”
Dale nodded, and turned to the second page.
Jeff watched Dale look through the columns of numbers, then wince as he saw the bottom row.
“This isn’t pretty,” Dale said.
“That’s the conservative estimate,” Elaine said. “We wanted to see what the budget would look like with low yields and low prices. Flip it over. The next page is based on ‘average.’”
As directed, Dale flipped the page, and Jeff could see a bit of tension leave his father’s shoulders.
At the end of the table, Donna was still looking at the first page.
“No flax?” Dale asked.
“Not this year,” Jeff said. “I had my fill of flax straw last year, and it wasn’t penciling out any better than anything else.”
A cell phone chimed. Donna set down her papers, went to the porch where she’d left her jacket and rooted through the pockets until she found her phone.
She looked down at her screen as she came back to the dining room.
“Everything okay?” Elaine asked.
“Yes,” Donna said. “Bonnie sent a photo of her and Sherri, standing with the band. Looks like they’re having a good time.”
Dale put down his papers.
“Look,” he said. “I’m sorry you couldn’t get to town tonight. I offered to drive you. And Bonnie said you could spend the night at her house if the weather turned bad.”
“I know,” Donna said. “I didn’t even want to see this band. I just hate to miss anything.”
“At least you didn’t miss this meeting!” Jeff said, trying to lighten the mood and to bring his parents’ attention back to the cropping plan he and Elaine had spent most of the week on.
“Your mother’s starting to get some ideas about moving to town,” Dale said.
Jeff and Elaine looked at Donna, open-mouthed, all kinds of new questions suddenly running through their heads. Would Dale drive out to the farm every day? How would that work during seeding and harvest? How would the kids spend enough time with their grandparents if Dale and Donna didn’t live on the farm? If Dale and Donna were thinking of buying a place in town, why didn’t they say something sooner, before Jeff and Elaine built a brand-new house on the farm less than three years ago? Could the Hansons afford to take enough cash out of the farm to buy a new house in town right now? So soon after Ed had bought his condo? And with all that cash for Jeff and Elaine’s house?
Donna broke the silence.
“It’s just a thought,” she said.
Jeff and Elaine just kept staring, not sure if they should be more worried about the labour, the kids, or the finances.
“We’re not going anywhere right now,” she said. “But there have been a lot of times in the last couple of years when it would have been nice to live in town.”
Donna tried to find something positive to balance the shock she saw in Jeff and Elaine’s eyes.
“Remember that blizzard back in January? When the school bus didn’t run in the afternoon, and Connor and Jenny had to stay in town at friends’ houses? If your Dad and I had a place in town, the kids could stay with us.”
Jeff blinked, still thinking.
“We haven’t made any decisions,” she said.
Jeff turned to his father, hoping Dale would tell him nothing like this would be happening anytime soon.
“Your mother has a lot of things going on,” Dale said, almost apologetically. “She’d have a lot less winter driving if we had a place there. We could get out and do more things together.”
“And we could keep better tabs on your grandfather,” Donna said.
Jeff and Elaine still couldn’t think of anything to say.
“It’s not like we’d move all the way to Vancouver,” Donna said.
It was a lot to take in.
“Let’s get back to this plan,” Dale said, flipping back to the map. “Are you thinking red lentils, or green on the home quarter?”