Furrows

summersunOne of the best jobs I held in the seasons of my high school and university summers was working the furrows of a large potato farm on the western outskirts of town. I rode my ten speed to a quonset every morning dressed to work outdoors in the heat for most of the day. A packed lunch and something to drink was housed in the backpack slung over my shoulder. There at the quonset men in overalls and badly greased baseball hats grinned and laughed at me and my fellow worker Brian P. Both of us studious, artsy; not at all good earth digging people. These affable men were perpetually covered in grime, and smiles, and bad jokes, not mean, but more bemused by the summer duo in front of them. We were driven out deep into the fields behind the quonset and each given a few rows, which stretched for miles into the vanishing point, to hoe. Our job was to inspect each potato plant for weeds and hack away. It was truly an ideal job for two kids that wanted to be outside in the summer listening to music piped in through their headphones (no earbuds just yet). Brian and I dropped off would set up stations ahead of us consisting of water and our lunch, which had been now placed into company-owned coolers. Then we’d put on our headphones, and head down, hoe up and down, we’d go down the line, discerning weed from potato. Nothing but sky and field until you could see no more. It gave the normally pensive me time to think, and I thought about Brian P. And have since. I first saw him in grade three, introduced as a new student. He was dangerous and kinetic, and got himself into a lot of trouble. We thought he came from ape stock given than his head was a smudge of black bristle; his moist full lips were always blabbering. He clambered and screeched up and down the rows of the desks. We watched in wonder, and in fright. Brian P. seemed out of control. Today, we might say Brian had ADD or was hypomanic. Then we called him an ape. To his face. So there I was several years later, having not been to the same school as he, working alongside him. Brian the Ape. Over the course of our summer toil, weeks really but seeming longer, I came to know a quieter Brian. We worked quietly, and took breaks together. He said something about meds had helped him calm down. This one last time we were in the fields we found ourselves out of water. There was one of those oasis farmhouses off in the distance, the kind with an acre of mower-cut grass, shelter belt trees, a quonset for cars or the odd horse and a two story farm house with a small garden and a wrap-around porch. Brian said we should go there. We walked, and it was a fair distance, over to the house dying of thirst. A garden faucet at the side of the house gave us all the water we needed. We took turns tilting our mouths under the wondrous flow. We were wiping our mouths on our sleeves when a flash of something went by the window. We recoiled, a little scared. We thought the house had been empty. The window was too high for us to see, so Brian stood on the faucet and gripped the window ledge to peer inside. “She naked,” he said. By the time I got up there, there was no such flash of flesh. We returned to the field, finished our work for the day and drove our bikes back into town together, letting the wind whip us and the sun bake us. We stopped at the McDonalds on the west side of town, our pockets full of our wages, to buy some dinner. In line, amongst clean strangers taking in our workmen filth, we gave each other a little smile. I never saw Brian P. ever again, but I think of him, the job we had in the furrows of summer back in our hometown.

 

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