The Farmer who Saved his Family

John cranked up the tractor, momentarily wishing that it was quieter so he could enjoy the silence out in the field; alone with himself. It was another hot, dry day and the crops were on the verge of failing. He ignored the sweltering heat, and the sweat dripping into his eyes. Dust from the arid air continually got into his lungs, so he had a perpetual cough, his voice a bit gravelly. He had learned long ago to power through this season, because it came every year, some worse than others, but it was part of the deal. He always put money aside just in case. 

John told almost everyone he knew that he loved being a farmer, because his only schedule was the sun and the season. He’d tried working 9 to 5 long ago, but farming was in his blood. His dad and his granddaddy were both farmers, and of course, being the rebellious youth that he was, he swore he would never be a farmer. But eventually he realized that he couldn’t be cooped up inside a building all day, and that he wanted to be his own boss. When he stopped denying it, he realized that he loved farming. 

John wasn’t a complicated man. Actually, he was a fairly typical, midwestern man. He had no need for politics, unless something involved him or his family directly. Farming was probably the only thing he was passionate about. Everything else was just something to do. He watched football on TV, went fly fishing with his brothers, and watched some porn in the privacy of his office, unbeknownst to Kathy. Not that he thought about it much, but one could say that John was pretty content with his lot in life, not much to complain about. 

He drank cheap whiskey sometimes, which is when he would get rather loud and boisterous, but reserved drinking mostly between him and his buddies. He never got violent with Kathy, but sometimes he did spank his children. Although he wasn’t particularly religious, he went to church on alternate Sundays with Kathy and the kids. John knew that a woman was  the stabilizing force in a man’s life, so he didn’t question it much. Still, he didn’t see the point in going to church every Sunday when he had so little time off, and God knew where John was and what he was doing.  

So, often John told Kathy that he had work to do around the farm, which is when he watched football. He always knew when they were due to come home, but one time they came home early when his son got sick and projectile vomited on everyone in the church pews. Hearing the car in the driveway, he hid the chips and Pepsi under the couch, ran out the back door and grabbed some tools. Nobody ever knew the difference, so he felt justified in telling little white lies every now and then to keep the peace.

Although John was only 42, he was sun baked and consequently, prematurely wrinkled. John might be considered an average American. He never needed to exercise, because he worked all day on the farm, so his shoulders were broad and his muscles were strong, but he did have a bit of a belly from Kathy’s country style cooking. He was not a handsome man, nor was he repulsive, with a broad misshapen nose, chestnut brown hair, generally matted and thinning from wearing a cap most days, cracked, thin lips, and honest, brown eyes.

In the spring of 2020, John’s family went on vacation without him since the kids had several weeks off and he had work to do, as usual. They went to visit Kathy’s folks in Canada.  He missed them, but he wasn’t really sorry for having the house to himself for a while, especially since Kathy prepared food and left it for him. She made lasagna, enchilada casserole, beef stew, and biscuits with gravy. The old saying about the way to a man’s heart being through his stomach was completely true in this case. Sometimes when they fought, he actually had the thought that if he didn’t apologize soon, she would stop cooking for him, which she did on occasion; it kept him in line. It wasn’t so difficult saying he was sorry, although sometimes he really didn’t know what for, but it sure did make life easier, and he liked it when life was easy. 

John was never really alone, because they had 3 big dogs. They had rationalized that kids needed dogs and every farmer’s family should have big dogs because there were plenty of places to roam. That was the logic, but what actually happened was that the dogs were almost always inside, slobbering on everything, sleeping on beds and sofas, and shedding on the carpets. They were part of the family now, so John had given up trying to train them. When the family left, the dogs were his companions. 

“Trigger, Kelso, Booker!” John called as he poured the dog food into the bowls. No matter where they were, they could smell the food and skidded into the mud room.  John attempted to train them. He put his hand out. “Stay. Sit. Do not go until I tell you.” The dogs wagged their tails and panted. Trigger, the youngest, could not wait and started for the food. “No, Trigger. That’s why we named you Trigger. Always jumping too soon. Stay.” John raised his voice. He had watched that Dog Whisperer show, saying that the human needed to be the alpha male of the pack, and John was sure it would work if only he could get the rest of the family to comply. Kelso and Booker followed Trigger to the food bowls. John sighed as they almost knocked him over, realizing that his attempt was futile, so he retired to the TV room, but not before putting a heaping bowl of beef stew in the microwave. 

John settled into his spot on the dark green, fabric couch, worn over time, threadbare where he sat for the past 13 years, surrounded by his dogs, with his kids usually laying against the dogs on the other side. Of course, John loved his kids, and loved Kathy, but the dogs gave him the affection that he didn’t even know he wanted. Tonight was no different. When the dogs finished eating, they jumped on the couch with John. As usual, he chastised them for not wiping their mouths when they were done and drooling all over him. He grabbed the remote and turned on the news channel first. This night, something caught his eye and his ears perked up.

“…there will be a shelter-in-place order for the entire country. Each state will determine exactly what that means and follow their own guidelines,” the newscaster said.

“What does that mean? Shelter-in-place?” John asked the dogs, but they just yawned. He changed the channel to a local station. 

“…the governor is mandating that all citizens wear masks when they are in a public place,” the news anchor declared.

“Dale,” the other newscaster asked, “where can citizens get these masks? We have reports that there is a shortage of masks.”

“What the heck?” John lamented as he petted the dogs mindlessly. “I’m not wearing a freaking mask.” As soon as he said that, he thought of Kathy and the kids, and pulled his cell phone out of his pocket to press the speed dial button for Kathy. No answer. He continued watching television. 

“Marnie,” Dale said, “what’s the fine for not wearing a mask? What will happen to people if they don’t follow the orders? Will they go to jail? Or simply get a reprimand?”

“This is all so new,” Dale said. “I think we’re all playing this by ear.” Then, the screen cut to a scene of the nearby city, its streets deserted, few cars and no people anywhere.  

Trigger barked, causing Kelso and Booker to bark. They jumped off the couch and started to play tug with one of their rubber toys. 

Marnie, the newscaster, came back on the screen after several loud commercials. “And then there’s this. U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau agreed on Wednesday morning to bar travellers crossing the world’s longest land border for ‘recreation and tourism’ purposes.”

“What does that mean for people who are already visiting or working in Canada, or vice-versa? Will they be able to come home?” Dale asked. 

  John was in a state of disbelief. He really wanted to talk to Kathy and the kids. Suddenly, being alone in his house with only the dogs was oddly lonely. 

Later that evening. John got a call from Kathy. The border was closed. Canada was not letting anyone travel, the planes had been grounded indefinitely. They would have to quarantine in Canada for a while. 

Kathy wanted to know if John would be alright? What would he eat? Were the stores open in town? Would he be alright alone? How were the dogs?

The rest of the conversation was a blur. 

“I can come and get you,” John offered. 

“They won’t let you cross the border,” Kathy said.

“That’s ridiculous. They can’t hold you hostage,” John said in anger, and then there was panic in his voice. “What if this goes on forever? What if they can’t find a cure? Or a vaccine? Will they ever let you come home? They can’t keep my children there!” He was almost in full blown panic mode. This was not typical for John. He wasn’t accustomed to feeling this way. He didn’t know what to do.

Kathy was used to doing what needed to be done for the children. She was comfortable living with her parents for a while. She liked it in Canada. She missed John, but not as much as he missed her. She had her children, her parents, and she didn’t have to cook for a while. She did feel a little guilty about that. She had never experienced this kind of reaction from her husband, but she tried to calm him down as best she could.

“Honey, we’ll be fine. I’m just worried about you, John. Maybe you can get the Reardons to bring you dinners. You know how they love to help out.”

John’s voice squeaked a bit, cracking and sputtering. “They’re making everyone social distance. They probably won’t be able to come over.”

Kathy went into grounding mode, trying to calm John’s fears. Typically, she allowed John to be the strong one, because it made him feel like ‘a man’, but now she realized that she had to calm him down, yet not appear too controlling so he wouldn’t lose face. 

“John, I’m sure the governments and authorities will work things out. I’m absolutely certain of it. We will just be here a bit longer than expected. Think of this as an extended vacation for us. And breathe, Honey. Please. You can be comforted in knowing that we are all okay here. And God is with us. He won’t let anything happen to us.”

John began to calm down as he heard her voice. Her words weren’t really registering immediately, but the familiarity of her voice, there was safety in that. Eventually, he realized what she said and responded. “Yeah, you’re right, Babe. You’re all okay. That’s what matters. And you’re right. God has got our backs. And so do I.” 

That’s when he got a grip and composed himself. The dogs seemed to know that he needed reinforcement and jumped on the couch to surround him again. John suddenly realized that he was the man of the house and had to be strong for his family. He sat up straighter, pulled his shoulders back, and imagined himself a warrior in ‘the Battle of the Covid’. He would find a way to reunite his family in the wake of the plague. Even though they were over a thousand miles away, he would keep them safe. He must be strong, for them. 

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