By Carl Meuser
The farmer looked up from his work bench as the boy stalked into the machine shed. Normally quick and careless in his movements, the boy’s lithe body had constricted in on itself as he sought to contain his rage.
“Well, I’m here.” the boy snarled. “This better be good.”
This was outside the farmer’s experience. To manage corralled cattle, he had a piece of white, plastic pipe for signaling and prodding. His horse responded to oats and the bit, and his dogs to affection and reproach. For rattlesnakes, he used a shovel.
“Good morning, Josh.” The farmer gathered his wrenches and returned them to their assigned cabinets, taking his time. “Could you grab those fence pliers and put ’em in that bucket?”
“What are fence pliers?”
The farmer walked across a cement floor to a metal workbench at the end of a large, corrugated metal shed, three quarters of which was filled with farm machinery. “These are fence pliers. Besides just bein’ pliers, see how one side has this snub-nosed hammer head? They’re not as good as a real hammer, but they’re heavy enough you can use ’em that way in a pinch.” He dropped them in a five-gallon plastic bucket.
“You want me to put these in the pick-up?”
“No, we’re gonna walk.”
“Why can’t we drive?”
“Because it’s too muddy on the wheat side. We’d just get stuck—and we’d tear up a bunch of wheat in the process. The pasture side is too rough to drive.”
“Who’s going to carry all of this stuff?”
The boy was wiry but unhardened, and the farmer, himself thick-set to the point of appearing ponderous, knew the boy couldn’t yet handle much of a load. “I’ll get most of it, but you’ll need to help.”
The boy lashed the man with his glare. The farmer ignored him and began filling the bucket with fence staples, wire clips, a hammer, narrating where the tools and supplies were and their uses as he went.
“Can you grab that yellow tool over there in that corner? The one with the clamps on the ends and a handle in the middle.”
“What is it?”
“It’s a wire stretcher.”
The boy did not ask what it was for or why they needed it. He picked it up and stood facing out of the corner.
“While you’re back there, can you also grab the post driver? It’s that heavy orange tube with handles there behind you.”
The boy grabbed the handle and stumbled as he lifted the driver. “How am I supposed to carry this?”
Taking the post driver from the boy, he said, “You’re not. I’ll carry it.” With the bucket and a fence post in one hand and the driver in the other, he began walking across the farm yard toward a barbed-wire fence that ran along the back of the yard.
The boy watched him for a short time, then followed, carrying the wire stretcher. The farmer stopped at a metal swinging gate and waited for the boy to arrive. The boy unchained the gate, letting them both through.
“How much am I getting paid?” the boy asked.
“Why would I give you a different answer this time?” asked the farmer.
“Then why am I doing it?”
“Because you’re a member of this family, and we run cattle.” He didn’t wait for the boy to respond before setting off down the fence that ran behind the house and enclosed a pasture that was a quarter mile wide and a half mile long.
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Photo credit: Image by Jim Semonik from Pixabay