"My lovely living boy,
My hope, my hap, my love,
My life, my joy"
(Guillaume de Salluste, Seigneur Du Bartas)
Janet sat quietly at the table, sipping on an ice tea I'd fixed her and nibbling on a protein snack Andy wanted her to have plus the protein drink she'd have mid-afternoon, as I worked preparing lunch and dinner. The pork roast went into the Nesco along with carrots, onions, and potatoes (eschewing the frozen mixed vegetables I'd originally planned).
The minute steaks, covered with a couple of cans of mushroom soup, went into the oven. I had a container of fresh mushrooms in the refrigerator I'd add to the dish about fifteen minutes before serving. Topping each steak with the mushrooms and slices of swiss cheese I also had in the refrigerator would make perfect mushroom/swiss sandwiches for lunch. Along with some frozen French fry's I'd slip in the oven, milk, and canned fruit cocktail should be enough for the boys to have for lunch. Janet assured me her boys were not picky eaters and would eat almost anything placed before them.
Mattie wasn't far from his mother's side the entire time I worked about in the kitchen. He did, however keep a constant vigilant eye on me, assuring himself of my presence. Lunch in the oven, dinner in the Nesco, I poured myself a glass of ice tea and joined my sister at the table.
"There," I concluded, "lunch taken care of, dinner, and sandwich meat for tomorrow when I'm gone. Andy has to work so I'll have to sort out which of the boys will be around for you."
"Jacob," she snorted, mildly upset and angry, "I'm not dead yet. I can manage just fine. Robbie will be working and Mattie and someone else will be with you, so it'll be just fine. Don't worry so much."
She was right, but it still didn't stop me from fussing. Mattie looked at me, smiled his sweet reassuring smile, acknowledging his mother was still capable, yet, of managing his brothers.
"Jacob," she asked after taking another sip of tea, "can you afford all of this- you know, having the boys and all? They'll need college and stuff later on. I wasn't certain how I'd do it, but I'd have tried my damnedest, but now, well, I just can't and won't be around to see it, much less high school graduation."
I saw Mattie's eyes mist over, but the little trooper didn't cry out loud. I hesitated in responding to her question. Not because I was fearful of providing it nor did I think Janet would find it unsatisfactory or unfair, but Mattie was there and I wondered about the advisability of sharing it with her and him. I was more concerned with the tone of finality it'd have concerning the provisions I'd made just a few years ago. Dad, when he died, left the farm to Mom and when she passed away, Janet and I inherited the entire estate on an equal share's basis, including the net profits. I'd been salaried ever since I came home to work and as the years progressed, so did my salary. Between Andy and me, our combined personal incomes were comfortably in the six figures.
"Yes, Janet, we can. I don't just mean Andy and me, but you as well. Mom hasn't been dead that long, but she left the farm to both of us."
I let that fact register with her before I continued.
"I'm salaried by the farm and it's a good wage, higher than many people in the area make. You and I share the net profit from the farm each year. The cash flow on the farm is great. We've had some good years and some not so good years, but recently they've been very good. I keep a cash reserve to provide for cash flow during the unproductive months and enough to carry us through three bad years if necessary so our bank balance is excellent as well as our credit line."
"In order to hold down taxes and not show too high an income from the farm, I've invested in new equipment, buildings, and other capital project, trying to make the farm more efficient and productive. It takes a bundle just to put the crops in the ground, care for them, harvest, and then market the produce. As you know, the work is very labor-intensive necessitating hiring some large crews of seasonal workers. Most come from local sources, including the university and high schools. At some point, I think we may have to add a small permanent crew, including a foreman, but I'm not ready to take that step yet. Personnel costs are a significant outlay of our operation. The entire operation has grown tremendously since you left home. I've expanded the markets and contracts for our produce."
Operations on the Farm changed significantly since Janet left home so many years before. No longer did we start our own plants from seed in our greenhouses. We used the greenhouses to bring the thousands of seedling plants I purchased from dealers to planting size, transplanting them in the spring at times optimal for harvest and after the last frost, hopefully. I hired part-time help, usually retired individuals or folks who only wanted some part-time work to supplement their income or give themselves some extra spending money. It worked well for me since there was a ready labor market in the area and at the university. My employees were loyal and returned year after year, except those at the university who moved on.
Most crops were hand planted, using a tow-behind planter which plowed a small furrow and then covered it, after an employee sitting on the planter extracted a plant from a flat, inserted it in the furrow. We used three UTV's for pulling the planters, some harvesting, and for general transportation around the farm. The tractors we had we used for plowing and preparing the planting beds as well as cutting, baling, and hauling hay and straw. Planting field corn, oats, sweet corn, combining field corn and oats, and planting and harvesting potatoes were all by custom services. It was more economical, but less profitable, for me to have this done rather than own the expensive equipment to do the job. The contractors also furnished the trucks to haul the field corn, oats, and potatoes to market sources for me. Again, it reduced my net profit, but well worth it.
Livestock was on the Farm for a purpose; to help rid us of excess produce through feeding, provide nutrients for the fields, and some income to the Farm, as well as personal use of the meat. I generally didn't keep hogs through the winter. I purchased feeder pigs in the spring and marketed them in late fall. Beef cattle were purchased as feeder calves, pastured and fed supplemental feed, put to work in the field corn and sweet corn fields after harvest, and marketed when they reached an optimal weight, generally before I purchased the next herd in the spring.
The asparagus, the first crop to be harvested each year, was harvested by my part-time help. The people working the field were older, experienced, and damned good, knowing what size spears were marketable, cutting them properly, and boxing as they cut. The harvest generally lasted three weeks or so, depending on the weather, before I fertilized the crop ground and let it grow for another year. The work wasn't easy and hard on the back, so I really cut some slack for break times, providing hot coffee, snacks, soda, and water. I also paid per hour, but it was on a "draw plus commission basis." I paid, in addition to the hourly, a bonus for each pound harvested each day. Again, it cut my net profit margin to between seven and ten percent of the gross sales, but it was well worth it. Most of the crop was sold by contract off site and was a very lucrative part of our Farm income.
Potatoes, generally white except when processors wanted some reds, in the fall, were sold to processors and the culls (ones not acceptable to the processor) were bagged into fifty pound sacks with our name and logo on them. I did raise about ten acres of reds and the same of yellows or goldens for sale from the Farm. The processor also bagged these for me. These potatoes were sold from our "potato" trucks I sent to key locations in the fall for sale to the general public. I advertised the location, sent the trucks, and generally sold out within a month. I carried no inventory over in winter storage. If there were some left, it went to food pantries, schools or the university, and meal sites. It not only provided meals but was an excellent tax right-off. I did the same with other summer vegetables as well.
Most of the fruits, such as apples, plums, pears, peaches, nectarines, cherries, apricots, and blueberries were trucked in, along with early crops of vegetables not available from the Farm until later. This meant canning tomatoes, melons, zucchini, squash. Cauliflower, cabbage, and other items were also trucked in during the early summer. All the trucked in produce was clearly marked with place of origin. When our crops were ready, we stopped trucking in much, except for fruit since we didn't grow any. Generally, I hoped for a net profit of between twenty and thirty percent for produce I trucked in. I offset some of the costs by shipping and providing at auction our own, such as strawberries, potatoes, pumpkins, squash, Cauliflower, some asparagus, and sweet corn.
Again, I paused, expecting some questions from her, but none were forthcoming. Mattie, however, seemed to be absorbing every word I said, sorting it all out and committing it to his memory.
I explained to her the provisions of the will, the thousand dollars to her, and the fact I invested it for her. I did explain how, before Mom died, I convinced her to make her a beneficiary as half owner of the Farm should she return home within ten years of Mom's death. I just didn't think it was fair Janet received so little and I received so much.
"I instructed our attorney to establish a trust account in your name with me as the trustee and beneficiary, where we could deposit your share of the net profits of the Farm. Since I couldn't find you or heard from you, I didn't know if you were alive or dead, but hoped you were alive to claim the trust. If not, it'd go to me. As of now, you are part owner in the Farm and have a sizeable trust in your name."
"Alive for the time being," she said wryly.
"The money is yours anytime you want it or need it. Although living here with us now, even knowing what we do, you really don't need it. Andy and I, along with the Farm, can comfortably handle the financial obligations concerning your health care and, yes, even the funeral costs."
Janet looked at Mattie, sad in the face, tucked up tight to his mother, turned her eyes toward me, pleading, "What do you think I should do, Jake?"
"How about having our attorney set up an educational trust for your sons to be used for post high school education? Your share of the farm, if you put it in your will so it won't end up intestate, will go to the boys. If something happens to me, my will and the fact we're married, gives my share to Andy.
Janet nodded her approval, but hesitated.
"What?" I asked.
"I didn't know about the farm so when I met with the attorney, I didn't mention it."
"No problem; give him a call after lunch and take care of it, okay?"
Janet sighed, shoulders sort of slumped, bringing an arm around her by Mattie.
"It's just going to be so damned tough leaving the boys," she said softly, sadly.
She knew very well Andy and I'd do our level best to raise her sons as our own, but still the thought of dying wasn't easy since it meant leaving the ones she loved. I didn't need to remind her of any of that. Instead, I chose, through tear filled eyes, a lump in my throat, and with a heart aching, "Janet, you'll really never 'leave' your sons. Part of you lives in each one and every time I look at one of them or they look at each other, they'll see something of you."
We both sat quietly, understanding our future- me without my sister, her sons living here where she wanted, and her in the graveyard next to mom and dad. A low, groaning sob from Mattie brought us back to the reality of a situation, reminding us of a boy and five of his brothers who'd have a difficult time dealing with and reconciling the death of their mother. Although they knew it was going to happen, they still tried their best to deny the inevitable.
I stepped forward, wrapped Janet and Mattie in my arms and we had a good cry. The sounds of the truck rumbling down the lane from the county road to the house caught our attention. Mattie and I walked out to the porch in time to see the truck stop in front of the house and Scottie, Eddie, and Jamie bound out of the back, giggling, laughing, and chattering like magpies.
Andy and Davey emerged from the cab of the truck and headed toward me.
"Where did you find those three?" I asked flipping my thumb to the others.
"Walking down the lane toward the house," laughed Andy.
"With our peckers hanging out," hooted Eddie.
"Yeah," roared Jamie. "We were trolling!"
Oh my god, life was going to more than just interesting with the six Westcott boys.
"Hold up guys," Andy shouted. "We need to unload the truck and get the bedroom stuff upstairs."
Andy and I started carrying the mattresses, Davey and Scottie started on the desks and dressers, Eddie and Mattie began unloading and carrying bed frames and headboards, while Jamie hauled sheets and blankets.
"We'll put this together after lunch," I announced.
"Oops," commented Andy. "I forgot something. Left it in the truck."
He brought forth a plastic bag and handed it to Mattie.
Mattie peered inside, began to laugh and dance around in a happy dance, thrust his hand inside and pulled forth a package of batteries for his CD player and a new CD by Lang Lang. Happiness for him was music. Uncle Andy got a big hug and a kiss. Such a happy boy!
The mushroom/swiss steaks were a great hit. After we cleaned up, Andy and I carried Janet up the stairs so she would be there as we reassembled the beds, positioned the dressers and desks, and made the beds up for occupancy that evening. The boys were great help and really excited about having their own beds. The only one not there was Robbie, now working, but would be home soon. The first thing Mattie did when the bedrooms were done was flop down on his, put new batteries into his CD player and listen to his new CD.
Andy and I carried Janet back down stairs so she could rest. She was seated in an easy chair, sort of dozing, so we headed back up the stairs. I heard the front door open and started down the stairs, assuming it was Robbie coming home from work. Stopping half way down, I overheard him telling his mother about his first day of work.
"It's a real job Mom," he said excitedly. "Uncle Jacob let me go to work with the field crew and we moved beef cattle to a new pasture." He stopped for a minute before adding, "I really like working with the livestock and so does Paulie."
"Who, eldest son, is Paulie?"
"He's my age, works on the crew, and is ever so nice."
"That may be, Robbie, but be careful. Be certain before you become totally and completely involved with him. How do you know he's like you?"
"His eyes, Mom, his eyes. Every gay boy knows to look there."
Robbie said some other things I couldn't quite understand, but Janet responded, "I'm so pleased you like the work and living here. It'll give you and your brothers a chance to earn a respectable living rather than the way I did."
"But you had us to take care of Mom," Robbie pleaded. "You loved us and we love you so it was okay."
"I know, but it's better we're here. You and your brothers stick close to your Uncle Jacob. He'll take good care of you and you can learn a lot from him.
Robbie mad some muted comments. Janet hushed him, "I know, but don't cry my sweet, loving, oldest son. It'll all be fine and maybe you won't have to worry so much about the little ones, okay? Now, go clean up, you stink of dirt, sweat, and cow shit."
It was a good time for me to make my presence known.
"Robbie, is that you? If so, give your brothers a shout. I'll show you all how to take care of the hogs before you clean up."
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