Flying Lessons—part 3

by | Jun 25, 2024 | Finding the Words | 0 comments

Keep reading for the next installment of Flying Lessons. How will young Will Ross’ day progress?

Joe smiled down at Will and, again, patted him on the back.

“Okay, then, ready to go?”

Will nodded. “Thanks, Joe.”

Afternoon chores were feeding and watering the pigs and chickens, and milking the cows. Will didn’t mind doing them because he got to be outside and he got to do them with Joe. Lucien worked with Joe on morning chores because Will had to get ready for school, but come summer, Will would do them too. Helping with chores was part of their rent for the small house, the house Will had been born in on his grandfather’s farm. His father’s father. Though Will’s father had left just weeks after Will was born, his grandfather had let Glory (that was his mother) and the baby (that was him) stay, out of shame at his son’s abandoning them, his mother often said. Grandpa had even let them stay, though he started charging rent, when Glory married Lucien. As soon as Will was old enough, he’d begun helping with the chores, and that was how he’d gotten to know Joe, who Grandpa called “the best hand this side of the Mississippi” and who became Will’s best friend.

Joe suggested that Will handle the chickens and he would take care of the pigs that day, since they were late getting started. Usually they did the work side by side, not because they needed too, but because they liked the time together.

They each finished their respective tasks at the same time, and met at the barn to bring the cows in from the corral. Joe got his milking pails and cans ready, while Will fed the cows and got them into their stalls.

Will’s hands weren’t big enough yet to milk, but he stood behind Joe, listening to the swish swash of the milk hitting the pails, then hauling them to the cans, being careful not to spill as he poured. Joe whistled between his crooked teeth as he milked. Usually Will whistled along, but that day he was quiet as he walked the pails back and forth, relieved to be with Joe, but regretting the loss of his kite, berating himself for not noticing Lucien soon enough. He’d slipped up. He knew to be more careful.

When they finished, they parted at the barn, Joe saying, “See you t’morrow, buddy,” with a firm squeeze of the boy’s shoulder. “You watch yourself.”

Will could still feel the pressure of his friend’s comforting hand as he nodded and said, “I will, Joe.”

Will lingered, strolling beside the barn. He skirted around the tractor and the implements, as Joe called the plows, the harrow, and the rake. He passed the neat stacks of posts and boards, piled and waiting for spring fence-mending. He stopped at the two mounds where Joe had helped him bury Scout and Tuck, his pony and his dog. The graves were behind the windbreak along the north side of the farm, sheltered from the winter winds, and out of the way. He sat down beside the smaller mound, Tuck’s, with the little wooden marker that Joe had helped him make. He rested his hand on the earth, much like he used to rest his hand on the dog’s back when they’d sit together in the shade of these same trees.

Will had bolted down the dirt road when Lucien killed Tuck, thinking he would never go back. But then he had stopped, knowing that he couldn’t leave Tuck lying there in the farmyard. He had gone to Joe, and they had buried Tuck together—digging the grave, then placing his beloved dog on the bed Will had laid down in it. He had tenderly arranged Tuck’s legs into the position his dog had most favored for naps in the sun. He had stroked the dog’s head, and at the last minute, leaned in to hug Tuck one last time. After that he had swathed Tuck under the soft blanket Joe handed him. Then Will had taken the shovel from Joe and slowly covered his dog with earth. Laying him to rest, as Joe had said, beside Scout.

A tear rolled down Will’s cheek at the memory, but he swiped it away and insisted, “No crying.”

He stood, took a step, then paused beside the bigger mound to say, “Hi Scout, I miss you too, old pal.”

Will added “old pal” for Scout, remembering the day Joe handed him the pony’s reins saying, “JJ’s got too old for a pony. He said you could have Scout. This pony’s a good old pal. Will you take care of him now?”

Will had said, “I will. I promise, Joe.”

And he had done his best, with Scout and Tuck both, but it hadn’t been good enough to save them. Will stayed a moment more, his hands jammed deep in his pockets, feeling the wind buffet him. He knew he’d better not be late for supper, that would only cause more trouble, so he turned toward the house. Looking down at his boots as he walked, he remembered how the dust had shimmered in the sun that afternoon. Gone wrong, he thought. This day’s gone wrong. Like so many of them did.

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