Shovels Are For Digging
by Tim Paschall
The wind whistled its way through the corn fields, bending a stalk this way or that, to or fro, as it saw fit. The air was lonely, stagnant and still, having no other place to be save everywhere and nowhere all in the same instant. The sun hovered lazily above, lolling about in an azure sky, scorching the earth below out of sheer boredom. Somewhere, a radio played Johnny Cash, Folsom Prison Blues drifting faintly upwards, then fading, consumed by an ever expansive stillness. A two-laned highway meandered its way through the country-side, splitting the corn field in half, then wandering off to meet the horizon. The quiet of the moment was shattered briefly by the obnoxious roar of a passing dump truck. A single pine watched curiously as the truck vanished in the distance, along with its barrage of sound, once again restoring the setting to its original forlorn state.
In a clearing, free of corn stalks and tall grasses, resided a farmhouse, a melancholy little dwelling boasting a sagging front porch, and a rusting tin roof. From the road, one could see a man working in the yard. A slight breeze ruffled his chestnut hair, cooling his sweat-soaked skin, as he maneuvered his dull, green tractor through the yard in neat little rows, leaving a clean-shaven lawn in its wake. He raised his arm to wipe the sweat from his brow, too slowly, however, to prevent it from dripping down his cheek, teasing his lips with saline kisses.
The enticing aroma of fried chicken, butter-laden potatoes, and vinegar-drenched collards wafted through the open kitchen window of the farmhouse. Emma stood in the kitchen, peering out the window at John, toiling in the hot sun. She grabbed a dishcloth from the sink basin, and soaked it under a stream of cool tap water. Ringing it out, she folded it three times, lengthwise, and placed the dishcloth on her forehead to absorb her own sweat. Glancing over at the stove, she laid the dishcloth down, proceeding to remove the, now, cooked chicken breasts from their greasy bath. She turned the burners off for the potatoes and the collards as well, placing lids on the pots where they rested.
" Sammy! Go tell your father supper's ready, " Emma called to her four-year old son, as she gathered dishes from the china cabinet, preparing to set the table.
Sam ran down the stairs, his miniature construction boots making thunderously loud thumps with each mini step.
" Oh boy!," Sammy cried as he ran through the kitchen, past Emma, and out the screen door, " Fried chicken!"
Emma watched from the window as Sammy scurried excitedly across the yard, his feet disappearing at each step into the green-brown grass. She stood, once again applying the moistened dishcloth to her forehead, observing John as he stopped the tractor, turning his attention towards Sam. After a few moments, John reached down and grabbed Sammy, lifting him onto his lap. When John, with Sammy on board, steered the tractor toward the house, Emma focused herself on setting the table.
She adorned the table with three hand-made placemats, blue and white and crafted with the image of faceless Amish characters embroidered in the middle. She had made them herself, as she did many household things. They were handsomely made, and they matched the wallpaper in the kitchen, white and covered with little blue flowers. Emma smiled, as she placed paper napkins on each of the placemats, admiring her handiwork while she set the table with silverware.
The screen door squealed slightly as John entered carrying Sam in his arms, then rapped in annoyance as it swung closed.
" Smells like food!, " John said boisterously, setting
Sammy down on the floor, " Better be enough for and army. Me and
little man, here, are hungry. Ain't that right,
" Hungry for chicken!, " Sam laughed, running over to watch as Emma moved the chicken and the covered pots from the stove to the center of the kitchen table.
" Well, there's plenty here! Wash up before you sit down, Sam, " Emma stated in a motherly fashion, escorting Sammy gently from the kitchen, upstairs to the bathroom.
John walked over to the kitchen sink, turning on the water as he grabbed a bottle of bright green dish detergent from the counter. He washed his hands vigorously. Then he grabbed the dishcloth, the same one Emma had been using, and ran it under the lukewarm water. He wiped the sweat off his brow and neck, dropping the rag in the sink when he was done. Just as he finished, Emma and Sam re-entered the kitchen.
" All clean?, " John said, a playful grin emerging on his lips as he reached out and grabbed Emma by the hips. He pulled her close until he felt her breasts against his muscular chest. They stood still for a moment, mere seconds in reality, two souls intertwined and bound together by love. Then, John gave her a small kiss on the lips.
" I love you, " John said, turning to look at the table, " let's eat!"
" Goody!" cried Sam, rushing hurriedly to grab his spot at the dinner table.
" Don't you dare touch any of that food until we say grace, young man!," Emma warned Sam as she and John joined him at the table.
Once the entire family was seated around the table, Emma bowed her head. John bowed his head as well.
" Father," Emma began, before she was soundly interrupted.
" Let me say it! You promised you'd let me say it!," Sam protested, his eyes all aglow with eagerness.
" Okay, Sam, go ahead," John said, smiling as he glanced over at Emma, a quaint little smirk shone upon her face.
" God is great. God is good. Let us thank him for our food! Amen! Can we eat now?," Sam quickly blessed the meal.
" Now we can eat, " said Emma, as she began to heap a modest pile of mashed potatoes on Sam's plate," How many chicken legs do you want?"
" Three! I want three!," Sam answered.
" How about two instead. You'll never eat three!," Emma insisted.
" I want three. Why can't I have three?," Sam questioned.
" All right, you can have three, but you'd better eat 'em!," Emma said sternly.
The pot of collard greens was passed around the table, as each plate received its due portion. A pleasant breeze drifted in faintly through the open window, carrying with it the sweet scent of fresh honey-suckle. The breeze was not enough, however, to eliminate the need for the small oscillating fan, perched upon the counter, sending cool relief throughout the kitchen.
" Sam wants you to make him a sandbox so he has a place to play with his toys," Emma began, breaking a brief silence to begin conversation anew.
" Yeah, I guess he could use a place to play with his toys. Least then I wouldn't have to worry about them being scattered across the whole damn yard!," John agreed, a slight sarcasm in his voice.
" Will you build it, Dad? Will you build me a sandbox?," Sam gasped excitedly, his mouth still full of mashed potatoes.
" Don't talk with your mouth full, Sam. You know better than that!," Emma scolded the way mothers do.
" Yeah!," John picked up where Sam had left off," I guess I could make one tomorrow."
" Promise!?," Sam demanded.
" Okay, I promise we'll make your sandbox tomorrow. How's that!," John answered, grinning slightly as he looked at Sam.
" All right!," Sam exclaimed, his mouth still full of potatoes.
" What did I tell you about talking with your mouth full?," Emma scolded once more.
Dinner was over quickly, as the plates which were set upon the table were filled with loads of food, and emptied of their cargo just as fast. After dinner, Sam darted out the door, eager to while away the last few remaining hours of sunlight playing in the yard. Emma arose from the table where John was still seated, and began to gather the dishes from the table, loading them into the sink. Once all the dishes were in the sink, she turned on the water, and poured some detergent into the sink as well.
" That was a good meal, Hon," John said, as Emma. with her back to him, was preparing to wash the dishes.
" Thank you. I figured I'd fry chicken since we hadn't had it in a while," Emma answered, the fan blowing strands of her dark, shoulder-length hair across her face.
" Tractor's running low on fuel. Have to run into town and fill up the gas can," John uttered with a sigh, "and maybe pick up some sand for Bobby's sandbox."
" You got everything else you need already?" replied Emma, surprised.
"Out in the garage..nails, wood…what else is there?, John posed with a grin.