A TALE OF TWO FARMERS

 

Everyone liked Jones. No one liked Smith.   Every Saturday morning Smith would buy his supplies from the village dry goods and feed store. The owner of the store would ask him how things were going, but Smith only would grunt out a “good” in reply. Whereas, when Jones came in, he was always ready for a good joke or a gossipy story.
 
    In autumn the wheat fields were ripe for cutting. Because there had been very little rain through that summer, they were extremely dry. The pressure was on to harvest the wheat as quickly as possible for fear heat lightening might set the fields on fire. So several farmers, including Jones, decided to help one another to make the harvesting quicker and easier.
 
    Since Jones was well liked, he persuaded his neighbors to allow Smith to join them in harvesting their fields. With five combines, a fifty-acre field could be cleared in one day. However, among the farmers it was agreed, Jones field was to be cut first because his was the largest - more than fifty acres - and the last was to be Smith’s because his was the smallest. It only seemed fair to put him last, since it was reasoned, if lighting did strike and start a fire, his small field could not damage the others.
 
    Over the years, hard times had caused the Smiths to sell pieces of their farmland. Old man Smith was the last of his family to still be living and farming. While none of the farmers liked Smith, they acknowledged his family had been the first to settle in the area - they had fought Indians; they had tamed the wilderness; they had built the first school house. It was also discussed and concluded that family pride had made Smith uppity. And he had no reason to be so uppity. So what if they had pioneered the area? The past was past. Modern times had come. One had to swing the way the wind blew.
 
    Jones had offered to buy Smith’s farm many times.
 
    “Why not retire?” he would ask. “I’ll give you a good price for it. You could go into the city. Not worry. Have plenty to live on. Take your ease.”
 
    “Nope,” Smith would shake his head. “I’m goin’ to die and be planted in the ground where Smith blood is in the dirt. Goin’ to be next to my ma and pa and theirs.”
 
    “I promise to take real good care of you and your family’s burial plot. Plant flowers by the headstones. You’re getting too old to farm and take care of your house. Sell it all and rest.”
 
    But through the years Smith’s answer was always a firm, “no.”
 
   Others had also offered to buy his farm. But each offer was refused. Though no one could say where the rumor came from, some villagers believed Smith had a secret hoard of money either hidden in his house or buried in his land. The inheritance was said to be from his great grandparents. This rumor had circulated for years. Every now and then the rumor would spring up whenever Smith and Jones happened to be seen together in the store. After they would leave, it would start again. A few years back, it had even reached the city. Several realtors had stopped by to talk to Smith. He would get angry and once chased a “city” man off with a shotgun. After that, no one from the city came by to see him.
 
The last couple of winters had been particularly hard on Smith.  While the villagers could only guess his age as being around 80 or more, he had always appeared strong and healthy. However, in the last few months whenever he came into the store, it was apparent he had weakened considerably. His breath was labored, his body bent, his walk shuffling, slow. As far as anyone could remember, there had never been a time when he was unable to harvest his field. This possibility brought Jones to ask Smith if he could use some help in harvesting his crop. He was surprised when Smith said, “Yep. I could.”
 
    For the first couple of days, Smith struggled to keep up the cutting with his combine. But by mid-afternoon of the third day, Jones could see he was too weak to continue. Jones told him to go home and rest. When he felt better, he could join them again. This pattern continued every day until all the fields were cut but Smith’s. The night before his field was to be harvested, what had been feared came to pass. Heat lightening struck his field and set it afire. Before dawn the field had burned itself out.
 
    When the combines arrived to cut Smith’s wheat, the farmers saw him, covered in soot from walking around his blackened field.
 
    “Sorry your crop burned,” Jones said, as he climbed down from his combine.
 
    “Yeah, I bet ya are! Ya coulda care less. What ya all wanted was to make sure ya got yer fields in. Ya coulda cut mine first. Jest because mine was the smallest don’ mean it ain’t as important as yers.”
 
    “Look, we wanted to include you in this harvesting. We didn’t have to, you know. It’s not our fault nature took your crop.”
 
    “Yeah, well, not my fault neither. Never got no breaks in life, never will.”
 
    “Maybe I can help you out a little,” Jones smiled. “I could loan you some money for the winter. And for seed in the spring.”
 
    “Hey, don’ do me no favors.” Smith spit on the black ground as he walked away.
 
The winter was bitter and longer than usual. Often the deep snow kept the village isolated. By spring the dry goods store was in short supply of canned goods, kerosene and gas, and many other products which had to be trucked in from the city. When the spring thaw finally came, seed and supplies began arriving at the store. The owner of the store had not seen Smith for many months. Through the winter months when Jones and the other farmers came in for some supplies, they would discuss poor, mean Smith, and how fortunate they were to have cut their wheat first.
 
    “Yep,” said Jones. “It was a God-thing that all our crops were saved. You know when we tried to help him out, he was just too ornery and proud to accept. If he’s starvin’, he’s got what he deserved.”
 
    “Has anybody been out to his house?” asked the store owner. “He could be dead. Maybe somebody should check him out.”
 
    But no one volunteered to go. Too busy. Too much trouble. Besides, it was decided, Smith was tough. He could take care of himself.
 
    The first warm spring Saturday, Smith walked into the store. He was thin and gaunt.
 
    The owner and Jones greeted him with a “good to see you.”
 
    Smith grunted and gave the owner his list for supplies, then asked where the wheat seed was and how much it cost.
 
    “How much seed do you need?” asked the owner.
 
    “Half pound bag.”
 
    “That’s not enough to plant your field,” said Jones.
 
    “Yeah, well, that’s all I got money fer. And I don’ take what I can’t pay fer.”
 
    The owner winked at Jones in a knowing way. “Come on, now. We all know about your stash. We’ve known about it for years.”
 
    “You don’ know nothin’,” snapped Smith. “Alls I got is my land. Ain’t nobody takin’ it away from me.”
 
    “Nobody wants to take anything from you,” said Jones. “You just won’t ever let anybody help you. You’re just a stubborn ole coot who doesn’t know what’s good for him.”
 
    Smith slammed his hand on the counter. “An’ I suppose ya know what’s good fer me. Ya think ya got comin’ to ya what belongs to me jest cuz ya smile and git everybody to like ya. Humph, I sees into ya.” He poked his bony finger into Jones’ chest.
 
    “Ya can’t cover that hole with no smile.”
 
    Jones could feel the color rise in his face. Very slowly he pushed Smith’s finger away. “Nobody likes you, you ole coot. And no wonder. I was willing to loan you some money to help you through the winter. I was the one who offered to help you keep your land...and what’s more to keep you from starvin’. But no, you’re just too damned proud, or too dumb, or maybe the story about you is true.”
 
    “Ain’t no story ‘bout me worth anythin’.”
 
    “Then, let me loan you the money. I offered before, but you were too stubborn to take it. Take it now,” said Jones. “You can pay me back when your crop comes in.”
 
    “What if it don’ come in? What if I can’t pay ya back? Ya’ll take my land. Ya’ll take all I got. I can’t let ya do that.” He took a wad of bills out of his dungaree pocket. “Here, this’ll take care of what I owe. Git my seed,” he said to the owner, placing the crumpled bills on the counter. “An’ I’ll be on my way.”
 
    Jones shook his head in disgust. “Why won’t you take my help?”
 
    “A loan ain’t no help. An’ that’s the end of it.”
 
For the next couple of weeks Jones worked his field. In years past he would see Smith also working his. Sometimes at the edge where both their fields met, they would plow or seed side by side. This planting time Jones didn’t see him outside. Each day his not seeing Smith brought back into his mind their scene in the store. Jones could still feel Smith’s bony finger jabbing his chest. He could not define the moment exactly when he decided to visit Smith. He didn’t really like the man, but he was still a human being, he told himself. So maybe he should see how he was doing. His knock on Smith’s door brought no response from within the old, weathered house. He pounded harder, waited, and heard some shuffling sounds. The door creaked open and Smith, thinner than when Jones had seen him last, stood in the doorway.
 
    “Whaddya want?”
 
    “I wondered how you are.”
 
    “I’m dyin’. What’s it to ya?”
 
    For a few seconds, he pondered the question. Did he care? No, he didn’t. Yet, somehow he did. This old so-and-so needed help. And what he needed could not be taken care of by a simple loan. No, more than money was needed here. His thoughts darted in different directions. Who needs trouble? I’m busy. I have enough work to take care of in my own life and farm. There was enough trouble in the world without asking for more. And this trouble was called Smith. Who would miss him if he died? No one. Yes...but...no one should die alone.
 
    “Can I come in?”
 
    Smith opened the door wider indicating Jones could.
 
   First, the smell. Rotting garbage. Urine. Dirt. Then, the dark, imprisoned feeling. Jones shivered. No wonder Smith was dying. Who wouldn’t slowly die in a place like this?
 
    Smith gestured for Jones to sit on a threadbare, oily body stained armchair.
 
    “Got no one to give my farm to. I was thinkin’ of leavin’ it to ya, ‘specially since ya had yer on eye it fer so long an’ all.”
 
    “Hey,” snapped Jones. “I felt bad when your crop burned last year. But you were too proud to take help. From me or anybody.”
 
    “Oh, yeah? Ya was only interested in gittin’ what ya heard might be here. Ya all been thinkin’ I’m rich. Ya’d buy me out and start diggin’ - lookin’ for a lie.”
 
    Suddenly Jones was ashamed. Smith was right. He hadn’t really wanted to help him at all. Whatever moment of kindness he had felt when Smith’s field burned was overcome not so much by his dislike of the man, but there might be truth to the rumor. If Smith should take his loan, maybe he could work out a deal before the old man died to get the farm. And if the farm became his, and the stash story was true, it would be a boon - like having a winning poker hand.
 
    Looking at the razor thin, old man, it felt like Smith’s bony finger was still jabbing his chest. Only this time the stabs were coming from inside - piercing, painful with sadness.
 
    “Why would you leave me your farm?”
 
   “Because yer my neighbor, yer a farmer, ya understand the land.” Smith wiped his nose on his dirty sleeve. “An’ because ya did come to try to git my harvest in. Ya showed up to help.”
 
    Jones swallowed hard. He coughed a couple of times. “What do you need?”
 
 
    “Bring somebody to witness my will.”
 
    “How about this afternoon?” asked Jones.
 
    “That’ll be good.”
 
    It took longer than he expected to round up the owner of the store, the owners of the farms surrounding Smith’s, the elder who was the designated preacherman of the village, and their wives to meet at Smith’s place. In all, about ten people agreed to come and help because it was Jones who asked.
 
Smith’s look of astonishment at seeing 10 people standing on his porch was worth all the trouble Jones had gone to.
 
    “This is no loan,” said Jones. “We’re here to help. Whether you like it or not, we’re going to do what we’re going to do.” He pushed past Smith and waved the group in. “Come on, bring your stuff.”
 
    With a “Hey. Hi. How are you?” and a nod or two, they filed past Smith with bags of groceries and cleaning supplies. They dispersed, each to a specific task throughout the house. Shades and curtains were lifted and shook clean. Soap and water were applied generously where needed. The old crank electric wash tub was filled with dirty linens. Soon the scent of hot coffee and the smell of scrambled eggs and bacon filled the kitchen.
 
    “Get out of that armchair,” said one of the wives to Smith. “I want to see what color it’s supposed to be.”
 
    Without a word, he stood and watched her carefully scrub the chair to make sure she didn’t tear the worn fabric.
    Meanwhile, Jones gently pulled on Smith’s arm. “I want to show you something.”
 
    On the porch he pointed to a large sack of wheat seed. “It’s not too late to plant your crop. Tomorrow morning, early, we’ll be by to start working on your field. Ours are already done, so you’re not taking anything away from us. We have the time.”
 
    Smith’s hands began to shake, his knees buckled. Jones grabbed him to keep him from falling. Smith coughed, making choking sounds. Jones eased him down to sit on the top porch step. It wasn’t until Jones sat beside him that he saw tears rolling down the old man’s face. Neither spoke.
 
    The store owner’s voice broke the silence. “Food’s on the table.”
 
    Jones helped Smith stand.
 
    “Thanks,” said Smith. “I’m hungry.”
  
 “...but the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13 (NAS)
 
    “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax gatherers do the same? And if you greet your brothers only what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:46-48 (NAS)
 
    “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law, according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by law as transgressors... What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘go in peace, be warmed and be filled,’ and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works is dead, being by itself.” James 2: 8, 9, 14-16 (NAS)