The air conditioner kept the tractor cab to the same comfort level as my living room in spite of the ninety-five degrees of searing, July heat. I hit the hydraulics to raise the cultivator, made the turn, and lined back up on the next eight rows of soybeans. Another tap on the hydraulic lever caused the gleaming sweeps to bite into the rich, black, Illinois soil. It used to be hotter and harder work, but I liked it more when my ears were filled with the sound of the tractor exhaust instead of the local radio station, and when I could smell the freshly turned dirt and herbal scent of the weeds.
There’s an old saying about being able to take the boy off the farm, but not the farm out of the boy, and I know it’s true. Farmers all have dirt flowing in their veins; we get it from our parents. I’ve loved farming since I can remember. She loved it too, even though she got a late start. The dirt was there, given to her at birth, and once she’d experienced working the land, she never looked back. To my grandkids, that was ages ago, but it seems like yesterday to me.
When I was eleven, the arrow-straight rows of beans seemed to stretch to the end of the world. In 1962, I was twenty, and knew they ended half a mile North at the fence line between us and Jake, and a quarter mile East to the timberline. Experience had taught me it would take the best part of a week to clean up the weeds the cultivator left hiding in the rows of bushy green soybean plants. In the early sixties, herbicides were expensive, as well as being somewhat less than reliable, so Dad stuck to the time-tested method of walking the field with a six-pound grub hoe. Why he carried the grub hoe instead of a smaller garden hoe, I could never understand. His instructions, from the time I was old enough to walk from one end of the field to the other without resting, were to pull all the weeds. He used the heavy hoe only on particularly thick stands of cockleburs or the occasional, deep-rooted jimson weed.
Dad had married late, and was getting on in years. Most of the farm work was becoming difficult for him. I had decided before I finished high school that farming would be my life, and that summer, I suggested that I should start doing most of the farm work. Dad didn’t like the idea very much, but he finally agreed. We became partners. I was the worker, and Dad was my advisor and kept the books. That meant he was also my hardest critic, but it suited me fine. I didn’t have a huge income, but I didn’t need much. I was mostly my own boss, was learning from an expert, and Dad was getting a well-deserved rest.
Since it was late June, the air still had a spring chill, but once I started walking, my T-shirt would be plenty. It would probably be getting hot by eleven. I tested the edge of the hoe with my thumb, and started toward Jake’s fencerow, half a mile away. I followed the method of weeding used by Dad and most other farmers. I walked between two rows of beans, and watched both those rows and the two outside them. When I saw a weed on the outside rows, I’d step over the inside row and pull the invader out by the roots. Before I turned thirteen, Dad only let me walk two rows. It was somewhat a coming of age thing when Dad let me walk four at once, and I had been proud. This field had taken most of the week, but I would finish today.
Dad had always been a good farmer, and I moved quickly because the weeds were few and far between. That’s what forty years of weeding by hand could do. I could see our neighbor, Jake Hanson, just turning to another four rows in his field on the other side of the fence.
Jake was like Dad. They both got up at four, even on days when it was raining or there was no urgent farm work to do. It was just a habit from the days when they had to milk cows and harness horses every morning, I guess. I never really slept in, but six seemed early enough for me. I could still get a cup of coffee and be in the field before the dew dried.
The morning went pretty quickly, and before I realized it, the sun was high overhead and I was starving. A quick trip back home for lunch fixed that. Dad laid down for his usual nap, but I wanted to get those beans finished. At four, I straightened up to ease out the kinks. I was done, and tired, but it was the good kind of tired that comes with the satisfaction that you’ve done a job well.
It was Saturday, but Jenny was off visiting her cousin, so I would be staying home. Jenny was not exactly a girlfriend. We went out on Saturdays, and it was fun being together, but I didn’t think we were exactly in love. I had kissed her a couple times, and once in a while did we hold hands, but we’d never gone any further. She seemed to enjoy being with me as a friend, and we had an unspoken agreement that we wouldn’t push the relationship any faster. I was in no hurry to settle down with a wife, anyway. Money would have been a problem unless I could find more land to farm, and there were no places available. Jenny said she felt the same way. Her mother had been twenty-five when she married, and Jenny saw no reason to start any earlier.
A month later, the beans had grown to nearly full height and it was time for the final cultivation before they bloomed. I was driving the tractor and cultivator through the field of waist-high bean plants. A heavy rain had almost caused me to wait too long. I saw a few blossoms peeping out of the broad leaves. I also saw the button weeds stretching for the sun above the broad spread of rows that nearly overlapped. My last pass through the field with a hoe would clean them up, and the beans were big enough now that few weeds would get enough sun to sprout.
The next morning was hot and the humidity was crushing. I would be soaking in my own sweat before I went a hundred yards, but that was old hat by now. The steel water cooler in the back of the pickup was filled half with ice and half with well water. It’s surprising how a cold drink of well water can drain away the heat. The routine would be weed to the fencerow, turn around, weed back, stop and get a drink, and then start back.
As I neared the fencerow, I saw Jake’s pickup just pulling into the field. I didn’t often get the chance to rib him about his farming methods, but this was an opportunity I wouldn’t pass. The next time I saw him in public, I’d tease just a bit about him getting older and not being able to get out of bed. I could see it all now. Jake would be buying chicken scratch and I’d say in a voice loud enough to be heard in the next county, “Hey, Jake. I saw you pull into your beans last week…about eight, I think. I’d been through sixteen rows by then. You forget to set your clock or something?”
All the other farmers would laugh, and Jake would sputter something about having some chores to do at home. Then the banter would start.
“Well, Jake, I thought you quit hoein’ beans years ago, at least that’s what your missus tells Doris.”
“Yeah, she told my wife somethin’s the matter with your hoe, and it don’t work no more.”
Jake was used to this, and would just smile before returning in like kind.
“Ain’t nuthin’ wrong with my hoe, Don. It’s bigger than that little thing you’re carryin’ ever was, if I can believe what your Doris tells Irene. If it was longer, you could get to them really deep roots. Course, if you’d like some help, it’d only be neighborly to oblige. Doris might not be the same afterwards, though. Once you start getting’ to them deep roots, it’s hard to go back.
“Same offer goes to you Mike. Your Lizzie’s a cute little thing. Told Irene you hoe real fast, too fast usually. ‘Bout time somebody showed her that a good weedin’ takes more’n a couple minutes.”
I’d never get the best of old Jake, but it would be fun trying.
Jake was moving through his field. He seemed to be working a little slower than usual, and he looked so slumped over that he must have been about three inches shorter. I felt for him. He and Irene had no children, and now that they were nearing seventy, they had no one to help them. Jake was too stubborn to give up the farm. He’d probably die riding his tractor or putting up hay or something. I slowed up so we would both get to the fencerow at the same time. It seemed right to offer to help him once my beans were finished. I wasn’t prepared for the woman’s voice that yelled “Hi”, when we both walked out into the end rows.
She was older than I was, but by how much, I couldn’t guess. Jake’s old pith helmet almost hid her face. I could barely tell she was a woman. Jake’s bib overalls were baggy on her small frame and way too long. She’d rolled the cuffs up so they didn’t drag in the dirt. The overalls and the man’s work shirt hid all traces of any figure she might have had.
“You could at least say hi back”
“Oh, I’m sorry. It’s just that I was expecting to see Jake, and you kinda caught me off guard. Hi.”
“I’m Karen, Karen Mason, Jake’s niece.” She held her hand out over the fence.
“Jeff Dillard. Pleased to meet you.” Her hand was small and soft, but the grip was firm. It was also electric. I felt the tingle shoot up my arm and land in the hairs on the back of my neck. “I didn’t know Jake had any relation.”
“Well, he doesn’t really talk much with my father, so I suppose he doesn’t tell anybody else he has a brother. Uncle Jake’s a little funny that way, but he and I always got along pretty well.”
“Is Jake OK? I don’t figure he’d let anybody take care of his crops unless he was really sick or something.”
“He’s fine, but he couldn’t get his breath yesterday and the doctor told him to stay out of the heat as much as possible. I came down to visit for a few weeks, so when he said he had to hoe his beans, I told him I’d do it. Between Aunt Irene and me we convinced him. He didn’t like it, but we convinced him.”
She pulled off the hat to wipe the sweat from her forehead, and waves of gleaming brown hair spilled out over her shoulders and around her face.
“Whew, I think I should have stayed in the shade, too. It’s hot out here.” She wrinkled her pert nose, and laughed. “I think I’m starting to smell. My deodorant must only be good for the city.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet. That heavy shirt doesn’t let much air through, and it’ll make you hot. That’s why I just wear a T-shirt. When I get really hot, I take the shirt off and that helps.”
“Well…I really can’t take my shirt off, now can I?”
I don’t know if it was the coy little smile, the impish flash of her eyes, or the realization of what I’d just said, but I suddenly felt like the biggest fool in seven states. I knew I was blushing, and had a strong urge to run away. Instead, I stammered back an answer.
“N-N-no. I guess that wouldn’t be a good idea.”
Now I was staring, and I knew it. She also knew it, and stared back with those eyes and that little smile. After what seemed like hours, she picked up her hoe.
“Well, I’d better get back to Jake’s beans. See you on the next round.”
The way it worked out, it was after two rounds, because I was making about two to her one. She was never going to get done at this rate. The first couple of times we got to the fencerow, she said “Hi”, and after that, we were so far apart, she just waved.
By the end of the week, I was nearly finished. I walked back down the end rows and waited for her to reach the fence.
“Karen, I’m about done. I’d be glad to help you finish up, if you want. You need to get through these, or you’ll be knocking off blossoms and that’ll hurt the yield.”
“Right now, I’ll take all the help I can get. Uncle Jake’s getting impatient with me because I’m taking so long. It’s getting harder and harder for us to keep him at home.”
“Ok, I’ll be over tomorrow. About seven OK?”
“Seven is fine. Only one thing, though. Jake probably can’t pay you anything.”
“I wasn’t expecting any money. Jake and Dad always helped each other. I’m just continuing the tradition.”
“I know Jake will appreciate it as much as I will. So, seven it is. I’ll bring lunch, if that’s OK.”
The next morning, I drove to Jake’s field. His old truck was parked under a big maple tree by the entrance culvert and I pulled up beside it. Karen was sitting on the seat with the door open. Instead of the baggy pants, she wore jeans that, in my estimation, fitted her very well. The short-sleeved white cotton blouse fit well enough that I could tell she had a petite, but well-developed figure. She’d piled her long hair up under a new straw cowboy hat.
Karen saw me looking, stepped out of the truck, and turned around.
“Well, what do you think? I went shopping last night. Is this what all the well-dressed farm girls are wearing today?”
Again, I caught that little smile and the flash of her eye, and the effect was the same.
“Y-Y-Y-es. You look nice.”
“Only nice? I was hoping for cute, at least; maybe even pretty if I was lucky.”
“Well…you are pretty.”
“Thank you, sir. You’re too kind. Now, I’m new at this two-person weeding stuff. How do we do it?”
We started down the rows, and walked for a while without saying anything. I was racking my brain for a conversation topic. It was never this hard talking to Jenny. If I could just think of something to get started…
“Whatever this weed is, it’s hard to pull. What is it, anyway?”
I stepped over my rows and walked up in front of her.
“That’s a cocklebur. See the little seedpods? They have little barbs – the burrs. You already have some stuck to your pants. They’re really hard to pull. Just use your hoe and dig ’em out.”
Karen bent over and began digging at the plant. She’d left several buttons undone, to stay cooler I suppose, and the blouse had a tendency to gape open. I could see the tops of her breasts bulging up and shaking from the violent motions she was making, and could just see the edge of her pale blue bra. She looked up and caught me staring, but didn’t seem to mind. She just smiled, and kept on digging.
“There. I’ve been pulling those damn things all week. It’s a lot easier to dig them up, but Jake told me to pull everything.”
I laughed. “Dad always told me the same thing. They tell you to pull because they know it’s easier to use the hoe, and you’ll only cut off the top of the weed. The weed will just grow back from the root in a day or so. With some weeds, you just can’t pull them out. It’s OK to dig ’em, as long as you get all the root.”
We walked along, silent again for a while. Karen had said “damn”, just like she said it every day. That was different. None of the women I knew ever swore, at least not in public. Jenny never even said “darn”. It was a little shocking, but it made her exciting and a little mysterious at the same time. Jenny never left the top four buttons of her blouse unbuttoned either. Maybe city girls didn’t have all the inhibitions country girls seemed to have.
Slowly, we began to talk a little, but the conversation seemed to be centered on me. What I liked about farming, what I did for fun, and simple stuff. We made one round and stopped for a drink from my cooler.
“Wow, you have ice! Jake gave me a jug, but their old ‘fridge only makes two trays of ice. I figured they needed it more than I did. It’s OK up until about ten. After that, it’s like drinking bath water.”
“It’s half ice, and it’ll stay cold all day. Tastes really good when the sun gets up.”
Damn, all I could do was make some stupid comment about the heat. She already knew it was going to be hot, and the cold water would taste good. Why couldn’t I think of the witty things I always said to Jenny?
“Well, Jeff, I thank you for your cold water, and I thank you for your help, but mostly, I thank you for your company.”
“Yes, company. I’ve decided I like being out here, but it’s nice to talk with someone while I work. You’re a pretty interesting guy. Got a girlfriend?”
“Well, there’s Jenny, but she’s more just a friend than a girlfriend. We go out sometimes, but it’s nothing serious. Jenny doesn’t want to get married to anybody for a while, and anyway, we really don’t feel that way about each other.”
Karen picked up her hoe.
“Jenny sounds like a smart girl to me, and you must be a pretty understanding guy to accept her feelings and still be friends with her. Some men wouldn’t.”
“Nope. They’d probably try to talk her into bed, and eventually make her choose between that and ending the friendship. It never works, by the way. Girls won’t give themselves unless they feel something for the guy. If she does give in and sleep with the guy, the friendship is doomed to end anyway, and she knows it.”
“You sound like my Mom.”
“Well, if your Mom told you all that, she did a good job of raising you, and it’s no wonder you’re such a good guy. Now, let’s get back after those weeds.”
We followed the same routine until noon. As the morning went by, we both got more comfortable with each other. No, that’s not exactly right. I got more comfortable with Karen; she seemed comfortable with me from the start. At least we talked about more than the weather.
I learned that Karen’s father had left the family farm, gone to college, and was a store manager in Chicago. She had been born and raised there, and had been to Jake’s farm only a few times before. She was laughing about her ignorance of country life when we walked down the end rows to the trucks for lunch.
“I came down here once, when I was about sixteen, and Uncle Jake showed me how to milk a cow. I knew milk came from cows, because all female animals can make milk, but I didn’t know how they got it out.”
“It comes out pretty much the same in all animals, goats, horses, and dogs, as well as cows. To milk a cow, you just have to imitate the motion the calf makes when he sucks.”
“Well, the way Uncle Jake was pulling away on her nipples…he called them teats, I think…, anyway, it made me feel sorry for the cow.”
“I’d hate to think of anybody doing that to me. God, would that ever hurt.”
“Actually, they like it. If you don’t milk them twice a day, they get too full and that’s when they hurt.”
“I’ve heard women with babies say that too – that it feels nice when the baby nurses and hurts if they get too full. This one girl I know, she said she had her husband…well, help her out when they hurt. She said he liked it a lot, and it felt pretty good to her too. She even had an or-”
She looked at me and grinned. I finally woke up and closed my mouth.
“I’m embarrassing you again, aren’t I? I’m sorry. It’s just really easy to talk to you. I’ll make up for it with this lunch.”
Karen opened her truck and pulled two foil-covered pans off the dashboard.
“I made fried chicken and baked beans. I hope the sun kept them hot. Could you get that picnic basket and blanket off the floor? We’ll spread the blanket out under the tree so we’re in the shade.”
I spread the blanket while Karen busied herself retrieving plates and silverware from the basket.
“I guess we’ll have to have some more of that ice water. I forgot to bring anything to drink.”
Karen handed me a plate with a plump, golden-brown chicken breast and a huge serving of baked beans. She watched as I bit through the crispy outside. The cracker-crumb breading held in all the moist flavor of one of Mrs. Hanson’s plump white leghorn roosters. Karen may have been raised in Chicago, but she knew how to fry a chicken.
“Well, how do you like my breast?”
I stopped chewing and almost choked. I looked at Karen and watched as her face and neck turned a livid shade of pink.
“Oh.. I-I meant the chicken breast. Do you like it?”
The muffled “It’s great” managed to slip out through the mouthful of chicken. I finished chewing and swallowed.
“Where’d you learn to fry chicken like that?”
“Well, my husband’s mother taught me. She grew up on a farm in Michigan.”
“I didn’t know you were married.”
Karen stopped her fork of beans mid-way to her mouth, and frowned.
“Oh, I’m not. Not anymore.”
The lunch was really more of a full meal, and the wedge of cherry pie just about did me in. It was going to be difficult walking for the first hour or so. Karen had been quiet since telling me she was divorced. I thought I’d cheer her up a little.
“So, I’ll bet a pretty woman like you has men beating down her door, don’t you?”
Karen smiled a weak little smile.
“I’m afraid not. All the men I know in Chicago are either already married, or they’re just looking for…well, you know what they’re looking for. They think it’s easy to get a divorced woman in bed. We’re supposed to be dying for sex, since we aren’t getting any anymore. There are a few nice men who aren’t married, but they think if a woman couldn’t keep her first husband happy, she probably wouldn’t keep them happy either. They’re all still looking for virgins, even after they’re thirty. It’s pretty frustrating. That’s why I came to visit Uncle Jake. I figured things were quiet down here, and I could think out what I’m going to do.”
“Gee, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you feel bad. I shouldn’t have said -”
“No, it’s alright. I’m not really sad anyway. It’s more like I’m mad for wasting five years of my life on him. I was so damn dumb.”
“I can’t imagine that; you being dumb, I mean.”
“Well, I was. Gary and I went to college together. He proposed the summer we graduated, and it blew me away. I was so overwhelmed, I said yes. We got married in August…, I’m sitting here telling you a bunch of stuff you could care less about, aren’t I?”
“No you’re not. I didn’t know you had a degree, and that’s interesting. As for the other, it sounds like you want to tell me, so I want to listen.”
“Well, it does feel good to tell someone. Uncle Jake and Aunt Irene wouldn’t understand, but you might. I don’t have anybody else.
“Anyway, we got married in August, and the first three months were pretty good. Gary got a job at an office downtown, and the money was good enough I didn’t have to work. I made a nice dinner every night, and on the weekends, we’d go to the zoo, or to the lake or somewhere else. Then, things started changing. I didn’t pick up on it at first. Gary just seemed a little farther away, if you can understand that. . By January, I knew something was wrong. I just couldn’t give in, though, you know? I mean, I thought maybe it was all me, all my fault.
“Some nights, Gary would get home late. He’d say there was some project he’d had to finish, and that I’d just have to get used to that if I wanted him to get ahead, to get promoted and make more money, you know? I knew he wanted that, and the money would have been nice, so I started making dinner after he got home. Then he’d complain that he wanted to eat as soon as he walked in the door. I tried calling him a little before his usual quitting time, to see if he was going to leave, but that seemed to upset him too. We stopped making love after our second anniversary. I didn’t know what to do.
“He started being late every night. I asked him once where he’d been, and he started yelling that it was none of my business. He really scared me, so I didn’t ask again. Sometimes when he came home, he’d been drinking, sometimes I’d smell perfume. I figured he needed something I wasn’t giving him, so I tried to change.
“I bought sexy clothes, and made special dinners. I got some of those new birth control pills so I could always be ready for him. I planned weekend trips to the beach or to go skiing, so we could get away, just the two of us. He’d always either be too tired, or would tell me he had to go back to work. The last year, he barely talked to me.
“Six months ago, I decided I’d changed all I was going to, and told Gary it was time for him to make some effort. He made an effort, all right. I went to visit Mother one Sunday afternoon. I usually stayed for dinner on those visits, but she wasn’t feeling well, so I only stayed an hour and then came home. When I walked in the door, I heard a woman’s voice, and then Gary swore. He was in bed with another woman, in our bed with this tall, skinny, blonde woman. They were both naked, so it wasn’t hard to imagine what had been going on.
“I went back to Mom’s that night, and to a lawyer the next day. Then, while Gary was at work, I went to the house, packed all my clothes and jewelry, and left. The court stuff wasn’t really as bad as I thought it might be. Gary didn’t contest the divorce. He griped a little about the alimony, but finally agreed. It turns out the woman worked in the office secretarial pool, and he’d been sleeping with her for three years. I think he was relieved to be rid of me as much as anything. After the final papers came, I was relieved too. Now, I’m just trying to get on with my life again.”
Karen made a sheepish little face at me.
“See, stupid, wasn’t it?”
“No, not stupid. Not very lucky, yes, but not stupid. How could you have known things were going to change that much?”
“My degree is in psychology, and I studied things like that. I’ve figured out, after all this, that as long as we were leading the life of classes and study and tests, we were fine. When Gary went to work and I stayed home, we lost the structure that had kept us going in the same direction. We just didn’t have anything in common anymore. When I think back, I really didn’t love him, even at the start. I was really more concerned about not admitting the marriage had failed than in getting back with Gary.”
“So, you’re a shrink? I’d better be careful what I say from now on, or you’ll call the men in white coats to come get me.”
“No, I only have a Bachelor’s. I can do social work, but I can’t officially declare people crazy. You’re not crazy anyway. You’re actually a really sweet guy. Kinda sexy, too.”
I saw the flash in her eyes again when she winked. Those were the most exciting eyes I’d ever seen. When I thought about it, Karen was the most exciting woman I’d ever met. It wasn’t just that she was pretty; it was the way she did things, the way she treated me like a man, and the ease with which she told me the personal details of her life. I was growing to like Karen – a lot. I could have sat there all afternoon just to talk with her. Actually, I would have sat there all afternoon just to be with her. I never felt that way with Jenny.
I found myself wishing I were closer to Karen’s age. Maybe then, I could ask her out sometime. I figured if I did anything like that, she’d just make some joke about cradle robbing, and say no.
“Whatca thinking about Jeff?”
“What? Oh, nothing. It’s getting late and we really need to get back at those weeds if we’re ever going to get done.”
“Yes, I know. Let me clean up things here a little. You go ahead and I’ll catch up.”
By three, we had covered a lot of beans, and the sun had just about cooked us out. It must have been at least ninety-eight, and with the high humidity, it seemed like a hundred and eight. There was a sweat stain around Karen’s hat, and the blouse was sticking to her back. She looked miserable, but didn’t seem ready to give up. I wasn’t that proud.
“Karen, I need a break to cool off.”
“That sounds great to me. I’m about to melt and run out of my shoes.”
Karen spread the blanket under the old maple again, took off her shoes, and sat down. I handed her a cup of water from the cooler. She gulped at the cup.
“Ahhh, still pretty cold. That’s better right now than the best wine I ever tasted.”
I pulled out my blue paisley handkerchief, poured on some of the ice water, and squeezed it over my back and shoulders. The water soaked into my T-shirt. I squeezed more onto my chest. The chill was refreshing.
“That looks like a good idea. How ’bout putting some on me?”
With shaking hands I sat beside her and wrapped the soaking handkerchief around her slender neck. I’m sure Karen didn’t know how she looked when the water hit her skin. She shivered a little, closed her eyes and let the heat soak away. Her face looked like the face an actress makes when she’s supposedly just made love to the male character. When the water ran down her chest, she sighed. I barely heard the sigh. I was too busy watching the water soak into her blouse. The grey stain spread slowly down from her collar, and the blouse was becoming somewhat transparent. It was almost like watching her undress. I could see bra straps, then the lace top of the cups, and finally, the whole bra. As the bra got wet, Karen’s nipples began to show, and then got hard from the chilling effect of evaporation. She ran her hands down her chest, pressing the cool fabric against her skin. I was getting hard too, but not from evaporation.
“God, Jeff, I’m sorry, but it feels so good. I didn’t realize what I was doing to you.”
Shit. She had seen.
“No. I’m the one who should be apologizing for staring.”
“Believe me, I’m flattered, not mad. I’m twenty-eight, and I must seem like an old woman to you. It’s nice to know someone still finds me uh…attractive.”
“You don’t seem old. I’ve just never seen a woman do that before, and, well…”
“You are attractive.”
“Wish my ex-husband had thought so. I used to lay awake at night wondering why he wanted that flat-chested blonde instead of me.”
“He was a fool.”
I never did figure out why Karen decided to hug me just then. One minute, I was facing her, both hands holding the handkerchief on her shoulders, and the next, she pulled me into her chest. My arms just slipped down around her shoulders when she pulled me tight against her. I felt her nipples poking into my chest and her cheek against mine. Her small hands slowly rubbed down my back.
“You have no idea how good it is to hear you say that, Jeff.”
“Well, he must have been a fool to do that. I wouldn’t have if I’d been married to you.”
Karen gently pushed me back until our noses were almost touching. Her eyes no longer flashed – they smoldered. Her lips parted, then pursed a little as if she was thinking about something. Before I could ask what was bothering her, she kissed me.
This was different from when I had kissed Jennie. Karen’s lips were soft, yet somehow, they managed to force mine apart. Her mouth was warm and she tickled my upper lip with her tongue. I unconsciously tightened my arms around her shoulders. Karen purred a little groan into my mouth, and then pushed me away again. She looked almost ready to cry.
“Jeff, you must think I’m terrible for doing that. It’s just that I haven’t been held for a long time and you were so close and…and, I like you. I’m sorry.”
“I like you too, Karen. A lot. I’m glad you kissed me.”
When she kissed me this time, she pulled up my T-shirt. I felt her hands on my bare back and they sent chills up my spine. The chills crashed into the sensation of her tongue on my lips, then slipping between my teeth and touching my own tongue. One of her hands slipped away from my back, found my wrist, and placed my palm over her breast. The hand squeezed over mine gently and I took the hint. Karen’s nipple grew more as I gently squeezed and then rubbed my palm over the wet fabric of her shirt. I felt her sigh into my mouth and pull me closer. Her fingertips traced down my back, under the waistband of my jeans and touched my hip.
Karen stopped kissing me and looked into my eyes.
“I shouldn’t be pushing you into something just because I want it. We don’t have to do this, Jeff.”
“You’re not pushing me, Karen.”
“Then, would you make love to me, right here, right now?”
“But, I don’t have – ”
“I never stopped taking the pill. I’m safe.”
She lifted my shirt over my head and stoked my chest before unbuttoning her blouse and shrugging it off her shoulders. The bra fell to the blanket next. Karen lay back on the blanket pulled me down beside her.
I don’t remember getting undressed or undressing her the rest of the way, but I do remember the feeling of her naked body against mine. Karen was all softness and she did her best to mash all that softness into every bit of me that she could manage. I felt puckered nipples against my chest and a soft arm reaching between us. She kissed me again, and this time I remembered her tongue. I found it with mine and marveled at the sweet, wet flavor of her mouth and her hungry lips. The arm slipped lower. For the first time in my life, a woman was stroking me. I felt the crisp little hairs below her belly rubbing on my thigh. And always there was the incredible soft press of her lips and the urgent caress of her tongue against mine. I was rock-hard in a second.
“Touch me, Jeff. I need to feel your hands on me.”
I fumbled a lot, but with a little experimentation on my part and some guidance from Karen, things got sorted out. It was amazing to feel a woman respond to my touch as did Karen. Her whole body seemed excited. She broke away from my mouth to gasp and then I heard a tiny little moan. Her hands were all over me, feeling, caressing, gently stroking me until I thought I would explode, then moving to my back to pull me tighter against her.
My education in sex, untried until that afternoon, had been – kiss, breast, then intercourse. Karen had a different teacher, I guess. She used one hand to guide me to the place she wanted me to touch. I stroked the swell of her hip, then up her side to her breasts. Her nipple would swell tight against my palm and Karen would moan when I lightly squeezed the taut, wrinkled little bud. Then, her hand would guide me to her hip again. After a little while, I caught on to what she wanted and she didn’t have to guide. I thought I was doing pretty well. Karen hugged me tight, and pulled my hand to the crinkly curls between her thighs, then lower to the soft, swollen lips of her sex. This was a new experience for me, and when my fingertip slipped between those lips into her slippery wetness, we both caught our breath at the same time.
Karen urged me to penetrate her with my finger, and then pulled the finger up to a little fold of skin at the top of her lips. She demonstrated a circular rubbing motion that I continued, and the little fold grew larger. Karen was also becoming more vocal, and began thrusting against my finger.
“God, Jeff. That’s good…Oh, God…, yes, right there, Honey, right there.”
She seemed to be getting wetter down there, and she was rocking her hips up into my hand. Every time she thrust against me, she gently tugged on the head of my cock, and that was driving me toward the edge. Maybe it was the groan or gasp I made each time she did this, but somehow she knew I was close. Karen released me, lay back on the blanket, opened her thighs and smiled. Her eyes were not smoldering now; they were on fire.
“Jeff, I’m ready for you. I need you inside me. Please…now.”
The sensation was incredible. Wet warmth enclosed me. Tiny ripples ran over my length. Karen’s hips were rocking slightly, and some deep instinct took over. I started moving in and out of her slowly and savoring every sensation I felt.
Karen put one arm on my shoulder and wrapped both legs over my back. I felt the other hand slip between us and touch my cock as she rubbed herself. Little purring sounds kept slipping through her lips until I bent and kissed her again. She seemed to want to devour me with her lips, and her tongue raced wildly over my mouth. The moans were louder now. I felt the vibrations at the back of my throat.
Karen’s position let her lift her hips to meet my stroke, and she ground felt a flood of warmth flowed around my cock. Karen gasped and her face fell to the side. She gasped again, and cried out.
At the time, I didn’t know women had orgasms, and Karen caught me off guard. I felt a thrusting of her hips and heard a continuous stream of quiet sounds deep in her throat. The thrusting became faster, then faster, then faster still until she arched her back and cried out “Oh, Jeff…, now…now.”
I couldn’t have stopped if I’d wanted to, and I didn’t want to stop. When she lifted herself into me, I pushed as deep as I could and spurted. Another thrust came all by itself, and was followed immediately by the sensation of fluid jetting up my cock again. After a third, I was spent, but the feeling of her around me was so great, I kept moving slowly for a while.
Karen opened her eyes, and put both hands on my cheeks.
“Thank you, Jeff. It’s been three years since…, since a man made me feel like that.”
“Karen, I’ve never felt like that before.”
She stroked my cheek with her soft hand.
“I know, Honey. I know. It was beautiful.”
She kissed me again, and hugged me tight. We lay there like that for a few minutes before Karen gently pushed me off her.
“As much as I’d like to stay here with you, we need to get back to work.”
I must have frowned.
“We have to finish the field, like you said. There’ll be time for us, Jeff. There’ll be time.”
It took another two days to finish the field, but the work was a joy. We made love after lunch, and sometimes at the end of the day. It was the best three days of my life. As we walked back to the trucks on the last day, Karen told me she had to go back to Chicago to take care of selling the house.
“I’ll be gone for a while. I don’t know how long this is going to take, but I’ll come back. I like this life and Uncle Jake and Aunt Doris need me.”
“I need you, Karen.”
Karen kissed me and then hugged me tightly. When she looked at me, I saw a tear slip from her eye.
“I think I need you too.”
Damn my memory. Seems like I think about those three days a lot, lately, and when I think about them, I forget to watch where I’m driving. Little Jake is going to tease the daylights out of me for plowing out about fifty feet of row. He’s not really little anymore, but he’ll always be little Jake.
The weeks Karen was gone were torture. In three short days, I’d gone from not caring about anybody to aching with the need to see her. She did come back, and stayed to help Jake and Irene. I helped them cut those same beans that fall, and showed Karen how to run the combine.
Jake drove the truck back and forth to the elevator, and ribbed me about how high I was cutting. He thought I was missing beans low down on the stalk. I joked that at least I could see the stalks, and that the crooked rows were kind of hard to follow.
“Were you asleep when you planted these?”
“Well, young feller, my rows may be crooked, but they’re my rows on my land. Some folks I know been plantin’ their seed on land that ain’t theirs yet. If I was them, I’d see about getting title to that land afore I did any serious plantin’. It’s pretty good land, even if it has been worked a little hard. It won’t do you wrong if you treat it right.”
I asked her in December, on Christmas Eve. We talked about it for a long time. Karen was worried about what Mom and Dad would think of our age difference and about her being divorced. She need not have worried. Dad was eleven years older than Mom, so I was pretty sure they wouldn’t object on that basis. As for her being divorced, I thought we could convince them, once they met her and heard her story. In the end, it was the age thing that bothered her most.
“But when I’m sixty, you’ll only be fifty-one. I’ll be all wrinkles and sags, and you won’t want me anymore.”
“Karen, I’ll want you as much then as I do now. I promise you that. If you won’t marry me, I don’t know what I’ll do. I went crazy the three weeks you were gone. I can’t go through that again.”
“I know. I almost gave it all to Gary and came back here. The only reason I stayed was to get the money so I’d have something to fall back on. I couldn’t keep freeloading on Uncle Jake and Aunt Irene.”
We were married in June. Irene cautioned her about divorced women wearing white wedding gowns, so Karen wore a short, ivory dress. I didn’t care, she was beautiful, I loved her, she loved me, and finally we would be together forever. Forever started in the little tenant house that sat next to her Aunt Irene’s flower garden.
Dad passed away a year later, and I inherited the farm. Jake gave up the struggle the next winter, and willed his farm to Karen. We now had enough land to make a comfortable living and we started a family. First came Little Jake, and then his sister, Brandy. Forever was turning out to be great.
The only problem with forever is that it’s different for everybody. With her usual determination, Karen refused to give up, but I lost her a year ago July, forty-one years since we first met at that fencerow. For a week, I thought I’d die. For the next month, I tried to die, but I couldn’t.
Adults tend to complicate their lives, and sometimes can’t see the truth for all that complication. It takes getting down to the simple viewpoint of a child to put things in perspective. My eight-year-old granddaughter, Penny, helped me want to live again.
“Grandpa, why are you so sad all the time?”
“Sweetie, I miss your Grandma. I wish she was still here.”
“Sometimes, I’m sad too, ’cause I miss her a lot. When I play in the flower garden, or in the orchard, it feels like she’s still there only I can’t see her. Do you think she is, Grandpa?”
“Well, Sweetie, I never thought about it that way before now, but in a way, she is. Your Grandma left a lot of herself with us. She planted that orchard. Did you know that?”
“Yeah, you told me that, Grandpa.”
Penny was silent for a moment, and then she looked at me. I saw that little smile Karen had passed on to her.
So, every time I eat an apple, or some of Mommy’s peach jam, it’s because Grandma planted all the trees?”
“Yes, and when you make your hollyhock dolls, or smell the roses on the garden fence, remember that Grandma planted those too.”
“Well, I’ll try to be happy when I remember her then, instead of sad. I think Grandma’d like that. Don’t you, Grandpa?”
Penny ran off to play. She stopped by the garden fence and stuck her nose in one of the rose blossoms, then turned around and showed me Karen’s smile again. It was then I realized that Karen wasn’t really gone. She lived on in those gardens and the orchard, in her children, and grandchildren…, and in me. All I had to do was remember her smile, her love over the years, and that hot summer day under the big maple tree beside Jake’s soybean field.
Well, I got to figure out some excuse for those missing rows of soybeans before I tell Little Jake. He keeps saying it’s time I started taking it easy and let him do more of the work, and I don’t want to give him any more reasons why I ought to. How on earth can I stop farming? These young people don’t know anything about real farming. All they know is lots of land and big equipment and everything being financed. Why, if I’d asked my Dad to let me take over, he’d have…
Maybe tomorrow, I might stay close to the house and let Little Jake finish up the cultivating. There’s about twenty acres of beans behind the barn that need hoeing. We broke a chain on the herbicide applicator when we planted and they’re going to be a mess. Little Jake doesn’t have time to walk through them. He bought another three hundred acres last year. The futures markets looked good so we planted it all in beans this spring, and he has to get them laid by before they bloom. Penny is the same age as I was when Dad first took me to the field. She has her Grandma’s eyes and smile, and that same determination not to quit. It’s time she learned about hoes and beans and cockleburs and ice water from a steel cooler. I think her Grandma would like that too.