When you can”t come up with anything…


“You have to listen!  When I tell you ‘You have to check them at least every half hour’ that means every half hour!   What were you doing, anyway?!”

“I don’t know” he mumbled as he hung his head, unable to look him in the eye.  He knew this was two things: no kind of an answer and a lie.

His father shot him a dirty look as he continued to sprinkle down the panting pigs.  They were suffering in the late afternoon heat.  He knew enough about hogs to know that they heated up throughout the day and that because their pens were on the west edge of the barn here at the fair they would catch nearly direct heat after about 3:00.  He also knew enough about buildings and heat exchange to know that easily by noon any coolness would have gone out of the concrete only lightly covered by the wood shavings they’d bought at Wheeler’s.  He knew all of these things just like he knew if he told the truth about what he had been doing the last 90(?) minutes or so it would only make things worse.

He had been in the Bookmobile, reading.  He really hadn’t meant to neglect his and his sister’s pigs.  He’d just lost track of time.  The summer reading program ended at the beginning of August, about two weeks ago, and he hadn’t had any reading material since.  He didn’t know for sure but he figured the two people who had to drive it and check books out probably needed some time off and time to get things in order, make sure all the books were accounted for, maybe even track down kids who checked books out and then didn’t return them.  He’d considered trying this, just conveniently forgetting to return his books.  He just wouldn’t remind his mom they needed to go to the nearby elementary school out here in the country where it parked every two weeks like he did a million times during the summer but he knew this wouldn’t work.  First of all it was clearly dishonest and even if he could quiet his conscience he knew it never took him more than a week to devour the eight books you were allowed to check out at a time; and who wanted to read a book over again?  Nope, wouldn’t work, he was stuck with basically nothing to read for at least three weeks at the end of the summer.  That’s what was behind this dereliction of duty; something he didn’t figure anyone would understand.

Country kids looked forward to, heck, lived for the fair each year.  And what wasn’t to love?  You got to see your friends for about six days straight, there were sno-cones and pie and you made money from your ribbons.  How could he not want to drink all that in 24 hours a day, as much as he could?  He didn’t know and he was sure his dad wouldn’t either.  He knew his dad wouldn’t look down on him or maybe even say anything but he was also sure this would widen the gap that seemed to exist between them.  His dad was all farm, all agriculture, all livestock all the time.  And him?  Well, he wasn’t so much any of those.  He liked all of those things but he also read voraciously, as much as he could, and he had an urge to put his thoughts down on paper although he had never given in to such a thing.  Keeping a “diary” would have completely set himself apart from the culture he stepped out of the moment he entered the Bookmobile on the fairgrounds and the possibility someone could find what he’d written made him absolutely shudder.  Still, stepping into that quiet coolness?  For him it was like entering his church.  He loved books.

He lived in the stories he couldn’t get enough of during school.  They were stories of kids just like him, nuts about sports and dealing with obstacles in the game or at home or just within themselves.  He understood all of those.  He felt all of those and yet he had no idea about how to overcome any of them.  He wasn’t even sure if he were asked, if he could put in words the pressures he felt.  He was certain they wouldn’t be understood and more than likely they would be pushed off as something that was all in his head.  And they’d probably be right.  He knew this as sure as he knew that once the hogs calmed down a bit he would need to take them to the wash pens to fully cool them off.  They had to be gradually cooled down.  Cooling them off too quickly with lots of cold water could be dangerous, even fatal according to his dad, although he’d never seen one die because of this.  He didn’t have any reason to doubt him though; just as he didn’t have any reason to think his infatuation with books had anything to do with the very real world of pigs and crops.

No, the place, the world, he had spent an hour and a half reading in until his neck was cramped and his eyes burned a little, wasn’t’ real, it wasn’t concrete.  He was deep in thought as he walked the first pen of pigs to the wash pens by himself.  Without his dad’s watchful gaze he could do that.  He did like pigs, just not in the way you needed to in order to make them your living.  For now, he could divorce himself from those thoughts and enjoy caring for the pigs, even if he had just caused them undue stress and felt his dad’s displeasure.  He imagined having his dad unhappy about his attention to his pigs at the fair was pale in comparison to having him know he wasn’t interested in making the farm his life.  That would have to wait for another day.  Maybe he could ease him into the idea gradually.  Maybe the books would still be there for him then.  He hoped so.

Sometimes the things we can’t quite put our fingers on as kids take a long time to explain, a long time to figure out.I hope you liked this one and maybe it gives you pause to think about something you were drawn to as a kid that you just didn’t quite understand. 

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