The Red Truck

My sister, K.S., seldom writes checks, has no credit cards and doesn’t trust banks. She quietly confided to me one day, “I chased down some money and I’ve got a pocketful, but I’m not going to spend it right now.”

I know about that pocket of hers. Thousands could be in there. Who would know?

We are opposites. Naturally reserved, I prefer blue jeans and clean skin. She wears long-flowing chaos and never leaves the house without permanent red lipstick. My notepads are neatly stacked. She couldn’t find a pen if her life depended on it. Her notes are written with the red lipstick on torn pieces of brown paper sack.

I asked about her attire one day. “You don’t have to wear every scarf you own. Do you have on three vests?”

And yet we understand one another. Both left-handed and artistic, she expresses herself in oil paints. I use words. She brings color to my life, that’s for sure.

I kept one eye on the driveway for her as the corn on the stove began to pop. I had explained in detail why she would be interested in a must-see documentary movie.

Outside, Sam suited up with ear muffs, yellow goggles, and bright orange leggings. He pulled on the chain saw, prepared to do battle with another tree. That buzz makes me smile. It brings a sense of calm and shouts “All’s right with the world.”

I looked out the window again to see if she was here. And then I stared. “What?!”

The grill of her old, red beater truck lay flat against the hickory tree just beyond the garden shed. I rushed out the door. She made her way slowly up the walk, the cane keeping her balance. She looked up, smiled and waved and said all in one breath, “It’s okay. It’s OKAY. I knew I didn’t have any brakes and I couldn’t stop, and I wanted to miss the shed and I did NOT want to hit Sam’s truck, so I hit a tree.”

“What do you mean you have no brakes?” I asked.

“Well, I knew the truck needed brake fluid, but I wanted to come anyway. I made it, only the pile of gravel you left by the shed slowed me down and I’m stuck on top of it. I didn’t hurt the truck MUCH. Now, what is it we’re watching?”

I didn’t know what to say. Sam wordlessly lay down his saw and went for the shovel. It would take an effort to get the gravel out from under her truck.

After we discussed the movie, she told me what had happened the day before. “I stuffed a wad of cash in my pocket and drove to the tractor supply store. I paid the cashier and then went to pick up art supplies. When I reached in my pocket to pay for the paints my $50 bill was gone. I re-traced my steps, but never found it.”

She was a bit annoyed, but that was the last I heard about it. It must be nice to live so casually, to roll with the punches when things do not go as planned. She shows me how to holds things more loosely, and that spontaneity isn’t a bad word.

Jerky and Pears

At a friend’s New Year’s party, we ate our way through a fine Hoosier appetizer – a plate of venison summer sausage dotted with jalapeño, sliced and nestled between cheese and saltines. It put me in mind of the jerky I ate in the fall. My sister, K.S., called. “The pears are ripe. We can pick anytime.”

Flesher Pond is on the back forty acres of the family farm. My grandparents died decades ago and now K.S. lives in the old farmhouse, a half mile up to the highway. I pulled into her drive and got out. One of the local characters, Billy, was just leaving.

Billy knows how to do most anything, and if not, figures it out until he does. His long, unkempt hair matches his beard and clothes. I saw him in clean jeans once on Thanksgiving Day. He seems to live without working much, but when he does he’s usually found underneath a car, the best mechanic around. If you catch him in a good mood, his eyes twinkle.

He had brought K.S. some venison jerky. When I got out of the car, he walked over, opened a zip-loc bag and handed me a piece.

“Taste ’at ’dere jerky,” he said. “Just made it in ’at smoker for twelve hours. Mm-hmm.”

He watched me carefully as I bit into it. I chewed, smiled, and nodded. “This is GOOD.”

Then I noticed the ornery twinkle in his eyes. He said, “Deer got hit on the road an’ I butchered it.”

I stopped chewing. He butchered a deer killed on the road? I stifled a choke. Spitting seemed rude.

I gulped and swallowed.

K.S. stood in the drive with a grin on her face, and Billy said, “’At ’dere wuz road-kill yesterdee mornin’.”

His belly laugh told me he would chuckle the rest of the day. A little comic relief never hurt.

I drove the truck through the yard and under Grandma’s old, gnarled pear tree, adjusted the ladder in the bed of the truck and climbed up with my basket. K.S. stayed on the ground ready to catch what fell. I carried one basket to the car and another into the old farmhouse where K.S. had already canned some of the fruit.

The yellow pears in clean glass jars all swam in light syrup. The pretty preserves stood tall against the backsplash of Grandma’s old white, cast-iron sink, and covered the iron drainboards on both sides. I love spending time with her this way even though she and I are so different it’s almost wrong we’re sisters.

For a decade, I lived away from the farm, and have visited grandchildren in New York and Seattle for the past twenty years, but I’m always glad to come home to wide skies and open spaces. There is something settling about the continuity of living on the land in one place for fifty years.

“It is rare for any of us, by deliberate choices, to sit still and weave ourselves into a place, so that we know the wildflowers and rocks . . . so that we recognize faces wherever we turn, so that we feel a bond with everything in sight.” Scott Russell Sanders

“I was born in this state, have always lived here and hope to die here. It is my belief that, to do strong work, any writer must stick to the things he truly knows – the simple, common things of life as he has lived them. So I stick to Indiana.” Gene Stratton-Porter (1863-1924)