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)