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    Parker Owens
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.

A to Z - 18. Learning to Mend

Getting Used to It...

No special warnings except for farm life.

Discussion of topics from this chapter or any other can be found on the A to Z Story Thread.

JUNE 28

It has been two days, and I haven’t had to hike the roads, steal water, or climb a mountain. Two days and at least two chances to eat in each one. I’ve learned to do chores on a sheep farm. I worked hard, and enjoyed it.

Big doings, for me.

Question number one for today: how is it that I didn’t get born to Eustace Whitley instead of my bastard of a father? Mr. Whitley has done more for me in 48 hours than my Dad did in eight years.

Sunday, I spent holed up in the hayloft. I napped more comfortably than I have in long time. I heard Mr. Whitley enter the barn and descend to the lower level very early in the morning. I guess he was feeding the sheep or something. Later, I thought I heard a car drive off, so it might have been his truck. Again at the end of the day, I heard the man whistling tunelessly to himself as he walked past the barn.

Not wanting to be seen or discovered, I stayed put all day.

I was so nervous that night that I kept waking up and going back to sleep. I did not want to disappoint Mr. Whitley by being late first thing Monday morning. As soon as the first light crept into the sky - visible through the tiny window at the peak of the barn – I ate some of the last of my box of cereal, stole down the ladder and found my way down to the lower level. There the lower level sectioned off into various compartments; the central one opened out into the sheep pen, but there were other pens and fenced areas in the barn.

I found what I was looking for, eventually – a long hose was coiled up and attached to a tap, probably used to replenish water for the sheep every day. Quickly, before I could lose my nerve, I stripped off my shirt and turned on the tap.

Bending so as not to get my pants and shoes too wet, I tried to give myself a rinse. It didn’t work out too well. I’d forgotten how cold the water was, and I let it spray and splash all over when the stream from the hose hit me for the first time. I got just about every stitch I was wearing wet. I was shivering by the time I was done trying to get a rinse-off. What a change from the daytime heat! There was nothing to towel off with, so I just ascended to the loft again, shirtless, trying to air dry.

I heard a rooster crow. I didn’t remember seeing chickens yesterday. Anyway, it was definitely morning now. I changed into one of my two t-shirts – the one without the strawberry spots – and donned my other long sleeved shirt. I wondered what to do next.

I wandered back down to the lower level. I noticed a black barn cat sitting in the doorway, watching everything. Including me. Clearly, it belonged here, and I was the intruder. It wrapped its tail around itself, and looked away. Perhaps I was beneath his consideration.

I’d noticed some tools and buckets leaning against the walls down there, and I needed to re-coil the hose. I started by hanging shovels, pitchforks and other tools on wall hooks. The hose was next. I found an old broom and tried sweeping the concrete floor as clean as I could make it.

I’d noticed the Whitley house and the truck had been kept tidy. I thought this should be the same. I figured right.

I was surprised when I turned to find Mr. Whitley leaning against a big supporting post, watching me sweep. He wore a smile on his face.

“Morning," he said pleasantly. "I didn’t expect to find you here this soon. Or at work, already. You’re about forty minutes early.”

“I, uh, didn’t want to be late, so I…” I trailed off lamely.

“I’m not complaining, not at all,” said Mr. Whitley, covering my uncertainty. "I didn't hear a car. You walked up from Andersonville?"

Andersonville? What was that?

I shrugged. "Yessir," I kept my voice quiet.

"Must've gotten up pretty early, for you boys down there," he chuckled. I guess it was some personal joke.

Then Mr. Whitley brightened. "I see you've picked the right thing to do. In fact, you’re doing just what I was going to ask of you to start. But seeing as you’re here, let me show you some of the early morning chores.”

He proceeded to show me how to clean out and refill the water troughs, to check the fence, and how to look over each individual animal for general health. And while the sheep usually spent the night out in the open in the pen, some wandered into the part under the barn.

“I’ll want you to clean out that area every morning. You can use the shovel there, and the hose,” he concluded.

“Right, I’ll get started on that now.”

“Now, hold everything, Eric,” Mr. Whitley said, holding up a hand. “You’ll also want to wait until I’ve taken them all out to pasture. Normally, I feed the sheep first, then have my breakfast, then take the sheep out to pasture, and clean up last.”

I nodded.

“I haven’t eaten yet. Have you?”

“Yessir,” I nodded.

He looked at me closely. I’m not sure he believed me, though I don’t know why.

“Hmpf.”

He stood for a moment.

“Well, I’m going for my breakfast now. Things are a little out of order, so you go ahead and clean that out, anyhow, and then we’ll take the flock down to the pasture.”

“OK,” I nodded, and I moved to get to work.

I climbed into the pen gingerly, watching the sheep watch me. I shoveled out the barn, putting the waste in the compost heap, and sloshed new water into the trough. We’d already checked out the fence and given the animals a once-over. I went back to working on the rest of the barn, cleaning and picking up, when Mr. Whitley and the dogs arrived to move the flock back to the pasture for the day.

“Eric – look over there in the corner, and you’ll find a roll of fencing. There ought to be some wire cutters around here, too. You could bring ‘em along.”

I knew where the wire cutters were. I’d found them on the wall earlier. I retrieved the things he wanted and joined him by the sheep pen.

“All right now, I want you should go over to the gate on the sheep pen and open it up. Then go down and open the gate to the meadow and the dogs will bring the sheep down to you.”

I started to look for an outer door to the barn. He made no move to take the fence or wire cutters, so I kept them tucked under my arm.

“You can go over the fence here, or swing that gate open,” Mr. Whitley pointed to a gate in the interior partition I hadn’t noticed before. I chose the gate.

I followed instructions, and before long, the sheep began flowing down the hill, urged along by the dogs working along the flanks of the flock. I stood in the road, like a crossing guard, but they paused at the verge of the road, just like yesterday.

I felt a little silly as I imitated Mr. Whitley, saying “Go on, go on,” to no one in particular.

Eventually, one of the bolder ones led the way, followed by the rest of the flock, big ones and little ones. Mr. Whitley came down the hill last, bearing a tool box. Together, we entered the meadow, and he closed the gate behind us.

“Now, Eric,” Mr. Whitley spoke as if he were a teacher in front of a class, “one of the first things we learn is that sheep are not very smart. They will run into a fence – even an electric fence – just because they don’t watch where they’re going. One of the things you’ll get to do a couple times every week is to look over the meadow fence for breaks and problems. You’ll use that spare fence and the cutters to patch things up. If there are fence posts that need to be re-set, you’ll need the shovel and the post-hole digger up in the barn for that. If you need new fence posts, I think there are some spares in the barn, too.”

There were. I’d seen them.

“Let’s walk over this way.”

I followed Mr. Whitley over to the fence that ran along the road. He pointed to a spot where the fence seemed to change color from rusted steel, to a brighter color.

“See this? You cut this piece so the ends of the wire are here, see? Then you twist them onto the old fence that’s still good, like that,” he indicated how it had been done by pointing to a spot on the fence.”

I nodded.

“OK, son. You go that way around the pasture and start fixing spots. I’ll go the other way and mark any spots I find with this surveyor’s tape,” he instructed, showing me a roll of yellow tape.

I was off. I inspected the fence as carefully as I could, crouching down low, and checking everything for solidity. I found a weak spot and set about patching it. I cut the wire as he showed me, and grafted it onto good wire.

Farther on, I found a place where the post leaned drunkenly out and away from the meadow. I wished I had the surveyor’s tape, so I knew which post to come back to. I tried to mark the spot by gouging a spot in the turf next to the post, but my sneaker heel didn’t do much.

I was surprised to find Mr. Whitley coming up to me, tape in hand.

“All right, then. I found a few spots.” He pointed to several places where yellow tape fluttered from the wire. “I see you got a post to fix. We’ll go up to get the tools, and then I’ll leave you to it.”

Suddenly, I was nervous about being given a real task. What if I screwed it up? I didn’t want to find out what Mr. Whitley would do to me when I messed up. And I would mess up. Even if I could avoid a beating, I never did any job at home without making some kind of mistake or without Dad finding a problem. What was Mr. Whitley like?

Maybe he’d just fire me. I hoped that I could avoid a smack to the head or the kind of beating Dad could dish out. I began to kick myself for being such an idiot as to think I could get away with this. By the time we got to the barn, and I’d collected the tools I needed, I was as edgy as mouse in a houseful of cats.

“OK,” he said, looking at me with my armload of tools. “You come let me know when you’re done. I’m gonna be working on the tractor hitch.”

And that was all.

Released to work on my own, I walked back down the hill and went about fixing the fence. The sun rose higher, and it got pretty warm, pretty quickly. The sheep grazed peacefully and paid me no attention.

I worked on fixing spots Mr. Whitley had marked first. I cut off bad sections and then wired good stuff onto the solid remainder. I made sure to wrap the wires as I’d seen on the other patches. Resetting the old post was a real chore. First, I had to detach the wire from the post with a hammer claw, then yank the post out of the ground, then dig another hole nearby for the post, and then finally reset the post in the new hole. Then I could reattach the wire to the post with new staples from the tool box.

It was even hotter when I’d finished, but I had no idea what time it was.

I gathered all the tools and the tool box and headed up to the barn. Once everything was put away neatly, I set out in search of Mr. Whitley. He wasn’t anywhere near the tractor, not a good sign. I looked across the road and saw him sitting in a rocker on the porch.

I walked over.

“Just finished?” he called out.

“Yessir,” I replied.

“You come on up here for a minute,” he ordered.

I stepped onto the porch, and he pointed to another rocking chair.

“Set you there,” he said, rising.

I sat, wondering what I’d done now. Was I in trouble? To my surprise, he returned a moment later with a tall glass of icy cold water. He handed it to me, saying, “It’s warming up, isn’t it?”

I hesitated and then reached out for it. I was still absorbing that he’d actually gotten me a drink. I could only nod and stare dumbly at it. Finally, I managed to croak out “Thanks,” and I took a long pull from the glass.

The sharp cold of the water going down felt so good. I could not believe how fast it all disappeared. I must have been thirsty. Mr. Whitley held out his hand for my glass, and I gave it to him.

“So, let’s go down to the meadow and see how you did.”

OK, now I got scared again. What would he say about my repairs to the fence? I didn’t want to think about what could happen if they didn’t measure up. I stood on the porch waiting nervously for Mr. Whitley to reappear from dropping off the glasses in the kitchen.

A moment later, we were walking down the lane to the meadow. He let himself in the gate and waited for me. We walked around the perimeter, and we came to the first spot I’d fixed. He knelt to inspect the job.

“That’s good work,” he said, after a few moments of careful examination. “You ran the wire back around itself to make sure it would hold. Smart fella.”

He stood up and strode along to the fence post I’d reset.

He looked back and forth around the spot, scrutinized the fence and the post carefully, and tested the post in its new site.

“Did you unstaple the fence and then reattach it?” He looked sharply at me.

I nodded.

“Good. Don’t be afraid to replace bad fence, though.”

And that was that. I’d passed, so far.

Today was pretty much a repeat of yesterday. More fence work, more learning about the habits and needs of the sheep. There are eighty-five ewes, and three rams. I counted them several times today. Mr. Whitley had me spend a lot of time with them today, so they’d get accustomed to me. And maybe so I’d get used to them, too.

Mr. Whitley is getting used to me, I hope. He thinks I belong to a family down on the creek named Anderson. I guess there are a lot of them, because he asked about my cousins again today. My shrug was a perfect answer. He didn’t seem to expect more than that. I thought about telling Mr. Whitley the truth, all of it.

That thought lasted about thirty seconds.

Mr. Whitley seems like a good person, but I bet he'd play by the rules. My admission would mean a call to somebody: some agency, or the police, who knows? And that would be a ticket back to the Carlsberg police department. Or worse, back to Uncle Ray. I haven't walked this far just to go back there again. No way.

No, as long as I can pretend to be an Anderson and hide out in the Whitley barn, I'll be safe and dry and more or less fed. That's good enough, for now.

Probably my toughest problem is that even though I get fed once a day, I’m still hungry. The food in my pack is almost gone, too. Maybe it’s because I’m working harder. I figured I ought to be able to make it on one meal a day – after all, I’d gone several days with nothing at all but water before – but lunch for the past couple of days has just vanished in front of me, even though I tried to slow down.

I caught Mr. Whitley looking at me after lunch and shaking his head. I guess my table manners aren’t very good. I’ll have to work on that. Tomorrow.

Craftingmom edited this chapter, for which she deserves my best and sincerest thanks.

Please leave reviews. Your remarks and comments are most welcome.

Copyright © 2016 Parker Owens; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
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Chapter Comments



On 10/31/2015 06:36 AM, skinnydragon said:

I wonder what Mr. Whitley is thinking. He can't be buying Eric's story completely.

One good thing, Eric is getting the experience of someone appreciating him. That's probably going to payoff down the road sometime.

A good chapter Parker! It's nice to see something developing between Eric and the farmer.

Looking forward to more!

I think it must be astonishing for Eric to be appreciated. He deals with it better some times than others, but it can't be a bad thing, can it? As I mentioned in the story thread, Eustace Whitley was a fun character to write for. He combines the traits of a number of small family farmers I've known over the years. Glad to know you want to see more...there's plenty.

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I think mr Whitley is on to him, testing him with those questions. My guess is he'll start giving him breakfast soon and then perhaps get Eric to trust him. I hope he gets to stay for at least a while.

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On 10/31/2015 06:53 AM, Puppilull said:

I think mr Whitley is on to him, testing him with those questions. My guess is he'll start giving him breakfast soon and then perhaps get Eric to trust him. I hope he gets to stay for at least a while.

I think the trust is going to be a two-way street. But in any case, Eric is better off where he is than before. Even if it means dealing with sheep.

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Great story, I think that whatever happens to Eric from now on will be a big improvement from what he has been through: I hope. Interesting times ahead for Eric!!

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On 10/31/2015 08:07 AM, slapshot said:

Great story, I think that whatever happens to Eric from now on will be a big improvement from what he has been through: I hope. Interesting times ahead for Eric!!

Eric has a learning curve ahead of him. Unfamiliar work, and hard work, too. But with that, maybe a chance at creating a kernel of self-worth that no one can take away.

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Farm work is hard work. One meal a day definitely won't cut it, although it's much better than not eating at all. ;) Mr. Whitley seems like a good man. It says a lot that Eric is willing to trust him, even if it was only for thirty seconds. I can see Whitley as someone who will help Eric. I'm willing to bet he sees more than Eric thinks he does. We'll see as the story progresses... hopefully he'll stay there for a while. Oh and you are so right...sheep are as dumb as stumps. lol

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On 10/31/2015 09:04 AM, Valkyrie said:

Farm work is hard work. One meal a day definitely won't cut it, although it's much better than not eating at all. ;) Mr. Whitley seems like a good man. It says a lot that Eric is willing to trust him, even if it was only for thirty seconds. I can see Whitley as someone who will help Eric. I'm willing to bet he sees more than Eric thinks he does. We'll see as the story progresses... hopefully he'll stay there for a while. Oh and you are so right...sheep are as dumb as stumps. lol

Thanks so much for your review! Eric probably won't have enough to eat on one meal a day, but he's safe and has a place to hole up where Mr. Whitley doesn't seem to go very often. Trust is something that will build slowly, I think, on both sides. Not sure how Eustace Whitley views Eric; Eric can't really see that.

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It's hard to see how Stefan/Eric is always second guessing himself and never trusts in his own abilities, although he is a good worker. I hope he gets a break and some money before he has to move on. Good chapter. :)

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On 10/31/2015 11:11 PM, aditus said:

It's hard to see how Stefan/Eric is always second guessing himself and never trusts in his own abilities, although he is a good worker. I hope he gets a break and some money before he has to move on. Good chapter. :)

And yet he knows to do work as best as he can. He second guesses himself because that's how he's reacted to authority or supervision - or maybe because of the nature of so much of his supervision. If he gets paid at the end of the week, that would be a very good thing. And maybe that prospect will make it worth the risk of trying to stay put.

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Lots of positives here. Positive reinforcement will help Stephan realize he's smart and will help him trust...

 

Nice Parker

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On 11/02/2015 01:34 AM, Mikiesboy said:

Lots of positives here. Positive reinforcement will help Stephan realize he's smart and will help him trust...

 

Nice Parker

Positive reinforcement and a little deserved praise will change anyone's life, I think. Eric's life is certainly seems set to change, and it's fun to watch. Also fun to write. :)

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Does Mr Whitley just not letting on that he knows something is off. Maybe he just can't put his finger on it.. In any case, I hope Stefan/Eric gets to stay a while. It was great to see him getting praise for his work he needs that positivity.

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On 11/06/2015 01:49 PM, Defiance19 said:

Does Mr Whitley just not letting on that he knows something is off. Maybe he just can't put his finger on it.. In any case, I hope Stefan/Eric gets to stay a while. It was great to see him getting praise for his work he needs that positivity.

Mr. Whitley probably has other notions about Eric than we do. no spoilers, but that's coming. Besides, we've seen Eric's journey, and Mr. Whitley hasn't, so his lenses on this will necessarily be different. But I thank you for bringing up the point that it's likely Mr. Whitley finds something a little unexpected in his new hired hand. Thanks so much for your perceptive reviews!

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It was my impression that farm folk ate large breakfasts and large lunches, but smaller suppers. That Eric inhales his food wouldn't be as surprising as it might be in another context.

 

Eric is amazingly adept at adjusting to new situations. I guess it's related to his observational skills. And his intense need to blend in and 'disappear.'

 

Eustace is teaching Eric that there are people out there who he can trust. Eustace cares about Eric. Eustace is showing Eric that people do notice and appreciate the things he does right.

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On 06/28/2016 12:58 PM, droughtquake said:

It was my impression that farm folk ate large breakfasts and large lunches, but smaller suppers. That Eric inhales his food wouldn't be as surprising as it might be in another context.

 

Eric is amazingly adept at adjusting to new situations. I guess it's related to his observational skills. And his intense need to blend in and 'disappear.'

 

Eustace is teaching Eric that there are people out there who he can trust. Eustace cares about Eric. Eustace is showing Eric that people do notice and appreciate the things he does right.

Eustace is the first man to show Eric much in the way of real respect, and perhaps, compassion. This will stick, perhaps. Love your comment about Eric inhaling his food...and I imagine Eusatce knows something about that, too, though Eric wouldn't know it. And yes, Eric's ability to blend and try to be unnoticed has honed his skill at watching and seeing what others might miss.

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One aspect of Eric’s personality I can identify with is his struggle with compliments. I have a difficult time when someone compliments me. My therapists have often pointed out when I minimize or deflect them. It’s related to my Cognitive Dissonance where I just don’t see things the way others do. Others see more value in the things I do.

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I'm glad that Eric has found a job and a place to sleep at least for the time being. With him making $250.00/ week he'll be able to save up and buy some things that he needs such as food and clothing even if he does like he always had and go to a thrift store. I'll bet that Mr Whitely figures out really quick that Eric isn't related to the Anderson's down the way, I think that he'll figure out that Eric's sleeping in the loft behind the hay. Mr Whitely is going to get suspicious when Eric keeps showing up in the same clothes. I hope that Eric finds somewhere to wash up and wash his clothes before he gets caught because of the odors from him not bathing. 

Great chapter, I think it's a great story as well. 

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@Butcher56:  Eric is glad for the job, the shelter, and the chance to eat, surely. And from Eustace, he is getting something he’s never experienced before: trust. The respect Eustace shows Eric may be worth more than any of these. Thanks for reading the journal, and for your comments. 

Edited by Parker Owens
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I'm pretty sure Eustace is shaking his head at how thin Eric is, and not at the way he's eating. But he does need to get hold of more food.

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3 hours ago, Timothy M. said:

I'm pretty sure Eustace is shaking his head at how thin Eric is, and not at the way he's eating. But he does need to get hold of more food.

Eustace is getting used to Eric, just as Eric is discovering Eustace. I think they both have plenty left to figure out. Eric must be very glad for at least one sure meal a day, but you’re right that he’s still going to be hungry, even so. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

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Reading this for the 2nd time reminds me that the moments with Eustace and Eric are some of my favourite moments of this story 

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5 hours ago, Higster said:

Reading this for the 2nd time reminds me that the moments with Eustace and Eric are some of my favourite moments of this story 

And mine, too. Watching Eric grow under Eustace’s care was a great joy. I’m glad you can get something from re-reading the journal. 

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Eric has got alot out of his few days, some positive praise which will help him greatly. I think Eustace is testing Eric with all these questions.

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