Across the table sat Grandpa in the straw cowboy hat he has to wear these days on account of the skin cancer that developed on his pointy German ears from working out in the sun in those baseball caps all the farmers switched over to decades ago when the hybrid seed corn companies started handing them out for advertising. Prior to that they all wore straw hats that covered their nose, ears, and neck. Grandpa's blood was boiling as he pointed at me. “You came back to Indiana because you FAILED in California. If you was gonna strike it rich you wouldda done it by now. You got to stick to the program, become a good, honest, Midwestern Lutheran.”
“I wasn't trying to strike it rich in California,” I said. “I never really cared about money.”
“You can't go back and forth between here and California,” said Uncle Huck, who also sat across the table in his farm shop, next to Grandpa. You would be surprised to learn that Huck is Grandpa's son, as Huck's hulking shoulders in the T-shirt and overalls dwarf Grandpa by a three to one ratio; even his face is much larger, topped by the red Case IH (International Harvester) baseball cap. “Your son there needs to get a good education, and we know what kind of things he was into out there.”
My fourteen year-old sat next to me. “It doesn't matter to me if I go to school here or California. They're all pretty much the same.”
“I just want you guys to start living right,” said Grandpa.
“Well, I feel the same way,” I said. “Thought we were living right out there.”
“Then why'd you come back here?”
“Thought I could make a difference.”
“Now hold on here, Spec,” said Uncle Huck, wagging his finger the way Grandma MacQuayde famously does. “You was misleading us, and here we've helped you get the farm you wanted.”
“I didn't deliberately mislead you. You guys assumed I'd had it up to my ears with all the hippies and organic farming and naked people in saunas high on marijuana, because I came back here, but the truth I kept trying to say all spring was I wanted to show you that consumers don't want antibiotics and growth hormones in their beef. They don't want pesticides on their produce. I went to church and all that because I really did feel like God was calling me back to the Midwest to make a difference, that we actually need to get back to farming the way they did when Grandpa was a boy. I know everybody laughs at Spec, Spec's ideas, and usually I don't care, but do you ever wonder why cancer rates are so high around here? Why all the hog farms and dairy farms are out of business?”
“If you go back to California, you can't come back here.”
We'd reached a stalemate. This was a steaming afternoon in late July, enough to raise the tempers of moderate folks, and we MacQuaydes are not famous for our even keels.