Temperatures are finally climbing into the mid-90s after one of the coldest, most overcast, lingering springs on recollection. Summer crops are thirsting for sunshine. Thanks to wire hoops and plastic rowcovers I succeeded in bringing the first watermelons to the highly competitive Bloomington Saturday market, one of the biggest in the country, but the honor was diminished by a ten day stretch of overcast days with highs barely reaching 80, great weather for lettuce and broccoli but lousy for forming sugar in fruit. Also, my elderly neighbor (who grew up on the homestead my family purchased upon my son and me returning home from Boonville three years ago now) raised about a dozen guinea hens who discovered my pride and joy watermelons and hollowed out about thirty from the experimental row, rendering them striped diosaur eggshells out of which the reptiles had hatched. Fortunately the gentleman farmer/horticulturalist has been tending to peach, apple, pear, apricot, and nectarine trees as well as several varieties of grapes, making wine for decades, and is no longer able to drink much so his basement is lined with racks of vintages.
"I got a bunch of women staying at the farm these days, and they aren't crazy about the beer I keep on hand," I said when catching his son out mowing under the fruit trees, "so we could use some fruit wine."
"You could shoot the guineas for all I care, but anyway take as much wine as you need."
A bunch of women helping out at the farm were inevitably going to erupt into mayhem, and thanks to that ten day stretch of overcast, cool, rainy gloom there was little work besides harvesting to keep us all out of trouble. A friend of "the girls," Jetta, would bring her two-year old son out and chill in the shade of gingkos and bald cypress with A — and E — , and over the last several months she had managed to charm me. She and E — had practically grown up together, E — moving in with Jetta's parents in the high school years.
"I've never been with a girl whose parents were still together," I told them when Jetta and I successfully returned from our first farmers' market trip to the lively city of Bloomington one day late to retrieve her two year-old from the house in Verona that has been in her mother's family for more than a century. Their front yard is shaded by southern-style magnolias, and we sat in the swinging bench on the front porch like the old days.
"I have three daughters, and Jetta is by far the worst of the lot," said her dad. "I'm pretty sure if you did a DNA test they would clear me of responsibility."
We underwent some kind of old fashioned visiting in front of the girl's folks, and I asserted that I liked having the little guy around, how it was perfect with Aunties E — and A — staying in the camper van under the shade trees. "It's great having Jetta's best friend at the farm — it's perfect."
Ten days of overcast, gloomy weather culminated with that first trip to Bloomington that lasted an extra day because we couldn't help staying out dancing til 2 in the morning, then dozing off in the bucket seats of my Ford Ranger downtown only to be awakened at six in the morning by the police who ordered us to stay an extra four hours in town to sober up. People had warned me about Jetta, that she was trouble. "A lot of people warned me about you," I said. "They said you were trouble. I was like, 'Oh, that's interesting.'"
"If I was a good girl you would've turned me bad." Definitely a devilish expression radiated from not just her eyes, cheeks, and lips, but from the tips of her toes to her witchy fingers.
When we finally returned to the farm on Sunday we were informed by A — and E — that they were leaving if Jetta was staying. "We love Jetta but we can't stand to be around her," they said.
"But I thought you were best friends. I thought it was perfect."
"She killed all the spiders," said A—.
Yeah, Jetta had swept all the cobwebs out of the kitchen, scrubbed the crud from the corners and around the sink, cleaned not only the inside but the outside of the house, a daunting job that A — and E — had avoided understandably since my teenaged son and anywhere from one to twenty of his rednecked friends in boots caked with river mud, chewing tobacco and spitting into empty beer cans had been running roughshod on our attempts to bring some elements of civilization to the farmhouse. Originally my hope had been that "the girls" would muster enough feminine influence to balance out the boys, but they'd been overwhelmed, and my son had somewhat intentionally set out to keep the farmhouse a no-girls allowed zone. For five years since my second Ex and I had split up in Boonville he'd had me to himself, a depressed alcoholic opening my first beer before even attempting to cook breakfast for him, and he wasn't going to let a couple of lesbian hippie chicks come in and take over the kitchen.
But Jetta is a tomboy who would on a whim take off with the boys down to the river for a night of spotlighting deer or pulling catfish from the eddying river, and she did take over the house. Somebody had to.
"She spreads her legs and gets whatever she wants," said E — . "You give her work just because she does you. It's all fake."
I didn't argue. I'd lived in Mendo long enough to learn not to argue with emotions. This here was sort of a hippie commune in action, an organic farm and party pad except owned by my parents, and if A — and E — wanted to go back to working for McDonalds and Steak and Shake it was okay with me. However, we had half an acre of carrots growing beautifully that needed to be weeded. Perhaps I should have not been so naive about the cues, like when E — had suggested to Jetta that she put some pants on before going out to harvest potatoes and whatnot for Saturday market, that a bikini was not appropriate attire.
"Everybody hates me," said Jetta, crying.
"I think they're just jealous," I said. But the nightmare was only beginning. Next it was my son who informed me he was moving in with one of his friends, off the farm. The clean house, my sudden relative sobriety after five years of repelling women from getting close enough to make me happy, had been too much for him and his posse. They relocated. The Farmhouse, which had been the most famous party spot in our county for several years before our family purchased the old homestead, suddenly became quiet enough that you could hear the ghosts of previous dwellers swinging doors and stalking on creaking hardwood oak floors milled from the forests out back. After about a week of my son's absence I telephoned his mother who lives in Potter Valley, suggesting she call him because he wouldn't answer my attempts. "I've seen him a few times but he won't even talk to me."
"You should report him as missing," she said.
"But I know where he is." He was staying with the aunt of one of his friends whose dad is in prison and mom is strung out on crank, like most of the other kids in Verona. "He's safe where he is — I just think it would be good if you called him."
That done, finally a scorching afternoon upon us, Jetta and I decided to play volleyball out in the yard. Our farm is located in a remote yet fertile stretch of sandy loam where two rivers merge, and she did not choose to wear any kind of top while schooling me in volleyball. Though she'd attended Verona High, she'd actually grown up in Columbus, Ohio and once fantasized about playing volleyball for Ohio State. I'd always loved playing volleyball, and with the beach sand we have for soil, a beach volleyball court is not difficult to achieve, but my skills had dimmed over the years in Mendo where I never ended up in a game. My attempts to return serves were glancing off in every which direction. With half an eye out for cars approaching, in order to warn Jetta to run in the barn or something, I was honing in on the ability to return a simple volley when a brown sheriff's sedan pulled into the drive.
Jetta had no choice but to duck into the old milking room on the side of the barn where we now wash carrots and lettuce, but clearly she was a little late on that judging by the smile on the face of the deputy emerging from his car.
"We got a call from your son's mother, reporting him missing, so I have to do a welfare check." The deputy had blonde hair protruding from under his baseball cap.
"Oh, I told her he was okay, that I just wanted her to call him."
"You know where he is?"
"Yeah." I told him about the aunt of his friend who lived out in the hills, that he was okay and that I would have called the cops if I was really that worried, that his mom was 2000 miles away and still trying to control things, and she'd not paid attention to most of what I'd tried to tell her.
Jetta emerged from the old milkroom in a musty T-shirt that I'd discarded earlier in the spring. Turned out she'd been about four years behind this deputy at Vernona High, and they knew each other. The deputy also knew the kids my son was staying with on his rebel run, and gave me a card in case I needed to call him for help. Times are hard in the hillbilly realm, as the big corporations have no use for rednecks beyond trying to seduce them to purchase crap they can't afford, or take jobs through temp services that piss test them and rip off a chunk of their meager pay after they've commuted more than half an hour to the nearest city, and most of the kids in Verona are constantly drifting from one habitation to another, wild and out of control.
After the deputy shook hands and went on his merry way, a couple friends showed up, and we ventured out to weed some long rows of carrots. I didn't gather that those guys were too offended by her attire. I hope "the girls" move back out to the farm eventually, and I even look forward to having my son and his gang of adolescent buddies returning, but in the mean time I am enjoying the peace and quiet.