Sunday morning all my boys were at the farm. That crew is growing hungrier by the day. They'd eat a mountain lion if it came within firing range. I fried up potatoes and onions along with some pork sausage a friend had made at his place and left in our freezer. While the mess was simmering the boys ate Potter Valley peaches another friend had brought around the night before when a bunch of us had gotten mildly buzzed on lite beer and walked around the pastures.
After breakfast the boys helped me dig onions. There's a calf in the garden, “Henry,” who was weaned a little early when his mom was rustled by a bunch of Hindus from up near Signal Ridge. I'm letting him graze on the extra cabbage leaves left over from the spring crop since he got shorted slightly on milk. He's developed a taste for the hybrid sweet onions called “Candy,” and he pulled several dozen of the large white globes up from the ground, munching a bite or two out of one here and another there.
“Hen-wee helped us,” said my four year-old. He was cracking the whip, encouraging me to harvest one lug after another. “He puww-ed the onions foah us.”
I was sweating beads like being locked in a sauna. Using a spade to pry the onion bulbs from the dry topsoil, I was surprised how moist the dirt remained underneath. I'd never irrigated these rows. But here the soil was still moist under the onions.
“Fair winners,” the boys called them as we filled the bins.
“I'd rather eat them.” We got tired of prying bulbs and headed out to harvest some prune plums. They were starting to fall from a couple rows of trees left over from the glory days of the old Boont Berry farm, and were already drying and fermenting on the branches. Birds were starting to peck the fruit and the wounds were buzzing with honeybees. The boys climbed the forks and dropped the fruit into bins, avoiding the bees. We filled a couple lugs. “I'm taking them over to [a local lady’s] house, gonna make some jam,” I said.
“Is she gonna give you some, Dad?” asked my seven year-old.
“I guess she will.”
“She oughtta give ya some if you're gonna make it with her.”
“Reckon she pretty well has to.”
When we were sufficiently tired of harvesting plums, we set the bins in the shade and found our baseball mitts. We have to keep the mitts and balls up out of reach of the dogs, but we leave the bats out in the pasture. All those years when I was trying to turn the farm into something like a hub of local agriculture, I never had time to do things like play baseball with my boys because there was always something better to do, some fence that needed mending, some crop needed harvesting or weeding, some animal that needed attention. But on Tuesday a couple of generous local ranchers had hauled five milk cows off to the market in Orland, and I no longer had much to worry about. With the carefree mind of the hobo on the side of the freeway, I could pretend to be pitching for the San Francisco Giants in the pennant race. Anyway, I was trying to extend the part of the morning when I was exercising and not drinking beer, as recently a former milk customer had showed up on a warm summer afternoon to pick up a half gallon from our now empty refrigerator.
“Now that you don't have milk I've got no excuse to come out and see you,” she said.
“Now that I have no milk there's no evidence you've been out to see me,” I replied.
“Maybe you ought to put down the beer and start exercising, Spec. You're really starting to get a gut.”
“No, that's just my abs,” I told her. “I always had prominent abs.”
Later, though, sitting in the shade and cracking another can, I kind of glanced down and noticed the ripples of belly flesh like waves crashing the surf off the Mendo coast, realizing she was right. Retirement from farming was starting to show. I needed exercise. So on Sunday morning I was pitching, first, to my seven year-old.
He bats left. I have to put a little zip on each pitch or else the little rascal will be ahead of it. Our pack of three dogs were on every line drive with Olympic skills, usually my blue heeler bitch the first to snatch the ball in her jaws. She executed some phenomenal plays, stunning us with her tenacious baseball ethos, depositing a slobbery ball at the mound that I had to wipe dry with my T-shirt, thinking, Crap I'd better change before going into town to meet the ex.
My 13 year-old stepped to the plate, and I turned on the heat, sending a few curves his way. He bats right.
“You wait until high school when some bad dude fires a curve right at you and it flies across the plate,” I said. But my next throw went into the dirt, bouncing through an old woven wire sheep fence and into some blackberry bushes, which meant we had to climb the wire next to a solid post and scrutinize the thorny brambles. “Damn it. Sorry about that wild pitch. Maybe I shouldn't have smoked that sour diesel this morning. Come to think of it, that was probably Lincecum's problem.”
Tim Lincecum pitches for the San Francisco Giants, who are in the middle of a serious pennant race this fall. The young pitcher is well-known for being voted the best pitcher in the league the last two seasons, as well as for having been busted with a small amount of marijuana up in Oregon last winter, a mishap that transformed him into a hero for all us stoners out here in NorCal. But Lincecum fell into the worst of baseball's slumps in July and August of this season, and San Francisco Giants fans all speculated what might be the problem. Some thought he was smoking too much pot. Some said not enough.
“Sour diesel” is one of the most popular varieties of pot grown in Mendo these days, an Indica strain. Most of the Indica strains are okay if you're unemployed and broke and looking at no prospects on the horizon, and you want to get really high and forget about everything, and you're living in an apartment complex in Ukiah with a boring lover you're just using. But if you're in the middle of a pennant race, on the mound in front of 50,000 screaming fans, you ought to go with the Sativa strains the old hippies used to grow.
We all batted around until the morning sun drove us into the shade, and in the barn I got a message from my ex that she wasn't going to show up in Boonville until one o'clock. I'd carelessly made plans to start processing plums into jam at about one, maybe, except I hadn't exactly written down what time to meet with her, so I let the boys watch a movie until it was time to walk into town to meet my ex. For some reason we still have to meet in the middle of town, even though I've behaved myself like a son of a bitch all summer. Walking with the two youngest boys, I saw her gray sedan parked in the shade of some locust trees, and I held hands with both the lads as we approached the rear of the car.
Evidently she was rearranging things in the back seat because all I could see was her hind end draped in some kind of hip threads that you wouldn't exactly call pants or a dress. They were probably made of hemp, purple. I kept looking down at the boys, waiting for them to let go my hands and run up to their mom, but they just gazed innocently at me, and I gawked at her legs, thinking, Goddam. I have to say something.
“Hey!” I finally blurted.
She retracted from the back seat and stood up, blushing.
“Looks like you cut your hair,” I said, to ease her embarrassment.
I was keeping my distance on account of the dog slobber all over my T-shirt and the fact I hadn't bathed for several days.
“It's good to see you finally wearing flip-flops,” she said. “Airing your feet out.”
“Airing your feet out.”
“You got any meat from the farm?”
“Nope. We had sausage this morning. I'm starting to like pork more than beef.”
“I like bacon and ham better than pork chops,” she said.
“Well, the next farm we go to, I plan on raising pigs.”
“You got any money?”
“Maybe a twenty. I'm a little strapped, too.”
When the boys had gone off with the ex, I stopped by Pic-n-Pay for another box of beer, and returned to the farm to enjoy a brief nap, thinking I'd better rest up before going off to the neighbor’s to process prune plums. I awoke from the power nap and strolled down the old cow path to the barn where there was a message on the answering machine.
“Hey, you slacker, it's like 2:45 and we were supposed to be making jam already. I've got a schedule to stick to. What's up?”