Ray Bradbury died yesterday. I’ve been a Ray Bradbury fan about as long as I can remember so I was really sad about his passing. As I read about his life on various websites, I saw again and again his fondness for short stories. One article mentioned that he wrote one short story every week for the pleasure and discipline. Another told of how he recommended a young author write one short a week, send it off to a publication of choice and continue doing every week to help fend off the agony of rejection letters. (One might be rejected, but there was always another out there to hope for.) I doubt I’ll write a short story a week, but I’ve been inspired by Ray Bradbury to take up the form. Here goes nothing!
Category Archives: Ray Made Me Do It
In 1982, our town was tiny. I was a happy kid on our farm, spending most of my free time rambling about the fields or skipping rocks in the river that ran through them. In my six years I had learned a lot about cows – calves in particular. I’d learned you had irrigate a corn field so the water got all the way to the bottom of each furrow and I’d learned how to catch the wildest cats you ever saw. I hadn’t yet learned that sidewalks were not an exotic luxury to most of the country. I was about to learn something so big some people struggle with it their whole lives.
My dad was a dairy farmer. He raised corn and alfalfa hay for our cows. His corn was mostly what he called “field” corn. It had giant ears full of tough muddy yellow kernels. The field corn was only for the cows. You’d have to be awfully hungry to eat the tough field corn if you were a person. It was like chewing on an old stick. Dad did plant several rows of “sweet” corn for the family though. Near fall we’d pick the sweet corn endlessly – so it seemed- and help my mom shuck it and cook it and cut it from the cob for packing in to bags for the freezer. We ate it for every meal. You’d think we’d grow to hate it, but let me tell you, there are few things in life as good as corn picked moments before it is served. I crave it to this day.
My older sister Jill and I also sold the sweet corn out of an old blue plastic wading pool in front of our house. We had a big sign propped against the mailbox announcing fresh sweet corn for sale. Lot’s of kids in the area sold sweet corn out of old plastic pools, but Jill and I had an advantage. Our house sat on major highway, in the first town travelers heading east would have seen for possibly hours. We had many customers stop to buy corn who said they hadn’t eaten in the last town and now they were famished. The lure of fresh corn was too much to resist. The kids further on down the road didn’t sell nearly as much corn as we did for this reason alone.
One summer, Jill and I sold a brown paper sack of corn to a nice man from Las Vegas who drove a Cadillac. I remember he wore a pretty watch and was very friendly. He was really interested in us and asked a lot of questions. A week or so later, he stopped to buy more corn. He said he’d been thinking about how good it was and couldn’t wait to eat it again. A few days after that, Jill and I received a letter in the mail. Since most of our family lived pretty nearby, personal mail was a rare thing. We excitedly read the letter out loud. It opened with “to the two beautiful girls selling corn on Highway 89”. The man’s name was Hal, and he had served our corn at a dinner party where all of his guests raved over it’s flavor. He said he’d be back our way within the week and hoped we’d still have corn to sell. He knew it was toward the end of the season. He said that if we had enough, he’d like to buy 200 ears for a church dinner. Normally, a dozen ears was a good sale and if we sold two dozen ears a day it was a pretty good day. At .15$ an ear, we weren’t getting rich off our corn stand. Jill, who was six years older than me, did a little multiplication and we realized if we sold Hal 200 ears of corn, we’d make more from him than we had most of the season!
We beat it out to the corn field to pick all the sweet corn we could find. We picked for what must have been hours, swatting at bugs, counting and recounting to make sure we’d have enough. On the day Hal was to arrive for the corn, my dad decided he wanted to be there when this stranger arrived for the third time to do business with his young daughters. Late in the afternoon Hal’s car pulled off the road, kicking up remarkably little dust on our dry dirt driveway. Hal got out, shook my dad’s hand and exclaimed how happy he was to have our wonderful corn. He assured us we had greatly improved his church’s summer picnic. He asked our names again as he paid for the corn, and remarked that it had been wonderful to meet us. He said goodbye, and got back in his Cadillac. He waited for our neighbor, who was a highway patrolman, to pass, then pulled on to the highway. As Jill and I watched Hal drive into the sunset on his way back to Las Vegas, our neighbor turned his big cruiser around. He pulled into our drive in a cloud of dust, got out of his car and walked toward my dad.
“Who was that LaVoy?” he asked. My dad explained, as our neighbor shook his head, staring down the road.
“That sure looks like a car I helped clean up off the side of the road about a week ago. Driver was out of Las Vegas. He was killed in the crash.”
We all looked at each other in wonder for a moment, then Jill and I lost interest and went in the house to divy up our cash.
A few weeks later, almost Thanksgiving time, a strange phone call came in. My mom thought it was a joke and exasperatedly told the caller to call later in the day so they could speak to my dad, imagining they never would. They did. We only had one phone in the house, the kind you plugged into the wall. It was in the living room so you couldn’t help but over hear every conversation. I didn’t pay much attention to my dad’s half if the discussion, other than to recognize that it wasn’t a joke at all. Later, my mom and dad talked a lot, in the kind of voices they used when they didn’t want little ears listening. The next day they put on nice clothes and went in to town. When they came back, they looked stunned, as if they were suddenly required to explain quantum physics in front of Einstein himself. Finally, my dad cleared his throat and started talking. They’d been to see a lawyer, turns out, about Hal. Hal had been killed in a car accident after his second stop for corn. In his belongings was a note to his secretary, telling her about me and Jill. He thought we were wonderful and wanted her to send us gift. A big one. My parents had returned from the meeting with a check. A check big enough to send me and my sister to college, and then some.
That day, at the age of six, I learned that there are not only figurative angles who decide to send little farm girls to college, but literal angles, who come to say goodbye in person. There are those who have doubts about an afterlife, but I will never be I one. I still have the letter from Hal. Inexplicably sent after his death. I don’t know if it’s proof of a God, but life goes on. That I know for sure.