George loved the beat-up sky blue ’74 Ford pickup that had seen its up’s and down’s and looked accustomed to the worst. By the time he reached the Johnsons’ farm it was as usual looking more limestone-white than blue from the gravel road and the gas gauge read at nearly empty. That is the way George was also. He lived a pale white life of generosity and hunger. His stomach was already uncomfortable, but at six in the morning the dark blue tones of the pre-dawn and fall’s first snowfall added to his always appreciation of the morning hours and left him feeling graced and excited for the coming day.

            Regardless of whether he was paid for it, he knew he had to work and that it filled out his life even as it weakened him. He knew what it meant to fall into place with a higher plan and took a great deal of pride in it. He cracked the simple steel door that croaked on its hinges and shut it with a hollow bodied steel clank. He adjusted his old MACK cap by the visor settling it easy on his greasy hair. The screen door rattled behind Elmer Johnson and his worn Red Wing work boots crunched in the snow,

            “Well, if it isn’t George Williams! What are you doing here this time of the morning?”  Elmer extended a creased and work weathered hand and shook with the other. George shifted his cap again and demurred to Elmer.

            “Well, I heard you had a tractor that wasn’t working.”

            “ It isn’t, but I really can’t afford anything.”

            “ Don’t worry, it’s on the house. “

            “ George,” Elmer said, “It is a shame about the garage closing. Are you sure you want to get your hands dirty?” The two faced off against each other, and with the silent agreement that a man had to work, George won with a smile, chuckling to himself.

            “They’re never clean.” Elmer walked with George over to the machinery shed, a space that would have given to echoes except for the corrugated aluminum walls and ceiling, braced up by four by fours and lined with table width shelves holding a scattered array of tools that George immediately recognized as valuable. George dug his hands into the greased metal of the tractor, gauging the old International Harvester’s ailment.

            “I’ll be done with it by noon.” Elmer looked at his feet.

            “What should I do?”

            “This one doesn’t really need two men,” George said. Elmer looked guiltily at his feet again, trying to banish the reality of George. Then he spoke again, though he couldn’t explain where the encouragement came from. George had seen it before, though he hadn’t thought that it might be his own action that inspired the reaction in other men.

            “Well,” Elmer said, surprised by his own sudden feeling of worth, “I’d better get going with the chores. George turned toward the tractor with a monkey wrench in his hand. It was uncomplicated work for him. George was a simple man and lived in a simple world. He had been offered several scholarships out of high school but he liked where he lived and that was good enough.

He worked at the tractor, the hard work pulling energy out of him to leave him feeling like a shell. Elmer returned to cross his arms in concentration as George spelled out the rudimentary mechanics of the tractor engine. He pulled out large stubborn bolts with the wrench so that his arms ached, bolts that had been there since the factory. Finally he wiped down the engine and put a new coat of grease on it.

            “Well, that about does it,” he said, “a man can go crazy without work.” Both agreed on it, though Elmer felt a little burning in his chest as his spirit got up again.

            “Well, Martha has some roast beef sandwiches with horseradish on them.” George’s mouth started to water and then he felt embarrassed.

            “Actually I’m not too hungry but the truck is and I could use some gas. Like most farmers Elmer kept a ready supply on hand. George backed the truck up to the gas barrels, one diesel and one regular that stood twelve feet in the air on cross bound stilts. He stood at the pump and filled the truck with gasoline. He stood with his hands in his jeans pockets and shrugged a comment at Elmer.

            “Well, that one wasn’t too much trouble,” he said feeling full of his personhood with a certain amount of pride in his voice. Elmer responded,

            “I don’t know what to say, George.” Although his stomach was empty, George let a small comfortable laugh out of it.

            “A simple thanks will do.”

            George found himself in the pickup truck again in the large if bare cab. There wasn’t too much to the machine, as there wasn’t much too George or the land around him but that was a thing that wasn’t just easy. He manhandled the truck into fourth gear by leaning into the long stick that rose from the flat metal floor of the cab. He slowed to the gravel crossroads where the Lutheran church stood isolated by the miles of surrounding country. He felt a craving to stop at the parsonage house and visit pastor Odegaard in the makeshift office. Their conversations were never very serious or religious, and they mostly discussed the crops and the health of older parishioners, as an everyday matter of course. He always felt himself a kindred spirit to the pastor and he sometimes wondered if he didn’t feel the same happy mission as the man of god. He often found his best ideas for repair jobs from the pastor and he always derived a strange sort of comfort from the visits. He had too much in his plans to stop that day though.

George turned onto the North South gravel road so that the temperature cooled and the snow rose as he drove, nevertheless a single plume of dust rose behind him. He made his way to the Olson’s farm, his truck eating up the gas while his stomach ran on empty. He turned into their lane and made his way through the elm windbreak as he had with the Johnson’s that signaled most of the farmers to be second or third generation families. He jumped from the truck and made his way toward the front door of the house. Bennet stepped from the door as George climbed the wooden steps. He felt a little embarrassed about offering his work with out a price and was afraid the farmers would think him a little crazy or something.

            “Hello George.”

            George looked up at Bennet and adjusted the visor on his cap reduced to one plain motion.

            “Hi Bennet,” he said “I heard you had some trouble with a Chevy up here.”

            “Yes George but I…”

            “I know, but you don’t have enough money to pay me. Don’t worry, I have to keep in practice.”

            “Well I…”

            “Really,” he said, reassuring Bennet, “It’s nice getting out to see others. If I were to stay in my house all day I’d go crazy and I need to fill my time.”

            “ Sure George, I suppose I could let you have a look at it,” Bennet gave up, though like all of the farmers there was a lack of unknowing pity in his voice that some might consider looking down on the whole thing, “ I suspect it is going to cost me three or four hundred dollars to fix,” it was a warning of the time involved. George followed Bennet around the corner of the house to the Chevy pickup. George sized it up,

            “’Mind if I start it up?” Olson reached into the pocket of his overall’s handing George the keys and then pulled the lambskin coat down over his pockets again. George quickly had the problem diagnosed. “I can get it done by five or six.” He started in on the work with the love of the task. He wished the wind would stop and that the snow would start falling, though he couldn’t tell where the thought came from, it was just a part of knowing the way the weather worked. He set about it with a pride and a patterned joy and he knew the bread of the spirit and felt worthwhile. Ultimately he knew those three feelings followed simple action.

            As he was finishing up, Bennet came out and watched the end of the process.

            “Well, that ought to do it.” He said, and then started walking with Bennet toward the sky blue Ford. The wind had stopped and the air was cold and wet. George felt dizzy from hunger and stumbled.

            “That’s enough, George,” Bennet said, knowing what the problem was. “You are coming in to eat right now.” George knew the rules of the people he visited, it was only proper that he should go in and eat with the Olsons. The snow had started to fall and covered the world in a quiet insulation of comfort. He climbed the several wooden steps to the porch, appreciating their one function and glanced to his side noticing a wooden porch swing. He walked in through the living room and into the hallway that lead to the kitchen with its intoxicating smell of food and that inspired so that his stomach hurt even more. Velma stood near the oven slicing some kind of meat. He knew what it was instantly since he could smell ham and something starchy that might have been plain potatoes and the smell of pod peas and green bean casserole that contained mushroom soup and onion crisps. It seemed like he could identify every smell in the kitchen. George sat down at the kitchen table placed in a nook and asked and looked through the picture window. He noticed the square box of a bird feeder outside the window and asked Velma if she had seen anything interesting lately.

            “Well, there are always the Downy Woodpeckers and the Cardinals, though I caught sight of an Oriole the other day. He glanced at the barometer that stood next to the feeder. Bennet had found a chair and nodded toward it.

            “It has been falling ever since you started working.” Velma brought heaping plates to the table. George dug in, eating rapidly, and let out a low laugh as the blood sugar hit his head.

            “Luscious, Velma”

            “Why thank you, George.” Discussion went about the neighbors and George got some new ideas on the work in those parts. Velma served a cold fruit casserole for desert that had a layer of graham cracker crust with strawberries and whip cream on top. George extended his legs after the meal, folding his hands across his stomach. He felt deep satisfaction in the work he had done that day that went beyond the food. When they had almost finished talking Bennet had the last word,             “So George,” he said, “Do you want some gas for your truck?”

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