“Are you going to be using the truck today?” Maggie wiped the plate with the dish towel as she washed them. She looked through the screen door to her husband, sitting on the porch like every morning after breakfast before getting up and heading out to the fields.
Bart was slow in answering as he knew the purpose behind the question. It was the same question she asked most mornings, and he was ready to give her the same response.
“When I need it, but I’ll be in the fields working.” He pursed his lips and aimed. The black spittle from the tobacco streamed out into the dirt at the base of the steps. It blended into the dark spots of previously discarded juice.
Bart pushed himself from the steps. He drifted with his mind to the hay that waited to be cut. It was dry enough from the rain they had received five days earlier that he could actually cut it and bale it without fear of mold and decay before the winter set in. It was something farmers couldn’t afford to mistime.
He wiped his hands on his stained coveralls. “I’ll be in the back field over by Jackson’s stump.”
Jackson’s stump was not much of a stump anymore as the years had taken their toll on the piece of dead wood. In the days of Bart’s grandfather who had first settled the land, the tree had stood taller than any other in the county. For decades the oak tree grew bigger and stronger until Mother Nature had decided it was getting to be too much for the world to understand and appreciate. So she sent a bolt of lightening to end the tree’s reign as king of the county.
But the stump remained for many years as a testimony to the strength that once stood there. Since everyone had called the tree Jackson’s Oak after the man who had originally explored the area, it only made sense to call the stump Jackson’s as well. So for over a hundred years as the stump eroded to nothing more than a mound of dirt with seasonal wild vegetation growing on it, everyone called the area Jackson’s Stump and knew exactly where the spot was.
“Riding Bessie out?” Maggie referred to the nickname they had given the old tractor that was keeping the farm going and not being scrapped as most machinery its age had been.
“Yep. Will need her to cut the hay.” He attempted to keep the sarcasm out of his voice.
“Then the truck will be by the barn?” The plate squeaked as it was more than dry enough. Her focus was on her husband.
“I guess,” he answered with his mind on the task ahead of him.
“Newt will be here at the house.” Her eyes watched his face carefully, noting his distracted gaze.
“Yep.” Another stream of tobacco arched to the ground.
“If you’re not using the truck, then Newt can take me out in it.”
The realization of where the conversation was going hit him. He had not been alert and let her lead him by the nose right to where she had him cornered. “Ah, I might need the truck later to help haul the hay. In fact, Newt can help me.”
“You won’t need him until this afternoon once the hay is cut. Until then, he will be just sittin;’ on the porch.”
“I…I don’t think having him teach you how to drive is such a good idea, Mag.” His mind raced with reasons not to let his cousin teach his wife how to operate the farm truck.
“Why not? He drives all the time back in the city. He knows more about driving than anyone else. I think he would be a great teacher. That way you can get the hay cut without worrying about me.”
He turned around and arched an eyebrow at her. She had no idea how deep his worry went went it came to her. Nothing came to mind that could be used as a solid argument against Newt taking her out in the truck. There was a large field that hadn’t been used for anything except grazing the cows in. If he took her out there, there would be little to no chance of anyone getting hurt or anything getting destroyed, especially the truck.
“Okay, have him take you up to the grazing field. The cows have been moved to the corner section by the old pond. They will be out of your way.” He didn’t add the fact that they couldn’t afford to have her take out a cow and the truck at the same time.
Maggie smiled. Her feet danced back to the kitchen sink where she put the now clean plate back in the dirty dish water. Her mind was completely on her success of getting him to agree to driving lessons.
Since they had gotten married three years earlier, Maggie had been asking Bart to teach her how to drive. In the small town where she had been raised, there was not much of a need for driving. Everything was in easy walking distance for most people. Since she was young and had no need to learn, driving was something she watched others do. She only knew a couple of people who even owned a vehicle that ran. That was before she met Bart.
He had been visiting Crooked Hollow where his Aunt Tilly lived. A young man who had just gotten out of the military service, he was visiting family across the country as he made his way home. The war had been on everyone’s mind and seeing one of their home return healthy and alive was something everyone needed, even in out of the way places like Crooked Hollow.
The arrival of a war soldier called for a town picnic which everyone had attended. Maggie had caught sight of Tilly White’s nephew when he was laughing with some of the other young men around the punch bowl. She couldn’t help the little flutter in her chest at the handsome man dressed in jeans and a plaid shirt.
He was so different from the young men around him who she knew too well and who had been trying to woo her for the last year. She had known them all her life and each one was lacking in the husband department. Jim Varly was known for his carousing which usually ended up with him locked in Tom Marshall’s woodshed which served as a jail when needed. Milt Jones had several children scattered around the valley and beyond. Matt Hays had a temper that scared even the biggest men. Then there was little Norton Hensford who had trouble comprehending the most basic of skills. Any other men were either too old to her liking or were still looking for hair to shave.
Maggie was about to resign herself to being an old maid at the age of eighteen. Most of the girls her age were already married at sixteen when they were considered old enough to marry and start a family. She heard the whispers behind her back as well as the sad comments the older women made. Several wondered if she was loose which was why no boy wanted to marry her or if she was sickly which was the reason she selfishly turned down all offers. None of them could understand that she just didn’t want to settle down for just anyone. She wanted someone she could care for and respect. Seeing Bart move aside with respect for the elderly Mrs. Smythe, she smiled. Maybe this was one she could do that with.
When dessert had been laid out on the long picnic table, he had sauntered over and sat down by her. What she hadn’t known before that moment was that she had caught Bart’s eye as well. The rest of the day was spent with them talking and laughing much to the delight of the women and the displeasure of the young men hoping to get her to agree to at least a few favors for them. It wasn’t to be for them as she agreed to a wedding in a nearby town so they could leave two weeks later for his hometown where he had a job waiting on him.
Now they were running his family farm after the death of his parents. During that time, Maggie had kept the house and helped in the field as much as she could. She rarely asked for anything unless they absolutely needed it, except to learn to drive. That was one thing she asked on a regular basis, almost daily.
It wasn’t like she had places to go, but maybe if she could drive she would have places. Driving on her own, she could go to the market without having to wait for Bart to be free. She could go to the women’s functions at the Presbyterian cChurch they belonged to. There was a lot she always had to wait for Bart to drive her to. If she could only drive herself, then she could feel less of a burden.
Why he wouldn’t drive her, she couldn’t fathom. He claimed it was because there was no time, he needed the truck, or why learn when he could do it all for her. There was always an excuse, but persistence was one attribute Maggie had honed over the years. And the day had arrived where it paid off.
Bart was still fuming over his slip up. He had managed to successfully avoid the driving discussion for several years, but today he had allowed his guard down and she took advantage of it. One thing he was glad of was the fact the Germans had not had her tenacity or they would have beaten the Allies.
He spit on the ground again and muttered a curse. If she learned to drive…he didn’t want to think about it. Keeping her from behind the wheel had given him peace of mind. Now she had the chance to do exactly what he didn’t want her to do…drive.
Bart put his foot up on the tractor, preparing to haul himself up onto the metal seat when he paused. Newt was just five years younger than him which made him Maggie’s age. She could find a willing conspirator there if he wasn’t careful. After all, Newt was from the big city which would be alluring to any attractive woman which his Maggie was.
Nope, he couldn’t let that happen. But how could he stop her from at least trying to drive? An idea struck him. Maybe if he let her, she would realize how foolish it was for her to do so. With his mind made up, he turned around and walked back to the house.
Newt was sitting at the table and finishing the breakfast Maggie had cooked for him. During the time Bart had walked down to the barn and back, she had managed to cook for the young man and fill him in on what he was going to do for her.
He was nodding, his mouth full of the last piece of toast he had crammed in it. His eyes met Bart’s dark ones with a glint. Newt was enjoying how things were progressing. Nothing he would have planned could have turned out better.
Coming out to the farm had not been his idea. It was actually his father’s, who had been a little overly upset about a situation that involved the daughter of one of his employees and Newt. He couldn’t understand what the uproar was about, but the threat of losing the money his father regularly supplied him with, as well as possible problems with the law, had him agreeing to spend some time with his down to earth cousin and his poor young wife.
What he hadn’t expected to find was such a lovely poor wife. Maggie was not as lovely as he would describe the women he met everyday in the city, but her beauty was something different. Her shapely figure hadn’t been disfigured by producing a horde of children or by overly fat farm cooking. It was an inviting figure that he wanted to invite him.
The problem Newt had was two-fold: a watchful husband and a wife who loved her husband. He could handle either one alone, but the two combined made it slightly more difficult. It helped that he was around them day and night to work his charm on both of them. What surprised him the most was the fact that it wasn’t working as well as it normally did.
Bart never lowered his guard. tThough he was away from the house most of the day, he made sure that the time Newt spent alone with Maggie was short. Newt was expected to be out in the fields helping as soon as he was up, which was never early enough for Bart. Newt was used to sleeping until lunch time. Bart expected him to be up with the first rays of dawn. That was something that was always causing tension between them.
Then there was Maggie who only had eyes for Bart, at least for the moment. She was very friendly with Newt, but it was type she would have had with him if he had been her brother. That rarely happened towith him but he was quick to rethink his plan and usually overcame such reactions. Yet, Maggie was different.
Something about the rough farmer caused her eyes to twinkle and her cheeks to blush. Even after being married for so long, Bart’s very presence caused her to blush like an untouched maiden. Even now walking in with a scowl on his face, Maggie hesitated in her telling Newt of his golden opportunity. A blush stole across her smooth cheeks.
“Bart, I was just telling Newt about teaching me how to drive. I figured if he takes an hour to teach me, you’d still have him to finish up the baling, if that is alright.”
Bart’s eyes were directed at Newt as he answered his wife, “Sounds good.” He watched Newt’s smile widen and his eyes light up at his response. His own lips pulled up on the side slightly as he delivered the next words. “I was thinking as I walked to the barn how I could help as well. Maybe two teachers will make it even easier for you.”
Newt’s face fell as fast as Maggie’s brightened up. It had been what she had wanted all along and what Newt wanted least of all. She clapped her hands together.
“Wonderful! Let me get my sweater.” She hesitated as she laid a loving glance on her husband who still had his eyes glued to Newt. “That way I won’t keep you boys long.” She disappeared through the door that led off the kitchen into their bedroom.
Silence descended on the room as both men continued to stare at each other. Newt gradually pushed himself up from the table, unwilling to stay seated and let the other man tower over him in an obvious act of dominance and superiority. A smirk pulled across his thin lips.
“Okay, I’m ready,” Maggie said as she entered the room, pulling on her light green sweater. She stopped short as she watched the two men who were unusually quiet and not moving. Her eyes darted from one to the other, unsure of what she had walked in on. “Are you going to teach me to drive?”
Bart moved his eyes to his wife and let a smile come out. “Of course. Get in the truck and I’ll drive you out to the field.” He stepped back and let her walk past him out the door. He gave Newt a quick glance as he followed her and called over his shoulder, “You can hop in the back.”
A few minutes later they were parked in the middle of the cow pasture. Bart figured it was safe enough with over twenty acres of land with no obstacles. Letting the truck idle, he put it in park and motioned for Maggie to slide over. Knowing Newt was in the bed of the truck looking through the sliding back window, he gave Maggie a wink before lifting her up and sliding her across his lap until they had switched places.
Maggie’s face burned red, a giggle escaped from her as she covered her mouth with her hands. Bart’s smile widened as he caught a glimpse of Newt’s glare.
“Okay, do you know what the parts are?” He pointed at the steering wheel.
Maggie nodded. For six years she had been watching Bart carefully as he had driven them everywhere, from church to family gatherings, to funerals. Nothing he had done escaped her notice. She just didn’t have the hands on experience though many times when he had been out in the field she had sat in the truck and re-enacted his driving techniques.
“Okay, I already have it started, so we’ll go over that another time. Put…okay.” Her hands were already on the steering wheel. Her feet were in the right positions. It was then he realized that maybe he had underestimated her. “Well, let’s get started driving.”
Newt watched as Bart instructed her in the techniques of driving. Things were not turning out as he had hoped when the opportunity had arisen that morning. He couldn’t believe how lucky he was when Maggie asked him to teach her how to drive. It would be perfect with the two of them alone. His imagination had gone wild with where the opportunity could lead him. Then Bart had walked in and tossed cold water on all his plans.
The truck lurched. Newt grabbed the hood of the truck to keep himself from falling back on his rear. He looked in to see Maggie struggling with the gears and the brakes under Bart’s instructions. Suddenly, he felt the truck lurch as Maggie touched the gas pedal.
“Pull your foot up,” Bart instructed her to slow down.
“I can’t!” Maggie yelled as she tugged on her foot. “It’s stuck!” Her foot had slipped when she had pushed down and was trapped between the side of the cab and the pedal.
“Take your foot off of it!” Bart reached over to pull her leg up but couldn’t get a grip on it as the truck bounced over a rough patch of ground.
“What do I do?” Maggie’s eyes widened as they sped across the pasture. “I can’t stop.”
“Twist your foot.” Bart looked up and caught sight of the tree line quickly approaching.
“I can’t.” Panic rose up within her.
Bart gripped the steering wheel in his hand and pulled on it. The truck veered to the right. Newt swung, nearly flying off the truck bed. The truck fishtailed as it swung away from the trees. Dirt flew up in the air.
“What do I do?”
“You have to get your foot off the pedal.”
“I told you that I…” She pulled once again. “I did it.”
The truck continued on its fast course.
“What’s wrong? What happened?”
Bart leaned down and noticed the pedal stuck in a down position. “Pull it up. Use your foot to pull the pedal up.”
“No. It will get stuck again.”
“It won’t. Just pull it up.”
“Let’s trade places like we did earlier.”
Maggie nodded with relief. Bart reached around and put his hands around her waist. Lifting her quickly, he slid behind the wheel. He put his boot under the pedal and pulled. It wouldn’t budge. He pulled again and felt it give. With relief he felt the truck slow down slightly. It was then he noticed where the truck was headed. He realized that hitting the brakes would be more dangerous than applying them gradually.
Reaching up, he patted the dashboard. “Hang in there, girl.” Bart gently touched the brakes. “Hold on, Newt. We’re headin’ for the pea patch.”
Seconds later, the truck was whipping through the large garden. Vegetation was sent flying into the air. Maggie cried out as she watched her precious garden marred by the runaway truck. They didn’t come to a complete stop until they were through the garden and back at the back of the house.
They sat in silence as their hearts slowed down. Seconds ticked by that felt like hours.