Put Out to Pasture

Pre-sales for my book Steel Decks and Glass and Glass Ceilings: A Navy Officer’s Memoir, and the announcement of the publishing date is imminent. This is a quiet, anxious time for me. My hopes are those who want to read it will buy it and enjoy it, perhaps even learn a bit from it, and finally i hope i don’t lose money on the effort and cost of publishing.

My original idea was pretty simple, looking back on when i started thinking about it just over forty years ago. i did want it to be the best it could be, which morphed the process into a business — it also has given me thoughts of writing a short information piece about how, or how not to write a book for folks who might be considering such a venture.

Now as i wait these final days before the book becomes available, i find my home projects, tasks, and even golf not quite as fulfilling as i expected. So, i turned to writing about a fictional place i have been writing about since i was in my last years of high school, three score or so years ago. Some of those stories have been in these posts. i’m not sure if they will ever be published otherwise. That’s okay. i’m writing them for me.

As i have previously indicated, the place, New Palestine, Tennessee is not a fictional version of my hometown. There are some characters and some locations from my home of Lebanon, Tennessee from which i drew as i wrote, but none of what is in the book should ever be compared to Lebanon, Tennessee.

Abner Moses, a retired boatswain warrant officer, is the narrator of most of these tales. i will write more about him when i turn to this little place again.  i like Abner.

Below is another short story in my collection about New Palestine. Even though i claim i’m writing just for me, i thought you might want to read it.

Put Out to Pasture

            Abner Moses sat on the stool at the diner’s counter, waiting for Ratliff to show up. Broadus Ratliff had called Erlene’s Diner to let Abner know Buckner Auto Parts had a big order to place, and he would be a bit late for coffee, their weekly Wednesday ritual. When Broadus finally arrived, Abner stood and shook his hand.

Abner asked Ratliff about the parts order from Buckner’s. After some more small talk, Abner began another tale. Broadus smiled. He enjoyed hearing Abner’s tales about New Palestine and the Navy. After some brief discussion, Abner began on another tale:

Walter Hill lived on a farm in the northwest corner of Jerome county. The farm was about a dozen miles from the New Palestine square and just a couple of miles east of the viaduct into Bertram county where that county was wet, not dry like Jerome county. Walter was raised on that farm, about 200 acres with cattle, milk cows, hogs, chickens, about two acres of garden, a couple of ponds out on the west side, a stand of walnut trees, and the farmhouse sitting about one hundred yards west from the two-lane gravel road running north south. Two wooden steps sinking a bit during Walter’s later years, led up to the front open air porch. A swing and a rocking chair adorned the porch. The side of the house had a larger square porch, screened-in so visitors might sleep, free from the flies and night critters, on the daybed with the duck feather mattress. The CCC built an outhouse in ’36 about twenty yards out back of the house near the barn. They used that outhouse up until the late ‘50’s when they attached a bathroom with plumbing to the back of the house.

Walter was born and raised there, milking the cows; feeding the cattle; planting, weeding the garden, and reaping the produce; slopping the hogs; tending to the winter slaughter of the choice steers, heifers, and hogs; cutting and bailing the hay before manhandling the bales up to the barn loft before they came up with those new-fangled machines that took a lot off the workload.

Walter was a big man, about six-three and swarthy. But he was nimble and was a hit with the women because he could dance well and never tired.

He was an only child, and his father died when Walter was eighteen. Walter took over running the farm and taking care of his mother until she passed when Walter was in his early 30’s. He met a pretty local girl named Flora at a church barn dance and got married right before his mother passed. Flora took over the house, cooking, canning, taking care of the chickens, gathering the eggs from the chicken coop, and cleaning the house.

The two of them just kept at it until Walter was in his mid-eighties. Oh, they had fun. They continued to go to barn dances and loved to hit the clubs alongside the liquor stores just over the bridge in Bertram county on Friday and Saturday nights. Walter made other trips over that viaduct to the liquor stores, being Jerome County and Nashville were the only places not dry, where you could get liquor during those days. He would get a case or two of Falstaff beer, a bottle of Jim Crow whiskey when they needed it, and nearly always a bottle or two of Gordon’s gin.

Walter was big, weighing well around 250 pounds and held his liquor pretty well. He kept one fifth of vodka behind the seat of his old GMC pickup, and when working around the farm, he would reach back, pull out the bottle, open the cap with his teeth, spit the cap into his seat between his legs and take a swig of the vodka. He’d put the bottle between his legs, grabbed the cap, screw it back on, and put the bottle behind the seat. He had been known to drink a whole fifth on a long workday.

He loved living on his farm. He never had any desire to live anywhere else. He didn’t listen to the news or watch it on the small, black-and-white television he bought Flora one Christmas back in the fifties. They watched the sitcoms, and Flora watched the news, but the only news Walter got was from Flora or the afternoon paper, the Nashville Clarion.

Walter and Flora never had any children. But as they got older, Flora’s niece Fiona and nephew Alvin were treated like grandchildren.  The children loved to come to the farm. Their folks, Flora’s younger brother Bud Wycliff and his wife Minnie felt it was good for the children. The six of them would often have picnics under the large oak in the front yard. As the children grew up, the children began to help around the farm. Alvin was a big help working with Walter tending to the cows and hogs and baling the hay.

As the years wore on, Alvin took on more and more work while Walter sat in the old truck and took more swigs on the vodka. When Alvin was a senior and accepted by Auburn to study agriculture, Bud called a family meeting at Walter’s farmhouse. He told Walter he was too old to work the farm and Alvin would no longer be available to help Walter. Bud said the couple should sell the old homestead and move to town. He added he had found a nice bungalow for them at a good price, and the profit from the exchange would allow them to live comfortably for the rest of their lives. Finally, he pointed out continuing to live on the farm would put an unfair burden on his sister Flora.

Everyone, except Walter, of course, agreed. The only one who mattered to Walter was Flora. He knew Bud was right. When Flora quietly nodded her head in agreement, Walter lowered his own head and mumbled “All right, let’s do it if that is what Flora wants.”

The deal was quickly done and the move to town was made. One of the new purchases was a color television. Walter was not comfortable with going into town or doing the menial tasks around the house. Flora attempted to coax him into visiting with Bud and Minnie and others in the town, but Walter just wasn’t into it. He settled into the large recliner in front of the television and watched from after breakfast until after dinner. He still wouldn’t watch the news. When it came on, he would lie down and go to sleep on the old porch daybed that was now by the window in the front room. Initially, he called it a nap, but as the trips to the daybed became more and more frequent and lasted longer, he would just rise from the recliner and slowly move to the daybed announcing he was tired.

Flora and Bud tried to get Walter to get up and walk, but now Walter was only getting up for meals. When he refused to go to the doctor, they convinced the doctor to come to the bungalow. As much as he could check with limited resources, the doctor could find nothing really alarming with Walter other than Walter’s weight was now over 300 pounds.

After the doctor and Bud left, Walter asked Flora to come over to the daybed. She leaned over to hear him better.

“Flora, I am the farm. I belong on the farm,” he explained, “I don’t think I’m going to last much longer. Would you get Bud to ask the new owners if they would let me buried next to Mom and Dad?

“Their graves are out by that northwest pasture beside the pond Dad stocked with crappie and used to fish. Alvin knows where it is.”

“I know, darling,” Flora responded, “But don’t you talk like that. I can’t have you leave me.

“Now you get a good night’s sleep, and we will talk tomorrow,” she said as she leaned over, kissed him on the forehead, and patted his hand.

Nodding, Walter mumbled, “I love you. I wish we were on the farm.”

Walter Hill died in his sleep that night. They buried him on the farm. They put him out to pasture.

Flora lived for another dozen years. When she died, they buried her beside Walter.

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