Farmers meeting

Voices in a restaurant.

It was a long drive to Handsome for a meal. The few farmers left (and not including the ones with money) gathered in the Clatchy two or three times a year to talk. The conversation was often as bitter as the coffee.

Some chose to bring their wives, most didn’t. It was a social time, I suppose, for the men to get together and complain about their imminent extinction. After a flurry of handshakes and fare-they-well grins, tables were brought together, the “Closed” sign flipped over, and the coffee was poured. These men had little money, but they laid down their coins for bowls of homemade soup and thin slices of pie.

If the men wore ties, they were faded and stained with greasy fingerprints and neck sweat. The ties were quickly removed, folded, and tucked away in pockets, or wives’ purses. Cow shit had been scraped from boots, shirts stiffly pressed, handkerchiefs rolled up like biscuits. The five cent cigars were passed around, and the talking began, usually regarding the weather or grain subsidies. Weather was always the primer. About that, they could do nothing. About the subsidies, they could still do nothing, but the conversation became livelier, more hostile.

And the wives – three or four of us – would sit at a separate table and feign interest in the talk, or neatly construct a conversation of our own: quilting patterns, domestic duties, children, radio programs, the overall spilling of our lives into each day. We knew it wasn’t quite as important as the work our men did. There was a substandardness we all recognized in ourselves. But a smile and a pat on the hand was meant to make it feel better. We were worthwhile and relevant, though those words were rarely said out loud, and if they were, it was with little conviction. Our smiles were glued on and covered with pale shades of lipstick. A tremor or a twitch was a sign of weakness, so facial expressions were limited. A raised eyebrow really meant, “what is this shit we’re shovelling, because it ain’t helping the crops.” Of course, we never said such a thing.

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