This story is by Gary Little and won an honorable mention in our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Gary has been stringing letters into words for seven decades: from sermons, for a very short time, to forty years of writing low-level system software for computers, to finally writing what he wants to write. Widowed and living in Las Vegas, Gary manages to knock out short stories and irreverent gedankens on an irregular schedule.
On a gorgeous day, the old man and his grandson rode side by side on the buckboard. Blue skies, white puffy clouds chased by a light wind, and songbirds provided a lovely chorus in the background. Ol’ Dobbin had his head low as Grampa gently clucked and encouraged him along a well-known trail.
Near the top of a low ridge sat a shed used by the old man for years to sell the produce from his truck garden to travelers on the road to Easton, going one way, or those on the road to Weston, going the t’other.
Grampa eased Dobbin to a halt behind the shed and gave the reins a turn around a pommel. Stepping down from the buggy, he pulled a red bandana from a hip pocket, doffed his hat, wiped his brow, wiped the inside brim of his hat, plopped his hat back on his balding noggin, looked at the sky, and said, “Gonna be a beautiful day, Billy.”
Billy had mirrored his grandfather in every move, ending with, “Yes sir, gonna be a beautiful day, Grampa.”
“Take care of Dobbin while I unload the tubs.”
Each had his task to get ready for the day’s business. Billy unhitched Dobbin and led him to a small corral built in the shade of the old oak that grew near the top of the ridge. He patted down the old horse and ensured he had water from the well behind the stand and a handful or two of oats.
Grampa unloaded the tubs and sat them on the rickety old table beneath the shed and drew two pails of water from the well behind the shed for customers with teams of horses. Billy helped set up the fruits and vegetables in a pleasing display and then stepped back with Grampa to admire their efforts. There followed the doff the hat and wipe the brow routine, ending with, “I think that’ll do,” echoed from both.
Billy ran back to the buggy, grabbed the picnic basket and the jug of lemonade, and ran back to the shed. He tried to run, but the basket and jug were bigger than Billy.
Grampa grabbed the jug and set it between the two rickety old chairs that sat behind the table.
Each had a piece of Gramma’s fried chicken, a biscuit made fresh that morning, a glass of cool lemonade, and eyed the road for signs of their first customers. They were working on one of Gramma’s fried apple pies when old Mother Simms showed up with her basket on her arm.
“You got any good ‘maters today, Ed?”
“Gott’m right here, Mrs. Simms,” Grampa said, showing her to one side of the table.
She picked, hemmed, and hawed, and mumbled, “Terrible. I never saw the like. Bug bitten.” She continued that for some time and settled on two big red tomatoes. “You gonna charge me full price for these? They’ll have to set on the sill fer a week.”
“Just two bits for both,” Grampa said.
“Highway robbery. Two bits for green ‘maters,” Mother Simms mumbled, fumbling in her coin purse for change. “That’s all I got,” she said, slamming down two dimes.
“That’ll do fine. Anything else?”
Mother Simms grabbed the tomatoes and placed them in her basket and said, “Nothin’ else fit to eat,” and she shuffled off on her way, mumbling all the time about the rotten state of those vegetables.
“But Grampa, Gramma said to get fifteen cents for one ‘mater,” Billy said after Mother Simms was gone.
“Yes, she did, but we got twenty cents, and Mother Simms got two fine ‘maters.”
“But Grampa …”
“Shush, boy,” Grampa tousled Billy’s hair, “them that have can find joy in givin’ to them that don’t. We got a dime’s worth of happy for givin’, and Mother Simms got a dime’s worth of ‘maters she couldn’t afford. I think we broke even.”
Mother Simms was barely gone when a family with a wagon loaded to the gunnels, pulled by two flea-bitten nags, pulled up to the stand.
“Mornin’,” Grampa said.
“Mornin’,” said the man with the reins. “Know anythin’ ‘bout the town up yonder,” the man asked, stepping down from the wagon and inspecting a wheel.
“Just a bit.”
Grampa eyed the wagon and saw a tow-head boy peeking around his Ma. Behind the wagon seat, he could see an older boy and a sister sitting on furniture in the wagon.
“What kinda folk live in that town,” the man asked, pointing towards Easton.
“What kinda folk in the town you come from,” Grampa asked.
“Nothin’ but low life thievin’ and connivin’, white trash. That’s the folk in the town we come from. How much for the apples?”
“Four bits a half dozen. Folks in the town up ahead are the same as the town you just left.”
“Great. Jump from the fryin’ pan into the fire,” the man mumbled. “How much fer one apple?”
“Four bits a half dozen.”
“Give ya a dime fer one.”
“Four bits a half dozen. They be bagged. Rather not break’m up.”
“Humpf,” the man grunted, climbed back to the seat, grabbed the reins, slapped
them across the boney backs of his nags, and was reaching for the whip when the wagon jerked, and they began rolling down the ridge towards Easton.
“Grampa,” Billy said after the wagon moved out of earshot.
“Yeah,” Grampa mumbled, trying to get a foul taste out of his mouth.
“The folks in Easton ain’t like that.”
“I know. But that man will find what he wants, no matter what’s ahead. How ‘bout some more lemonade?”
They settled back in their chairs, swattin’ flies and discussin’ the price of tea in China. That’s what Grampa called talking ’bout nothin’ much. Billy added his six-year-old thoughts on the price of tea, and Grampa hemmed and hawed and said, “That’s right.”
The sun was heading for setting, and Grampa thought of loading up the buckboard when he saw another wagon coming their way from Easton. It pulled to a stop in front of the stand, the horses snorting and shaking their heads. Two boys jumped down and began taking care of them while Billy grabbed a bucket of water Grampa had pulled from the well and sat inside the shed. “Not too cool,” Grampa had told Billy. “Don’t wanna give’m the gripes.”
The mother, who all the youngins called Ma, and two girls began inspecting the vegetables and sounded quite pleased with what they saw. The man finished checking the tie-downs and the wagon in general, and walked to the stand wiping his brow with a red bandana, then the brim of his hat, and plopped the hat onto his head. Everyone got a dipper of water from the well, and the horses got an apple from the bag of apples Ma bought.
“Fine pair you got there,” Grampa said, nodding to the team.
“Chester and Harvey. Best deal I ever made. We take care of them, and they take care of us.”
“Way it should be.”
The man stood, fists on hips, looking towards Weston and asked, “What’s the folk like in the town yonder?”
“What they like where you’re from,” Grampa asked.
“Fine people,” the man said. “Give you the shirt off their back. Proud to have known them.”
“Weston is the same,” Grampa answered the man’s question.
The family climbed back onto the wagon, the bags of produce were handed up and stowed, and mother and daughter settled into their seats. The man grabbed the reins, clucked to Chester, and the wagon heaved and began to roll. The two boys walked outrider as the wagon rolled down the ridge towards Weston.
Grampa and Billy watched them go and waved when the family waved to them.
They heard Ma singing “Jimmie cracked corn …” when Grampa turned and looked at Billy.
“You’ve had questions or comments on everyone we seen today. So … nothin’ to say?”
“Nah, sir. I think I unnerstand. Happy depends on them that live it. If ya ain’t happy where yer at, you ain’t gonna find happy anywheres.”
“Ya got that right,” Grampa said, holding Billy’s shoulder and hugging him.