The temperature was an even fifty degrees and the snow and ice from an especially brutal winter were but a distant memory. The air had a certain quality to it, clear and crisp and fresh, ripe even, such that it felt something like October. The mosquitoes, though no doubt anxious to get started, were still huddled away, held off by the lingering chill. Stars of all varieties were clear and close and bright. I gazed at the incomprehensible, wondrous jumble and jotted a reminder in my mental “someday” notebook: take astronomy course.
But I was surprised to see the barn lights still burning. The boys were late in getting through nighttime chores.
I had been out at a meeting, dressed in my very best pinstripe suit and Italian leather loafers, the kind of outfit that would look as out of place in a barn stall as would Lady Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham. So I went inside to shed the vice presidential, changed into coveralls, and, like so many farmers before, hustled outside to see what was keeping the boys.
I found them bottle feeding goat kids and chucking hay down from the hayloft. As the bales dropped they made big, satisfying thumps on the ancient barn floor, forty lbs. at a time. A year ago the boys could barely move them, dragging the bales around awkwardly like a suitcase too wide for the aisle on a regional jet. Now they were slinging them like pancakes. There hadn’t been any formalized regimen or personal trainers or special diets. The gains were attributed only to the rhythm of old-fashioned hard work, the taste of grass-fed protein, and the special comfort of well-earned sleep.
As preteen boys are wont to do, they told me that they had lost track of time. So I joined them in feeding and watering out the rest of the flocks. It was almost 10 p.m. and well past bedtime for most.
While they put away the sheep I refreshed a pail of water for our buck, the recent proud sire of eight goat kids. There aren’t many fathers around here. The barnyard is almost exclusively populated by mothers, future mothers, and young boys destined for an eventual slot in the freezer. I tipped my cap knowingly at the buck and we both acknowledged our very slim, fecund set of similarities before he bent down to slurp at the fresh water.
There was quiet activity everywhere. The steers were out on a late-night pasture run, soaking up the last of the comfortable evenings, before the stifling heat and dreaded flies come in oppressive quantities. The barn cats stealthily maneuvered into their favorite hunting blinds. The remote, lonely groan of an eighteen wheeler plodded the long miles on the distant state highway. Spring peepers called for love in the cattails.
As we finished and walked out of the barn, just like so many farmers before, I snatched a basketball and by the shadowy light of a waxing crescent moon and a million constellations, took two quick dribbles on the sloping concrete slab, rose up in my size 16 Muck boots, and lofted an eighteen-foot jumper up to the trusty barnside hoop. Had I swished it I might have quit right there, but the ball clanged unceremoniously off the rim, caromed toward the tongue of the John Deere 24t baler sticking out from underneath the barn along the right baseline, and clattered loudly off a galvanized cattle gate.
On a recent foray into the city Alison had asked me to look out for a good pair of size 14 shoes for our 14-year-old boy. The sheer size alarmed me and triggered a torrent of thoughts.
These guys are growing like weeds. And, more importantly: I need to start teaching these guys some post-up moves.
So, like so many farmers before, under the watchful gaze of the barnyard animals, I gave the boys a little post-chore tutorial on the back-to-the-basket game. I explained that while both unskilled tailors and broader society might vilify their collective existence, an abnormally wide butt can in fact be a supernal blessing on the basketball court. I taught them about leverage, the proper use of elbows, and the importance of shielding the ball with your body. I showed them how to take a defender’s bounce away by taking the spin move through his chest, and how to fake one way with both eyes and dribble even while drop-stepping the other leg to the hoop. I told them that if you wear a size 18 sneaker and are in possession of both a huge rear end and a devastating drop-step move you’ll never go hungry.
After working up a sweat, we went inside and, like so many farmers before, indulged in a late-night refrigerator raid. We took the food into the next room and fired up a Youtube video entitled “KILLER Drop Step!!!” by a guy known only as “Coach Tom.”
But halfway through the video we heard a familiar call echoing down the stairwell. It was Alison firmly reminding us that it was very late and that we had all better get to bed.
And like so many farmers before, we did exactly as Mama said.