Saturday, September 12, 2009

Choice and Chance and What Is Meant To Be

It still surprises me that people who have known me for, let’s say, less than 30 years, all seem to assume that I grew up on the farm, that my ability to identify coffee weed appeared along with my baby teeth, that the first motorized vehicle I drove was a tractor and that I know how to birth baby pigs. The truth is that I was a reluctant transplant to Adabelle, 17 years old and counting down the days before I left for college.

In those eight months and in the holidays over the next seven years, however, I managed to obtain an accelerated education. I learned to chase runaway cows and move pigs from one pen to another. I learned what a soybean was and made a reasonable effort to understand something called soybean futures. I climbed grain bins, rode tractors, experienced something akin to quicksand by playing in a trailer of just-combined corn. I watched the skies and prayed for rain.

None of those things are remarkable anymore. They are a part of the rhythm of my days.

The other day I was in the backyard making a new flower bed, pulling out long white fingers of grass roots from the dry gray dirt, and looked up toward the road at an unusually loud truck rattle. Daddy was pulling the corn auger from the shed up to the grain bin.The auger is tall and skinny and looks like a praying mantis made of sheet metal. One end goes into the grain bin and another into the truck holding shelled corn. In one of those amazing feats of mechanical engineering that I don’t understand, the auger twirls ‘round and ‘round and draws the corn up its narrow neck and into the bin. Sure beats shoveling.

I stopped my digging long enough to watch the slow procession – Daddy with his elbow hanging out the open truck window getting him closer to the rear-view mirror to make sure that the auger did not veer off into the adjacent fields – and remembered hearing for the first time, during that first overwhelming summer, somebody mention an auger.

My thoughts – the thoughts of the bookish literary-minded girl I was – had gone immediately to "Julius Caesar" and the warning of the priests whose auguring ( "Plucking the entrails of an offering forth, They could not find a heart within the beast.") convinced them that Caesar should avoid the Senate on that day. Different word, different spelling, but my only frame of reference.

Thirty-five years later, my own hands plunged deep into dirt, not animal entrails, I found myself laughing at possible confusion between the two words, the idea that an auger could foretell the future, that the waterfall of bright gold kernels splashing into a grain bin could divine tomorrow, that the cloud of corn pollen that rises and falls in a fine layer on grass and sleeves and eyelashes is some sort of pixie dust.

But, of course, it can. Of course, it is. Just as an auger curls its way up into the sky, so Daddy’s choice to bring us all here, to the dirt road and the scrub oaks and the wide open sky, curled its way into our thinking, bore into our definition of what is good and right, twirled itself so tightly into our vision of how things should be that it – after a while – seemed no longer a choice, but destiny.

We like choice. We like to think that we have control. We like moving down the line at the sandwich shop and telling the disinterested young man in the corporate-logo’ed shirt that we’d like lettuce, tomato, no onions, just a few cucumbers and light mayo on one of 50-something possible combinations of meat and bread.

And that is a comfort. But it is also a comfort to sit in the sun on a clear September day and hear the wind chimes sing in the breeze through the chinaberry tree and be glad, be oh so very glad, that some things are just meant to be.

Copyright 2009

1 comment:

LYNN NASH said...

I can hear it. I can see Johnny Bradley's suntanned arm (moreso on the left than on the right). Because you write it using all of your senses, I can read it using all of mine.