I thought I’d share some extra fiction today, beyond the story I’ve been working on with “A Story to Tell,” even though it isn’t Fiction Friday. This is the beginning of another novel in process, The Farmer’s Daughter. This is the story of Molly Tanner, who thought that by now she’d be living away from her family with a career of her own, but instead is still living on her parent’s dairy farm in rural Pennsylvania. Now 26 she begins to wonder what the future will hold for a girl whose whole life has been working on her family farm and selling produce at her family’s farm store.
Molly Tanner spoke through gritted teeth. “You want a fight? You’ve got one.”
She grabbed the harness of the usually docile Jersey, jerking hard to pull the cow forward. The cow stretched her neck, looking bored while she chewed her cud, ignoring Molly’s efforts to lead her the 100 yards from the pasture to the barn, her feet firmly planted in the mud.
Molly pulled harder and gasped as the rope slipped out of her hands and she fell backward into the mud and manure.
Up at the barn Molly’s brother, Jason, and the hired hand, Alex Stone, were watching her. Her brother was holding a bucket of feed for the pigs and Alex was leaning against the doorframe of the barn door, chewing on a piece of sweet grass.
“What do you think she’s doing down there?” Alex asked, arms folded across his chest.
“Looks like she’s arguing with Lilly-belle again,” Jason said.
“Should we help her?” Alex asked.
“Probably,” Jason said.
Neither man moved to help. Instead, Jason poured the grain mixture into the feeding bin in the pig’s pen and Alex tossed the chewed grass at the ground and hooked his thumbs in his belt loops, still watching Molly.
Sitting there on her butt in cow poop, rain falling on her, Molly thought how this moment represented where her life had ended up since she’d graduated high school eight years ago.
She was still living on her parents’ farm in rural Pennsylvania, still sleeping in her old room, her mom still cooking her meals and washing her clothes. Molly thought by now she’d be out on her own, with her own career, her own life. As it was, she didn’t even know what career she’d have outside of farming. Working on a farm was all she’d ever known and all she’d ever wanted – at least until recently when she’d started to wonder what else the world might offer a 26-year old with no degree and little knowledge of the world other than how to milk a cow and sell produce at her parent’s small farm store.
“Listen here, girl, it’s time to get in that barn,” Molly said, pushing herself off the ground, lecturing Lily-belle. “I’m tired. It’s been a long day of milking and cleaning out all that poop you and your friends make. And I’m not done yet. I still have to help Mom bake cakes for the church rummage sale next week. You know how much I hate that bake sale, so come on, give me a break, okay?”
Molly looked into the deep brown eyes of the cow and realized how pathetic she must look standing shin-deep in mud, covered in cow manure, talking to a cow as if the cow could understand her. Her life really was swirling down the proverbial toilet.
“Good grief, she’s a mess,” Jason said from the barn, shaking his head. “You’d better go rescue her.”
“Hey!” Alex shouted. “What’s going on down there? We’re ready to start the milking!”
Alex’s voice booming across the cow pasture brought a curse word to Molly’s lips, which she immediately felt guilty about.
“If you’re so impatient then you get this stubborn cow moving!” she shouted, tugging hard at the harness again.
Molly heard the sound of boots thumping heavy in the mud behind her and watched in disbelief as Alex reached over her shoulder, took the harness from her hands and Lily-belle moved forward with him.
“Are you kidding me?!” Molly shouted. “I’ve been trying to get her to move for 20 minutes! What did you do differently?”
Alex looked over his shoulder and smirked as the cow followed him
“I guess the ladies just like me.”
“You wish,” Molly grumbled loud enough for him to hear.
“Molly, why don’t you just head in and get cleaned off,” Robert Tanner said to his daughter as she stumbled through the barn doorway. “You can start helping your mom with those cakes. Alex, Jason and I can finish up the milking.”
“I’ll take you up on that offer,” Molly said. “Maybe I can even manage a shower before bed for once.”
“That would definitely be a good thing,” Jason said with a look of disgust. “You smell like the pigs.”
Molly shot a glare at her brother and turned to walk back toward the house.
“And you smell like the gas that comes out of their behinds!” she shouted over her shoulder.
“Always have to have the last word, don’t you?” Jason shouted back.
“Whatever back at you!”
“Okay, that’s enough,” Robert said. “I’ll have the last word.”
Molly watched the sun slipping behind the hills that hugged the Tanner’s 250-acre farm as she walked. The sunset, a mix of orange with a streak of pink, made the fields of the farm look almost mystical. She knew she’d never get sick of this view, of these sunsets at the end of a long day. She walked into the chicken coop to look for eggs she knew her mom would need for the cakes.
The last few years had definitely been a challenge for the Tanner family. They had watched their once strong patriarch, Robert’s father, Ned, fade away, trapped in a mind riddled with dementia. Around the same time Ned’s dementia had progressed, the family farm had plunged toward bankruptcy, as two years of heavy rain and flooding killed the corn and hay crops, leaving the family with little feed for their cattle.
Robert and his brother Walt’s decision to increase the farm’s organic produce inventory had helped save the business, but only barely. Now the family joined other farmers in the area in another crisis – a surplus of milk and decline in demand.
“I swear, if one more person tells me they drink almond milk I’ll scream,” Jason said one day, climbing down from the tractor and slamming the door closed. “It’s not milk. You can’t milk an almond. Milk comes from mammals. It’s false advertising. They should call it almond juice. Plus, who knows what’s in that stuff – it isn’t only almonds, that’s for sure.”
Walking back toward the house, trying to wipe dirt from her face, but instead only wiping more onto it, Molly paused again to look out the fields of the farm. The green of the corn was starting to peek up from the soil and soon they’d be harvesting it, if the rain would ever stop. It would be the third year of harvesting without her grandfather, the first since he’d passed away from heart failure at the end of last summer.
“Are you going to stand there all day or are you going to bring those eggs into the house?”
Her mom’s voice and laughter startled her and she turned away from the sunset.
“Sorry,” Molly said. “I was just admiring the sunset.”
“I know it’s beautiful,” Annie Tanner said. “But I need to get those cakes started. A sunset will wait. Mavis Porter won’t.”
Annie looked at her daughter and sniffed. “What were you doing out there? Rolling in the manure? Head upstairs and get a shower before we start on these cakes.”
Molly inwardly cringed at the mention of Mavis, the woman who had overseen the Spencer Valley Methodist Church rummage sale for 20-years straight. Mavis had a knack for making anyone feel less than, her thin face pursed into a permanent look of disapproval. Molly hoped she wouldn’t be roped into manning the baked goods table again this year. Mavis seemed to think it was ironic to have the fat girl guarding the cakes and cookies at the annual rummage sale.
“I can’t believe there are any cakes left,” a middle school-aged boy said one year, looking Molly up and down from across the church basement while his friends laughed.
“There were probably even more before she came in,” another boy said, as they all snickered.
She pretended she didn’t hear them as she counted the change in the money box.
Molly wasn’t proud of the weight she’d gained over the years, but no matter what she did she couldn’t seem to get back down to her high school weight of 118. She missed when she was in junior high school, thin and limber and not the butt of little boy’s jokes.
With long brown hair that curled when wet and plenty of curves, she possessed a clearly feminine shape. She was not what some might call grotesquely obese. Still, she wasn’t happy with the extra cushion to her belly, backside, and thighs she’d developed in high school. She wished she’d never heard the term “saddlebags” beyond what was hooked to the actual saddle of a horse. Drying off in front of the bathroom mirror she kept her eyes downcast, hoping to avoid a full view of what her body had become over the years.
Three cakes were baked and cooling on the dining room table when Molly heard her father’s truck pulling into the driveway of the house.
Her father’s red Ford needed to be replaced. The old truck was Robert Tanner’s pride and joy and a gift from his father when Robert had taken over the farm. Annie kept urging him to invest in a new one, but each time she did he responded with: “It gets me where I need to go and when it won’t no more then I’ll get a new one.”
Molly watched as her dad climbed out of the driver side, more gingerly than he had even a year ago. He’d been up since 4 a.m. to oversee the milking of the cows, the shoveling of the manure, the preparations to mow the field and she knew the last few years had been as physically rough on her dad as it had been emotionally.
Alex slid out of the passenger side easily and walked toward the house. He wore the same style of faded blue jeans and brown work boots he did every day. A white t-shirt was dirt-stained under a blue button-up, shirt sleeve plaid shirt. Molly couldn’t deny Alex’s rugged good looks quickened her pulse at times, but he was six years older than her, obnoxious and preferred the bar when she preferred solitude with her journal.
“Are you coming to dinner tonight, Alex?” Annie asked from the doorway.
“I don’t like to intrude and I smell like – ..”
Annie interrupted before he could finish.
“Jason is visiting Elsie tonight so there is already an extra place at the table for you,” she said. “Wash up and head on in. I’m dipping it up now.”
“Good day in the fields?” Molly asked after the prayers had been said and the food was on the plates.
“The John Deere finally broke down,” Robert said, breaking a piece off a chicken breast.
“Will John come and look at it?” Annie asked.
Alex and I can take care of it in the morning after milking,” Robert said nodding toward Alex. “It will make a late start, but I hate to spend the money if I know we can fix it here.”
Alex grinned. “Robert forgets I’m not good with the tractors, just the trucks,” he said. “But I’ll see what I can do.”
“I have faith in both of you,” Annie said with a smile.
Quiet settled over the dining room. The clanking of forks against plates was soon the only sound. Molly felt the tension in the air like someone wanted to say something but didn’t know how to. Her dad cleared his throat and she felt apprehension curl in her stomach.
“We got a letter from the co-op today,” he said.
“How bad are the numbers?” Annie asked and spooned more potatoes on Alex’s plate.
“Worse I’ve seen in five years,” Robert was somber. “It’s going to hurt a lot of farmers. Even with the organic market, I think it may even hurt us. There were also more farms that went out of business this year.”
Molly felt sick at the thought of even more of their friends being forced to sell their farms. She had attended too many auctions last year, hugged too many farmers wives, watched too many farm families weep as their lives were sold to the highest bidder.
“I don’t understand how the buyers can keep getting away with his,” Annie said, shaking her head. “It’s like the harder we all work, the more we get punished. We make the milk, they raise the prices and barely pass anything on to us.”
Molly pushed her potatoes around her plate as silence settled over the small group.
“We just have to give this over to God,” Robert said softly. “It’s all I know how to do anymore. Keep plugging ahead somehow and pray God shows us which direction to take. We’ve got the store, we are offering organic meats and products, something many people seem interested in now. It’s all we can do.”
The family and Alex nodded but they all felt the dread and the worry, like a sojourner without a compass.
Robert Tanner had been working on his family’s farm for more than 50 years and in the last 10 years, the farm had expanded to include farmland once owned by neighbors who had sold family businesses after the decline in milk prices had devastated them financially. Robert and his father Ned had offered area farmer’s a fair price and in some cases had even given them jobs in Tanner Enterprises. The farmers were able to keep their homes and remain in the area, if they wanted to, with the Tanners taking over their planting, harvesting, and milking.
Robert was proud of how he and his brother Walter had been able to grow the family business his grandfather had started almost 100 years ago, but he was also tired. It hadn’t been easy to keep a small farm, let alone a big one, operating in the black and it was getting harder each year. Diversifying what the farm produced and adding a farm store had increased profits enough to keep food on his, and his employees’, tables, but there were some days Robert wondered when the other shoe was going to drop and his dream of being a farmer would die.
Looking for other fiction? Catch up on my novel in progress: ‘A Story to Tell’ Here.
I’m also working on a Biblical novella, which you can find excerpts of here or at the link above under Fully Alive