Annie was waiting on the tiny platform as the train pulled into the depot.
“Whitfield Crossing! WHIT-FIELD CROS-SING!” called the conductor. Just me and two others getting out here, the rest had one more stop to go.
I put down my bags and hugged my sister. “Good trip?” she asked, trying to gauge what kind of mood I was in, the way she does. “Was fine. Annie, I’m here to help.”
“I know.” She was nervous.
It had been three and a half years since I’d been back to the farm. It was just before I came to Winterfell. I stopped in then to help Uncle Manuel with some farm business. Uncle had always consulted his brothers on important matters involving the family farm though he really wasn’t required to do so. He had run the day to day operation since his father died. Since my parents died he had included me, as the oldest, in the discussions about major decisions on the farm.
On that last trip we hired a new foreman – forewoman, actually – to run the farm as Uncle Manuel’s doctor had told him it was time to slow down. But Uncle still ran the business side of it. Now that time was coming to an end as well.
“It tires him out. It’s not good. Too much stress. His doctor says he still has several more good years ahead if he just takes it easy.” I nodded as Annie spoke. “He still gets up on the new tractor about every third week. He keeps up with the technology. He loves that tractor. It’s hard to get mad at him when he’s riding it, he’s having so much fun.” Annie shook her head and laughed.
My cousin Robbie, Manuel’s son, had told me the same things Annie was saying now, so I came here knowing what to expect. What was about to happen was monumental in a family’s history. A farm was about to be transferred from one generation to the next.
Annie drove the red pick-up with the white lettering on the door that said WHITFIELD FARMS. It was a short ride on Route 22 East from the train depot, past the cornfields to Route 7 South to the old green and white farmhouse.
As we walked up to the door, Grace appeared. “Welcome home, Ambassador.” “Thank you, Grace. Nice to finally meet you.” We hugged. My Uncle had been widowed for some years and since my last visit, Grace had come into his life. She was younger by about fifteen years. She owns a farm supply store with her sister and lives nearby. Annie’s letters speak highly of her.
Quietly I asked Grace, “How’s he doing?” nodding toward the living room where I expected Uncle Manuel to be waiting.
“Oh, you know Manny,” she said smiling. I smiled too as no one calls him that. No one. I looked at Annie and she was smiling at my reaction. Grace continued, “He is all-business when it’s about the farm but he is his usual pleasant and helpful self otherwise. You’d never know about the pain. But at the end of the day when he takes his shoes off and loosens his tie, he is completely exhausted. He is too tired for any fun. He really needs to have some good fun.”
There was an awkward pause and then Annie started giggling. I smiled. Grace turned slightly red. “Oh! You know what I mean! He needs to get out of the house. Go places. Do something that’s not about business. Fun things.” She looked at us and smiled. “Oh, you two.” We all chuckled.
“Welcome home, nephew!” The baritone voice was thinner than when last I heard it but as warm as ever. A handshake then a hug and in a few moments we are sitting in the big old red chairs around the fireplace as cigars are lit and coffee is poured and Uncle Manuel is leading a lively conversation. We hopscotch from one topic to another: my trip, the train depot, corn prices, the weather, Grace’s apricot pie, the new tractor, and a local political scandal.
Now it was time to talk about business. Farm business. The ladies excused themselves. I poured more coffee for the two of us as Uncle Manuel shared his thinking on the future operation of Whitfield Farms. His son, Robertson, would handle the agricultural decision-making and planning while my brother Levon would be responsible for the business end of things. I would take care of marketing and act as spokesman. “Robbie knows farming and the farm business, Levon knows how to run a business, and you are a leader,” Uncle Manuel said, “so you will replace me as president of the corporation.”
Okay, remember earlier when I said I knew what to expect? Scratch that.
I figured Robbie would become president and run whole the operation. I knew Levon and I would be asked to handle some duties within our areas of interest but I never thought…
This is one of those matters that doesn’t involve much discussion or negotiation. This is the family business and if you are asked to take on a role, you accept it. So I did, of course. But first I asked how Robbie felt about all this as I was concerned I was stepping on my cousins’ toes. Uncle Manuel explained that the international and inter-century nature of Whitfield Farms’ business requires Robertson to travel to other time periods often. He can’t be here enough to do the things the head of a company needs to do. When he is here, he’ll be busy working on our ag issues and strategy, not public relations. Made sense.
So I will be needed here. Often. Uncle Manuel knows Winterfell is my home and that I have responsibilities there and elsewhere but he’s asking me to make a second home here.
There will be an awful lot to juggle. Winterfell and Devokan and my writing and gridhopping and now the farm….but I will have to make the time.
It’s going to take some getting used to, being here on the farm again, going into town, learning what’s changed around the area. I’ll bet there have been an awful lot of changes.
I haven’t lived here for nearly a hundred-fifty years.