Mrs. Edwards and Claire Bell had insisted that there be a reception at the Taylors after the burial. Ethan knew it was a tradition, but thought since the only family left were the three teens, no-one would expect it. Neighbors proved otherwise when they started bringing in food Friday and by the time of the burial, there was enough to feed an army. A few neighbors joined Mrs. Edwards and Claire Bell who made sure the food and drink tables were kept full for the many who came by to pay their respects, swap stories and visit with neighbors.
Sally Ann, Jamie and Ethan stood in the living room, greeting people. Ethan was very surprised when he saw Scotty come in the door—surprised and delighted. Scotty was dressed in a navy blazer, gray pants, white shirt and striped tie as was Ethan. Damn, he was hot. He spoke to Sally Ann and Jamie and when he reached Ethan, he shook hands with him and said, “I’m sorry, Ethan.” Ethan finally let loose the emotions he had been holding inside and tears started streaming down his face. Scotty was still holding his hand and he pulled the weeping Ethan into a tight hug. Ethan continued weeping, his head on Scotty’s shoulder. Scotty held him close, stroking his back. When Ethan got control of himself, he smiled at Scotty and said, “Thanks, thanks very much.”
Scotty smiled back at him and said, “Ethan, you are welcome, very welcome.”
“Tuesday at 1:15 at Piggly Wiggly?”
“I’ll be there,” Scotty said, a huge smile on his face. Ethan smiled in return.
Monday morning, Ethan was getting ready to leave the house for the plantation office when the phone rang. Jamie answered it and said Mrs. Edwards wanted to speak to Sally Ann. She had just hung up the phone when it rang again, this time it was Randy asking for him. The third time, of course, it was Mr. Davis asking Ethan to meet him in his office at the plantation house.
The three piled in the truck, Jamie in the driver’s seat, and headed toward the plantation house. Jamie dropped Ethan and Sally Ann off and drove to the cattle office where he was to meet Randy.
Arkadelphia’s plantation house looked nothing like what most folks would imagine. There was nothing Gone with the Wind about it. It was a large, two story, white frame house built just before WWII. It had a full porch across the front and a full screened one across the back. Davis’ office was in a wing on one side added in the ’fifties. It opened onto the back porch.
When the two reached the house, Sally Ann knocked and went in to the kitchen; Ethan to Mr. Davis’ office.
After they spoke, Davis said, “Well, Mr. Taylor, I think it’s time you began learning the care and nurture of Carya illinoinensis, to witpecans. Unlike what some people think,” Davis looked over his glasses at Ethan, and grinned, “pecan trees don’t just stand there growing money. Let’s have a look.” With that, he pulled on his hat and they drove to an old grove. As they approached it, Davis said, “By the way, Amos Sawyer called last night. He doesn’t know it, but I heard a friend of his father really talking about how Amos has run through what he inherited and needs money badly. I realized that’s why he called, not, as he said, to tell me he’d be down later this week and we might talk. I kinda hinted I might be reconsidering buying the property and he definitely got antsy.
“I can find a manager and you can be bookkeeper and scheduler for the whole plantation. If you are interested, then we’ll start establishing a permanent crew again. Now we depend on picking up workers when we need them which, of course, is when everyone needs them. Especially if I purchase the Sawyer place, I’ll renovate the plantation house there for Randy and the smaller houses here and there for permanent workers.”
“See you have a plan, Mr. Edwards.”
“Well, Jeff and I had a long conversation last night and he, again, made it abundantly clear he is not interested in cattle, pecans or south Georgia. When I die, he’d sell the place in a heartbeat but, to be honest, he’d like to see Arkadelphia continue so long as he doesn’t have to deal with it. Since I’m older than my daddy was when he dropped dead and was at the funeral of a man young enough to be a son last week, I’ve been thinking about that.”
Ethan thought, ‘He is offering Randy and me the place he thought Jeff would fill.’
Monday night, Scotty called. “How’re they hanging, Ethan?” he asked.
“In this weather, low,” Ethan laughed. “Man, I am glad for air conditioning! We never had it before.”
“How’d you stand it?
“There were no other options,” Ethan laughed. “How you doing?”
“Okay. Even with air conditioning this weather gets to me. It’s like living in a steam bath. Maybe we should go to the river after class tomorrow.”
“You forget. I’m a working man.”
“Of course not.” The idea of swimming with Scotty excited Ethan and started the wheels in his head spinning. “I do need to do some catching up, maybe an hour’s worth after I get back. Could work until five or half past, then go swimming, but if we went the river, we’d just have to turn around and come right back. We could go in one of the irrigation ponds, there’s one I love fed by a small spring. Water’s clear, very clear, and cool. Actually, it’s cold, but the flow is small and the pond is large, so it’s just cool unless you dive down. It’s in the middle of one of the old groves, a great place to swim.” Ethan wanted to say skinny-dip, but didn’t dare. “We could come directly here from campus so I could work an hour or so, then go swimming. You could even have supper with us and then I could take you to Piggly Wiggly.” Ethan had his fingers crossed.
“Sounds great, but I’ll have to talk to Aunt Lily first.”
“Let me know in the morning, okay? I’ll need to let Sally Ann know if we’re having a guest.
“I’ll call. Goodnight, Ethan. Hot dreams.”
Ethan blushed and stammered, “Hot dreams to you too,” and hung up the phone.
Before Ethan went down to breakfast, he heard the phone ring followed shortly by Jamie yelling, “Ethan, phone.” Carrying his shoes, Ethan ran and stumbled down the stairs and took the phone from Jamie and said, breathlessly, “Hello.”
“Damn you sound sexy,” Scotty laughed, “and it’s still early.”
“I just ran down the stairs,” Ethan said. “We only have one phone. Can you come over?”
“I can and will,” Scotty replied.
“Great! I’ll tell Sally Ann. Anything you don’t like?”
“Hairy fish on pizza and sweet pickles.”
“Gotcha and agree,” Ethan responded. “See you at Piggly Wiggly.”
Ethan hung up the phone, surprised that he was so excited about Scotty coming over and would have been sporting a large tent in his jeans had they not been holding him in check.
At breakfast, Ethan told Sally Ann they would have a guest for supper and when he told her it was Scotty McCarter, she said, “Ethan, he is so not a jock, but oh, so hot. He knows how to treat a woman and all the girls just love him to pieces, but he’s like you ...”
“Yeah, I know, too busy to date,” Ethan said quickly.
“Not just you middle schoolers who think he’s hot,” Jamie said. “Edith James told Myra she was ready to have his baby.” Myra had been Jamie’s girlfriend for a few weeks the last half of the school year; Edith was her best friend. “Frankly, he looks pretty sissy to me.”
“Maybe you should work on being a bit sissy. The girls are crazy about him and you don’t seem able to keep a girl,” Sally Ann said with a smirk.
‘Scotty’s not sissy,’ Ethan thought. ‘He’s no jock, true enough, and he moves with grace, but he is not sissy. A complete idiot could see that while he is small, he is definitely well-defined.’ He so wanted to say to Jamie, ‘Call him sissy, but he’s got you beat by a mile in the equipment department.’ Ethan had noticed that the first time he saw Scotty naked in the locker room. Scotty was hung!
Davis had told him to come to his office at nine for a meeting with the county extension agent. The county agent, as he was generally known, was a representative of the University of Georgia Extension Service. The ones in the area generally were more or less attached to the land grant university at Glen Stockade. Anyway, Arkadelphia Plantation had long had a working relationship with the agricultural extension service in that it was one of the plantations which believed in putting scientific research and findings to practical use. Davis had told Ethan, “You’ll be getting a university education in the care and nurture of Carya illinoinensis, without leaving home or it costing an arm and leg.”
Ethan liked the county agent, Joe Maddox. Joe was an African-American in his mid-forties who had been extension agent in the county for ten years. He was a native of south Georgia and understood the people and culture. Unlike others from his office, he neither assumed he knew more than a man who had worked the land all his life nor pretended he was just an uneducated country boy. He was, when push came to shove, just Joe Maddox, at home wading through bullshit at the country club or cow shit in a cattle shed.
When Ethan arrived, Mrs. Edwards was just getting ready to take in a tray with coffee. He took it from her and carried it into the office. Davis’ office was huge because one end was set up as a conference area with a table which would seat six when expanded or four without. Ethan sat the coffee tray on the table and said, “Good morning, Mr. Maddox, Mr. Edwards.”
“Good to see you again, Ethan,” Mr. Maddox said. “Sorry to hear of your loss. Your dad was a good man who had some stiff blows in his life. Looks like he’s left a real legacy behind in three children from what Davis has been telling me. In spite of your upbringing and the difference in our ages, I think in our new relationship, you should call me Joe.”
“Thanks, Joe,” I said. “Man, that is not going to be easy.”
“And you can call me Mr. Boss,” Mr. Edwards laughed. Ethan blushed.
For the next hour, Joe talked about a study program he had designed for Ethan, primarily using extension service booklets and papers. “I’ll expect you not just to read something, but look at the groves and trees in light of what you read. If, as Davis tells me what he hopes happens does and he buys Pleasant Grove Plantation, you’ll have a real lab to work with for a while. The groves there have been completely neglected for five years and practically neglected for five more. You’ll not just have to depend on a picture to see trees suffering from mouse ear. You will having living examples readily available. Same with other problems pecans have. In a couple years, you will know as much about the nurture and care of pecans as many who have been in the business for years. You have a before and after for everything under your care.”
“Ethan,” Davis said, reaching out and taking Ethan by the arm, “I don’t want to overwhelm you and if that starts happening, let me know. However, Randy, Joe and I have discussed the situation at length. Ordinarily if I bought Pleasant Grove, I’d put someone over it as manager and Randy would continue as manager here. Instead, Joe and Randy agree with me that separating the two operations—nuts and cattle—would make more sense. Randy is especially fond of the idea because he says he is a cattleman and just as soon not have anything to do with trees—well, he did say he was okay with the pines. They do just grow, get cut and others get planted, but for the years between, they just grow.”
Ethan was silent for several minutes before he spoke. “I don’t know about handling the nut operation,” he said, “but if I am able to handle one of the two, I’d much prefer one that doesn’t require a couple of pairs of rubber boots. I hope I’ll be able to absorb enough to be worth my pay.”
“Ethan, you’ll not be alone. Joe will be available to us, but I’m still alive and kicking. I want this to work. I’m sure by this time next week, we’ll have a signed contract for purchasing Pleasant Grove. We—you, Randy, Joe and I—are going to show folks how to run a plantation—two plantations!”
The three spent another hour laying out a schedule for Ethan to do the books and other duties he had taken on, study the material Joe provided, including labs in the groves of the two plantations—Davis was very sure Pleasant Grove was his—scheduling work in the groves and doing hands-on as well as attending college. When they finished, Joe looked at it and said, “Davis, when’s Ethan going to have time with his family? Have some fun? He’ll only have time for a decent shit twice a week with that schedule. Something’s gotta go.”
“Well, college, studying the stuff we’ve laid out and hands-on managing the groves are not optional. Jeff and Ethan have been able to pick up on the bookkeeping job quickly. I’ll find someone to take that over. I’ll invest now knowing it’ll pay off in the future. Ethan is my new grove. I sink money in establishing a new grove knowing it may or may not pay off, but if it does, it’s six to ten years in the future. I expect I’ll get a quicker return on anything I invest in Ethan.”
“I like that idea—nurturing and care of a new grove, nurturing and care of a young man. Yes, I like that, Davis. Gonna steal that metaphor from you.”
Davis had told his wife they would be finished by 11:00, 11:15 at the latest. She said she’d have lunch at 11:30 for the three men. When they finished lunch, Ethan left for the Piggly Wiggly to meet Scotty.
Class was at 2:00 and it was an easy half hour’s drive from the Piggly Wiggly to the campus. Scotty had commented that the two might better get an early start because they did not know the campus, so they agreed to meet a quarter after one. Since he had left Arkadelphia right after lunch, Ethan arrived just after one, expecting to have to wait for Scotty. He didn’t. As he pulled into the parking lot, he spotted Scotty’s blond head and the Triumph. He had parked under a chinaberry tree and was leaning against his car taking advantage of the shade. He spotted Ethan at once. Both had huge smiles on their faces as Ethan pulled the truck up beside the car. He rolled down the passenger side window and called to Scotty, “Hi, I’d move that car. It’ll end up with all sorts of crap on it parked under that chinaberry tree.” Scotty did and when he came back, Ethan said, “Come on get in. Get out of the heat.”
“Hi. It is hot,” Scotty said and he climbed in the truck. “I thought Atlanta got hot and sticky. Seems it’s worse here. Everything gets hot, sticky and just slooooows down.”
“Yeah. In the summer before air conditioning became so common, you’d find most folks napping after lunch until it cooled off. Too hot to work, so they napped.”
“Might explain why families were larger then,” Scotty chuckled.
“Don’t know,” Ethan glanced at Scotty and grinned. “Would definitely explain the term ‘hot and steamy sex.’” They laughed. A song they both liked came on and they started singing as they rolled down the highway.
“Good thing we got an early start,” Scotty said as they stood before the door of the announced lecture hall. Posted on the door was a notice changing the location not only to another room, but also another building. “Back into the heat. I am not rushing, tardy bell or no tardy bell.”
“Ah, Scotty, I don’t think college has tardy bells.” Ethan said and grinned.
Ten minutes later, they finally found the new location which was a seminar room, not a lecture hall. There was space for fifteen or sixteen people around the table. As they sat down, Scotty said, “See why the change if the class will fit around the table.” There were four people already seated. A few minutes after they arrived, a man, probably in his thirties, came in carrying a briefcase and an armload of papers. Right behind him were five people who looked as though they had been out in the heat.
The man opened his briefcase and looked up just as three more people walked in. “Ah, good, you found us. I believe we are all here. Good afternoon, I am Dr. Douglas Paul, a visiting professor from Atlanta State. Seems a world literature professor was needed and I was available for the summer—and it is definitely summer! As I’m sure you understand, the class was moved from that lecture hall to this seminar room because of its size. The administration was undecided about offering it when so few signed up for it, but Mr. McCarter and Mr. Taylor—where are you?” Scotty and Ethan each raised a hand. “You are our heroes as when you enrolled, the class reached the bare minimum. Not sure any of you could agree since it is summer school and beaches and mountains call, but you are lucky. This course here and at Atlanta State during regular session draws crowds of students, thus a lecture hall. Since there are so few, I’d like to do this as a seminar. All of you are at least sophomores, right?”
“Actually, not,” Scotty said, “Both your heroes are entering freshman.”
“Well, that’s unusual. You have any objection to handling the class as a seminar?”
“Since I don’t know what that means, I don’t know whether I do or not,” Ethan replied.
Dr. Paul laughed, “You are Mr. Taylor or Mr. McCarter?”
“Ethan Taylor, sir.”
“Thanks for speaking up. I seldom teach freshmen and forget the difference between high school and college. In a seminar, we’d all read the assigned story, article, poem, etc. and respond to questions, from me, each other or your own thoughts. We’ll seek to grasp the meaning, particularly in light of the culture producing it, rather than looking at the usual stuff which can be tested by objective examination. Seeking insight into human life and cultures through literature is another way to put it.”
“Makes sense to me. No problem,” Ethan said.
“So, let’s go around the table and tell everyone your name, your class, where you’re from and your projected major. You know about me already.”
“Mr. Taylor how about starting, Mr. McCarter next and around the table.”
“I’m Ethan Taylor, an entering freshman from Braggton just up the road. Actually, from Arkadelphia Plantation about ten miles out in the country from Braggton. I plan on majoring in business and horticulture.”
“I’m Scotty McCarter, the other entering freshman from ten miles from Braggton in the opposite direction from Ethan on River Bend Plantation. I’m planning on majoring in psychology or English or maybe both.”
“You don’t talk like you’re from Braggton,” the woman next to him said. “I’m Rebecca Candler from Crosshill. I’m a sophomore and planning on majoring in math. Scotty, you sure you’re from Braggton?”
Scotty laughed and said, “As of last February. Before that I lived in Marietta.”
“That makes more sense,” she grinned at him.
The other eleven had assorted majors and were either juniors or sophomores.
“Good. Ground rules: we respect each other. At the very least, since we will be discussing the literature, we will all do the reading. That’s about it. I’ll hand out the syllabus in a moment which lists the reading, deadlines for the two papers you will do and the grading system. There will be some short essays, but we’ll write those in class. Textbooks? When I saw the size of the class, I decided we might well do without. I have put materials on reserve so you can have copies made. That allows flexibility and will cost less than a textbook. If you want pictures, go online and search, but I see no reason for textbooks to weigh ten pounds and cost a fortune because of pretty pictures. You will have to buy one book, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, the novel we’ll discuss. It is, however, available in paperback at a semi-reasonable price and you might luck upon it in a used bookstore. Questions?”
“We gotta write papers? I don’t want to write no papers,” a guy who had actually said his name was Jock declared.
“Pretty much expected in a literature class,” Dr. Paul said. “You have a problem with that?”
“Nah, not much so long as there’s not too many. Girlfriends get pissed if they have to write too many.”
‘How dumb can you be?’ Ethan thought and saw the same thought in the faces of other members of the seminar.
“Okay, here’s the syllabus. Look it over carefully now and again when you are ready to study. Jot down any questions. For right now, let’s discuss what you have read and liked.”
Ethan and Scotty kept looking at each other as students mentioned things they had read and enjoyed. Dr. Paul finally said, “Ethan, you and Scotty seem to be discovering something.”
“We barely know each other and have met none of these students before, but we all seem to have read and enjoyed many of the same things and, I hate to say it, but I read most on the recommendation of a friend or because of something I read. Practically none were requirements or recommendations from teachers, although they may have been later.” Scotty and several others were nodding in agreement.
“Suppose you could make recommendations for a high school reading list. Obviously you’d recommend things you read and enjoyed, but where do educators go wrong and what criteria should they use? Mr. Taylor? Anyone?”
“Well, it would have to be a good story. Hard to explain the qualities which a good story has, but we kinda know a good story anyway. Has to be a story which holds our attention because we care about the characters,” Ethan said.
“Educators should stop thinking they know us, our problems,” a woman named Janette said. “Maybe they do, but it seems as though they act like ‘Here’s your problem. Here’s a story about how to fix it.’”
“Lord of the Flies. It’s like teachers say, ‘Oh, you’re not mature enough to handle your life. See? You need adults to handle it for you.’”
“There’s another attitude I run across. It’s ‘you have a problem, but you won’t admit it, so I’ll hit you over the head with it.’ Example? To Kill a Mockingbird,” an African-American woman named Ruth Weathers said.
“Would you have read To Kill a Mockingbird had it not been required?” Dr. Paul asked.
“I had and loved it. I looked forward to talking about it, but I was ready to scream before the teacher and class finished with it.”
“How many of you have read To Kill a Mockingbird?” They all had except, maybe, Jock. He was sound asleep, his head on the table. No-one bothered to wake him. “Hadn’t planned this, but maybe it’ll work. Since you all have read it, give it a quick scan, don’t spend the time re-reading it unless you really want to. Next time we’ll approach it as we will other literature, seeking to see what it tells us about the culture which produced it. Well, it’s summer, it’s hot, so let’s call it a day. Enjoy the bit of free time you didn’t expect to have,” Dr. Paul laughed. “Mr. Taylor, Mr. McCarter, if you don’t mind, a few minutes.”