This Land is Your Land

by Aila Alvina Boyd

The temperature was hot and the sun was unforgiving. It was a horrible day to have a graveside service, but nevertheless, events such as that aren’t typically scheduled based on the weather or convenience.

It was the first time in nearly 50 years that all of the Noonkester children had been back home on the family farm at the same time. Throughout the years, they had all dropped in from time to time, but it took the death of their 98 year old mother to finally bring about the long overdue reunion. Unfortunately, it didn’t appear as though any of the children were particularly upset over the passing of their mother. Their minds were in different places. Their concerns were elsewhere.

GINNY

As the old pastor droned on and on about how the matriarch of the family was looking down on all of them from up in heaven, all Ginny could think about was how much the family cemetery was going to detract from the value of the property. She knew for a fact that a potential developer wouldn’t want to start building properties right next to an old cemetery. It simply wouldn’t match the image that the once rural, but now trendy, little Appalachian town was trying to project. Scanning her eyes from side to side, she questioned why her great-grandfather, who originally bought the land, had decided he wanted to be buried smackdab in the middle of the farm in the first place. Of all places, what caused his desire to ruin a perfectly good field by deciding to be buried in the middle of it? She immediately questioned whether or not she, along with the rest of her siblings, could petition the county to be able to relocate the remains of their ancestors to a less imposing final resting place. Perhaps a nice little community cemetery or a church graveyard? Any place would do, in Ginny’s mind, as long as there weren’t any monthly or yearly maintenance fees. As she sized up her siblings, Ginny knew that the only thing that stood between her and evicting her ancestors from the cemetery was her little brother. Teddy.

PAUL

As the choir from the local Baptist church that he attended services at as a child sang his mother’s favorite hymn, Amazing Grace, Paul tried with all his might to visualize the family farm from an aerial vantage point. Every time the choir hit the chorus of the song, his focus was be derailed. Due to the fact that he knew the song both forwards and backwards, he couldn’t help but mouth along to the catchy phrasing of the chorus.

It seemed as though the only time during the song that he was able to concentrate was when the melody was being sung. By his calculations, the farm had 11 fields on it and was at least 200 acres in size. Of course it had the old farm house on it and several barns on it as well, but none of that mattered to Paul. Even though the house could have easily been restored to its original glory, or perhaps even better if the right contractor was involved, he simply viewed it as a nuisance. He knew for a fact that his siblings would try to pawn the house off on him in the hopes of convincing him that he should receive a smaller portion of the property because of the sentimental value of the house. Sentimental value or not, he didn’t give a damn about the house. What he really wanted was the undeveloped land. He wanted the land that was still heavily wooded. He figured that he could first bring in a lumber crew to clear the land and then he could bring in a highfalutin real estate agent to auction the land off lot by lot until he would have enough money to live on for the rest of his life without ever having to lift another finger. The only question in his mind related to his younger brother. He knew that Teddy would be the one sibling who would take the most convincing. He would surely object, Paul told himself, to having the farm stripped for all that it was worth, even if it meant finally being able to live a life well above the means they had grown up on.

ROGER

While watching his mother’s casket being slowly lowered into the ground, Roger questioned just how stubborn his siblings actually were. Growing up, he had always considered himself to be the most pragmatic of the brood. Instead of contributing to the workload of the farm, Roger would sneak around in the early morning hours before school and raid the chicken coop before the rooster had even had a chance blurt out his first cock-a-doodle-doo of the morning. He would also hit the tobacco barns, only taking a small portion of the crop so that no one would notice that something wasn’t quite right. Once a week, he would carry his stolen loot into town and cash in at the expense of his family’s finances. By the time he turned 18, he had amassed a sizable nest egg that allowed him complete autonomy. Unlike his siblings who were partially dependent on their parents well on up into their early adulthood, Roger had no use for them, financially or otherwise. There was no need in his eyes. He had enough money stashed away to carry him out west and help keep him going until other prospects started to pouring in.

As he gazed at Ginny and Paul out of the corner of his eye, Roger tried to determine whether or not either one of them had wised up any since childhood. Based on the performance that they were giving, acting as though they simply couldn’t bear the loss of their mother, he couldn’t help but assume that they had become far more cunning than they previously had been. He knew that they wouldn’t simply fade out into the background, despite how desperately he hoped that they would.

He had traveled back home with the intention of presenting them with a proposition that he hoped they wouldn’t refuse, to buy their shares of the farm. He even had an appraisal from a real estate agent who he had buttered up in order to value the property below what it would have actual brought on the market in the hopes of bamboozling them out of their shares at cut-rate prices. He had it all figured out. He was to obtain the entire property and transform it into a world-class hunting resort, the exact type of resort that would attract all of the bigwig Texas oil tycoons he had been hobnobbing it with ever since setting out on his own. He had been toying with the idea for ages and viewed the death of his mother as the opening he had been longing for. Now, all he had to do was swipe the figurative eggs out from under his sibling’s noses without them noticing one last time.

The only problem with his plan, he figured, was Teddy. Unlike Ginny and Paul, he had known what he had been doing all along during their youth. Once, Teddy walked in on him when he was in the middle of swiping the eggs with a hatchet in his hand. He had assumed that a fox had been to blame and not his own brother. To Roger’s surprise, Teddy never said a word about what he knew. Instead, he continued to let the rest of the family assume that there was a fox on the loose. The question in Roger’s mind was whether or not Teddy was going to be as cooperative as he had been all those years before.

TEDDY

After the ceremony concluded, all of the Noonkester children, Ginny, Paul, Roger, and Teddy, gathered at the old farm house. It was finally time for the will to be read by the attorney who had prepared it. The wait was agonizing. Having attempted at one point or another to influence their mother’s decision as to who would get what, the moment of truth awaited Ginny, Paul, and Roger. Had they been successful in their efforts at swaying their mother or was the odd sibling out going to win the day? Even though the three eldest siblings all had evil glints in their eyes, they secretly worried that Teddy had the upper hand. After all, he had been the only one who had stayed behind after the rest of them had moved away and started their own families. He was the one who had kept the farm running after their father died. He was the one who raised the cattle, cured the tobacco, and baled the hay. And perhaps most importantly, he was the one who looked after “Ma’am,” as she was affectionately referred to.

If asked, the three eldest siblings would have said that Teddy was the slyest one out of the bunch. They would have insisted that he had his eye on the farm all along, that’s why he had stayed behind and kissed the ground that Ma’am walked on.

However, to hear Teddy’s explanation as to why he didn’t go off and make something out of himself, one would understand that he did so out of a sense of responsibility. If he didn’t keep the farm up and going and Ma’am taken care of, then who?

“Ready or not, here we go folks,” the attorney said.

Standing on the front porch of the house, he very carefully broke the seal of the envelope that contained Ma’am’s will. Despite the fact that all the envelope held inside it was a couple of sheets paper that were stapled together, the envelope took on a far greater importance to Ginny, Paul, and Roger. It held the verdict on their futures.

After clearing his throat, the attorney started at the top of the letter. As each additional second passed, anticipation built as Ginny, Paul, and Roger anxiously awaited the moment of truth. He simply couldn’t speak fast enough to satisfy their thirst for knowledge.

“I hereby give all of my land and everything associated with it to my youngest son, Teddy,” the attorney recited from the letter.

Immediately upon hearing Teddy’s name associated with the proclamation “I hereby give all of my land and everything associated with it,” Ginny, Paul, and Roger nearly experienced a collective heart attack. They couldn’t hardly believe their own ears. It must have been a mistake, they all reasoned to themselves. It simply wasn’t possible for Teddy to inherit everything and for them to get nothing.

No sooner than the attorney had uttered his name, all eyes had been shifted onto Teddy. There he stood, off to himself like he was an outsider in his own family. He was dressed as though he belonged to a different social class than his siblings. Instead of wearing a nicely tailored suit, he sported a pair of ill-fitting khakis and a checkered button up shirt that appeared to have never been ironed. He was the spitting image of his father.

As Ginny, Paul, and Roger eyed him with jealous looks, an awkward silence set in. None of them knew what to say. The question was whether to fly into a rage fueled panic or to simply convey their disappointment over the will. Which would help them convince Teddy that their mother had been wrong in giving him everything and them nothing? Even if they were to make the case that she had in fact been wrong in her decision, would they even have a leg to stand on? Of course they absolutely felt that they each deserved part of the farm, but why? As they all wracked their brains in search of the appropriate way to convince their little brother that he didn’t deserve what he had been given, they found themselves at a loss. Not a single one of them seemed to have been able to justify their outrage. Aside from the fact that they had each been one of Ma’am’s children, their reasoning came up short.

“I don’t want it,” Teddy mumbled.

A nervous warmth quickly made its way into their stomachs as Ginny, Paul, and Roger looked at each other in the hopes of finding that their ears hadn’t deceived them after all. It didn’t take long for sprawling smiles to consume their faces.

“But do you understand what you’re saying?” the attorney asked Teddy with a perplexed look plastered across his face.

The other siblings all but had to hold themselves back in order to keep from snapping the attorney’s neck in two. The last thing any one of them wanted was for Teddy to go back and change his mind.

“You can have it,” Teddy said again, causing his siblings to once again feel at ease. “All I want is just to be able to stay here and keep it going the way Ma’am and Pap would want me to… raising the cattle, growing the tobacco and crops.”

And just like that, Ginny, Paul, and Roger theoretically got what they wanted. Teddy had no intention of denying them ownership of the farm, but the one stipulation he made was enough to make each and every one of them want to cry. After all, what good was several hundred acres of farmland?

 

Category: Featured, Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing