Whenever I walk into the feed store in Sandia, the old buzzards who spend their whole mornings in there drinking coffee and shooting the breeze call me “Mill.” My real name is Jack, but seeing as I’m the only person under the age of 40 who regularly does business in that store, they took to calling me Millennial. But Millennial is too many syllables for those old Texans, so pretty quick they shortened it to Mill.
“Soybean prices are way up, Mill.”
“You still sure about growing wheat?”
I paid for the couple bags of sheep feed I had come for and gave the buzzards a nod on my way out the door. I had things to do.
It’s about a seven-mile drive from the feed store to my house. Most of it is vast, open fields of soybeans, corn, or alfalfa on either side of the road. You can see a few ranch houses along the road and the tops of a couple distant grain silos, marking some of the last actual farmsteads in the area, but that’s about it. At least until you get to about mile four of my route, which is when you can see the Dollar General they plopped into the middle of nowhere.
Whoever approved that thing needs to be shot. Between the building, the parking lot, and the truck turnaround, it destroyed at least seven good acres of farmland. It was sucking the life out of the area. The owners of the IGA and the hardware store I used to frequent both swore to me that their business starting falling off the week that the Dollar General opened, and they were both closing up shop within six months.
People would not bother to drive all the way into town when this was right here. As I drove past, I could see eight or nine cars all parked in the lot. Everybody had to have their Chinese shit.
Finally, I reached our driveway and made the turn onto the gravel path. I could see another car coming down the driveway towards me, so I pulled off into the grass so that it could get by. As the car got closer, I could see that it was my wife, Aditi. I rolled down the window as she got closer.
“I got the sheep feed. You off to work?”
“Yeah, the hospital called and one of the other girls called in sick. That’ll make it a 12-hour shift instead of an eighter.”
“Geez. Well call me when you’re done. I’ll come by with Ashwin to pick you up if you’re too tired.”
“Thanks. I made some breakfast and left it on the counter. I figured I wouldn’t even see you till tonight.”
“Thanks. Love ya.”
“Love you too.”
It took me another minute to get to our house. We had been living here for almost two years now. Aditi and I met in college and then got married. She studied nursing. I studied engineering. I had a great position with an engineering firm up in Houston, but then when the economy went to Hell the firm cut half its staff, including me.
It was about that same time Aditi’s dad, Ashwin, had a health scare, and her folks asked us to move down to their farm. They gave us the original farm house to live in and I helped Ashwin around the 640 acres while Aditi got a job at the hospital in Arlen. I think her folks also hoped that by getting us out of the city and not having to pay rent, it might spur the production of some grandchildren. That was still a work in progress…
I walked up the front steps and opened the door to the house. I almost laughed when I saw what Aditi had meant by “breakfast.” Two pieces of avocado toast. For being in the medical profession, she just does not understand what men need to eat. Still, it was better than nothing to start the day, so I popped a piece into my mouth while I refilled my thermos with coffee. It tasted good, as it should considering we grew everything for it right here. Besides wheat and sheep, Ashwin had also planted hundreds of avocado trees along the edges of the farm’s fields to act as shelter belts. It made harvesting the fruit a bit trickier, but the benefits for the wheat and sheep were real.
I grabbed my thermos and the other piece of toast and headed back for my truck. First thing I had to do was drop off this sheep feed by the barn. I already knew I would be unloading it by myself, because Ashwin was out in the middle of the field with the flock and his 30-30 at the ready. We had lost two sheep earlier that week to what I believe was probably a stray dog. Ashwin however was convinced it was “El Chupacabra” and was guarding the flock constantly, even after we got a call from our neighbor that he had shot a stray harassing his cows. I’m not saying there aren’t things that go bump in the night, I just don’t think you will find proof of those things on decade-old internet forums. Still, part of me thinks he just likes acting like John Wayne, and I can’t begrudge him that.
I got the feed unloaded fast enough and was on to my next task. I drove for about two minutes before I got to the field I would be testing today. Basically, you just walk out into the field a ways and grab a couple heads of wheat to sample for size, moisture content, and a few other things that are important when it comes time to harvest and sell the crop. I parked the truck next to one of the avocado hedge rows and walked out about twenty feet. I got enough grains to be able to perform the tests and started back to the truck, before nearly falling on my ass. I was startled and jumped back, nearly tripping because I flushed a small flock of McCown’s longspurs, starting their afternoon siesta in the field. My heart still racing from the shock, I recovered and got back to my truck.
I threw the wheat samples onto the passenger seat and grabbed my thermos. I like birds, but they can scare the shit out of you when they want. I needed a minute to relax and took a short walk through the avocado trees.
The branches hang low on avocado trees, so I crouched slightly as I walked through the lush greenery. I came to the sturdy trunk of one of the trees and sat down with my back against it. Looking up into the lush foliage, breathing deeply, my heart rate returned to normal.
I took a swig of my coffee, just grateful for how things were. Ashwin and Meera had built this Eden, and it would all be mine and Aditi’s someday. Here was a place that did not have loads of debt or need excessive machinery to run. It was a place in balance with itself, and I would be a damn fool to change it like those buzzards at the feedstore suggested.
I glanced up again and noticed a small clutch of avocados, already ripe whereas the rest of the fruit still had a few weeks yet before harvest. I stood up and plucked the four alligator pears, figuring they would rot by the time we got to the general harvest. With the green gold balanced in my hands, I started back to the truck.
I was almost back when my phone rang. I shifted the avocados into my left hand while I fished the thing out of my pocket. It was Ashwin.
“Jack, the propane guy is here.”
“I’m on the back forty testing the wheat, can you handle it?”
“I’m with the sheep.”
“Ashwin…fine. I’ll be there in five minutes.”
I pulled up to the barn to see Hank was already there with the truck, prepping the tank to be filled.
“Hey, Jack. I already checked your 500-gallon house tank and it was still above the recommended refill point. This one however is definitely needing a top off.”
“Fill ‘er up, Hank.”
“Well alright. How’s the day been treating you?”
“Oh, not too bad. I found a couple ripe avocados if you’d care for one.”
“Well sure. My wife uses them to make avocado toast. She says its what Aztec royalty used to eat.”
“Well, I don’t know about that, but it is pretty tasty, even if you still need a dozen eggs and a rasher of bacon to actually fill up afterwards.”
Hank nodded in agreement. We stood there for a moment in silence, listening to the tank fill.
“I don’t know how frequently you’re out this way Hank, but watch for that damn Dollar General on the way towards Sandia. Sucking the life out of the area.”
“Oh, yeah, the thing is that that store is actually Buck’s.”
“What? I thought those things were all corporate run.”
“Buck worked out some special arrangement where he leased the name and got access to their supply chain. He says it’s been more profitable this year than all of our propane shops combined. Really a shame.”
“Damnit. First that Wal-Mart, now this thing.”
“Yeah, Buck’s been like a father to me, but this is one thing we really disagreed on. I can’t even find American-made wrenches in the stores around here anymore. I have to go to the flea market.”
“We don’t need this crap. Take that avocado toast your wife makes. She probably uses bread baked in a facility in Mexico with imported wheat from the Ukraine and avocados from Chile, shipped on Japanese built trucks running on Saudi gas. My wife can make the same meal with all the ingredients from within a half mile of where we’re standing right now.”
Hank nodded in agreement. We stood there for another moment in silence, listening as the tank finished filling.
Hank disconnected the truck and we said our goodbyes. As he drove away, my attention turned to Ashwin, still guarding his beloved sheep.
I remember how when Aditi and I were dating, Ashwin told me stories of growing up in India, in the Princely State of Ravi. He was a baby when the Partition happened, but he remembered the aftermath of the next few years. Eventually the Rajas who ruled Ravi were overthrown by the new Indian Government and elections were called. An openly communist slate of candidates won the election, bolstered by the votes of the thousands of refugees whom the Rajas had granted refuge to, and proceeded to destroy in five years what those princes had taken five hundred to build.
The small merchants and artisans who had made the state rich were deprived of their shops and wares, which were reallocated to the masses. All except the most profitable shops, which were kept by the party leaders. Soon with the urban economy floundering, the communists turned their attention to the agrarian sector. Out-of-work carpenters and weavers were made to till land taken from experienced farmers. Inevitably a famine broke out and Ashwin’s father, a former court official, was able to secure them passage to Hong Kong and then America.
I looked about. Our merchants being deprived of their livelihood could only last so long before the economy started to flounder here too. Then they would come for agriculture. Maybe Ashwin was right to fear the Chupacabra.