A blue- gray mist, hung over the silent field, coating the tender grass tips with a silver sheen… The blond haired boy, stopped pedaling and dragged his sneakered feet  on the sand coated blacktop, until the red bike came to a slow stop, and toppled lazily to the right… Matty surveyed the eerie landscape and peered towards the darkened hill that was strewn with black shale and dotted with clumps of weeds and wild flowers… Nothing moved, and the dawn air was quiet, except for the distant croak of a sleepy bullfrog.

       The boy shivered and rubbed his naked arms. It was cold, for an August morning!! He yawned, and, remounted the fenderless bike. To his right, the 1st hints of the new day appeared, and the Eastern sky pushed the darkness away, illuminating the treeline of the nearby marsh… The bullfrog croaked again, and the 13 year old youth, slowly pedaled his bike, gaining speed as the grade changed and the hill descended, into a pocket of low lying mist.
      Now, he was flying, along the very edge of the road, the tires humming on the rough pavement, threatening to catch the uneven transition between tar and sand… Matty grinned, as the cool air washed over his face, and blew his longish blond hair back, sending shivers down his ballooning t- shirt . He was piloting a fighter jet, screaming towards the waiting dogfight, machine guns blazing. Suddenly, the road branched off to the left, in an abrupt turn, that became a hard packed, grass covered path, and the bike careened off the blacktop, and onto the bumpy farm road… The front tire skidded on the dew covered grass as the boy braked and tried to control the weaving jet… In a split second, the tire caught a deep mud puddle, and the front of the bike, twisted violently, throwing Matty awkwardly off to the left and into the adjacent corn field. He landed on his left shoulder and hip and the thin boy, tumbled through the raised clods of earth, his face plowing into the bottom of a stout corn stalk, and then it was over… He laid there, for a moment, and then groaned.  That turn had defeated him for the 2nd time this week!!

      Matty slowly stood up and spat out a clump of fresh dirt. He brushed the dirt off his pants and pulled a rogue weed from his partly torn back pocket . ‘Geezz!! What a way to start the day, he thought.’ He picked up his twisted bike and smiled… No damage, again!!  It had survived intact, and ready for the next battle! Pushing the metal machine back onto the grass path, Matty reached a teenage conclusion-  tomorrow, he would defeat the turn in style, faster than ever!  Tomorrow would bring victory! Tomorrow, he was one year older. It was his birthday!!
                
                The teenager pushed his valiant machine the rest of the way, up the path and to the turn, where the path formed a ‘T’ and to the right was the large barn that housed a flock of sheep, and the ever present families of orphaned cats… Some of the cats had become almost feral and Matty had given up on his idea to find homes for them… The worst of the bunch would actually snarl, if anyone got too close for comfort!  Matty glanced towards the upper hay loading doors of the barn, where the morning shadows were just giving way to the new day, but, he saw nothing in the dim light that might be a living creature, let alone, the big tiger cat that he wanted to make his own… He shrugged and started to whistle his favorite song of that summer- ‘Dixie’.  He smiled a little, understanding the irony… a Connecticut yankee, whistling ‘Dixie’!!  It wasn’t coincidental, tho, as his favorite movie of the summer was now on his all-time favorite list, a movie called, ‘Shenandoah’.  It had played at the quaint local theatre, where the owners were known as Ma & Pa , and treated all the ‘matinee kids’ like their own grandchildren, welcoming them , sometimes by name, and scolding them when the shenanigans started… In fact, at one movie, the film was stopped, to the groans of the children, when a young boy decided that the boys’ room would make a nice swimming pool, and proceeded to overflow the long line of wall hung sinks… He was escorted to the front of the theatre, where he publicly apologized for his behavior, red eared, and remorseful!!
             Ah, life in a small town, Matty thought… If his mom or aunt had been there, it would have been far worse, but, the apology was sufficient that day, and Ma & Pa swabbed up the elusive water and all was forgiven…
             The road now spilled out to a larger, main thoroughfare that linked the farmhouse proper with it’s numerous barns and out buildings, to the town road that divided the farm in two… At one time, the ‘new’ area was owned by the current owner, an important politician and gentleman farmer (he hated to be called that!!) and the other half was owned by his father, who had held a seat on Wall Street, in it’s heyday, before the Great Depression… Now, Roger, the son, owned both sides as his father had passed on, and his mother was elderly. She had no  interest in the grueling work that it took to keep a dairy and a produce farm operating… Her farming days had long since passed!
              So, Matty pushed his bike up to the side of the large utility barn, from which he could hear the faint hum of an electrical motor , interspersed with the sporadic shriek of metal on stone, a telltale sign that someone was sharpening an edge.  The tow- headed boy rounded the corner, still whistling, and headed towards the squealing noise, and spotted the owner, hunched over the spinning grinding wheel, squinting at the new edge that he was bestowing upon the sickle that he gripped at an angle.  The machine came to a halt, as the boy made his presence known- “Mr. Eddy, I’m here,” he said!!
            Suddenly, from under the bench, a blur of fur and snarling dog emerged, teeth sharp and bared!! Matty stepped back quickly, as Mr. Eddy picked up a large stick, and whacked the snarling dog on the top of it’s wolf- like head… The dog snapped it’s teeth together, and sat down on it’s haunches, stunned, with a howl- like whimper… It all happened in an instant, and the boy felt a shiver race up his spine and make the little hairs on his tanned neck stand on end… “I’m sorry, Mr. Eddy”, the boy stuttered.  Roger just shook his head, and said, “It’s not your fault, Matty, Lupo has to learn not to bite you… You’re a part of his family as much as I am!  Next time tho, make some noise. I didn’t hear you, and, I guess Lupo didn’t either, until you were standing right there!”
           Matty didn’t say anything about ‘Dixie’, or the fact that he WAS trying to make some noise; Instead, he just muttered, “I’m sorry”, again, and looked sadly at Lupo, who had never bit him, and was just trying to defend his master.

           There was no time to dawdle now, as the day had started, and the crews were about to arrive… Matty, even at his tender age, was the official foreman of the boys’ crew- the boys who picked all the produce and maintained all the fields, and did all the heavy lifting jobs that farmwork required, from haying the fields to feeding the livestock, a dawn to dusk endeavor that created strong wills and tired bodies… Matty got his directives for the day from Mr. Eddy, who was heading out of town, to Washington, mid- morning, for the convening of the latest Congress… He would be gone for the next 5 days, and the soon to be 14 year old boy, was going to have the ‘run of the place’, and all the headaches, as well!!  Mr. Eddy had made notes, that showed the sequence of work, the fields to assess for picking, the maintenance priorities, from weeding to feeding, to medication requirements for some newborn lambs and calves… Matty shivered at the responsibility. He hadn’t slept well, the night before, as the thoughts spun through his head, over and over…. Some of this stuff was literally life and death stuff! The new red calf, a prized possession, whose birth had been eagerly anticipated, had walking pneumonia, and needed a lot of attention, as it was in segregation…. The foreman of the dairy, a man by the first name of Knud, a  Norwegian, was also out of town, at his Mother’s funeral, so, the perfect storm had arrived, and Matty was at the center of it…
         The distant sound of a group of energetic boys now filtered through the surrounding woods, and Matty cleared the worrisome thoughts from his mind, and braced himself for his heavy responsibilities. Roger looked at the strapping young lad, and put his hand on his shoulder, and said, “Don’t forget, they will respect you only if you lead by example… Never ask someone to do something that you wouldn’t do, and do well… You’ll be fine!! You know the place like the back of your hand, and I trust you… Now, let’s get things going here!! Daylight’s burning!!”  And, with that, he patted Matty’s back, and walked away to the low built, meandering farmhouse, and the storm door shut in back of him, with a startling smack, and Matty stood alone, for the moment….

        A  group of 10 boys appeared,  marching up the tree -lined, winding road, some pushing bikes, some walking, all, full of the youthful enthusiasm that fades over time in so many people… In the lead, was the smiling, exuberant best friend of Matty’s, a boy named Bobby… Blond- haired like his buddy, the athletically built boy shoved and wrestled another boy named Tyler, as they laughed and play fought their way to the big shed that was the staging area, and where the various tractors and trailers, and small equipment was kept.
        Bobby spotted Matty, and grinned, with the boyish charm that melted the ice when things were bad… Matty managed a small, nervous grin, and met the group of boys, as they arrived, in front of the shed…  “Gather ’round, guys!”, Matty said. And, they did, in a semicircle, like every morning, with Bobby standing close by Matty’s side… The boys quieted and listened as Matty gave the morning ‘orders’, the way that he had been taught, and answered the inevitable questions and requests… “Do I have to be on HIS crew, today? He was such a dick yesterday, and he’s the one that hit me in the head with the green tomato, when we picked out by the sunflower field…”  Bobby snickered, while Matty firmly admonished the various culprits with warnings and re-created the necessary alliances to get the crews through the morning work. All the while, Bobby had a strange, half – smile on his face, and his hand was resting on Matty’s shoulder… Slowly tho, it seemed to slip, and, gradually, it slid down Matty’s back and rested just above the waistband of his jeans, and the fingers found the small opening at the base of the white t shirt… Matty glanced to his right, and gave his smiling friend a stern look, as he continued to direct the crew, but, Bobby ignored the ‘evil eye’ and now, Matty shivered, as he felt the gentle fingertips of his best friend, trace his lower spine in small, circular motions, sending waves of pleasure up the boy’s back and making his face redden ….  Bobby leaned over, and, whispered into Matty’s ear, as two boys argued, “I have a surprise for your birthday, Birthday Boy!!”  He snickered and slid his fingers under the waistband of Matty’s jeans, and just as quickly, took his hand away, as Matty’s face blushed in the morning light….
              [ Continued in Part 2…]

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