Dawn DeBraal lives in rural Wisconsin with her husband Red, two rescue dogs, and a stray cat. You will find many of her short stories, poems, and drabbles in online magazines and published anthologies.
Blessed Are the Meek
Alby Bushby came with the place. That’s what old Pa told me. My grandfather’s farm was little more than a hobby place he purchased when he retired. He said he had always wanted to experience a farmer’s life when he was stuck behind a desk at the Fenway Insurance Company.
On the day he retired, he paid for the fifteen-acre farm with a small barn and a white clapboard house, in cash. The hobby farm came complete with an old Massy Ferguson tractor and a field hand trailer tucked in a clump of trees. That was where Alby lived. When Old Pa bought the farm, he was given a deep discount if he let Alby live in his fifty-foot house trailer like he’d been doing for many years.
Alby was special, Old Pa told me. I wondered what was so special about him. He helped on the farm and walked sort of funny, more like a penguin. He swayed side to side, and always the spigot which was his nose, turned on. He carried a red bandana kerchief around with him in his back pocket. I thought it was nasty for it was always the same red bandana. I wondered how often that rag saw a washing machine. Not often, I suspected.
Old Pa had taken Alby under his wing. Brought him to town to get his groceries. Alby was a hard worker. Since my Grandmother died before my grandfather retired, he moved out to the farm. I think he enjoyed having Alby’s company. The nearest neighbor was over a mile away. Alby ate supper with Old Pa every night.
In the summer of 1962, my parents were talking about divorce. I’d seen some of my friend’s parents doing the same thing, and it scared me. My parents sent me to spend the summer with Old Pa while they “sorted things out.” I didn’t know what that meant, but I said prayers that they would work things out each night. I was eleven years old and didn’t want to live in two different places like some of my friends did.
Old Pa lived near us until he moved out to the farm. We stopped seeing each other regularly. I was a little shy when my dad drove me out to the farm. We lived twenty miles away.
Stepping out of the car, I remembered the big trees in the yard, the small neat white house, the fenced-in yard, a small barn, and a few other out-buildings, with sprouts of corn or something coming out of the ground in the fields around the house. It was paradise.
Dad stayed overnight, sleeping on the couch. Old Pa fixed up the guest room in the loft upstairs. He even bought a pink bedspread to make me feel welcome. My heart was full. By the end of the day, things felt comfortable between us again, and I was alright with my Dad leaving me here for a few weeks.
At suppertime, Alby came knocking on the door. Old Pa let him in. He set a big kettle on the table with steaming chicken and dumplings. We said grace and dug in. It was delicious. Alby was quiet at first. My dad asked him many questions, and he stuttered a bit, but as he seemed to relax, the stutter grew less, or we just got used to the way he talked.
Old Pa told us Alby was gifted with a photogenic memory when it came to numbers. He could tell you what day of the week it was in any given year. He remembered the exact time and date his parents died and the day he moved into the trailer house so he could have someone take care of him. He sold the family farm and his services with it. That was twenty years before Old Pa bought the place, and the Demeroy’s made sure whoever purchased the farm, that Alby, was written into the deal. He had sole rights to that trailer until the day he died.
“Alby, November fifteenth, 1952,” Old Pa prompted.
“That was a Saturday. The temperature was a balmy 33 degrees that day.” Dad’s mouth opened in surprise. There was no way for us to know if that were true or not, but the conviction with which Alby said it was enough to convince us.
“Didn’t I tell you? Alby is a genius! He remembers numbers. No matter what you tell him. If it’s a number, he retains it. His mind is a steel trap.”
“June twelfth, 1960,” Dad asked.
“That was a-a-a Sunday.” Alby returned.
“Well, I know he’s right on that one. I had a fender bender pulling out of the church that day. It took all I had not to swear on the sabbath.” Old Pa and I laughed at my Dad.
“It rained that day three-tenths of an inch after ten-thirty in the morning,” Alby added.
“I’ll be damned,” Dad said and then quickly apologized. “How come I didn’t know this about you, Alby. I’ve known you for five years?”
“Five years, three weeks, four days, two hours, and he looked at his wristwatch for three minutes and forty-two seconds.” We all laughed. Because I was here, Old Pa pulled out some windmill cookies, my favorite. I loved the hole in the middle where the window was and dipped them in warmed goat’s milk.
When Dad hugged me goodbye the next morning, I told him to work it out. He pulled me in tight and said he would do his best, and I knew he wouldn’t let me down. I watched him lock the fence behind him and waved goodbye as far as I could see his car. Grandpa put his arm on my shoulder.
“Well, kiddo, it’s just us. How about a game of checkers?” He set up the board on the front porch. I took black, and he had red. I knew he was trying to distract me.
“Hmmm,” he studied the board like he was a brain surgeon.
“Are Dad and Mom getting a divorce?” He looked up at me.
“I hope not, honey, but if they do, everything will be alright. You know that your mom and dad love you so much. There was nothing you did to make this happen do you understand?” I nodded my head and almost started to cry. I think deep down I knew this, but having Old Pa say it out loud was such a relief.
After the checker game, I ran out to the shed. Old Pa said he was going to make some lunch and would call me. Alby was working on the tractor, so I didn’t disturb him. I climbed the ladder to the loft in the barn laying in the soft, loose hay. However, Old Pa didn’t have any cows or horses. He had a nanny goat that he milked. Alby was allergic to cow’s milk.
As I lay on my back, I watched the pigeons fly across the expanse of the barn. I loved the sound of their wings as they beat against the air, landing on the beams. Sunlight streamed through the barn siding, making long yellow lines on the hay. I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I heard was the dinner bell.
Old Pa had a triangle on the porch. He used it to call Alby and me in. I got there first and washed my hands like I was told.
“Alby! You’re bleeding!” I shouted when he walked in the front door—blood on his hands and across his cheek.
“What? No! Tractor red. Painting the Massey Ferguson.” He laughed so hard and then went to the sink and used a scrub brush on his arms. The paint on his face came off a little easier from the sweat. Alby chuckled all through lunch, which got us all giggling.
“I got you good, hee hee hee!” That got us all going again.
I have to say that I grew to love Alby almost as much as Old Pa. He always had time for me and listened, really listened when I talked. I wasn’t used to that. He knew lots about plants and showed me things I never noticed before, like the resurrection ferns on the trees. I never thought about the brown dried plants on tree stumps and how they would blossom into green ferns after a good rain.
“Why do they call them that?”
“Because they rise from the dead after a rain. Just like the good Lord rose from the grave.”
“Alby, how old are you?”
“I’m seventy-two next week. I was born on Thursday, June twelfth, 1890. Thursday’s child has far to go. And believe me, I have gone far.”
“What does that mean?”
“You never heard of that rhyme? Monday’s child is fair of face, Tuesday’s child is full of grace. Wednesday’s child is full of woe, Thursday’s child has far to go. Friday’s child is loving and giving, Saturday’s child works hard for a living. A child that’s born on the sabbath day is fair and wise, good and gay.”
“I like that poem Alby. I will be twelve on August tenth; what day was I born?
“Let’s see, Ummm you are Wednesday’s child.” This fact upset me more than I can express.
“But Wednesday’s child is full of woe, Alby. I don’t want to be full of woe.”
“It’s just a poem, DragonFly. Just a poem. It don’t mean nothing.” I loved how he called me Dragon Fly. He went by the nickname Alby, which was short for Albert Lee Bushby, DragonFly was short for Diana Ray Fenway. Yes, my grandfather owned the insurance company he retired from. My dad still worked there; he was the boss and ran the company.
My parents called me every chance they had. Long-distance was so expensive. We talked for a couple of minutes each week. They were never together, and I was afraid that they weren’t going to work it out. They both came out to the farm separately and spent a day with me, and I enjoyed their visits. I heard my mother talking to Old Pa and found out that they hadn’t worked things out yet. Could I start school out in the country? Old Pa said I was welcome as long as I wanted to stay.
Mom took me out on the front porch before she left. It was August now, and we sat on the porch swing in the warm air.
“Diana,” she started hesitantly. I knew already; I mean, I was going to be twelve in a few days.
“I know, I’m staying here with Old Pa. I do love it here, Mom. I love the chickens and the goat. I love running through that cornfield that’s taller than me. When I first got here, it was little green nubs coming out of the ground. Now there are ears on the stalks. I miss you, Mom, and I miss Dad, but I want you guys to work it out. I don’t want to go back to the way it was. Here Old Pa and Alby, they take good care of me. I love them both and will miss them when I leave here.” My mother tucked my hair behind my ear like she always did.
“We’ll get this figured out I promise. I think if I didn’t love your father, it would be easier to walk away. But I can’t. He is married to his job. We’ll both be here next week for your birthday, I promise.
“For the whole day?”
“For the whole day.” I hugged my mom fiercely, and I didn’t let Old Pa see me cry when she left. I ran out to the barn.
“Dragon Fly, are you crying?” Alby came up the ladder into the hayloft.
“No.” I shouted at him, for I was embarrassed.
“It’s okay if you cry. It shows you care. You have the biggest heart of anyone I know.” I looked up at Alby, cringing when he took that red neckerchief out of his back pocket. I wanted not to take it, but that wouldn’t be polite. I was pleasantly surprised when I realized it had a fresh scent of laundry detergent on it. I blew my nose and then handed it back to him.
“That’s alright, DragonFly. I have a drawer full of those.”
“You have more than one?”
“Probably a hundred. It seems folks think I need a new batch every birthday and Christmas.” Alby laughed. We heard the dinner bell clang, and we both went to the house.
Old Pa made my favorite, spaghetti. He was pulling the garlic bread out of the oven. Alby and I took turns washing our hands. I threw the towel at him. He caught it. If Old Pa could tell I had been crying, he was polite enough not to say a word to me. After dinner we watched television and Alby went to his house.
“Diana, I don’t want you to worry about the future. Your mom and dad love one another. I just have a good feeling about them. They will get back together. Just you wait and see. I feel it.”
“Grandpa, why is it taking so long?”
“Well sometimes folks are stubborn. I raised your Dad to stick to his word, and your mom, she’s the same. One of them has to bend. They are like those old oaks out there, you know, the one that came down in the storm?” I nodded. “Look at the willow tree, right next to it. Barely lost a branch. You have to bend with the wind. They will learn that soon enough.” I went to bed feeling better, and I prayed that God would make my parents’ willows.
School in the country was a lot different than the city. The big yellow bus came out to Old Pa’s house, and I got on. The bus driver nodded his head to me and told me where to sit. I watched the fields around me, ready to harvest in a few short weeks. I made some new friends. I’d forgotten how nice it was to have friends my own age. We had a wonderful Christmas with Mom, Dad, Old Pa, Alby, and me.
January came, the temperatures fell. I got off the school bus and opened the gate. It was strange. Old Pa didn’t meet me. He was usually out the door when the bus went by. I started to walk a little faster, seeing something on the ground. And then I was running up the driveway calling Alby.
“Alby, Alby!” I screamed, and he came trotting out of the woods.
“Diana, call the ambulance. The n-number is next to the phone.” I raced into the kitchen and found the number thumbtacked on the wall. I called and gave them our address. Then I grabbed the quilt off Old Pa’s bed and went outside. Alby had Old Pa’s head in his lap. He was crying. I think Old Pa was gone already, but a few minutes later, the ambulance came out. I’d already unlocked the gate. They took Old Pa with them. I called my Dad at work. He was going to pick up my mother and drop her off at Old Pa’s house and then go to the hospital. Would I be alright? He asked me. I cried and told him I was okay. Alby was here.
Alby made some canned soup for us and some cold sandwiches, but I just couldn’t eat. My father dropped my mother off.
“Oh mom, he was lying in the cold. I don’t know how long.” I cried.
“Not long.” Alby responded. “I left him five minutes before you got home.” My mother pulled me to her. She knew how frightened I was.
I couldn’t sleep, I heard Dad come back. Mom met him at the door. I could hear them talking. I listened to my mother say how sorry she was, and I knew that Grandpa didn’t make it. I came down the stairs.
“He’s gone?” My Dad’s face fell, and he nodded yes. Tears. So many tears. I was so grateful to have spent the summer getting to know my grandfather again.
Alby came the next morning to check on us and found out for himself.
“I knew he was gone when the ambulance came.” Alby sighed. He’s been my best friend for over five years. I will miss him.
Mom and Dad talked. They asked Alby if he could take care of the goat and chickens. He said he could. But I knew he didn’t drive. We couldn’t leave Alby out here alone. How would he get groceries? Who would he eat supper with every night?
After Old Pa’s funeral, Dad and mom told me to pack my things. We were going home.
“No! I can’t leave Alby here. What will happen to him? He doesn’t drive.”
“We’ll sell the farm and have the same arrangements that your Grandpa made, until that time your mother or I will come out and take him shopping.”
“No, Dad, I don’t want to leave here. I love it here. I love the goat and the chickens, the cats, and pigeons. I love Alby. He has no family. He only has us. It’s not that far from the city.”
I ran out to the barn to my hayloft, my crying place, and let the tears fall for me, for Old Pa, for Mom and Dad and Alby. How could life be so cruel?
Alby’s head popped up the trapdoor.
“DragonFly, don’t cry. We’ll be alright.” He sat down across from me.
“Mom and Dad want to go back to the city. I don’t want to leave here. I want to stay. I love you too, Alby.” A smile broke out on his face.
“I am a rich man.”
“Why do you think that Alby?”
“I got a fine young woman who is my friend. The Bible is right. The meek shall inherit the earth.”
“The Beatitudes. The Lord said the meek shall inherit the earth. I am a humble man, and my life has been full and rich. Since I’ve met you, it’s been fuller and richer. I feel as rich as a king. Now you go back and pack your things. The Bible says, Thou Shalt Honor thy Mother and Thy Father.”
I knew Alby spoke the truth. We went to church every Sunday. I put my shoulders back, and marched to the house, walked up to my room. I saw the pink bedspread that Old Pa bought, knowing I was coming to stay the summer. I took my small suitcase and started to pack my things.
“Where are you going?” Dad and Mom were standing in the doorway.
“I’m packing. Alby is right. Honor thy Mother and thy Father.” I said, holding back tears.
“We’re staying.” Dad said.
“Your mother and I worked it out. We love each other, and we want to keep our family together. We love this place, and we see how much it means to you to stay and take care of Alby. You have been patient with us. It’s your turn now.” I ran to my parents and hugged them, relieved that I could keep my life here.
Alby lived another six years in the trailer house in the woods. Every day he made his way to the house for his meals, and we lived as a family. He was the person cheering the loudest when I graduated high school. He died quietly in his sleep on August twenty-fifth, 1968. It was a Tuesday, a week before I was scheduled to go off to the University. Alby was dressed in his best suit lying on his bed. Something inside must have told him it was his time.
I went to clean out the trailer house before I left. Unplugging the refrigerator, I pulled out the few things in there and left the door open. I put the box of cold things on the kitchen table. Everything was neat and orderly, just like Alby had been.
I saw the Bible on the kitchen table. Funny how I hadn’t noticed it that morning my parents sent me out to fetch Alby when he hadn’t shown up for breakfast. I opened the well-worn book.
“Bushby Family Bible,” was written on the inside. The names and dates of birth and death of Alby’s family members listed on a tree. After each entry, Alby had written the day of the week each member was born. I could tell his handwriting. At the end of the family tree was my name. My breath caught in my throat. There was no one else to carry on the Bushby family. Alby had made me an honorary member.
A piece of paper fluttered down with my name on it. I saw the date on the letter. It had been written less than three months ago.
This is all I have in the world. It is yours. Use it to make dreams.
Love Your Friend, Albert Lee Bushby “Alby”
He’d left me his savings account. He had eight-hundred-seventy-five dollars, thirty-two cents. My hand went to my heart, and I started to cry. I went to get one of his handkerchiefs in the bedroom.
I opened the bureau drawer. There were at least thirty red neckerchiefs folded neatly in rows. I touched them, remembering how many times Alby had dried my tears with them. Carefully I reached in and took one of the red scarves. I would take it to college with me.