A hoe was secured between the curved handlebars of my ten-speed bicycle. Bill carried the rake. We pedaled five miles from our home in Three Springs to our family’s vegetable farm on the outskirts of Saltillo. Most children were sleeping at 6 a.m. on hot summer mornings. We were up early. We wanted to beat the heat of day.
It seemed unfair to Bill and me that our parents chose not buy canned vegetables. Instead, we grew enough corn, tomatoes and potatoes to feed our entire town. Our step-father worked away on construction jobs during the summer. He left strict orders on what chores needed to be done before he returned home on Fridays.
“You kids think life is easy. When I was your age, I spent the entire day working outside in the fields. We didn’t have swimming pools when I was a kid. Let me tell you, if I find one weed in the garden or if it ain’t hoed right, you will be restricted from playing little league or going to the swimming pool for the rest of the summer.”
The land on which we grew our crops belonged by Bob Garlock. He purchased a large piece of property that was once a pig farm and had plans of converting it to a junkyard. Bob was a used car salesman and best friends with our stepfather whose name was also Bob. It angered Bill and me that Ryan and Robbie Garlock, the sons of the used car dealer, didn’t have to work in the gardens that their father had planted next to ours. Although their fields had weeds, their crops seemed to do just as well. Bill concluded that our step-father simply liked to torment us and enjoyed making our young lives a living hell. I tried to stay happy, keep a smile on my face and I always whistled when I worked.
Mom typically drove us in our family’s blue Chevy pick-up truck to the garden, but Bob decided that the family could save on gas if we rode our ten-speed bikes to the gardens instead—
“Your bikes costs me a couple hundred dollars last Christmas. It ain’t gonna hurt you to ride your bikes to Saltillo. Your mom has got enough to do. Just be careful on the roads. Watch for traffic.”
A thunderstorm swept over the rolling farmland of Central Pennsylvania just as we were half-way to the fields. We took off our drenched t-shirts and continued pedaling in the downpour. The rain felt good. At 6 a.m. it was already eighty-five degrees.
The tall weeds that littered perfectly parallel rows of corn came out easy, thanks to the rain. Bill quickly finished weeding twenty- three rows of corn. I finished my task of dusting the potatoes with lime sifted through a burlap sack. I joined my brother in the tall cornfields. I heard a faint cry ahead of me, down the row. I continued to remove all the weeds until I arrived to discover what was making the horrible sounds.
“Bill, come here quick! There’s a raccoon in the trap.”
Our step-father placed metal, spring traps throughout the garden to keep the wild game at bay. Rarely did we catch anything. The animals seemed to know not to touch the sardines that were placed on the traps and preferred eating the fresh corn instead.
The huge creature looked at us with frightened black eyes. The animal’s foot was caught in the trap.
“What are we going to do?” I asked Bill.
“Let it die.” He explained.
“Not in this heat,” I protested as I quickly slammed my hoe upon its head, as if it were hard garden soil prior to a summer rain.
Bill shrieked. So did the raccoon. I finished weeding.