Movement from the shadows snatches our attention. Ralph walks over to the fire and puts on a couple more logs. “Gentlemen, we are going to leave it with you.” Ralph drags himself back to the bar, loops his arm around Rebecca, and they leave through the swinging door behind the bar.
The fire jumps back to life pushing the shadows back from the tables. It warms the room nicely. Alfred and I still sit in our circle of light. We say good night to Ralph and Rebecca. I knew that Papa Burbanks struggled with the herds, but Alfred never told me before about the successes Papa had.
Alfred nods rubbing his beard. “Right, so after many years of Papa and I working the herds, he comes out to the barn one night. I’m in shock. Papa never comes out to the barn at night. I ask him if everything is okay. He looks tense and shakes his head. He walks around all the pens. A few of the animals come up for pats. Papa smiles at them. I see the recognition of all the work we’ve done as he pets the animals. I just watch him circle the barn in silence.
“Finally, after Papa ignores some of my questions, he turns to me with a long face. ‘Alfred, I think it is time.’ Time? Time for what? I could not imagine what Papa had on his mind to do next.”
I chuckle a bit. “Well, how could you? I mean he just shows up one day and decides to start a farm. Who could know what he is planning next?”
Alfred nearly chokes on his whiskey chuckling. “He could have said anything. He might want to bring in more animals, move the whole thing somewhere else, or admit to family troubles. I had no idea what was coming.
“So, he says that he thinks it is time to turn the farm over to the children. He wants to give each child one half of the valley. You see, Edward, there is a nice river that runs through the valley. Papa discovered many years ago that he could graze the sheep on one side and the cows on the other. The herds didn’t frighten each other this way. He learned to cut down on trampling deaths this way.”
I roll a hand with the palm up and nod my head. “That makes sense. Use what the land gives you. I think that was part of the idea behind the farm I visited out East.”
Alfred leans his head back and jerks it forward. “Yes, I can see that now. It certainly can ease the process in one’s mind. I ask Papa if he is sure about this decision. I remind him of his children and how they have reacted when herding the flocks to the grazing areas. He reminds me that we were always there to keep an eye on them. So, they could play around a bit. I concede that’s a thought. He continues that they will never really learn until it is on them. Much like, he adds, we didn’t learn how to care for the animals until we had to do it.”
I acknowledge Papa’s point. “That seems fair. We can learn all kinds of lessons while in training, but we never figure out the function of those lessons until we have to practice them.”
Alfred shrugs. “I realize Papa has made the decision. All I can do now is help. I ask what he wants done.
“He informs me that he wants a family meeting tomorrow afternoon. Now, he can make sure that Catherine gets there because she will likely be grazing the sheep at that time. I will need to get Joseph to the meeting because he will likely be milking at that point. Papa says that he will lay the plan out there for them and see what they choose to do with it.
“With those instructions given, Papa walks out of the barn. I am left with the sound of sleeping animals and a sense of unease. What will the children think of this? How will they answer this challenge?”
I purse my lips staring at Alfred. “You must have run through many possibilities. I can only imagine the kinds of scenes that became possible in that moment.”
Alfred’s eyes glaze over while he nods his head. “It was a long night, for sure. What was one farm would become two. Each child would get their half of things with their father’s blessing. Remembering our struggles, I could never anticipate what the children would do with it.”
“The children sound like they did much better than expected. Let’s remember that they had some great teachers. I mean they had plenty of time to learn from the mistakes you and Papa made. So, what happened at the meeting?”