Pain and Beauty

Dragging my heavy body into the house Monday evening after my first full day of farm work since coming home from college, it took all of my remaining strength to form the phrase “back massage please” and voice it in a barely audible whisper. Every part of my body seemed to be inflamed with pain – from my neck all the way down to the soles of my feet.

Thankfully, Mommy is an expert shiatsu masseuse, a talent desperately needed on a family farm. She placed the palms of her hands on either side of my spine and pressed her weight onto me, gradually flattening out my tight and aching muscles.

I closed my eyes, and as I focused on breathing deeply, in and out, I remembered the smell of mulch and rain mingling as I shoved hay up against Jerusalem artichoke plants in the dark morning. The sky was a blackish blue, the color of a bruise, threatening to pour down at any moment. But except for a few teasing drops, it never did. Yet I kept sending pleas up to the rainclouds as they passed, saying “please rain, please!” over and over in my head, knowing that no rain would mean irrigating would be necessary for the entire week to follow.

Daddy never stopped hoping for rain as well, so Val, Janaki, Sydney and I hurriedly dropped summer squash, okra, edamame and dry bean seeds into trenches, covering and tamping. We all pretended that we were racing against the rain, trying to plant as many seeds as possible before water rushed down from the sky, making planting impossible. But by two in the afternoon, the sight of the sky clearing and sunlight sheepishly peeking out from under the clouds made our hearts drop, and fatigue hit me like a wall.

The rest of the day was spent setting up drip tape lines, running to drag them out over bed after bed, fixing leaks, connecting the black drip tapes to the main hose, and sprinting to put the lines over the rows, back bent and hand close to the ground. This we did every three hours, in between jobs of weeding.

After a particularly difficult episode of drip tape running that had us all panting, out of breath and energy, Daddy had told the interns to go scuffle hoe the melons to eliminate the weeds that threatened to strangle them. My brothers looked at Daddy with an expression that clearly said, “Do we have to do that, too?” Daddy looked down, his expression sympathetic, knowing that Asa needed to study for his medical school examination, to be taken in August. Then he looked up and playfully said, “Who wants to eat watermelon?” I instantly brightened and raised my hand excitedly while my brothers, not easily tricked, looked on with suspicion. “Then go scuffle hoe!” Daddy answered with a smile. Asa, Kazami and I erupted into laughter, and continued to chuckle as we walked, long scuffle hoes in hand, to rip away weeds from melon plants.

Remembering this, I laughed, and Mommy asked me if my back felt better. I rolled over, and amazingly, her shiatsu magic had worked – the ache was rapidly disappearing. I ate a quick dinner, showered, and rested until it was time to get into the truck with Daddy to head back to the field.

The sun was setting as we ran down those beds once more before sleep. I took the last drip tape that needed to be moved in my hand and took off into a sprint, running and running, faster and faster, until I reached the end. I collapsed onto the ground and lay on my back, out of breath. When I opened my eyes, I saw that deep royal purple had been brushed across the sky. The beds and beds of vegetables were a dark silhouette against the bright, fiery sky. I drank it all in with my eyes and watched sparks of lightning bugs from my place in the grass. I smiled, realizing that this beautiful place, this gorgeous sunset – this was my home. And summer was just beginning.

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