I posted “Brad,” a chapter from Gift of Seeds, a few days ago. The tractor ride I described in it took place almost sixty years ago.
Yesterday, Brad phoned.
After my uncle Everett died in 1960, my grandmother leased her fields to other farmers, and my uncle’s right hand man had to find work elsewhere. The last time I saw Brad was at my uncle’s funeral. He stood off to one side with his wife, Ivory. I hardly recognized him in a suit and without a sweat-stained cap.
After Gift of Seeds was published, my sister gave me the address and I sent an email to Everett’s daughter, my cousin Mary Ann, in Milford, Delaware. I wrote her about the book and the people she knew who appear in it, including her father and our Grandma Stayton. Months later I received an email from Mary Ann’s adult daughter, Stephanie. The email address I’d used is actually hers. Seems Mary Ann isn’t much on email “but she’d love to talk,” her daughter wrote back, and gave me the phone number.
We talked. We scarcely knew each other as children. Now, more than half a century later, we had our first conversation. The next day she called me, and we talked some more. I was lucky to remember half the people she was bringing me up to date on.
“Bedie died, must be ten years ago now, and Herbie’s long gone. Janet lives somewhere in Arizona; I’ll get you her address. Aunt May and Uncle Tom’s farm was sold off in parcels, I don’t know whatever became of Martha or Dickie; Clint and Jane live right next door; we tore down grandma’s old barn last year; the only thing left standing of the farm buildings is the milk house; and Doug—remember Doug?—he lives over to Frederica; my husband Sam’s mom, Mother Day, lives with us. She stills drives to bingo in town at the senior center. A while before Stephanie was born I had a miscarriage, but the year grandma passed, I had my hysterectomy, and Aunt Zena died too; it was a bad year…”
A dust devil of details later, Mary Ann said, “Brad lives right here in Milford. I run into him once in a while.”
“Do you have his address?” I asked.
Mary Ann looked up “Bradie Worthy” in the phone book. I heard her flipping pages. She gave me his information right then. The next morning I mailed Brad a letter with a copy of Gift of Seeds, intending to wait a week and then call him.
He called me first. My cousin had given him my number. My smarter-than-me phone already knew the call was from an unknown number in Milford, but only I knew it had to be Brad.
“Jack? That you?”
His voice touched a gossamer wisp of memory, but this was an older, rural-sounding man, articulate, his tone gravelly but distantly familiar. He knew me by Jack, my childhood nickname.
“Brad!” I exclaimed.
“Yes it is! I got your book. Thank you! Thank you. I’ve never been so surprised.”
“Nobody ever wrote such nice things about me. Brings me back to a finer time, a happy time… Your grandma and your uncle were good people, and real good to me…”
We exchanged memories about family and friends, past and present.
“I read other stories in your book and liked them, but I keep going back to ‘Brad’ and reading it again. I’m still just soaking it up.”
I had thanked Brad in my letter to him, saying the meaning and importance of that long-ago time have stayed with me and influenced how I’ve seen the world ever since.
“Please accept this Gift of Seeds with my profound gratitude for the positive, formative part you played in my upbringing,” I inscribed in the book I sent him.
After a short silence, Brad said, softly, “I had no idea, no idea… no idea at all…”
I could almost see him slowly shaking his gray-haired head in time with the words he dropped one by one into the phone. From a deep well, a lifetime of feelings rose. His voice trembled. I teared up, too.
We’d both had no idea, until now.