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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Illustrate the meaning of "Make Hay While the Sun Shines" (without using the actual phrase or literal example). (03/06/08)

TITLE: A Farmer's Life
By Shirley McClay


Farmer Hank woke to the sound of Croak, the rooster, welcoming the vibrant dawn. Intense colors streaked the sky.

“I’m about fed up with that miserable excuse for an alarm clock.” His wife’s drowsy groan made him grin as he hopped out of bed and hiked up his drawers.

Farmer Hank loved everything about life and early mornings were the best part of his day. He settled his floppy straw hat on his head and headed out to the barn, whistling a cheerful tune. The birds twittered and tweeted their greetings. Bucky Beagle cavorted at his heels, baying and growling playfully. He inhaled deeply of the fresh country air to clear the last sleepy cobwebs from his head.

The barn was warm and smelled of rich odors. Feed, animals… even the manure was a part of the comforting mixture. Hank settled down on a milking stool beside Greta and rested his forehead against her soft flank as he milked. The expectant barn cats clustered nearby. Meadow Muffin stretched up to her full height, purred persuasively, and gently slapped his cheek with her silky paw.

“Ok, little lady, step back now.” He sent several squirts of milk toward the waiting cats and chuckled at their antics and frothy white faces. After stripping the last few drops from Greta, Hank gave her a last pat and let her wander out to the clover-filled pasture.

The cats danced around his feet and screeched at Hank until he spilled some sweet milk into their bowls. He sat and watched them drink their fill, and then vigorously clean their damp whiskers. He picked up Muffin and cuddled her, feeling her purr and running his fingers through her soft fur. She smelled both fresh and earthy… like grass and dirt. Muffin squirmed restlessly, so Hank put her down and headed out to finish his chores.

Carrying a basket of eggs and a handful of wildflowers, he returned to the welcoming farmhouse.

The smell of home-cured bacon and fried eggs teased Hank’s nose and his stomach cramped in hunger. He stepped onto the porch, slipped out of his coveralls and barn boots, and stopped to again absorb the beauty of the morning. His heart raced and his chest ached.

“Henry... you gonna eat or what?” Velma’s voice startled him from his thoughts. Henry turned and gazed at her. At sixty-two, she seemed to have become more beautiful through the years. The lines and wrinkles made her look softer and wiser instead of aged. Humor, intelligence, and love lit her deep brown eyes and made them glow. A thick braid of silky silver hair wrapped around her head like a crown, yet she wore a simple pair of faded jeans and a t-shirt. Her feet were bare and dirty, but she always smelled of flowers and soap. Velma cocked her head at Hank’s intense expression and her chocolate eyes moistened as he wrapped his arms around her. They clung to one another.

Finally, she pulled back with a sniffle and gave his arm a playful whack… ”Your favorite breakfast is getting cold, Mister. Get in there and eat before I dump it in the slop bucket.” They clasped hands and ambled into the sprawling kitchen. Hank’s food was indeed cold, yet never had it tasted so good to him.

“What took so long this morning? I nearly came out to get ya.” Velma didn’t look at him as she washed the few dishes she had dirtied making breakfast.

“I’m sorry to have worried you, I never thought...” He paused, thinking about his morning. “I was so caught up in absorbing every smell, every sensation, every memory.” A dish crashed to the floor. Robert was at Velma’s side in seconds. They held each other and cried.

Later they sat together on the front porch swing, sipping iced lemonade and talking. Their fingers were as entwined as their hearts. “Tomorrow’s surgery is dangerous. So, just in case, everything you would need is on my desk in a folder.”

Velma again blinked back tears.

“Doc said it could be months before I’m back at what I love here, but I’ve arranged for the animals to be cared for, however long it takes. Tomorrow and the following days will be hard, but today… let’s just be grateful for today and enjoy every minute of it.”

Velma laid her head on Henry’s muscled shoulder and breathed in his masculine scent. “There is one thing we still need to do today. Lets pray.”

Author's note. PLEASE RED INK!

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Laury Hubrich 03/13/08
I love this! I love the descriptions of the farm animals and I love the relationship between the man and the woman. You communicated it all so well! Good job, my friend!
Mandy White03/14/08
First of all, great story!
One thing confused me. MC was Hank or Henry all the way through the story, then near the end it read: Robert was at Velma'a side in seconds. Other than that, a pleasure to read!
Marilyn Schnepp 03/15/08
Sweet story. I liked it. However....

Red ink? Needs some "oomph" to make it memorable. Some humor perhaps, or tightening up so that it doesn't become mundane and long drawn out for the reader.
You asked - I delivered. (*.*)!
Sally Hanan03/15/08
This was very cute. Re. red ink--take out a Thesaurus and change some words so that, e.g. instead of whistling a cheerful tune, you have Hank piping a bouncy melody through his teeth and rounded lips etc. it's always good to avoid standard phrases many writers use and makes your writing more unique.
Shelley Ledfors 03/16/08
I LOVED this! Yes, there was the name change and a couple of places where the wording could have been slightly different etc... But the "feel" of this piece is absolutely lovely. Perhaps because I have memories of this kind of thing it really resonated with me! I could see, hear, feel and smell everything you described. And it is a great illustration of the topic as well.
Jan Ackerson 03/16/08
Great job with the atmosphere.

I'd introduce the conflict earlier; conflict is what pulls the reader along.

I like the relationship you depict between the husband and wife.
Joanne Sher 03/16/08
Great descriptions. I agree with Jan about conflict earlier, but this is still lovely. Very nice, Shirley!
Lyn Churchyard03/16/08
This was such a lovely story.
I loved the descriptions of the morning and the farm animals. The ending was a real surprise. Well done girl!
Marita Thelander 03/16/08
Yep, you had me. Didn't see the surgery coming. The couple seemed so endearing, just thought it was a nice loving story. Good job.
Holly Westefeld03/16/08
I loved your vivid descriptions, your kittys, and how you showed the depth of Hank and Velma's love.

I think, perhaps, you were using two aspects of "life" in the title, which is nice, but perhaps something else, I'm not sure what, might have made a more captivating title.
A very picky detail. Hank brought back eggs and flowers. Did he give all the milk to the cats, or do I just not know what is done with milk on a farm?

I like how you foreshadowed Hank's heart problem as he looked over the farm before breakfast, along with the other hints that something significant was concerning the two of them. This was a very enjoyable read.
Patty Wysong03/17/08
I really enjoyed this. Red ink? I kept wondering where the story was going. Hinting at the coming day with its concerns would have helped move things along, without taking away from it. This made me remember things from when we had animals to care for, and how much I enjoyed it.
Debbie Wistrom03/17/08
Names of the amimals were cute and your other details quite engaging. I'd change one word. They "ambled" into the sprawling kitchen. I think of ambling as something down out of doors. Loved the sentiments at the end and how he had made arrangements to help her out while he recovered.
Joshua Janoski03/17/08
This was a cute story. I really liked how the farmer and his wife had kept their love strong even after all of those years.

I was wondering where the topic was, and then I read the part about the surgery at the end, and it all made sense.

I liked this Shirley. Thank you for sharing!
Shayne Catoe03/18/08
I enjoyed the read of this picturesque story. It lulled me throughout and stung me in the end. Life is fragile.
Kristen Hester03/18/08
Very sweet story. You have some great descriptions.

I noticed that others catched the name thing. I often change my characters' names several times before I settle on one. Do you have "Find and Replace" on your word processor? I bet you do. (Under EDIT). Just put "Find: Hank, Replace: Henry and it will find them all. Just want to pass on that trick.

I think some hints of the conflict would hav been nice. I was ready for some action/conflict as he walked around his farm.

Great job. Keep it up!
Tim Pickl03/18/08
Chely Roach03/19/08
This was wonderful...you touched almost every sense with your vivid descriptions. I loved the line about squirting the cats with the milk!
The only additional red ink I could humbly offer: I had to re-read the dialogue at the end; I was unsure of who was speaking, or who was sick until Hank mentioned caring for the animals. But it could just be me and the late hour:)
Beckie Stewart03/19/08
This was good. I enjoyed all the description and the husband/wife relationship. I got a little confused on who was having surgery and it popping in there suddenly, but just loved this.
Sara Harricharan 03/19/08
Oh, what a sweet view of this darling couple! I loved it, especially the descriptions you had with the sunrise and while he went to milk Greta. (and those adorable cats-cute names!)

RED INK: I think you changed Hank to Henry and then back to Hank. The first line of dialouge about the rooster, I'm guessing that's Velma, but it seems like the line belongs to Hank because an action belonging to him follows it. Otherwise, good stuff! ^_^
Patrick Whalen03/19/08
I really enjoyed your descriptions. I almost felt as if I were on the farm. The conflict seemed to hit a bit late in the story and with a small word count you had to wrap it up quickly. You did so very well but it could have happened a little sooner.
Betty Castleberry03/19/08
Absolutely wonderful descriptions. I could hear, see, feel and taste it all. I giggled when I read the name Meadow Muffin.
I'm going to be a bit of a rebel here and say I liked the fact that you left the conflict or the "meat" of the story until very late in your entry. It kept me reading wondering where it was going. I had NO idea,and I like surprises. The descriptive read along the way to get there was very nice, too.
Loren T. Lowery03/19/08
Tererric job of mood and scene setting and the love between the two was tangible, yet subtle, which I really liked and takes skill on the writer's part to do. I knew something was going to happen, because the front part of the story was too sanquine, and with your descriptiions, dialogue, etc., I had a hunch you were leading up to something memorable and I wasn't disappointed. I would say, kudos for great writing and a tereffic story. And, yes the use of a thesarus can come in handy from time to time.
Verna Cole Mitchell 03/20/08
You've already all the red ink you need. Change the name, and for me the story was perfect, excellent poetic prose. It is a beautiful vignette of farm life, with the quiet before the storm. You painted a wonderful picture of the scene in the barn with your imaagery. You also showed the love of the couple magically for me. Great job!
Catrina Bradley 03/24/08
I grew up on a milk farm so I REALLY enjoyed your descriptions. The relationship between the couple was so endearing. You've got plenty of red ink, but if you want a tiny bit more, you need a comma after "life" here - "Hank loved everything about life and early mornings were". :) I loved this story!