Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Autumn/Fall (08/27/09)
TITLE: A Higher Standard
By Sandra Petersen
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He frowned toward the barn. A green and yellow tractor and empty hay wagon sat silent and ready for the day’s work.
Russ Donlevy made his way to a wooden chair on the porch and plunked down. His cast clunked on the worn floorboards. He crossed his arms and sank his chin into his chest, glaring at the tractor and hay wagon. The door opened behind him. A teenaged boy in bib overalls and work boots crossed to the porch steps and paused.
“You’re up early this morning,” he remarked.
“Huh.” Russ burrowed his chin deeper and tightened his arms around his chest. His scowl darkened.
“Well, I’d better be off. Got to get out to the hayfield, you know.” The older boy grinned and gave a slight wave. “See ya at lunch, sport.”
The door opened again just as Russ stuck his tongue out at his older brother. He felt two hands grip his shoulders, squeeze slightly, then release.
“Hi, Dad,” Russ muttered without turning.
“Look, Russ. I know I promised you this year you could begin to help Ray and me in the hay harvest. I know how much that meant to you.”
A tear escaped from the corner of the boy’s eye. He swiped it away with one quick movement.
“Your uncle and Grandpa are waiting for us. I have to go now but I wanted you to know I’m going to miss you working beside me.” He squeezed Russ’s shoulder again. “But, remember, there’s always next year.”
With a final pat, Russ’s father joined Ray at the tractor. Ray had started the machine and it was chugging, impatient to move through the fields.
For more than an hour Russ stared at the fields. He could hear the faint chugga-chug of the tractor as it labored. A muffled guffaw sometimes drifted across the expanse. If only he hadn’t broken his leg!
The day became warmer. Grasshoppers whirred in the weeds beside the porch. A large lazy housefly explored Russ’s cast and tiptoed to his bare leg. It droned away when Russ twitched the muscles in his kneecap. He watched their mother cat struggle across the dusty barnyard, lugging a wayward kitten by the scruff. The kitten’s mewling protests continued as the adult ducked into the barn.
Russ did not hear his grandmother until she sat down in the rocking chair beside him, selected an apple from a wash basin in her lap, and began to pare it with a knife.
“Wonderful weather for harvesting. The Lord willing and it don’t rain, the menfolk should get it all cut quickly.”
“Yes’m,” Russ mumbled. His grandmother offered him a paring knife and apple.
Russ shrugged and took the apple and knife. They peeled apples in silence for a few minutes. The boy glanced at his grandmother’s lengthening apple peel. He compared it to his own, then looked at her peel again. At that moment, he nicked his thumb.
“Ouch!” He winced.
“Let me see.” He proffered his hand and his grandmother sighed. “Well, I don’t think it’s deep but we’ll cover it anyway.” As she reached into her apron pocket for a Band-Aid, she asked, “You weren’t comparing the length of your peel to mine, were you?”
Russ blushed and averted his eyes.
“Look at me, Russell.” When he gazed into her tender brown eyes, he could tell she had something serious to discuss with him.
“How did you break that leg?”
Russ flinched. She knew how he did it. Why did he have to tell her again? He sighed. “I tried to swing down out of the hay loft like Ray and my hands slipped.”
“Russell, you seem to compare yourself to folks around you quite a bit. You want to meet or beat everything others do, whether it’s swinging higher or working harder.”
The boy nodded.
She shook her head. “Young man, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from living as long as I have, it’s this: you spend your life doing that, you’re only going to shine by someone else’s standards. There’s a higher standard you can set for yourself and that is displayed by only One.”
“Who’s that, Grandma?” Russ frowned and tried to understand.
She chuckled. “Let’s peel the rest of these apples first. I’ll tell you about Him and His standard while the pies are baking.”
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