Blinking, I sat there, staring, open-mouthed, while my flannel-shirted, jeans-bedecked husband—grease still under his fingernails from where he had changed the oil in the tractor only hours before—postulated about the celebrities who would just naturally “line up for interviews once his radio show got off the ground.” Here sat Ezekiel D. Higginbottom—the last man in Hog Holler to allow with reservations that a propane gas stove just might cook as well as a wood-burning one—spouting off about promos, playlists, target audience, and total weekly reach, as casually as he used to discuss manure, hayseed, and alfalfa.
This man, who never took time off except to attend our Annual Harvest Pageant, was now ciphering on a schedule whereby he could do morning chores—would I mind taking over a few?—and still get to the station by 5:30 a.m.
My world was teetotally upended all because Happy Jack Wilkins had appeared, wearing checked pants and a red bow tie, and gone to City Hall to apply for a construction permit for a square concrete building on the highest ridge outside town.
If I had known then what I know now, I would have stopped Zeke going up there to find out what was going on. But how could I possibly know or anticipate my level-headed husband would take complete leave of his senses?
Thank goodness at that moment Ned, Zed and Augusta came home from school, hungry and complaining about the pile of homework they had to do for tomorrow. Pushing away from the table, I lifted my shoulders in a mock display of resignation.
The expression on my face said—or so I hoped—Oh, well, first things first.
Zeke gave me a little peck on the cheek, saying we would talk more after supper, and went back to the barn.
While my younguns gathered at the table and began spreading out their books, I went to the cupboard for three bowls and then served up a heaping portion of warm peach cobbler for each of them.
Ned, philosophical even at age 10, looked sideways at me. “You’re letting us eat dessert before supper? You ain’t never done that before.”
Zed, more of a straightforward thinker, had already heaved to, gripping his spoon like a garden spade, and shoveling warm, cinnamon-scented peaches and my lighter-than-air crust (learned from my mama—plowing wasn’t the only thing she did perfect) between his lips.
“Thith ith de-lith-iouth, Ma,” Augusta said, lisping on account of two missing teeth.
“Is something wrong?” Ned asked, still suspicious.
“No, nothing’s wrong,” I said, putting my arm around his shoulders. “I just appreciate you. That’s all.”
He had no idea how much. Them coming in when they did kept me from saying to Zeke what I was thinking.
No. I’m not going to take over your morning chores. No. Celebrities are not going to line up for interviews. And what in the world are you thinking falling for the sales pitch of a smooth talker like this Happy Jack Wilkins?
Once the older three came home, crowding into the kitchen and clamoring for supper, I was able to focus on simpler matters like sweet potatoes and biscuits, and commence thinking of a way out of the conundrum Zeke had plunged me into.
I’d heard women bemoaning their husband’s mid-life crises whenever I was at Roylene’s Beauty Shoppe on Saturdays. Poor Mary Lois Savage’s husband Abram bought a vintage 1940’s Ford truck he hired some fellow in Charleston to paint ruby red, spent who knew how much money on white sidewall tires and put on a trailer hitch. April McDaniel fared even worse. Her husband Gus bought him a metallic cobalt-blue Corvette and then realizing he had no place to park it, set himself the task of building a custom garage and air-conditioned it. I’d seen it. It was nicer than their house.
Once we sat down to supper, talk turned to ordinary matters like football and Juney Belle’s latest romance. Leaning over his collard greens, Zeke started looking like his old self again. I began to calm down. He hadn’t bought a fancy car.
Things could be worse.
Maybe I wasn’t going to have a tale of woe to tell after all.
If Zeke did end up with his own radio show—and who knew if that would actually happen—he would probably just give farm reports, talk about the weather, announce events like the Harvest Pageant and Miss Mamie’s 100th birthday next month.
There was nothing to worry about.
Don’t borrow trouble, Maybelle, I said to myself.
But that was before Zeke, wearing a black, silver-trimmed cowboy shirt, brought home a five-string banjo, and said Happy Jack Wilkins was going to teach him how to play it. Did I have an extra Mason jar he could keep picks in?