- In the Nick of Time
A New Day
Elton Penn thought Sunday was a good idea—not that he was apt to be found in church. Like many farmers he knew he lived in the presence of mystery and of wonders, and he responded with his version of reverence, but he was not a churchman. He liked the idea of Sunday because six days of work, the way he went at it, were about enough for anybody. He was glad of a good excuse to rest on the seventh day. There were Sundays when, as they said around Port William, "the ox was in the ditch," and Elton would have to work, but that could put thirteen hard days in a row. It pleased him to be able to stop on Sunday. "Six days ought to be enough," I often heard him say, "and they are enough."
His problem was that he couldn't rest at home. When he tried to sit and be still—or, worse, attempted just to wander around—at home, pretty soon he would see some job that needed to be done, and, first thing he knew, he would be doing it. Elton had a weakness, you might say, for work. Unlike some people born and brought up to the work of farming, Elton loved it. When he saw work that needed doing, he wanted to be the one who did it. With him there was never much time between thinking of it and starting in to do it.
To rest he needed to go someplace else. There were various places he would go. Sometimes he would even go to Port William to sit with whoever might be loafing, and that way he learned many things of interest. But loafing in town, maybe because some of the loafers loafed faithfully every day, would begin to seem to him less restful than merely idle, and he would become dissatisfied. The resting place that most suited him was Arthur and [End Page 345] Martin Rowanberry's place down at the lower end of the Sand Ripple valley below Port William.
Not so long after the war had ended and Art had made it home, both of the elder Rowanberrys had died. In the early spring of 1946, Mr. Early Rowanberry died in the night, having worked all day the day before. A little more than a year later, Miss Stella, to whom nothing had seemed quite right after Mr. Early's departure, followed him out of this world. With their parents gone, Art and Mart had stayed on in the old house, sharing the housework and batching it together tolerably well.
And now it was 1949, and the bachelors' household down at the Rowanberry place had become an established thing, taken for granted in Port William. Mart, the younger brother by five years, did enjoy going places, and he had a longtime girlfriend, Oma Settle, from down by Hargrave, but nobody expected him to get married.
His brother was in some ways virtually his opposite. Art Rowanberry was born in 1905. He had been an old soldier, an "old man" among the boys with whom he had fought the war. When he at last got out of Bastogne, his travels, as far as he was concerned, were over. He traveled on, under orders, to the wound that took him out of the war and nearly out of the world. When he was strong enough again, he traveled home. And that pretty much was that. He had seen by then as much of the world as he wanted to see, except for the stretch of country between Bird's Branch and Katie's Branch and from Port William and Goforth to the river, which was home to him far more than the great nation he had fought for. After he came back from the war and the government was finished with him except for taxes, he would go to Port William or Hargrave if he had to, but for pleasure he stayed home.
What the two brothers had in common was the boundary of land—arable ridges and creek bottom, wooded slopes and hollows—that Columbus...