Willie Smith looked at the computer screen and smiled. He was quite pleased with the balance in his money market account. But it did remind him of a couple of points. First was where he could invest it. Second, and more urgent, was how the Valley was going to react to the news.
He looked up and out of the window. The view reminded him that he needed to change the location of his desk. He looked at the numbers on his computer screen and wondered if he had made the right decision. He could have sold his house and built up there. The view from Backside Ridge was fabulous. But selling the family homestead? And what sort of house would he have built? The view from this window had always been very relaxing. Soon it was going to be anything but relaxing. Today, however, it was still a beautiful view even though the little waterfall now belonged to Clara Hathaway. He was going to have to move his desk.
A noise behind him broke his train of thought. Doug was standing in the doorway. He asked, “Deal closed?”
“Yes.” He still did not understand why his son was not interested in Backside Ridge. This was not the time to bring that up. He said, “Rodriquez is going to be angry.”
Doug shook his head and responded, “I doubt it. She’ll probably get the state to approve an extension of Meadows Boulevard north to her property. Be easy to build a road right next to the national forest. And it won’t hurt either of the waterfalls. Well, not too much.”
“And if she doesn’t? There will be heavy trucks on Rockbrough Road going right by Staley’s Store.”
“Dad…” Doug sighed, shook his head and continued, “If that happens, then all that traffic will go right by our house. He’ll laugh.” Doug stepped over to the loveseat on the wall near the desk and sat down. “Dad, I want to talk to you about something. I’m thinking about getting a degree in forestry.”
Willie Smith looked hard at his son. “Forestry? That’s not a surprise.”
“Well, some of the best schools are out of state. There’s really good schools in California but Duke and Clemson have good forestry programs too.”
Willie nodded. “Well, I know you really do want to save the planet.” He held up one finger and continued, “That’s probably the best way you can pursue your dream. Have you actually applied anywhere?”
Doug shook his head. He said one word, “Money.”
Willie grinned. “So you sacrificed Backside Ridge to save the planet?”
“What?” Doug was shocked at the thought. “No! How could you think…?” He looked hard at his father. “Oh, my timing?”
Both of them sat in silence for a minute. Then Doug said, “You’ve sold most of the farm. I’ve not asked you for anything. And, so far as I know, neither has Janet or Gene. Still, I thought you were saving Backside Ridge for them. It was yours to manage as you thought best. No. I didn’t even think about it that way. I was just wondering about paying for college. I wanted to ask you about student loans and other ways to finance a degree. If I’m going to do this, I want to do it right. Schools like Yale and Duke cost lots of money. I just wanted your advice.”
“When Gene brought Moondog home and announced that they were going to open a restaurant I was shocked. I still don’t know where they got the money. It must have been Moondog’s. And now you come in here and ask for advice, not money. I guess maybe I did raise you right.” He stood up and looked out the window. “You don’t even know how much Hathaway paid for the Ridge, do you?”
Doug said, “No.”
Willie said, “Look at the computer. Yesterday there was three thousand in that money market account.”
Doug started to refuse to look. He really did not care what the selling price was. But there was something in his father’s voice that implied he should look. He stood up and stepped toward the desk. The numbers were, for him, meaningless. Land ownership made no sense to him. Land stewardship, however, did mean something. His father had never asked any of his children about selling the farm. He had made that decision. Backside Ridge was almost all there was left. Now it was gone. He asked, “Okay?”
“If I divide that into three parts and set up a trust fund for each of you then you could borrow the money from the trust fund.”
“That would make me a trust fund baby.” Doug laughed. “I’ve taken dozens of them on hikes. Never thought of myself as one.” Then he realized what his father had just done. Backside Ridge had been sacrificed for his benefit. Anger flooded his brain for a second. Then he saw quite plainly the silhouette of his father in the window. The man was merely that: a man. He was trying to do the best he could.
The clock on the fireplace mantle started chiming. It stopped at eleven. Doug felt a bit hungry. He asked, “Hey, Dad, want to join me for lunch at Staley’s?”
Staley’s parking lot was not very crowded. Doug pointed to Rodriguez’s truck with out saying a word. His father grunted.
As they entered Doug noticed that Eric and Patty were manning the store. Rodriquez was sitting in the first booth on the right and clearly saw them enter. Fortunately, he said nothing. Doug gave Patty their order, checking that his father wanted black coffee.
As they walked toward an empty booth Thomas Rodriguez greeted them, “Hi Willie, Doug. How’s the real estate business?”
“Fantasy Land.” Willie grinned at the man and took a seat in the back booth behind Rodriguez.
In less than a minute Patty brought two coffee cups and an insulated pitcher of coffee to their booth. She looked at Doug and asked, “Did you want fried bologna with egg or just bologna?”
As Patty walked past Thomas Rodriguez he said, “I guess you are what you eat.” Then turned around and smiled at the Smiths.
Willie grinned and asked, “What did you have, Thomas?” The answer was slow in coming.
Patty said, “Well, Thomas, tell him.” She paused a moment then said, “Or I will.”
Mr. Rodriguez turned red. He stood up, tossed some money on the table, then headed toward the door. Patty continued, “I’ve told you before. You can start something in my store, but rest assured, I will finish it.” As he reached the door she said, “Chicken.”
Some of the other customers laughed. But Willie and Doug kept straight faces. Rodriguez turned and looked back at the booths. Doug could see that he noted who was laughing. He quietly closed the door as he left.
“There’s a reason McCoy sold his farm to Rodriguez. It’s damn hard work.” Willie was addressing no one in particular. “He may have a small farm, but it’s got very fertile land. He feels betrayed by this valley. He had no idea that Harrison and I were going to turn our farms into subdivisions. Cross Valley Trail runs right through the middle of his farm. Hikers stomp across his fields. The roads are now streets with drivers complaining about his tractors not moving fast enough. This was a quiet, agrarian valley. Now its suburbia. I don’t blame him for being mad.”
“So, Mr. Smith, how much of the Hathaway fortune are you going to con out of Clara Hathaway?” It was one of the residents of the Meadows who had bought his property from Willie Smith.
“Oh, I’m hoping to get all of it!” Willie laughed. He was not going to tell anyone that they had closed the deal. Then he added, “Wish I’d known how rich you are. I would have asked you for more!”
Silence descended with an almost audible thud. Patty had a big grin on her face.
Driving home, Doug said, “That was some speech. You could join Fr. Mike in deflating egos. He might like the Valley’s focus on someone else.”
“Nah…that ah…” Willie hesitated, trying to find the right words, “Ah…he lives on Bluebell Lane I think. He did not listen to what I was saying. People like him make me regret selling the farm to anyone. He’s a jerk. They all are, I suppose.” He paused in thought, then continued, “Your mother, Amelia, when she passed, well, it was impossible. I didn’t know…What’s that?!”
They were almost home. But up above Backside Ridge were half a dozen helicopters. Doug stopped the truck and they got out. Flying in formation, a small fleet of helicopters were bring heavy machinery to the ridge.
“Well, I’d say she’s got style, anyway.” Willie was laughing, “Guess I don’t have to worry about heavy trucks driving past the house. They got back in the truck and Willie asked Doug, “So, you’re going to go back to school? Why don’t you move back here until you leave? You’re going to have to store much of your stuff anyway. Just move it back here. No telling where the Forest Service will place you when you graduate. I might only get to see you at Christmas. Spend a little time with me and your sister. Okay?”
Doug parked the truck and got out. He really wanted to know what his father was going to say about his mother. He had such a difficult time talking about her. It was obvious that he missed her. “Sure. The lease is up in a couple of months.”
Willie sat down at his desk. Then he glanced out the window. The little waterfall was beautiful. He watched for a minute or so. Then realized that he could see no helicopters. Maybe, he thought, I won’t have to move my desk.