quinn esq's picture

    The Other Catcher In The Rye.

    One year - back when we had the combine - Dad decided to plant rye in the big field that ran between our house and the rest of the farm. 

    Beautiful stuff, rye. You may not think kids notice when things are beautiful, but compared to rows of potatoes or fields full of dumpy old squash laying around - the rye was gorgeous. Tall. Alive-looking, the way it's always waving. Soft tassels. And it made this beautiful sound when the wind swooshed through it.

    When you walked through it, you couldn't help but put your hands out to feel those tassels swishing by. Like acres of cat tails.

    We all liked the rye so much, we took to walking directly through it when we'd cross to the farm. Swish swish, and it was knee high, then swoosh swoosh, waist high, on and on it grew, until it was so tall it would hide you. 

    Which we really liked.

    Eventually, we started branching off the walking paths we'd been making, and started in flattening down little patches for hideouts and clubhouses, right there in the rye-field. You'd start by tramping in a circle, baby-steps, to flatten down a section. Then you'd lay down and roll around to smooth the rye out. Eventually, the flattened down rye stalks would cover the ground like seat covers or couches. Better though, because you could pull a stalk from your couch to chew when you needed it.

    When he heard about all this, Dad yelled pretty bad. Asked us what we thought he'd planted it there for anyway. We kids tried to hide the problem by agreeing amongst ourselves to use just one entry and exit point. That way our folks could only see the one opening on each end of the field. But truth was, we'd only follow that one path a few yards into the rye, then run off in our usual hundred directions.

    We loved it in there. In the rye. Who wouldn't? It was beautiful and soft and warm and safe. When you were in there, you could lay down and talk... stretch out and read... chew grass... have a nap... anything really. I have this one memory, just me and my baseball glove, this gold-coloured catcher's mitt I wore everywhere, 'cause there were always kids on the farm wanting to play ball, and besides, you never knew when it might come in handy, and I remember just lying there looking up through the rye, seeing the sky, and blocking the sun's glare out with that glove.

    From inside the rye, we could hear Mum yelling at us to come to dinner or to mow the lawn or come home for bed. And we could hear the Men talk, working on equipment in the yard, or heading off on a tractor or down into the barn to feed the cattle. And yet the whole time, we'd be invisible to them.

    When it started, it was just us 4 boys, making a gathering place we could escape to. But then we each needed our own individual place, and then our sisters and brothers started flattening down places too, and then we needed to make even more sites, bigger ones, for when we got together with our friends.

    As the Summer went on, we got so we wanted to do more and more things from inside the rye. We brought in a piece of wood, cut the size of a home plate, and I'd squat down behind it, the catcher, while a way's away, we heaped up a pitcher's mound for Bruce and Roy and Lev to throw from, and then stamped down a strip in-between for the ball to fly through. That way, they could practice pitching right there in the rye, whenever they wanted, 'cause like I say, I always had my catcher's mitt. 

    But when that ball would come in fast, leaping right at you from out of the rye, and they'd come right onto it and throw hard, and the rye would fall back as that ball came burning through, making that sound, that whooshing, and the ball blazing blip blip blip past those stalks, all golden in the sun, and you're waiting to catch it, in that golden glove, I can't tell ya.

    I guess because there were 15 or 20 kids on the farm at that time, we flattened down quite a few patches. 'Cause we really liked it in the rye. We all talked about it, years after it was gone, how great that rye field was. 

    And we all remembered the day Dad finally got up on top of the old Cockshutt combine and got it going and then wheeled it over to the rye field, 'cause we were all shouting at him not to cut it, because we loved it, and I climbed right up after him on the combine pleading, but he was having none of it and shooed me off the ladder.

    Then right when he started it churning, the header all ready to turn over and bite into the rye, you could see him pause, stand up from his seat, and look out over the field. Then he lifts his cap off, and wipes his forehead, and shakes his head. He looks down at all of us kids, gathered round that combine, and says, "I coulda sworn I planted rye in this field, but there doesn't look to be much left."

    Then we all scrambled up top of the combine to see, 'cause we didn't really know how bad it was, but oh my, when you looked out across that poor old rye field... well, there was certainly less rye left standing than there was rye flattened down and made into our paths and clubhouses and comfy couches and pitching mounds and such. 

    So I thought as fast as I could, and said to him that maybe it really wasn't worth taking the rye off at all this year, considering the stamped down bits, and where maybe the rain had got at it and lodged some of it too, and the various books and bats and seats and sticks we'd drug in amongst it, that might get caught in the equipment.

    Dad thought for a bit, and then he says, "Maybe this field would do better as orchard next year, eh?" And I said it certainly would be nice to have at least some of the apples close to the house like that, maybe make it easier to prune and spray and pick 'em than having to walk back to the orchards like we usually did.

    When he first started the combine moving again, he looked kinda sad. 'Cause as a farmer, the field was pretty much a failure. But then when he turned the combine around and saw all us kids jumping up and down and cheering, I think he knew he'd done the right thing.

    And I got a few more weeks to play catcher in the rye. A different kind of catcher than in the book, true. But still. When the boys would lay onto a pitch, and all that rye would blow back to get out of the way, and you'd hear that whoosh sound start, and see that ball blazing, coming straight at you through all that golden golden rye, and up comes your glove, and whooshoomp, you caught it... man, it was something.
    Something beautiful.


    Come visit some time, folks. You're all welcome, over at the other place.

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