Martha had been up and going since before daylight. She had been putting in a garden, harvesting, and preserving since before she married. It was more difficult each year to lift those full bushel baskets, but Martha wasn’t quitting any time soon.
As Martha was bringing in the last bushel of peas, Henry held the screen door off the back porch of the kitchen for her. “Morning.” Neither Henry nor Martha was talkative until well after breakfast and several cups of coffee. Most mornings they barely spoke until lunch. There wasn’t much need, actually. The tall, broad-shouldered man with salt and pepper hair had been married to the little lady with golden brown hair turned white for fifty years. In 1958, Martha had graduated with a degree in teaching and Henry had been farming his own twenty acres for two years. They had been young, but not immature. Growing up in the country is an education unto itself. Every child the two had known in the farming community of Blairsville, Georgia, had grown up working as hard in the house or fields as they had in school. They had occasionally envied the city kids who had far less chores after school. Truth was, neither would have traded his position in life to risk parting with the first juicy bite of a crisp mountain apple or the fragrance of honey suckle blooms drifting through a bedroom window before the first fall frost had fallen.
Martha and Henry had grown up two miles from each other. They had played baseball together with the neighbor kids in old man Foley’s fallow garden site that, naturally, changed from year to year. Mr. Foley’s wife had died before any of the kids had been old enough to know her. The couple had no children except the ones in their community they helped supervise and provide for. It was not until he died that any of them had known how old he was. Martha remembered how amazed she was to learn that Mr. and Mrs. Foley had been married thirty-three years before Edna died. Hamilton Foley lived another forty years alone, never so much as directly speaking to another woman. The obituary said that Mr. Foley was ninety-five at his time of death. “I wonder if Henry and I will live that long? Not if his memory does not improve.” Martha mumbled to herself.
“Morning,” Martha replied. She eased the bushel of peas to the floor beside the kitchen sink and took the mug of hot coffee that Henry offered her. It had taken nearly thirty years for Martha to convince Henry that he could make the coffee himself whenever she was busy elsewhere. It was just recently that Henry poured a cup for Martha now and then. “He acts as though he has performed an act worthy of knighthood,” thought Martha. And just how many cups had she brewed with a child on her hip and another crawling on the floor while getting over the early spring flu year after year without so much as a, “Thank you, ma’am?” Martha was still throwing herself a pity party because Henry had forgotten their fiftieth wedding anniversary. Okay, Henry had always needed a little reminding. He never paid as much attention to the calendar as he did to the signs of the seasons. Martha had kept a large calendar since the kids were little. It still hangs to the left of the refrigerator as it always has with each day marked through with a large red X to help Martha keep up with the children’s activities. Before the last child had left home, the grandchildren were arriving so Martha continued with the big red Xs.
“Something is bothering you, mama. Don’t tell me it isn’t. We have been married nigh on to fifty years and I know when something is bothering you.” Henry had finished his coffee and put down his cup with more force than he had intended.
Martha knew Henry was brewing for a full-scale argument if need be, but he would not leave the kitchen until he knew what the problem was. “We have not been married for almost fifty years, Henry McClain. As of seven days ago, we have been married for fifty years and going on the seventh day.” Martha answered Henry but it was difficult for her to hold back the tears. She definitely did not want Henry to see her cry over something he would call silly.
“Say what? I’m looking at the calendar on the wall and the last day marked with a big red X is September 23.” Henry looked at Martha, as though, “The poor girl must have Alzheimer’s.”
Martha quickly stood up and ran to the calendar. Sure enough, she had not marked a day off in seven days. She had been so busy harvesting and canning that she totally forgot to mark off the spent days of her life. “I am so sorry Henry. I forgot to mark the calendar, but this is October 1. You cannot be held accountable for my negligence.” Martha was so relieved that she was unable to hold back the floodgate of tears that flowed down her still beautiful cheeks. Henry held her tight for a full ten minutes until she regained control of herself. Her husband of fifty years and almost seven days took her out to the little workshop inside the barn on the back right side. There, Henry revealed the old John Deere lawn tractor that her had rebuilt with a small wagon attached to the rear. He had remodeled the tractor, changing out the manual transmission for an automatic because of Martha’s arthritis.
“For hauling peas and such,” Henry offered.
“I love you, Henry.” Someone from the tractor store would deliver a new John Deere to Henry around noon.