The Merry Cherry Farm,
Williamston, North Carolina
The green John Deere tractor coughs to life like a prehistoric animal awakening from a dormant winter. Its long, pipe-like nostril sends smoke out the metallic lid, creating a faint ding, ding, ding that can be heard from the sleeping windows of the farmhouse just a few yards away. John Robert Jones sits aloft the spluttering beast as an Arab sits upon his steed gazing out across the desert, contemplating the long journey ahead of him.
After a few moments, he stands up and stares out beyond the hazy, early morning mist surveying the rows upon rows of ripe, ready-to-be picked tobacco plants lining the flat farmland like gold, waist-high sentries standing at attention. He is pleased. The weather has been kind to him this year, producing just the right amount of moisture from the rain with just the right amount of heat from the sun to make the crop lush and full.
The beast is calm now, purring beneath him, ready for the push toward the barns at the back of the farm. It’s time to put everything in check for the workday ahead. To punctuate the moment, he grasps the steering wheel with one hand, and with the other hand’s index and middle finger pressed to his lips to form a “V,” sends a long, thin stream of tobacco juice onto the dirt where it splats, creating a hasty puff of smoke. He sits down again, pushes the clutch in, slides the stick easily into gear, and he and his green steed gently lurch forward down the dirt path, leaving a guttural, dusty putt, putt, putt in their wake.
Just a few yards away stands a white, clapboard house with a corrugated tin roof. Inside the house, Pearl Jones is preparing breakfast for the family and the farm workers. The aroma of cheese biscuits, bacon, eggs, grits, and hot coffee wafts through the house gently stirring its occupants.
In front of the house to the right is the old weeping willow tree. What hasn’t that weeping willow tree seen? It cries when all the naughty children have to pluck a switch from its limbs in order to get a whippin’ for their misbehavior. It sighs in contentment when the women sit under it on long, hot summer afternoons drinking sweet iced tea and shelling peas. And it laughs when the children run around its trunk at dusk cupping lightening bugs in their tiny hands.
There used to be an outhouse in the back yard a long time ago. It was hard getting used to the indoor plumbing. Nearly everyone had gotten up at least once in the middle of the night to trudge down the steps of the side porch, only to grope unsuccessfully in the darkness for the non-existent outhouse door. Then, in a snap of realization, they’d curse, turn right around and trudge back up the steps to the new-fangled bathroom inside the house. That summer at the family pig pickin,’ John Robert is purported to have whispered to Pearl during the blessing, “Dang Pearl, I never thought I’d see the day when we’d be eatin’ in the yard and shittin’ in the house!”
It’s nearly six a.m. now and the pick-up trucks begin filling the yard, one pulling up under the weeping willow tree, another beside the side porch, and yet another beside the barn on the other side of the dirt path where the tractor sat just before. The sun has just reached the horizon and is suddenly spreading it rays across the flat land like so many flashlight beams.
Just as the first bumblebee of the day shakes off the mist and makes its way to the big magnolia tree in the front yard for breakfast, the last mosquito of the night tucks its sated proboscis into its chest and searches for a quiet spot to take respite from a fruitful night.
And thus begins another summer’s day at the Merry Cherry Farm in Williamston, North Carolina.