Ray was busy balancing his ledger. He always double-checked his work because he knew farmers that were careless with their bookkeeping soon lost their farms. His father always seemed to know exactly what they had by estimate, but Ray learned early on to be cautious with his bookkeeping. During the winter that his father and mother took ill, Ray had to start paying the bills and he didn't pay too much attention to the balance. Ray hadn't worried at first, he knew his father would take it over again when he got well.
But then the worst thing happened that Ray could have ever imagined. His father died and within two days his mother was also passed. Ray was devastated with grief but tried to put on a brave face for Danny. The neighbors helped out with food, and Reverend Case helped take care of the burial and service. Everybody was good to Martha, Ray and Danny.
On the day of the viewing, when people come by and pay their respects, Ray remembered how he looked out the front window and saw the banker, Mr. Thomas, with some of the other farmers who were friends of this father. They all were in a deep discussion and then shook hands. Later they came in to pay their respects. It seems every moment of those days are burned in Ray's memory. The next day was the funeral and Ray stayed all night in the front room with the bodies of his parents. He didn't cry that night. He hadn't cried at all.
Reverend Case came by very early with the folks from the funeral parlor to fetch the caskets for the funeral. Ray looked like he wouldn't let them go and Reverend Case step forward and quietly out his arm around Ray and said, "Son, they're not in there anymore," pointing to the caskets, "people this fine have already gone to God." Ray finally couldn't hold back any more and cried. He cried so hard that Reverend Case had to hold him. Reverend Case motioned to the men to take the caskets while he quietly held Ray. The Reverend never spoke of that moment again to Ray, but that day the Reverend earned a special place in Ray's heart. He trusted the Reverend. Maybe that's why when the Reverend came to Ray's farm many years later, Ray listened to the his proposition of marriage to a girl Ray had never met. Ray trusted him.
Two days after the funeral Mr. Stewart, Hank's dad, and Hank came to the door. Mr. Stewart asked where Danny was and Ray told him he was in the barn. Mr. Stewart then told Ray that his father's accounts were overdrawn at the bank. Ray's look of alarm caused him to quickly put a hand on Ray's shoulder to assure him that everything was alright. He told Ray that the other farmers, his father's friends, had come together to take care of the overdrawn account and made sure that all the bills were paid.
"Ray, the bookkeeping is the quickest way to lose your farm and your parents would never want that."
Ray felt overwhelmed. Mr. Stewart went on, "Hank here's always been good with the books, and well, you need to let him teach you how to do this." Hank smiled at Ray and said, "Ray, we're family now that I married you sister and we all gotta take care of each other. I can start by going through your accounts and getting them straight."
Ray looked embarrassed and started to protest that he could do it. "Now Ray," Mr. Stewart interrupted, "you gotta be the man here and take care of you and your brother. You need to learn from Hank, so don't be so proud."
Ray was quiet for a moment and then he looked at Mr. Stewart ignoring the offer of help. Ray said, "How much do I owe all of you for paying our bills. I'll pay you back."
Mr. Stewart smiled and said, "Ray, your Daddy at one time or noth'r has bailed out almost every one of the men who helped you the other day. Don't insult us by talkin' of payback. Your father was our friend and we all feel your parent;s loss. They were...Mr. Stewart's eyes watered and his voice cracked, "...it was an honor to have known such good people."
He stood up and looked out the front window. When he looked back he had composed himself. "Now you listen to me, cause your father would want you to. You let Hank come over and clean-up the books. Then Hank will show you how to manage the accounts, your credit account at the general, how to estimate your crop cost and profit...everything you need. This year he'll show you how to file your taxes"
Ray looked at Hank who smiled at him. Ray and Danny had spent most of their history with Hank trying to make him as miserable as possible while he courted Martha. It was funny that Hank was now his teacher.
"Ray, don't worry, you'll get this," Hank said. That statement made Ray wince because it was too close to the truth. In his 16 year-old heart, Ray was afraid he couldn't do this."
Hank saw a look cross Ray's face. It would be the same look Ray had years later when he tried to talk of a city name Troy one night at dinner.
Hank said softly, "If your feelin' too proud, do it for Martha. You know how bad she feels. She wants you two to move in with us."
"No, we'll take care of ourselves... of the farm." Ray said.
"Well then Ray, be man enough to take help when you need it," Hank said.
Ray looked at Hank and nodded. Then Hank, characteristic to his way that Ray would later come to count on, smiled and winked. "Well, come on now, let's go get your brother. Your sister's cookin' the one meal she doesn't burn."
Ray smiled at his memories and looked up to see Livy watching him. Livy asked shyly what he was smiling about. Ray wanted to tell her, he wanted to share the things he cared about and the memories he cherished and hurt him at the same time. It felt like he had waited a lifetime to tell somebody, a special somebody, but that would come later. Now, it was still too early in their relationship to know how to bridge the gulf between them. But for a moment, his guard was down. As Ray looked at Livy, he thought of all the people he loved, how none of them, even Danny, could fill that lonely place he had carried with him since he was 16. But when he looked at Livy, actually from the first moment he saw her, she filled it up in a way he never expected. That's why he knew God had answered his prayer. That's where he found his patience and forbearance. God never made great things easy to obtain. That was fine with Ray, because he was used to hard work. That's where he would go for the strength and forgiveness he would need to keep this great gift when he was tested. You have to be worthy when God answers a prayer of this magnitude. Ray knew that.
"I was remembering Martha and Hank's first year of marriage."
Livy blushed. She wasn't sure why, but occasionally when Ray looked at her like he sometimes did, she had a hard time breathing. She put up her guard and looked down. Ray returned to his guarded position, embarrassed that he had given too much away, and returned to his books. Later both would think back and talk about to the multiple occasions they had at this time to reach out to each other and missed because of fear. Then they would both agree, no these things had to happen the way they did so that they could have what came later.
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