Mrs. Olivia Shelby looked left and right as she reached into a wooden bin to retrieve her week’s perishable delivery from the boy down the road. The note inside the bag was the usual reminder that he would stop by again in the morning to drop off her bottle of milk. Mrs. Shelby wondered why he bothered leaving a note every single time.
Maybe it had something to do with him being face to face with her shotgun the last time he attempted to leave a bottle of milk on her back porch.
She was sorry to have frightened the boy, but there was no way she was going to apologize. No need to have the neighbors think she was getting soft.
Mrs. Shelby enjoyed her distance. Being by herself meant there was no one around to remind her just how lonely she was. As much as she looked forward to the minimal form of company the little notes provided, she was not ready to be friends with that family. Especially after all they’d put her through.
She picked through the bin. Bagged bread, eggs, and a small jar of preserves. Blueberry. There wasn’t a particular kind she favored though she did like it when the bin contained peach preserves. Peach was her husband’s favorite.
They had been together twelve years before Mr. Shelby was killed. They’d meet at the lake, the summer right out of high school. Her friends persuaded her to come with them and enjoy the sun-warmed water and get in on the last of the summer weekend romances before leaving for college.
He was there with his cousin and his friends. When she finally got up the courage to talk to him, he told her that his father, a busy executive in the city, had sent him to stay there nearly every summer since he was ten years old. Mr. Shelby would begin to tell his wife about the long hot summers he’d spend picking peaches in his uncle’s orchards when the summers were their hottest through to the first cool breeze of the fall. When there was a bumper crop, his Uncle would allow the locals into the orchards to pick peaches for free.
He worked in his uncle’s orchards, picking fruit during the heat of the day, and coming to the lake to cool off in the evenings. His father wanted him to know what it was like to use his hands; he’d said, and to work hard for what he wanted. He loved the work, though. The trees were bare near the time before he returned to New York to attend school in August.
“The orchards are in my blood,” he confided.
Years ago, by mid-August, there were more than enough jars of preserves to send to everyone in Mrs. Shelby’s family, and to the croppers that worked the land with her husband.
They’d all get together on the evening of the last harvest to picnic and dance. No one there was happier than her husband. The fruit farm and the homemade preserves business was a success. There was nothing better than to watch Mr. Shelby doing work he loved while they both enjoyed the literal fruits of their labor.
He had always wanted to be sure that everyone—-working as equals–was having a good time.
“They’re the same as us, Livvie. They struggle the same as we do. They work the same harsh land as me, and it is good we can all get together and celebrate.”
The summer before Mr. Shelby was killed would have been their last summer at the orchard. His father wanted him back in the city to take over his company.
Her husband worried about the croppers, however. He knew they would have to leave their homes to find other work if he didn’t stay. There was nothing else for hundreds of miles around.
She touched the St. Christopher medal around her neck.
Damn him for not returning to the city then.
Synopsis: An old woman attempts to reconcile with the family responsible for the death of her husband. Part one of ‘PEACH PRESERVES’ continues the PONDER: A short story series.