Labor Day afternoon, Jamie and his grandpa were taking down the front porch swing when their neighbor, Aaron Meiers, swung his rattletrap truck into the lane of their farm.
Jamie’s best friend, Homer hung out a window, waving both arms and yelling, but Jamie couldn’t hear him over the roar of the engine. When they stopped, the dust cloud that had chased the truck all the way from town caught up with them and gritty dust billowed across the farmyard making Jamie sneeze.
Jamie and his grandpa walked to the truck as Homer clambered out the passenger-side window because the door was tied shut with rope. He leaped off the running board shouting, “Hey, Jamie! Heard the news? It’s all over town!”
Rolling his eyes, Jamie said, “Homer, I wish you wouldn’t do that. You know I haven’t been to town in weeks. What’s going on?”
“Got a new boy in school! And he’s gonna be in the seventh grade, same as us.”
Homer’s excitement was contagious and it instantly infected Jamie, making him break out in a wide grin. There were only four boys in their grade at their one-room school and one more would be great.
“No kidding? What’s his name?”
Bouncing on the balls of his feet, Homer said, “Heard it’s Sam. He’s comin’ from somewhere’s back east and he’s gonna be livin’ with that snooty ol’ rich lady, Missus Lily.”
Mr. Meiers, who had just climbed out of the truck, swatted Homer on the back of the head with his hat. “Stop that, Homer! You be respectful of your elders. Just because some folks keep to themselves doesn’t give you cause to sass ’em. Understand?”
Homer raked his thick, blonde forelock out of his eyes with his fingers. “Yes, sir.”
Mr. Meiers flipped his hat back on. “Mind your manners then. You been taught better.” He jerked a thumb at a stack of bags and boxes piled behind the cab of the truck. “Cart those things for Mrs. Williams ’round back to the kitchen.”
“Yes, sir. C’mon, Jamie. Gimme a hand.”
When Jamie’s dad’s truck broke down last spring and he couldn’t afford to fix it, Mr. Meiers offered to pick things up for them in town and drop them off on his way home. In return, Jamie’s dad used his tractor to help Mr. Meiers with his fieldwork.
The boys filled their arms and walked toward the back of the house. Jamie asked, “You ready for school tomorrow?”
Homer groaned and then said, “No! And I’m only goin’ ‘cause Ma says I got to.” He stopped, held up a dirty, bare foot and wiggled his toes. “I wouldn’t mind so much if I didn’t hafta wear shoes. Puttin’ boots back on in the fall ain’t easy.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean.”
After a barefoot summer, the bottoms of Jamie’s feet were as tough as slabs of old cowhide and he didn’t like the idea of stuffing them back into hot, heavy boots either.
Homer stomped his feet, squirting tiny dust geysers up between his toes. “Far’s I’m concerned, I’d just as soon not wear shoes at all.”
Jamie laughed. “I think you might have a problem when it snows.”
“Maybe. But I’d be willin’ to give it a try. Anyways, that’s why we went to town. I needed new boots for school and I had a terrible time findin’ a pair that didn’t pinch somethin’ awful. Then Pa had to pay two dollars and sixty-five cents for ’em.”
Jamie whistled in surprise as he opened the kitchen screen door. “That’s a lot of money.”
“Ain’t it though? But that’s okay. I only gotta get new school boots one more time ‘cause Pa says I can quit after next year and start farmin’ with him. He says eighth grade’s all I need.” Homer set his boxes on the kitchen table and looked around. “Where’s your ma?”
“Out in the garden getting in vegetables that can’t take frost. Almanac says we might get some in a week or so.” Jamie held the kitchen door open so Homer could go out first.
Homer said, “I s’pose you’re gonna go to school forever.”
“Hey, that’s not fair.” Jamie followed him out and they walked to the truck. “Just because you don’t like school.”
“Why should I? No schoolmarm’s gonna teach me how to farm.” He socked Jamie on the shoulder. “You like goin’ to school. And don’t say you don’t ’cause I know better.”
“Yeah, I do and that’s good. I don’t want to be a farmer and even if I did, my brother Will’s going to get the farm. I’m the youngest boy in my family, not the oldest like you.”
Homer rubbed his palms together. “I can’t wait to start farmin’ fulltime. Bein’ cooped up in that schoolhouse all day don’t appeal to me at all. I’d rather work with pa ’cause there ain’t no homework.”
Jamie returned Homer’s sock on the shoulder. “But you never do homework.”
Homer gave Jamie a sheepish smile. “Well, yeah. But you know what I mean.”
When Jamie and Homer came to the front of the house, Jamie’s grandpa and Mr. Meiers were leaning against the truck chatting. Mr. Meiers said, “Let’s go, Homer. We got us a wagon-load of work at home.”
Mr. Meiers said good-bye to Jamie’s grandpa and hauled himself behind the steering wheel of his truck. He stomped on the starter while Jamie’s grandpa encouraged the engine with a stream of cussing. Moaning and spluttering, the engine finally caught and roared to life.
Jamie yelled over the noise. “See you at school tomorrow?”
Homer made a sour face like he’d just taken a big bite out of a green apple and found half of a worm left in it. “Guess so. Leastways I can look forward to meetin’ the new boy.”
He trotted to the truck, jumped onto the running board and climbed in through the window. Mr. Meiers backed out and drove away while Homer waved with one arm as the truck disappeared behind the rooster tail of dirt thrown up by the tires.