Chapter 24: First Time Meetings

The children noticed that whenever they talked to Cade about school or anything else these days, he seemed far away and distant. After dinner every night, he retreated to the basement to continue sorting through the old boxes he had found. He was anxious to continue reading the old letters.

Reading the letters only proved more frustrating for Cade however, because most of them were full of romantic drivel rather than any real news. By the time he finished reading the last letter in the box, there was no way he could conclude anything other than Martha was once very much in love with Bill Pennington, and he was in love with her. Cade sighed deeply and began digging through more of the other boxes that had been stored in the basement. Finally, he opened one near the very bottom of the pile and found what he thought might be another piece of the puzzle.

The box contained various papers, and at a glance, he found what appeared to be a contract drawn up by Bill Pennington's father whose name was Milton. The contract clearly outlined terms for purchasing the land this farm stood on and the surrounding areas. Cade didn't understand it at first and he wondered why Milt was interested in buying the land. Once more, Cade felt frustrated that there had been so much that had happened before Cade ever came along, and he felt completely lost.

Cade sat quietly in the dim light of the basement and lit a cigarette. He tried to add up the pieces of the puzzle. Martha was in love with Bill Pennington; Bill's father Milt drafted a contract to purchase the farm and other property, yet it appeared he never purchased it; Martha was childhood friends with Bill; Martha married Walt instead of Bill. None of it made sense.

Cade did the math and realized that four generations had come and gone since Milton Pennington drew up the contract to purchase this land, a contract that was never signed by Cade's great grandfather, whose name was apparently James Walter Harrison. So many names and so many generations, it was confusing. Cade continued to wonder what was so special about the land, and he wondered more why there were no love letters between Martha and Walt. He shook his head in frustration.

The night for the meeting at the Presbyterian Church arrived, and Cade gathered together with his neighbors to discuss the new tax increase. Angie initially took the lead, but only until she could introduce Cade and step aside. "This is Cade Harrison, Walter Harrison's grandson."

All eyes in the room fell upon Cade and it was his turn to speak. He realized Angie had been serious about him taking charge of the meeting. He had never spoken to a crowd of people this size before and his heart pounded. There were well over 200 people there. He looked over at Callie who gave him a reassuring smile. "I know I'm new to this town and the land out here," Cade slowly began. "My grandpa Walter and his father James lived on this land all of their lives." Cade cleared his throat. "My father Dusty would have probably lived here too, if he hadn't been murdered back in 1978. I never got a chance to know my father Dusty because he died a month after I was born."

Everyone listened to Cade's words. Most of them were already aware of Cade's heritage, but they found Cade interesting. Cade continued. "Drake Pennington wants to purchase this land, and many think it was him who convinced the town council to pass the ordinance increasing our taxes. The only way to avoid the tax increase is to farm the land. Angie seems to think we can fight against this tax increase, I don't know if we can or not, because I have never owned any property until now. But if we can fight this thing, I think we should."

"This tax increase will ruin me," a voice from the back called. "Pennington can't get away with this."

"It wasn't Pennington," another voice called out, "It was the town council," the words came out with biting sarcasm.

Cade raised his hand in the air attempting to regain everyone's attention, since everyone was now talking all at once. "I'm not sure it matters who raised the taxes for the moment. We don't have a lot of time. If we want to farm our land, we need to get it plowed and planted soon. I suggest we all work together to create farms, so the tax increase won't go into effect for any of us. How many here plan to farm their land?"

Several hands went up in the air.

Cade breathed a heavy sigh, that weren't very many. "We need to find a way to farm every person's land, even if we grow the cheapest crops possible," Cade suggested. "We need to do this until we can petition to get rid of this tax law."

The crowd was silent as they listened to his words. Then from the back, someone called out, "Do you have any idea what you're suggesting?"

"I have some idea," Cade said. He had been studying farming and gardening books. "I know it's not going to be easy, but it will buy us some time."

"With all due respect Mr. Harrison," someone called, "I don't think you have any idea what's involved."

"Probably not," Cade admitted. "I've never farmed a day in my life, but we need to beat this thing once and for all. We can't fight Pennington unless we are united," Cade said. "I may not understand farming, but I know that if we stick together we have a better chance of coming out of this on top. If all of us find a way to farm our land, the tax increase will not go into effect and it will buy us more time to fight this. I know not everyone is here at this meeting, so we will need to speak to those who aren't in attendance."

Everyone was silent. "No offense Harrison," someone said, "But aren't you an ex-con? What makes you think you know what we should do?"

Cade looked unwaveringly at the group, "Yes, I'm an ex con. I'm not here to hide anything from any of you. My past aside, this land is mine and I want to save it."

"How can we trust an ex-con?" someone else called out.

Cade felt their questions about his past were legitimate, but he wasn't sure how to answer them. Angie noticed his dilemma and spoke up on his behalf, "Oh for God's sake, who in here doesn't have a past? I've known Cade for awhile now and he's an honorable man." Angie looked scathingly at the crowd. "Stop being petty! We need to set aside our biases and listen to Cade's suggestion."

"Pennington was leaving all of us alone until you came back Harrison," someone shouted at Cade.

"I admit my family seems to have a history with the Pennington's," Cade said. "I also admit that I'm not a perfect man, but I care about my farm. It's been in my family for generations and I want to honor my grandpa Walt by fighting this. It's what he would have wanted."

The room fell silent, "Walt was a good man," someone mumbled.

"So, who in here has farming equipment they are willing to share?" Cade asked.

Several men raised their hands as Cade looked around the room. "If we all work together and plant crops on each of our property, we can prevent this tax increase. The next step after that will be to petition against this tax increase and get it abolished."

"Some of us can't afford to farm our land," someone called.

Cade looked around the room, "How much do seeds cost?"

"A lot, depending on the seeds," someone yelled.

"I can farm wheat," someone called, "I've already got the seeds." "I can farm corn," someone else said.

"Maybe we can share the produce with each other if we all grow something different," someone else suggested.

"Yeah, we could grow everything from squash to beans," someone suggested.

Angie could tell they were warming up to the idea. "But while we farm the land, we also need to go door to door to get a petition signed to fight this tax increase."

"Pennington will attack anyone who signs a petition," someone called. "How can we get people to stand up to him?"

"Attack us worse than this?" someone else asked. "Cade's right, Pennington is determined to get this land and we shouldn't give up without a fight."

"Not everyone is loyal to Pennington," someone else pointed out.

Cade and Angie listened as the debates went back and forth. Finally, everyone at the meeting agreed to devote the next few weeks to planting crops on everyone's property. "We need to find out how many acres to plant in order for the land to be considered a farm."

"The tax notice doesn't specify," someone said.

"Perhaps we can form a farmer's co-op," Cade said. "We can become an official organization with articles of incorporation and membership."

Angie typed on her laptop as they talked in the meeting, and after the meeting, she would print out her notes and circulate them among those attending the meeting. "This week we'll begin," Cade said. "We'll start farming our land. Those with equipment start on your own farms first, and we'll go from there."

Callie watched Cade with awe. She was so proud of him she was about to burst with pride. "Now, let's form a Farmer's Cooperative, elect some officials, and get started."

By the end of the three-hour meeting, they had formed a co-op. Cade was elected president, even though he protested it. In all the years he had participated in various groups, he never once pictured himself as a leader; but people seemed to feel confident standing behind him. They sensed he had the inner courage to lead them, and finally after all of these years, a leader had emerged.

Angie wrote up the articles of incorporation and everyone present signed them, including Cade and the other officers. Angie was the new secretary. Cade's vice-president was a man named Gary Butler, and a man named Joseph Thomas was the Treasurer. Cade didn't know these other men.

Cade knew he was giving up what little freedom he had in order to take this assignment on, but a fire was building inside of him, and it drove him. Angie was impressed with his powers of persuasion, and she knew why people stood behind him. Despite his past, there was something trustworthy and appealing about Cade.

The next night over dinner, Cade discussed the meeting with Callie. "I'm going to be doing a lot more now, so I want you to quit your job." They seldom had these discussions in front of the children, so it caught Callie off guard.

"No!" Callie said firmly. "I don't want to quit. I just started working there."

"Callie," Cade said with a sigh, "I need you to care for the house and kids full-time."

"I can take care of the kids and house and still work," Callie reasoned. "I swear I can."

Cade didn't appreciate the way Callie was refusing to quit her job. "I want you to quit working Callie."

"No Cade," she said nervously. She knew she was defying his wishes.

The kids ate their dinner and listened to Callie and Cade arguing. "Why won't you quit mama?" Jessica asked.

"Because I want to keep my job," Callie said stubbornly.

Ashley didn't dare say anything, but it made her uncomfortable to see her parents at odds. Harley had never liked his mother working so he was in favor of her quitting her job, "Dad can support us," Harley said confidently, even though he knew nothing about it.

Callie didn't like the way her kids were siding against her. "I think this whole thing is ridiculous Cade. Why do you have to be the one to organize this movement against Pennington?"

Cade frowned, "Because someone has to."

Callie stomped her feet in frustration. "Well, I'm on not quitting my job," and she stomped upstairs and slammed her bedroom door.

Jessica swallowed, "Do you want us to go out to the garage now Daddy?"

Cade looked at Jessica and laughed. "No Jess. Not this time." He stood up, picked up Jessica, and twirled her around, hugging her. "Your mom is a grown woman, who can make up her own mind. As long as her job doesn't interfere, she can keep it for now."

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