Jerry Purnell rested his finger tips on the wheel of the tractor and leant to the side, watching the line of the furrows through the large mirror. His fingers sensed the tractors front wheels slide to the left and he took action without conscious thought. The furrows stayed as arrow straight as he had always ploughed them since his tenth birthday.
Jerry was a farmer. Farming the land was in his blood. He could walk a field and tell which parts would need greater care, more fertiliser, and deeper ploughing depth. He knew to the ounce how much nitrate feed to use on each square yard, where the run-off would occur and how to preserve the hedges and borders. The whole county knew that Jerry was a farmer's farmer. Land that Jerry husbanded thrived and prospered.
Dave Purnell, Jerry's older brother, wasn't a farmer. Oh, he tried. He actually tried harder than anyone in the county. He'd been to agricultural college, passed with honours. He knew all of the latest techniques and theories, but he just didn't know the land. He had no 'feel' for the crops. He always did everything just a bit too early, or just a shade too late.
And now, three months after Dave and Julie had married, old Harrison, the family's solicitor, had to read their fathers will. Their father, their Dad, had died as he'd lived, farming their land, soil clutched in his hand and a smile on his weather-beaten face.
They were orphans now, their mother having fallen to cancer nearly ten years before. In some ways they both felt that Dad had only stayed with them until he was sure that their land would be safe, until the next generation of Purnell's were ready to farm the rolling countryside that was their birthright.
And now they waited to find out who would take over the family farm.
The Purnell brothers became rivals the day Jerry learned to crawl. From that day on they fought like cat & dog, more than once one or the other had to be taken to the local hospital to have bones set or skin stitched. More than once the other felt their Dad's strap across their rear end. Neither boy complained about, nor tried to avoid, their punishments.
Everything had changed though when, aged eleven, Dave caught mumps. Jerry overheard his parents and their doctor, in the front parlour, talking about Dave, how very, very ill he was, how they feared for his life. Jerry was shocked by the glaring fact of his brother's mortality. From that day onward the boys never fought. They were still rivals in the small, unimportant things, but Jerry always looked out for his big brother, and Dave learned to trust, and respect, his little brother.
Jerry was the little brother in nearly all ways. He took after his father, small at 5' 4'', slim built, never topping 8 stone, and with mousy brown hair. He was the one you'd pass by in the street, the one you'd never notice, the one everyone forgot. Jerry, like his father, only spoke when he had something worthwhile to say. And that wasn't often.
Dave got his height and good looks from his mother, tall at 6' 2", a strapping well-muscled man, a man's man. Hair, so black it almost shone in the sunlight, topped a ruggedly handsome face, blue eyes that embraced you within their gaze, a ready, warming, smile that eased into your soul. Dave was everyone's friend; he needed two hours to buy seed. Everyone stopped to talk to Dave, Dave talked to everyone.
Jerry followed Dave through school. The teachers all remarked on the difference between the brothers. Dave's easy command of the subjects they fed him, Jerry's painful struggle to master the simplest of the academic subjects. Dave's mastery of the sports fields, his captaincy of the football team. Jerry's poor performance in any sport other than cross-country running, and then the school had to stop him taking part in that as he got ... distracted. They'd find him wandering through the fields in his running kit. Sometimes talking to the farmers, sometimes he'd be mending fences. Sometimes he'd just be running his fingers through the earth, a satisfied smile on his lips.
After school they both worked on the farm. When Dave bought a baseball cap to shade his eyes, Jerry just pulled an old used flat cap from the hallway coat hanger and plonked it on his head.
Dave started a paper round to earn some spending money. Jerry picked up his father's old .22 rifle and toured the local farms, small holdings and the larger houses and cleared them of rabbits. Each field cleared of these pests was worth £20, and each rabbit was worth 50 pence when delivered to the local butchers. Jerry soon became a common sight walking the fields, a rifle tucked under his arm and his cap shading his eyes, a brace or more of rabbits hanging over his shoulders.
On his seventeenth birthday Dave received a second-hand car, an old Ford Escort. Dave quickly passed his test and then proudly drove around the villages showing off his prize possession.
Jerry persuaded a local farmer to give him an old, rusty and broken-down Land Rover. The farmer, chuckling to himself for, finally, managing to get this heap of junk out of his yard, towed it to the Purnell farm. Let Jerry and his Dad deal with it he laughed to himself. Jerry found two other, similar vehicles in the local area and they too were towed to the old barn Jerry had taken over as his own. Eight weeks later Jerry started taking the remains of the two worse Land Rovers to the local scrap yard. He delivered them in the back of the one he rebuilt from scavenged parts. No one mentioned the fact that Jerry didn't have a driving license, road tax or insurance. That was for the city folk to worry about, not here, where a four-wheel drive vehicle was the life-blood of a farm. After clearing the yard of the unwanted scrap, Jerry was scrupulous in ensuring that he only drove on private property. The property owners saw him driving about, chuckled quietly to themselves and turned back to their tasks.
Dave started helping his mother with the farm's books and tax returns. Soon he was dealing with all of the farms financial affairs. Both his Mum and Dad were relieved at him taking up this burden, and amazed as his success in dealing with, and getting money out of, the government bureaucracy.
Jerry left 'his' rifle in its rack and picked up the keys for the tractor. He started ploughing. It took Jerry two fields to get the hang of ploughing. His father never commented on his first two attempts and only looked once at the third field.
"Nice," he complemented Jerry.
Jerry looked over the straight, even, furrows and nodded. He didn't have anything to say.
Jerry did most of the ploughing from then on. He also helped out when neighbours were in trouble. When bitter old Mark Bakewell broke his leg climbing over a rotten gate, Jerry ploughed and sowed his fields. Never asking permission to do it, nor receiving thanks. Jerry knew that he'd done a good job, and so did bitter old Bakewell.
Dave was accepted into a prestigious university to study agricultural science. This was a huge step, not only for him but the whole local community. Very few of the locals had been accepted at any university, let alone one of such a high standing. Friends and neighbours were calling on the Purnell farm for weeks congratulating him and his parents on his success.
For Jerry, Dave's departure was a huge shock. Dave was a major part of his life, Dave was his big brother. Jerry started doing more and more around the farm.
It was at this time that his mother was diagnosed with cervical cancer. The prognosis was poor, the cancer had already spread and the question was not if she was going to die, but when.
Jerry's Dad spent more and more time caring for his wife, watching her fade from the vibrant, lively girl who'd captured his heart at a young farmers dance, into the deathly pale, skeletally thin, shadow of her former self. Jerry was rarely allowed to see his mother during her later days. He didn't hold this against his Dad. He knew that his dad was trying the best that he knew, to protect his wife, and allow her to maintain her dignity, as well as protect his son's memories of his mother. Jerry watched his Dad work himself near to his own death caring for the love of his life.
Dave, of course, came home for the funeral. He hadn't been told about her illness, this caused a huge argument between him and his Dad. Jerry spoke to Dave about their mother's final weeks, explaining how their dad had done the best that he could. And that he took their mother's wishes into account, not just theirs. Dave accepted his brother's explanations and, with a heavy heart, he made his peace with his Dad.
It was Jerry who met Julie Sanders first. She yelled at him as he was correcting a hedgerow which had been badly woven.
"Hey! Boy!" Julie yelled, "What do you think that you're doing?"
Jerry looked up from the branches he was reweaving, at the girl in school uniform on the other side of the hedge.
"Fixing this," he answered.
She stood there shocked at his answer.
"It took one of my father's men two days to do this and you've ruined all his hard work." She was furious.
Jerry looked up and down the hedge, then he continued his work.
Julie stared at the silent boy for nearly five minutes. While she was shocked at his audacity in redoing this hedge, he was certainly quick in his work reweaving it. She couldn't see any difference in how it had been and how it was now. But she knew that she'd better tell her father about this and quickly too.
.... There is more of this story ...