Flannel: Short Story Part 1 of 4

His hands were rough and he smelled like dirt and rotten peaches at the end of every day. Gary Henderson was a laborer, and an old one at that. His wife Nelly and he lived in a small house owned by the orchard and farm they tended. Nelly minded the main house and the Whitmore family which occupied it. It was 1972 and Gary had been through more in his long life than could fill all the Encyclopedia Britannica’s put together. The life of a laborer wasn’t easy, but he enjoyed it. Waking up at 4am to get his breakfast and coffee going, followed by overseeing fellow laborers as they tended to the orchard. It was the end of summer now, the last of the peaches were still ripening. Most people don’t realize how late in the year certain varieties of peaches produce. Gary would be busy picking until almost the end of August. Then it was time for clean-up, examining the trees for wear and tear, and starting the winterization process, which he called “tuckin em’ in for winter’s slumber.”

As a World War II veteran, he came back a hallow man with few skills. Nelly stood by him, nurtured him as much as he would allow. After a few years of being back he and Nelly had two children, each three years apart in age. The oldest was named Mary, and she followed her father everywhere, like a second shadow. Mary was followed by their son, whom they named John. The family of four worked hard and Nelly saw to it that they earned a proper education. The years melted together, and before Gary and Nelly realized, both children had grown and left the house. Leaving the two old love birds to reestablish their rolls and pecking order.

While Nelly liked to bark orders at Gary, he seldom let it bother him. On this particular day they were in a tractor supply store. Nelly was putting in her order for chicks in the Spring and Gary was tasked with picking out some new work clothes that would hold him over for winter.

He squinted at the sign displaying the price above some flannelled shirts. Taking a step closer he realized it said $2.98. “Almost three dollars for a shirt? What in tarnation?” he mumbled at no one. He reached out his hand and felt the fabric, it seemed rather sturdy, thick enough, and soft. His lips curved into a downward smile, approving his find with a cock of the head.

“Gary! Just pick somethin’ already. I’ll be in the car smokin.”

Gary didn’t flinch or jump, his hand was steady on the shirt. He gave a nod in her direction to indicate he understood, then thought to himself, Sure, why not. It’s been a good year; I deserve it. He picked out blue, gray, and red flannelled shirts and walked over to the slacks he knew and trusted, Dickies, and tossed two pair over his arm.

Upon getting home there was an envelope waiting for him from his employer. A note inside asked him to come to the house at his earliest convenience. Nelly began to fan herself with her hand, “Oh my god, they’re gonna get rid of us. We are too dang old! I knew this day would come.”

Gary helped ease her down onto the bench next to the door. “Nelly, calm yourself. It’s probably nothing. I’ll waste no time though. Be back in a bit.” Off he went, it was about a half mile walk to the main house, one he didn’t do very often being that he worked in the fields and out of the barn. Each step seemed heavier to his old legs, his breaths a bit shallower than would have liked. When he arrived he was a bit winded, so he stood behind the old pussy willow until his nerves calmed.

His employer, Mr. Whitmore, was half his age. The original Mr. Whitmore had passed away several years ago, leaving the farm to his three sons. The Whitmore here greeting him was Charles, the eldest of the boys and the one who now occupied the main house. Charles stood in the doorway with a smile on his face. He welcomed Gary in and rubbed his shoulder briskly when Gary walked through the door. A few formalities were exchanged, and then Charles got right to the point. They wanted to make an agreement regarding next season. Gary would be a supervisor without labor responsibilities. He would oversee an expansion project and be awarded an increase in pay. This suited Gary well, though he would never admit to anyone that he was struggling to keep up with the physical demands. With relief, Gary shook hands with the eldest Whitmore, and bounded down the path back home, a bit lighter on his feet.

With an overly dramatic yelp and single hand clap, Nelly said she had to call Mary back and tell her the good news. Gary was always amazed at how fast a woman’s tongue could fly.

The winter came fast that year, as Gary started to prep for his new role. It was colder than normal and he dreaded going outside each day. He would wear his flannel shirt buttoned up over a pair of long johns, and a thick canvas coat over top of that.  His days started later, which was nice. Couldn’t do much work in the dark. Most of his days were spent doing fix up projects for the Whitmores or his wife, and settling in his chair with a pipe and tobacco. Nelly fussed at him, she hated the smell, but she never stopped him. He would sit with the window cracked, feet upon a stool he built himself, and flip through the newspaper several times.

His prideful mind often wandered to his new responsibilities. They could put more away in savings, fix the radiator, maybe even get a new car. Gary drifted off to sleep with these thoughts dancing around inside. His thin wrinkled lips extended to a smile, even in his sleep. The next morning Nelly found him still in the same position. Red flanneled shirt tucked into a pair of Dickies, tobacco pipe next to him long extinguished. She couldn’t help but to grin at her old handsome husband. One tear after another bled down her weathered cheeks. He died happy, she knew it in her heart.

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