Leaves of Fall

MARKAM AND I stood on an interlocking stone patio overlooking our wheat fields. Stonewalls outlined its borders. As a young man a hundred years ago, our ancestor, great, great grandpa Elias cut the trees, dynamited the stumps, gee-hawed them into huge piles and burned them. The family chronicle said the smoke lingered for days. He cursed acres of stone out of glacier-abandoned fields with horse and sledge, a monumental task suited to a driven man.

In sharp contrast to the fall brilliance, two swaths of never changing spruce forest marched up the windward ridge. The air had a brittle October bite, and fall scents came to us in a potpourri mixture that highlighted the first peaceful moment of the day.

Wheat, now golden and ready for harvest stretched a couple hundred yards north. The swath of land covered ten acres east to west, abruptly ending in a forest of maple, oak, spruce, hickory and ash. October’s brilliant red and gold leaves brought a lump to my throat and it made me think about the ends of things.

Beyond the trees, foothills rose into low mountains blue with distance. North of fields that held our gaze, contoured lands spread out for another mile or more and they rose and fell naturally. On them grew silage corn and hay and beyond that our Holstein herd, specks to the eye, dotted more landscape. Everywhere Grandpa Elias’ stone walls checkered the view.

Dad and Mom owned it, but they died and my brother and I owned it now. Six thousand acres, everything our eyes could see.

“Lot of work here,” Markham said.

“Yeah, lot of work,” I responded, my mind on beauty and not on business.

Then he startled me. He said wistfully, “As the leaves of October fell…” and stopped.

Reflection wasn’t Markham’s strong suite “…and red hues waved in counterpoint…”

He stopped again. It sounded like it should be familiar. I turned from the scene. ‘Wordsworth?”

He looked at me. “No. Rogoszewski.”

“Who?”

“Classmate of mine. Hiram Rogoszewski.” Markham went to Boston University for his degree. He wanted Harvard, but his lazy streak didn’t allow it, and with all of Dad’s money, Harvard did prove its august school stood for more than the ability to pay.

Markham took up Economics, Business Practices and Business Law, got his act together and did well. I went to the University of Minnesota and studied Agriculture and Animal Husbandry. With farming and all our cattle, I wanted to be firmly grounded in the land.

I laughed. “Hiram Rogoszewski? Hiram?”

Markham smiled sadly. “He took a lot of heat for it, but he shined like a brilliant star.”

Not like Markham. I wondered what brought that on, but I didn’t know what to say so I said nothing. I looked back at the colored hills.

“He died, too.”

I kept silent. What brought that on? What’s with this sensitive side I never saw before?

As brothers we had been far apart. I didn’t like him. As fraternal twins, I favored mother’s side and he favored our father. Willowy Mom took care of herself, exercised and displayed a gentle soul to the world. Dad had mass, but was well formed and strong. Throughout his working years he insisted on working alongside his workers to keep fit.

Markham stood two inches taller than I. He weighed a hundred pounds more, but the antithesis of Dad. I didn’t like seeing him the way he’d always been. He claimed a glandular deficiency, but I never bought it. He liked food too much. It had been an issue for Mom and I took her side, but Dad ruled and provided and wouldn’t hear of it, so what could we say? I knew I shouldn’t hate someone who shared the same womb, but I did.

During our pre-college years Dad got after us to pick a career, so long as it led back to the estate. Education, he insisted, should motivate us. All things would follow from that. So we picked colleges we wanted, far from each other. What Dad wanted he got, and his two sons worked though four years of college, training to become great and hopefully smart landowners. Once back home, he said, we would work side by side with him and he would finish our education, fine-tuning us in estate management.

It didn’t happen that way. We learned skills we could use in running Dad’s giant enterprise, but only weeks after graduation Dad had a fatal heart attack and ran off the road into a pond while driving Mom to a doctor’s appointment in Ashton. Their truck sank to its roof. Mom drowned.

Now for our dilemma. I would have to work with a brother I didn’t like and who didn’t like me. We’d made inroads on that in the past few days. Tragedy changes everything.

Now Markham and I stood together and gazed at autumn’s finery and wondered how to grasp what had been put too soon into our hands. We were twenty-one. We weren’t ripe yet. We knew enough, but with no direction from the patriarch, we would have to do it all ourselves I just didn’t know if we could.

The last of the cars that had come to the big house after the funeral for what we morosely thought of as a celebration of life drove away. We watched it go. My favorites, Uncle Henry and Auntie Leigh came up from South Carolina. I’d asked them to stay. Lord knew we had plenty of guest rooms, but they insisted and after a time I gave up. They had their reasons. I suspected it had to do with my brother. Like me, they never seemed to relate to him, either.

Finally alone and thinking my own thoughts, wondering again about the why of it, I became aware of Markham fidgeting alongside and I turned his way again.

“What?”

“Cancer.”

What?”

“I have cancer.”

“That’s not funny.”

“I’m not laughing.”

“Well, c’mon,” I said.

It came out. Intestinal. Maybe eating the wrong things, blah, blah, who knew? And of course, no exercise; not his way.

I thought, yeah, right. Isn’t this great?

Markham told me he’d had intestinal pain for long enough that he began to worry. He explained that Doctor Reisch, a specialist in Boston did some testing a few weeks before graduation and confirmed it. Markham swore him to secrecy and paid his bill out of his allowance so Mom and Dad wouldn’t find out. After commencement he would deal with it.

“It’s what I wanted,” he said.

“Is it curable?”

“Best guess, sixty-percent.”

“What’s involved?”

“They’ll cut out about seventy percent of my intestines, maybe catch all of it. I’ll lose weight. Look at that, just what Mom and you always wanted.”

“Yeah, but not like this.”

“Choices are out the window. If I make it, I want your help learning how to be what I’m not.”

“You’re my twin brother. What else would I do?”

Our history of agreeing to disagree got in the way of our thinking, but he seemed relieved. And he’d asked for my help. That’s a first.

It’s strange how death or infirmity can change life’s direction. Markham had always been what he wanted to be. Now he would become what I wanted him to be. I took no pride in it, but strangely, it released some internal pressure and my rancorous feelings fled. Maybe we could become the kind of brothers we never were.

Together we’d make it happen.