You could never count on Indiana weather to tell you when summer had arrived.
A balmy March day might give way to a snowy night, and even May blossoms could be lured to a frosty grave.
But when Norm Winston brought home the first box of plums and lined them up there on the kitchen windowsill … well, the Winston children knew for sure the easy-living swelter of summer was just about there to stay.
The old man had a real knack for marking the seasons. Could feel it in his bones, he used to say, and summer made those bones extra thirsty. Only fresh plums could juice them up again, keep him working hard on the farm.
Of course, Ned realized later that his father hadn’t been old at all. Why, by the time Ned graduated high school, Norm had yet to celebrate his fortieth birthday and had all his children raised.
It wasn’t until Martha died that Norm finally started to slow down, but the decline came fast. Now, at nearly eighty, he didn’t get out much, and he hadn’t touched a tractor or even a shovel in two years. Not that they needed the help on the farm, but the old man was spending all his time inside, and he was starting to have trouble even remembering what season it was.
Norm was slipping away, and nothing Ned did seemed to help.
It was a bright morning in late May when Ned climbed the back stairs of the farmhouse, dread rising in his throat. It was time to talk to his father about moving into town.
Ned wasn’t sure how Norm would react.
The old man might resent the suggestion and lash out.
More likely, he would just sit there and nod, maybe just stare at the floor. Like as not, he would still be in his pajamas.
Ned took a deep breath and opened the kitchen door.
“What took you so long to get here, boy?” Norm sat at the table. He was dressed in bib overalls and held a half-eaten plum in his hand.
Ned stood gaping at his father.
“Summer’s just about here, and there’s plenty of work to do,” Norm went on. He gestured toward the window. “Better grab you a couple plums to help with the heat.”
Ned followed his father’s gaze to find a dozen fresh plums lined up on the windowsill.
Norm sighed and pushed a chair toward Ned with a heavy work boot. “Look, boy, didn’t you say you had something to talk about today? You better get on with it before the day gets old.”
Ned blinked and looked at Norm … he seemed twenty years younger.
“It can wait, Dad.”
And it could, for at least one more sparkling summer day.