“No, Jeremy Roberts talked me into that change.” She looked at her hands for a moment with a small smile, and then back up. “Let’s get that tractor.” She led the way around the far side of the house, opened the garage and rooted for a pair of boots for herself. She knew where the key was for the tractor was, could drive it, and off we went. And she continued talking. “Jeremy’s little brother was a hired hand here also, and we all had a party one year. I mean all the hired hands and lots of their families. Duncan got us all together for fun and Jerry came with his little brother and, you know …”
“That really sounds like fun.” I was jealous for a moment of all those men and women who had grown up, working with Duncan and the sheep. I also wondered vaguely why Lisa/Betty was telling me all this. Not that I minded exactly but I did find it curious. A brief remembrance of Duncan writing to me about the party surfaced. “Duncan would probably really love to see you again.”
“When he’s up you mean,” said Lisa. “You’re remembering a letter about the party. I can see it in your face. Like when you worked out Betty Parsel.” There was a warmth in her voice. “And you are wondering why I’m telling you stuff. I’m a little worried. See, we all knew about you. And we all knew Duncan would leave the farm to you. There’s only been two times when that came into question.”
I could see that Lisa was going somewhere but I was still completely in the dark. I tried a random comment. “I guess I don’t know anything about any other relatives that he might have favored. My grandfather never talked about family and neither did my father. I almost feel as if there must be something shameful.” The sky was slowly darkening but Lisa didn’t seem to be worried about time. I saw a bird fly high above her head. I hopped off and on for the gates and the sheep ignored us.
“Well…. My mom was really into genealogy. She did a lot of the families around here and some of the stories are hair-raising.” Lisa made a funny face. “And one of them belongs to the Archers. Because some of them have been a bit on the wild side for a long time. During World War II a prisoner escaped from the prisoner-of-war camps in Algona, which is northwest of here. The Archer family hid him and one of them, Dorcas Archer married him. His name was Gunter something but he took the Archer name and that’s your, umm, great grandfather. I think there were four kids and your granddad was one of them.”
I was staring at Lisa, thinking of my family and their careful non-discussion of origins.
“He was different — so people say. I think the old-fashioned term for the Archers was ne’er-do-well and Wallace, your granddad, wasn’t one.” Lisa was going on. “But the Vesters didn’t really want Henrietta to marry an Archer so they, your relatives, up and ran away. I’ll admit that the Archers didn’t want Wallace to marry a Vester either. I’m not sure why.”
“Maybe it was ethnic. I think Vesters are Czech or something. But Annalise was Norwegian. Crazy.”
“Crazy indeed.” Lisa was cheerful and why not. It wasn’t her family under discussion. “But anyway there are plenty of cousins. Wallace’s brother and sisters had lots of kids, even if they aren’t named Archer — and some are — and certain Archers always think things belong to them. I think one of them, Phyllis Finley, changed back to Phyllis Archer at some point. Mr. Finley is not around any longer. I actually don’t know whether it was death or divorce. I went to school with her daughter when she was a Finley. Thing is, you have the Archer look.”
“What is the Archer look?” There was a sort of buzzing noise that grew a bit louder as Lisa continued with her chatter.
“Blond hair and brown eyes. Thick blond hair. Though they are mostly taller. What is that noise?” By then we were up in the pasture and Lisa had stopped the tractor. She turned to look around and then up. “A drone! Good heavens. I wonder who is flying it. You aren’t supposed to be out of visible range when you are flying a drone. Good thing I’m off duty or I’d have to take notice.”
“I didn’t know there were rules. I’ve seen some hair raising pictures if the operator was supposed to be close by.”
“Oh, yes.” She debated saying more but chose not to, continuing to watch the drone steadily. The drone had been hovering in the sky but then, as if it took notice of us — taking notice of it — it suddenly rose a little higher and started moving in an odd curve, first towards us and then away. It continued moving south till it was low and out of site. We left the tractor and went to see the pasture damage.