‘Hannah’s ‘Mater Farm’ by Kevin Clark
Study this story for the use of descriptory language, and how the author uses colloquial language without impeding the narration. This short story is one of several that are paired with the Bayley Bulletin Winter Quarter Short Story Contest.
Kate and Robin were visiting for the week. It was not often that they went to see Grandmother Hannah, since it was so far from their home, which made this a very special occasion. And Grandmother had a way of making the girls feel very special themselves. She was quite wealthy, and lived in a huge house with many servants, and priceless little knick-knacks everywhere. Invariably, the girls would return home with splendid gifts.
Now they were having a fancy tea. Grandmother had brought out her best bone china, with the delicate hand-painted roses that Robin loved so, and served little watercress sandwiches. No one else treated the girls like they were princesses, newly imported from some Eastern land. The girls loved their Grandmother very much, and the Grandmother adored her grandchildren.
Robin looked around her at all the lovely things. Then, one item in particular caught her eye: a little plate, in its wooden stand, upon the mantle. She had never noticed it before. In big red letters upon the plate was written “Hannah’s ‘Mater Farm.” Around the edges of plate, in neat gold lettering, was written “We accept all major credit cards. Leave your paper money at home and come to Hannah’s.”
“Grandmother. . . “
“Yes, Robin, what is it?”
“Well, that plate on the mantle, the one that says ‘Hannah’s ‘Mater Farm’, what is that Grandmother?”
“Oh, Robin, have I never told you that story?”
“No, Grandmother, tell us, tell us,” chorused the girls.
“Well, children, that was quite a time, and it wasn’t so very long ago. . .”
She settled back in the plush couch, and began her story . . .
Hannah Hodgkiss had always wanted to own a tomato farm. From her earliest childhood, it was all she could think of, and all she ever talked about. Why, when she was just seven years old, her mother would say to her:
“Hannah, how do you think you’ll ever make a living on a ‘mater farm? Everybody knows there ain’t no money in ‘maters. Now soybeans or wheat, well that’s another matter, another matter entarly, but ‘maters! What kind of a fool idea is that? No, you’d be much better off to just marry a nice man. ‘Mater farm! Now I ain’t saying I don’t like ketchup just as much as the next woman, but a ‘mater farm? No, better to get married. And you had best not tell anybody else about that ‘mater farm idea, or you’ll end up in the loony bin!”
But that couldn’t discourage Hannah. When a man, or a woman, has a dream, then they have a reason to live, and something to look forward to. Nothing can steal a woman’s dream; she has to kill it herself if it is to die at all. And Hannah had a dream, that burned in her heart day and night.
Through the years Hannah waited. She knew her time in sun would come one day. In the meantime, whenever a ‘mater farm came on the market, she would go and take a look at it. She became quite an authority on ‘mater farms and ‘mater growing. She was able to tell everything about the soil in a farm by looking at a few of their ‘maters. She studied the best ways to grow ‘maters, exactly how to rotate crops, the newest forms of fertilization. All the ‘mater farmers in the county would come to her and ask for advice if their crops were not coming along.
But her interest in ‘maters was more than just horticultural. Hannah loved ‘maters. She loved them more than people. Hannah preferred ‘maters to diamonds. She even wrote poetry to them, and had a few published in the local paper. One of her favorites, “Ode to a ‘Mater #45,” went something like this:
Oh thou, ‘mater, thou fruit so tasty sweet,
Thou red and ripe and luscious being,
Thou most exquisite joy to eat,
And food for eyes that thee are seeing!
Oh, soft, speak not but let me look
On thy sweet visage, and rounded form.
Thy varied moods could fill a book,
And thou art Universal Norm.
And then one day, Hannah had the opportunity of a lifetime. She came into quite a large sum of money upon the untimely and unexpected demise of her 105-year-old great-great uncle, Eustace Mandeville Wetenhall Hodgkiss. They said he was the oldest living person in the valley. He had lived up on Apple Mountain, a few miles out of town. The secret to his youth, so he always maintained, was his untroubled attitude toward death. In fact, every morning he would jog down to the highway near his cabin, and wait for a truck to approach. At the last moment, he would dash across the highway right in front of the truck. He had been doing that for years. The truckers never even slowed down for him anymore. But then, a man does lose a step as he grows older. It was really not the truck driver’s fault at all.
In any case, it landed a princely sum of $20,000 in Hannah’s bank account. Plenty of money for a ‘mater farm. She went out looking for one, and it was not long before she found a nice little farm overlooking the most beautiful apple orchard you ever saw.
Hannah worked hard on her farm. She planted, she watered, she slaved to grow the best ‘maters she knew how. But then, unexpectedly, the bottom dropped out of the ‘mater market. Cucumbers were all the latest rage. People just didn’t feel like eating ‘maters anymore. It was all cucumbers. Cucumbers this, cucumbers that. Hannah couldn’t understand it at all. What could people see in a cucumber—a little, green, pimply, water-filled, insipid, worthless vegetable. A cucumber was nothing at all like the majestic ‘mater, a vision of symmetry and of everything right in the world. Whatever did a cucumber have to offer that a ‘mater couldn’t do twice as good? But then, there’s no figuring people’s taste, is there?
Hannah did not know what to do. She was at her wit’s end. She would go and sit among the ‘maters, finding solace only in their muted gaze. One day, while sitting and tending her babies, she found the inspiration she needed.
It was one of those pleasantly cool days that always seem to come along at the height of the summer. The sun poured its rays down upon her little farm, and it gave the ‘maters a sheen that was almost unbearable. Hannah sat in their midst, drinking them in with her eyes. Looking down toward the apple orchard, she saw a flurry of activity. Young couples, children, and old people ran hither and yither gathering up apples and putting them into bushel baskets. They all seemed to be having a grand time. By the market near the entrance to the apple farm, someone was selling glasses and gallons of apple cider. The line for these libations was quite long.
“My goodness,” thought Hannah to herself, “they must be raking in the dough down there!”
And then Hannah thought some other things, such as the fact that if people could have fun at an apple orchard, then they could have twice as much fun at a ‘mater farm. There was so much to do at a ‘mater farm! And who could resist a tall, cool, thick, smooth, ice-cubed filled, thirst-quenching, vitamin-packed, scurvy-preventive glass of ‘mater juice? Once the people tasted her ‘mater juice, Hannah was sure, they’d never give a second thought to apple juice. So Hannah got right to it.
Hannah thought about opening the ‘mater farm to the public right away. But then she decided that to really do things right, she would take the remainder of her inheritance money and create a showplace of a ‘mater farm. She had a construction company come out and build a nice air-conditioned market, with a little area for a sidewalk ‘mater cafe. She also put in a huge holding tank, like the ones you have in your town, only she made sure no one marked it up with any graffiti (you know, like the kind on the water tank in your town). She built a ‘Mater Sweetheart Path lined with ‘mater-covered trellises. (The ‘maters on the walk were specially cross-pollinated so that they were shaped like little valentines. The sweethearts were very fond of them.) She erected a children’s playground with ‘Mater Swings and ‘Mater-Go-Rounds.
And finally, just before the last of her savings was depleted, it was finished. She had just one decision left to make—what should she call it. Hannah decided to hold a contest in the town and award a giant Dark Springs River Rosy Red Ripe tomato bush to the winner. Well, thousands of entries came in, which was thousands more than Hannah expected, if truth be told. And not only were they from town, but also from White Post and Berryville and Stephens City, and even from as far away as Woodstock. Hannah looked through each entry carefully, and finally chose the one from little Laura Jean Clark. Laura Jean had written her entry in purple crayon on red construction paper, which made it somewhat difficult to read, but, after her eyes adjusted, Hannah managed. The entry said, “Why don’t you call it ‘Hannah’s ‘Mater Farm’? That’s what it is, ain’t it?” And so it was.
Spring rolled along, and Hannah was breathless in anticipation of Memorial Day, the first day the ‘mater farm would open for business. Lately, she had been experimenting with just the right recipe for that perfect ‘mater juice refresher. After months of study, she found the best way to make ‘mater juice was by slow simmering whole ‘maters and letting them stew in their own juices for at least a week.
Now Hannah was wondering how to simmer up enough ‘mater juice to fill that 500,000 gallon holding tank with sweet tasting, lovely smelling ‘mater juice when another idea came to her—turn the tank itself into a solar oven. That was just the ticket. She would buy a huge mirror to focus all the sun’s rays right on that huge vat filled with ‘maters. That would cook ‘em just right, and all she’d have to do was dump the ‘maters in and then sit back and relax. The sun would do all her cooking for her.
By Memorial day the vat of ‘maters had been cooking in the sun for nigh on a month, and the sweet smell of ‘maters now hung thickly over the whole valley. But, tasting it the day before opening, Hannah thought something was missing. She took a couple of gallons worth in the house and mixed in as many spices as she could find. By the time the two gallons were gone, she’d decided that the juice needed a bit of nutmeg and a pinch of thyme. So, she ordered up two tons of nutmeg and a half a ton of thyme (by overnight mail, of course) and brewed them in with the ‘maters.
“Hello folks. This is your roving reporter Rif Reynolds of station WFTR broadcasting today from Hannah’s ‘Mater Farm, the best thing to hit this valley since old man McWerter won the state lottery. If you haven’t been out here then come out, and if you have been, then come again! Room for everybody out here, room for everybody, and there’s ‘maters that won’t quit. And speaking of things that won’t quit, I do believe I see the esteemed proprietess of the ‘mater farm, Hannah Hodgkiss. Holy moly, Hannah, things are hopping here, aren’t they?”
“Wow, Rif, they really are. I knew the ‘mater farm would take off. But this? I guess this’ll make people forget those darn cucumbers. Oh, sorry folks, didn’t mean to swear, but you know, there’s just something about ‘maters, something magnetic, and it’s not the soil they’re grown in, either. It’s just that ‘maters are, well, God’s most perfect creation. But, I digress . . .”
“Well, Hannah, you’ve built a beautiful little spread here . . .”
“And Rif, I meant to tell people about my new Hannah’s ‘Mater Spread. Take care of all your salad dressing needs, that’s for sure. And lots of other ‘mater products too, too numberous to list. Yep, too numberous to list. But come on out folks, come on out. Have a cool glass or two of some red nectar and go away feelin’ alive. Yep, feelin’ alive!”
“Well, Hannah, thanks for sharing some time with us today, and thanks for sharing your vision of ‘maters with the valley. God bless you, Hannah. God bless you. And now back to Jumping Jack Jackson at the station. Take it away Jack.”
“Hey, this is Jumping Jack, and it sounds like things are really jumping at Hannah’s ‘mater farm. But, now, for your listening pleasure, more of your favorite music, on WFTR, your valley voice.”
Indeed, the Lord truly blessed the little ‘mater farm on the hill. It grew and grew until Hannah was the largest employer in the valley, shipping Hannah’s Delicious ‘Mater Juice to every state and 57 foreign countries. It seemed like construction never ceased. Either Hannah was putting up a new factory, or expanding the big hotel, the Jolly ‘Mater Inn. And some time along the way, she and Rif Reynolds, the roving reporter, were married. Rif flung himself into the business with abandon, and two people were never happier.
But then, one day, the funniest thing happened. Hannah came down to breakfast and drank a big glass of ‘mater juice. From the next room, Rif heard a terrified shriek and the sound of breaking glass.
“Honey, what’s the matter,” Rif shouted, as he ran to the kitchen.
He found Hannah crying uncontrollably. “Rif, Rif,” she sobbed, “I just drank some ‘mater juice, and . . ., and . . ., I didn’t like it! I didn’t like it!”
It was true. Hannah no longer liked ‘mater juice. She no longer liked stewed ‘mater, or stuffed ‘maters, or baked ‘maters or fried ‘maters. The very thought of Italian food was enough to make her ill. The idea of putting ketchup on scrambled eggs turned her stomach. There was nothing to do but to sell the ‘mater farm and move far away from ‘maters. It was indeed the end of an era.
“Grandmother, “ said Robin, “whatever did you do after you sold the ‘mater farm?”
“Well, girls, “ said Hannah rising from her chair, “your grandfather and I did still have a fine time after we left the ‘mater farm.”
She went over to a small table in the corner and grabbed a shiny little picture. She handed it to Kate.
It was a picture of Rif and Hannah, standing next to an igloo, with a banner over them which said:
Hannah and Rif’s Arctic Tours and Catering Service. No Party Too Small or Too Big
But then, that’s another story.
In college I knew a girl named Hannah whose family once owned a tomato farm. Needless to say, she hated the very thought of tomatoes. She told me that once when they were bringing a truckload of tomatoes to market, the truck broke down by the side of the road. The tomatoes sat stewing in the hot sun for hours while they tried to fix the truck. The image struck me so strongly that I wrote this story.