Sharon Bacon and her husband Tom, married 46 years, have lived in Berea since 1977. They have three children, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. For many years Sharon has dab- bled in writing both short stories and several novel-length manuscripts which she shares with family and friends.
This is an unpublished story called The Long Road, which is set in 1949.
The following is all eight parts of the story.
Luke Murphy paused by the side of the dirt road to rest for a moment. He wiped the dust from his face with a handkerchief. His new shoes were rubbing blisters and he had about five more miles to go. He looked at the sun and decided it must be about three o’clock. He’d have to get a move on if he wanted to arrive before dark.
He picked up his cardboard suitcase. It was small, but it suited him fine. There hadn’t been much to pack: a Bible, one pair of jeans, two work shirts, and some underwear. He was wearing the rest of his wardrobe: a cheap ill-fitting suit, boxers, shirt, socks, a pair of shoes, and a fedora. That was the sum total of all his worldly goods. He stared into the distance and then started to walk again.
It was a long road home and it had taken a long time for him to get there. Seven years to be exact. Not that Luke had a choice in the matter. The judge had decided that for him.
Now the prodigal son was returning. He hoped his father would allow him to work on the farm and stay in Jim’s old room inside the barn. The old man had died nearly ten years ago, but they still referred to it as “Jim’s room.” Luke figured it was probably a little ragged around the edges by now, but surely it could be cleaned and made livable again. He wondered if the plumbing still worked.
He was so deep in thought that he didn’t hear the truck until it was almost on top of him. As it rattled to a stop, Luke recognized the dilapidated Ford and the man behind the wheel. Both were coated in dust.
“Need a ride son? How far you going?”
“Just to the Murphy’s farm, 'bout five miles yonder.”
“Well, get on in. I’m going right by there.”
Luke tossed his suitcase in the back and climbed in. “Thanks, Mr. Samples.”
Isaac Sample’s hand froze on the gear shift. He turned and studied the young man‘s face for a moment, then began to cackle.
“Why you’re Jed’s boy! Been away a long time, haven’t you son?” Samples said.
“It’s been seven years.”
“Finally let you out, did they?”
Luke stiffened and stared straight ahead. “You want me out of your truck, Mr. Samples?”
The old man stuck out his hand. “Welcome home, boy.”
As Luke shook Mr. Sample’s hand, he was keenly aware of how gnarled with arthritis it had become. The father of his best friend had gotten old; guess time hadn’t stood still in the real world, after all. Had his own parents aged this much?
“Notice you’re still driving the same old truck.”
“Yep. Don’t need no fancy dancy vehicle to drive 'round in. This old truck’s taken me over a hundred thousand miles, and will probably take me that far again, if I live long enough.”
Isaac Samples ground the gears, stomped on the accelerator, and launched them down the road in a cloud of dust.
Luke grabbed the door frame and held on, shouting over the road noise and the roar of the engine. “How is the family?”
“You talking yours or mine?”
Luke barked a laugh. “Guess I mean both.”
“Well, my Ruby is as sweet as ever and seems to get more beautiful every day. “Elijah married Shirley Johnson and now they have them a baby boy.”
“So you’re a grandpa.”
“Yep, four times over. Jacob and Annie got themselves two mighty fine boys and our Rose has a little girl.”
“Didn’t know Rose was married.”
“She ain’t.” Isaac Samples shook his head. “Fell in love with some city slicker feller that blowed into town. Trouble was, when he found out she was in the family way, he blowed right back out again. She never heard from him after that. Like to broke her heart.”
“Well, we got ourselves one sweet little granddaughter out of it, so I guess it was worth all the heartbreak.”
They fell silent for a while, as the truck jounced down the road. Luke braced himself when they hit a series of potholes then glanced over at the old man.
Luke cleared his throat. “How’s my mom doing?”
“Fine, just fine. Liked to kill her when you first went away though. But life goes on, you know, 'specially on a farm, and she gradually came around. Started going back to church…”
“Mom stopped going to church?”
“Hard to believe, ain’t it?” Isaac Samples said. “But at first… Well, I guess she just couldn’t face all the gossip and all. But she and Ruby stayed friends through it all.”
He glanced away from the road to look at Luke. “It was real hard on your mother. Real hard. Hard on your dad, too, though he never said much.”
“I’m hoping Dad will let me stay at the farm and work for my keep. Thought I could stay in the barn. Don’t know, though. Dad never wrote to me while I was…gone.”
“Did you ever write him?”
Luke shook his head. “Didn’t have much to say. Guess I was too ashamed to write. Besides, don’t know what happened. Too drunk to remember. Figured he’d never forgive me, anyway.”
“Your mama forgave you.”
Luke fought the tears that stung his eyes. They drove down the road a piece before he asked, “What about Dad? Any forgiveness coming from that direction?”
“Don’t rightly know. He never talked about it.”
“Never said anything about what had happened?”
“Nope, not a word.” Isaac looked over at the young man. “Listen, boy, if things don’t work out with your folks, you come over to my place. I know Ruby would be glad to have you. Would pay you next to nothing, but you’d have a clean bed to sleep in and Ruby’s fine cooking to eat.”
Luke grinned at him. “Now, that right there is enough payment for me. Does she still make those lemon meringue pies of hers? Nobody in Butler County could make lemon meringue pies like Ruby Samples. Heck, nobody in the state could, for that matter.”
“What are you talking ‘bout, boy? Nobody makes pies like my Ruby, period.”
They shared a laugh, and then Luke was caught up on the rest of Taylorville’s news.
Finally, Samples brought the truck to a stop in front of a winding driveway.
“You want me to drive you up to the house, boy?”
“No, thank you, Mr. Samples. I think it would be best for me to walk.”
“You remember what I said about staying with us. Ruby’s gonna be mighty glad you’re home.”
Luke hopped out of the truck and grabbed his suitcase. “I will, and thanks for the ride, Mr. Samples.”
“Be seeing you.” The truck bounced down the road and disappeared into a thick cloud of dust.
Luke stood a while, trying to gather up his courage. Finally, he started walking up the hill. About half way up, he was met with two snarling dogs. “Hey there, take it easy, boys, I live here.”
Luke snorted at the irony of his statement. “Well, I used to live here.” He heard a whine and looked up to see an old dog slowly making his way toward him, its tail wagging furiously. “Lucky!”
Luke dropped his suitcase and threw his arms around the animal, burying his face in his old dog’s thick fur. “Hey, boy, how’re you doing?” The dog made little moaning sounds as he licked Luke’s face.
“Well, I was wondering what the dogs were barking at.”
“Pete!” Luke jumped up the sound of his voice and stood to face his older brother. He stuck out his hand. “It’s been a long time, Pete. How are you doing?”
Pete’s face was an angry mask as he ignored the offered hand. “Didn’t think you’d have the guts to show your face around these parts. Don’t you think you caused Mom and Dad enough pain already? Or did you come back just to stick their noses in it?”
Luke felt like he had been sucker punched, and took a step back as he stared at the man who had been his mentor. This was his big brother, the one who had always taken care of “the kid.” Nobody, but nobody, had ever dared to mess with Pete Murphy’s little brother.
“Why don’t you just turn around and go back to whatever hole you crawled out of? We don’t want you here.”
Luke stood rigid with shock, then slowly turned and picked up his suitcase. He looked into his brother’s face. “I’m sorry Pete.”
“You should have thought about that about seven years ago. Do you have any idea what you put Mom and Dad through? Mom, especially. I thought she was going to curl up and die.”
“I’m, I’m sorry,” Luke told his brother.
“Are you, Luke? Are you really sorry for all the heartbreak you caused, or are you just sorry for yourself?” The two men, once as close as two brothers could possibly be, now stood facing each other as strangers. “I think you better leave,” Pete said. “It’s almost milking time.”
“Luke!” The brothers looked up to see their father hurrying down the driveway toward them. He held out his arms. “Luke! You’re home!”
He grabbed his son, crushing him in an emotional embrace while he sobbed.
Pete stood to the side and watched his father and brother for a moment, then angrily strode away. His father called out to him, “Pete, where are you going?”
He spun on his heel, his face flushed with rage. “It’s milking time. I’m going to take care of the herd, just like I’ve done for the past seven years, Dad.”
Luke watched his brother turn and stomp toward the barn. “Maybe I better go.”
“Go? You can’t go!” his father said. “Your mother has been waiting all these years for you to come home. You can’t disappoint her!” Jed Murphy looked at his eldest son’s retreating back and sighed. “Just give Pete time, Luke. He’ll come around.”
“Look, Dad, I was wondering if I could hire on. I know you can’t pay me anything, but I’d work for room and board. I figured I could stay in Jim’s old room.”
Jed Murphy was incredulous. “Hire you? Luke, you’re our son! We’ve been keeping your room ready for you all this time. Now, come on, your mama’s been waiting for you.”
Luke followed his father to the farm house, up the porch steps, through the back door and into the mud room.
“Elsie. Elsie! Come here and see what I brought you.”
When Luke stepped into the kitchen, a plate crashed to the floor and shattered. His mother stood there, frozen, with her hands pressed to her face.
“Luke.” His mother spoke his name like a prayer. “You’re home. You’re home!” Sobbing, she held out her arms and her son fell into her embrace.
Jeb spent a few uncomfortable moments watching the tearful reunion and then slapped his hat back on his head. “Gotta head to the barn and take care of them cows. See you at supper.”
Luke sat at the table savoring his coffee and a big piece of apple pie while his mother bustled around the kitchen. “We have plenty of chicken. I’ll fry it up just the way you like it,” she said.
“Mom, you’re making me drool already,” Luke said. “It’s been so long since I had any of your fried chicken.”
Elsie Murphy slowly turned to her son. “It’s been seven years, four months, and eleven days.” She turned back to the stove, so he couldn’t see the tears trickling down her face.
“Tomorrow we’ll have that roast,” his mother said. “Maybe we could invite the Samples for supper. I know they’d love to see you.” Her voice was unnaturally tight and high pitched.
“Mom!” He slid back the chair and went to her. He pulled her into his arms. “I’m so sorry, Mom.” He gently rocked her back and forth as his tears mingled with hers. “Mom,” he whispered, “I’ll make it up to you. Somehow, I’ll make it up to you.
Luke gently pulled away from his mother and started toward the door.
“Where are you going?”
“Gonna help with the milking.”
“In those clothes?”
After he changed from the suit to jeans, Luke went to the barn. Hearing his brother’s angry voice, he waited in the doorway, listening as their father tried to soothe his oldest son. “Give him a chance, Pete.”
“After he made us the laughingstock of the county? And now he just waltzes in here and thinks he can come and take everything!”
“This farm is yours. It’s your inheritance, Pete. Nothing changes that.” Jed pleaded with his oldest son. “Can’t you find some forgiveness in your heart? He’s your brother!”
Luke took a deep breath and stepped into the barn. He grabbed a shovel, nodded to his father and brother, and began to muck out the stalls.
That night Luke woke up wondering what had disturbed his sleep. It took him a while to figure out that he actually was home and in his old bedroom. That’s when he heard Lucky’s sharp warning yaps off in the distance.
He pulled on his clothes, sneaked down the stairs, and slipped out the back door to investigate.
The barking came from the barn. Luke strode across the yard and opened the door. “What’s the matter, boy? What are you fussing about?”
An odd sound told him that one of the cows was in distress. He flipped on the light and squinted against the glare. A heifer lay on her side, lowing in pain. “Molly, what’s the matter, girl? Your calf decide to come early?”
He knelt beside her, gently stroking her side as he spoke. “Take it easy, girl. I’m going to take a look. Easy. Easy.”
Luke swore under his breath. “This little critter has decided to cause some trouble, huh, Molly.” He pulled off his shirt. “Looks like we have some work to do.”
“What’s going on?” Pete’s voice still held anger as he entered the barn.
“Molly’s dropping her calf and it’s breach.”
“Crap. It’s early.” Pete stripped off his shirt and knelt down. “Yep, it’s breach, all right. I’ll get the stuff.”
He soon reappeared with a bucket of hot water, soap and towels. The brothers wordlessly scrubbed their arms. Pete lifted Molly’s tail and carefully slid his arm into the birth canal. “I can touch its hoof, but I can’t get a hold on it.”
“Let me try. My arms are longer than yours,” Luke said.
Pete held the heifer’s head while Luke attempted to assist in the birth. He was up to his armpit in the birth canal when Molly’s muscles clamped down..
“Oomph! At least she’s having strong contractions,” Luke said through gritted teeth. After the cow’s muscles relaxed, he grabbed the unborn calf’s leg, pushed it back into the womb and turned the calf in one skilled motion. “I think I got it.”
He removed his arm and sat back on his heels, waiting.
Pete stroked the cow’s head. “Come on, Molly, we need a couple of good pushes.”
“Here it comes!” Luke gently guided the calf and pulled it out the rest of the way. “It’s a heifer.” He laid it on the floor and saw its sides almost imperceptibly moving in and out. “She’s breathing!”
The brothers took towels and began to rub the calf vigorously. Molly scrambled to her feet and nudged them out of the way, nuzzling and licking her calf. The calf gradually gained strength and managed to get to her feet, swaying precariously.
The brothers exchanged grins when the newborn found her mother’s teat and began nursing, her tail wagging back and forth.
Luke laughed. “Look, she’s a miniature of her mother, right down to the black patch around her eye. A mini Molly.”
“Well, Minnie, I guess you just got your name.” Pete looked at his brother. “You did a good job, Luke. I’m not sure I could have done it by myself.”
Luke smiled. “It helps to be tall and skinny.” He looked back at the mother and her offspring. “She’ll be a good addition to our herd.”
Pete’s eyes grew hard. “‘Our herd?’ What do you mean, ‘our herd?’ Don’t even think about crawling out from under your rock and trying to claim ‘your’ share of this farm. I’ve worked too hard for these seven years to give it all up to a weasel like you.”
He turned and stormed out of the barn, leaving Luke to stare after him.
Luke sighed. He knew that although he may have arrived back at the Murphy’s farm, he still had a grueling journey down that long road before he was truly home.