The spring edition of Agrisearch came out with a picture on the front page of Roger standing in the middle of a field holding a peanut plant in each hand. In the distance you could see the irrigation rig behind him, and then the uneven line of trees at the back of the field. The caption said, "U. of Ga. plant pathologist Roger Meadows compares a peanut plant stunted and damaged by the tomato spotted wilt virus (left) with a healthy plant."
For some reason the picture had come out amazingly good in every respect. The frail, sickly plant on the left looked almost weightless, as if it were just hovering between life and death in Roger's tender grasp, while the robust plant on the right seemed aggressively healthy, its dark leaves outlined sharply against Roger's white shirt. The hand holding this plant was slightly lower, as if it were all a strong man could do to support the weight of such vigor.
Roger's friends were all so taken with the picture that they cut it out of their April Agrisearch and propped it up on windowsills or stuck it with magnets to the fronts of refrigerators.
At the Pastime Restaurant the waitresses taped the picture up on the wall beside the "In Case of Choking" poster. Betty, the cashier, wrote "This is Roger, in Albert Bateman's peanut field" on a takeout menu and taped it up under the picture.
Roger's old friend Meade made a mat for the picture out of faded red construction paper left over from her school teaching days. In her enthusiasm for accuracy and information, she penned in down at the bottom the date the photograph was taken; Arachis hypogaea, the scientific name for peanut; and then 'Florunner,' the name of the cultivar.
Meade's friend and neighbor Hilma snipped Roger out of the peanut field with a pair of tiny scissors and transposed him onto two color photographs, so that he seemed to hover, artistically stark in Agrisearch black and white, between two lush springtimes--on the left, the bracken fern and longleaf pine woods on the hillside where his family house had once stood, and on the right, the 'Old Blush' in full bloom in his backyard rose garden.
Out in the country Roger's ex-wife's aunt Eula stuck the picture up on the refrigerator beside a crayon drawing of the Titanic her grandson had sent her from California. On the white of Roger's shirt Eula printed R-O-G-E-R in proud capital letters, with the final R dipping down out of consideration for the roots of the healthy peanut plant.
"As if anybody in this house doesn't know who that is," said her son Tom.
"Roger has such a kind face," said Hilma.
"And that well-bred nose," said Meade. "Men's noses become so important when they lose their hair."
"They say you should always label your family pictures," Eula told Tom. "In a hundred years people will forget even Roger."
"Look a there, there's Roger on the icebox!" said Eula's sister Louise.
"Roger ain't family, Mama," said Tom. "Just because he picks the banjo with five fingers and married Ethel before he was old enough to know better, that don't make him family."
"R-O-G-E-R," said Louise. "They like a word like that, begins and ends with the same letter. But you got that last R so low, Eula, you got to be careful with your spacing, that can throw them off." For several years Louise had had the idea that spacemen were attracted to certain combinations of letters of the alphabet and certain arrangements of shapes and shiny objects, and this made her difficult to reason with at times.
"It's Roger, in Agrisearch, Louise, with his spotted wilt work," said Eula in a loud voice.
"Everywhere I go, there I am, me and those two peanut plants," said Roger. "Fools' names and fools' faces." He and his nematologist friend Lucy were picking his first roses.
Use of this excerpt from Quite a Year for Plums by Bailey White may be made only for purposes of promoting the book, with no changes, editing, or additions whatsoever, and must be accompanied by the following copyright notice: Copyright© 1998 by Bailey White. All rights reserved
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