"It's just such a remarkable picture," said Lucy.
"Everybody is struck by it. You look so deep, Roger. What in the world were you thinking about?"
"I was just feeling sorry for the photographer is all," said Roger. "He had driven all the way down here from Athens to take a picture of red wattle hogs in Sam Martin's new automatic feeder pens, but they couldn't get the doors to open, so the photographer said, 'Stand out in that field and hold up two peanut plants.' He had to come back the next week for the hogpens."
But even knowing that, people still prized their Agrisearch pictures of Roger in the peanut field.
"Just like Roger to be concerned about the photographer having that long drive for nothing," said Hilma.
"It is a remarkable likeness," said Meade. "It's his mother's nose."
"It was supposed to be two hogs, but they took a picture of Roger instead," Eula told Ethel on Saturday afternoon. But Ethel was looking at the foliage on the roses Roger had brought that morning.
"Roger knows how much I like the pink ones," said Eula, "so he always brings me 'Queen Elizabeth.'"
Ethel turned over a leaf and examined the back of it, but there were no spots on the leaves. "Nobody can grow roses like a plant pathologist," was all she said.
"He planted that rose garden just for her," said Meade, "because she loved them so, and before the 'Dr. W. Van Fleet' got to the top of the trellis she was gone." It was a perpetual conversation, why Ethel left Roger. Lucy and Meade were sitting on stools in Hilma's tiny kitchen watching her poke the stems of 'Madame Isaac Pereire' roses into a vase. The heads were floppy, which made them difficult to arrange, but Hilma loved the fragrance, so Roger saved 'Madame Isaac' for her.
"And for what?" Meade went on. "That little guitar-strumming nincompoop from Nashville with the wispy goatee, when Roger plays the banjo so beautifully. I will never understand Ethel."
"I don't think it had anything to do with banjos or roses," said Lucy. "Ethel is just not domesticated, that's all."
"I saw it with my own eyes," said Meade. "She seduced him right off that stage."
"But we have all reaped the benefits of the rose garden Roger planted for Ethel," said Hilma, in an effort to stem the tide. "So we should not complain."
"Because she liked the way he tapped his feet," said Meade. "And poor Roger, left with nothing to comfort him but the Irish Potato Famine." For two years after Ethel had left him for the Nashville guitarist, Roger had immersed himself in a study of late blight of potato, and that look of resignation, wisdom, and patience had come into his face that was brought out so well in the Agrisearch photograph.
" 'I shall send upon you the evil arrows of famine,' " Meade quoted grimly, " 'and I will break your staff of bread.' "
"Phytophthora infestens, the Great Plant Destroyer," said Lucy. "The science of plant pathology had its beginnings in the Irish Potato Famine. It's very humbling to study a disease like that."
But all this seemed far too gloomy on such a bright spring day, thought Hilma, with 'Madame Isaac' filling the room with its fragrance. It was not fair to blame Ethel for the Irish Potato Famine just because she had such a lively interest in a variety of men. "Ethel is a gifted teacher," she said. "That is an important thing to remember."
"I will never understand Ethel," said Meade. They sat for a minute, admiring that complex picture of Roger, looking so serious and thoughtful on Hilma's cupboard door. For all his Agrisearch wisdom and patience and resignation, still, at the corners of his mouth and in his eyes, squinting slightly in the sun, you could see just the beginning of a little smile, as if he had sense enough to realize that he did look slightly ridiculous, standing there to have his picture taken in the middle of a peanut field.
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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