Class of 2020
(7/2017) "Wake up! Wake up! It’s time," said the aged woman. She couldn’t have been any older than forty, but her grayed hair and wrinkled, tan skin gave her the appearance of an old woman.
She shook the shoulder of a small boy with skinny arms and rubbery cheeks. He woke with a start.
"What is it, mama," he mumbled, rubbing the sleep away from his eyes.
"We have to get up, baby. It’s time to get ready. We must join the others in the fields. Your brothers are already waiting with your papa."
The boy dressed as quickly as he could, fighting against the heaviness of his arms and eyes. The sun was not out yet, so the small house was pitch dark. He felt his way through the house and out the door, following the well-beaten path out into the fields.
By the time he reached the fields, the sun was beginning to peer over the plains.
"Hurry up, boy," said a robust man with the same bright blue eyes as the little boy, "You’ve taken up enough time."
He shoved a wad of string into the little boy’s hands, "Go tie up the wheat that your brothers have already harvested," he said, heaving a long rake-like stick over his shoulder, "And be quick about it, we are already a few hours behind."
The little boy stumbled around, grabbing as much wheat his small arms could carry and tying them tightly together with a piece of string. He watched as his two older brothers, much more broad-shouldered and strong than he, used different versions of clawed tools to yank the wheat from the ground.
"Don’t look so grim, boy," said an elderly man with a long white beard and weather-beaten skin, "You should never look so grim, especially today of all days."
"What’s so special about today anyways?" asked the little boy with a yawn, "Why do we get up so early just to pick wheat?"
"Not just to pick wheat, my boy," the old man said with a grin. He bent down and bundled an armful of wheat together, "To celebrate a new beginning."
The little boy frowned, "A new beginning?"
"Why it’s the summer solstice, my boy," said the old man with a laugh. "It’s the longest day of the year! This is our chance to gather as much food for the winter as we can."
The boy shivered. "Winter," he grumbled, "Everything dies during the winter."
"Aye, but that’s why there’s the summer solstice," he said starting on another bundle, "We have a good harvest this year, aye. A good harvest predicts a hearty winter."
"I heard that the Pagans said they’d see fairies," one of the little boy’s brothers chirped in.
"I heard Little Peter say it and he said he heard it from Penelope Pips whose brothers go to school," the little boy’s brother continued, "They said you had to rub fern seeds on your eyes at exactly midnight if ya wanted to see one."
"Fairies?" the old man said incredulously, "Don’t speak such nonsense."
"I heard that too," said a young girl from a neighboring farm, "I also heard that the Chinese throw rice covered in bamboo into the ocean on this day too. To attract the fish or something."
"Not only to attract the fish, silly," the little boy’s older brother said, yanking another rake-full of wheat out of the ground.
"I heard they did it because there was a poet that drowned himself. I don’t know if he drowned himself to make a point or cause he was so sad, but the people in his town went out looking for his body. They thought that if they threw bamboo covered rice into the ocean, maybe the fish wouldn’t eat his body."
"Ew!" the girl squealed, covering her face with a handful of wheat.
"That’s enough of your stories now," the little boy’s father snapped from his spot a few feet away, "We need to harvest all this wheat before sundown."
Everyone went back to work, continuing to bundle and yank wheat out of the ground.
It was evening when they finally took a break.
The little boy’s mother appeared at the fields, a large basket in each hand. She began to hand out bread and cheese, cups of milk or water, curds and ears of corn to the hungry workers.
When she reached the little boy’s father, she handed him a small bowl filled with sweet bread. He watched as his father let out a big grin and gave her a small kiss, "I thought you forgot."
"Did you know today is the day your parents got married?" asked the old man, watching the little boy’s parents as well.
"Did they?" the little boy asked with a grin.
"Oh yes, right here in this very field. They were brand new in these parts, and I was a little bit younger," laughed the old man.
"They made their vows just as the sun went down," he said. Then turning to the little boy, he grinned, "I told you today is supposed to be a happy day."
"Come here, boys," the little boy’s father called out. The little boy and his two brothers ran forward. Tearing the small amount of sweet bread apart, he gave every member of the family a piece, "Today is a day of celebration. It is the summer solstice. A day of hope and preparation. A promise that after an expected hard and enduring summer, we will
rise again and be able to collect such a bountiful harvest."
And with that they all ate their bread and went back to work. When the sun finally went down, they all headed home. And the little boy lay in his bed, waiting silently for the clock to strike midnight. And when it finally did he quickly rubbed his eyes with fern seeds.
Read other articles by Angela Tongohan