“Whistling women and cackling hens, both come to no good end.”—Folk wisdom repeated to Catholic school girls and originated by someone who never knew Emma
Ollie leans back in the glider. He relaxes in the shade of the overgrown arbor, just outside the kitchen of the dilapidated farmhouse, and fondly remembers his late wife.
Emma, a Catholic native American, didn’t know Ollie ever heard her whistling in the kitchen as she baked bread or toiled over dishes. She always stopped abruptly when she heard him knocking the mud off his boots by the lean-to door. Her melodies became his guilty pleasure. After long days in the fields or tending livestock, he often stood for five or ten minutes, watching her work, listening to her cheerful whistle.
When the children came along, Emma became more guarded about whistling. Instead, she hummed lullabies to soothe them to sleep. Still, late in the afternoon when the boys were tending to their chores and their baby girl napped in her cradle, Ollie sometimes heard her whistle a refrain.
Ollie knew the folk wisdom that kept Emma from sharing her music. He thought it a shame but knew better than to let her know he listened. Emma was a strong woman. More than once he had seen her wring the necks of six chickens before breakfast and serve them for dinner at noon when the harvest crew piled into the dining room, ravenous from the morning’s labor.
Life on the farm was hard but good for Emma and Ollie. The children grew and married. One son bought a neighboring lot, built a house and stayed to help Ollie work the farm. The other three moved into nearby towns where they found work, but everyone came home to help with summer harvest and to visit on holidays. Grandkids were born, grew up, married and had children of their own. Emma and Ollie kept working their farm. With everyone out of the house, Emma began to whistle more freely when she thought she was home alone.
One year, dementia came to steal Emma’s music. Ollie no longer felt comfortable leaving her alone when he went to work in the fields. She became confused when she went to gather eggs from the hen house and got lost on her way to the pasture. Finally, the kids convinced Ollie to put her in a home where, in nine months, she faded completely away.
Ollie spits a mouthful of chaw into the rusty Folgers can by his feet. “I figger that was no good end,” he mumbles to himself. “Sure had a good run up to it though.” He gathers himself out of the glider and heads out to the field. He only works a small patch of the farm these days, leases the rest out. The grandkids want him to sell the old place, move to some retirement village. He has other plans. A good end will mean he goes out making hay.