"Clarence! Hey, Clarence!" The boss was calling me; what was broken now? I'd fixed the anti-precipitation controller on unit six that morning; it should have been dispatched already. "There's a call for you, it's urgent".

I didn't recognize the face on the screen, but the gravity of the call was somehow obvious to me, and I felt a grave apprehension come over me. The insight was quickly proved accurate when the face's owner identified himself as Ephraim Howe, the executor of my father's estate, and informed me that a surprise stroke had taken my father's life two days before. According to the will, funeral plans were already in place, awaiting my notification and arrival. I told Mr. Howe that I would leave on the Greyhound the next morning, and would be back in Osage City that evening.

*        *        *

The next morning, Red gave me a ride to the hitching post where I could catch the Greyhound. I climbed the stairs and scanned the sky. I didn't see the shuttle coming, but I was about ten minutes early. I sat down in the shelter and thought back to the last time I'd waited for the bus (which was a ground vehicle then), the day I left home.

I was seventeen, and full of self-justification.
Waiting on the highway at the east edge of the farm, I kept telling
myself that I wasn't doing anything wrong. It was my life.
Sure, I wished there was someone to carry on the farm after Dad was
gone, but it wasn't my obligation; I had chosen a different path
for my life, I was going off to begin my apprenticeship,
and I was going to be the best! He had given me a ride to the
highway, both of us enduring the uncomfortable silence, neither of
us willing to be the first to break it. When the bus arrived, I
felt all the passengers looking at me as I climbed on and found a
seat, and in my mind I saw accusation in each pair of eyes.

*        *        *

As we landed in Osage, I looked at the town, and didn't see much different. What looked like a shopping mall was now where the drugstore and movie house used to be. I got off the bus and walked to the taxi stand, gave the driver the address of Mr. Howe's office. We were there in less than five minutes. In the street were parked vans from most of the newswebs; I wondered why, but I wasn't here to rubberneck. I walked straight to the door, but when I was almost there I saw that a pack of cameramen were hurrying after me. I slipped inside before they could catch up.

I introduced myself to the receptionist, and asked her why all the press was there. The look she gave me seemed to say that she thought I was too stupid to poke a seed in the ground, but she was polite as she reminded me that Dad's farm was the last family farm left in the world, and with his death, there was great interest in what would happen to it now. Then she informed me that Mr. Howe hadn't arrived yet, and showed me into his outer office where I could wait.

I was sixteen, and Dad was haranguing me (again)
about my desire to go off on my own. "This farm's been in our family
for six generations, son. We've always been farmers, and proud of it!
Every year, there're fewer of us left, as people sell the farms to the
big ag outfits. But there are people in the world who still buy
their food from farms like ours, even when we can't match the prices
of the corporations. They recognize that it's something that shouldn't
be lost. People we'll never meet feel good in sharing in the dignity of
our way of life, sowing, planting, harvesting, and giving a damn about
the food we provide to the world. How can you just walk away from that?"

Yes, I'd seen the merit of all that, but I just didn't want to be a farmer, even while I was proud of my father for keeping up some of the old ways. The farm was mechanized, of course (he didn't have a "primitive" fetish), but he never had acquired any of the semi-intelligent agricultural robots; he always oversaw all aspects of the farm himself. And only once had he retained a rainmaker; good thing, too, or he probably would have lost the farm in that drought of '41.

"Mr. Howe will see you now." The receptionist opened the door to the private office, and I sat down with Mr. Howe. As expected, the reading of the will took only a few minutes, and as expected, I was Dad's sole heir. I signed a few papers, and the farm was mine. I thanked Mr. Howe, then asked the receptionist if I could use a phone. They were not suprised to get my call, and the arrangements were made in short order. I left the office post haste, feeling a bit like a vulture, carrying the deed to the farm in my coat pocket and Dad's ashes in a plain ceramic urn in both hands.

The reporters were not caught off guard this time. I exited the building into a sea of pushy press bearing microphones and camera lenses, jostling for better position. "What will you do now?" "Will you sell the farm?" "Are you going to come back to the farm?" I pushed past them without answering, made my way to the taxi that I had asked to wait for me, and asked the hack to take me to Topeka.

*        *        *

In Topeka, I entered the skyscraper holding the offices of Agricorp, the largest of the worldwide agricultural megacompanies. I found them on the building's directory, but instead of heading for the elevators, took a seat in the lobby. They'd offered me a much larger sum than I would have thought possible, enough that I would never have to work again in my life if I didn't want to. But that was not my plan at all. There was no question that I was going to accept their offer to buy the farm, but I sat and pondered how to word the two conditions I was going to add.

I was seven in the summer of '41, the driest year
in anyone's memory. My father had gotten more and more worried as
the sky was a pure and constant blue day after day. He couldn't totally
keep it hidden from the kids, but I never told him that I'd seen him and Ma
standing in the living room late one night, half hugging each other and half
just keeping them both from falling down, and whispering about what they
would do if the farm went bust.

When he could wait no longer, he contracted with RainMaker, Inc.,
and this was the day they would come and save the crops. The
family was having supper on the enclosed porch at the front of
the farmhouse, and smiles and hugs were exchanged as they saw
the first drops start to fall. Dad heaved a huge sigh of relief,
and bowed his head in a silent prayer of thanks.

Just as we had cleaned our plates, he landed just outside the door:
waterproof overalls with the RainMaker insignia, a backpack full of
electronic equipment, and a plastifoam ten-gallon hat. He bent over
exiting his flyer, and was greeted at the door by Ma, who invited him
in and asked him to join us for dessert, blueberry cobbler with vanilla
ice cream. She actually pressed two helpings on him, then he insisted
that he really had to be going. Somewhat abashedly, he presented the
work order to Dad for his signature, quickly tucked it away, and left
with a tip of his hat. He was a hero! He had saved the farm, and my
boy's mind was instantly imprinted with a dream to be just like him.

Finally, I got up, and rode up to the seventieth floor, where some big suits were expecting me. We went into a conference room, and they took their places across the huge mahogany table from me. The sales contract was already on the table in front of my chair, a Mont Blanc ball point pen perfectly centered on top of it. One of them reached into his jacket and withdrew a check for thirty million dollars, already made out to my name, and set it beside the contract. I think they were a bit taken aback that my hands remained in my lap.

"Thank you, gentlemen. Before we consummate this deal, I have two small conditions that I would like to add..." Was that panic I saw cross their faces? I hastened to make my two requests; they consulted amongst themselves for just a few seconds, and agreed. One picked up the phone and briefly relayed the changes to a legal department somewhere. While we waited for the amended contract to arrive, a tray of glasses with a jeroboam of Dom Perignon was brought in; the bottle was opened, and the celebration started a bit early.

Three hours after entering the building, I left, one side of my jacket feeling so much heavier than the other that I was sure it was dragging on the ground. I looked up at the sky, wondering if Dad was watching, and asked forgiveness.

*        *        *

Back at work, I went into Red's office at the end of the day. "Red, I want to thank you for all you've done for me since the day I arrived here as an eager young squirt. But you know I've been dreaming of opening my own firm someday, and the time has come."

"Well, I'm sorry to see you go, but I wish you the best of luck." That said, I returned to the bunkhouse, packed up my meager belongings, and was on my way before dark.

*        *        *

It's taken me three years, but I've done it. I have my own company now, and the world is about to find out that it's not like all the others. Agricorp had kept their part of the bargain: the farmhouse I grew up in was still there, with all of about twenty feet of clear space on every side, and after notifying them that I was ready, their first rain contract for the ten square miles encompassing what used to be Dad's farm had been let to me.

All the newswebs had representatives there, but they didn't yet know why. I had invited them to my first performance, while giving them no information whatever about what it would be. But my celebrity (or should I say infamy) from three years ago was not gone, so they figured they might regret it if they didn't cover it, whatever it turned out to be. The reporters were leaving me alone, as the first one that hadn't heeded my restrictions had been evicted from the proceedings (and, I had a feeling, would be out of a job at the end of the day when INW saw what they missed out on).

Much as I wanted to be up in the sky controlling the action, I wouldn't miss the view from the ground, so my best man was up there instead. I was confident that he would pull it off as well as I could have. I gave him the go signal via radio, and withdrew to the safety of the porch. The reporters saw, and joined me there.

The three small, natural cirrus clouds in the sky started gathering together, visibly growing before they merged into one. After about ten minutes, there was a menacing thunderhead, looking about three hundred feet tall. But the rain didn't come. Anton was controlling it perfectly. Then the world watched as, for the first time ever, the cloud formed itself into an image. It took twenty more minutes, but the murmurs grew as the well-known face of my father became recognizable. Fully formed, it then took a minute more to develop a shallow smile. Some of the reporters were transfixed, some were whispering rapidly into their memos. Then one of them shouted "Look!", and all eyes that hadn't already, found the tear drop forming at the corner of the left eye. It rolled down the cheek, and fell to the thirsty wheat below. Then the face gradually dissolved into sprinkles and other clouds appeared, and the rain began to fall in earnest. The silence among the watchers persisted for a moment, then they rushed upon me and I lost myself in the acclaim.

I let them make their fuss for a few minutes, then made my apologies but insisted that there was something I needed to do before the rain stopped. Brushing aside their questions, I donned my slicker and made my way to the spot where Anton was landing the flyer, his job complete. I congratulated him and thanked him for doing me proud, then took the controls while he ran for the shelter of the porch. Let the reporters fawn over him for a while. Rising above the clouds, I looked at the indicators and saw there was about twenty minutes of rain left. Ignoring the manufacturer's warning placard, I opened the window in flight and made two passes over the cloud until the urn was empty. Dad was back on the farm for good.

*        *        *

Ever since that day when I was seven, I never wanted to be anything else but a cloud herder. I am now, and the most famous one in the world. And hopefully, my future son will one day take the reins of Reminiscent Rain Corporation from me and follow in my footsteps.

###


This is totally fictional, although my dad did grow up on a farm near Osage City, Kansas. And the farmhouse did have an enclosed porch on the front :)

The idea for this story came to me while I was driving to Redding, California to be with my Dad on his 72nd birthday.

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