There is some debate on the true age of Alan Summers.
Some of his stories take place five years before the Great Depression, when he was just a small child, living in a farming community outside of Pittsburgh. The Summer Farm specialized in spinach, a delicate leafy vegetable that Alan had grown to hate, thanks to it being the only food they could eat during the Depression. There was spinach fries, spinach casseroles, spinach with spinach sauce and spinach ice cream for desert. All of which Alan confided to Lila was a bunch of malarkey. Doreen made the worst, most waterlogged and oily spinach he’d ever had the displeasure of tasting, a fact that each of the family members agreed upon. Stories set around this time put Alan’s age somewhere in the late 80’s.
Other stories took place fifteen years before the start of the Great Depression, making his age somewhere in the hundreds. In these, he was a beet and potato farmer from Missouri, watching helplessly as the Beet Beetles ate his family’s sole crop, forcing him to take a job as a boot black for a man who’d lost both legs in the Civil War. This story especially offended Doreen.
“What on EARTH would a man with no legs be doing with boy to shine his shoes when he had no shoes?” she would ask, flabbergasted each time Alan told the nonsensical story.
“Who’s to say? General Cornelius C. Cornpone wanted to ensure that by the grace of God, if he did grow new legs, he’d have shoes on the ready.”
By now, Lilac would giggle, and Doreen would become even more infurated at the man’s spendthrift ways. Nevermind that Genereal Cornpone was a figment of her imagination, so far as she knew. That he spent his money frivolously angered her to the point of the vapours, and he knew it. “Now, Doreen, relax. My time was spent well. When not shining his shoes, I was tending to his horses which he’d ride daily.”
Had she been a tea kettle, her outburst would have signified that the water was ready. “How can a man with no legs ride a horse?!” By now, Steven would put his head down to cover his laughter while Lila would excuse herself from the room to giggle uncontrollably while the fight raged on, Doreen arguing with her father-in-law, who stayed steadfast in his dedication to Cornelius T. Cornpone and his ancestors, the real champions of the Civil War.
Still other stories about his birth lead him to be a childhood friend of Christ, the man who gave the name “dirt” to the object which had no name before he came along, and sometime within the last week, depending on how witty he was feeling. Only Alan knew for sure his birthday and date, and he wasn’t telling. Inspite of that, he lived a wonderful, vibrant life at his “around ninety years” of age.
It’s not that Alan was secretive; no, Alan was an open book, for those willing to get past the foreword. His stories were long and worth every word, if you were willing to look past the grandiose and absurd exaggerations placed within each story. Alan could see everyone as he told his stories, and the second someone looked around, incredulously, he’d had him and began speaking only to him, gradually ramping up the absurdity until the subject burst. It was his favorite thing to do, and he was an old pro at setting Doreen off.
What’s known about Alan Summers is: He stood six feet, three inches tall for most of his life, and weighed a perfectly healthy one hundred and eighty pounds. His eyes blue, his hair blond, his skin fair with Germanic features. He was an athlete in high school, and very nearly won the Wisconsin State 100m dash some year of his life when he was eighteen. And, until ten years ago, he’d likely never had a bad day in his life. His first day of life, he was born in a hospital next to Gertrude Opal Smith, who would become his best friend and wife. Alan was born first, Gertrude seconds later. Their parents — William James and Anna Ruth Summers and John and Jane Smith, both men farm hands on the same farm, both women servants on the same farm were like best friends.
Each stayed on the farm in Lower Wisconsin growing soybeans on the largest soybean plantation in Wisconsin until the death of the John D. Rockefeller of Soybeans, T. Harold Wilson. Wilson, not having children due to an accident as a child, left his vast plantation to the Summers and Smith, which was inevitably passed on to Alan and Gertie, which will then be left to Steven and Doreen and then Lilac Flower Summers.
Fifty-two years ago, they welcomed their first child into the world, Steven William John Summers, their first son. Fifty years ago, they both welcomed and buried their second and last child, Mary Anna Ruth Sanders.
Alan and Gertie, until September 6th, ten years ago had not spent more than half-day apart, when Gertrude got sick. She passed quickly, her heart failing her after sixty-four years of marriage. From there, somewhere in his eighties or nineties, Alan’s health started failing, too. He was sicker more often, tired more often. Still tending to his hundreds of acres of soybeans, he finally allowed Steven to take over more of the day to day operations of the crops.
Alan barely remembered the days, barely knew he was alive anymore. Without Gertie, life just didn’t seem to matter, aside from Lilac and Steven. He’d do anything for Gertie, he’d do anything to have her back again, and through his granddaughter, he felt her still there, even slightly. She loved him, and he loved her. They hadn’t spent more than a day apart since Gertie died, and likely never would again.
That is, until it was time to tell her the family secret.