I think about the farm most during this time of year. I think about the cold October and the snow, which began a few days before Halloween and the unsure fear I held when I walked in the main house for the first time. I think about the cold winter mornings on the farm and the early wake-ups, the fire watch detail in the middle of the night, and the barn crews that began before the sunrise, the punishment sanctions used to teach us lessons, the housekeeping cleaning regime, waxing floors on hand and knees with a folded up cloth in hand, and kitchen detail, which I hated most, and I also think about the personal interactions that took place.
Mostly, I think about a Sunday morning that I remember well. I am not sure where this memory fits into my stay on the farm; chronologically, however, age and the distance between then and now causes me to mistake the accuracy of time but nevertheless, I know it was a Sunday morning before Christmas. I know it was a morning after a fresh and heavy snowstorm with a blue sky and all the remnants of the previous weather had turned to something pleasant. I remember the sun reflecting from the top layer of snow, —and this was blinding to the eyes but it was also one of the most beautiful sights I will ever remember.
There was a sense of peace in an odd time. The mountains here were covered with empty, winterized trees that appear crystalized underneath the ice and frost. I stood at the upstairs window and looked outward like a grown child seeking a reconnection with his youthful innocence. The sky was clear of any intrusion. There was no form of pollution in the air. There was nothing up there except for the sun, of course, and it was brightly shining down on the pasture behind the big red barn.
I remember the dirt road that led from main road, which turned into the driveway on the farm. As far as looks are concerned, the farm was like something pictured in a Norman Rockwell painting to me. I had never seen anything like this place before. Everything around me was stripped of the city image and all of the street-wise lingo and all the tough-guy nonsense was confronted here as unacceptable.
I remember standing at the window and watching a hawk glide high above us in the deep winter sky. November had gone and December was among us. I had no idea what was about to take place. I had no understanding about which way my life was heading or what changes were about to take place.
I remember standing at the window that Sunday morning and thinking about The Old Man. I recall wondering how something like this could happen. How could a man so strong fall weak to a heart attack?
I couldn’t understand why something like this would happen. Finally, business was going well for The Old Man. Finally, the troubles in the home were quiet. I was living elsewhere at the time and the dusty casualties of my behavior had settled down into something nonexistent.
This was supposed to be their time. This was time for my mother and father to enjoy life. They wanted to see the world. They wanted to create their exit strategy, to retire, to move to someplace in Southern Florida, to play golf in funny white shorts with perhaps a funny golfer’s cap, and they could drive around on a golf cart or have lunch at “The Clubhouse.”
I couldn’t understand how something like this could happen to The Old Man. He was so strong. He was the strongest I’ve ever known, —even when I was most angry and swore that I hated him, I truly admired him because The Old Man was one of the strongest men in the world. However, more importantly (and poignantly) The Old Man was my hero. He always had been and he always will be.
I remember standing there, looking at the sky, and thinking to myself, “What am I gonna do now?”
What do you do when you come to the understanding that life is only a temporary thing and people are only lent to us?
What do you do when someone nearly dies and then you come to the realization of, “But I have so many things I need to say”?
I remember thinking differently for the first time. Instead of argue and hold those around me either as hostage or in contempt; I decided the fights I chose were no longer worth their value.
I decided for the first time that maybe there’s something to this “Life on life’s terms” thing. I thought about the straight life. I thought maybe there was something to it; maybe there was something to walking the straight line, doing the right thing, getting a job, and being a productive member of society. For the first time, I thought about being a person of merit instead of a young man consumed by faults
I think about the farm and the friends I had at the time. I think about the way loss sometimes helps us to learn what we have. Yet still, I had no idea what was about to come my way. I had no plan in place. I wasn’t too far in any specific direction. No, simply put, I was frightened and numb. I was beaten into submission and kept still. I was too beaten to fight back and too beaten to argue.
For as long as I could remember, I always had that little voice in my head that would say, “Don’t listen to them.”
“Don’t tell them about me.”
“Don’t give in,” and “Don’t do what they tell you.”
There was a voice in me that would say, “Don’t let them know what we’re thinking,” and “Don’t let them know what we’re doing.”
The beast in me was a whisper but that whisper was louder than a scream. Some might call this the voice of paranoia. Some might call this mental illness or some might link it to one of my disorders. But whatever it was, when The Old Man went down for the first time and I saw him lying on a hospital bed; he looked old and humbled as if all of his strength had become shriveled and gray, and then suddenly, all of the voices in my head were silent.
There are places we live in throughout our years and there are memories we keep to remind us of who we used to be and where we came from. This memory I share with you; this memory I have is the morning I felt so many different things. I felt everything, but yet, I felt nothing as well. I was neither broken nor destroyed and I was neither alive nor prepared to feel alive. I was in a predisposed state if mourning and in shock. I wasn’t sure what was about to unfold, but at the same time, I knew something was about to happen.
I had too many things to deal with. I was on overload, but man, the view from that window was beautiful. And I don’t mind the emotions behind this memory. Actually, I cherish them. I keep this as dearly to me as I keep the names of people I love.
I remember looking through the window and thinking to myself, “This was the last place the three of us stood together.”
And it was.
It was the last time I stood between Mom and The Old Man. It was the last time he put his arm around my shoulder and told me, “It’s good to see to see ya, kid.”
I wish you knew more about The Old Man. I wish you could see him once. You would have liked him. And he would have liked you too. He would have made you laugh. He was so smart. He knew about everything.
People depended on my father. And he helped them all. He helped anyone he could, so long as they deserved it. I can say this much, there were no free rides with Pop. No sir, The Old Man was not an easy man by any means, but if you worked hard, he rewarded you for it.
This is where the memory turns sad
As a kid, all I wanted was a connection with him. All I wanted was for The Old Man to be proud and to grow up one day and hear him someplace while speaking to a stranger in the distance, —The Old Man would point at me and say, “You see him? That’s my son!”
This memory I have; I keep it in my storage bank just in case I need to remember the separation in understanding between parent and child can be painful and costly. Perhaps, same as I came to an understanding that the energy I wasted was not worth the fight, I suppose The Old Man came to that same realization once the end was near.
Arguments become like quicksand . . . know what I mean? You know you’re in it and you know you’re sinking but no matter how hard you try to get out of the pit, all you do is sink in deeper. The arguments grow and the days between apologies add up.
I swear, the rift between parent and child (or in my case, a father and his son) can be so painful. But deep down; I always knew we both wanted to get along better. I just don’t think we knew how to do it.
I have a chance to speak to parents in a high school auditorium next week. I think I’ll tell them about us. I think I’ll tell them about where we went wrong and how we both wanted the same thing but neither of us knew how to make it happen.
Maybe if I tell them about the things we went through, —maybe it will open their eyes, and hey, if it helps one father reach one child and improves their relationship . . . I’ll take that as a huge victory