Future inspired this post for me. Its about my father. The quiet man, the man with the sky blue eyes, and from the my earliest memories,the salt and pepper hair. He was the man with calloused hands, from working the gardens in summer, swinging a mowing scythe, and fixing whatever needed fixing. He worked away from home, two weeks and more at a time. But when he came home, he bought candy, and food, and a wonderful sense of sanity and security.
He told me once that he first used a team of mules to plow the fields when he was 8. His father was away, and it had to be done. He recalled how his mother helped with the reigns and he plowed his first field. I remember as a young girl watching him plow our fields the same way. To say he worked hard all of his life doesn't even describe it. At 18 he went to work in the coal mines. There he contacted yellow fever, and was sent back home. He fought with death for weeks, and at one time they covered his head with a sheet, giving him up for dead. His father, strong, outspoken, don't so no to me!, man that he was, grabbed his boy up, sat him by the fire, and wrapped him in blankets. The doctor was sent for, and my father lived. This occured circa 1926. My father said it took a long time to get his strength back. But he did, at least to the point where he worked.
He came from a large family, nine children, and twins who died at birth. Its odd that in the latter days of his life, the two surviving members of his family was the oldest and the youngest. Looking back, I don't know how he did it all. He grew an abundant garden every year, and managed the best he could to keep food on the table. If we needed a new room, he built it himself.
In the summers he would take us swimming, at the swimming hole in the Coal River, teaching me to swim, and, in the process also teaching me about the beauty of a river bank, watching the water flowing, hearing the sounds of birds, and seeing the large red flowers that bloomed in the shadows.
He taught the rich pungent smell of fresh plowed earth, and the cool feel of it in my hands. He taught me the sweet juicy taste of an ear of corn fresh from the stalk, and about the snakes and tarpans that lurked in the garden. He never killed snakes. Not even the copperheads that drifted around our farm. "Just leave them alone, and they will leave you alone."
Watching him read "Grit" magazine, inspired me to read it myself, leading me to explore other reading material, and discovering new worlds and adventures that captivated me.
He taught me patience, by the way he doggedly pushed himself, no matter how bad the odds, no matter how bad he felt, knowing he couldn't quit. He showed me when to fight and when to let it go through his constant arguments with my mother. After one such horrible argument, when I was about five, he walked out into the backyard, and I followed him. I looked up at him, feeling the unjustice of the words he had listened to, and grabbed his hand, looking up and saying nothing, but knowing we were united in our sorrow.
As he aged, I came home to live with him, now alone in the house, retired, fiercely independent, but with failing sight and an increasingly bad heart. He was 89. At first he would allow me to do only certain things. Then he let me do the dishes. The cooking was his department. His dog, JoJo, the evil beagle from hell, tolerated me, and watched me closely, as his master was his life. He had an assortment of cats, that one by one, became house cats, and piled on top of him every night, keeping him warm, comforting him. He still grew his garden, and even when he had to put down his walking stick, and use a cane, he would maneuver himself up a tree, to prune branches.
For him to not be working was not an option. It was what he knew. He told me stories of how he and his father would hitch up the mules and wagons and go to town to sell produce. Of how he and his brothers made moonshine whiskey in various parts of the surrounding hills. He told me about his grandmother Sarah, from England, who witnessed the civil war first-hand. He talked of the depression, and how precious a dollar was.
As his health failed, and he was able to do less and less, something of his spirit began to die. His last Christmas, I asked him, "So, Daddy, what do you want for Christmas this year?" He said, "I want a new white shirt and tie." I said, "What? You going to go out dancing?" He said, "No, but I figure it would go good with my suit to be buried in." He smiled as he said this, but I had no reply. He saw it coming, and so did I. It hurt, knowing he was accepting the fact that he was ready to move on. He was fond of saying, "Anything after seventy-five, is borrowed time." I guess he believed his borrowed time was drawing short. But that is what I bought him. He opened that gift and was pleased. At 91, he had watched all of his friends and acquaintances pass on. No matter how many times I told him otherwise, he felt himself a burden. And the September after that Christmas he died. Many people came to see him. He was the last of a dying breed. Everyone knew his name, as the man who would help you if he could, as a man who stood by his word, as a man who helped raise half of the men who there to see him.
With his dying, our family, my brothers and sisters and I, had lost the glue that held us together. The old family homestead is gone, the house he built, where I was raised, has been torn down. And it saddens me. There is nothing to go back to. After the funeral, at his grave site, beside my mother, I always changed the flowers, for the different seasons, and whenever I felt like it. They had to be the biggest and finest arrangements around. They lay, my mother and father, between two dogwood trees. Lately they were joined by my oldest sister, my best friend, and the loneliness that brings at times is overwhelming.
A few days after the funeral for my father, I had dreams. He would be outside my window, talking to me through the screen, trying so hard to tell me something, but I could never understand. Now, I think I know what he was trying to tell me. He was telling me to be strong, and survive for what would lay ahead.
And perhaps that is his strongest legacy to me, to all of his children. No matter what, don't give up. Meet adversity with acceptance, and know that all things die. Every year his garden died, to be tilled over, and reborn in the spring. And like his garden, I feel he has been reborn.