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There was no sun today. As I walked across the driveway to the barn and looked out over the fields and our farmhouse, I couldn’t see sunlight on anything. I watched the corn flutter in the breeze and it took me back to a day that seems like yesterday. I’ve been writing now for almost twenty years and though I’ve thought about putting this on paper umpteen million times; I’ve never had the courage. To this day, I don’t know if I was dreaming or if I actually had a real life miracle. One thing is for sure ... It felt real ... and it changed my life forever. Besides all that, I’m not too sure that anyone would believe me anyway. I know my Dad tried to believe me. The only real proof I have is my Papaw’s old pocket watch ... and the note.
At any rate, I’ll tell this tale now and when I’m gone, maybe someone will get a kick out of it or maybe it’ll make them think ... the way it did me. I won’t even try to pass it off to my agent or my publisher. I like my job. I love working the farm to this day, but the income from writing keeps me from having to worry about what will happen when I take my harvest to market ... like my Dad did all too often. As did his Dad before him. As have all farmers for that matter. These men have gambled with their lives, farms and families for their very existence for far too long.
It all started about a month or so before harvest, when I was fourteen years old. That previous winter, right after the first hard snow, my Mom and my Papaw were on their way into town to get candles and kerosene for the lamps. It had been especially windy that season and we were without lights more often than not. You see, our farm stood alone almost thirty miles from any other farm. At the time, we were also alone on our power grid. It was one of the first farms outside Sioux City to have electricity. One of the wires, legs as they’re called, that traveled out to our place from the power station was loose on one of the poles. So, whenever the wind got too high, it would shake the line causing a short and some of the lights in our farmhouse would flicker, sometimes popping a bulb or worse still, a fuse. The frustrated Power Company searched a whole summer in vain for the loose connection. While it wasn’t cost effective to check all sixty miles of poles, they found and replaced a questionable transformer with a newer model ... all to no avail.
The very next time we had some big winds, we went through half a box of fuses. My Dad and My Pap went to the board of directors at Mid-west Power and Light to plead for a resolve, but they walked away instead with a mutual agreement. They weren’t too enthused ... but it was better than nothing. The Power Company agreed to supply us with a lifetime supply of fuses and a monthly allotment of bulbs. It was better than nothing ... I guess. Well, we had gone through all the bulbs that month already and my Pap was doing a lot of tinkering that winter. He wanted candles for his workbench. As he and my Mom were going down Route Sixty-three, they came over the hill at the railroad crossing and didn’t see the Noon train that was making it’s way into town. The police said that by the time he hit the brakes on his old truck, it was too late. The road was too icy and they slid right in front of the train. Christmas just wasn’t the same that year.
I remember sitting in my Pap’s big chair, holding my Christmas stocking. I stared into the fire and listened to the cold Iowa wind outside. I wished that my Mom and my Pap would walk through the door and give me big hugs and kisses. I wished that I could wake up from this bad dream. But ... I was all too awake. The only thing that made that day bearable was the look on my Granny’s face when she unwrapped the cane I had carved for her. My Pap and my Dad were both carvers. I remember watching them carve everything from serving plates and furniture to tobacco pipes. We would all giggle after my Mom would give them what-for about all the shavings on the porch. I was just fascinated at their talent. When I turned ten, they gave me my first whittling knife. I started to carve a piece of wood and when I was done, I had nothing left to carve. I was just so excited to be carving like them. My Pap looked at the sliver of wood that was left from what started as a stick and he grinned from ear to ear. Looking at it as serious as he could he asked me kindly “What’cha got there boy?”
I remember looking at it and then answering him as serious as I could “It’s a toothpick for my Mom!” I announced. He took it from my hand and began sanding it smooth. He smiled at me as proud as could be.
“And a fine toothpick it is too ... A fine toothpick.” Well, four years and countless tree limbs later, I had become a wood carver almost on the level of my tutors. At least that’s what they told me anyway. I had worked secretly on my Granny’s cane in the barn until it got too cold, then I finished it on my Pap’s bench in the basement. I tapped, chipped, chiseled, sanded and painted until my hands were numb. She pulled the paper from it so carefully I almost screamed in anticipation. She never tore her Christmas wrappings; she saved them. “Waste not, want not.” She would say. She held my work up to the firelight and looked over the rims of her glasses at the intricate leaves and flowers I had worked so hard to inlay in the wood.
The appreciation on her face made all those hours so much more than worth it ... and in those moments after she took it out of it’s wrappings, I felt the weight of my loss lifted from my soul. Adding to my joy, she handed it to my Dad. He inspected it with genuine amazement. He looked at me with a look on his face that I hadn’t seen before. When I look back now, I realize that it was his sense of loss ... for me. He told me it was the finest piece of whittling he’d ever seen. I felt like a man that cold Christmas morning, but it was the upcoming planting season that would usher in my manhood ... and my understanding of life ... Good or bad.
My Dad and I had been out surveying our freshly planted rows of corn. The sun was warm that day and the breeze almost tingled as it drifted over the little beads of sweat on my forehead. I felt so proud to be my Dad’s understudy. Before this, I had been the “farmhand” of the family; feeding chickens and helping my Mom and my Granny doing the menial tasks that never seem to end around a working farm. I couldn’t wait for the day when I could go out and operate tractors and combines ... I just knew it would make me a man.
Well, I got my wish, but as life usually does you, not in the way I’d imagined it would come. After my Pap died, I had to do both of the tasks, chores in the morning and working the fields in the afternoon. My Dad had taught me how to operate the tractor, as promised, right after my thirteenth birthday. As he and my Pap harvested the corn that year, I would follow the combine so that I could practice staying in between the rows. My Dad stood on the back of the combine watching the corn being sprayed from the hopper ... and watching me battling to keep the wheels straight. Learning was one thing, but now I was doing it for real.
Satisfied that our crop was sound, we headed back to the smell of one of my Granny’s famous Pot Roast’s. The smell was like the call of a siren. After you’d eaten it once, you couldn’t control yourself if you smelled that smell again. Our walk from the barn slowly turned to a laughing foot-race as we got closer to that kitchen she was so effortlessly turning into a farm boy’s nirvana. My Dad beat me to the steps, but I jumped up the three steps in one bound and to the door in another, triumphantly sneering at him as I swung open the door and filled my nose with her roast beef heaven. She grinned at our competition and rushed us away from the counter to go and wash our hands.
“Off with you, now!” She commanded, “There’ll be no nibblin’ ‘til yer hands is warshed!” Her Kentucky accent always warmed my heart ... I loved that woman in a way that can’t be described. Of all the people in my life, even my parents, I never felt like anybody could see through my soul like she could. She knew just how to make me smile when I was sad ... She knew just how to correct me when I was wrong ... But, most of all, she knew just how to praise me when I’d done something right. Making her proud was thee greatest feeling I’ve ever known ... When she squeezed me as she gave me approval, I felt like I could do anything. I also felt like I’d do anything to get that hug. There’s never been anyone else like her in my life.
We were sitting at the table eating our supper; my Granny pulled my Pap’s old pocket watch out of her apron and pressed the crown to open it up. After she read the time, she looked at me with a grin, “So Jefferson, would you like to drive over to the feed store with me after dinner?” I was nodding with my mouth full, I knew what she really wanted to take me along for. “I had Ben leave us some chicken feed out on the loading dock and if we’re gonna have eggs next week we’ll be needin’ to go and pick it up.” True, she did need me to pick up the heavy bags of feed, but the real reason that she wanted to take me along ... was a driving lesson!
My Dad wanted to wait to teach me to drive a car. He said that teaching me the tractor and the car in one season was more than his heart could handle. She saw my frustration ... as was her way ... and started sneaking me off for lessons every chance she got. But today, something else had caught my attention ... Something that I’d had in the back of my mind for some time now. I had admired that watch since the day my Pap had taught me how to tell time on it. After he died, I began to have hopes of some day having it for my very own. Today, I decided to try and reinforce my wishes by asking her if she remembered telling me that she would give it to me one day.
Looking across the table at me, my Dad told me, on no uncertain terms, that that pocket watch would be his long before it would ever be mine. I didn’t realize it then, but the reason she didn’t say anything to his statement was because he was teasing me. After I got up and ran away to my room for a cry, she chastised him for teasing me. He told her that if I was gonna grow up to run “His” farm, that I was going to have to have a lot thicker skin than that. She told me this as she gave me my lesson that day. I remember not totally believing her ... I also remember her trying to hide her nervousness at my inability to keep the car on the windy road. The fields were all fresh planted, so there was nothing to block the stiff, Iowa wind. Even though I knew she would never lie to me, I still felt like my Dad was really mean at the dinner table.
When we got back, I put the feed in the shed and she let me park the car in the barn. As I got up to the porch, they tried to hide their spat about her letting me park the car. I pretended like I didn’t hear them. We went inside and I helped her get up the stairs so she could sit in her room and read. The wind was playing havoc on the lights as usual but in her room, they didn’t flicker. Actually, they only flickered in the entry hall, the kitchen, the dining room and the basement. Those circuits were on the bad leg.
My Dad was in the living room rewinding a coil for one of the pump motors. We had found the south field dry that afternoon and it only took a minute for my Dad to find the problem. He told me he’d need to fix it tonight and have the pump going tomorrow or our freshly planted maize would wither and die. I knew he could fix it, he could fix anything. It was a trait that he’d picked up from my Pap. I hoped that one day I would inherit this great gift. He thanked me for helping my Granny up the steps, but he didn’t apologize for teasing me at dinner. I didn’t mind helping her though; I’d do anything for her.
She had always limped, at least as long as I could remember. My Dad told me his mother had fallen down a flight of steps in her youth. Since that accident, she had always had a bum leg. I swear though ... I never heard her complain once. Even when it was cold and her face showed the extra effort it took for her to walk, she always smiled.
I went into the kitchen to make some popcorn. As I shook the cast iron kettle, the lights began to flicker and then went out altogether. I pulled the kettle from the burner and ran down to the basement fuse box. I’d done it so many times that I didn’t need the flashlight. I fumbled across my Pap’s workbench for the paper box of fuses. It was the next to the last one. After I swapped them out, the lights came on in the basement.
My eyes gazed across the dusty old bench and I pictured my Pap fixing my bicycle ... or my Mom’s toaster. He was amazing. When he wasn’t fixing something, he was baking cookies. He never cooked anything else ... just chocolate chip cookies. He said they soothed the souls of young and old alike. After he died, we didn’t come down here much; just to change fuses mostly. I ran back up the steps to the kitchen and went back to my popcorn. When it was done, I poured it into two bowls and headed back to the living room. I set my Dad’s bowl on the coffee table, then sat up on my Granny’s organ bench to watch him work.
When he finished, he put the pump-motor back together and ran me off upstairs to get a bath and go to bed. I had a lot to do before I went to school the next morning and four-thirty a.m. was going to come awful quick. I didn’t argue, I knew he was right. I gave him a hug and ambled up the stairs. When I woke up in the morning, I immediately noticed something was wrong. As I got to the top of the steps, something was missing. It wasn’t ‘til I got to the kitchen that I realized what it was. I didn’t smell my Granny’s biscuits ... Or her ham ... or her red eye gravy. My Dad was making coffee and I asked him where my Granny was. He kind of gave me a dirty look and shook his head. “Your Grandmother is seventy-four years old. Maybe she’s tired.” I didn’t say a thing. He always was a grump in the morning. I let out a long sigh and began scanning around the counter for some bread or leftover biscuits. He gave me another dirty look. I could feel his demeanor all the way across the room. “I s’pose you want someone to cook yer breakfast fer ya.”
I acted as nonchalant as I could. “No, I’m gonna have me a peanut butter and molasses sandwich.”
I informed him. He poured me a glass of milk and reminded me of everything I needed to do before I left.
As I fed the chickens, I kept my eye on my Granny’s window. I slopped the hogs, watered the dogs and checked the hen house. I took the eggs back to the house and was surprised to see that the light in her room still wasn’t on. I rode my bike out to where my Dad was fixing the pump and he gave me a ride to the schoolhouse. It wasn’t until they came and got me out of class that the funny feeling I had had in my belly all morning was explained. My Granny had passed away in her sleep. As I cried in the truck on the way back to the farm, my Dad told me that I had only today, and the day of the funeral, to cry. He said he wouldn’t stand for me to cry after that. He told me that I was too big to cry any more.
I was so hurt and angry that I yelled at him through my tears. "NO“ ... " I screamed. “ ... YOU’RE the one that’s too big to cry!” I remember him looking over at me in amazement. I looked back at him and finished with “You DIDN’T cry when Mommy died and you probably WON’T cry now!”
He whipped the truck over onto the side of the road ... but instead of the whoopin’ I just knew was coming; he looked at me in total silence. It was worse than a whoopin’. He shut off the motor and stared out the windshield. After a while, I just couldn’t look at him. He said, “Jefferson Robles ... If you think, for one moment, that I didn’t cry when your mother was taken away from us ...” He took a huge, deep breath and let it out with a sigh. “YOU are sadly mistaken.” He took his “Red Rose Feed” cap off and laid his head against the back window. His eyes were closed. "I’m a grown man ...” He said. “ ... I have a lot of responsibility ... I know it’s hard for a boy your age to understand now, but I just can’t be cryin’ in front of the whole world. It makes me look weak.”
He was right ... I didn’t understand. That ride home was almost as long as the painful ride home from the funeral. The service was beautiful, but nothing was going to make me stop crying. I was waiting for him to come and tell me to stop, but he didn’t. He went up to his room without a word. I remember looking around at all my relatives as they flooded my house with stories about my Granny. I didn’t hear a word they said. I was in my own world ... and it was shattered. It was bad enough that I lost my Mom and my Pap both at one time. Even then, I had my Granny to help me through it. But now ... what did I have? My Dad didn’t even want me to cry. I shook uncontrollably as I pondered what my life was about to become and as soon as it dawned on me that I’d never see her smiling face cooking breakfast like I had every other morning of my life; something in me snapped. I felt like the whole world had ganged up on me. I never cried about her after that day. In fact ... I didn’t cry again until the day my father died.
O.K., There was one other time, but I’m getting to that ...
That summer, after my Granny left us, my father and I worked on the farm twelve to fifteen hours a day. He was different and so was I. I tried to make him happy and do everything he told me; but it seemed he was never satisfied. I remember going to bed filled with frustration many times that summer. I don’t think either of us realized how frustrated we both were and how much we were missing our family. Like father, like son ... I doubt either of us would have admitted it. Still, I felt hopeless. I felt like my Dad was taking his frustration out on me. I even told him one afternoon, in the middle of one of our arguments, that he should have taught me how to run the equipment sooner. That way, I could have been more help. He just looked at me and shook his head. I was too young to understand ... he was too old to make the best of the situation and have some patience.
At the end of the summer, he and I were sitting at the table eating dinner. I was thinking about how much I missed my Granny’s cooking when he asked me what time it was. I looked into the living room at the huge Grandfather clock that stood between the fireplace and my Granny’s old organ. As I turned back to tell him what time it was, I had a flash of my Granny looking at my Pap’s pocket watch. My heart fluttered.
I looked at my Dad and he at me. He must have noticed the strange look on my face as I looked at him. I was trying to sum up my words. “What?” Was all he said. I bit my lip, gathered up my courage and popped the question ... “Dad, whatever happened to Papaw’s pocket watch?” His face grew puzzled. He looked down at the table and shook his head. “You know, come to think of it ... I don’t know.” My heart sank. His promise that the watch would be his before it was mine replayed in my head. My teeth gritted. I just knew he had that watch. I stared him down. “You mean you don’t know where it is?” He looked at his half empty plate.
“No son, I don’t.” He moved his peas around with his fork then raised his eyes up to mine ...
“We’ll look around for it after dinner.”
I knew he was lying ... and I knew we would never find that watch.
I was right ... Mostly ... But I’ll get to that too. We looked all through her room and then the rest of the house. We even looked in the car. I told him it was in her apron when she went to bed that night. He said, “Well, it’s not in there now, I washed that apron and put it away a long time ago.” Again, my teeth gritted. I hated him at that moment. I was sure that he had that watch ... My watch. I screamed at him that I knew he had it. I told him it was mine fair and square ... my Granny told me I could have it and that he had no right to keep it from me. I ran out of the house, jumped on my bike and rode all the way down to the railroad crossing. I didn’t cry though. I was too mad to cry. I sat at that crossing until I started to fall asleep. I was hoping a train would come. I could jump on it and just leave this place forever. My Dad, the farm, the corn, the chickens ... everything. I thought I could join the circus or maybe go into the Army like my Papaw did when he was fifteen. I listened to the wind blow through the rows of corn and the barbed-wire fences that were all around me. I looked up and down the tracks, finally putting my ear to the rail ... Nothing.
After the moon started to set, I thought about my Dad getting worried. “Good!” I thought. “Let him worry; He doesn’t care about my feelings!” I didn’t want to leave anyway; I’d never seen the moon so big and so beautiful. Listening to the wind some more, I felt my eyelids start getting heavy. The ride home wore me out. I climbed up into the cab of the combine and fell asleep. A few hours later I woke to the sound of my Dad’s voice; he was calling for me. I jumped up and opened the cab door, calling back to him. He slammed the barn door and chewed me up one side and down the other. He told me that I was grounded until my first report cards came out. That reminded me that school was about to start and my life was going to get even more complicated than it had ever been before. It was more than I could bear.
The second week of school, I got on a friend’s bus instead of my own and went to his house on the other side of the county. I stayed in his barn for almost two weeks, but it was starting to get cool at night. I knew that it wouldn’t be too long before it would be too cold at night to stay there. Besides, soon his parents would start their harvest of hay and my safe hiding place wouldn’t be so safe. One day, before his parents came home from town; he gave me his backpack filled with sandwiches and a blanket. I left his house and started heading south. I was going to go to Saint-Louis to try and join the Army.
I had only made it about a mile and a half down the road when a policeman pulled up behind me and figured out that I was a runaway. He took me home and my father thanked him and then looked at me with a disappointed pain. I ran to my room before he could say a word.
I hated my life ...
I hated how my Dad was acting. He’d never treated me like this before my Granny died ...
I missed my Mom ... My Papaw ... My Granny.
I wanted that watch.
I wanted things to be the way they used to be.
I wanted my Mom to take me to school.
I wanted my Pap to teach me how to build a fly lure.
I wanted my Dad to finish my combine driving lessons ... but more than anything else ...
I wanted my Granny to cook me breakfast ...
I wanted to sit on the porch while she played her organ and sang until the dogs howled. The frustration filled my belly like hardening cement.
My Dad didn’t speak to me for days ... weeks. I watched out my window as he and a few of my uncles began harvesting the corn. I wanted to help, but when I told him so ... he looked at me shaking his head. I swore he had tears in his eyes ... but he never cried ... not my Dad. “No, no you don’t, Son” Was all he said. I watched him as he turned away and went out to the barn. Soon, all the corn would be harvested and he would have to go to market for at least three days to sell his crop. Someone would have to stay behind and take care of the animals ... I knew who was going to get that job. I started to think out a plan. I could run away again. But this time, I could get my stuff together, practice my driving and then take off in the car before he came back. I could surely make it to Saint-Louis that way. I could call him and tell him about the Army. He could come and get the car. Everyone would be happy. At least that’s how I saw it.
The day my father left for market, the winter was beginning to show it’s ugly head. The wind was blowing strong and steady. They left early so that they could take their time and so that none of the trucks would get blown off of the road. He and two of my uncles looked at the sky and wondered how long it would take them to get to the farmers market. I looked at the sky and wondered how long I was going to have to practice my driving. As soon as I saw the last truck become a dot on the horizon, I ran out onto the porch. A giant bolt of lightning blinded me and the following crack of thunder scared me half out of my wits. I ran back into the kitchen and leaned against the counter. It was getting darker by the minute. I heard the first few drops of rain hitting the window and my tummy was rumbling like the thunder that was passing over the fields of my family’s farm.
After I made a can of soup, I went into the living room and fell asleep to the sound of the rain. When I woke up, I took my bowl into the kitchen. I dropped it in the sink and reached for the dish soap. My Dad and my uncles had left a few dishes after their lunch. I figured I’d do them and then go to bed. Just as I got the water temperature right and plugged up the sink; the lights flickered once and then went out. I rolled my eyes and ran down to change the fuse. It was the last one in the box. I shook the box and looked around my Pap’s bench. There, on the top shelf, was an old box of fuses. They looked to be as old as my Pap. As I ran back up to my dishes, I wondered if they were any good. I would find out soon enough ...
For the next two days, as soon as the chores were done, I would take the car out and drive it around the farm. I was getting pretty good and by the end of the second day, I wasn’t stalling out on my take-offs and I was doing really good about keeping it in the middle of the road. Backing up was a little more difficult since I couldn’t see very well over the huge seat of the old Dodge. I figured that as long as I didn’t have to back up on the way to Saint-Louis, I’d be all right. Soon, I thought, I would be leaving this all behind.
I was sitting in the kitchen, waiting on my Dad’s nightly call when the light’s began flickering to the ever rising wind outside the window. My Dad had said he’d be home tomorrow morning. They were supposed to leave tonight, but there was a big storm heading through, with the possibility for hail. When he called, he told me to make sure the animals were put up and to close the storm shutters. He said that they would leave in the morning and be back home by supper. I remember thinking “He doesn’t even care if I’m all right, he just wants his blessed animals put up and his stupid farmhouse closed up.” I couldn’t wait to leave the next morning. I fell into a daydream of shooting machine guns, throwing hand grenades and getting a tattoo.
I started cutting a loaf of bread for sandwiches. I was trying to figure out how many I would need for my trip when the flickering lights turned to darkness ... another fuse. The wind was howling something fierce. I could hear the big elm outside the front porch brushing against the house. The last time I had heard that, a tornado blew away our neighbor’s whole barn. I had listened to the radio while I ate my dinner, but they didn’t give a tornado warning, just a report of strong wind and rain coming in from the west. I sighed, thought about my sandwiches and headed for the basement. When I picked up the empty box ... I shook it and remembered. Now, I wished I had brought the flashlight.
I felt across the dusty, wood chip covered bench and up the wall. My fingertips found the old box of fuses. I pulled it down and held it against my belly with one hand while I dug around in it with the other. Too young and stubborn to go grab the flashlight, I hoped the one that I picked out was not only the right size, but that it worked at all. I set down the box, pulled the old fuse and screwed in the one from the old box. The light in the basement flickered and my face was covered with a triumphant smile ... for a moment.
The basement was filled with an almost eerie glow.
Instead of the usual blinding brightness of the sixty-watt bulb, I was standing in a dim, orange light.
I let out a sigh of disappointment, thinking that I had installed either a bad fuse or one that was too weak.
I turned to start looking through the box for another one when a chill went straight up my spine.
My eyes, first open as big as silver dollars, then blinking in disbelief, gazed across the now pristine workbench. I looked on the floor for the wood chips ... nothing.
It was spic-and-span clean.
The floor looked, even smelled like it had just been painted. I bent over and looked under the bench.
Where there had once been a bin full of dirty, rusted carving and cutting tools thrown in total disarray ... there were now just a few tools ... all new ... and totally laid out in order.
I stood up and looked around the basement. I started to shake. I still couldn't believe my eyes.
The whole basement was clean. There were no cobwebs ... I couldn’t even smell the mildew that sometimes was so strong that it could make me sneeze.
The shelves where my Granny kept her homemade pickles and jams looked as spiffy as a shelf in Bruster’s market. I walked over and picked up one of my favorites ... it was marked “Grape Jam”. I caressed her handwriting on the white tape with my fingertips and I swear the jar felt like it was still warm. I was shaking my head in disbelief when my already strange experience became even stranger.
From upstairs, through the floorboards and joists that my Dad and my Pap had hand built and nailed into place all by them selves ... it came ...
The sound ...
It drifted down over my body like one of my Granny’s handmade quilts ...
The sound ...
The sound that had soothed me since I could remember ... was now making the hair on my arms and neck stand straight up, like a stalk of corn after a day of hard rain.
I listened for a few more moments ... it couldn’t be ... it just couldn’t be ...
I looked up at the floor above me ... and shivered.
I could hear my Granny’s organ ...
At first, I thought maybe my Dad and my uncles were home ... and that they were playing a trick on me.
I started to laugh at myself ... but only for a moment.
The next thing I heard spun my mind into a tornado of confusion ...
As I listened, my lips instinctively began to sing along ...
It was my Granny ... singing “Onward Christian Soldiers”.
For a moment ... I was scared.
But almost like my Granny was reassuring me with her voice, the fear fled my soul. I kept singing with her.
I thought for a moment that maybe I had shocked myself to death while I was changing the fuse ...
Or that maybe I had fallen asleep in the kitchen while I waited for my Dad to call. I looked around the basement again ... still bathed in the weird, orange glow.
The music stopped for a minute ... and so did my heart. I jumped up and listened with all my might.
The light flickered for a moment and I swore I could hear my Pap grumbling from the kitchen. I put the nail from my thumb in my mouth, bit in and tore a piece of it right off. I spit it to the floor. I wiped my sweaty palms on my shirt, took a deep breath and headed toward the steps. As I got to the bottom of the steps, the sounds of the organ drifted down to me once again. Before I got to the top of the steps, she was singing ... again.
I sang along ... again.
“Yes ... Jesus loves me ... Yes ... Jesus loves me ... Yes ... Jesus loves me ... The bible tells me so.”
When I got to the top of the stairs, the entryway seemed to be lit by the same dim light as the basement.
I took slow, short steps toward the front door. When I looked around I almost felt like I was lost.
The paint on the walls was different. It was green ... my Granny’s favorite color.
The old carpet at the front door was new. The knob of the front door was also shiny and new.
As I stepped on the carpet, I looked to my left into the kitchen ... My mouth fell open ...
There was my Papaw ... taking cookies out of the oven with a big grin. They smelled incredible.
I was about to go and have one of the fresh warm treats with him when the music stopped ...
I spun around to look into the living room.
Now I knew what treasure hunters felt like when they found some old pirates buried loot ...
This had to be that feeling.
I wanted to scream and just run to her ...
But my legs ... and my voice ... were frozen.
It wasn’t fear ... I don’t know what it was ...
I just couldn’t move ...
I watched as my Granny grabbed the cane I had so lovingly carved for her and then slowly spun around on her organ bench. She smiled at me and suddenly a calmness fell over me that made me feel like I had just woke up from a long, refreshing sleep. She leaned the cane on the bench and patted her lap. I knew just what that meant. The smile on my face as I crossed that floor to sit on her lap went from one ear to the other. As I climbed up there, she squeezed me so tight I almost cried with joy. I squeezed her too and I didn’t want to let go.
She gently wriggled my arms from around her and then her eyes found mine ...
“Hello Sweetie ... you look good ... really good. Yer a growin’ like weed”
“I miss you Granny” Was all I could say ...
“Well we miss you to, Deary.”
I squeezed her again ... She rubbed my back like she used to do when she tucked me in and put me to sleep. I closed my eyes and felt a tear of joy run down my cheek. She let go of me again and I leaned back.
She was holding me out almost at arms length.
“Jefferson ... Honey ... I needed you to come here so we could talk.”
I was nodding my head and she smiled at me. The light in the entrance hall flickered with the wind that was still howling from the storm outside. She bit her bottom lip as her thumbs caressed my biceps.
“Jefferson ... yer a big boy now ... an’ I know you can understand what I’m a gonna say to ya ... ”
I was still nodding.
“ ... You know how our lights is always a flickerin’?”
“Well, you’ve lived with that all your life ... You know, most everybody else’s lights don’t do that.”
“I know Granny.”
“But you run down and change them fuses or climb up on a chair to change a bulb like it was nothin’.”
“I know Granny ... but it has to be done if we wanna see.” She smiled at my statement and nodded her head as she continued. “That’s right, but you don’t complain ... or rant and rave that it’s unfair that you got ta do that ... you just do it. I’ve watched ya and it makes me real proud.“
I was grinning.
“Thanks Granny, I love to make you proud.” She pulled me in for another hug as she spoke.
“Well, you do ... every day ... you do. But that’s not why I needed to see you tonight.”
She leaned back again and looked at me with that proud smile that so warmed my soul.
“And I’m proud of you too, Granny ... You never complain about your leg ... even when it’s cold.”
She had big tears in her eyes ... it made me cry too.
“That’s right Honey, we all have some kinda bum leg we have to live with ... you understand?”
I told her that I did ... even though at that moment I don’t think I did ... completely.
“You see life ain’t always fair ... and life ain’t always fun ... And sometimes, it can hand you a bum leg. And whether it’s a bum leg of electricity or your own bum leg, you just have to live with it. But if you go around makin’ everybody miserable just because you ain’t happy, well then everybody’s miserable ... Sometimes you have to just bite yer lip and go on ... you see?”
I knew just what she meant. I was miserable ... And so was my Dad.
We were making each other miserable.
“Yer Daddy loves you so very much ...”
My eyes widened as I interrupted her. “He does not!” I took a trembling breath as I finished.
”He took Papaw’s watch and he won’t give it to me ... I told him you said I could have it ... but he says he don’t know where it is.” As I spoke, she was shaking her head with tears streaming down her face.
Those tears broke my heart.
“No Honey ... he doesn’t know where it is. You remember that night you helped me up the stairs?”
“Well, that night I was feelin’ a little sickly ... I was worried my time was near. I wrote you a note and wrapped it around the watch, then I put it in my windowsill.” I looked at her rather puzzled. She grinned with a strange smile. “It’s my secret spot were I hide things from yer Papaw and yer Daddy.”
She leaned in close and whispered a secret. “Every woman has a secret hidin’ spot like that.”
She winked with her index finger over her lips and I just smirked.
“Well ... I put it in there and I went to sleep. The good Lord called me home that night and I didn’t have a chance to give you the watch ... You see?”
Again I was nodding.
“ ... Yer Daddy had no way of knowin’ where it was.”
I didn’t know what to say ... Just then, the lights in the kitchen went out. I could hear my Pap cursing under his breath. My Granny told him since his glasses were upstairs that she would go down and change the fuse. She looked at me and then winked again.
“Honey, I’m so glad we could talk ... I need you to remember that you and yer Daddy are all you got ... you gotta look after one another ... No matter what life a tosses ya.”
“I know Granny, it’s just so hard sometimes ...”
“I know it is Dear, but you gotta take it as it comes ... good and bad.”
“You’re right.” I said.
“Well Honey, you have to run along and change that fuse now ... “
My heart sank ... I knew she’d be gone when I came back ...
I began to shake my head and pulled her in as close as I could.
Tears were streaming down my cheeks.
“No Granny ... I don’t want to leave you ...”
She eased me back so that she could look into my eyes again.
“No Honey ... you never leave me ...” She put her palm on her chest.
“ ... Yer always right here ... in my heart ... You and yer Daddy“
I told her that she was in my heart too. She bit her lip and lovingly nodded.
“If anything Jefferson ... I feel like I left you ... and yer Daddy.”
I was shaking my head as I spoke.
“No Granny ... you didn’t leave us ... it was your time ... that’s life.”
“You see?” Her face was beaming with pride again.
“You do understand.”
She pulled me in close for one last hug and kissed my forehead and my nose. “Now run along and change that fuse fer yer Papaw ... and don’t you go a forgittin’ what I said ... you and yer Daddy is all ya got ...”
I kissed her cheek and turned to walk back to the basement. As I did, she began playing again ...
When I got to the workbench I picked up the box of fuses and fished one out. I was wiping my tears on my sleeve as I sang one of my favorite songs along with her for one last time ...
“This little light of mine ... I’m gonna let it shine ... Let it shine ... Let it shine ... Let it shine.”
I screwed in the fuse and the basement was bright as all get out. I listened for the sound I knew I wouldn’t hear. I sneezed at the pungent mildew and dust that filled the air. The wood chips under my boots crackled as I made my way to the stairs. I stepped into the entry hall and looked at the dingy carpet and doorknob. The wind was still blowing pretty hard outside, but the lights seemed to be holding steady.
I headed into the living room and stopped just past the archway. I stared at her organ. The cover was closed and her cane was leaning against the bench. I walked over and sat on it. I swore I could smell her ... Not her perfume ... Just her.
Closing my eyes, I listened to her words over and over again in my head. The fire was growing a little dim, so I went over and put another piece of wood on it, then I plopped on the couch and listened to the wind and the rain. The next thing I knew, it was morning; I was waking up to the rooster crowing and my Dad coming through the door ...
I jumped up and ran to him. I threw my arms around him and squeezed with all my might ...
“Well ... it’s good to see you too son ... surprised ya did we?”
I let him go and looked up nodding. “We couldn’t find a motel with an open room nowhere ... so we just drove all night and came on home.” He said. I smiled at him and he slowly smiled back. I think he was a little surprised at my actions. I thought about my visit with my Granny ... and how I was going to tell my Dad about it. I told him I missed him while he was gone and that I was real sorry for the way I’d been acting.
To my surprise, he told me that he was sorry too. Not often you heard those kind of words from my Dad. I told him that Granny came to me in a dream and that she had told me where the watch was. He looked at me like I was crazy.
“You still asleep boy?”
I assured him that I wasn’t and took his hand to lead him up the stairs to my Granny’s room. When we walked in the room, we both went silent. The reverence that came over us as we looked around at her things wasn’t measurable. Here ... were all the earthly possessions of a person that meant so much to the both of us. The only thing I can compare it to is the feeling you get when you walk into a big empty church. The rich light from the rising sun just made it seem even holier. I squeezed his hand and silently led him over to the window. He was still looking at me like he thought I was asleep.
“Daddy, did you know that Granny hid things in her windowsill?”
“No, Son ... I didn’t.”
I reached down and began tugging and pulling every which way on the thin wooden sill. Suddenly, the front lifted up and there ... in a little hollow tray in the wall, was my Granny’s little hiding spot. My Dad’s eyes opened wide as we both looked down at the little wad of paper that sat in the middle of the tray. He looked down at me with a strange look on his face. “How did you find this, son?” I knew what he meant ... He thought I was snooping while he was gone.
“I didn’t Dad ... I swear ... She told me in my dream where it was. She told me that we need to quit fighting and stick together ‘cause we’re all we got.” I felt like I was lying, but he’d never believe that I’d actually seen her ... I wasn’t totally sure I believed it. He reached down in slow motion and picked up the paper. He bounced it lightly in his hand, feeling the weight. With his other hand he opened the paper and the sun glinting off of it’s shiny gold casing hit us both in the eyes. He pulled it out of the paper and then read what she had written inside. He smiled as he did and then handed the watch to me.
“What’s it say Dad?” I asked him.
He looked at it again and then smiled at me as he read it out loud.
It said simply, “As promised. Love, Granny”
He folded the note and put it in his shirt pocket, then ruffled up my hair and told me that I’d better take really good care of the heirloom. He promised that he’d take real good care of the note.
I did take good care of that watch ... as a matter of fact, as of this writing, it’s in my pocket keeping perfect time. I’m going to give it to my son this Christmas ... I just can’t wait.
He has told me that he’s wanted it ever since the day that I taught him how to tell time on it when he was just a little boy. I’d love to see him teach my grandson how to tell time on it. I fear sometimes in this day and age that tradition is becoming a lost practice.
Who knows, maybe I’ll pass this story along to him as well.
My Dad and I never fought again ... well, not about anything that was of any consequence anyway.
He was called home by the Lord thirty-one years later in the spring of sixty-eight. A few years after that, I found the note tucked away in his old desk. It looked to me as though he had opened it up and refolded it many times through the years ... We never really spoke too much of my experience after it happened. But, by the condition of the note, I’m pretty sure that he thought about it as often as I did.
Well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. I have never forgotten about those precious moments that I shared with my Granny ... Or the wisdom that she led me to on that windy fall evening.
The Power Company eventually found the source of our farms bum leg ...
But ... I have never found my wife’s “Secret hidin’ spot”.
Jefferson Royal Robles
Sweet Silk Farms, Iowa
September 16th, 1978