John Michael continues his series Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise, reflecting on life and people encountered, talks about how he is growing closer with his dad.
I headed west out of Boise along the Oregon Trail; the road was like a roller coaster but over barren desert hills. I hadn’t taken that route in a couple of decades; had the hills been dented or punched a little more it would have felt like a moonscape. The speed limit in Idaho is 80mph. The Scion and I were a little nervous getting up to speed, but we were able to cruise comfortably enough.
You can see the green belt along the Snake River for several miles, but then after coming to the top of a hill you descend and travel right alongside the Snake itself for a while. It is a lovely river at that juncture, wide and pretty with green islands and sandy beaches.
After another hill, the Blue Mountains come into view. I wondered if those who took the trail in wagons and on foot thought the mountains would provide some relief from the desert? More likely they thought, Oh shit, how are we going to make it over those?
I’m growing closer to my dad. I spent the weekend helping him catch up with some yard work that laid heavy on his mind. He is 84 and recently cracked a hip. He is frustrated at the work he cannot do. I told him he was in a different phase of his life now and that he should consider enjoying the quiet, and not feel guilty about resting.
My dad was a clerk for a Corporal in the Army stationed in Germany when he was in his early 20s. I know this because he was telling a friend who was over for coffee on Sunday. I was surprised by what a good storyteller he is. At some point in his story, a bunch of jeeps and tanks were stuck in the mud. The Corporal and a couple of Generals ended up pushing as Dad navigated their car out of the mud.
I asked Dad, “How come you never tell me stories like that?”
“I don’t think of it, I guess,” was his simple answer.
Dad was very complimentary of and grateful for the work I did. This may be a little ironic because as a kid I would do anything to avoid working with him on the lawn. He tended to yell at me a lot. But that old wound in me has healed nicely. I was happy to experience no defiance or backtalk rising up in me as he asked me to do things.
I did learn some more about his youth. His family lived in Nez Perce for a few years when he was a boy. His granddad had four or five kids and I guess he was pretty tough. If one of the kids messed around, he didn’t care which one it was, he’d beat them all.
I always just assumed my dad’s dad, a grandpa I never met, was as tough as my dad. But he told me a while back that his dad was very kind to him. He told me his dad started drinking pretty hard after his dad died when he was 18. Maybe the blows my grandad received from his own dad made him understand that wasn’t the way to go.
Dad also had an uncle who was a decent horse breeder and raised some champion jumping horses. Once he put my dad on too large of a jumping horse and the horse jumped the fence leaving my dad in the dust, which I understood was my grand uncle’s sadistic intent. The uncle used to drive Dad around Nez Perce and have him get out and punch other kids that the uncle didn’t like.
I said, “Oh man, I’m sorry that happened, Dad.”
“Well, it wasn’t too bad, until I got punched backed,” he replied.
Now I understand why Dad would put me in with too rough a horse for my experience level, and how he put me in other situations I wasn’t ready for. But understanding he was a scared boy in over his head much of his youth created some empathy in me.
The subject got on my birthday somehow and Dad said he knew it was in the Spring because he was up seeding and discing in the farmland in Nez Perce when I was born.
The subject got on my birthday somehow and Dad said he knew it was in the Spring because he was up seeding and discing in the farmland in Nez Perce when I was born. “I remember eating dirt that day. I’ve eaten a lot of dirt in my life, I came home, and there you were.”
I asked him if he was nervous or scared at all.
“Hell no. Why would I be?” he responded.
I said, “I don’t know. I would have probably been terrified.”
He said, “Well, you get nervous running the weed eater.”
This made us both laugh.
This COVID stuff has the nation divided by class just like everything else. I made a couple of stops in Eastern Oregon and very few people are wearing the mandated masks and a couple of people told me they hate Governor Brown.
I am headed to Portland, a place I have called home a couple of times in my life and have not been back to in eight years. I’m sure I can handle the COVID restrictions with very little pride and some humility. I’m anxious to see how things are coming along over there, but I do love that city and enjoy city life whenever I’m in one.
As I have mentioned, my parents’ marriage wasn’t the happiest and we all came out a little shellshocked. Looking back, I had always secretly told myself I was a disappointment to my mom and just not enough for my dad. Both are far from the truth, but that’s how my mind made sense of the things that happened.
At some point, my dad was leaning against his barn and I told him, “I love you just as you are.”
“Back at you,” he said.
That made me happy.