by Rick Beck
Robert & Sven
I watched as my father change in front of me. He read the words he wrote before I was born. He had begun to come back to life. The color returned to his face. The rugged lines that etched the years into his face smoothed. His faded blue eyes began to sparkle.
Speaking softly, but distinctly enough for someone hanging on every word, he told the story. I mean he told the story. The journal stayed beside his coffee cup and he spoke from memory, recalling for me the day Sven walked into my father's life.
He saw the story as he told it. He knew the words. He saw it as it happened over fifty years before.
It was mesmerizing.
He spoke about Sven as if he'd been at the table yesterday. He brought both Uncle Junior and Uncle Ralph to life in a way I'd never knew them.
There was everything but a shrine to the long ago dead soldier, but the story was Sven's shrine. It was a heroic portrait of a good man who appeared one day and he made the Sorensons his family.
He came, was hired, saved my Grandpa's life, and the farm was saved. He wanted to work the land, be fed, have a roof over his head, and be part of a family again.
After years together tending my father's farm, Sven went to war and didn't return. Not only was their relationship over, Sven was in a place my father couldn't reach. He planned to go to Italy but the farm didn't allow a lot of down time. Old age and cancer made it clear he'd never visit Sven's grave.
Sadness overtook me as I listened to the tale my father had to tell. My complaint over my father not loving my mother enough, seemed pointless and petty.
I did not know love.
My father loved twice, which I'd considered admirable in any other man. Instead of being without feelings, he may have loved so deeply that what I saw was a man trying to survive the loss of both loves.
My father stood at the window, reciting from memory what took place the day Sven came. Using two fingers, he separated the curtains the way he'd done earlier.
The way he'd done that day, and I had no doubt he was seeing Sven beyond the curtains.
My father was seeing what was there a half century before.
Grandma scolded him, taking a look for herself, and Grandpa Sorenson told them both to leave the new hand alone.
I felt the energy Sven's presence created. His pa saw his strong back at harvest time. Grandma saw someone that could be her son. Daddy saw a mystery he wanted to solve.
His mother put out lunch for him, saying there was no telling how far he'd traveled or when he'd last eaten. Even with his brothers waiting to be fed, time was taken for the new hand.
"He'll be hungry. This'll tide him over 'til supper time. We don't want him working on an empty stomach."
He'd tend to his brothers in due time. He continued peeking at Sven through the curtain. No one having any idea what Sven would come to mean to the Sorensons that first day.
Taking the new hand his sandwich with a glass of milk, my father was fascinated by the bigger older boy. He couldn't wait to question him.
Sven shooed him away. He had a job to do. His directness left no doubt he'd been hired on farms before. If he did a good job, he'd be here tomorrow and maybe for the harvest. He wasn't letting a farmer's son distract him from his work.
It was a lucky farmer who found a good hand at harvest time. Sven knew his value. He was ready to show the farmer what he could do. Right now it was to dig fence post holes for the farmer's fence.
There was a salty exchange over where holes were in Sven's overalls. My father felt Sven was making fun of him and he didn't like it. He wasn't sure he liked him.
Sven had a mind of his own and he knew a farmer's son had little to say once the farmer spoke and they didn't talk back to their fathers, and so he kept digging in spite of my father's desire to know more about him.
My father was left with a sour taste in his mouth. Sven was far too blunt and dismissive for his taste. My father didn't know what to make of Sven, keeping his distance at first.
"I was jealous of your Uncle Ralph," he explained, leaning his back against the sink, "…and Ralph took right up with Sven. He was always full of himself in those days. I didn't know what Sven saw in him. Ralph wanted to talk women and he thought Sven was just the man to know plenty.
"By that time Ralph had been making the rounds in town with the girls after school. At night he had farms to visit after a girl giggled at his direct suggestions and boyish bravado concerning his skills."
"Uncle Ralph as a ladies man?" I chuckled. "He's such a sourpuss now. Who'd believe that?"
"The war did that. The war took a lot from this family. I was angry about Ralph's immaturity and boldness. You see, your Uncle Ralph as the answer to my difficulties. Ralph was a natural born farmer. He could spit in the wind and corn would grow on the moisture before it hit the ground.
"He loved the farm but he was young and he wanted what all teenage boys want. He was just more persistent than most. I remember he'd come in late to dinner, not a good move at Pa's table. Mama would save him a plate. Pa would complain he ought to go hungry. They had no idea what he was up to, but I did.
"And Ralph got his dinner and then slipped out late at night to finish making the rounds. We slept in the same room and I'd hear him leave but I didn't always hear him come back.
"As quick as he saw Sven, he latched right onto him. They had nothing in common. Sven was in a strange place and Ralph made him feel welcome. I was put off by Sven's confidence. I was even more put off when he took up with Ralph. Why would a grown man take up with a kid?"
"What happened to Uncle Ralph? I don't recall ever seeing the man smile," I said, wondering aloud.
"He went to war. Your Uncle Ralph was the most happy-go-lucky sort I'd ever seen. I didn't like it because it didn't fit my plans, but Ralph didn't care what anyone thought.
"Then, Sven came along. He was a man of the world. Iowa anyway. Ralph hung on the stories Sven told. They weren't to my liking, usually involved a farmer's daughters, but it's what Ralph asked about.
"They worked together, joked together, and sat in the swing comes an evening without ever getting enough of each other. I was jealous. Ralph was good with people without ever trying. He made Sven feel special.
"Ralph left the farm with Jacob. One of the boys who came to help us after Pa was crippled up. I think they were looking for Jacob's mother down yonder. Mississippi I think.
"Then came Pearl Harbor and the next thing we know Ralph's in the army. Hard to keep track of him. Even when he wrote he didn't say much.
"There was Normandy. We heard he was there. A friend of a friend came home. Said Ralph was on the boat with him. We didn't hear a word but we knew Normandy was a bloodbath.
"We didn't know if Ralph was dead or alive. Thousands died going ashore at Normandy. We knew where everyone else was, but no word from Ralph.
"After we'd given up hope he'd survived, he called. He was coming home. We were thrilled that he was alive. We didn't know the half of it. We were in for a rude awakening.
"He never did come home. Not the Ralph who went off to war. That Ralph loved life and he wanted to know about everything in it. The Ralph who came home is stern and unyielding.
"He no longer takes much joy out of life and sober wasn't what he was for a spell. Ralph had lost himself and he tried to find himself inside of liquor bottles."
"What happened to him?" I asked, not knowing his story.
"The war. We were all in the house when he came home. We were like bees and Ralph was our honey. We asked him questions and then he showed us his arm. We didn't need to say anything. He took off his shirt with some difficulty and his body was marked with terrible scars, not the least of which was the arm that was no longer there.
"Mama told us not to make a fuss over it. We were to ignore his missing part. No one was to question him about the war. You want to quiet a room fast, let your brother show you how he was maimed by the war. It made us sick and Ralph's farming days were over.
"He'd been months in a hospital in England, and he spent more months in a hospital stateside. The war was almost over when Ralph came home.
"He put his shirt back on, refusing assistance. Only Mama could touch him. He grabbed his duffel bag and hoisted it up on his shoulder as. We admired his strength in the one arm he had left.
"Ralph was a boy when he left. He was a grown man now and he aimed to have his way. Pa was no longer able to get his attention, and so Ralph had it his way.
"The interview was over that day. He stopped on the stairs just as he was about to disappear. "' Don't ever ask me about it. Never!' he growled. It broke our hearts to meet this Ralph. Only Mama could get near him.
"I don't recall seeing him again for months. He stayed up in his bedroom, the one he had shared with Junior and me for years. Your bedroom in fact. Pa would ask about why he wasn't at the table with us. It was the place Pa found order from the life he could no longer live.
"Mama told Pa, 'He's home. Be damn satisfied our son came home at all.'"
"We all knew Ralph hadn't come home. He'd been ruined. Pa wasn't capable of understanding Ralph, but by God he understood your grandmother just fine. It was the only time I heard my mother set my father straight. He never mentioned Ralph not being at the table again.
"Mama took Ralph dinner every night, and he'd even talk to her some evenings. The nights he wouldn't open the door, she'd leave it next to the door.
"I'd put plumbing in the house for Pa. Ralph waited until we were all in bed before he used the bathroom. Then he'd go out. Lord knows where he went. He didn't want anything to do with us. He didn't know us and we didn't know him."
"My room was Uncle Ralph's room?"
"Yep, Uncle Junior's too. I slept in there until I decided to sleep in the barn. I've remodeled it a couple of times. Ralph started coming downstairs about planting time in '46. He didn't have much to say and we'd say hello and talk about the weather and the farm. If he was in a good mood he might nod, he might not, but he was home and I was thankful, even if the best part of him never came home.
"I regretted trying to make Ralph act like I wanted. I longed to hear him cut a fart for our benefit or make a lewd remark for the girls in town. That Ralph was lost in WWII. It was the time we got to be brothers and now I had regrets.
"It was in the fall. The war had ended the year before. We'd never heard about Jacob. He was in one of the colored units in the Pacific. The Japanese surrendered in August and there was no word. Almost a year after he died, we got the letter. 'We regret to inform you.'
"Now Ralph and Jacob were close. The word of Jacob's death finished your Uncle Ralph off. He'd apparently been waiting for Jacob to come home. What he got was a notification of his friends death. Jacob took part in saving the farm in '37.
"He disappeared back upstairs for a spell. A few days later he comes downstairs. He's dressed neat, shaved. His too long hair is combed. He kissed Mama's cheek and he says, 'I'll see you later,' and he left through the front door.
"We never used the front door. When Mama said he went out the front door, I knew he wasn't coming back.
"Whatever demons were chasing Ralph, were hot on his tail. Once he knew Jacob wasn't coming home, there was nothing to keep him on the farm.
"I'd hear of Ralph from time to time. He was always drunk somewhere, making a nuisance of himself. I'd go looking for him but he was always gone by the time I got there. They wouldn't arrest him. He was ruined by the war. No matter what he did, they looked the other way.
"Then, I stopped hearing about him, or people stopped tormenting us. He'd left us a long time ago.
"Jake died a few years after Ralph disappeared. Pa wanted him put out in the meadows. Jake had mentioned it to him while they walked once. They'd grown closer. We were all out there when we put him in the ground. And here comes Ralph. He's married. Living in Omaha. Working for his wife's father.
"I don't know how he knew. He was probably in touch with Junior. He was dressed in a coat and tie. He'd settled down with Aunt Lula and they were working on their second kid.
"I tiptoed around him. I hope he's forgiven me for my selfishness. I suppose he has. If he remembers. He does stay in touch. Calls at Christmas. He comes by on my birthday. I miss the old carefree Ralph. I don't think he's happy but he's a successful businessman. He's got money."
"And he hadn't lost his taste for the ladies," I said. "I never knew any of this. Mama said he lost his arm in the war."
"I met your Mama about the time Jake passed. She didn't know the story because no one talked about it. We never missed Ralph more than when he came home."
"I can't believe I don't know any of this," I said, amazed by how clearly the memories flowed out of him.
He didn't need to turn a page.
"This all took place before you came along. You knew your Uncle Ralph from when he came to visit with Lula, dragging the line of kids with them by that time. I need more coffee."
It was dark. Hard to say what time it was or how long we'd been talking. Time seemed suspended.
"Why'd Grandpa give you the history and not Grandma."
"It's a man's world. He was passing the torch to the eldest son. I'm sure he saw me passing it to a son I didn't have yet. He was a product of his time, Bobby and it was the natural order of things."
"I'd discuss the farm with him out of respect. Whatever I decided was law, no matter how strongly he disagreed. It was my farm. Still is for what that's worth."
"It's what he wanted," I remembered.
"He paid a high price to get what he wanted. By the time he began telling me the farm's history, the Sorenson history, he paid little attention to the farm. It was his final act.
"His time had passed. It was my time. Not what I wanted. I didn't expect to see the Sorenson's time as farmers end. I pass it to you hoping our history isn't lost after I'm gone.
"Everything changes if you give it enough time. Junior can use the extra land to grow feed corn. Better yet, plant grass so his cows can graze. Once he's done, there is no one else."
"How'd you feel when you took over the farm, Daddy?" I asked, picking up a point that interested me.
"Closer to Pa than we'd ever been. There was no thought to it. No feelings about it. It's what had to be done. The Sorensons were farmers and I ran the farm.
"I sat with him each afternoon for a couple of weeks He told me all he knew about the Sorensons. I wrote it down. The day after he finished, he died."
"Was Grandpa sick?"
"No, just crippled up. You could see he'd given up. He had no reason to be alive. There was no passion in him, not even when he talked about his time as custodian of the land."
"How old was he, when he died?" I asked, having no idea.
"Let's see. He turned twenty-one the year I was born. He took the farm when his father died two years before. I was thirty when he died, 1948. I married your mama in '48."
"He was fifty-one," I said astonished. "He was younger than I am now when he had his accident?"
"He was always old to me. I didn't think much about the eleven years he watched me run the farm. In all those years he never complained. I can't imagine the suffering he did."
His words tailed off like he thought about his father a lot and he saw him differently now.
"You in a lot of pain, Daddy?" I asked, breaking into his thoughts with concern for my father.
He stared at me. He was considering whether or not to tell me about what he felt. His face softened. He smiled.
"Comes and goes. Good days. Bad days. I got pills. Do I have pills! I've got pills up the ying yang!" he announced. "They make me dopy, ...more dopy," he said, amused with the joke he told on himself.
I'd seen my father through a nine year old eyes all my life. My maturing toward my father stopped after Mama died.
And my relationship to him stopped after Mama died. I blamed him. I didn't know why. Blaming my father for my mother's death built a wall between us. I'd grown up.
I felt like my father lived a courageous life.
I couldn't imagine the suffering he'd done, not being with the man he loved. He lived a life of obligation and selflessly kept the Sorenson farm running.
And he hadn't lost his sense of humor.
"I want to know more about Sven," I said, drinking the rest of my coffee.
I didn't know how long we'd talked. I had work, a flight to catch, people waiting for me in Portland, but I hadn't made a plan for tomorrow's return.
We had time.
One more cup of coffee and a few more questions wouldn't take long, but it was late. I got up to fill our cups again.
His eyes never left me.
He waited for me to sit down before he spoke again.
"This is what you asked me about. You want to listen, Bobby," he said with determination in his voice.
"Once I was responsible to get in the corn, Sven stepped in immediately. He knew I was green. He'd taken a job with my father. He had no loyalty to some wet behind the ears kid, but Sven intended to do what he was hired to do.
"He knew right off we'd need hands. He took the truck and brought back Jake and his boys. Ralph and Junior were fit to be tied when they found three colored men in our kitchen. None of us were grown ups. Jake was the only man among us. He'd be mother and father to us. Sven was grown, but not much older than I was. We made it up as we went along."
"Ralph and Junior were prejudiced?" I asked.
"Yep, they had little use for anyone who wasn't a Sorenson. They'd never known a black man. There were none in Nodaway. It took five minutes for them to realize we'd lose the farm if the men in that kitchen didn't get the corn in.
"It took all of us working sixteen hour days to get in the corn. It didn't matter what color you were. That seems so long ago," he said, stirring cream into his coffee.
"Jake made coffee makes mine taste like a cup of that instant stuff. His biscuits were so light you had to hold onto one or it would float away. He could make a stew by passing a ham bone over a pot of water. Even Mama let him do biscuits when she came back to cook again."
"Sven mentioned Jake's coffee in one of those letters upstairs. Funny you'd talk about it too."
"That one got here after the notice of his death. He listed me as next of kin. This address. Three letters came after the notification. They weren't opened for a long time.
"I couldn't open them. I cried myself to sleep each night. I couldn't see to read if I wanted to but I didn't want to read them. It was planting time. I worked each day until I dropped. Once we planted, my days were about the corn.
"I had no help that year. Jake did what he could, but it was painful to watch him. We only planted the main field. All the young men were over there.
"I could have let go of the farm that year, but I realized I had nowhere to go. No matter what I did, i t wasn't going to change what was.
"I was never going to see Sven again. I'd never see his grave or the spot where he died. The comment about the coffee was the final thing he wrote in his last letter. 'I sure would like a cup of Jake's coffee right now.'"
My father's eyes grew moist fifty years later.
"How do you remember that?"
"Once I could stop crying, I read the letters so often I know them by heart. I read them in my head while I worked the fields the way we'd walked them together. I heard them in his voice, Not so much any more. It's been a long time."
"You never said how Sven saved Grandpa's life. That's what Grandma said about him. It sounded like she thought of Sven as one of her sons."
"Pa was readying for harvest, 19 and 37. He worked on those old tractors constantly. Something or other was wrong with the Farmall. It's the red one that's still in the corner of the barn. He did a piss poor job of jacking it up. He knew better. He was angry with it. I'm sure of that. I can hear him cussing it.
"The jack didn't hold. By the time we got to him, he'd stopped breathing. A thousand pounds of engine pinning him to the ground. As frantic as we were, we couldn't budge that damn machine. Ralph was crazy. Junior sat crying. Mama was begging we do something. It's not a clear picture.
"We rolled a log over and by using a substantial piece of lumber as the fulcrum, we got it up high enough for Sven to wedge himself under the frame. He lifted it, holding it long enough for the three of us to drag Pa out."
"He lifted a thousand pounds on his back?" I asked.
"Long e nough for us to get Pa out and get the pry bar back under the frame and Sven got out. I'd say what he did was impossible, if I hadn't seen him do it.
"There's more in the journal. That's the highlights, and I left out the fact your grandma ran a mile to get us. No telling how long Pa was under that machine.
"Mama was getting an early dinner ready. She heard Pa cussing and banging on the Farmall. Then she noticed a deathly silence. She walked onto the porch, knowing something was wrong. The front wheels were off the machine and its front was on the ground. Then she saw his legs. Once she saw the situation, she ran to get us and that's when Sven lifted the machine on his back.
"I'd like to have met Sven," I said. "He sounds like quite a man."
"I'm sorry you didn't get to meet him. He was a good man. If anyone says that about me once I'm gone. I'll be happy. I did the best I could. Sven was twice the man I was."
"You got off on the wrong foot with Sven. How'd you get past your displeasure with him?" I asked with journalistic ease.
"Pa's accident.. There's nothing like a dose of reality to make a nineteen year old kid see the light. Sven hadn't done anything for me to be angry about. He simply didn't act like I wanted him to act. Be gracious to the farmer's son.
"Pa could have died. The situation wouldn't change. I had to get in the corn. As soon as Sven saved Pa's life, he began working on what he was hired to do, help get in the corn. He became my right hand man. It's in the journal."
"The Farm Hand, " I said. "I see why that's the title."
"I just started writing. I think I wrote Sven on the first page. After your mama read it, she wrote The Farm Hand on the front page. It was perfect. Your mama had a sense for things like that. Anyway, that's how Sven saved Pa."
"It's quite a story," I said.
"I didn't know I loved Pa until then. You learn how much you care for someone when you're about to lose them. I prayed my ass off that day, I don't mind telling you."
"Before the day was done, Sven brought Jake and his boys to the farm and the dye was cast? The harvest was on."
When I arrived in Nodaway, the idea I'd be captivated by anything my father had do say was the farthest thing from my mind. Now I had a million questions.
"Pa carried the farm during harvest. He picked up a couple of hands if we could afford them. I had a farm full of kids and Jake. I didn't believe we could do it.
"Sven was a man, but he'd hardly begun to mature into manhood. He could be as big a kid as the rest of us. He worked farms long enough to know how farms worked.
"If I could do half what Pa did, I'd have been doing a lot. With two more kids and Jake, we were flying on a wing and a prayer, and it took every one of them to get in the corn.
"Sven didn't leave my side for the weeks we harvested. Every hour I spent in the field, he was beside me. I'd have broken under the pressure if he hadn't been. Every time I got down, he picked me up."
"It was a lucky day when he walked into our driveway."
"How did you two deal with having feelings for each other?" I asked.
"We were halfway done with Harvest. We'd gone out to get supplies. He put his hand on mine. We were in the truck. He told me that I was quite a man. Coming from the man I looked to before making decisions, it caught me flat footed. I had feelings for Sven the first time I saw him.
"By that time Ralph had taken up with Jacob. He was new. Sven was with me all the time and it had nothing to to do with him being a farmhand.
"That was '37 and we were rarely out of each other's sight until '42. He died in early '44. I loved him in a way I'd never love anyone else."
"For that time we Sorensons were enlightened on race relations. How'd that happen, Daddy?"
"When men come to save your ass, you don't care what color they are. They had hands. That was the only requirement. I was lucky to have them. We were all the color of corn silk when the harvest was done."
"Everyone doesn't feel that way, Daddy."
You do know where your grandpa is buried?"
"Yes, sir. What you call the meadows. Grandma use to take me out there."
"His best friend is buried beside him?"
"When he told us to put Jake out there, we knew it's where he intended to be planted. It's a beautiful spot overlooking the main field. It told us all we needed to know about civil rights. Jake was important to us. He was a good man and he lived out his final years with people who loved him.
"In those days people took care of their own business. We didn't become suspects because someone died on us. The sheriff didn't come around asking, 'Where's your Pa, boy? None of those good church going folk knew my pa was buried beside a black man either."
"It would make a good movie," I laughed. "I'd call it, 'The Coloreds in the Corn."
My father laughed.
"Dad, this is an amazing story," I said. "I would like to see what some other folks think."
"Sure. This country is truly ready for a story about two men falling in love on a farm. America has shown no readiness to embrace that kind of love of love in 1994. Our love was too pure to share with people who hate love so readily."
"It's changing, Daddy. People are learning."
"Loving Sven was the best thing I ever did. Living in a country that watches men like us die, not lifting a finger, because we dare to love, is despicable?
"They let a disease do what they wanted to do to us. Good riddance to bad rubbish was the attitude. It made me sick to see this country's political and religious leaders conduct themselves in such a manor. That's what Sven died for?"
"It's not something I've considered from your point of view, Dad. I know it is changing. I'm reporting on it. Politicians and church people are joining with LGBT people to help men suffering with AIDS. I think there is a lot of shame involved with labeling AIDS a gay disease. Not a bright move," I said.
"I'll take your word for it," he said. "I haven't heard anything about people seeking to help gay men."
"It's not something that's reported. I've covered it in Portland. It's a progressive town. There are advances being made in attitudes. It's changing, Dad. One day men like you and Sven will be able to get married. I'm sure of it."
He laughed, having lived a love people openly loathed. He hadn't been with Sven for fifty years, and yet he'd still be ostracized for having loved him. This made their story even more compelling.
"If two people in love, regardless of how the state regards them, can be legitimized, it'll be an improvement. If men like Sven and me can get married, it won't make their love more pure, but for those who can benefit from such a thing, I think it would be fine.
"I'll never see it but I'd like to believe it will be possible one day for men like Sven and me."
"It's going to happen. I see progress in Portland."
"I wrote that for my benefit, Bobby. I didn't want to forget. Once I wrote it, I knew I'd never forget. Something about seeing it on paper solidified it in my mind. I told you that when I walked the fields, I don't walk alone," he said, looking to see if I was listening..
"When I wrote our story, I wasn't alone. I could see him. I felt him. I relived the time we had. What happened wasn't possible, but it happened anyway. We were together again.
"It's yours now. For what it's worth."
"I'm still digesting it. What an adventure!" I said. "In my business you need to know which stories to tell. If it was happening now, I'd cover it as a human interest story. It's about people dealing with adversity. The love story gives it an uncommon twist."
"When you get down to brass tacks, I didn't know two men could fall in love, until Sven walked up our driveway. That's when I knew a man could fall in love with another man. Not something you heard about back then."
"A lot has changed, Dad."
"Looking back on it, it's a wonder we survived my first harvest. Jake even bought the coffee, flour, beans, and rice for the hands to eat. I fussed that my hands shouldn't be buying our food. He looked at me like I was crazy.
"A good thing smarter people than me said for me to shut up. We'd have starved if I got my way. I'd seen the harvesting done all my life. I knew little about doing it."
"Y ou might say Jake got his money's worth, Daddy. He found a home, a best friend, and you never forgot what a good man he was. That's a good return on his money."
"Never looked at it that way. Didn't see it the day he came to be parents and chief cook and bottle washer for us. And he worked in the field when he wasn't in the kitchen. The man was amazing, but you never noticed him doing it."
"We did get in the harvest and saved the farm. Let me tell you, on the next to last day, I didn't know if we'd make it. I'd been exhausted since the second day, and I hurt from head to toe. I hurt in places I didn't know I had places."
"Grandpa and Grandma must have been proud of you, Daddy. You got the job done and saved their farm."
"My farm. It was mine from the minute that machine fell on Pa. It passed to me the minute he was unable to do it."
"Like the presidency. The minute Kennedy died, Johnson was the man. No quibbling."
"That's a bit much, but there sure wasn't any quibbling. We did the harvest, the clean up, and got the machinery ready for next year's corn.
"I remember when your grandpa came home. November I think it was. He'd been in the hospital a month or more and then he stayed at a place in town until he got some strength back. I remember the day he came into the driveway the first time after his accident. We were all waiting for him."
"Everyone?" I asked.
"Everyone," he said.
"He let Mama help him get out of the car. He'd aged. Skinny as a rail. Pa was never a man who carried much weight, but he was down to skin and bone. I felt sick when I saw him. We were told to wait until he was ready to come home.
"He struggled to walk to the stairs at the back porch. No one was prepared for those three stairs. Ralph right away went to help him, but he wouldn't have it. He held Ralph off while he stared at those three steps.
"I guess it looked like Mt. Everest to him. His legs were a mess and there wasn't much strength in them, and so he stared at those steps as we stared at him, waiting."
"Sounds terrible," I said.
"Didn't make for a pretty picture. Sven had been working on one of the machines. He kept his distance, not sensing his status in our family. For the first time he was looking at the man who's life he saved, and we all knew it, but him.
"After a standoff for a few minutes, Sven tossed his rag on the machine, took those long determined strides that took him to my father, and he swept him up in his arms.
"'Morning, Mr. Sorenson. Nice to see you, sir. Welcome home,' he said, placing him down in front of the door to the kitchen."
"Pa said, 'Thank you, Sven. Nice seeing you too.' Pa opened the door and stepped into the kitchen."
"That broke the ice," I said.
"Ice it was, but anything Sven did was fine with Pa. Pa was a stern man and he'd come home a cripple. It took some time for him to adjust. He didn't run the farm any more, but he knew it was in good hands."
"Sven was unassuming," I said.
"He was a humble man. He verged on sainthood with Mama. He had a home and a family as long as he wanted us."
"Grandpa walked some?" I asked.
"He had his good days. Mostly in the spring and summer. He was better when it was warm. He had canes. He didn't always need them. Jake knew how to get him outside. They liked walking together. They leaned on each other."
"He wasn't going to be bedridden," I said.
"No. Not until the end. Your grandpa never complained about his pain. I could see the pain on his face. He was one tough cookie."
"Your land," I said.
"My land," he said. "Once I got that first harvest in, he had no say. I'd ask him. He'd give me his opinion. I did what I did, running it past Sven first."
"Don't mind telling you, I'm running on a fifteen minute nap I had waiting on the commuter flight into Des Moines, and I'm not sure what day that was or what day it is. I'm going to need to lie down before I fall down."
"Go up and lay down on your bed. Open the window up there. It's going to be musty. I haven't aired it out in a spell. That good night air will cure what ails you."
"Goodnight, Dad. See you in the morning," I said, leaving him at the table as I struggled to make it to my room.
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