by Rick Beck
I was still yawning when I made it back to the kitchen after dawn the next morning.
"Get any sleep, son," my father asked.
I stopped to pour coffee into the empty cup on the counter next to the stove.
"Some. A bit restless. Then nothing until a minute ago."
"Almost like coming home," he said.
"Boy, this tastes good, Dad. I wanted to thank you for taking the time with me, Dad. You've given me a lot to think about and you didn't need to do that."
"You're my son, Bobby. I can't claim to have been a good father, but being your father, I'll give you whatever time you want. I know you have work, a life, but it's not like we can do this later."
"I haven't been a very good son, Dad. I could have made an effort. It's not like I didn't know where to find you. What you've told me does make a difference. There's so much I don't know. I want to hear the whole story."
"It's better when you can talk. I didn't always know how to talk. I didn't know what to say."
"We've come a long way. I didn't want to come home," I confessed. "Now, I don't want to leave. Funny how things can change when you do start to talk. I wish...."
"We're doing it now, son. I couldn't ask for more," he said. "You take whatever time you want, Bobby. I'm in no hurry. What do you say about breakfast at the diner? We can talk over bacon and eggs. I have a hankering for some greasy unhealthy food this morning. How about you?"
"You hungry?" I asked.
"I believe I do have an appetite this morning. All that talking I suppose."
The diner was half full at just after six, if the clock was right right. Some of the same faces were there. Nods greeted us as we sat at the only empty table.
There were younger faces with the older ones. I recognized some of these. As we ordered, whispers between fathers and sons were exchanged, 'Robert Jr. has finally come home.'
No nods came my way. I'd gone over to the enemy. I was no longer one of them, and thus, they didn't know me.
It didn't come as a surprise. I had no close friends as a boy. I knew the other boys but I shared little in common with them, beyond being born on my father's farm.
The younger men got up and left before six thirty. These were the farmer's sons who ran the farms now. Their fathers stayed at the dine, drink coffee and talked of better days.
My father and I didn't have much to say. I certainly had an appetite. We both ate bacon, eggs, and potatoes. It was more food than I usually ate in the morning, but I ate it all. It must have been the fresh Iowa air.
"Do you feel like walking this morning, Dad."
"I always feel like walking. I like moving."
"I'd like to go to the meadows. See where Grandpa is. Take a look around the pond and the forest. Can you make it that far?"
"I walk there every day in the spring. It's not far if it isn't too hot. You'll need some walking shoes, son. You can't wear those things in the field. You'll bog down."
"I think I left shoes in my room. My feet haven't grown as much as my middle. I should find a pair that works."
We went into the main field. The ruts from the corn rows were barely visible. The Iowa wind was gradually claiming back the rich black earth. I liked the smell of the soil. We walked across the field to get to the meadows.
As a boy, this time of year, the corn would be "As high as an elephants eye," as the song from Oklahoma said.
A pair of sneakers stood the test of time and fit fine, once I took out the laces. I didn't know if feet gained weight but I suspected mine had.
"You let me know if you need to rest, Dad."
"I've walked up and back a thousand times. I'll be fine. Don't be walking out of those shoes or you'll need a good scrubbing before you go back, if you don't want the folks on the plane to toss you overboard. I doubt they'd appreciate the fragrance of good Iowa soil."
I got a laugh out of my father's earthy view of things. He sounded like a man who'd found peace within himself. He was nothing like I remembered. I'd been gone a long time.
"Have you had a good life, son?"
"I have, Dad. I was married and divorced right after I got my first television job. I thought I was in love but now I'm not so sure. No kids. Didn't last that long, but Fran and I stayed friends. I like my work. I have good friends."
"Don't let not having kids bother you. Uncle Ralph has enough kids and grand kids to last the Sorenson family for generations to come.
"As long as you have a good life. It's the best any of us can hope for."
"I get that. I can't help but feel like I missed out," I said. "Family speaking. Might be why the marriage didn't last."
"You did miss out, son. You missed out on years of your mother loving and doting on you. You left and found your own way on your own terms. That takes courage."
"I wish things had gone differently between us."
"Among the things we can do nothing about. We've made things better between us. That's what's important."
"Yes, I'm glad I came home and I'm glad we could talk."
"I regret you lost your mother so young. Your mother and I were happy together. We loved each other. Our love was what we made it. She was never threatened by my love for Sven. She accepted that as part of who I was.
"You were at the center of her world. I ran the farm. Once she was gone, we both struggled. It wasn't going to be OK. We lost your mother. How could we be OK?"
All I wanted to do was grow up and leave the farm after Mama died. It was time to finish growing up and accept my father as is. He had his short comings, but I wasn't perfect either, as Fran reminded me too often.
"We used to picnic here," I said, as we reached the forest in the meadows.
"We picnicked here when I was a boy. Swam in the pond. Came out here to cool off on hot summer days," he said. "Pa warned us to never knock these trees down. It's one of the few stands of trees in this area. Most farmers cleared all the land to grow as much corn as possible. My great grand father left this forest in place."
"Mama didn't like me swimming," I said, noticing the trees furnish a more intense shade than I remembered.
"When we needed wood, we took it from here, thinning the trees so new trees would grow. There are more trees here now than when I was a boy," my father said.
"Your mother was protective of you. You were our only child. When I swam here, there were three Sorensons and two Millers from the next farm over most days.
"Your mama feared you'd come out here alone, and if you got into trouble, there was no one to help you."
We walked from the pond to the two graves at the edge of the forest. We both pulled weeds. Nothing substantial had taken root. The old markers stood solid.
"Your mama is buried beside your grandma at the church. She bought plots for her and Pa, but Pa didn't want to leave his land. When your mama passed so young, she went beside where grandma planned to go. We'll stop there after we eat at the diner one morning."
"I'd like that," I said.
"Your grandpa hardly ever left the farm after his accident. Once they brought him home."
"You've lived almost fifty years longer than Sven. Did you think you'd hold out for so long?"
We began to walk toward the house.
"Didn't think. Never thought about dying until doctors told me I was doing it. I'd like to be closer to Sven is, but I'm not. I don't know why I lived so much longer than he did.
"Great Grandpa Lloyd settled this land in 1875. His son and my father each worked the farm for about twenty years each. Last harvest I've been running the farm for fifty five years."
"That's amazing," I said.
"I've outlived my usefulness. It's time to go," he said.
"They didn't catch the cancer early enough to treat it?"
"I got a nightstand full of pills. I guess they're keeping me going. I don't much care. I won't purposely die, and I'm in no hurry, but I don't see as I have much to do with it. It's my time."
"Did you find happiness here, Dad."
We walked while he considered an answer.
"I've come to believe happiness is a state of mind, Bobby. You rarely stay in one place. Best to make the most of where you are. It'll change before you know it. Why not be happy where you are with what you have?"
"Most people are anxious to get where they're going," I said.
"Most people will never get where they think they're going. At sixteen I knew where I was going. At nineteen it all changed. At twenty-five it changed again. I discovered I didn't know a damn thing about a damn thing."
"And you were happy?"
"I loved two people as much as I knew how. They loved me. I had a beautiful son and watched him grow up. Now I see he's a good man," he said. "That makes me happy."
"And you grew corn," I said.
"I planted seeds each spring, watched them grow, and harvested corn each fall. It's a magnificent thing to witness. Nature is quite a force to reckon with. It's amazing.
"Had I left the farm, I'm sure I'd have come back," he said without doubt. "Farming was in my blood, even while I planned to leave. I would be the last Sorenson farmer, and I learned to love the land and be happy on it."
"If you left your life would have been different," I said.
"I was happiest when I learned not to dwell on things I couldn't change. It was what it was, Bobby."
"You're not the man I remember, Dad."
"You aren't the boy I remember."
"I was a lucky man. I've lived a good life. It's time for me to move on."
"It's a good way to look at it," I said.
[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. If the email address pastes with %40 in the middle, replace that with an @ sign.]