He was just 7 years old. Still, the knowledge he gained from his father would make a genius jealous. Of course, a genius, as defined by a 7 year-old, is anyone 7 1/2 or older. He wasn’t so good at catching an easy pop fly to right. He wasn’t very agile on the jungle gym either. One day, when he got the nerve to jump from he highest bar like all the tough boys were doing, his uncoordinated feet slipped backwards before the rest of his body got anywhere at all. Pivoting at the knees, he swung forward to meet the lower bars with the bridge of his nose and a tooth. Or two. For the next week, his stitches were hid by gauze to the rest of the world. To him, it might as well of been a roll of paper towel on his face. Besides the embarrassment of the fall itself, he had to stare this in the mirror every morning.
Still, in the midst of all this awkwardness, he had some friends. He also had something much more valuable. He had his dad. Dad always had stories to tell and was eager to tell them, whether anyone wanted to hear them or not. Fortunately, this child always wanted to hear them. It was the one thing he felt he had with his dad that nobody had with anyone else. How could anyone have a dad who told stories like this? Impossible!
Most of the stories were ways to pass time on trips. The passing world outside the windshield always had something to offer in the form of good questions. They were questions that would eventually take them both to another place. By the time the stories were over, they would be arriving at their destination. Dad seemed to time it perfectly every time. The roads they traveled on were nothing compared to where they were inside that rusty old Chevy.
He remembered asking one day, "How do the wheels on the car get turned?"
Dad could have said, "The engine turns a transmission and that’s what turns the wheels." Oh, but that wouldn’t be his father’s answer. No way.
His dad would begin with how the air is taken in through the air cleaner and, very soon, he would have this boy transformed into a droplet of fuel. He would see the flaps of the carburetor open as he made his way to the carbon-covered valves. Into the cylinder, he would see the piston and feel the incredible heat. Out through the exhaust, he would come back around and go through the transmission. He could see all the chambers and valleys where the fluid flowed. Springs and clutches were clearly visible as dad explained all there was to know about cars.
Today, he wanted to hear another story. He strained to conjure up something that would get dad going (it never did take much). You see, his dad didn’t need to actually know what he was talking about to tell a story about something. This often commanded body language from others that, while mostly indistinguishable to this kid, had something to do with digging with an imaginary shovel.
He remembered one day in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. He asked his dad, "Dad, what happens to food when we eat it?"
"Well, kiddo, it goes into your tummy where there are little people that take it apart. They send all the good stuff to our organs and all the bad stuff to the toilet. Sometimes, they make a mistake and that’s when you get a tummy ache. Other times, when they don’t feel like working, they just throw it back and that’s when you throw up."
He knew this was not true. Still, by the time dad got done talking, the boring wait was over and their name was called. It was always the best way to pass the time.
Today’s journey was just beginning. Knowing it would be a long one, he wondered what dad might have to say today. He would try to think of something to ask. That always got pop going.
Yet, something was different about today. Dad wasn’t the same as usual. Any other time, he wouldn’t need prompting.
He could talk for days about Indians, Icebergs, Spaceships, old movie stars…. Anything at all. Still, today he was silent.
"Maybe if I start to ask, it’ll come to me", he thought. So he began, "Dad?……." Nothing came to him. "Never mind."
"How will I get through this journey without a good "dad" story?" He wondered as he looked upon his father more closely now than ever. He never noticed the lines in his face. He never noticed the leathered skin from years of hard labor. He never noticed the gray hair. Today was different. He was seeing many things today. "Maybe I’m just growing up", he thought to himself.
He also noticed that everybody was different today. Mom was on the phone all the time lately and the doctor came by every few days. The doctor would tell his dad to rest, but his dad wouldn’t have it. No sooner did the doctor leave and dad would round up his son for a drive to relatives’ houses or just into town. The whole way there he would tell stories and the two would be gone for hours and, sometimes, the whole day.
Today’s journey could really use a good story. He had no idea how long this would take, but he knew this trip would be different. If only he could get dad started on something. That would help allot. He turned to his father once again, but still could not come up with something. Today, thoughts did not come so easily, and dad wasn’t helping matters much.
Just then, he heard his mother behind him. In a soft voice, she said, "C’mon away from there for a little while. Other people want to say goodbye too. I’ll bring you back real soon, I promise."
"Okay, mom", he whispered back.
He tip-toed upon the altar and reached for his fathers folded hands upon his chest. Looking at his face, even he could see the peace that was never there before. He gazed for a moment hoping to hear all about where his dad was going. Silence.
He asked his mom, ‘Ma, does he hear me?"
"Yes, honey, he hears you."
He looked back at his father and assured him, "Don’t be afraid, dad. I’ll see you again real soon and you can tell me some more stories."
With that, his mother led him away to relatives and friends. There was talk about a recent mother to be and what she planned to name her child. Being a child himself, he was very curious about the whole thing. He approached the young lady. Looking up, he tapped her to get her attention.
"I want to ask you something."
"Ask me anything you want sweetie."
"When your baby is born, are you gonna tell him stories?"
Lisa De Klerk on April 03, 2012:
Beatiful, John. I'm crying.