Thursday, September 01, 2005

Thinking Back Thursdays: Summer of Learning

I think I'd like to start at least one day a week where I think back and write about something from my past--be it my childhood, teen years, or even a few years back. So, today, to start this off, I'll share with you a story I wrote about a special time with my Grandaddy I wrote about several years ago. Enjoy!
The piercing blast of her clock radio jolted her out of bed with a shock. “Why am I doing this,” she thought to herself. Through sleep-glazed eyes she tried to focus on the numbers on the clock. Six a.m.! Getting up at six in the morning during summer break seemed like a crime to her. She was sure that all of the other girls her age were enjoying sleeping late during their break from school.

As she slid herself into an old stiff pair of blue jeans and her favorite t-shirt, she wondered why she’d agreed to work with her Grandaddy on his ranch that summer. She had no idea what she’d be doing for him. But, he was paying her pretty well and she liked the though of having some cash to hit the malls for school clothes or to do whatever she wanted with it. She couldn’t complain about that. But, mostly she felt obligated to help him. Since his heart surgery, he wasn’t able to do as much as he used to and he needed someone’s help. Grandaddy was smart, but he was also very stubborn and she hated the thought of him over-exerting himself out there all alone.

Just as she stepped into her shoes, she heard the familiar honk of his old Chevy Silverado truck. She raced out the door so that he wouldn’t have to honk again. Her mom and sister were still sleeping soundly, blissfully enjoying their Zs.

A waft of dusty odors mixed with the scent of cattle feed hit her nostrils as she plopped herself in his truck. Grandaddy smiled and winked at her. He was a man of few words, yet she felt very close to him. She admired him for all he’d done in his life, and his silence always intrigued her.

A few minutes later, the only sounds were of the hum of the engine and his ragged breath, carefully coming in and out. As they drove to the ranch, she noted how his heart surgery had taken its toll. His skin now had a bluish haze to it and he seemed different---not the strong man that she had her cousins had so aptly named “Grandaddy Cowboy” when they were young. He was guarded and careful, and somehow more frail than she’d ever imagined he could be. As she watched his chest rise and fall with every breath, she felt guilt for her thoughts. What if he died today? What if he had a heart attack while they were working out on the remote ranchland? What would she do? Could she even help him? As they drove along, she mapped out plans in her mind as to what she’d do in every scenario she could imagine, and then cursed herself for thinking such awful thoughts. She just didn’t understand why he kept pushing himself. Why he kept working as if nothing had changed for him when it so obviously had. It scared her, but it scared her more to think of him out there alone.

As he coasted through town, she amusingly took note of his typical driving. Grandaddy often let her practice her driving once they were out of the city limits, on country roads. “Let off on the big ten,” he’d say when she started driving too fast for his comfort. His policy behind the wheel was to brake as little as possible, and to gas it even less. As they drove past the county courthouse where he’d worked as County Judge for many years, he barely used his foot at all. An ambling 15 miles per hour didn’t bother him a bit, as long as it was a smooth ride.

Looking back, she realized that his driving philosophy closely mirrored how he lived his life. Deliberate and sure, always moving forward, but on his own time and his own terms—with little dramatics or suspense--coasting easy through life’s bumps with a wink and a smile.

As they reached the ranch, he explained what she’d be doing this summer. She was to ride along on the ATV four-wheeler and spray sapling mesquites that were popping up all over his ranch land with a syrupy chemical that would kill them off. The job itself sounded easy enough, and getting to ride the four-wheeler sounded fun, so she couldn’t complain.

As the day wore on, the novelty of the four-wheeler quickly wore off. The hot Texas sun beat down on her and scorched her skin. She knew now why Grandaddy had insisted on her wearing long pants. Between the sun and the bugs, not to mention the occasional encounter with a rattlesnake, she needed all the protection that those jeans could give her. Grandaddy tended to his other chores while she worked in the field. It was much harder work than she’d originally thought it would be. She had a feeling it was going to be a long and hot summer. As she gazed around her, she saw nothing but empty pasture for as far as her eyes could see.

Days turned into weeks and the summer was over before she knew it. As much as she grumbled at first, she came to love her time working in the country and the solitude of being in an open field for hours with nothing but her thoughts. Her mind would float to the upcoming school year and then on to what she might do in her future. So many things became clear to her in the days she spent spraying the mesquites. She came to understand and appreciate the hard work it took to take care of the land and the cattle that roamed it.

On the drive home, she’d often ride perched atop Grandaddy’s toolbox on the back of his truck, wind whipping around her hair and the crisp country air filling her lungs. Sometimes she sang as she rode along, and other times she just looked at the sky and dreamed. She could have never known then that she would look back on this time so fondly later in life. The summer that taught her so many things about life—strength and perseverance on the job, a love of the land, and how the character and integrity of one old man could impact a life forever…


Blogger Yaeli said...

What a great story!! It's nice to have memories like that about special people.

Michele sent me today, but I'll pop back again soon!
Have a great day!

11:28 PM, September 01, 2005  
Anonymous Melody said...

Yes, I agree with yaeli, a great story! What would we do without our memories hey, especially childhood ones.

I too am here via Michele today. Enjoy your weekend!

12:32 AM, September 02, 2005  
Anonymous solistella said...

You are such a kickass writer. Love it. You should put a bunch of those togethr in a book - I would read them over and over.

7:22 AM, September 02, 2005  
Blogger Suburban Turmoil said...

Great story! I wish my girls could have an experience like this one. I used to visit my grandparents for a month each summer and my jobs ranged from feeding the chickens to picking blackberries to learning to sew and knit! Grandparents have so much to teach- I'm sad that the girls' grandparents all live in different cities.

8:30 AM, September 02, 2005  
Blogger christina said...

I love your idea of writing something from the past. Great writing. Great story. Go for the book! You keep me so inspired to write!

9:48 PM, September 03, 2005  
Blogger Thivai Abhor said...

This a great idea--I look forward to more :)

9:32 PM, September 04, 2005  

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