“Hmph” is all he says, and barely that.
Just a bit of air expelled through two tautened lips. He could say more—wants to, I’m sure—but the presence of two grandchildren in the room prevents any further commentary. That’s a shame. You’ve never fully appreciated the news until you’ve watched it alongside my father’s commentary.
The pictures on the television are the sort that’s been played and replayed for a while now—tents and marches and protest, people with microphones shouting down with this and up with that. It’s all a little too much, especially with the grandkids sitting there (right now they’re working on the Play-Doh, but I know they’re watching the screen).
I ask him if I should turn the channel. He works the chaw of Beechnut in his cheek and shakes his head. “Wanna see who won the race,” he says.
So I watch the screen and I watch him and I watch my kids and I know that I am in the middle. I’m the bridge between him and them. I’m the link to hold the chain. And I realize that it really wasn’t that long ago—if you can call twenty years long—that I was sure my father had no idea what the world was all about.
I think your teenage years are proof that the more you think you know, the dumber you really are.
My kids—his grandkids—are watching now. They’re showing a policeman pepper-spraying a young man with long hair. Dad watches, too. I’m wondering what they’re all thinking and if what they’re thinking is pretty much the same. I think so. I think when you get right down to it, crazy looks crazy no matter what age you are.
In the end (and as it should), Play-Doh wins out over the news. The kids don’t care what’s happening a thousand miles away in some city. Their world’s here in the mountains, where things are quiet and life makes more sense. But Dad, he keeps watching and working that chaw, turning it around in his mouth, thinking.
He’s been in a good mood lately. Not that he isn’t usually, just more so now. After thirty-five years of work, he has only three days left. Appropriately enough, Thanksgiving Day will be his first day of retirement.
It hasn’t been easy, those thirty-five years. The ones before it weren’t easy, either. He took the job for the same reason that many husbands and fathers do—because it paid well and offered a better life for his family. Certainly it wasn’t because he enjoyed it—who would enjoy driving a rig up and down the Southeast, being separated from family, living off greasy truck stop food?
But he did it anyway. Day in, day out, through blizzards and tornados and hurricanes and floods. As a child I would pray every night for his safety. I still do. And God’s watched over him—Dad’s driven over three million miles without an accident. Back in ’98, he had a stroke just outside of Fredericksburg. The doctors couldn’t understand how he managed to drive his rig into the terminal and back it up to the dock before falling out of the cab. I could. It was his job, simple as that.
His formal education ended at the eighth grade. He grew up in poverty and hustled pool, but the Army straightened him out. And when it came time to marry and start a family, he swore he would give his kids a better life than he had.
That’s exactly what he did.
On the television, one of the protesters says he’s there because he wants a free education. He’s owed that, he says, though he doesn’t really say why. Dad doesn’t say what he thinks of that, and I’m thankful. If he did, I’d have to write it with a lot of ampersands and exclamation points.
Because Dad and his eight-grade education knows more about the world than the people on television and their college degrees. Because he knows that no one is owed anything, and the sooner you realize that the better off you’ll be. Because you have to work and scrape and save and drive the truck.
He won’t say that only those who have stood up to work should have the right to sit down and protest. The grandkids are in the room.
So I’ll just say it for him. Because after thirty-five years, I think he’s earned it.