The Old Dirt Path
Driving through town, after having been gone for so many years, it all felt so foreign. One would think, with all my vivid memories, that I wouldn’t feel so lost, but I did. I remembered the two one-way streets that came together in a circular formation as being such a long drive. Today, it narrowed very quickly. Turning and circling back in the opposite direction, I pondered memories of the street during the fall of the year. The trees covered the street like a cooling canopy for summer and in the fall, they would blanket them in a multi-colored carpet. Driving along, the leaves would float and swim across the lane as though they were yellow and orange, brown, and gold fish. I would giggle and Daddy would too. I thought he saw them the same as me. Today, I know my giggle triggered his.
An older style farmhouse built in the turn of the century, our home was located at the end of a very long dirt lane. To gather the milk and mail, we would walk hand in hand, Daddy and me, down the dirt lane to the end. There Daddy would hand me the mail, he would pick up the glass jugs of milk, and we would walk back to the house. Daddy’s hands were big and strong. There was a kind of safe energy that flowed from them and into my little hand and into my being. The kind that just makes a person know that everything is fine.
I remember looking down and racing to keep up with Daddy’s stride. For every one step of his, there were three of mine. “Daddy?” I’d say. “Please slow down, I can’t keep up!” Daddy would slow his pace and together we would finish the long trip down the old dirt lane.
Rounding a curve in the old Airport road, I looked for the lane. It was off to the right, I could remember and quite a ways from the curve in the road. Once I got to the stop sign, I knew I had gone too far. There was no stop sign when we drove that road. We would just pull into the lane somewhere after the curve but never stopped. I turned my car around and headed back to the Airport. Once there, I again turned around and started looking for the dirt lane. Unable to see it, I started looking at the houses that lay off in the distance as I remembered it. Once I spotted the house, I looked for the lane, still to no avail. Instead, I found a nicely paved road that separated two sets of housing sub-divisions. At the end of the road was a T and a stop sign. In front of me centered in the T was the old farmhouse. The house was not nearly as big as I remembered. In fact, it was very small compared to the house I live in with my family today. The cornfields that Daddy was so proud of were gone and so was the big barn where I learned about the “star” on the teats of a cow, as Momma sprayed the fresh milk into my face. Porky, our pig’s pen was no longer there either, just an old farmhouse. No silo, no fields, no Daddy.
Daddy wanted to retire in Idaho. He was born there and after we left the farm and moved to Seattle, there was just something missing in my Daddy’s eyes. He went to work everyday and took care of his and Momma’s world after my brothers and I moved out and started lives of our own, but I could see that he really was not as happy as he was when we lived on the farm.
Years had passed since our walks down the old dirt lane. I started asking Daddy when he was going to retire, somehow there seemed to be a kind of urgency to it. He would answer. “In July, I hope, Sissy.” Momma wasn’t keen on moving back to Idaho, but she would have followed Daddy to the ends of the world.
I pulled the car over to the side of the roadway, shut it off, and got out. I stood in front of the old house and wondered if I should knock on the door and ask if I might come in, just to see what it was like now. Just as I had mustered enough nerve, the front door opened and a rough looking lady yelled out, “What do ya think you’re doin’, staring at my house?” She didn’t look any happier than she sounded. I tried to explain that I had lived in the old house when I was a child, but she would hear nothing of it. Not so politely, she instructed me to get off her property before she called the cops! I complied with her wishes and returned to my car, driving away quite shaken by the whole event. This sure was not the kind of person that we shared back then for neighbors. Heck, they would have asked me in and invited me to join them for dinner all in one breath, I thought to myself as I drove away.
I needed to look for a house for Daddy and Momma. They would be ready to move the end of July, and already had a buyer for their house in Seattle. It was the middle of April. I didn’t know why, but I felt the same urgency that Daddy felt about the whole move. So I continued on site seeing the town in hopes of finding a nice place with a for sale sign. Along the way I came across one of the neighborhood convenience stores and decided to pop in and grab a newspaper or one of those free real estate booklets. Perhaps I could find a deal in one of those. Once I grabbed the papers and a soda, I sat in the car studying for the right deal. No luck, there just didn’t seem to be anything in the right price range that looked half-decent. I returned to my travel trailer and fixed myself a sandwich, watched some TV and went to bed.
The noise woke me up from a dead sleep. Loud speakers or something, I thought to myself as I jumped out of bed. Pulling back the blind, I looked out and sure enough the area was lit up like Christmas. There appeared to be five patrol cars that I could see and lights flashing all over the place. Right outside my window, I heard a police officer yell, “He’s got a gun!” I dropped to the floor and crawled to the backside of my bed. Scared, I sat in the corner until I heard nothing. Ever so cautiously, I crawled on all fours to the same window. Placing my ear toward it, I listened for any movement or voices. There were none. I peered carefully out of the window and saw nothing. I opted to wait until daylight to find out what all the commotion was about.
The next morning I arose and went to the door, opened it up, and looked around. Nothing seemed out of place and there was no sign of any problem from the night before. Did I dream it I thought for a moment, “No, I know I did not dream it, I saw and heard it,” I said to myself aloud. I didn’t know any of the other people living in the RV park, so I went straight to the manager to inquire about the racket from the night before. The manager told me that there had been a big drug bust one trailer down from mine. I couldn’t believe it. Here? A drug bust in the town that I had grown up in? How could that be I thought. “Yeah, nowadays drugs are everywhere,” the manager continued. Lost in my own thoughts, I failed to hear the whole of the story and walked out quite stunned by the news.
I called my parents and told them what had happened the night before. Daddy told me that they had the same problems there in Seattle as well and it didn’t matter where you lived but how you lived. Daddy always had his logic and I clung to every word of it. Always had.
That day was the best day ever. Heading back to the same convenience store, I happened by a sign that read, “FOR SALE BY OWNER.” It was a beautiful manufactured home with a yard that looked as though it had been hand-groomed one blade of grass at a time. The yard was bordered by beautiful flowers, “Momma loves flowers!” I exclaimed. “Oh wow, I hope the price is right.” I said as I pulled over and parked. The people were sitting on the deck when I approached. “How ya doin’? Here to see the house?” The gentleman was very nice. They, he and his wife, were about the same ages as my parents. The house was perfect in every way and even less expensive than Daddy had figured he’d have to spend. As I was being given the tour of the sheds and garden, my cellphone rang. My house had sold in Spokane. All I needed to do was return to sign the papers and it was a deal. Having already explained the whole deal to them, I told the owners that I would call my parents, and would get back to them by evening. I wrote a check for $100 asking that they hold the house and not show it for one day. They agreed.
Momma came in on the plane the next day at 11:20 a.m. Daddy sent her since he had to work and did not want to miss any days prior to his retirement in three weeks. Driving back from the airport, I enjoyed the chatter between Momma and me, until she went silent. “What is it, Momma?” I asked with much concern. “I don’t know.” Momma replied. “Something just feels wrong somewhere. I can’t put my finger on it, I just have this feeling of doom that keeps coming over me.” “Doom about what?” I asked. “I really don’t know, probably nothing but moving day jitters.” Momma said with a forced chuckle. Momma had an insight like no one I had ever known. I knew within myself that if she felt doom of any kind, something was wrong somewhere for sure. “Are you and Daddy doing all right? I mean feeling okay?” A question I hated to ask at this point but felt I must. “Oh yes, we are fine!” Momma said reassuringly. I went with her answer and we laughed and visited the rest of the way back to town.
“I knew you’d love it, Momma!” I was happy to see that Momma agreed; the house was just perfect. Momma worked out the deal with the owners and even got them to drop the price another thousand dollars. She was always a good bargain hunter and could “talk the salesman out of his shoes,” as Daddy would say. Momma spent the night and flew back to Seattle the next day.
I closed the deal on my house and drove on over to Seattle to help Momma and Daddy do the packing. We loaded everything up and waited for the big retirement party for Daddy. Friday came and the party was fantastic. Daddy was honored by all his co-workers and the bosses. Some of them were trained by Daddy years before. Daddy cried as we left the party. It was heartbreaking to see this. Daddy never cried. I knew he was going to miss his work and all his friends. I tried to make light of the situation, but was left with a very heavy feeling in my heart for Daddy. The move went smooth as butter.
Settling into their new house was like a second glove for Momma. She seemed to have it all planned in her head, even though she had only been in the house one time. She had memorized ever nook and cranny and had everything arranged perfectly. It was great. I continued to live in my travel trailer.
A few months had passed. Daddy had joined a golfing club and was enjoying running into old school chums. He attended his fiftieth school reunion and was just having a great time. Momma spent her days sewing and doing the things she liked most. She found a lot of secondhand stores and was collecting a set of china for her new china closet. Life was great. We spent a lot of days and nights just visiting and doing things together. The move felt right for all of us.
One day in the afternoon I walked into Momma and Daddy’s house and found Daddy sitting alone on the couch. “What you doing home, Daddy?” I asked, surprised that he wasn’t walking the green belt or golfing. “I don’t know, Sissy, I just don’t feel good.” He said with so much concern that it nearly took the breath out of me. “In what way do you not feel good?” I asked holding back tears. It was like I already knew what he was going to say. I didn’t want to hear it, didn’t want to believe it. A side of me wanted to yell “Shut up! Don’t say it Daddy!” Like if he didn’t say it, it wouldn’t be. “I think I have cancer,” he said it as if it had already been confirmed. Like he knew something we did not. “Have you seen a doctor?” I asked. “No. I just know, right here.” he said rubbing the side of his stomach.
Doctors, tests, more tests, and tears too many to count. The days flew past. Daddy went through chemotherapy which just weakened him beyond belief. No longer did we talk and laugh. Daddy lived in a shell of anger and pain, laced in a fear, that I had never seen in him before. Not afraid of dying, but rather afraid of what would happen to Momma. He was taken to the VA Hospital in an adjoining city for an exploratory surgery. There he stayed. He refused to come home. He explained that he didn’t want to die in Momma’s new home. We talked while he was in the hospital, everyday. Momma and I stayed with him as much as we could. I covered every question that I could think of, making sure I knew all the answers before he left us. We laughed, we cried, and Momma cried far too much. The day Daddy died, Momma and I were at his sides. I remember seeing Momma’s face when he left. She aged immediately. I screamed “NO!!” as loud as I could, though the sound did not come out of my mouth. The Angels took Daddy home. He left so fast.
Momma and I sat over coffee in a quaint little cafe the other day and out of the blue she said, “I knew, you know.” I said “What do you mean you knew?” “About your Dad.” she said, “I knew he was sick and was dying long before we moved but I never let on.” “I thought if I never asked and never said it, it would go away.” “Momma! You should have made him go to the doctor sooner!” the words just shot out of my mouth without thinking. “I tried,” she retorted. “He refused to go, said there was no need.” “Oddly enough, that feeling of doom you felt Momma, I felt it too but couldn’t lock in on it.” I confessed. “I know you did, I could see it in your eyes.” she told me. Then she looked towards the Heavens and said, He was always a stubborn one, your Dad.”
Daddy took with him an invisible suitcase of love that day. It was February 7th and he was buried on February 14th—Valentines Day.
Towns change, houses change, and dirt lanes change but Memories never do. They are to be cherished always.