I was fourteen the night he picked me up to haul hay. He’d spent the day building a sewing room for grandma. He was tall, lean — alive. We talked a lot that night, lifting bale after bale; I had to tilt my head to the sky to see his face and toothy smile.
There was always a piece of straw between his teeth, always fresh. Most days were spent in a granary off main street, most nights at the farm managing water. Back then, we talked about water: when it was getting in; who would help it along; how we’d survive until it came back. He never seemed satisfied with how those conversations went, but his crooked smile underneath his crooked hat never faded.
“Only thing complaining does is make a bluebird turn yellow,” he’d say. It was hard to argue when he put it like that.
The town wasn’t a city yet. He’d drive his old red Chevy with blue doors down the road slow, stopping to drop a bag of potatoes or corn on a neighbor’s porch. Children ran to greet him, calling out his name. Parents were sure to let him know they’d be happy to pay, but he laughed off such absurd offers. Hugs and firm handshakes, this type of thing could go on all night.
He’d save our house for last. Sometimes grandma would come along, and there’d be an extra bounce in his step. He’d ignore mom’s stern warnings about not getting us too wound up, but — come to think of it — he never got in trouble. We were sad every time he left, even mom.
He never talked about the president or the stories of people he didn’t know that they talked about on the news. He only wanted to talk about family, fishing, and who needed help. That, and water.
There was never enough water.
I wasn’t one to jump at the opportunity to haul hay. He stopped by while the N64 was burning up from playing Goldeneye all day. Mom said to turn it off and do house chores or go to the farm with grandpa. Those were my choices.
When he dropped me off back home after the sun faded, I got out of his old red Chevy with the blue doors and heard him say, “I’ll be by tomorrow night with some fish and biscuits, then we’ll fill our bellies like the kings of old and never want for anything again.”
He died the next day in a car accident on his way home from fishing. Dad and I went to the crash site to look things over and found his wallet. We brought it back to grandma. The whole town showed up for his funeral, where the local VFW did the honors.
Everyone knew his name.