Category Archives: Fathers

The Wager

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The Wager

When I was a mere teenager,
my dad made a little wager.
Could I manage to exist
by guile and craft and will and fist

without allowance or assistance?
It was not at his insistence,
and in no way was I miffed
at his challenge aimed at thrift.

I packed a bag and caught a lift.
For one year I would simply drift.
Quietly would I abscond 
and win my keep as vagabond.

I’d leave a life humdrum and canned
to live a life less gray and bland.
And thus I started my vacation
around our great and varied nation.

In California, I mowed lawns,
in Texas, worked at shucking prawns.
Combined wheat in South Dakota.
Then made off for Minnesota.

Washing pots and dishing curry,
worked my way down to Missouri.
In Tennessee I met with luck
and crossed the whole state in a truck,

but by D.C. and Baltimore,
grunt labor had become a bore,
so when I finally reached the ocean,
suddenly I had the notion

to make a call to dad from son
telling him his son had won.
The call I made was not in vain,
for next day I was on a plane.

Tattered, back-sore, sunburned, chapped,
I showed my dad the miles I’d mapped.
He slapped my back and said, “Well, son,
you’ve done what I wished I had done

before I did each of those things
that doing what one ‘should’ do brings.”
He slapped a check into my hand
and promised college, job or land.

I would be sent to school or hired—
whatever now I most desired.
I told my dad I’d let him know
but for just now I had to go.

I hit the bank and cashed his check,
bought new clothes and washed my neck.
Grabbed my passport, kissed my mom,
let her feed me, dropped the bomb.

Hugged my dad, then counted coup
and hopped a plane for Katmandu.
I hadn’t traveled my last mile,
but from now on, I’d go in style!

 

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The prompt words today are drift, humdrum, abscond and wager.

Shelter: Portrait for Weekend Mini Challenge

 

Shelter

On the prairies of Dakota, 
weather often came with exclamation marks.
My father’s forehead was ringed like an old tree,
white from above his eyebrows to his fast-retreating hairline,
from his hat pulled low to guard from every vagary of weather.
“It’s hot as the hubs of Hell!” he’d exclaim as he sank into his chair at noon,
sweeping his hat from his head to mop his brow.
A nap after lunch, then Mack’s Cafe for coffee with his friends,
then back to work in the field until dark, some days.

“Cold as a witch’s teat in January!” was as close to swearing 
as I ever heard my dad get, November through March,
stomping the snow off rubber

overboots in the garage, tracking snow from his cuffs through the mudroom/laundry.
Cold curled like Medusa’s ringlets off his body.
We learned to avoid his hands,

red with winter, nearly frozen inside his buckskin gloves.

His broad-brimmed hat, steaming near the fireplace
as we gathered around the big formica table in the dining room.
Huge beef roasts from our own cattle, mashed potatoes and green beans.
Always a lettuce salad and dessert. The noon meal was “dinner”—
main meal of the day.

Necessary for a farmer/rancher who had a full day’s work still ahead of him.

Our weather was announced by our father
with more color than the radio weather report.

Spring was declared by his, “Raining cats and dogs out there!”
Only now have I really thought about how we were protected
from the vagaries of weather as from so much else.
It was a though my father bore the brunt of all of it, facing it
for us, easing our way. It was his job.

We were sheltered, all of us,
from those extremes of that land I didn’t even know was harsh
until years later, living in milder climates,
remembering the poetry
of how a man who really lived in it
gave us hints of its reality.

 

This is an extensive rewrite of a poem published earlier this year, redone for a prompt given by the weekend mini challenge  to create a portrait with words that is based on a photograph or painting of a person.

Predisposed to Erudition

 

Predisposed to Erudition

Central to dad’s disposition
was his need for exposition.
Topics such as  soil condition,
family stories, nuclear fission,
required a bit of erudition.
And every tale’s newest edition
had its own unique rendition.

 

Today’s prompt word was disposition. Here is the link:
https://onedailyprompt.wordpress.com/2019/05/09/your-daily-word-prompt-disposition-may-9-2019/

Generational Angst

Generational Angst

She could not quench her anger over all the agitation
caused by her father’s ire, or her mother’s castigation.
Their home life was a parody of what a life should be.
They were a group of separate “I’s.” There was no “us” or “we.”

He surveyed his daughter mainly from afar.
The only time she deigned to talk was to usurp the car.
She was so disrespectful he could barely hold his tongue.
Why was it so difficult to converse with the young?

She’d thought she’d have a daughter to fuss over and dress.
but when it came to this one, she was driven to confess,
her daughter lately gave no sign that she had once adored her.
Rather, all the indications were that she abhorred her.

Her mother dressed in mom jeans and her dad tucked in his shirts.
Then looked askance when she appeared in bandeaus and short skirts.
When they tried to speak her language, it only caused distress.
TBH, they had not a clue, and she could not care less.

This is the modern family. The parents sorely vexed.
The daughter is embarrassed, her mom and dad perplexed.
Why can they not communicate? Where is the veneration
that seems to be missing in this modern generation?

Parents cannot understand because they don’t recall
all of the resentment, embarrassment and gall
that they once felt for parents back when they were teens.
This disdain from their daughter was passed down in their genes.

This too shall pass, I’d like to say. Give it a little time.
The year will come when being parents will not be a crime.
Her growing up and having kids will be the end of it.
You’ll be her heroes once again when you can baby sit!

 

Words of the day are quench, parody and castigation.

It seems that Daily Addictions is no longer publishing prompts, so if someone knows of a daily word prompt not given below, please leave a comment for me in this post with a permanent link to that prompt. (One that will work everyday)

Here are today’s links:
https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/11/12/rdp-monday-quench/
https://fivedotoh.com/2018/11/12/fowc-with-fandango-parody/
https://wordofthedaychallenge.wordpress.com/2018/11/12/castigation/

Christmas Gifts

Click on first photo to increase the size of all and to read captions.

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My mother was the hero of Christmas. Decorated waste paper baskets from the church bazaar, that “Skunk” game I’d been begging for, played once and never again, that one last doll when I was eleven, purchased more for her own nostalgia than my need. The tree went up as the orange and brown of Thanksgiving was disposed of, and the jubilation of Christmas stretched on until New Years, when the tree came down.

For my dad, however, the end of Christmas was never quick enough. The tree lights hurt his eyes, he said, but I always wondered if there was more to it than that: some sparsity of the Christmases of his past that had broken its spirit in the heart of a young boy raised on a South Dakota prairie that furnished few rewards, let alone extravagent Christmases, but still expecting more, perhaps, than an orange in the toe of his sock. A pony, maybe, or a stick of hard candy, a jaunty new blue winter stocking cap or simply a mother  more given to Christmas than his own busy midwife of a mother, always off to somewhere else.

In our mad months of enthusiasm over tinsel, ornaments resurrected from the attic and the mystery of wrapped boxes, we overlooked the remnants of that little boy’s pain, but some part of each of us, detecting it by some subconscious radar, never gave up trying to heal those hurts of former Christmases with tiny Black Hills Gold tie tacks, new wallets and papier-mâché sculptures meant to prod him from his apathy. It never quite worked, except for that sculpture, ugly in its craziness, laughed and pondered over, then left to age and weather on their unroofed patio until its demise, giving one small hope of reviving a small boy’s wonder over Christmas and the unexpected. His forbearance over the years made him, perhaps, another subtler hero of Christmas, just in his putting up with it.

The prompt words for today are orange, game, hero, jubilation and quick.  Here are the links:

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2018/09/11/rdp-tuesday-prompt-orange/
https://fivedotoh.com/2018/09/11/fowc-with-fandango-game/
https://wordofthedaychallenge.wordpress.com/2018/09/11/hero/
https://dailyaddictions542855004.wordpress.com/2018/09/09/daily-addictions-2018-week-36/jubilation
https://dversepoets.com/2018/09/10/quadrille-64-quickwrite-something/

Near: dVerse Poets Pub, Apr 28, 2018

Near

My father went from obscurity to a sort of small renown.
He worked hard as a rancher and the mayor of our town.
He met my mother at a dance in her sister’s borrowed gown–
both of them lonely visitors to a faraway strange town.
I’ve thought about it often since we laid him down.
Why didn’t I ask more questions? Why didn’t I write it down?

Many a calf he helped to birth and many a field he’s mown.
Avoided his mother if he could–long-suffering aged crone.
Not many highways traveled,nor many airwaves flown.
He died in his angry daughter’s arms–the two of them alone.
I’ve thought of it often till regrets have turned into a drone.

His eyes were always looking further over yon.
Over a ripening field of wheat or over a fresh-mowed lawn.
Working, often, until dark and up again at dawn.
A man of camaraderie and wit and brains and brawn.

He liked to tell a story and sing a rousing tune.
Stand on the porch at midnight to piss under the moon.
He gave me a turquoise ring, a baby rabbit and a coon.

Now that he’s very gone away.  Now that I’m very grown,
I know my flesh is of his flesh. My bone is of his bone.

And I wish that I’d asked more questions. That we’d both been less alone.

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The form of this poem is one consisting of six stanzas, the first with 6 lines and each thereafter one less line.  Each line in each stanza rhymes with all the other lines in that stanza and each stanza’s rhyme is a near rhyme to the last. The name of this form is Sylvestrian Near Rhyme and since “Near” describes both the theme and form of my poem, it is also the name of the poem.  And yes, I did make up the form!  I’d love it if poets given to rhyming and meter would attempt the form and send me the results as comments or a link to this blog.

For dVerse Poets Pub

Wheat

(To get a larger view of photos and to read captions, please click on first photo and arrows. To get back to read the essay, click on X at upper left of photo screen.)

Wheat

A stalk of it usually extended from between his teeth when he was out inspecting a field come June or July. It collected in his pants cuffs and in the hat band of his broad-brimmed work hat.  Bags of it wintered in a huge pile that filled our garage one year when there had been a good crop and all the barns and silos were full to bursting. The cars stood outside in the gravel driveway just off the alley and behind the garage that winter and our house was strangely empty of mice as they took shelter in the garage instead. Our outside cat grew fat even though he rarely came to the back door to be fed.

Ours was a little ecological system all its own.  Mice feasted on  grain spilled from burst seams in the garage. The cat feasted on the mice and we feasted on the steaks of Black Angus cattle who had eaten the ensilage from wheat stripped of its grains.

If I have always worked hard to furnish the bread and butter of my life, it is wheat that has furnished the dessert–my college education, my first car and, after my dad died and I inherited 1/6 interest in the farm and ranch, my first house.

Our lives were run by wheat and cattle.  During the summer, no time for family vacations. Wheat and cattle were my dad’s alarm clock. He rose before sunrise every morning and was often asleep in his chair before sunset, wheat spilling out of his pants cuffs or high top boots or stuck by the hooked spines of its beards to the fabric footstool in front of his rocker.

He slept hard, my father, and rose early to insure everything worked to the cycle of the nature that had surrounded him from the time, as a three-year-old boy, he had stepped off the Union Pacific train that had brought him and his mother to the little South Dakota town both he and later I grew up in. As they descended the metal steps, my grandmother had held one hand down to grasp the hand of my three-year-old father. The other was extended upward, holding a cage with two canaries. My grandfather and teenaged aunts were there to greet him and my grandmother, who, even though she had been the one who decreed that they should leave their safe security in Iowa to claim a homestead on the Dakota prairie,  had not traveled by wagon, but instead had sent her young girls and husband on ahead to prepare a way for her and her youngest.

My grandfather––a Dutch immigrant who was not a farmer, but rather a baker better suited for working with wheat in its miled state––did what most people did when my grandmother issued demands.  He complied.  It made for a hard life for them all–fighting the harsh South Dakota winters out on the plains as well as prairie fires, plagues of grasshoppers and schizophrenic weather that could furnish either drought, unseasonal rain or hail–all of which could ruin a wheat crop. So that later, when I asked my dad why he never frequented the games parlor where the other men played poker and lofted a beer or two, he said that he had no need for games of chance. His whole life as a rancher and farmer had been the biggest gamble of all.

My grandparents never did learn the correct formula, but my father, surrounded by the prairie from age three to seventy, learned its secrets well. Enough to buy out his parents as well as others who tried and failed. Enough to ensure the comfort of his wife and children and his grandchildren. Enough to die at what, now that I am nearly  69,  seems like the young age of 70.

Year after year, as he tilled the rich South Dakota soil to plant the grains of wheat he’d saved to seed a new crop––he seeded my life as well, along with that of my mother, my sisters, my nieces and nephews–all of our lives growing and prospering from those millions of shafts of grain that he planted and watched over and harvested and stored and replanted over a period  of fifty years.

The WordPress prompt today was “Grain.”