- Was it the owls and crickets, or the stream flowing nearby…that brought dad back into mind?
- The old days and the days of today, there was love in both places, but so different.
- It’s something about campfire smoke in the morning at sunrise, it makes your eyes wanna cry.
By Larry Whiteley
He woke up from a good night’s sleep and lay there in his tent, listening to owls hooting and crickets chirping. For some reason, he got to thinking about his Dad. “Haven’t done that in a long time,” he thought to himself. He slipped out of his sleeping bag, put on some clothes, and went out into the early morning.
There were still a few hot coals in the campfire, so he added some kindling, blew on the coals, and the fire came to life again. He gradually added bigger sticks until the fire was ready for his coffee pot on the grate. As he waited, he looked up to see stars still twinkling and listened to the sounds of flowing water in the nearby creek. He enjoyed his time alone in the outdoors, but he was beginning to miss his wife and family.
Maybe that’s why his Dad kept sneaking into his thoughts that morning. His Dad had been gone for many years, but there were things he needed to say to him and never had. It was a good time to do that. To tell him something that had been in his heart and mind for a long, long time. And, no one was around to think he was crazy talking to someone that wasn’t there.
You know, Dad, I don’t remember you ever telling me you loved me. I don’t remember you ever putting your arms around me and hugging me. I’m sorry, but it’s hard for me to tell you I love you when I never heard or felt it from you. I realize now that your father never did that with you, so you didn’t know-how. That’s probably the way he grew up, so he didn’t know how either.
All I remember about Grandpa is he never smiled. He never seemed happy. I guess his Dad was probably that way, too, so not showing someone you loved them got passed down to you. I wish it had been different, but it wasn’t. Excuse me for a minute, smoke from this campfire must have got in my eyes.
I do remember the only time you took me fishing. You and my other Grandpa took me along to the river with you. But you never let me fish and never tried to show me how. I do remember getting in trouble for throwing rocks in the water. I also remember the turtle I hid from you because I was afraid if you found out I snuck it back home with me, I would get in trouble again.
That was when we lived with Grandma and Grandpa down on the farm. I don’t remember you doing much with me as I grew up there. You worked for the railroad and were gone a lot. Mom worked in town, and grandma was always busy helping with chores and cooking our meals. At least she would take the time to put her arms around me and kiss me on the head once in a while. I loved her smile. Grandpa had to milk the cows, feed the pigs, butcher the hogs, cut and put up the hay, fix what was broken, and a lot of other stuff, so he didn’t have much time for me either.
When I was young, I spent a lot of time by myself wandering the fields and forests around the farm. I remember pretending to be a soldier like you were. My imagination had me fighting the Germans. When I wasn’t fighting them, I was dodging arrows from the Indians and riding off on my horse. You weren’t around to see me doing that, Dad.
When I got old enough to help around the farm, I gathered the eggs for grandma and helped her pluck the chickens. Grandpa taught me how to milk the cows by hand and take a bucket to the spring to haul water back for grandma. He never said thanks, but at least I got a pat once in a while. That’s something I never got from you, Dad, but I know you were busy working. Wow, smoke’s getting in my eyes again.
Two things happened during that time that would eventually end up being a big part of my life. When I got my work done, Grandpa would let me use his old fishing rod, and I went off and taught myself how to fish. Later he let me use his old .22 rifle, and I became a hunter. The love I was seeking from you, I found in the great outdoors.
Were you proud of me when I joined the military, Dad? I wrote you, but I don’t think I got any letters back. Guess you were too busy. I’ll be right back. This campfire smoke is nasty. Got to blow my nose and wipe my eyes.
O.K., where was I? Oh yeah, were you there when I got married? I don’t remember that either. Like you, I made mistakes too, and for that, I am deeply sorry. God forgave me, and I forgive you, Dad.
My wife and I tell our kids and grandkids we love them, and we hug them. That’s important in today’s world. They have grown up fishing, hunting, camping, and in church. It has helped shape them into the good adults and young people they are. They have a lot of happy memories. Our kids have passed it on to their kids, and they too will pass it on to their kids and grandkids. You will be glad to know that the chain is broken. What a better world it would be if all kids grew up knowing that they are loved. It would be even better if kids grew up learning to enjoy God’s great outdoors and all it has to offer. It changes lives.
Well, I have to go now. My son and grandson will be here in a little while, and we’re going fishing. I’m glad we had this talk, Dad. I’ve been needing to do this for a long time.
He finished his coffee, wiped his eyes one last time, smiled, and started getting his fishing stuff together.