For several weeks,
I thought the grief process about losing my Dad
was not going to be too bad. I was working for
Timothy still, doing handyman jobs at various
locations. The physical labor felt good, as well
as allowing me some time to reflect, during repetitive
tasks. I thought a lot about my Dad.
When I was about 8 or 9, we had moved to Farmington,
New Mexico, and my Dad and I spent a lot of
time together. Later, that wouldn’t be
the case, but at the time, it felt quite nice.
He was a salesman for an oilfield service company,
and had to make calls at well sites. Sometimes
I would be allowed to go with him, and it was
a real treat; I would have to get up very early
on a Saturday morning, but it was worth it.
I remembered the smell of fresh coffee as he
poured a cup from his thermos, and words coming
from the radio in Navajo, because that was the
only channel on at 5:30 a.m. I slept a lot as
he drove, but then would groggily wake as he
nudged me, when we approached the location.
It was very exciting to be on a rig site, especially
since if my Dad was there when they were about
to fracture or acidize a well, there would be
a lot of extra equipment, sometimes the noise
was overwhelming, and the whole thing was very
I felt special, since I was usually the only
child around. The service hands from my Dad’s
company were very protective of me, but sometimes
they would play tricks on me. Like the time
they were about to perforate the well. In that
operation they set off charges on the end of
a wire line, deep within the earth, at the bottom
of a well bore. They told me to go outside their
truck and hold on to the line so I could feel
when the charge went off, but to hold on tight
because it would shake me around quite a bit.
I did, and they must have had a great laugh
at the sight of me hanging on for dear life,
expecting a thrill ride. I felt a minor tremor,
which they told me was the charge going off.
They kidded me about it, but with a lot of affection.
One time, Dad told me that one of the rig hands
had discovered an Indian site on a bluff high
above the location, and there was even some
old Indian corn scattered around. He knew I
loved to explore, so when the hand pointed out
a small niche under an overhang in the bluff,
I quickly scampered up and found the site. There
were some small dried up kernels of corn around
a rudimentary campsite, and the discovery was
very exciting and amazing.
As I looked down, I could see the whole drill
site laid out below me—the rig, pump trucks,
tank trucks, cars and pickups, and from my perspective
high above it, I felt like the king of it all.
I could see my Dad and several hands down below
looking up at me, and I waved to them. I climbed
down the bluff, began running toward a flat
piece of ground, when my Dad ran toward me,
waving at me to stop. He yelled across that
I should throw a rock on the flat ground, and
when I did, it sank from sight with a plop.
I had been about to run across the slurry pit
for the used drilling mud—a muddy pond,
but crusted on top, making it look solid. My
stomach sank at the thought of falling into
that muck. I sheepishly waved at Dad and walked
around the pit, grateful at how he had saved
I was painting that morning, and I chuckled
to myself as I dipped my brush for more paint,
at how shocked I would have been to fall into
that mud. That was almost as funny as Jackson’s
Lake. It was a small lake outside Farmington
and Dad and I would go fishing there occasionally.
We’d rent a small boat and motor out to
the middle of the lake, then drop a couple of
lines in the water. I was about 10 at the time.
One time my boredom kicked in, and I asked Dad
if it was a lake you could swim in.
“Sure, son, you can swim if you want.
Go ahead.” He didn’t mention the
fact that if I were to go thrashing around in
the water it would likely ruin the fishing.
I don’t think he was that committed as
a fisherman anyway.
A sudden thought occurred to me. “But
there are fish in that water, right?”
“That’s why we’re here,”
he said with a smile.
“Will they bite me?”
“Son, I think the fish will be more scared
of you than you are of them.”
I wasn’t so sure. I sat and thought about
it for a minute.
“But I don’t want to get my clothes
“Strip down and swim in your underwear.”
I blanched at the thought, but then looked
around. The only sign of life was at the small
dock in the far distance. I couldn’t think
of any other objections, and felt like I had
committed myself when I asked about swimming,
so I reluctantly began to peel off my clothes.
Images of the murky darkness underneath the
boat ran through my head, little fishes waiting
to chew my toes. Finally, I stood on the bow
of the boat in my underwear, breathing deeply,
then just jumped off the boat. I was an excellent
swimmer, and spent most of the summer in the
public pool in town, but this wasn’t about
swimming. I had also seen monster movies, like
“The Blob,” with Steve McQueen,
and “Creature from the Black Lagoon.”
Suddenly this was about the monsters laying
in wait in the blackness of the water. As I
hit the water, I was turning back toward the
boat, paddling to grasp it as quickly as possible,
and pull myself up and in and out of danger’s
My Dad sat there watching me, a squint on his
face as he tried not to grin.
“So, is that all you’re going to
“Yeah, Dad, I think I’ve had enough.”
“OK, then.” He handed me a towel
and turned back to his fishing, to let me regain
my composure and a bit of dignity.
For some reason, I thought of the building
projects. When I was in my 20’s, Dad and
I had built a trellis along one side of a back
porch of a house we were living in, so my Mom
could have some privacy. Another time, I believe
it was about the fall of 1981, Dad had decided
to build a cover for the back porch of their
house in Tulsa. It was to be a pretty substantial
cover, anchored by 4 by 4 posts at the outer
corners, then more 4 by 4s running from the
corners and connecting it to the roof. We designed
it, did all our measurements very carefully,
and spent a couple of days cutting lumber. We
cemented the posts in, and when we set the cross
members in place from the roof and from corner
to corner, nothing fit right. It was all off
by about 4 inches, and we were horrified, thinking
we’d have to do everything over. Then
we realized we’d put the cross members
on top of the corner post in the wrong order.
When we switched them, everything suddenly fit
perfectly in place. We laughed long and hard
about that, spiced with relief that we had not
made a major mistake.
The thoughts seemed to flow in no time sequence
or order, because next I remembered the time
he wanted me to give blood with him. I was about
17, we lived in Fort Worth, and he asked me
to go run and errand with him. I went along,
not knowing where we were going, and was puzzled
when he pulled up into the parking lot of a
hospital. He said he was going to give blood
for a friend who was having surgery. He looked
at me expectantly, and I was horrified to realize
that he wanted me to donate also.
“So, do you want to give blood?”
“No, no, I don’t,” was all
I could say, as I shook my head vigorously.
I could see he was disappointed, but I didn’t
care. I had hated needles since I was a child
and there was no way I was doing this. I sat
in his car until he returned, the Band-Aid on
his forearm mute evidence of his donation. We
were silent driving home, and I was confused
as to why he thought I would do what he had
asked. Didn’t he know I hated needles?
I frowned as I dipped the brush into the bucket
and went back to work.
Later that week I remembered crossing the creek.
When we were still living in Farmington, several
times in my teens, Dad had taken me on hunting
trips with a group of men. Those were terrible
experiences for me — trying to sleep in
a smoke-filled trailer as the men played poker
and drank. Driving around in the cold, sitting
in the back of a pickup with the other kids
as the men sat in the warm cab drinking whiskey
and looking for deer. So I had no fond memories
of hunting, until this one.
I was about 19 and had come home from Texas
Tech one weekend during hunting season. My Dad
and I went down to Aunt Alta’s farm house
outside Waxahachie because she had access to
a hunting lease we could use. We got up early
and drove out to the lease, and began walking
across the land. We came to a small creek—six
inches deep, but about ten feet wide. I was
wearing my waterproof boots, but my Dad had
forgotten his boots and was wearing only tennis
shoes. He would be miserable if he had to hunt
in wet tennis shoes, so I carried him across
the creek on my back, then went back for the
rifles. It didn’t seem like a big deal
at the time, but later there seemed to be some
sort of symbolic significance to that act. My
Dad crystallized it about a year before he died,
when he told me, “When you did that, it
really hit home for me that you had become a
man.” Exactly! That’s why I had
remembered that small incident for 20 years.
It symbolized the time I was strong enough to
carry my father’s weight—to take
on the load of being a man.
Why had I remembered that now? I couldn’t
remember what brought it up. I could tell how
strong the memory was—my feet were cold,
deathly cold. Granted, I was outside in December—but
in Houston, and it was a relatively warm day.
No, my feet were cold like they had felt while
I was wading across that icy creek, the weight
of my father on my back.