Dad was driving about 20 mph, looking side to side at fields of corn and beans, his fields or anybody else’s fields. Inwardly, I groaned. A field check. I should have known. This is a field check drive, at a speed I could do on a bicycle.
Big pauses were the essence of Dad's storytelling, that with minute facial expressions. He was subtle in his words with just a dab of expression. Raising an eyebrow spoke volumes. Clearing his throat could mean just about anything; it depended on how long and how deep. A sigh brought weight into his story. He was brilliant.
I leaned back against red vinyl torn seat, resting my eyes and waiting. There was no need for me to look out at cornfields, as I already knew what they looked like.
“My grandpa, they called him “LB”, Louis Benjamin, come back from being Union 100st Illinois Regiment soldier in Civil War. His own pa had bought up businesses and farm land, ‘cause some men didn’t come marchin’ home from places like….”
"LB got just about everything when his ole pa died. LB married good, a young woman with a big family, smart people. Annnnnd. That’s when my pa was born.”
|Ma Amy Peck and Grandma Laura Peck sitting. Ol' LB Peck standing|
Dad had gone to a place he had kept dark for over nearly 40 years: Pa. His father had died when Dad wasn't yet ten and weight of responsibility fell like a heavy brick on his boy shoulders.
|The invoice for the shiny black car; I found it in the folder Grandma Peck had made then. Now it is nearly 80 some years ago. It was just waiting for someone to find it.|
"Pa had tooooo much pride. Went out and bought himself a new Chevy, $675 dollars, plus some more. Don't know how much more."
Emerging from itchy green stalks, he had that smile of his, not quite a smile but more of a lifted corner of his mouth. Corn was just fine, ears full, silk cascading down. More silk, more kernels, more kernels, better crop.
Dad cleared up a bit of phlegm, spit out the side of truck. Birds flew off. Speed did not pick up, not one little bit. He wiped his face with a red kerchief and blew his nose. He was sweating. I was sweating. Teenagers sweat more than any other person on the planet, or at least in the Midwest.
"Well, my pa, he withered under her pepper. Smaller he got, louder Ma yelled." An almost smirk shaped his face. An amused smirk was not far behind.
"WHAT did you THINK you were doing?!!" and "YOU are TAKING that back right this minute! WHAT will farmers LOOK at this and THINK?? Well, I'll TELL you what they will think, what'll they say..."
Chuckling: a rare addition to his stories.
"I will TELL you what... they will SAY: Oh those Pecks...they live in castles on a hill...then we borrow money from them...That Dorus Peck, nose up in the air, black car shining at us...well, those PECKS!...
Your ma, oh your ma, she will SKIN YOU ALIVE! Drag you to church and SLAM you down at that altar. YOU will NOT escape what she'll say!..."
Pa said, "Buddy, let's go for a ride."
"Well, now, that sounded just fine. Jumped onto the shiny black leather seats, fine white stitching, and we took off. Ma watched us leave, and I tell you, steam was still comin’ off top of her head.”
My shorts were riding up my butt, with the back of my thighs were sweat-glued to vinyl. Glued, cemented, pasted, stuck, adhered to, whatever. When we eventually would arrive home and doors opened, I knew I would peel my legs from vinyl, like a band aide ripping off a hairy leg.
Oh, please. Can't you drive any faster? Step on the pedal just a little more?
"Pa's head hung low, then he leaned over, wrapped long fingers over his face. Now, Sis. Pa was a tall man but didn't have much muscle to him. It didn't take him long to fall. Pa folded up like a lawn chair, crumbling down on his fancy rug. He and Ma started praying, whispering together."
"Every single family in town and farms lost everything. Bank went bust, stores shut down, and all farm loans dried up. Pa couldn’t bring himself to call their loans, take their farms. Ol' LB would have, but Pa forgave them all their debts.”
Oh, dear Lord! Not the Bluff Road! Not that!
"Ma, she was still mad. It was one silent ride back home. Before Pa died…” Dad’s voice got husky. “Before Pa died, all he had was a farm, the one Ol' LB gave 'im. Pa worked on his farm, just like all farmers. See that, Ol' Dorus Peck? In coveralls? Where's your black car, Peck?"
"He was never strong...wasn't a farmer, didn't have much farming sense. Ma always said it was being sick with a quiet disease, that black car,a mighty big pride, being a plain farmer. When he knew he'd never wear a white suit with a black bow tie...that was just too much."
"Maybe it was. Just know his heart broke that day.”
Dad turned around, after one more field check. The beans were looking good, and he had his half-smile. That was his happy face.
Dad strode off, head down, hands in his pockets. I heard Mom calling me. “Susie, come peel the potatoes. Oh, go pick some green onions…” and a list of other chores.
With great hesitancy, I climbed out. Rip, rip. I twisted around for a view of my butt and vinyl. Vinyl glistened with sweat droplets in a horse-shoe indent in the seat. Shorts were soaked, like I'd wet my pants. Thighs were bright red, like tomatoes which waited for me in the kitchen
My brothers would have a field day about this one. Sweat has its way of finding opportunities to torture, as did my brothers.
But, the trip was worth peeking into Dad's life, no matter how hot, how sweaty. I watched Dad disappear into our old red barn. I knew he’d be there a while.