It Was A Long Time Ago
pg 4 of The guitar player
I had found out purely by accident about my fathers past. It was something that just wasn't discussed in our home back then. My father kept to himself a lot as work around the farm seemed to find him lost in his own world. All of us kids remember the screams in the middle of the nights and mothers voice telling him it was alright, he was home and it was only a bad dream. Therapy for him was working the land inherited from his parents who'd inherited it from theirs; that and of course his motorcycle and Mutt.
It was a long time ago at my cousins house in the city we were playing in the basement and knocked over some box's. Inside were all kinds of neat army Ranger stuff. A photo album and loose pictures to. Some of them were of my Dad and his buddies. Also some letters from folks. I read one, which I should not have done, but it was thanking him for helping try to save their son Phifer when shot in battle. I'd heard the name before in the middle of the night when Dad screamed out. When I prodded Mother about it all she would say was that it had been a friend of Dads. They'd grown up together. I later found out from Grandpa that that was where the motorcycle came from, Dads friend Phifer.
Times were when he would take off for days at a time on that old bike of his, like a lost and wondering soul trying to find something that wasn't there. Usually when he went on these trips he took this little dog he called Mutt along with him. Dad could be in the farthest off from reality and that mutt would seem to know and climb up in Dad's lap. They could sit there like that for hours on end with Dad stroking him and talking the little fellow almost raw. But Mutt never flinched one little bit. Everywhere Dad went on the farm Mutt tagged right along and more than once killed a moccasin down by our pond. Dad would sit down there never speaking much, just fishing and listening to the sounds of nature.
Telling you this he seems like a man who wasn't there for all of us but he was, he truly was there for us. Never did our family need for anything at all. Maybe there weren't the newest things or fanciest of things at home but rest assured we never went without. Mother and he held each other all the time, walked in the moonlight together in the evening down to the pond when they thought us asleep. Our little sister would giggle when sometimes we spied on them from the upstairs farm house hall window. In summer the windows at each end of the hall would be open for the breeze and Mother and Dad could be heard laughing out loud. They loved each other there was no doubt. They didn't argue or fight about anything that any of us can recollect. Our parents backed each other up on the others decision. If they did disagree it was talked about with respect of each other. Mother understood my father more than he understood himself. When he needed some space to clear his mind she didn't try to stand in his way, neither him hers. They were a couple but also individuals and they understood that. Most people never will.
There was one time when I got into a slight of trouble at school. The Principal took me in his office and gave me a paddling before having the school call home for Dad. It was a surprise when Mother walked in the Principals office thirty minutes later. The Principal stood up and addressed my mother. She was visibly upset about the paddling and said as much while she reached out her hand to me to leave.
"I'm sorry you had to come all this way mam," the principal said, "I thought Hank would be coming to pick up your son."
"Oh! Well rest assured that you are not speaking to my husband right now but rather to me. My husband, Hank, would not take kindly to you paddling our children."
"It is the schools policy to discipline the children in this school and ---"
"Mr. Lyles! I do not care what this schools policy is about this sort of action. If any spanking or paddling is to be done WE the parents will decide upon the punishment!"
With that we turned and mother marched us out of school with the utmost dignity. I'd a sworn there was smoke coming from her eyes in the Principals office. Mother didn't even tell Dad about the visit to school as I helped her lug in the groceries we got on the way home.
That Summer our cousin, Jim, came to stay. He was from the outskirts of the city but new the woods and outdoors man type things awfully good. I recon that's why Dad liked having him to visit us. He was more like us than his own family. Jim appreciated nature and stuff, telling Dad that the city was to hard on a soul, nothing but concrete and buildings. His only solice were the big woods a black man owned behind them. The old black man loved to share his music with Jim and was teaching him to play guitar.
Something happened that summer that nobody would believe, in fact when I told kids at school the next fall they called me a liar and laughed at me. Jim and I were out on the farm riding dirt bikes when we rode down to some shade trees to cool off. Dad was there eating an apple and his mutt was right there with him. Dad had his old door less Ford pickup backed up under a large old cottonwood so he could take his afternoon nap. He offered us some ice cold water from the large cooler before pouring some in the mutts bowl. While we were all making small talk mutt ran out in the field after something. He was running and hopping about trying to catch something unseen to us. Dad pointed and laughed so hard at the spectacle that it got me and Jim all in tears watching dad laughing at the mutt.
All of a sudden this Hawk swoops down and snatches Mutt up and begins to fly off. Mutt yelped and wriggled trying to get loose of the grip. Momentarily the Hawk lost hold and the little fellow fell to the ground stunned. Dad started to run and waved his arms to get the Hawks attention but it didn't work. That old Hawk came back fast to the ground and for a second was on top of Mutt then lit off again with dads little mutt in it's grip. The Hawk was flying low towards another clumping of trees as dad yelled at me to grab his gun quick. I snapped out of my daze, hopped off my motorcycle letting it fall as I leaped to the truck to grab his rifle. Dad had always carried that old rifle in the truck but I swear I'd never seen him so much as take it off the rack. Jim had his bike running and I hopped on the back as we sped off to where dad stood not turning an eye from that hawk. We rode up beside him when he reached out to take the rifle still keeping his eyes sharpe on the Hawk. Jim made a hard left turn right after dad had his hand on that old rifle and we dumped the bike, spilling us on the ground. From where I lay I could still see dad standing fast in that cloud of dust, slightly forward, sling around his wrist stone still. Jim and I looked towards the clump of trees where the Hawk had lit with mutt. Mutt was moving but we couldn't tell if the Hawk was moving him or if he was still alive when all of a sudden there was a loud crack from the rifle that made my body jump. I was so startled that the next shot hadn't even registered yet in my head when the Hawk had begun to take flight with mutt just before feathers flew and mutt fell ten feet into the brush. It was a hell of a shot like something right out of a John Wayne movie. Cool but unbelievable.
When we got to Mutt he was still alive but badly hurt. Dad ripped off his t-shirt and wrapped Mutt up to try and stop the bleeding best he could. He told me to get the truck so I ran as fast as I could to get it. Dad was walking towards me when I pulled up to him with Jim right beside him. Carefully Dad put Mutt in the truck and roared off in a cloud of bouncing Dust across the fields as we watched.
Jim spoke first after a few moments. "I sure hope ole Phifer makes it through."
"Who? Who is Phifer? What are you talking about Jim?" My face in a large frown staring at him.
"The dog. Your dads dog Phifer, I hope he pulls through. He kept saying he wasn't going to let them have you yet to the dog" ,Jim looked towards the Tree clump, "That was just one crazy, one hell of a shot."
I just stood there and Jim walked over to his dirt bike to upright it. Me, I couldn't help but wonder what other secrets my father had. Suddenly it occurred to me that my father was just waiting for me to ask him about himself. None of us kids ever asked him about things like that. Maybe that was part of the problem, him wanting his kids to take more of an interest in him other than his being just the provider.