Hold the Light


Hold the light. That’s about the only command I can remember from my Dad growing up. I idolized him, as I think most lucky kids do. So I was his shadow.

Whenever I got the chance I would go to work with him, no matter what the work might be. For a time he wore the hat as town Marshal for Huntington, Utah. What that meant, in reality, was that he was chief of the volunteer fire department, in charge of law enforcement, grave digging, and utilities for the city. He spent most of his time digging ditches, graves, and putting in water and sewer lines.

The vehicle he usually drove while at work was an old backhoe. When I got the chance to go to work with him (I was seven or so), I rode in the bucket (I know, I’m a Safety Guy now, go figure).

When he didn’t work for the city, he worked on the farm. He cut off the handle of a shovel and I would shadow him (my cut-off shovel in my hands, his big one in his) as he checked the fields and irrigated. It was and is the greatest memory of my childhood. There wasn’t anything my Dad couldn’t do.

Whenever one of our cars or trucks would break down, he would go about fixing it with whatever he had on hand, and I would hold the light. I’d climb up on the bumper and hold the light while he changed an alternator, adjusted a carburetor, or switched out a radiator hose. He would tell me “hold the light” and I would do my best, but I have to admit, I let it drift more than I should have.

But he never told me what he was doing. It was always just “hold the light.” So I held it.

I never really learned what he was doing or why he was doing it, and his lips would quiver while he worked, which wasn’t a good sign, so I didn’t ask as many questions as I should have.

As a child, the one time I can remember him giving me clear directions was when I dug out the basement of our house in Murray. I was 13 or so. We lived in a rambler and Dad worked for a construction company. The president of the company would let him borrow equipment from time to time on the weekends and one weekend he came home with a backhoe and the memories of riding in the bucket made me smile.

He dug a trench in the front yard, below the foundation and we stared down at the dirt beneath the house. He handed me a shovel and a pick and said, “Start digging.” But before I did, we got on hands and knees and went into the crawl space. He pointed out each support under the house and told me, “Don’t dig here.”

I spent that summer digging under our house. When the digging got too far to throw it into the trench, he lowered down a wheelbarrow. I would fill up the trench and he would borrow the backhoe to remove what I had dug out.

In the fall the digging was done and he poured concrete and put up cinderblock walls along the foundation. What help I could provide was pretty much “hold the light.” I wasn’t strong enough to haul the concrete in a wheelbarrow. But he was.

When the work was done and it was time to build the interior walls, he took me into the basement and told me “tell me where you want your room.” I drew out a pretty big one, I have to admit. It was much larger than the room he shared with my Mom. And he put up the walls. I stayed there until the day I went out on my own.

As an adult, the only time I can recall him giving me instruction was after I was a father myself.  I was in the Air Force and found myself a single parent without transportation. My car was a 1976 Cutlass Supreme and the water pump had gone out. I had no idea how to fix it and as an Airman First Class, I certainly couldn’t pay anyone to fix it for me.

So I called Dad collect (for you millennials, collect calls were a thing, look it up) and he walked me through how to replace a water pump and I was able to stop carrying my son on my shoulders to daycare while I went to work.

Decades later, the only thing I regret about my upbringing is that my Dad told me to “hold the light” and never explained to me why. What was he doing? Why was he doing it? How did it work?

I resent my Dad for nothing. He was my hero then, and he still is. But I regret the things he didn’t teach me, because I am still in need of the learning.

With most of my children now raised, I look back and think that I wasn’t very good at teaching them what I had learned, either. I didn’t say “hold the light” because I was making it up as I went along (anyone that has seen my work can plainly see this).

So, if you know how to do something well, pass it along to those interested.

I still remember how to run a shovel and a pick, ride in a backhoe bucket . . . and hold the light.

That is all.


Small Talk with a Wave


Our neighbor came over last night to offer us some fresh peaches. We were grateful, because we sure do love peaches. I answered the door, and if it had remained a conversation between the two of us, it would have been a pretty straightforward exchange.

“Would you like some peaches?” My neighbor would have asked.

“We would love some peaches!” I would exclaim.

I would take the peaches, thank my neighbor, and call it a pleasant conversation.

But my wife came to the door with me, and once the peaches passed from my neighbor’s hand to my own, the small talk commenced.

I am not an expert on small talk. I seldom, if ever engage in this alien form of communication. It baffles me, actually. If small talk is a muscle in your body, mine is woefully undeveloped. My wife, however, has a small talk muscle of Herculean strength. So, when the small talk commenced, I exited the scene, because that is what I do. Someone who doesn’t small talk is usually uncomfortable around those who do. I just sit there, trying to think of something to say with a constipated look on my face from the strain of exercising mental muscles I do not possess.

I don’t think I’m an unfriendly person (well, I’m at least not openly hostile). I just think a good conversation can normally be condensed into one word: “Hey!”

H = How are you?

E = Everything’s fine.

Y= Yes, we should definitely talk again soon.

The beautiful thing about the “Hey Conversation,” is that you don’t actually have to say the words. A wave is the sign language version of the “Hey Conversation.” And if your hands are busy, a nod of the head accomplishes the same thing.

It’s a benefit in a relationship to have one person without the ability to engage in small talk. It makes getting things done much easier, like going to the grocery store. I can make a run to the local market three and a half hours faster than my wife. When I arrive home, my wife will ask me if I saw anybody while I was there.

“I saw Bob.”

“Bob? What did Bob have to say?”

“He said, Hey!”

So while my wife and our neighbor engaged in small talk, I went to our bedroom. I napped for a time, clipped my toenails, then fished the lint out of my bellybutton and used it to knit myself a nice pair of socks. After a while I thought I would step outside and watch the moon come up. I stared at the stars, meditated and contemplated the meaning of life.

I listened to the crickets and in a moment of deep insight I comprehended what they had been trying to communicate to humanity all these ages: “The end is coming. The end is coming. The end is coming.” Or maybe it was just “Hey.” It was hard to be sure.

Eventually my wife came out to find me. Her small talk with our neighbor had ended.

She sat beside me, smiled, and said, “Hey!”

Which is why I love her so.

Putting Papa Out to Pasture


My wife and I had the chance to spend most of the weekend with two of our granddaughters while their Mom and Dad were in the hospital to welcome their new sister into the world.

The oldest of their girls, Paisyn, isn’t quite three-years-old, and she reminds me of her mother so much it hurts. On Saturday she was riding her stick horse all over the house. She would gallop into the living room; rub the side of her stick horse’s head and say, “Whoa, boy, slow down. Settle down.” Then she would gallop away.

Later that morning she walked over to me with her stick horse in her hand. She propped it up beside the couch I was sitting on. She had attached a lead rope to its bridle and she handed it to me. “Hold onto him, Papa,” she said. Then she went to her room to play.

Whenever she came back into the living room, if I wasn’t holding onto the lead rope, she would put it back in my hands and sternly say, “Hold him, Papa.”

In the afternoon she came back to me with the lead rope in her hand. She wrapped it around my left wrist, slipped it into a knot, and pulled. It cinched tight (I asked her parents who taught her to do this, and they said she taught herself).

“Come on horse,” she said, and gave it a tug. So, being an obedient horse, I stood up and let her lead me. She led me into the kitchen, where my glass of ice water was sitting on the counter. She let me have a drink, and I was grateful her parents didn’t keep hay (or a curry comb) in the kitchen. Then she led me back to the couch.

She removed the lead rope and smiled, and I smiled back. “Thanks for putting me in the field for the night,” I said.

She looked at me quizzically, raised her eyebrows, and reattached the lead rope, only tighter this time. The circulation in my hand was being cut off.

“Come on, Papa,” she said.

I let her lead me again. We were heading for the back door. “Where are we going now?” I asked.

“To the field,” she said.

“I don’t really want to go to the field, Paisyn,” I said (it may have been a plea).

So she led me back to the couch and removed the lead rope.

That was a close one. I know there’s hay out there. Maybe even a curry comb.

SumDaze – Raised by my Hero


I’ve always considered myself fortunate to have been raised by my hero.

My dad’s been my hero since I was a kid, longer then I can remember really.  He’s always been a little bit larger than life in my eyes and even though I now stand a couple of inches taller than him and outweigh him by a good 40 pounds, I still don’t seem quite so tall or so big standing next to him.  He’s the hardest man I could think of to measure up to and he’s the one man I want most to be like.

With that said, I will admit that my dad was a little on the eccentric side.  He might have even been a little bit crazy.  He would have certainly told you he was if you had asked.  He was also one of the wisest men I’ve ever met and the most aggravating.  I’m not sure those two traits go hand in hand, but I think they might.

My dad was one of those soft spoken types who you would never think would be a prankster but always was.  He would throw out a question just to test your belief in your religion, your politics or your convictions and when you told him you loved him he would ask you why.

He was also one of the biggest worriers, hardest workers and best speakers I’ve ever met.  Growing up with him I chased his shadow and he was kind enough to allow me.

I got to ride along in the bucket of the backhoe in our hometown as a kid when he was excavating to install sewer lines or water lines and I learned more sitting on the porch listening to him talk than I think I ever have from anyone else.

As for the reasons why my dad has always been my hero, I couldn’t really tell you.  He doesn’t meet any of the qualifications we tend to attach significance to when it comes to being a great dad.  I can’t recall a single time when my dad ever pitched a baseball to me or tossed the football.  He didn’t take me to ball games and he didn’t go on bike rides.  He didn’t go camping. He never would, but he would show up to your camp site long enough to make sure you had food to eat, and then he would go home where it was comfortable.

He did on occasion take me fishing.  But when I had in less than five minutes hooked my older brother, a tree limb and finally my own jacket, he pretty much stopped taking me fishing.  I’m not sure he ever fished again.  Maybe I ruined the experience for him.

What he did do was find every opportunity to teach you a thing or two about your world and what part you might play in it.  While frying ants on the sidewalk with my magnifying glass he would come out and softly ask me what I was doing.  When I told him I was killing ants he would go into a five minute sermon on how those ants hadn’t bothered me any and I shouldn’t bother them.  He would crumble up a piece of cookie and tell me to watch closely as those ants went about cleaning up the mess he made.

“They’re useful,” he would say and I would roll my eyes.  Today I give the same speech to my own kids and smile when they roll their eyes.

My own children were blessed beyond measure to live close to my parents and to learn a little of what I already know about my dad. When they came home to tell me the stories my dad had told them I would nod my head and let them retell his story.  I know most of them by heart.

“I’m a rebel,” my dad liked to say and usually when he did one of us would smile and my mom would roll her eyes.  He was a rebel only because he would say things just to make you think and most of us don’t want to bother with our own thoughts too much anymore; we’d rather just be fed someone else’s.  But he kept shaking us up, forcing us to consider things we might never have considered without his prodding right up to the end.

In all my experiences with my dad over the years I believe my favorite are and always will be those times when I sat with him and listened to him talk about his dad.  I smile at the look in his eyes when he talked about his dad because I know it’s the same look I had in my eyes when I talk about him.

I hope, some day, to be so lucky that my children have that look in their eyes when they talk of me.

Happy birthday Dad. I miss you.