'I wish he were here'


The bond between father and son strengthens with time; lessons learned in days gone by last a lifetime

"Good throw," Papaw shouted as I completed my first back-of-the-pick-up rope sling.

On the first attempt, I caught the sick calf around the neck. I was about12-years-old and no words could have made my head swell bigger than anykind of "atta-boy" from him. I called him Papaw and he calledme Tirdhead. He was my hero. He had the patience of Job with me as he taughtme how to work. He had taught me to whirl that rope and size my loop. Hehad taught me to keep my slack until just the right moment when I shouldclose it down on my target.

It has been more than six years since he died. Just today I rememberedhim deeply with the fond memories that can only come after the sting ofloss has passed and reveals the voice he left to guide me. It was this littlevoice I heard with each item I removed from the trailer. My wife, Kerri,and I finally got a storage house. The day after he died, I loaded up allthe things out of the barn that he had told me were mine when he passedon. They were all packed neatly into a stock trailer that belonged to hisdad. The thing was at least 60 years old but still rolled as smooth as ithad the day he built it, attesting to the way he cared for things. The trailerand all my treasures had been in storage since a few days after he died.

Pieces of history

It took me hours to move the pieces of our history together from thetrailer to the storage house. Each nugget brought back a moment that heand I had spent together; him teaching me and me not even knowing that therewas a lesson in progress. He made learning the lessons of life such funthat it was years later, when I had grown into a man, before I even realizedhow much he taught me and how much time he spent doing it.

One at a time, I blew the dust away and soaked up the memories. My firstbits. Two saddle blankets that were over-used. Vintage syringes that weremade of solid glass and needles that were made of stainless steel. Thesewere the things he used to teach me how animals had feelings and neededproper care.

As I dug through the pile I uncovered a bottle of "Thermic Linement."It must be 30 years old. He used it on every sore horse we ever had. Saidit "pulled out the swellin'. " When I opened it, the strong mentholmedicine smell rushed into my smeller and brought back all the memoriesof being a kid with him and thinking he was the smartest man alive. He couldfix anything that was ailing. He was so particular about how to care forour animals. Everything had to be done correctly and at the right time.Even though he had no idea, Papaw was instilling in me a lifetime missionof seeing about the needs of animals. He gave me an incredible interestin caring for critters that lives on today.

'Find the moments'

He also challenged me to find the moments. He had an incredible way ofseeing the world. I would hear him describe an event and his descriptionwas much better than actually living through the moment. His way of describingbrought things to mind that were generally unnoticed by a less observantperson. I used to love to hear him tell someone else an event that he andI had lived through together. Listening to him made me aware that I wasnot watching the world close enough.

He would often ask me what I thought the horse I was on might be thinking.He would tell me that if I would look at things through the horse's eyes,it would open up an entirely new world. Through the eyes of critters I wouldfind an entirely new perspective.

"Good throw," Papaw shouted as I completed my first back-of-the-pickuprope sling. The thing he had not told me was what to do next. The calf mayhave been sick, but he still weighed 500 pounds and I weighed in at about85. I watched as the coils of rope in my hand got smaller and smaller andthe calf got farther and farther away. In a panic, I dallied to the nearestthing in sight, a CB antenna coming off the headache rack. Well, it wasn'ta whole antenna, just the spring that made up the base. The antenna hadbroken off years ago. This, of course, didn't even slow him down. As thetension hit the antenna, the knot on the end of the rope hit my hand. Notwanting to disappoint my hero, I held onto that knot for dear life.

The next thing I remember was a moment of peaceful flying before me,the CB antenna, the bracket that held it on and the driver's side rear viewmirror that was hung on my boot hit the ground like Johnny Bench slidinginto home plate. All I could hear was, "Let go of the rope, Tirdhead!!!!!"He was saying it over and over and the sound was getting softer and softeras the calf pulled me in the direction of his momma. By now, letting gowas not an option. The bracket of the antenna had wedged between my handand the rope and I were being pulled along like a rag doll.

Ear surfing

The only thing I remember hurting while I was being pulled was my leftear. Somehow in the fall it had filled up with dirt and grass. I must havebeen surfing on that ear for about a hundred yards before any other partof my body hit the ground. The dragging began to slow as the calf wore down.He finally stopped well short of his momma. Being 12-years-old and madeof rubber, I hopped right up and jumped on him like a rodeo clown. By thetime Papaw got there, I had it tied up and was working it over. If you cantell how bad a dragging is by the amount of dirt in your underwear, thisone was monumental! I had enough in my britches to grow potatoes! It wasfilling up my boots as I got up to walk away.

We gave the calf a few shots to get him well and then I got a total bodyrubdown with, what else, Thermic Linement. You remember, it "pullsout the swellin'."

Whole new perspective

I miss him. I miss his view of life. I miss being called Tirdhead. Iwish I had told him how much he influenced me and how I watched him andhung on his every word. He got to see me become a veterinarian. In his ownway, he displayed how proud he was without ever saying those words. I wishhe were here now to read these words he spoke as we road through the weedsand mosquitoes and see how they gave me a whole new perspective. I wishhe were here now to give me guidance and fill my world with his thoughts,but I guess I'll have to settle for the voice he left to guide me.

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