The moment the fresh air wrapped around me as I opened the door to leave work, I let the long day wash away. Before going home, I decided to take a walk because the temperature in Richmond, Virginia, was perfect today. It wasn’t just beautiful – it was perfect. The wind barely blew my hair away from my face and the coolness of the air was crisp.
This time of year is always bittersweet. It marks the end of so many things in my life and yet it is the beginning of my favorite time of year – fall and winter. The weather was so perfect, I actually forgave the sun for all those sweltering summer days of unbearable humidity and heat.
With every step, I started thinking about Dad. We both walk with lanky steps that are more a stroll than a walk. It seems like just yesterday when I was a little girl sitting next to him in the borrowed truck. With each step in the cool night air, I slipped further into the past…
My great grandparents, Daddy Cecil and Mama Minnie, had a farm with all kinds of lovely things like kittens, chickens, cows, a big Gumball tree, a creaky porch swing and a ton of other things that are embedded in my fond childhood memories of them.
A forest butted up to the far edge of the pasture on their farm and it was filled with Pine trees. Thousands of Pine trees loomed high into the sky. Dad kept pine straw (dried pine needles that had fallen off the branches) in the flowerbeds of our home to keep out the weeds and protect the plants. With all the Pine trees in the forest on his grandparents’ property, obtaining enough pine straw to cover all the flowerbeds wasn’t a problem at all.
Dad owned a car, so he must have borrowed a truck to haul the pine straw. I was so young sitting on the front seat of the truck with him and the windows were rolled down, so my bright orange curls were blowing on my head. In order to get to the forest, Dad had to drive super slow over the pasture because it was just massive bumps.
No matter how slow Dad drove, when we hit a bump, my body would lift off the seat because no one wore seat belts back in those days. The first time it happened, I jerked my head to look at him. Dad made his eyes big and opened his mouth feigning surprise. I remember that he looked so funny to me that I just started laughing. Then we hit another bump and once again his face took on the animated shocked look which caused me to giggle and laugh.
It didn’t take but a few bumps before Dad was sincerely laughing too. I had my tiny hand holding his leg to keep my balance, but sometimes I still fell against his side. He would almost stop the truck to help me sit upright and then he would hit another bump which had us both laughing again.
I know that the distance we traveled wasn’t far at all, but it took us what seemed like forever to cross the pasture and reach the edge of the forest. At the very edge of the forest, the ground was flat so I wasn’t being tossed and bounced as he looked for a place to stop the truck. There was a huge gap between the trees and that’s where he backed the truck up almost into the forest.
He slightly patted my bare white leg and told me to stay in the truck. I got on my knees and stared out the back window watching him lankily stroll into the forest, gather the pine straw, lankily walk back and fill the bed of the truck with it. When he finally got back inside and was sitting behind the steering wheel, he was all sweaty and his hands were dirty. I had a “thing” about not getting dirty back then, so I scooted more towards the middle of the truck.
Dad must have known that I didn’t want to touch him because he was dirty and I guess that is all the encouragement he needed. He was, after all, still a very young man. Instead of driving super careful back across the pasture, I think his goal was to see me bounce off the seat when he hit a bump. Of course, all I could do to stay upright was hold the material of his pants tighter while I laughed and giggled until my sides hurt.
Tonight, as I took a deep breath of the cool air that hinted of the impending change in seasons, I thought of those tender moments with Dad, wishing that he was still alive and hadn’t died so suddenly. It would have been nice to walk arm in arm with him today and talk about that silly day with the pine straw.