Climbing — Dave Smith

Chesterfield Straight smoke trailed dad around the corner of the old, 3-story farmhouse.  Den and Ron shuffled behind, all of us not quite awake on this very early August morning.  We normally started around 7AM, but the weather dictated an early pursuit of painting prettiness.  Dad determined “sun-up to beat the heat” and we arrived a bit after 4:30, the dew still very damp everywhere.  The humidity already invaded my not so official, not white paint shirt and the predicted heat of 100° + was sure to happen.  “Be a scorcher fer sher,” he droned into the rising sunshine.  The trio would establish which gable end to start and then follow the shade ‘til we quit shortly after lunch.  The three ‘40’s would be stretched to the extension max to reach the peaks – a plank strung between each for them to walk, scrape, dust, and prime.  I turned to the storage shed/sometimes garage to set up for storm and screen work.  Climbing had long since left my work duties, a choice made clear on my first trip “up to heavenly heights” and a supposedly humorous plank bounce sent me to clinging safety at the ladder.  My scraper, duster, and dignity made the long fall.

As they struggled with ladders, planks, and ladder jacks, I positioned a step ladder in the heated shade of the shed, stuck a short plank perpendicularly onto the first step, then placed the other end on a paint can.  I could sit, lean a storm or screen against the ladder, and take on the task of, re-puttying, cleaning, and priming what seemed an endless stack.  Dad, Den, and Ron hated this job and I felt the same about theirs.  I couldn’t see their climbs and reaches and that gave comfort.  A couple hours into the task and, regardless of shade, dribbling sweat into my efforts, my pleasantly planked work space “bounced.”  I half-turned into the chest of a very sneaky Great Dane, his head higher than mine and a tad of drool creating just a tease of “eech” into the moment.  He bounced again, and so did I, as I struggled into “how ya doin’ big fella?”  A chortle-into-guffaw erupted from the open doorway and the 6’3” hulk of a farmer entered.

“Heel.”  The pup ‘bounced’ off to his side.  “He’s harmless, just big,” he grinned as I took the moment to use my paint rag to dab sweat from my forehead.  “Hot one – yer lucky to be in here though it ain’t much better’n out there.  Men on the gable gotta be wishin’ for better times.”  He laughed off with his pup trotting a bit over waist high beside him. I never got a word in, pretty much speechless anyway since I’d never met a dog of this magnitude before.  I thought I worked in my safe space, but not so much sometimes.  Bee’s nests between the stacks also gave pause and the buzzed annoyance kept me painter sharp.

So, this think comes in a drive home from Prairie Hill Waldorf School, a rumble across nearly spring pot holes and cracks, around tar-wrinkled corners, and into sloshes of melted puddles in the shadows.  The shocks and springs bounce my butt-bucketed seat as Carrie Underwood belts “Champion” from the speakers.  “I am invincible…” as only she can sing it. Invincible lays a long time ago for me, a fact learned in easy and hard lessons.  Car crash fatalities, Viet Nam deaths, Old Main burning in the late-night fog at UW-Whitewater – racial discord, a favorite uncle passing…  I cannot imagine getting through the difficult things in life that may and do occur without my faith., without a God for Hope and Grace.  I watched a man fall, my legs couldn’t/wouldn’t make the climb to help.  Helpless, I could only turn to God for saving love and the fall ended in bruises not death or broken bones.  The haunting is somehow part of my faith journey, a step I will never understand.  But faith blesses visions and nightmares with forgiveness and ease – God had the moment all along. I rejoice in Christ sitting on high, the Holy Spirit guiding, and the Father pouring love, hope and assurance on all I do.  Even if I don’t climb very well.