The Old Garage and Elm              Dave Smith

So many believers in the days of Christ walked in despair during the time of what we now know as Holy Week.  I pursue some “despair” thinks, sometimes when I felt deserted by God or when I watched another lose a struggle to hold fast to the journey.  Easter week begins in great sadness and the horror of crucifixion.  This all turns to great joy as more and more feel the hand of the risen Christ still in their lives, if for but a little while.  And so I share this poignant think from my early life, as real as if just happening.

He stands, back to me, each hand stuffed in a bib over-all back pocket.  The pose reminds me of history pictures in textbooks, those farmers staring into the nothingness of 1930’s, dust storm hope – the despair of slunched shoulders in 1929 crashes and no assurance of recovery.  Grey hair didn’t hang in tussled strands – always neatly parted and combed with a little flip-back in the front, tight to the forehead.  I fail to find reason for the pose, the “away and empty” I might see in his eyes if I interrupted.  The TV screen of kitchen window engages him – leaves me nothing save the huge elm branches and weathered roof shingles of the garage.  “Maybe the ‘worn’,” I think, “has a gripe today.”  His right hand slowly emerges with a “hipper” of 5 Star brandy.  He looks to it, a tiny bit of tremble in the hold and a longer hold of hesitation.  I realize it now, get it, the struggle and urge, the mental raging of need, no I don’t – the tightening grasp of addiction.  He finally takes the “pull”, not long, but enough to cause a slight shiver as his chin droops.  A second and the small bottle drops back into the pocket.  A shrug, a turn to the door, and he’s out to the steps that go down, down to his shop and the woodwork escape.  He’ll sleep come supper – the hipper long disappeared.  “The ’64 Chevy wagon left without him” rolls into my thought, the wagon gone for a while again until a kneeling, unbroken, sad man will repeat the Lord’s Prayer into his tears.

He started young I’ve been told.  Cut 200 proof, corn mash whiskey with cheap wine to save sight and be wild in the night.  He never missed morning chores, the 4AM duties of milking, stanchion cleaning, gutter sweep, new bedding, and feeding.  Then the 10AM “coffee break”, a hooch chased snack and a catnap that lasted exactly 15 minutes – back to work.  The habit stayed as work became the paint store, the work became shared with my employ.  I failed to bother with the “get to know” part of young life.  I just knew he never, ever swore, never raised a hand to me, used only a “tsk” and a short, sharp jerk of the head to display “you messed up son – own it.”  And I respected him, the demand for Sunday church, Saturday Catechism, and, for the most part, Sunday a day of rest and hobby – like woodwork and sleepy supper.

I gaze out the window now, look for his vision on this day that scuds clouds across blue and soon to be grey sky.  Home from work early, we had come upstairs, me to change from work to Friday date clothes while Den cleaned the last brushes in the backroom downstairs. Dad, well, I didn’t know quite how long he stood there.  Didn’t know what flipped this TV switch on.  Just black and white that window screen.  A little dust kicks up as the evening moves across the back alley of younger day bikes, basketball, and anything the neighborhood gang could think up.  The white ’64 sat in the short driveway.  I imagine the tsks of the cooling 283 V8 that had cruised us home in overdrive.  The front tires turn a little to the right to allow another vehicle to park.  Kind of like the turn away of “own it”.

In this moment a touch joins me, an ever so slight brush on my shoulder, the knowing touch and Lilies of the Valley perfume that brought mom’s arm around my shoulder.  “He’ll quit again son.  He loves through it all.”  We sigh, a tighter squeeze, no tears.  “After church on Sunday there’s a good ol’ fashioned Lutheran casserole lunch.  That’ll be nice.”

“Yep, it will mom.  Great food.”  I understand the faith part of hope a little better in this short couple minutes.  My hands still smell of the get-the-oil paint-off gasoline rag ritual and I turn to the bathroom.  Mom’s hand lingers, sees two backs moving away, one stiff in the knowing and one young, a little bent in the learning.

Christ ascended to return in His time of choosing.  But with faith, He is always here and always good.