Father and sons …
Louis sat on the seat of the logging sled beside his Father and listening silently as the snow pack slid under the front of the iron fastened to the squared poplar log skids, and as they jogged sideways at each bump in the road they both swayed right to left in unison. Turning, he gazed at the hardwood logs chained to the back of the sled and thought about how much warmer it would be when he arrived home and ran into the house. As usual, his Father had come along the road behind him as he walked the mile and a quarter home from the school…..and as he often marveled, staring back and under the back of the sled at the swishing and slushing of ice and snow on the rolled and well packed winter road from town. It wasn’t unusual for his dad to wait at the log landing for just the right amount of time to pick his son up on the road after grading school. Swinging into the driveway off the rolled and packed snow covered road and waving at the neighbor coming along in a sley in the opposite direction off the mountain, he jumped from the logging sled, not wanting to walk all the way back up to the house from the barn and as he landed, skidding in his winter boots and carefully kept himself from falling.
Just as Louis was about to make for the porch steps he turned at the neighbors whistle, who had also just turned into their drive behind his Father. Not sure if it was the wind or an actual whistle, he looked hard at the neighbors pung sley, to be sure the neighbor had waved him back from the porch steps. Louis turned towards the back of the load of logs as his Father continued on towards the barn doors, momentarily confused, he reached with one hand pulling loose one of his worn and tattered mittens and reached to the outstretched hand of their old neighbor.
“Well ,……hallo’ there Young Louis “………..but Louis scowled his best eight year old scowl ……!
He always despised being called by his given name by this man, as everyone else usually called him by his nick name, Red or even Rolly, as some of his friends did. “Hello Mr. Strobridge,” ……, and turning as he pointed, he said “….my Dads going down to the barn right now!”
Mr. Strobridge turned, looking down the drive to the high drive of the barn and spit sideways, a spew of brown tobacco flew to the snow bank beside his sley.
” …….Yep , sure looks that way to me son,” and then turning in his seat he raised a 12 guage shotgun in his left hand and swinging it over the seat and out to young Louis he said. ” Would you mind taking this on down to your Dad and telling him thanks for me? I sure would appreciate that.”
It wasn’t unusual for one of the neighbors to borrow his Fathers shotgun for rabbit hunting or even putting one of his cows down but why couldn’t he take it down to the barn himself, Louis thought , why do I have to freeze my darned fingers off and I just got home too ? Yet, reaching up he took the double barreled shotgun in both hands , pointing the blued steal barrels at the ground awkwardly ,
“Okay, Mr, Strobridge.” Turning away from the neighbor he tucked his neck down into the upturned collar of his wool jacket and began to jog towards the high drive of the barn just as the big doors slammed closed. He couldn’t tell if from his Fathers hands or from the now hard blowing winter wind, Louis knew only that he would have to swing that damned barn door open again, the shotgun, heavy as it was in his young arms, seemed weightless because all Louis could think about was the stinging wind on his bare cheeks and his now cold feet. Just as he reached the big barn doors though Louis stopped and raised his face to the huge slowly falling snowflakes on the wind, opening his mouth and hoping for it to land on his tongue.
While in the barn……..
Inside the relatively warm barn well protected from the winds, Louis’ Father began the routine task of unbuckling and removing the harnesses off the two big Belgian draught horses, Pete and Dan stood stoically with their muzzles lowering into the hay bin and snuffing air between bites of hay they stood calmly. He turned at the irritating squealing of the barn door hinges thinking of how he’d forgot to oil those damned hinges again.
” Hey Dad , Mr. Strobridge said to tell you thanks for letting him use your shotgun again.”
Watching Louis, yet so small for his age, his father thought “I wish the hell old Strobridge had just walked that damned shotgun into the house.” But just as he turned back to the horse he heard his son Louis’ young voice saying something about the horses and then instantly an explosion of sound and light filled the barn and he felt a heavy hammer blow on his right shoulder and back as he spun against old Petes’s side, slowly lowering to the barn floor. Strangely he felt only a dull and almost soothing ache and yet a confusing sense of peace as his world began to go darker. He turned to look through the horses legs at his son, staring oddly, mouth agape, his eyes big and thought, “What was that noise and why don’t my legs work?”
Oh God no ……..
Louis sat sprawled against the big doors on his butt, a numbness in his little arms, the shotgun flung sideways against the hay mound, wondering in his eight year old mind what had just hit him. Not yet realizing the full extent of his reality, he looked at his father laying under the horses and the horse legs posting back and forth in their harness, nothing but a dull ache in his young arms. Louis couldn’t hear a thing. The shotgun blast in the barn had stolen his hearing and dulled his senses although he could not know that. He sat for long moments and not hearing his own voice calling for his father until sometime later. The barn door scraping open again he saw his mother’s bare arms reaching around the door latch. She screamed and rushed, lowering herself to Louis’ side. Then seeing the shotgun and her husbands body lying beneath the horses massive legs , she knew … she knew.
After the storm………
Some weeks later after the race to the hospital in a sley, her blanket covered husband lying in the back, the doctors, the funeral procession, and after the shock of losing her husband and father of her children, she had slowly began at least to grasp onto some sense of control. She began the long painful process of helping her son Louis understand what had happened, to slowly begin to get some sense of where his pain lay, his innocent and quickly growing sense of shock, of guilt, and of pain. The law, too, had come and after investigating left her with an explanation. A legal definition, an “accidental shooting , no fault , can’t blame the neighbor , can’t blame her son.” A term that would leave her entire household without one ounce of a way of explaining this tragedy , at least one that would help anyone. Young Louis would have to learn somehow to live with his pain. How? She wondered, how in this world would they begin?
Young Louis must go on……..
As anyone can imagine, the life of Louis, from the day before he turned eight years old, would slowly begin and remain emotionally damaged, forever turning over and over in his mind, day after day, month by month, the years would slowly turn and then his life as a Father himself would be underlined by tragedy. Louis would go on to become a decorated soldier in WWII and also lose a son of his own one day, living with an underlying sense of guilt in all things. He lived to be 79 years old, at times overwhelmingly twisted in the handling of many of life’s situations and each trait of his personality, each incident in his long life to level that I wouldn’t believe he would ever enjoy a sense of peace within.
I knew this Louis pretty well ……..He was my Father .
For more works like ‘Father and sons and everything between’ by this author see Ed Fisher on The Creatives Exiles.