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The Walk

  - By A J Brown  We lived off Red Brick Road, a little path of a street that the county never saw fit to pave. Our house was practically in the woods, with oaks, elms, pines and cedars surrounding us on all sides. Wild animals roamed about our eight acres of land but Daddy didn't seem to mind—he said they were part of nature and nature was just fine with him. It was fine with me, as well.

The old log house we lived in wasn't too big nor too small. Since it was just the two of us, I always thought it was kind of just right. If Momma would have still been around when we moved in—I believe I was about four at that time—then maybe we would have needed a bigger place. But as it was, Momma was dead, killed in the city by some drunk driver with no conscious at all, and it was just Daddy and me.

Daddy was a strong man with big arms, broad shoulders and rough, calloused hands. A lot of folks were intimidated by his size and this look he got on his face when he was angry. I only saw that look once in my day, when I skipped out of school in the eighth grade to go to Bessie Mae Hallerin's house. Bessie Mae's daddy wasn't too happy about it and neither was mine. When he picked me up at her house, he looked madder than a pit bull with rabies.

"Get in," he said and thumbed to his truck. As I went, I could hear Daddy talking with Mr. Hallerin. It grew heated, and by the time I reached the truck, Daddy was growling something about it takes two to make a baby. I didn't really know what that meant back then. Yeah, I know, kids know a lot these days, probably more by the age of five than I knew by the time I was ten. But, back then it wasn't like that. Kids were kids and in the eighth grade, making babies never occurred to me. Sure, I wanted to kiss her and all, but I didn't know much about sex, except what I had heard at school, and I didn't rightly believe any of them stories.

Daddy didn't say another word as he drove us home. I glanced over at him a few times and he was chewing—not tobacco or gum or a toothpick. No, Daddy chewed on nothing when he was mad, it was like he was grinding his teeth together, trying to keep his mouth shut so he wouldn't get any madder.

I just knew I was in for it when he got me home.

"Go to your room, Jesse," he said and sat down at the table.

I had learned years earlier that you didn't argue with him. I went straight to my room and laid on my bed, nervous as all get out, waiting for Daddy to come in and lay his leather strap to my backside. A couple of hours later he knocked on my door and entered my room.

"Dinner's ready. Go eat, do your chores and go to bed."

That was it. No beating; no yelling; no nothing.

"Daddy," I said in the middle of dinner, "aren't you going to whoop me or something?"

"You're too old to be gettin' whoopins, Jesse," he said and put a spoon full of stew in his mouth.

"But, aren't you mad?"

"Jesse, I'm disappointed. You know better than skip school. You need to get your education and you ain't gonna get it messin' around with Bessy Mae."

"We didn't do anything. Honest, we didn't."

"I didn't say you did—I'm just disappointed. You know better, and I'm going to tell you this: if it happens again, I'm gonna lay a beatin' on you right in front of the little lady your skippin' school for."

We sat in silence for a long while. My dad was angry, which I could handle well enough, but him being disappointed was worse. He took great pride in me and I thought I had let him down. It played on my mind as I finished my dinner and cleaned the dishes and the bathroom. Just before going to bed, I went out onto the porch where my dad sat, smoking a pipe and looking off into the woods.

"Daddy, I'm sorry." It was all I could muster.

"I know you are, son," Daddy said and stood. He stepped over and gave me a hug and did something he hadn't done since I was little. Daddy kissed me on the top of my head.

"Get off to bed, son—you've gotta lot of work to do tomorrow."

As I went inside, Daddy called back to me.

"Jesse, that Bessie Mae sure is a pretty girl."

That was my dad—he never let the sun set on his anger. I made for certain to never get that look again; to never disappoint him again.

Daddy was all about lessons, but he was also good about making sure I knew about the world and my surroundings. And that he would always be there for me if I needed him. He talked to me about life and love and Momma, who I barely remembered.

"Come on, boy, let's go for a walk," he would say and I knew the walks meant we would talk. It would always be the mundane stuff at first: how's school? Are you playing sports this year? Do you still have your eyes on Bessie Mae? You know, that kind of stuff. Then he would start pointing things out to me. The trees; the ground; the sky; the animals. Then, as we stepped onto the old dirt drive that led to Red Brick Road, he would talk about how things were when he was a kid and how I had it tougher than he did, especially since Momma was gone. He would say 'your momma' like she was still around or something, as if he didn't want to mention her name for fear of me maybe asking more questions than he had answers for. Like, why was Momma dead?

When we would reach the end of the path, Daddy would look out at the world, at the beautiful land around us and smile. Sometimes there would be tears in his eyes and I would pretend I didn't notice them, just like he would pretend they weren't even there.

That dirt driveway became a path of lessons for me and after a while, I longed to take that walk. Reaching the end of it was always the highlight, even during some of the sadder talks where Daddy would mention how things were when Momma was around.

My first day of school, we took that walk and Daddy told me it would be okay and that I would get through the day, even though I was terrified. I didn't much believe him, but he had been right. When I went off to college, Daddy walked me down that path and we stopped at the road. He looked up at me and smiled. Again, he told me it would be okay and that I was welcome home anytime.

I got a little adventurous in college but I always made my way home. When I graduated, instead of staying in the city, I went back to our little town; back to the log cabin in the woods; back to Daddy and those long walks we shared.

"Let's go for a walk, Daddy," I said to him one day after coming home from work.

"Everything okay, Jesse?" he asked.

"Yeah, Dad. I just want to go for a walk."

For the most part, that was the truth. I wanted to walk with my dad but I wanted to tell him something important; something I thought would change my life forever.

Like all the other times, we talked about the everyday stuff we could have discussed over dinner. When we reached the end of the driveway, the sun was setting and Daddy turned to me.

"So, what's this all about?"

"Daddy," I said, a smile forming on my lips. "I asked Bessy Mae to marry me."

Daddy's ears perked up. "Well, what did she say?"

"She said 'yes.'"

Daddy clapped me on the back and gave me a hug. "Congratulations, Jesse. I'm really proud of you."

"Thanks, Dad," I said. "I want you to be the best man."

Daddy looked at me with his aging eyes. Tears began to fill them but none of them dropped. "I'd be honored to be your best man, Jesse."

The day I got married Daddy walked with me again. He told me things about my mom I had never known, including how she died and why he moved us away from the city. For the only time in my life, I saw a tear trickle down his face. Daddy took off his wedding band and then reached into his bib-alls, pulling out Momma's wedding band.

"Here, I want you to have these," he said and placed the rings in my hand. "I want you and Bessie to have them."

It was the greatest day of my life. I had both the people I loved most with me—Bessie Mae and Daddy. Bessie wore Momma's band and I wore Daddy's. I could have never been happier.

On my 38th birthday I took Bessie and James, my son, to see my dad. James was still too young to know him as much more than the old guy that gave him treats. I knew something was wrong before I ever got out of the car.

"Dad," I said and ran up the steps to where he sat in his old rocker on the porch. His pipe lay on the floor next to him and he didn't seem to notice me. I shook him and said, "Dad, what's wrong?"

When he looked up at me, it hit me. Daddy had become Dad; he was no longer the man of steel as he was when I was a youth. Age and life had caught up with him. His hair was gray and his eyes were a faded blue. He blinked several times and it appeared he was back from whatever wonderland he had been in when I drove up.

"Jesse?" he asked, his voice full of confusion. "What are you doing here?"

"I brought the family by," I said. "Remember, I called you last night and told you we were coming."

"That's right," he said and tried to stand.

"Dad, you don't have to get up," I said.

"Son, let's go for a walk."

"What?" I asked. I was dumbfounded. My dad looked like he was dying and he wanted to go for a walk.

"Let's go for a walk."

"Dad, I don't know if that's such a good idea—I think I need to get you to a hospital."

"You'll do nothing of the sort," he said, his voice suddenly strong. "I want to go for a walk. Is that too much to ask?"

"No, sir," I said and reluctantly helped him to his feet and down the steps.

We walked our normal path, chit-chatting as we always did. When we reached the driveway, Daddy looked up at me. Reaching a hand out, he took one of mine and we walked the length of the driveway, stopping at the Red Brick Road.

"Daddy—"

"No, son," he interrupted. "I don't have much time left and I didn't want your kid seeing me like this."

"Like what, Dad?"

"Dying."

I couldn't believe I had heard the word come out of his mouth, but it had and it echoed loudly in my ears.

"Dad, don't say that."

"It's okay, boy," he said, fighting back tears. "Don't be afraid. It'll be alright."

"But, Dad, you can't die—not now. Not ever."

Tears were beginning to drip from my own eyes as I begged him to stop talking such foolishness. But, it was true —Daddy didn't have much time left. I had known that when I drove up and saw him sagging in his rocker, his old pipe on the floor and that distant look in his eyes.

"Jesse, I love you, son," he said and put his arms out to hug me.

"I love you too, Daddy," I said and embraced my father. I held him tightly, even after his tears had dried up and his body began to sag. I felt one last breath on my neck and Daddy was gone. I laid him on the ground and sat beside him, cradling his head as I cried. I heard Bessie Mae's voice somewhere in the background and then a while later the emergency folk were there to take him away.

Long after the police and everyone else had left, I remained sitting on the ground at the end of the driveway. As the sun began to set I thought of how beautiful it was and that Daddy was with Momma now. I hoped and prayed he was happy.

Every week I come back here, back to the cabin where I was raised. When I do, I sit in Daddy's rocker, holding his pipe in my hand, wishing he were here. Before I leave, I take a walk, always stopping at Red Brick Road to watch the sunset.

Today's a little different. Yesterday we buried my Bessie Mae. After 48 years of marriage, she passed on before me, just as my momma passed on before my daddy. I now know what Daddy went through all of those years without her.

James will be here soon to take me home with him. I don't much want to leave, but he's concerned about his old man and wants to be there for me if something ever happened. I can't say I blame him; I've been in his shoes. Before he gets here, though, I think I'm going to take a walk and have a talk with Daddy. If I'm lucky, I'll get to see the sun set one last time from Red Brick Road.
Poor Guy
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Upload Date: 31/12/1969

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