Today is Pops’ birthday.
It seems like the perfect day for a man like this to be born, his arrival into the world coinciding with the arrival of the most beautiful things on the ranch: green grass and blue sky. Maybe that’s why he’s been in love with it all of his life, holding on tight to the memory of what blossoms and mud and wet prairie grass smells like through the rough winters and draughts. That promise that things will always get better. That summer will come again.
My Pops has always been an eternal optimist. Maybe I’ve figured out where that comes from.
Yes, Pops is turning 50-somethingorother today. If you ask him how old he is he will tilt his head up a little and think about it, as if he can’t remember. Sometimes he can’t. Because he’s not really concerned about the business of age. It’s a cowboy thing I think. As long as his legs are moving and his arms are strong enough to finish the job, as long as he can show the young guys how it’s done, teach them a thing or two about what it means to really work, then he’s just the right age.
Old enough to have learned his lessons.
Young enough to remember them.
I joke with Pops about how his hair is turning white, a hereditary trait, like his nose, that he passed along to me. I look in the mirror and little pieces of him are reflected in my face: skin that turns brown in the sunshine, dark eyes and the laugh lines around them, unruly hair, that prominent nose.
That damn nose.
Yes, these are qualities I will keep with me my entire life, a reminder of the man who raised me. A man I’ve always been certain will never grow old. I can’t imagine it. I don’t think any son or daughter can.It’s like coming to terms with the fact my little sister is no longer 12 years-old and I am no longer 17…like time was supposed to stop ticking when I left home. Like things were supposed to stay the same and wait for me to return.
I’m back now and I see that it isn’t true. I have eyes that are opened a bit wider by life and the realization of what it takes to make something of yourself beyond the approach that leads into my parents’ driveway. I am back and I am living down the road from the people who loved me and raised me and gave me wings to get on out of here…and left me to make my own decisions about coming home.
I didn’t see myself at 28-years-old having my parents for neighbors. And if I did I couldn’t have guessed what it would be like for them to turn from caretakers and decision makers in my life to friends. I wouldn’t have known when I left at 17 that ten years later the best part of a trip to town would be visiting my momma at her new store and seeing her eyes light up with excitement about a new chapter in her life.
I wouldn’t have guessed that the best thing for my soul would be taking a ride on a good horse alongside my father in his favorite season.
I have tried to put my finger on what it means to be living as an adult so close to my parents. In Hollywood Land you have one scenario and it looks a lot like “Everybody Loves Raymond.” But that’s not it for us. My parent’s have too many things going on in their lives to be walking into our house unannounced and making comments on my cooking.
In fact, I can barely catch them on a weeknight between their high-demand jobs, meetings, friends and Pops’ daily visits with his grandson. But when we do all get around the dinner table, there’s as sense of familiarity that goes along with it…and I find that ten-year-old version of me and work to make them laugh before spilling about the things that happened that week that might make them proud.
Then we clear up the dishes together, an adult woman finally realizing why helping with the dishes was so important all of those years I fought my mother on it.
My parents’ passion for life is inspiring and I am thankful I am their neighbor so I can witness it. I am afraid if I would have stayed away I wouldn’t have had the chance to understand my mother’s creative spirit and learned that you don’t stop taking risks just because you’re getting older.
If I wouldn’t have unpacked my bags in the house where my father grew up I may not have been capable of grasping the magnitude of his ties to this place and the pain that he must still feel every day from losing his parents at such a young age…only a few years older than I am today.
I think about this place without my father and it’s like taking out its heartbeat. Because you don’t outgrow your parents. And thinking about it today I imagine how much he misses his every day he’s here fixing the fences his father wired, driving that old tractor they bought together, drinking coffee in his mother’s kitchen.
Especially on his birthday.
Yes, my father was born on this day fifty-some years ago, a child of the buttes and grasses under a blue sky that promises rain in the spring. He dug his hands in this dirt, planted the tree outside my window and knows every creek bend in the coulees and granite rock on the hilltop.
If you ask him what he wants to do today he would tell you he just wants his family around, his grandson especially.
I will buy him a bottle of whiskey. One of us will get him a bag of M&Ms. Mom will have a gift wrapped. We will write our names on cards and thank him for being the “best dad in the whole entire world.” And then he will sneak off into the pasture to catch a horse and take a ride.I will listen for the back door to creak and hope to catch him walking up the road to the barn.
Because it’s shaping up to be a beautiful day today, the kind that my Pops waits for all year, and I want to be out in it with him.
Happy Fiftysomethingorother Birthday Pops!