DOWN
With The Willow

Copyright 1999 by Lin Stone


It wasn't fair I thought as I pulled into the yard.

Daddy's garden was bigger than any I had ever planted.

His yard was mowed, the house painted and flowers lined all the walks he laid by himself.

It wasn't fair.

It just flat, wasn't fair.

Forty years had gone by since I began measuring myself against him, but even after triple by-pass surgery, Daddy was still going strong. At 72, Daddy came out on the porch with his eye undimmed. Just for a moment, I hated to get out of the truck and wrestle with the problem of admitting once again that Daddy was still the better man.

Besides raising vegetables for sale, Daddy cut wood for a living. Rick after rick stacked in the yard showed he did it well. Charles and John had been part of the business for awhile. But they could not keep up with the old man. They hated him for it. "He didn't beat just one of us at a time, Tink, he had to beat both of us together. That old man could split more wood than both of us." And he could cut wood faster than they could haul it.

It was August; the fire raged inside the house; Mama shivered upon the bed, covered to her chin. Her "Hello" was merely a grunt in response to mine. I held her hand until the tears kept me from seeing, then went to sit against the wall. Me and Daddy mopped sweat from our brow and drank cold lemonade, eyeing the thermometer that said 110, and still wasn't hot enough to keep Mama warm.

I listened impassively while he told me about his new contract, his truck, his chain saws, his splitting axe, and how many miles some people drove just to get a mess of his beans. I gritted my teeth. He was proud. He had a right to be. I gazed around at the shack he had rebuilt into a home. "And, how are things with you, Tink?"

"I'm getting my health back," I told him. "Yesterday I ran half a mile, and pressed 200."  

"Don't push it," Daddy warned me. "We ain't built the way other people are. Them doctors had a fit when I refused to push myself after the surgery. I kept my own pace. Now there ain't a one of them young fellers that can keep up with me."

I ducked my head, knowing it was all too true.

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I listened to him for hours. If he wasn't bragging on himself he was complaining about someone else not being able to keep up. At least I never complained, I reminded that competitive little boy inside me. Then Daddy's words jumped out at me. "There's a willow, right down in the water at the bijou's edge that I can't get out by myself. It's too big for me. And I can't get nobody around here to help me get it down."

Too Big?

Too -- Big -- For -- Daddy?

I welcomed the words. I cherished them. I glanced down at my hands. For the first time in years, they weren't knotted up when Daddy was talking. Then I caught a glimpse of myself in the wall mirror, and I was smiling.

It wasn't long after that when Daddy began preparing lunch for Mama. I grabbed his old yeller chainsaw, and slipped out the door. There was a spring in my step as I headed for the bijou. "I'm going to get that willow down, by myself!" It felt so good to have a goal like that. I could just see his eyes pop when that tree crashed to the earth. I'd finally be a man when I impressed Daddy!

The willow wasn't that hard to find. It towered high over the other trees like a green cloud wallowing in the sky. Daddy had told me how big the willows got, but I didn't believe it until I got among them. Trees with 3 foot, even 4 foot trunks were the norm down on this stretch as I threaded my way unerringly towards the willow TOO BIG for Daddy. Then the way opened up before me and I saw it, and my heart stopped. It was huge. The top leaves were raking the bottom of heaven. And just as sure as anything, I knew that tree was coming down.

Daddy had cleared the way up to it, as meticulously as ever. I walked up to the tree and measured the trunk with my eye, only my measurer stopped at 8 feet across. That tree was huge!

I backed off and studied that tree from every angle. The first limbs were twice my height over my head. There was no telling which way it would want to fall either. I was grinning as I fired up the chainsaw, and started in.

It wasn't until an hour later that I realized the magnitude of the task I had given myself; I wasn't even started. With a tree that thick you can only cut out so much of the notch at a time. Then you go back to hack out some more so you will have room to cut deeper. The notch I was working on didn't even look like a crease yet. I stepped back to mop the sweat from my face, and saw Daddy coming.

He was grinning. "Soon as I heard that chainsaw roar to life, I knew where you was, and I come running. With your help, I can get this tree down, huh boy?"

I gritted my teeth. By nightfall though, I was glad he was there. That willow was nowhere close to being down. I went to sleep, dreaming about how I'd feel when that tree went tumbling to the earth.

Daddy woke me up, clattering around in the kitchen. When I went in Mama's room the heat hit me like the furnace of a runaway freight train. She was still shivering, frail like a sack of bones. She began crying when I asked how she was doing. "If it wasn't for your daddy taking care of me, I wouldn't even be alive."

Daddy had breakfast ready, eggs, and bacon, jelly and biscuits, and the plates kept warm in the oven. "You eat and go on down to the tree while I take care of your mama and do the dishes, then I'll come see how you're getting along without me."

I knew I wouldn't be doing good enough to suit him, but I didn't want Daddy's help. That tree was calling. My hands began shoveling food into my mouth. By working hard and fast, maybe I could get it down before he came out.

The sun was just turning the east pink when I stepped out on the porch with the yeller chainsaw against my leg. As I stepped out towards the bijou my legs wanted to run. It was a beautiful day, the air clean, just a touch of dew on the grass because of the light breeze. The birds, oh, I'd never seen so many birds. Any other time I'd've stopped to name them all, but today, the tree called, and I hurried to get there.

Two hours later though, the tree was still standing. I kept having to get the notch wider and wider to get the saw in at all, and it was hard work. My hands were vibrating even when the saw was off by the time Daddy arrived.

He grabbed the saw out of my hand without so much as a by-your-leave, and began working, a grin splitting his face. It wasn't long before his coat got as hot as mine. He peeled it off and threw it on the ground, eager to keep on going. I hauled our coats into the clearing where they would be close enough we wouldn't forget them, but still far enough out of the way. Then I came back and spelled Daddy off an on when I could get the saw out of his hands. Every time I had to rest he'd grab the saw away from me. I'd sit back on my haunches to study the top of that tree, and wish there was some way to make Daddy just go on home and let me bring it down alone.

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The willow didn't begin to groan until 2 that afternoon. Around 4 I heard it creak the first time. And that was when I honestly got worried about Daddy. I touched his arm and made him stop the saw so he could hear. "Daddy, there's no telling which direction this tree is going to fall. You get out in the clearing and I'll bring it on down. You get out there by the coats so I'll know you'll be safe. Then all I'll have to worry about is getting my own self out of the way when the tree commences to fall. I won't have to worry about helping you."

Daddy's glance told me I'd cut his pride to the bone. We stood there, almost nose to nose for the longest time, without saying a word. But finally he nodded, and went to stand beside our coats. It was almost a victory, but I didn't take time to enjoy it. When I saw he was safe I went back to cutting with a vengeance.

It wasn't no time before I looked up and there Daddy was at my side.
I put the saw down.
"Daddy, you get out there by them coats so I'll know you'll be safe."

It was like chasing a little boy off from the candy store, but he went. Once again I got down on one knee to hack at that giant tree trunk. I cut, and I cut, and I cut. Then I looked up, and there was Daddy standing there watching me. I almost didn't have the heart to run him off again, but it was absolutely necessary. "Daddy, now I mean it. You get out there and stand right by them coats so I'll know exactly where you are, and that you are safe."

Tears were glinting in his gray eyes as he turned and shuffled off, feeling older by the minute by the way his shoulders drooped. Not until he was standing beside the coats and watching me did I turn around and begin cutting some more. It wasn't but about ten minutes later when the tree began shifting on its trunk, first this way, then swaying that. I didn't know which way to run. I threw the saw down and looked towards the coats to yell at Daddy; only he was standing there right beside me!  I was so scared I wanted to grab him by the hair of the head and drag him. He just stood there, his mouth open, his eye reaching up to the top of that tottering tree. There wasn't time to take him nowhere.

The air whistled like thunder as that tree cracked and splintered, then tottered out, and out, and out. My eye kept reaching, and never got to the end because when my gaze reached the coats, I stopped with my mouth open. Those coats disintegrated when the tree slammed into the ground on top of them and bounced back up into the air 30 feet high. Down it came again, and the severed trunk heaved in our direction. Me and Daddy leaped for our lives, him, as always, just a little bit ahead.

We were a good 100 yards off before we got stopped and turned around. The first place I looked was where our coats had been, and there wasn't no part of them left to see.

The tree had slammed into them so hard that there wasn't a piece of them left to find between two railroad tracks, and that was right where I'd been sending Daddy to keep him safe? I swallowed hard and glanced at Daddy, he was looking there too. If he hadn't come up to be beside me, he'd have been mashed into a thousand pieces. Was he thinking the same thing? Would he turn on me in righteous fury?

Daddy swallowed and glanced at me. He grinned weakly. "You never know, do you? But we got it where we can handle it now. Me and you, we done it, son. We brought the willow down."

We? It seemed like that was the first time in my life I had ever heard him use that word in reference to us.

I liked the sound of it. Somehow, when he said "WE" it just didn't matter that much that Daddy was a better man than me.

the end 

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Lin Stone is an author, writer and photographer living in Mena Arkansas among the gentle mountains known as Ouachita.  He writes about adventures and he writes about the peaceable things of this world for Share Your State.  In his spare time Lin writes copy for insurance roundup.  You can have immediate, and free, reading of many more pieces when you send your little surfer scooting to Lin's home page at http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B001K8SDAA where he keeps stirring up more good things for the soul.

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