WHISTLE

Whistle

When it finally happened, I wasn't even thinking about it no more. My whistling simply echoed around me in happy, ecstatic trills. But after 42 long years Daddy finally asked me: "Son, how did you ever learn how to whistle like that?"

And my heart stopped because once upon a time I would have moved mountains just to hear him ask that question.  My thoughts raced backwards to that day around the hot stove with somebody whistling on the radio.  "You done it, Daddy." I told him.
 
"You taught me how to whistle."

Well, he didn't believe it.  Daddy shook his head. "No. Nobody in our family knows how to whistle, son. I didn't teach you how."

And the years were stripped away more surely than ever. "Yeah you did, Daddy. You taught me how to whistle. When we lived on Narramore ranch you told me that you had always wanted to whistle, but never learned how. You said that if I ever learned how to whistle a tune you'd give me a dollar."

He tried to remember. 
He almost remembered.
And then he remembered how true it might have been.

His eyes grew misty, and mine glistened too as I continued. "Boy Daddy, I practiced for months, but my mouth just wasn't made right. All I could ever get was some piercing shrieks. I must have given up on the project a thousand times. Only, I couldn't because I really wanted to earn that dollar for you. I thought it would make you happy since you were willing to give me a whole dollar if I could."

We had to laugh at that because back then one dollar would have bought 20 ice cream cones in July and one dollar in your pocket meant 3 hours in the sun had been spent to get it.

As our chuckles died away there was an emptiness in the room and he wasn't trying to fill it. So I did, slowly, haltingly, painfully because real men don't share things like this easily.

"So I always came back to give it another shot, Daddy. Sometimes my whistle would get a little bit better, and I'd think, Hey, this is good enough. So I'd sneak in close behind you and I would try to whistle you a tune.

"Most of the time you never even looked at me when I tried. I don't think you even heard me. You never said nothing. Never a word.
"So I'd know I wasn't really whistling, and I'd give up again. Only I couldn't. And I kept coming back to it. I knew that someday I'd be good enough to whistle you a tune if I just kept trying. I knew that someday I'd whistle a tune so good that you knowed it was a tune and give me that dollar.
 
"I was going to earn that dollar. And boy, many a time when I NEEDED that dollar I'd fly into practicing again even though you were a hundred miles away.

"Finally I done it."


Up on the DMZ, hunkered down in an icy Korean foxhole I whistled a real tune. That whole winter, when I was shivering the most and fighting to stay warm on guard duty I dreamed of the day I got home when I could strut my stuff in front of you, Daddy.

"I practiced on that one tune all that winter, and on up into the Korean monsoon downpours until there were times I could recognize almost every part of that tune I was whistling. Only, when I finally did get home and whistled that tune as we walked in the field cutting portholes open, your head just turned the other way and found more work for me to do.
 
It most broke my heart to find out that even after all that practicing, I still wasn't good enough to whistle you a real tune."

"I gave up again,
"and again.


"I wanted to give up forever, so bad, because I just couldn't whistle good enough even after years of practice -- Only I couldn't quit because by that time I had taught myself never to give up on anything important. And I kept coming back to practice my whistling all over again because I was determined to earn that dollar for you if it was the last thing I ever did on this earth.
 
"Over the years I've whistled a tune for you a thousand times. But you never seemed to hear me, Daddy.

"It was a great disappointment, but gradually I realized you had forgotten that promise you had made to me.
 
"Finally I had to realize your promise had been given on the spur of the moment, that you had intended for me to learn how to whistle that very week, or maybe even that very day, as if anybody on earth could do something you couldn't do!
 
"And then you'd forgotten about it when I let you down on yet one more thing."

"Being your first born son wasn't ever easy.

"But even then I never quit practicing because I knew that whistling had meant something important to you once and just maybe you was feeling a little pleasure those times when I whistled near you.

"It has taken me 40 years, and I still can't whistle very good. But Daddy, I'm the best whistler I'll ever be, and I, I still want that dollar Daddy."

When I paused, I had to pause, I looked up and I saw tears, silver tears, squinting from Daddy's old, tired, gray eyes. "Son," he whispered. "Just hearing the way you've learned to whistle has been worth a thousand dollars to me."

And, you know what? Just hearing my daddy say that was worth more than 20,000 ice cream cones in the middle of July to me.

My eyes were glistening so badly I could hardly open the door fast enough to hurry outside, before my heart busted open.

I felt like whistling for God.

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