april 1K

april 1K

Gene was seventy-two and more nervous than he could ever remember. He stood alone in the garage, rubbing his sandpaper hands together, watching the specks of sawdust hang on the beams of sunlight parting the darkness above the canoe.

The project was finally finished.

And as if making up his mind about something, he stowed both his hands deep into the pockets of his blue overalls. He rocked slowly, heel to toe to heel.

Gene got the idea of building the canoe forty years ago, when his son Will was born and planned to get it done for his tenth birthday.

Will’s big “Over-the-Hill” party was tomorrow at the Moore’s place. He would be forty. The canoe was Gene’s gift to him. Thirty years belated. This would be the first present Gene would ever give on his own. His wife usually bought the presents, wrapped them, and signed both their names. Most often, Gene didn’t know what was under the wrapping paper until it was torn free.

Why did he let that happen?

Thirty years late. The original plan was to build it and take his son on a trip down the Niangua. Camping, fishing, rowing – bonding like a father and son should. But there always seemed to be something more pressing to be done. And instead of just renting a canoe and making the trip, the project grew into an obstacle larger and more insurmountable every passing year, and the very idea that was supposed to bring him and his son closer together kept them apart for decades.

Gene was a dutiful father. He came from a family of men who did their job. They worked. Farming, trucking, welding, repairing. Twelve hours a day – eighteen hours even. He drove a sixteen wheeler for most of his adult life. When a driver got sick or backed out of a delivery, dispatch called Gene. He descended from a family of men who didn’t complain. They didn’t say much of anything. Even at four in the morning, he’d say, “Okay” into the phone and roll out of bed and into his overalls without even grumbling to himself.

Silence isn’t always golden.

Over the years, Gene began to understand that there are two sides to keeping things to yourself: 1. You never say anything bad. 2. You never say anything good.

And when you don’t say anything good, those around you tend to fill in the blanks for you, and they tend to be wrong. So okay, that was three things he learned.

Will was turning forty tomorrow. Gene didn’t really know his son. And he knew his son didn’t really know him.

Will. His boy.

He would be here any minute. Gene ran his hand along the canoe’s smooth finish, his fingers tracing the water-tight seams. He imagined himself at forty, Will at ten, pushing and pulling themselves downstream in the canoe made by his own two hands. Rocks and sticks would knick the finish, making it the boat it’s meant to be. Gene imagines his boy casting a fishing line. The sun shines on Will’s bare back, and the water passes them lazily downstream. Gene reaches out, tousles his son’s hair, says, “You’re everything to me, boy.” Will smiles sheepishly and swats Gene’s hand away. He turns back to his bobber riding the tiny river crests. And that’s okay. Gene said it, and that’s what’s important.

But he didn’t say it. He never said it. It took him this long to even finish the boat. Who gives a gift thirty years late? How would Will take it? He was nervous. When you don’t put yourself out there, you never face rejection.

Will would be here any minute. He wanted to give it to Will in private – not at the big party, in front of everyone. The Moores wouldn’t want a canoe in their back yard anyway.

The side door of the garage opened, and Gene looked over, startled. It was his wife. A loyal woman who’d put up with a quiet man, a man who only says what’s needed, for longer than anyone ever should. He wanted to give her a trophy, or maybe some potted flowers, to make up for it. But that’s not what she wanted. She wanted the one thing, the hardest thing for him to give.

She gave him an extra moment to have these thoughts, then said, “Will’s here.”

Gene nodded.

“Are you ready,” she asked. He didn’t answer. “Come inside when you’re ready.” She started to close the door –

“Wait!” he said.

She looked back surprised. He didn’t say anything right away. But she waited for him like she’s waited almost five decades.

“I love you, lady,” he said.

She marched across the garage and wrapped her arms around him. She took up his sandpaper hands and kissed them. “I know,” she said. “And it’s good…it’s so good to hear.” He looked down to the top of her head and wondered at the impact of those three words. He tried them on again, “I love you,” and he got another squeeze before she let go.

“Now I’m ready,” he said.

She nodded and wiped her eyes. She touched his face as if she was seeing him for the first time after a very long trip. Then she went inside.

Gene reached into the canoe, grabbed an oar by its handle and stood the paddle against the floor, like a cane. He straightened his back and tried to swallow the frog in his throat.

“He’s waiting in the garage,” he heard her say in the kitchen. “He has something to show you.” Will made a reply Gene couldn’t hear. Then footsteps fell hard on the kitchen floor toward the garage.

Gene leaned on the oar and slowly rocked heel to toe to heel. “You’re everything to me, boy,” he whispered. “You’re everything –”

The door started to open, and Gene gripped the oar tightly to keep the rush of thirty years’ anticipation from blowing him over.

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33 Responses to “april 1K”


  1. 1 Rachel 04/10/2009 at 9:14 am

    Wow. This was heartwrenchingly beautiful…that feeling that I think about so often as a parent. How will they see me as an adult? Thank you for this.

  2. 2 Leah 04/10/2009 at 9:15 am

    I’m crying.

  3. 3 Beth 04/10/2009 at 9:38 am

    beautiful, I am crying too!

  4. 4 beth 04/10/2009 at 9:48 am

    um yeah – teary.

    wow. this is rich. gene is flesh & blood in less than 1000 words. great work. excellent.

  5. 5 Brian 04/10/2009 at 10:30 am

    oh man, you even put a little tear in my eye. great character, that gene.

  6. 6 jami 04/10/2009 at 11:14 am

    oh my. that is good stuff. i am choking back the tears.

  7. 7 julia 04/10/2009 at 12:09 pm

    absolutely beautiful.

  8. 8 Emily 04/10/2009 at 12:21 pm

    Tears filled my eyes a quarter of the way down the page.

    Beautiful.

  9. 9 pixie sticks 04/10/2009 at 1:05 pm

    these are so, so good.

  10. 10 Kim 04/10/2009 at 2:03 pm

    This is my favorite one yet!

  11. 11 Jewel 04/10/2009 at 2:49 pm

    “. . . watching the specks of sawdust hang on the beams of sunlight parting the darkness above the canoe.”

    David. You write beautifully. Genuinely, I absolutely love it. The vision of “sunlight parting the darkness” is stunning. Will you please write novels? I won’t tell you what to write about (wink wink), I’ll just read them. & love them.

    Hannah. Freak, I love this image. At first glance I thought it was a double exposure. It evokes pleasant feelings and memories I wish I had as a child. I also like the windows of light in the garage–it reminds me of the edges on a negative.

    Mmm mmm, you two are great. I love the Huffman’s.

  12. 12 Steph 04/10/2009 at 3:46 pm

    You two are amazing. Thank you for the wonderful weekend send-off. Cheers!

  13. 13 donche 04/11/2009 at 5:39 am

    Brilliant. My daughter turned me on to your page and it is just fantastic. Can not wait for the next….

  14. 14 maureen 04/11/2009 at 10:31 am

    Holy cow. My favorite so far. Dag. So good.

  15. 15 Billy 04/11/2009 at 12:50 pm

    Continually phenomenal.

  16. 16 Kris 04/11/2009 at 3:22 pm

    Fantastic. I found you last month – don’t remember how, but have been waiting anxiously for this month’s installment. You do not disappoint. Thanks for a great site.

  17. 17 Steph 04/12/2009 at 7:03 am

    Um, excuse me, but are the three children not enough for you people to slay us with your “collaborating”? If you keep this up, I will be dead for sure by July.

    Hannah, amazing. David, no words.

  18. 18 Ellen 04/12/2009 at 10:38 pm

    definitely my favorite so far.

  19. 20 toby 04/13/2009 at 7:37 am

    Fantastic!

  20. 21 aliciaalferman 04/13/2009 at 8:20 am

    wow.

    again, I’m blown away.

  21. 22 jmac 04/13/2009 at 10:16 pm

    who are you, and what have you done with my friend? bro, awesome. when is your first novel coming out (in paperback)?

  22. 23 claire 04/14/2009 at 2:01 pm

    oh gene. you’re a good man.

    love this one guys.

  23. 24 victoria 04/15/2009 at 11:50 am

    beautiful.

  24. 25 Els 04/26/2009 at 3:00 pm

    What a touching story! And the weird thing is that I postponed reading it without any specific reason. But tonight I did read it – after watching the dvd Big Fish for the second time. And the two wonderfully matched. Thank you. I loved it and cried.

  25. 27 Maureen S 04/30/2009 at 11:07 am

    I have read this story a few times and each time I can’t help but cry. These stories are amazing. And I love the photos. The two of you make an excellent team. I can’t wait for the next post!

  26. 28 mike 05/01/2009 at 10:39 am

    wow, david. that hits home.

  27. 29 Zilla 10/30/2009 at 9:14 am

    Awesome! Glad to have found this beautiful blog!

    Greetings from far away…

  28. 30 Maureen S 10/30/2009 at 12:42 pm

    I just came back to read this again. {sigh} I heart Gene.

  29. 31 Chantalle 04/19/2010 at 11:16 pm

    Wow, this has got to be one of the best.

  30. 32 kitty 10/04/2010 at 11:41 pm

    This is beaautiful. My favorite.

  31. 33 kitty 10/05/2010 at 10:13 am

    You told Gene so well that we know him.


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