Monday, June 16, 2014
He needed work so he left his home in Maplewood, Minnesota and traveled to North Dakota, where the wheat needed threshing. Under the sun, he cut and bundled the wheat like his ancestors had done. Then he loaded the bundles into the new machine, the thresher.
A flywheel on a steam tractor drove the thresher via a huge belt. The machine made short work out the bundles. It was hungry and needed feeding.
The young man had to move fast to keep up.
As he loaded bundles for the thresher, he heard the low growl of fighter planes approaching from the south. The roar of the planes grew deafening as they passed overhead. Their engines drowned out the thresher, and the young man gaped, open-mouthed, in wonder at the power and gleaming grace of them.
Their aluminum skins shone under the sun.
The young man said to himself I will fly one of those some day.
It was 1942, and the young man was my father.
As he tells me this story, rain falls taps at the window of the motel dining room. He has aged in the last couple of years. His Parkinson's has slowed his speech, but his eyes and mind are still clear. That day back in North Dakota is still sharp in his memory.
We are here for a memorial service, and there is water everywhere. More keeps falling. The lakes are high, and the Otter Tail River is flooding.
It doesn't feel like June, and the wind carries storm after storm out of the west.
Even the old-timers are impressed. The presence of water is only exceeded by the green. Grasses and trees are flourishing where they are not drowning.
He fulfilled his dream of becoming a pilot, but being a pilot required that he fly in wars. Those years weigh heavy on him. His eyes betray the price he paid to fulfill his dream.
His brothers have gathered, and they, too, have stories to tell.
They talk about dreams fulfilled or deferred.
A cemetery surrounds surrounds the church on three sides. We gather as the rain falls again. It drums on the roof as brothers remember their deceased sister.
The waters that accumulate here run down to the streams. The streams run to the rivers. The rivers feed a thirsty nation. The waters carry lessons from the source as they move downstream.
The day after the memorial service, I drive out of the rain and into a warm and sunny Father's Day.
It would be easy to forget what I have heard from my father and his brothers. This busy life can drown out the lonely, dimmed memories of where I have come from.
That young man bundling wheat in North Dakota took a chance on a dream. Against what some might consider impossible odds, he succeeded.
His life was not easy, nor was it perfect. But it fanned an ember, a living spark of a dream.
That is what lingers as the bodies fade into darkness, into mist.