It happens in a flash, life. And it’s strange watching the outside get old while the inside feels the same. I’ve never felt young on the inside.
As a boy I would watch my mother’s reflection in her dresser mirror while she added the finishing touches to her hair and makeup. Through a cloud of Final Net, I would squint my eyes tightly, and she would remind me of Doris Day in Midnight Lace. Like all the women I adored watching on television and movies, she was beautiful.
It was exactly how I dreamed of being when I grew up. How I dreamed the world should be – filled with beauty, and glamour. I didn’t understand that a boy from the Midwest was expected to be a certain way. It was a way that I certainly wasn’t, and would never be. But beauty and glamour played no part in that expectation.
Through the thick white rock dust I could see my grandfather working the wide flat shovel. Seems there had been several types of rock to choose from and Papaw had been painstaking with his choice. Base Rock; finish rock, wash rock and pea gravel. The rocks were apparently irregular in size making it difficult to spread. Never particularly caring what anyone might hear or think, Papaw believed in expressing his opinions. About every third Goddamn brought a gasp from Mom who was standing in the window, wide-eyed, with anticipation of the dust and grit that would (by her account) find its way inside the house.
Papaw was hilariously irreverent with his Goddamn this and Goddamn that. I was used to the men in my immediate world – my father calling me stupid and useless, with every free moment spent in church being told to be perfect. Papaw was instead wonderfully outrageous. He was my hero.
Papaw took his projects very seriously. As a truck driver who hauled rock, gravel and coal for a living, this project was intense. Papaw seemed to hold expert knowledge and skill in pretty much everything he was interested in. My father found this high level of expertise unbearable, and this perhaps explained his absence that morning. And even though Papaw threatened to drop the Goddamn shovel and walk away if my father suddenly appeared, he nonetheless talked for years about breaking his back alone, while being covered in rock dust.
Our house sat up on a hill, away from the Pike Forest road. It was small with no trees, but after my Papaw was done, it had a very elaborate rock driveway. Behind the house was a field. It was enclosed in a rusted barbed wire fence, with a gate made from wood beams and sheet metal. You could look out across the wide-open space and see our horses drinking from a small pond. A few feet from the gate was an old barn with a black tarpaper roof. One of my designated chores was shoveling horseshit out of the barn into a wheel barrel. For someone who wanted to grow up and be glamorous, this was nothing less than pure torture. Flies dancing around my head, and the horrible smell filling my nostrils. I gagged dramatically. Rolling the wheel barrel down an old dirt path leading into the woods on this particular day, I cleared my throat and began singing “The Morning After” from ‘The Poseidon Adventure.
Afterwards, sitting on the seat of the rusted out old tractor, I took a bite of my baloney sandwich and looked across the field. These were all the things found on a farm in the middle of Indiana.
“Boy, you do something right the first time and ya’ll only have to do it once.” A piece of advice Papaw reminded me of throughout my childhood. That night standing and looking out over the newly finished driveway, Papaw beamed. The rock dust had settled and almost glistened under the setting sun. Walking the entire length of the winding driveway, he made a final inspection. I had no idea what this driveway would come to represent, but someday I would find out.