by Jordan Green
If I think about anything around Christmastime, it’s that our corporeal lives are flashing so quickly past. How important it is to live in the moment and to be present with each other.
During the Christmas season of 1991, just before my 17th birthday, I resolved to live with as much immediacy as possible. I developed a philosophy that when a notion struck me, I would just do that thing with as little forethought as possible. If the idea came that I should take down my laundry, I would grab a basket, head out the backdoor and start pulling my clothes off the line. Or write a poem. Or pick up my guitar. I started a ritual of going outside as soon as I woke up and shouting, “Hurrah!” to put place the proper emphasis on the beginning of the day. The practice amused, impressed and mortified my mom, all at the same time.
My friend Bluegrass and I decided impulsively to celebrate the Winter Solstice by staying up until dawn. After a party, we found ourselves in the kitchen of his hippie mom’s place, known as the Schoolhouse — it was, in fact, a Depression-era elementary school with a drafty auditorium and two classrooms under a perpetually leaking roof. We brewed a pot of coffee at 11 p.m. to gird ourselves for the rite. We wandered frozen cow fields under the moonlight and talked about the mysteries of the opposite sex. And a couple hours before the first glimmers of sunlight peaked over the horizon, we climbed to the top of a wooded hill and then, at Bluegrass’ suggestion, sprinted to the bottom, bobbing and weaving through the hardwoods. In hindsight, it was a pretty dumb thing to do, but I’m afraid I have no regrets.
When I look back, the grace note of that time was the fact that, somehow, the anger and discontent that had gripped me like a bad case of acne for the past four years was beginning to wear off. My puerile contempt for my parents was softening. It seems so silly now that I faulted them, and I think now about the waste of not mining every ounce of their hard-earned wisdom. I had come down on my dad for his solicitousness toward the society matrons who paid him to landscape their yards, and on my mom for always looking for something good to say about the religious authoritarians who employed her at Owen County Schools. I had numbed myself to what I considered my peers’ mindless conservatism, but that Christmas I was starting to appreciate little glimmers of the potential for shared pleasures, adventures and simple fellowship.
I had been super sensitive to perceived slights by my dad — my goodness, I can’t even remember what they were now — and angrily pushed him away when he tried to engage with me. He was a really good dad, taking me and my sister to New York City and Vermont the previous summer, picking me up after school to go running, and bringing me to art openings. I took all of it for granted and never told him thank you.
It’s funny when you look back on it how we seem to have a sixth sense for resolving our unfinished business when we need to. For me, it came as a simple invitation from my dad to join him and his friends in the hot tub during a party after that Christmas. The hot tub was a product of his ingenuity. A stock tank that had been used to water the cattle, it was wrapped in insulation, propped on cinderblocks and equipped with gas burners from a range top. In addition to winter recreation, the hot tub provided a source of heat to incubate seedlings in our greenhouse for the next growing season. But on this particular night, sitting with my dad and his friends, not really talking so much as listening to their mellow conversation, I felt respected and included. I felt close to my dad in a way that I hadn’t in a long while.
My birthday falls about three weeks after Christmas. With more gifts, special meals and cake, it felt like an extension of the holiday. To make it even better, when my sister and I awoke the next day a heavy snow had fallen overnight and we learned that school had been canceled. We ate a late breakfast of pancakes. And then my dad went out to feed the cattle. It wasn’t much longer before I went out, too — I had the job of burning the trash outside. I don’t recall if I heard a thump or if I have invented that memory with the subsequent facts, but I certainly heard his cry, a low moan like you might expect from an injured animal. I found my dad on the ground; a large round bale of hay had slipped out of the front-end loader of the tractor and rolled over his back as he leaned into the steering wheel. His lungs were crushed. He was gone before he made it to the hospital.
Take care, Richard. I’ll never get over losing you.