I was six, maybe seven, and you loaded me up in the pick up truck with you and made sure my seatbelt was fastened tight. My feet didn’t touch the floorboard, so I swung them back and forth and looked down at my Lady Hiker boots with the red shoe strings. Size small.
I stared out at a pale blue blanket of snow, as the first stars of Christmas Eve blinked in and out of twilight. You started the engine and the grease still covering your hands left smudges on the steering wheel. You turned up the heat and pointed your vent toward me. And as we drove away down the driveway, big clumps of mud still stuck to the tires from your going to work that day fell off and left tracks in the snow.
In case we needed help finding our way home.
You drove us to Angler’s Roost and parked near the door, tailgate first. We went in, and you held my hand while you talked to people much taller than me. They tried to help you, but you…,you already knew exactly what you wanted. Seven burnished brown cherry gun cabinets, with the etching on the glass and the curio display. To go please. The man behind the counter had to pick his jaw up off the cash register before he could ring you out, and the whole store stopped to watch as they loaded those cherry cabinets in the back of a muddy pick up truck.
You fastened my seatbelt tight again, and we spent the rest of the night driving to seven different houses with seven different sets of Christmas lights, the home of the seven different winter-worn and weary loggers that worked for you. We knocked on doors and gave fruit baskets to the wives and brown teddy bears with red and green scarves to the kids. And then I watched you help unload seven burnished brown cherry gun cabinets, and stand in the doorways of seven men’s homes as you thanked them in front of their families. Thanked them for putting it all out on the line. For working from sun up to sun down, day in and day out. Even when they were hurt, even when they were sick, even when it was freezing outside. You told them it was a job they should be proud of. And you told them how proud of them you were.
And do you wanna know what? All the while you were doing this, I wasn’t watching their faces. I wasn’t even watching yours. I was watching the faces of their kids. At how they stood a little taller. Looked at their dads a little differently. How they felt that pride inside of them too.
I was six, maybe seven and even I knew that you had probably spent your very last dollar buying those cherry gun cabinets, with the etching on the glass and the curio display. But I also knew that that night it didn’t matter, because that night we were the richest people on the planet. That was night you taught me what it really means to build someone up, to be grateful and humble and say the things that need to be said, to make room at the table for everyone, and to maybe work a little miracle somewhere in there too.
Sometimes in this old world, it’s easy to get lost and forget what really matters. But then I remember nights like this, and I’m so grateful that I’ll always have your example to remind me.
In case I need help finding my way home.