By Jonathan Parker
This week we decided to feature a story from the Creative Nonfiction class that we felt deserved to be shared. The author chose to use a pseudonym due to the personal nature of the story.
He drunkenly poured gasoline into the chainsaw by the dim light of his glowing cigarette. My uncle, completely unaware of what dangers might be present and, additionally, what he shouldn’t being doing in front of his nephews, was determined to get that tree out of the way so we could continue off-roading. My brother and I exchanged glances, and then my dad’s
Obligatory Dad Voice kicked in: “Guys, don’t ever try what your uncle is doing.” That was the night my uncle, brother and father all got drunk and got us lost and stuck in the thick woods a mile out from the farm. It was a weird night for me. I saw my 18-year-old brother pound a large shot of Kentucky bourbon before my dad slapped him on the butt and said, “Damn, son!”
I’d never really seen my father express his sadness before, but in the days before we got word his father had died and flew back to Kentucky for the funeral, my dad hung his head a little lower, spoke a little less and stayed in his office a lot longer. After the reception had passed and we had said all of our saddened “It was good seeing you despite the circumstance”s, my mother decided it would be good for my brother and me to stay the night on the farm with my dad and his brother because “He doesn’t get to see all you guys at once very often and he needs a night with his guys.” It only took 20 minutes of sitting around in a circle telling stories about The Old Man before my uncle broke out the bourbon he had been saving for a special night, and it only took 10 minutes of that to decide, “Let’s go four-wheeling on our land!” We owned a couple acres in the back woods around my Pappy’s farm. I’ll never forget the image of my dad standing up in the back of the moving truck and shouting, “Everything you can see is Parker Territory!”
The first time we got stuck, all it took was my uncle’s brilliant chainsaw operating to get us out, but the second time we got stuck, my uncle was passed out. My dad kept saying the classic “We’re not stuck,” and after 20 minutes of him trying various techniques, my heart-sink came in the form of my dad’s “Well boys, we’re in a tough one.” My uncle was passed out in the bed of the truck, my brother was dry-heaving over the side and my dad was trying to convince me he was going to walk back and get help. Him being drunk and us being lost, I thought this was an awful idea. But my dad insisted and I watched him stumble through the woods with the stability of a man who had just been in a helicopter crash.
The night passed in a blurry, anxiety-filled, half-asleep-ness. I woke up at 7:00am to the sound of my uncle and dad hooking the truck up to another to pull us out of our deep rut. We were saved. I slept soundly for the next four hours when we got back to the farm and simply replied “It was interesting” when my mother asked us how our night was.
I think doing donuts on the grassy clearing of Parkerland probably had a healing affect on my dad. I think sitting around a bonfire drinking bourbon with family in the middle of a cold, Kentucky winter was what my old man needed. And watching him go through that grieving, and, eventually, healing process helped me to see my dad as so incredibly human, since before, he was emotionally invincible in my eyes. I’m not good at consoling people, but I do know now that when someone is sad and needs a lift, fellowship and off-roading is a good place to start.
12 hours before our night adventure in the woods, we spread my grandfather’s ashes on the hillside behind the farm – another part of the land we owned. My little cousin dipped a plastic spoon into the coffee can and walked along the hill sprinkling my grandfather into the earth: Parker ash, into the Parker land.