I thought of you a few days ago. I was driving past a controlled burn. The fire department had lit up half of the lower Alabamian forest. It was terrifying but beautiful—the flames surrounding the trees. Fire trucks lined the road. It took several men on four-wheelers just to manage it.
“That’s a prescribed burn,” you said once, watching a forest fire. “It can save the woods, kills off bad things.”
“Really?” I asked.
“Yes sir. You should see this forest in a few months. It’ll be green, far as the eye can see. Fire ain’t always a bad thing.”
Maybe not. But it’s deadly stuff. I remember the day we burned off thistles and dead weeds in the pasture. After saturating ten acres with gasoline, the fire got all the way to the porch and nearly burned our house down.
The things I remember.
I also remember the time I wrecked the tractor. And how I did chores for god-knows-how-long to pay it off. Afterward, you rewarded me with a fishing trip, where I caught a large mouth the size of my leg.
You pulled it in the boat and said, “This here’s the kind you mount over your fireplace.”
That fish sits above my flatscreen television now.
How about another gold-plated memory?
Once, you came home late. You parked your truck way out in the tall grass, headlights shining at nothing. I hiked a mile to meet you. You just sat there on your hood, staring at the sky, a six-pack beside you.
You didn’t feel like talking, so we just looked at the night. Then, you started crying. And since adolescent boys don’t know what to do in these sorts of situations, I leaned onto your shoulder. You smelled like hard work and beer.
“Don’t tell anyone I cried,” you said, wiping your eyes.
Of course not. After all, it’s okay for grown men to feel like little boys from time to time—kind of like I’m feeling right now.
Anyway, you didn’t last much longer after that. They tell us you aimed just right and made it quick. God knows, I hope you didn’t suffer. Because we sure did.
It was like our whole life caught fire. In a few minutes, you wiped out everything, killed every palmetto, charred the bottoms of our trees. You ruined the whole damn forest. The world got black and empty like a graveyard. Nothing but ash.
Well, you ought to see our forest today. As it turns out, you were right.
Fire isn’t always a bad thing.
Happy Father’s Day, Daddy.