Nine years ago I was sitting in a small office with my boss, next to a young Columbian. He was interviewing to become our Latino community service coordinator. His white shirt shone against his olive skin, he answered questions passionately and smiled often. He had raised the issue of “family” and mentioned he had many brothers and sisters. Jokingly he was sharing a story about his mother and his father who lived in his home country, and then his sister who lived in Oklahoma. He mentioned his older brother was a role model to him. One of us followed up with a question: “What is it about your brother you admire?”
The smile left his face. An indiscernible emotion took its place, and he began to tell us that his first brother had been “promised to the Church” and had become a priest. One day he was talking with his brother on the street, a gang ran up to him, and shot him point blank in the head. I’ll never forget this young man’s face when he said with his Latin’ accent, “There…you, you could see his brains.”
This was not the day I was expecting. My school was closed in honor of Veterans Day. I woke up at 3:00AM (my usual time), got comfortable, and managed to stay in bed ‘til 7:00AM. My day had endless possibilities. I walked around in pajamas, drank coffee, and watched a little TV, but a missed call from my husband plus a voicemail was how I learned that my father-in-law, Chris Allgyer, the reason we get to enjoy this beautiful country life, died in his sleep. Chris had spent the last five days at home but the previous six weeks in the hospital fighting complications from cancer.
The rest of the day was a whirlwind of tears, visitors, and funeral arrangements. Even the animals were confused at all of the activity. One of my indoor cats ran outside and had still not come back in by our bedtime adding to my conflicted emotional state. I went to bed but did not sleep.
In 2004 after we sold our house in the city, we moved in with Chris. The trailer was small, but cozy. Well, not as cozy as it was HOT. He kept the thermostat at 73 degrees all while running the propane heater in the living room. I tried to watch Friends reruns, but he insisted on watching anything on the Encore Western channel instead. Chris loved Western movies. Gradually, the Westerns grew on me. I loved the horses and the old-fashioned cowboy attire. I even consented to watch different versions of the same movie…the old one…. and the really old one. We continued the “watching Westerns during dinner” tradition even after we moved into our own house. Most Sunday nights I would cook dinner for Greg and Chris, Chris would complain that I didn’t put enough chicken in whatever we were having (he called it “dragging the chicken through”), and I would find a Western for us to watch during dinner. After dinner Chris would settle in the big chair, close his eyes, and ask for a blanket. Our thermostat was not set at 73 degrees.
One day while I was mowing Chris’s yard, I came across some wild blackberries. He informed me that he knew about a gold mine of the berries and promised to take me. The next morning we gathered our buckets and I met him at the tractor. I stood on the Bush Hog (kids, don’t try this at home) and he drove us down to the corner of his property. We picked pails of blackberries and I made my first blackberry jam and cobbler. This past summer he was too sick to take me, so while my OSU friend Kim was visiting, I took them both to a nearby blackberry farm. Kim complained about the thorns and Chris could not breath well enough to get out of the car to help. Chris, sitting there in the car, reminded me of how he used to sit in his own truck in the shade and take a nap. The cobbler didn’t taste nearly as sweet as it did the summer before.
In the summertime, it was often only Chris and I at the ranch. If I had a little cash on me, I would text Chris and ask him to lunch. His first question would always be to ask me where I got the money. My standard answer would be “Don’t worry about it. I’ve had a windfall profit.” He always laughed and started calling any amount of cash I had on me a windfall profit. We would try to go to lunch at least once a week or two to the post office in Laconia, TN. It was one of his favorite places to eat. For me, not so much, but I would still go and get a little cornbread and green beans while he loaded his plate down with chicken livers, greens, and other country-fried foods. It didn’t take me long to clean my plate so I could be the first to survey the dessert table and report back the selection. I’d pay the tab (a total of $8.50 for all-you-can-eat) and we’d head home. On into the evening he would walk out onto the back porch, turn on the porch light, start up the diesel (I could hear it from my house) and take off for a late night cup of coffee and a lottery ticket. Before I went to bed I would wait for his headlights to come up his driveway. If my husband was still awake, I’d simply say, “Dad’s home.” The truck was parked and the porch light was turned off.
This morning I woke up to find my missing cat scurrying on the porch past the French doors that face Chris’s trailer. I noticed the porch light at Chris’s still on. I know the evenings of looking for his headlights coming up the drive are gone and that porch light will stay on until one of us goes up there to turn it off. Once I let the cat safely in the house, I thought to myself, “Dad’s home.”
Showcasing Red Dirt culture ~ authored and managed by contributors with connections to the great state of Oklahoma.