The True FatherSteven Anderson Law
For my boy, Tegan. God's greatest gift.
Goldminds Publishing, Inc.
1050 Glenbrook Way, Suite 480
Hendersonville, TN 37074
The True Father
Copyright Â© Steven A. Anderson, 2008.
Originally published in paperback under the title Rodeo Summer by Goldminds Publishing, June 2006.
PUBLISHER'S NOTE: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are a product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Without limiting the rights under the copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book. Printed in the United States of Americawww.goldmindspub.com
“There is a universal structure to the western novel that goes beyond the call to adventure, the journey into the deepest, darkest cave, and it is this: The hero's search for his true father.”
Â Â Â
Â Â I expected to experience a deeper sense of fulfillment after completing four years of college. No more late nights cramming for midterm or final exams, or bickering with professors over the clarity of their test questions. And I had already lined up that “perfect job” at a downtown Kansas City accounting firm, with my own private cubicle and reserved parking space. According to the Dean, my professors and classmates, I had done everything right to earn it. The proof was right next to my name in the commencement program: Trevor Hodge, Magna cum laude, National Honor Society, Dean's List. A model grad, I was told, with a special gold rope hanging over my shoulders and down the front side of my commencement gown to prove it. But where was this foretold sense of satisfaction?
Here we were, nearly one hundred salty graduates organized alphabetically in neatly arranged plastic chairs, our brains stuffed with four years of formula and debatable business theory, all anxious to set foot into the real world. And now, our last task, to listen to the Dean's commencement speech that no one will ever remember, just so we can go on to that perfect job.
Â Â All I had to do was glance down the row behind me at Ernie, my best friend during this four-year trek of the brain, to suddenly realize why it all seemed in vain. He was there through it allâthe midnight oil, the long journeys across the campus parking lots, the good and bad test scores, and the hops and barley celebrations afterwards. But now, for Ernie and I, it was so long. Rather than putting all this new knowledge to work he chose to give three more years to law school at the University of Michigan. He wasn't from around here so it was unlikely that we would ever see each other again. Plus, like I had told him, there's something about law school that takes all the affability out of peopleâa bar exam and one huge something or other up their ass to make them forget about what's important in life. Â Â Because we were friends he always took the teasing well.
Â Â But in reality we both knew that after today it was good-bye.
Â Â After the ceremony, I gathered with my family for pictures out in the lawn in front of the campus recreation center. My mom seemed exceptionally proud, wearing out my smile with two rolls of thirty-six-exposure film. She took at least a dozen with my maternal grandparents who drove up from their Arizona retirement retreat just for me.Â
Â Â There was Mom's boyfriend, Walter, a Kansas City entre-preneur she had been dating for a grand total of three weeks. He was rich and she liked that. She also thought he was cute. I thought he was a penis head.Â
Â Â There were several photos with my two aunts and their husbands, plus cousins, friends, neighbors, and a few with Amber, my significant other for the past year. She was a semester behind me but in the same accounting program. We had studied a lot together, and were workout partners at the campus fitness center three times a week. So you might say we were more friends than lovers. We cared deeply for each other but mostly all we had in common was a keen understanding of Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. And for some reason our dinner conversations over this topic rarely had enough spice to lead to romance.
Â Â Ernie joined me for a couple of memory photos before Mom handed him the camera to take our picture together. During one of the poses with Mom I noticed a man behind Ernie who stood slightly to the left watching us. Mixed with the many people in the lawn, from the men in suits and neckties, the women in dresses or pantsuits, to the students in commencement attire, this man clearly stood out. Under the shade of a straw cowboy hat was a swarthy face that seemed rough and leathery. His bodily features were exceptionally thin, especially his legs, which bent awkwardly in faded blue jeans. A large oval belt buckle glistened in the sunlight. And on his lanky frame he wore a white short-sleeved western shirt with a bolo tie.
Â Â “Mom, I think that guy is staring at us,” I said.
Â Â He acknowledged my observation of him with a nod and a touch of his hat brim.
Â Â “Oh my God,” Mom said.
Â Â “What?”
Â Â “What on earth is he doing here?”
Â Â “Who is he?”
Â Â “He'sâyour uncle.”
Â Â The only uncles I ever knew were my mom's two brothers in-law, and they both stood to my right drinking punch from the complimentary commencement refreshment table. So before I could ask her for more information, this cowboy she called my uncle started walking toward us. As he drew closer, I took a keen liking to his friendly smile, one that seemed earnest and polite, much different than the one our Dean had painted on for all his graduates. And when he approached, he looked at Mom and greeted her by name, and then at me, and he knew my name as well.
Â Â “Jeremiah,” Mom said. “What a surprise.”
Â Â “I'm sorry for barging in like this,” he said. His voice was somewhat gravely but genial. “I went by your house. A fella across the street said Trevor was graduating today. I keep my tie in the glove box just for such emergencies.”
Â Â Before I could wallow in any more confusion, Mom introduced me.
Â Â “Trevor, this is Jeremiah Hodge. Your uncle.”
Â Â Being that his last name was the same as mine, I quickly assumed he was my father's brother.Â
Â Â “Why are you here?” Mom asked.
Â Â “Well, this is a tough one, Bonnie. And I hate to deliver such news, being a special day and all.”
Â Â “What news?” she asked.
Â Â Jeremiah looked at me, his Adam's apple moved up then down as he swallowed, then shared again that gentle smile. “It's Jettie. He was killed two days ago.”
Â Â Jettie was my father. I never knew him and knew very little about him, but I did know his name. It was rarely spoken, in fact, I couldn't remember the last time. All I ever knew was that he was a loner, a rodeo man, who resided somewhere in Oklahoma and all year long traveled the rodeo circuit. I don't remember ever seeing him, nor had I ever seen a picture of him. All I knew was that he was a man Mom wanted nothing to do with, and whom she said we were better off without.
Â Â “I'm sorry,” Mom said. “What happened?”
Â Â “Oh, you know Jettie. I swear that man had more balls than brains. We all told him to stay off them bulls, that he was too old. But he would never quit, and he hopped up on ol' Cyclone down in Fort Worth. It wasn't pretty, Bonnie.”
Â Â I didn't quite know how to feel, except when Jeremiah looked at me, he released with his eyes some sort of mystic compassion that held me captive.
Â Â Mom sighed and grabbed my hand.
Â Â “Well, I'm glad you came, Jeremiah,” she said. “But you could have called.”
Â Â He pushed his hat up and bowed his head. Several strands of sweaty gray hair fell across his forehead. “Yeah, I tried that but they said your number was unlisted. All I had was an address on an old letter, one that I found in Jettie's house. It was returned several years ago.”
Â Â He pulled a letter-sized envelope out of his shirt pocket and unfolded it. It had yellowed from age, and the address was handwritten in blue ink, which looked like writing from a fifth grader. And just below the cancelled stamp was a blotch of red printing that read “return to sender”.
Â Â Jeremiah raised his eyebrows at both of us, then folded the envelope and put it back in his pocket.
Â Â “I'm sorry about that,” Mom said. “But why now?”
Â Â “Well, the funeral is in a couple days. Maybe you'd like to go.”
Â Â “Oh, I don't think soâ”
Â Â “What about the boy?”
Â Â “I doubt Trevor would be interested. He didn't even know Jettie.”
Â Â “Jettie was his pa, Bonnie.”
Â Â From her silence, I could tell Mom didn't know how to respond to this bit of truth. And from the sincere look on Jeremiah's face, I began to feel that he was on more of a mission than simply a bearer of sad news.
Â Â “I don't know what to say,” Mom finally said.
Â Â “You don't have to say anything, Bonnie. The funeral is in Spiro Monday. It's at the Methodist churchâyou know, the one where you and Jettie were married.”
Â Â Along with the same smile he arrived with, Jeremiah pulled his hat back down, nodded at both of us, wished me congratulations then turned and walked away. I had never seen a man walk the way he didâsway more than strut, as if his legs were stiff and permanently bent. And even as he walked away, there was a certain power in his presence. More so than the excitement of commencement day or the news he came to share.
Â Â But as I looked at Mom, as she watched his departure, I could see a look of fear in her eyes.
Â Â “Are you okay?” I asked.
Â Â “Ah, yes. I'm fine.”
Â Â “That was strange, huh.”
Â Â “Yeah, wellâthank God he's gone.”Two
Â Â Our house was a small English Tudor styled bungalow in a quaint area of town, not far from the Country Club Plaza. The Plaza, as it was commonly called, was built and maintained by the affluent of Kansas City. To be associated with it, or live anywhere near it, meant you were either rich or moderately wealthy. We were neither, but Mom liked to hint that we lived that way, which also explained why she dated guys like Walter.
Â Â Inside and out, every chair in our little mansion was taken. The entire family showed up, including Walter, along with several friends and neighbors, even some who didn't come to the commencement. Â The patio was a popular place, but the shyer guestsâwhom I assumed just came for the free foodâhid inside. A few settled for one of several folding chairs that Mom brought up from the basement or rented from a party store, while others chose to stand. But wherever they sat or stood, they ate. Each held a small plastic plate full of food, and somewhere near them, a clear plastic cup filled with either pink punch or beer. And though this was supposedly the opulent section of town, we weren't opposed to serving tuna fish on pumpernickel rye, cocktail sausages out of a crock-pot, or Bud Light out of a keg.Â
Â Â Amber and I nabbed a couple of the folding chairs and took them out to the patio. She wasn't much of a drinker so she chose the punch. But I had an acquired taste for beer, one developed with Ernie the first semester of our freshman year, and tested almost every evening since. Today that acquired taste prompted a peculiar craving.
Â Â “So aren't you excited?” Amber asked.
Â Â “About what?”
Â Â “Everything. Look around you. This is all for you. It's your big day.”
Â Â “Ohâyeah.”
Â Â “Is something wrong?”
Â Â At first I wasn't sure whether it was the commencementâbeing the proverbial “kicked out of the nest” dayâor whether the visit from Jeremiah made me feel the need to escape. But I didn't tarry long with the thought. Jeremiah's visit stunned me. Before he came everything was in place. My degree, my new job, all that I had worked for. But now I stood on a great platform of uncertainty, wondering what this whole day was about.
Â Â “Amber, we're pretty good friends, wouldn't you say?”
Â Â “Of course.”
Â Â “But I've really never told you much about my personal life, have I?”
Â Â “No, I guess not. But you could start if you needed to.”
She smiled tenderly, stood her cup of punch on the patio floor then held my arm with both hands. She looked different than usual. At first I thought it was the yellow sundress and white sandals. But then I realized her hair was down, shoulder length and in a bob, rather than up in a clip. And she wore a different lipstick and eye shadow. She was a natural blonde, petite with fair, olive skin. A thin face with oval shaped glasses that gave her a sophisticated look. She wasn't what most would expect to see on the cover of Cosmopolitan, when more likely, I could visualize her on the cover of Fortuneâthe first lady executive to be paid more than the average male CEO.