Family History

When I was 16, my father and I were walking in from checking crops. Our home place was a half-section – a rectangle ½ mile wide by 1 mile long – so a walk to the middle could be accomplished inside the space of a conversation. On our way back to the house, my father spotted a rusty glint of metal recently turned by the plow.

“Look at that,” he said with some amazement as he retrieved it from the earth.
“What is it?” I asked.
“It’s a switchblade. I smuggled it from Mexico when I was 16.” He knocked the dirt from it and turned it in the sun. The wooden handle had mostly rotted. The blade bore the pocks of oxidation. “Me and Jeff S. hid the knife in the air filter of our truck. The border guards checked everything, even our Skoal cans, but they didn’t check the air filter.”

It dawned on me that I, too, was 16, and that had I been my father, I would be traveling to old Mexico (an 18-hour drive) with a buddy. “Your mom and dad let you drive to Mexico when you were 16?” I asked.
“Things were different then.”

He went on to tell me that he and Jeff S. had gone through Galveston on the same trip. Jeff was driving and ogling some bikini girls on the beach when a child ran out in front of them. Jeff didn’t see the boy, and he flopped up on the hood. It had been 20 years, so Dad didn’t remember all that happened. The boy went to the hospital. Jeff got a ticket. And that was the end of it. They decided to go on to Mexico.

Jeff and Dad had been very close. Dad even served as best man in Jeff’s wedding. I was born about the same time as Jeff’s oldest son. As the obligations of adulthood grew, then Dad and Jeff grew apart.

When I was in college, both of Jeff’s sons got involved with some meth dealers. A few things went bad, and both of the boys were involved in a murder. They dismembered the body and buried it beneath six-feet of concrete in an abandoned grain silo. The son who is my age will never get out of prison. The younger got a much lighter sentence as an accessory.

I feel like my life has been an narrow escape of that fate. I wonder if my father feels the same way.

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