Episode 4 - At the Root
Episode 4 - At the Root
Episode 4 - At the Root
After last week’s episode of siblings pulling together even when one is trying to pull away, Julian finds an essay from the opposite perspective. What happens when you live life as a tumbleweed? Beholden to no one but yourself?
What happens when an estranged parent tries to bring you back into the fold?
Also, Julian’s sister Anika has come back to Seattle from Chicago. Will the siblings pull together? Or pass like ships in the night?
Written and performed by Elliott Rose
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Transcription: Episode 4 - At the Root
Works of Love is a Rosecraft Production
Julian: This is "Works of Love: The Podcast" I'm Julian Silver. "Works of Love" is a meditation on a theme through listener submitted personal essays, that theme? Love, the possession of and lack of it. Today's essay is from Oscar McCoy from Salem, Oregon. His essay is entitled, “At the Root”.
Narrator (Julian): I was never particularly close to my father seeing as how he left us when when I was two. Never a card, never a call. Birthdays and christmases came and went without notice. On my graduation my uncle showed up a week before the ceremony because he was a simple man, good-natured, but simple. He had to skip town the night before I walked because of an outstanding warrant. .
Many years later Mom and me had a falling out. So did me and my brother. Most of my life has been spent falling out. I lost my girlfriend to my boss and then that boss fired me. So I figured this staying in one place and building a life sort of thing wasn’t for me. My mother joked my father was a tumbleweed.
So I spent most of my twenties driving around in an old 2005 Pontiac Sunfire. A white convertible with a top that wouldn’t go up. But that old thing and me, we toured this country. Texas sunsets in summer, where hordes of mosquitoes dot the damp horizons in itchy swarms. Winters in San Diego, taking a bite out of some Iraqi pastry after washing down a breakfast burrito with some German lager. Navigating New Mexican state parks with one headlight, falling asleep under the desert stars in that inky canyon darkness.
Of course, that’s the romanticized version. A lot of my time was spent scrounging for drug money, getting high, crashing, and then pursuing more drugs. But that’s all right, even tumbleweeds fly sometimes.
Somehow I scraped enough money together for a phone and somewhere in my head I remembered my mother’s number. I rang her but she didn’t pick-up so I left a message and she never called. Can’t blame her, not the way we left it. That woman has a right to her pain and I’m not a person to tell someone when they ought to forgive.
Called my brother and he did answer. Our conversation was lots of silence interrupted by a single question: “You gonna apologize?”
Now here’s the funny thing, I wanted to. I was angling for it. I think that’s the reason I called my family. Something was wrong and I was aiming to make it right. But when he asked me if I was gonna do it, well, to hell with him.
And that’s where we left it.
Wish I could tell you I grew up, the foolish pride beaten out of me by the various wrong turns life took me down, but none of that ever worked. Each chance I was given I refused. In Huntington, West Virginia me and my girl, at the time, were watching Citizen Kane and there’s a part where old Kane is selling control of his newspapers and Mr. Thatcher (his lawyer) asks him, “What would you liked to have been?” Kane looks at him and says, “Everything you hate.”
My girl stops the movie, looks me dead in the face and says, “That’s you.”
That night, after the movie, we talked about the future. I was just thirty and she was a few days shy of twenty but she was the breadwinner while I had the connects. But here was this girl, nearly twenty, unable to drink, being a minimum wage breadwinner, and she was moon-eyed, talking about the life we’d have. The life we’d share.
I kissed her as sweetly as I could cigarette smoke in my breath and we fell asleep. After a bit I got up, inflatable mattress squeaking the entire time, and I picked up a duffel bag, packed some things before getting on that road again. I left her the drugs I’d been keeping from her, I figured it a fine enough trade for the hundred I borrowed for gas. Or stole, depending on your moral compass.
But something about a teenager imagining her fifties struck me as improper and I couldn’t cotton to it. So I had to go.
About a year after I was working construction in Ashland when a black Buick pulled up to the site. A man in a fine suit, better than Brooks Brothers, steps out. I see him head to the portable lunch room, then to the foreman. The foreman points a fat finger at me who was looking dumb at the time in the scissor lift, and the man in the suit comes walking towards me. Now, I’d done a few things but nothing big enough to warrant a G-man searching for me. I thought it could’ve been the nineteen year-old, maybe there was baby McCoy I’d have to pay for. Then I wondered if I could get on the nightly news in a low-speed scissor lift chase.
“Mr. McCoy?” he said
“One of ‘em,” I said.
Enrique said, “Son como cucarachas,”
“I’m here to talk to you about your father.”
“Never talked about him before, not about to start,” I said.
“It’s about an inheritance,”
“Like money?” I said.
“Like money,” he said.
Well, I brought myself down and I was starting to think I’d look good in a suit like his. He gave me the card of the hotel he was staying at. Convenient in that it was just a few blocks away from the one I was staying in. Though I’m certain his did not have a monthly rate or needle disposal box on each floor. We made an appointment and I blew off work to make it because my boss wasn’t the kind that deserved notice.
When I got to the hotel room he was in another suit and it made me wonder if he has a lounge suit, perhaps that’s the Brooks Brothers one. Although, wearing suits in hotel rooms strikes me as some sort of ridiculous and I can’t pinpoint why. But, I’m not one to fixate too long on a man’s sartorial choices.
He told me my father died. Paused to see if I’d tear up or show any sort of emotion. Maybe a hearty yell to heaven so God and His angels could hear me lament never knowing the man.
It was an unnecessary pause.
Then he told me the good stuff: Dad left me a house in Salem and enough money to live work-free for two years. I asked if I could just sell the house and live work-free for a decade. He said it’d be smarter to work on it then sell it if my heart was set on it. He gave me the address, told me the first disbursement into my account would happen when I had proof of residence for the place.
So that night I got loaded, And the next morning drove the few hours it took to get to Salem hung over.
The house, well, the good things about it was it sat on four acres. The bad thing was you had to park at the edge of the lot and walk two acres with a machete and two brave men from the Yucata to help you forge your way through the growth to get to the two bedroom “structure” with an attached garage at the center of it.
Inside was just as untamed as the outside. Exposed drywall, one bathroom that had an exposed pipe with no toilet atop it. And carpet that hadn’t been changed since the Eisenhower administration and may have been home to some of those secret government biological weapons. I pulled a cig, smoked it, and then dropped the butt on the floor. Who cares, after all?
Out the backyard though, that’s when I saw it, a large Maple Tree, its leaves a summer green. Probably as old as the house itself. Despite all the wilderness around it, it had an elegant, near regal bearing. A few crows on its branches, I’m sure a few more higher than I could see.
I started calculating the cost of repairs, a lifetime of drifting in-and-out of bull carpentry gave me a pretty good feel for these sorts of things. Just material itself would take up about half of my year’s pay. Labor, the other half to year-and-a-half. And that was before looking at the garage and the hell that waited there.
So I did what I always did. Left. Went to Crater Lake and just thought on things. Wondered if my brother knew about the property, maybe he’d want to buy it. It took about half a day of thinking on that before I wondered how he felt about our Dad dying. I’m not proud it took me that long to wonder how he felt, but I’m honest of it.
After a week I came back with a twenty-four pack in tow. I picked up a Yellow Pages from some jerk’s stoop and got some camping supplies so I could pitch a tent in the old house and have some light.
I figured I might as well see what came of the garage to give a better estimate of the cost.
To my great surprise, when I opened it up, it was pristine. Perfectly lain cement. A brand new table saw that stops the instant it senses something other than wood. All the tools, construction and landscape, one could need. And then the other half of the garage held all the materials, including a toilet outfitted with a bow.
Everything needed to repair this old house and ready it for sale was there, I just needed to do the work. There was even a cot and a stereo.
I looked up at the sky and thought of my old man. Took a deep breath thenflipped him off.
First bit of order was cleaning the yard, make it easier to reach the house in my car. I’d grown tired of walking two acres to get to my house. It was slow going, but it was going. A bit of advice to your listeners: blackberry bushes are as hard to beat back as embarrassing memories, but if you’re consistent and unrelenting . . . you’ll still lose, but there’s a nobleness in a hard-won defeat.
After the month, I was able to survey the entire property. It was beautiful once. I could picture corn swaying in the fields. A strawberry patch stretching as far as the eye could care to see. Perhaps apple trees down the line. Things that grow, things that contribute to a life. Of course, I don’t know if Salem is hospitable to those crops, but still it was a nice picture, even if inaccurate.
Next came the great work of the house. Starting with the bottom floor I tore out the carpet and demoed some of the pre-WWII architecture to give it a more open floor plan. I figured on a laminate instead of the carpet that sat in the garage because I just like the feel of it and my guess is the people who eventually bought this place would like it too.
After a few lonely months, I made a friend. A Western Gray squirrel. Bold and curious, as I was taking a break crunching on some sunflower seed, she came up to me. I took to sharing some with her and every day at around noon she would show up. Eventually I set up a Foldgers can lid and placed a handful of seeds and we’d eat together while music played over the radio.
Eventually I took to going to the co-op and purchasing some trail mix and adding walnuts and cashews, pistachios, etc. A little buffet for her. When the fall started adding a bit of bite to the air, I added a little extra so she could take some home.
During the winter, it was too cold to leave the screen door open so I installed a doggy door and she’d pop through. Always punctual for our dates. In January I noticed she’d gotten a little hefty. I didn’t say anything because it’s impolite to mention a woman’s weight.
And then she was gone.
I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t hurt. And I’d be lying if I didn’t buy better snacks and waft it through the air to entice her back. But it was no use.
As I was putting the finishing touches on the house, another coat of interior paint and some finishing work I heard a little scratch at the back door. I had uninstalled the doggy door by this time.
I knew who it was before I turned and started reading her the riot act. I missed the girl, but I wasn’t going to let her know.
I stopped when I saw six bushy tails. I opened the door and she and her kids came in. The kids zigged and zagged, got into just about everything they could’ve gotten into. But my friend, well, she sat down at her spot and waited for her food and I gave her about six squirrel sized armfulls. But for a little bit she sat there eating and I was beside her drinking. I said, “You should’ve told me,” as one of the kits climbed up my couch and looked down at me like I was a servant and him a prince.
When it came time for her to leave I poured out a couple extra cups of nuts for her and hers and I watched the family leave. One of the kits had a streak of cascade blue on his tail. Then I saw the trail of paint and was thankful I’d decided on laminate instead of carpeting .
All that is to say, I was glad of their company. I was glad of the tree for making us neighbors. A part of me wants to keep the house. But then I got to thinking about the things that tree’s seen. I imagine the family that planted it when their oldest was barely a toddler. Could see kids in saddle shoes looking like the Peanut gang playing tag and whatever games kids from the nineteen forties played. I could almost even see the picture of a uniformed son getting ready to leave for a war, or a daughter in her prom dress. I can imagine that same girl, now an eighty year-old woman, being driven past this piece of land and catching a glimpse of the tree and getting warm to the nostalgia of a life that despite its ups and downs still had a place that felt safe. That felt like home.
And then I got to thinking about my Mom. About how maybe she’d like to know how one of her kits was doing. I even got to thinking about buying her a ticket up here so she could see it and I may yet do that. I tried calling my brother, but apparently he’s still sore after our last conversation and he doesn’t much want to talk to me which I understand.
So, what I’m saying is Tim, if you’re hearing this, I’m sorry. I know I did you wrong, I know you tried to get me to do right but I wasn’t ready to. Cold comfort maybe, but I’m hoping there’s still some comfort.
And I I will say this, I’ve had the good fortune to take my life for granted But, I always worked construction. I was never a demo man. Tim, watch how good I am at building.
Julian: And that was, “At the Root” by Oscar McCoy. As I was reading this essay I got to thinking about my own sibling. My sister Anika. She’s an artist in Chicago, a musician, or rather, she was before she decided to move back to Seattle for the next little bit. She was the reason I met Coraline. They were going to school together in Chicago and one holiday break Coraline came home with Anika. It was struck by just how much I adored my sister’s best friend and I would get excited when the first bite of winter showed up in late November.
For some reason I haven’t talked much to my sister since Coraline’s passing. We were
never close, or at least, that’s how I remember it. Instead we relied on news about the other to filter through Coraline. Perhaps I relied on Coraline too much to care for my relationships. I will have to try and remedy that.
And listeners, wherever you are, I hope you know that love is like a flower, you have to care for it to help it grow.
This has been “Works of Love”, I’m Julian Silver. Thanks for listening.