Unspoken sorrow is a heavy burden to carry
The Old Tire Swing
The pungent smell of fresh-turned earth filled the air, as I sat beside my father’s gravesite, my tears spotting my black dress.
The minister’s melodic voice sounded far away.
“Frank will be missed by his family, he always saw to their needs.” The minister intoned.
My thin smile contained many happy memories of my father: like the way he read to me at night when I was little, or how he was so gentle when he tended to my scraped knee. But my mind stuck on the memory of an old tire my father tied to a tree limb and called a swing.
My cheeks burned, as I remembered my stubborn disappointment when I saw that old tire hanging by the side of the barn. I clenched my eyes shut, secretly embarrassed by my past selfishness.
“Frank’s love for his wife, his daughter, and his granddaughter, was evident in the way he cared for them.”
The minister’s words seared my guilt into my heart, and tears burned their way down my cheeks, as the memory of that day filled me with sorrow.
It was long ago, but the memory was still fresh within me.
I could smell the burning tobacco from dad’s pipe even before the screen door banged shut behind me. Wearing faded coveralls, a mug of coffee in his hand, he looked at me and a mischievous smile creased his cheeks. I knew he was up to something.
“How was school, hon?”
“It was okay. Third grade isn’t as hard as I thought it would be." I looked around. "Where’s Mom?”
“She went over to the Putnam’s; she and Mrs. Putnam are putting up butter beans.”
Thin wisps of smoke rose from his pipe, and his smile widened, when he raised the newspaper and pretended to read.
Yes, he was up to something.
“So, what are you doing home so early in the day?”
Dad loved to play a game with me, he called it Three Guesses. But he wasn’t playing that game today, he was stalling for time before he told me his secret.
“Nothing special,” he said. “I put up some hay and fed the pigs. I brushed Bessie, and let’s see… oh, I put up a swing under the old maple tree beside the barn.”
He said it so casually I almost missed it. Walking across the kitchen, I stopped in mid stride, and a smile brightened my face. I pictured my friend’s swings with seats made of oak and shiny blue or red metal A-frame’s. I couldn’t wait to see mine.
Dad put down his stained mug and turned to me. His smile opened wide, and his eyes twinkled.
“Want to go take a look?”
I looked out the window, but there was no swing. No bright red or blue A-frame shining in the autumn sunlight.
“I sure do,” I said.
I had wanted a swing for a long time. When I visited my friends I loved gliding on their swings. We talked as we flew through the warm air, our hair fluttering behind us like flags, the shiny bolts creaking as the painted metal gleamed in the sun. I couldn’t wait to hear the chains grind against the bolts that held it in place on my swing. I wanted to feel the air slide past my face as I soared high up into the air. As I ran to the back door I heard dad call me back.
“Whoa, not so fast, wait for me.” His chair leg scraped the wood floor, as he pushed himself back from the table.
I stood on the back porch and waited, but I couldn’t contain my excitement, and I raced ahead. I could hear his footsteps crunching against the gravel driveway as he followed me past the barn.
When I turned the corner I stopped suddenly. My smile disappeared, my excitement deflated, and tears gathered in my eyes. There was no shiny A-frame, no oak seats. Instead, an old car tire hung from the maple tree by a rope that wasn’t new either. It looked like a deflated balloon that was being punished for wrong-doing.
My father stood behind me, his strong hands gently squeezing my shoulders.
“Well, what do you think?” he asked proudly.
I didn’t answer. If I did I would cry.
“What’s wrong, hon? Don’t you like it?” Tears rolled down my face, and my body shook like an autumn leaf. I know he felt my sobs. “I worked on it this afternoon so it would be ready for when you got home from school.”
I stood there, frozen by disappointment, unwilling to answer him. His hands loosened on my shoulders and I could feel his shoulders sag.
“I thought you’d like it, you wanted one for so long. Ross from down at the filling station gave me the tire.”
I didn’t say a word--I couldn’t. Turning away from him, I ran to the house, crying the whole way. I hated that swing. To me it was an old, dirty tire held to the tree with a rough old rope. I vowed never to use it.
That night at dinner I couldn’t look at daddy. Dad was quiet, but my obstinance would not allow me to consider that he was also disappointed. My mother knew something was wrong, she watched us but said nothing.
“Frank always did the best he could for his family.” The minister went on. “He worked hard to provide for his wife, Pauline, and his daughter, Millie. And of course, Carly.”
His words stung and my guilt flared. I sat looking at daddy’s gleaming casket, almost hidden beneath the flowers covering it. I wanted to go back in time, to that day out by the barn, under the maple tree. I wanted to say, “Thank you, Daddy.” But I was old enough to know that couldn’t happen.
The swing hung out by the barn, unused, for a long time. When my cousins visited they laughed and squealed as they swung in the shade of the tree. Their laughter always found me, but I never went near that swing. Daddy watched me, but he never said a word.
When my school friends came over I never mentioned the swing to them, I was too embarrassed to let them see it. They had swings painted bright blue and red, metal chains that groaned against the metal bolts that made us feel so safe. I thought they’d laugh if they saw my swing.
When winter came, the tire hung out in the cold, forgotten by both daddy and me. Things eventually returned to normal, and the swing was never mentioned again. I never thought about the swing, and daddy’s disappointment seemed to fade with time.
Or so I thought.
I got married a year after graduating from high school, and my daughter arrived two years later. Daddy was a wonderful grandfather. He loved Carly, and he showed her off every chance he got. When she was turning five we had a big birthday party for her.
The day before the party I drove into my driveway and saw Daddy’s pick-up truck parked in front of the garage. I didn’t know he was coming to visit. When I went inside, I expected to see him sitting at the table with his usual cup of coffee. But he wasn’t in the house.
I heard a rattle outside, and when I looked through the kitchen window I saw him in the back yard. Framed by the red checkered curtains, he created an emotional picture. He was erecting a shiny, red swing set.
He looked over his shoulder and saw me through the window, he smiled and waved, white lines of smoke floating from his pipe. I couldn’t go out to talk to him; I didn’t want him to see me crying. We never spoke about why he bought Carly the swing, but in my heart, I knew.
“Frank never thought of himself, he was always willing to give to others.” The minister’s words cut through me, draping me in remorse and sadness.
I remember that cool day in October three years later, when I rode out to Daddy’s house. He had called and asked me to come to see him, telling me he had something to tell me. Mama had been gone for two years now, and Daddy was the most broken-hearted man I had ever seen.
As my car came to a stop in his gravel driveway, a hot breeze swept over me, and I was consumed by a sense of foreboding. Daddy wasn’t in the house, so I went out to the barn to find him.
“Daddy,” I called out from the barn door. “Daddy, where are you?”
“I’m over here, Hon, around the side.” His voice wavered, I almost didn’t recognize it.
When I turned the corner of the barn I saw him seated in the tire swing. His thin, overall-clad legs hung through the opening in the tire. The old rope creaked as daddy swung slowly back and forth.
He was crying.
I walked to him and held his hand.
“What’s the matter, Daddy? Why are you crying?” I thought for sure he was reliving the memory of the day I disappointed him so badly.
I held him in my gaze as he spoke.
“I’ve been to see Doc Green today, Hon.” His eyes were sunken and red, his hair the color of steel. He never looked so old.
My heart froze.
“What did he say, Daddy? Are you alright?” I knew he wasn’t. I had only seen him cry once before, when Mama passed.
“Well, if Doc Green ain’t mistaken, the good Lord is about to take me.”
No words came to me as I stared at him. I took his big, gentle hand in mine and held it tight, his long fingers wrapped around my hand like ropes.
“Daddy? What…” My voice shook, and I couldn’t muster the courage to ask him the question I so wanted to ask.
“I’ve got cancer, Hon." He pulled himself from the tire and stood there gazing at me, his once clear blue eyes now filled with something I hoped wasn't fear. "Doc said Chemotherapy might help, give me a little more time, but I don’t think I want to go through that. The result will be the same.”
I knew my dad, and there was no point in arguing.
“Oh, Daddy…” My tears wet his fingers as I kissed his hand, and held it to my burning cheek.
“I’m going to go join your mother, Hon. I know she’s waiting for me.” He pulled me to him, and his thin arms encircled me.
As we swayed gently back and forth, I pressed my cheek against his flannel shirt and listened to his heartbeat. A heartbeat that would soon stop.
“We commend Frank to you, Lord; and he’s a good man to have with you.”
The minister made the sign of the cross and stepped away. My body shuddered with sobs, as my unspoken sorrow increased the sadness of my memory.
A small reception was held at Daddy’s house after the funeral. Friends came to pay their respects. Sneaking away from the house, I walked out to the barn and stared at the swing for a long minute before putting my legs through the center.
A cold breeze sang through the bare limbs above me, as I watched a low bank of clouds, stained purple by the setting sun, float across the horizon.
"I'm sorry, Daddy," I whispered as the swing slowly glided, the whine of its rope the only sound, as a tear slid over my lips.
But then a thin smile curled my lips, as I pictured Daddy being with Mama again.
Word Count: 1974