Grandpa’s story about

Will's point of view. . .

Happy People

I once saw a giant ponderosa pine tree with a piece of rusty barbed wire running right through the middle of it. There was no fence, but closer inspection revealed there had been a fence—maybe a hundred years ago. A few old posts remained lying under pine needles at regular intervals to tell the story of a fence that had been nailed to a straight young tree standing obligingly in the right place. Time had worn away the fence, and the tree had grown around the barbed wire. A hundred years later, the only part of the fence that remained was a three foot piece of wire, now nearly six feet off of the ground.

Maybe in time, the sharp memory of Molly would be like that fence; nothing left but one curiously out-of-place recollection.

I'm doing alright, I told myself. I sat down wearily on the end of the small wooden dock we'd built over the lake last summer. Evening was falling, and the evenings were long now. It was early July, and the buffalo gnats filled the sunny hours of the day with misery. They loved the hot, dry weather of early summer. Thankfully, when night fell, the gnats all disappeared. During the day I'd oiled my skin with Mom's herbal bug repellent to keep them off of my neck and my face while we worked. I smelled like lavender because the bug repellent 29is made with lavender essential oil. Lavender reminded me of Molly.

She'd mailed us a “thank you” card for the long weekend of “wonderful experiences.” She called Jeremy once to pass on a message from a mutual friend of theirs. I thought about calling her, but told myself again and again not to even think about it. Molly'd made it plain she didn't want this life; she was set on being a biotech heroine someday. So here I was, trying to grow around that barbed wire.

The lake was dark and still, except for the occasional trout surfacing lazily to catch a water skimmer. The sun was setting to the west, and the sky was brilliant behind the silhouette of the house and barn. A lightening strike far south of us lit the sky for a split second. Grandpa said the summer rains would arrive this week.

Life is good out here. I've got nothing to complain about.

I heard Grandpa's cabin door open and close, and his slow footsteps down the three wooden steps connected to his porch. I looked over my shoulder to see if he would notice me sitting in the shadows on the dock. He didn't look up, but he was coming my direction, his walking stick in hand. There was a chair on the dock just for Grandpa, and I got up to move it next to me on the end.

“Bedtime snack,” Grandpa said, and sat down. He leaned forward on his staff. “The fish always have a bedtime snack,” he said and handed me a piece of bread. He began to crumble another one between his fingers and toss it into the water. The ducks had gone to sleep for the night, so the fish had no competition. Silently they came up here and there, and the bread crumbs disappeared.

“Do you always feed them?” I asked, throwing my last handful of crumbs.

“Always or never, depending on your point of view,” Grandpa said and chuckled. “They think it's manna from heaven.”

“What does that make you?” I laughed with him.

“A manna dispenser,” Grandpa answered. He leaned forward on his walking stick again, and rested his other hand on my shoulder.

“When you were only three weeks old, we had to go to a funeral. My brother Harold died. You were happy as can be until we walked into the house where the family were all grieving. Then, you started crying. You weren't mad or uncomfortable. Meg took you outside and you stopped crying. When she came back inside, you started up again.”

“Why?” I asked. I'd never heard this story before.

“You could feel the grief,” Grandpa answered. “I saw it in you again and again. Where people were happy, you'd be happy too. When people were sad, you'd grieve with them. Even when you were a tiny baby, you always liked happy people.”

I was quiet, imagining myself as a baby. I remembered Anna, Susanna, and Jake as babies. Anna had spent half of her babyhood riding around on my shoulders. She was born when I was eighteen.

The evening sky darkened while we sat there and a cool breeze crept up the valley. I was still hot from the day's work in the sun roofing my house, so the drop in temperature felt good to me. I turned my face north, looking up the shadowed valley, and let the cool moisture bathe my face as I breathed deeply and sighed.

“That's why you're sad now,” Grandpa said, so long after his last statement that it felt disconnected. I looked up at him, and saw starlight reflecting off of the lake and on Grandpa's face.

Grandpa's wrong this time, I thought to myself.

“Who am I grieving with?” I asked.

“Who is sad?” Grandpa asked in return, squeezing my shoulder lightly.

“None of us are sad,” I said with assurance.

“None of us are sad,” Grandpa agreed, and leaned back to look up at the night sky. “Except you,” he added.

I thought about that, Am I sad?

“How's the house coming?” Grandpa asked, changing the subject.

I nodded, rolling a bread crumb back and forth between my fingers. “Coming along pretty quickly. We got the rest of the roof done today, just in time for the rain tomorrow. Next it's windows and doors.”

“And then the stucco,” Grandpa said. “Remember I'm going to help with the stucco.”

“Okay. You don't have to, but I'll tell you when we're ready,” I agreed, tossing the compact crumb into the water. It sank, uneaten, to the bottom of the pond.

“You can't make people happy,” Grandpa announced, as though his train of thought had perfect continuum. “Sometimes they have to figure out who they are first, and you can't do anything except wait and see.”

“See what?”

“If they're going to be happy, and if you want to be happy with them, or away from them,” Grandpa said, looking down at me again. “Do you know what I mean?” he asked.

“You're talking about Molly,” I said. “I have to wait and see if she'll choose to be happy or not.”

Grandpa nodded. “Not many people choose happiness. It's a hard road to walk. Happiness isn't found with wealth and popularity. In fact, it's more often found by folks that are willing to do without in order to live a life of discovery. It's hard to choose happiness.”

I knew what he meant, and why I had been sad. It was because Molly was sad when she left.

If she's not happy, I thought, then maybe she isn't satisfied.

“Thanks Grandpa.”

“You're happy now,” Grandpa commented in surprise.

I laughed aloud and agreed,“Yeah. It's funny. Now that I know she's unhappy with her choice, I have hope she'll change her mind. In any case, I'm happy with my choice. You know?”

“I know,” Grandpa nodded. “And now I'm going to bed.” He got up and I walked with him back to his cabin. A single kerosene lantern glowed in the window, lighting our path.

I said goodnight to Grandpa and walked up to the house. I decided to go through the barn and check on all the animals before I turned in.

Although the moon had not risen yet, the stars were so bright I had no trouble finding my way through the small stand of oak and piñon beyond the water tank and windmill. Lightening struck to the south again, and this time I heard the faint rumble of thunder. The storm was moving closer to us. It was hard to believe it might rain tomorrow. It had been dry as a bone for two months.

We had decided (with Jeremy's advice) to put Dad's whole herd in the electric fence rotation inside the small pasture along with the calves. We put the milk cows in a separate one, nearby. They could all see each other, but the calves couldn't nurse the cows. The small pasture had been thoroughly trampled and within the next few days we'd be moving the herd out and onto the big pasture for rotation.

When I came through the gate, they were all bedded down for the night. I spoke in a low voice, calming them. The bull, Judo, breathed heavily, half-asleep. He knew I was no threat.

“Will,” I heard Dad's voice. He was standing in the dark, also checking on the animals. “Look at the grass,” he said. “There's a bit coming up over here where we started.”

The resource management method we were learning from Jeremy imitated large herd migration over the plains, back when there were no fences. One piece of land was never overgrazed, as the animals were always moving onward, eating whatever was in their path, but leaving a good foundation of fertilized, trampled grass and ground behind them.

“It's brilliant,” Dad said, and I could see his smile even in the darkness. “And just wait till the rain gets here. The grass is going to really take off then.”

“I know, it's awesome. My grass is coming up too, but I won't get around the whole valley with only six cows. With that many, I can only cover half of it.”

“You'll have more cows next year,” Dad reminded me.

“That's true. Melee is due any day. Now we don't have to the sell all the extra calves. We'll actually need them.”

We stood there a few minutes longer watching the cows. It's a funny thing, how much company you can find in the presence of animals. I've always thought that if I got lost in the forest, I'd try to find a herd of cows or elk, and follow them. They'd know the warmest places to sleep and would be aware of danger. They'd always go where there was the most grass, which would also mean wild edibles for me too.

“I was looking for you,” Dad said. I glanced at him in surprise.


“Molly called,” Dad replied, looking at me. “Something happened that she's upset about and she wants to talk to us. She's driving out in the morning, and back to Albuquerque again in the afternoon.” I felt a pang of alarm, remembering Molly's story about the thugs who had tried to kidnap her.

“Is she okay? What happened?”

“I don't know,” Dad said, shaking his head. “She said ‘I'm fine, it's not me—it's a friend. Can I come out to the farm?'”

“Who does she want to talk to?” I asked, trying to imagine what it could be.

“All of us, I guess. I mean, the adults. Anyway, I just wanted to tell you that you might take the day off tomorrow and hang around the house for a change.”

“Okay. Thanks, Dad,” I said.

As we walked back to the house, I wondered about the timing. So, Molly returns, just when I've figured out how to be happy without her.

From the open windows I could hear Susanna singing. She'd been singing since she was two years old, but I never get tired of hearing her voice. Ramona was accompanying her on the violin. As Sue's lovely soprano soared, the violin supported her with an alto harmony. In the background Anna was singing the words of the chorus as well, sometimes a moment late.

If I made the moon to light your eyes
The stars to decorate your skies
Horizon vast to set you free
To bring you joy, a glass of mead
Would you. . .
Would you sing for me?
Would you dance beneath the stars
Would you give me all your heart
And sing. . .
Would you sing for me?

“I haven't heard that one before,” I commented quietly.

“She just wrote it,” Dad answered, as we climbed the steps. We both paused on the porch, waiting to hear the rest of the song before we entered the house. I laughed as Anna kept passionately singing the chorus over and over even though Susanna had gone on to the next verse.

“You have to admit, it's not bad,” Dad chuckled. “And Anna's a rockstar for sure. Look at that.”

I ducked my head to peer through the window and spotted Anna standing on top of the table behind Susanna.

Anna was wearing a bright pink pettiskirt over her nightgown and swayed back and forth, feeling the music. Her hair (probably in expectation of Molly's return) was in sponge curlers. In her hand she held the large, stainless steel salt shaker we keep on the kitchen table; it served as a pretend microphone.

Sue didn't seem to mind the show going on right behind her and sang unfalteringly, reading the words from a notebook she held in her hand. Ramona stood in a shadowed corner, playing the violin with her eyes closed.

Anna suddenly abandoned the chorus and tried to follow Susanna through the verses.

If I left you flowers in valleys green
And orchards filled with apple trees
And taught the birds to sing a song
Of love to you at every dawn
Would you . . .
Would you sing for me?
Would you dance beneath the stars
Would you give me all your heart
And sing. . .
Would you sing for me?

If I warmed your face with sun and gave
An unexpected summer rain
Then brought you here to rest and dine
On bread and butter, cheese and wine
Would you. . .
Would you sing for me?
Would you dance beneath the stars
Would you give me all your heart
And sing. . .
Would you sing for me?

If at last when your song was sung
I took you where the stars are hung
To dazzle you with worlds and moons
Inspired by your loving tunes
Would you. . .
Would you sing for me?
Once again beneath the stars
Would you hold my swelling heart
And sing. . .
Would you sing for me?