They saw things differently than us. I didn’t pay it much mind as a kid… wish I could have. Most of those whiskey-colored eyes are resting now. I remember them though, how they looked at things, how their tired eyes took a deep drink of a cotton field. They saw it in a way only eyes that have worked it, looked at it up close and over a lifetime can.
They seemed drawn to it, although they cussed it regularly. Eyes flanked by deep lines, worn by perpetual squinting in the punishing sun, scanning right to left – left to right slowly. Then up, always up, and back and forth. They mumbled about the weather, but it looked to me like there were looking for a sign from God, a miracle.
The miracle was that their families didn’t starve to death.
How many years did those eyes tear from the smoke and clouds of a year’s crop being burned? There was always work, hard work, that was a guarantee… getting paid for it wasn’t. Surviving on close to nothing most of your life has a way of making a person strong, hard, faithful. For some, like my grandpa, the faith misplaced.
I could be wrong, but it didn’t look like peace or joy of the desert farm fields that reflected in those eyes. I couldn’t grasp at the time that behind that tough as nails exterior, those eyes hid sadness mixed with fear. I don’t guess he gave a lot of thought to faith across the better part of his life.
I didn’t know him when he pulled the cotton sack behind him along with dad and uncles. By the time I knew him the days of sharecropping in Arkansas were a distant memory for him. He was old then, but he still did the only thing he ever knew how to; pick cotton. He drove the machines across the dusty southwest for miles and years.
Troy’s days of running moonshine to help put the clothes on the backs and shoes on the feet, at least for winter time, of his nine offspring he rarely talked about. Old habits die hard, the fifth he carried in his dusty coat pocket when he drove cotton pickers spoke to that fact.
Those half Cherokee brown eyes had little compassion or sympathy for others, seemed even less so after my grandma died too young. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say she was the best part of him.
I suppose he did the best he could do. I recall a few times his eyes didn’t look cross with anger or impatience. He seemed more content when smoking catfish he caught from the irrigation ditch out back of his trailer that was smack in the middle of a farm field and nowhere. After a few beers, he’d play his harmonica so long and hard he’s huff and puff like he’d sprinted a marathon.
My car broke down the day of his funeral. I never told my dad I was a little relieved. I was just going out of respect for him anyway. I think about him sometimes when I’m sad for no good reason. I’m told he did find his faith in God at the end. I suspect he knew that truth all along, probably explains why he was the way he was…
Sometimes the lessons and examples along the path of life aren’t wrapped in fine silk…