The smell of old wood, sawdust, and dirt hits my lungs harder than any cigarette ever could. Somehow, I find it even more addictive than the pack of Camels in my pocket. It smells like youth; like years spent hanging from these old rafters.
Looking around, all I can see is a collection of memories, preserved under a thick layer of dust. Your old guitar, strings broken and frayed, leaning by the worktable. I wish I could still play how you taught me to. Just to the right are the tools you built my first toys with. God, I shouldn’t have let them rust like that.
A summer breeze makes the old barn creak, and suddenly I’m back with you again. Sunlight streamed through the rafters, making lines in the dust filled air as I worked. I was trying to make a toy plane but… I couldn’t manage more than a lump of scrap wood and nails. You had come out, seen my pitiful attempt, and gotten to work. After an hour of sawing, hammering, and gluing, I had just the plane I had dreamed of. I pretended to fly that plane for longer than I can remember. I guess that’s when I knew I wanted to be a pilot.
You never doubted that I could fly. Hell, you never really doubted me at all. Even when I did. You’d always tell me; “You’re a Peterson son, and Petersons don’t give up.” I guess you were right. You didn’t give up, even to the very end. Even when the doctors said you had six months left, that the cancer had gotten too far. You didn’t give up for the 6 years after that. Even when Ma said it was too much, that she couldn’t do it anymore; you just joked “S‘pose she wasn’t a true Peterson then.”
I still remember the last thing you said to me. Even when we all knew it was the end, you told me “I’ll see you tomorrow son. Be good will ya?” A Peterson to the end I guess.
Tearing my eyes away from the worktable, I make my way around your old truck, open the squealing door, and sit behind the wheel. This was supposed to be mine. We were supposed to fix it up together, make the old gal purr again but, after you passed I couldn’t. I could hardly step foot in this barn, let alone spend hours doing something we were meant to do together.
Hell, I can barely stand how long I’ve been in here anyway. It hurts to see it so neglected, so forgotten. At least I can promise you never were, or ever will be.
I miss you Pa. I wish you were here. You’d tell me “It’s alright son. It’ll all be alright. Remember, you’re a Peterson, and Petersons don’t give up.”
The painful part is, it feels like I already have. Like I’ve already given up on you, on this truck, on all these memories. It feels like I’ve failed you, somehow.
Getting out of the truck, I make my way back over to the workbench and pull the letter out of my pocket. Gently brushing aside your old tools, I set it on the table.
“My dream came true Pa, I’m gonna be a pilot.” My voice sounds raspy, distant; like it hasn’t been used in years. Leaning against the table, I look back at the deployment letter.
“They’re shipping me out. I’ll be joining the 37th. Maybe I can do some good there, but… Things are getting bad. Not many folks are coming back, and those that do, don’t come back the same. I guess I was hoping coming here would give me the strength to make it through. I just hope I can be like you. After all, Petersons never give up right?”
Standing up from the bench, I make one last circle around the barn, and through my memories. I trail my fingers down the guitar neck, leaving lines in the dust. I’ll have to get back into playing once I’m back. I take one more look at the tools which built my childhood, then make my way to the door. Glancing back, one last time, I say;
“Maybe when I get back, I’ll fix up your old truck. Maybe then I’ll be strong enough. I’ll see ya later Pa, and don’t worry, I’ll be good.”