Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: It Was a Great Day
Dad was my hero and my best friend. He was kind and gentle most of the time, spanking me very few times in my childhood. Of course, today that would be considered extreme cruelty, but back then it was an accepted form of punishment. I know the spankings I got I deserved, and the only lasting effects they had were positive. Sorry, I’m rambling, and showing my age.
Because Dad was a kind and gentle father didn’t mean he didn’t have an explosive temper. His reputation as a fighter was generally known, and anyone that challenged him usually regretted it. His flashpoint was very low, especially when he felt wronged. I am not sure he knew he was going to explode, it just happened with unleashed, uncontrolled physical anger. Age didn’t dampen his instinct either. A man in his late-twenties caused a scene in the street during one of Harrold’s 4th of July Celebrations. Dad confronted the big man, and when he started to sass Dad, he found himself sitting on the ground holding his bleeding nose. Dad was 67 at the time.
Dad and I worked well together most of the time when I was a teenager. We built fence, corrals, horse stalls, hauled hay, always doing it Dad’s “way.” It wasn’t until I was out of college that I sometimes started questioning his “way.” There seemed to be easier, more efficient ways of doing things, and when I mentioned them, Dad would dismiss the idea. I usually let it go, but when I didn’t, we would end up in a nose –to – nose shouting match, ending with me walking away, leaving him to struggle with the problem himself. When this happened, there was a long cooling off period before we were talking to each other again.
I was working on a graduate degree and had the good fortune of having a professor that flew in from Brookings each week to teach a counseling class. He was an amazing teacher and practiced what he preached when working with people. He talked about conflict between people and used the example of two rams butting heads, accomplishing nothing in the end. He talked about all the energy that is expelled when the rams collided. He then asked, “What would happen to a charging ram if there wasn’t another ram opposing him? All that energy would quickly dissipate because there was nothing to reflect it,” he said. I thought about that image often.
A work project that summer ended in the usual shouting match between Dad and me, and as I threw down my shovel and started walking away, the image of two rams butting heads came to me. I stopped, turned around and walked back to Dad, who was tensing up, ready to resume our argument. I quietly said, “Dad, I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have hollered at you.” It was like releasing the pressure on an air tank. Dad’s body almost sagged, having nothing to resist any more. After a pause he said “That’s alright,” in a soft, almost shy voice. We went back to work, finishing the project while visiting as if nothing had happened. It was a great day.