Here's my most recent article in the Huffington Post:
HAPPINESS IS WORTH THE MESS:
My father was a tidy man. He kept his tools in order.
Bridles for the horses hung neatly from the proper pegs. He oiled his
saddle regularly. Yes, Daddy was a cowboy. During his lifetime, cattle
ranching in the Arizona desert wasn't easy. The droughts were long.
The rains came rarely. He was no stranger to harsh scarcity. He also
was no stranger to boundless joy.
I learned a lot from my father:
How to sense the coming rain hours before its arrival. How to cool a
branding iron in the sand. How to treat all people with equal respect
whether they were convicted felons on parole or United States Senators
on the campaign trail. I also learned from him that exuberance can
sometimes get messy and that the mess is really okay as long as you
eventually clean it up.
It was a particularly hot summer day when
Daddy announced that he and I were going to the foot of Yarnell Hill to
buy a lug of peaches. Apparently we were going to surprise my mother by
bringing peaches home for her to can. I would later learn that a lug
of peaches adds up to quite a few pieces of fruit weighing a lot. We
would later that day arrive home with more than a lug or two. My father
sometimes had trouble putting on the brakes literally and
I don't care for peaches. The taste is heavenly
but not worth dealing with the skin's fuzz which leaves me feeling itchy
and crawly and altogether regretting that I ever considered eating the
peach. Thus I was not thrilled by the news of our outing. Nevertheless
he and I climbed into the old Jeep Willys to drive miles on a dirt road
swallowing dust to arrive at a paved road to finally wind up on another
dirt road, which eventually led us to the grove of peach trees at the
foot of Yarnell Hill. A primary challenge to this journey was the fact
that the Jeep had no brakes which gave concrete affirmation to my
father's previously mentioned challenge with brakes. He was expert,
though, at downshifting to brake the Jeep and our arrival at the orchard
was without incident.
I hadn't realized that we had to pick the
peaches ourselves and thus had nothing to protect my hands from the
dreaded fuzz. My father's exuberance over the peach project did little
to improve my mood. I felt miserable. My skin seemed alive with the
itchy awful fuzz. I hated every peach I picked. Daddy, on the other
hand, smiled and laughed and sang with pure delight. When he declared
that one lug wasn't nearly enough my heart sank. Nevertheless, I
dragged my bucket behind me and we trudged deeper and deeper into the
grove until finally, with what seemed to me an obscene amount of
peaches, he declared the job done.
We lugged our lugs to the front
of the grove where Daddy carefully counted out the correct change. I
suspected that the price of the peaches ate up most of the week's budget
for food but Daddy didn't seem to care. He just wanted to take the
peaches home to his wife - to my mother.
Once back at the Jeep we
safely settled the peaches in back of us and climbed into the roofless,
brakeless, worn out Army surplus Willys to get situated between the
sprung springs ready for the ride home.
For a moment Daddy seemed lost in thought.
Then he jumped out of the Jeep and, laughing, said, "She won't miss just one peach."
the moments that followed I saw joy as I had never seen it before and
have never seen it since. My father took a peach in his hand, studied
it for just a moment and then bit in. Juice ran down his chin and onto
his shirt. Juice ran onto his hands, under the cuffs of his
shirtsleeves, and down his arms. He gloried in the taste of the peach
and did not pause until only the pit remained. Finally he placed the
pit back in the box with the other peaches as though he needed proof
that the peach had existed.
There was no water available for him
to wash. He said he'd deal with that later. For him, the joy was worth
the mess. He took his handkerchief from his pocket and tidied up as
best he could and then, still smiling, got back in the Jeep.
the time we got back home his hands and face were caked from the dust
that had stuck to his peach juice sticky skin. Still happy beyond
description, he carried the peaches into the house. My mother was
thrilled with the peaches, with her husband's contagious joy and, also,
by the fact that her surly daughter seemed almost happy.