“. . .like a tree planted by streams of water. . .
Once upon a time, my father received a job offer from an association of Christian Schools in another state. I don’t remember the offer myself because I was far too young, but I know my father’s character well enough to be able to imagine how thrilled he must have been because to him, working for Christian education would have been like being in the direct employ of the Lord Almighty.
And at the time, I know he thought he wasn’t. He was doing some accounting work for a heavy-equipment industry run by a bunch of yahoos who liked to wheel and deal and knew how to party far better than my father, the preacher’s kid.
Armed with that blessed new job offer, he must have gone the rounds. I’m not sure what my mother said when he told her. I should ask her, I guess. But I know what happened when he spoke to my grandfather, his father-in-law. Grandpa cried. I know that because my father told me, years later. He didn’t lament those tears. When he told me that story, my father didn’t raise a fist and declare that, right then and there, it was the old man’s fault he couldn’t take that great job. But the story he told had lines I didn’t have to draw in. The story told itself.
Grandpa cried because he didn’t want to his daughter to move so far from his new home, a block away from the heart of the village where stood his blacksmith shop. Grandpa cried because he didn’t want his grandchildren gone. Grandpa, the blacksmith, bawled, and Dad hung in for a few more years with the rowsters.
There’s always more to the story, and this one has some significant antecedent action. Grandpa’s only other daughter was killed in freakish car accident not that many years before. Grandpa—and Grandma—had already suffered just about the worst thing that can happen to any mortal, the death of a child.
I’m told that my grandfather’s emotions were legendarily promiscuous. But I’ll excuse the tears this time because I never lost a child and he did. If he bawled when my father asked about his taking a job that my father might have believed came directly from the council of the Lord, I’ll forgive Grandpa.
Most all fiction begins in the mind of the writer with a single question: “what if”? The “what if?” of this little family story may be obvious. If my aunt hadn’t been killed and my Grandpa would not have cried, would my father have left the state and taken the job of his dreams? And even more to the point right now—if all of this had happened, who would I be, having grown up in a whole different world?
It’s of more than passing interest to me that the tree of Psalm 1 is “planted.” Someone put it down on the banks of that metaphorical river. The particular spot wasn’t necessarily the choice of the whirly-gig maple seed; that spot was chosen.
When I think of blacksmith’s tears, it’s almost impossible to believe that we are but our own. There must be a design to this madness. Someone’s in control. Someone, or so it seems to me, does the planting. I’m a witness.