Today’s Member Monday submission is Part One of a two-parter. ‘The Freebird’s Dilemma’ is a story that I submitted to my college’s literary magazine in 1992. Tomorrow I will post the most important lesson that I learned from writing this story.
The Freebird’s Dilemma
By: George T. Parker
“You’re sure you want to leave?”
“Even if I give you a raise?”
“C’mon, Pappy. You know it’s not the money.”
“How about a vacation, Joe?”
Joe glanced up from the parts catalogues spread across the desk then looked back down at the forms and other paperwork. “You know why I’m leaving, Pappy.”
“I guess I do at that,” Pappy said softly. “You’ve been here a long time. Pert near a year. I had a hunch you’d be movin’ on soon.”
“How could you tell?”
“I used to have the wanderlust when I was your age, too. How long have you been thinking of moving on?”
“A couple of months ago I sent applications for field technician jobs to the US Forest Service and several universities in Canada. I got a reply from the University of Winnipeg yesterday.”
Pappy nodded and said, “Can’t say as I blame ya. Movin’ on can be an excitin’ thing. Didn’t get it out of my system til I was almost forty years old.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever get over it, Pappy,” Joe said as he gently tugged at his beard. “I’ve been on the move since high school—ten years now—and I still get the fever every time I pick up a National Geographic or look at a map.”
Pappy looked out the window over his workbench. Green was returning to grass on the hill and the tree across the street after the rains of the last few weeks. He could see the lavender blooms on the lilac branch just poking up from below the window. “It usually hit me at springtime, too. Everythin’ is comin’ alive again. The days are gettin’ longer.” Pappy looked down at the torn apart chain saw on his workbench. He picked up a screwdriver again as he asked, “What about Rachel?”
Joe was silent for a minute. “Yeah. What about Rachel?”
“Why don’t you ask her to go along?”
“Aw, Pappy. I couldn’t ask her to just pull up and leave her town. And what about Jason? Tramping around the mountains is no way for a kid to grow up.”
“There are worse places to tramp around.”
“A kid needs stability.”
Pappy shrugged and said, “I suppose so.” He sat up straight and stretched. He grabbed his white ceramic coffee mug with greasy hands, smearing new designs in the grease already covering the mug. He peered over the top of his black horn-rimmed glasses at Joe filling out the parts inventories and order forms. Pappy gulped the cold, black brew, put the mug down, and went back to work.
Joe rubbed his eyes. They burned from the harsh florescent desk lamp. He reached out to the chaotic pile on the desk and pulled a new catalogue from the bottom of the pile. Two other catalogues slipped from the pile, knocking a framed picture from the desk and sending a storm of papers to the floor. Joe muttered as he gathered the spilled papers. He picked up the framed picture and looked at the image of a far younger Pappy with his wife and little girl. He asked, “How did you know you were ready to throw down some roots, Pappy?”
Pappy shrugged as he said, “Don’t rightly know. I don’t think I ever felt like I was ready. I spent all my time driftin’ from job to job, city to city, state to state. I met a lot of men just like me out there. We all bragged about how great it was to be mavericks with no corral. I read a book by Thoreau once that said somethin’ about the herds bein’ keepers of men rather than men bein’ keepers of herds. It made for fine, manly soundin’ talk. But when the shop whistle blew or the foreman called it a day, us young bucks went back to our greasy spoons and lousy flophouses while the married guys went back to wives and kids and home cooked meals. As much as we talked, quite a few of us would have traded places with them in a heartbeat.”
“So how did you know it was time to settle down?”
Pappy paused his saw work as he thought. “I guess it just seemed like the right thing to do.”
Joe sat for a while staring at the poster on the wall of a snow covered mountain with a creek and a cabin in the foreground. He found himself planning a route up the peak.
Joe sang along with Lynyrd Skynyrd as he drove to Rachel’s apartment. He turned his stereo down as he pulled into the parking lot. His heart beat as hard as it had on their first date.
A boy answered his knock. The boy said, “Hi, Joe!” and raised his hand for a high five.