The Memory of Web

September 22nd, 2008

It came to me today! And then it floated away: a memory.

I remember being a child, growing up on a farm in eastern Pennsylvania, working in the fields for much of the day between times of fishing, hunting and exploring which I did for hours on end. This time of year was spent tending the huge garden and weeding until the dirt had penetrated past our cuticles and seemingly seeped into our veins till we felt a similitude with the ground. Must have been true because I long for that piece of land to this day.

I thought everyone grew up like that. We would get up early to the sound of a rooster crowing far too loudly and the sun beaming way too brightly. It’s rays pierced every crack and slit of the old pull down blinds which hung from our ancient lead paned windows, some of which still had bubbles in the glass, that leaked as much heat in the winter as cool in the summer. You could hear the lead weights of the window balance knocking softly as we pressed in the hand-hammered and crafted window catches to open the windows and let the musty night air escape and mingle with the rising clouds of mist the sun was chasing from the green meadow grass. The cows lowing from the barn gave notice to their hunger and we’d dress and head out for the early morning feeding.

Worn work boots snugged up, rubber boots donned and thread bear flannel shirts buttoned with the two or three remaining buttons; just enough to keep the chill off my back, I’d head to the barn to greet the expectant eyes of the cows who were looking for their morning meal.

The smell of the farm is unique to be sure with the various aromas of manure, fermenting corn silage, fresh hay, dusty straw, drying grain, wheat, oats, corn and the consistent aging of the barn itself brought a comfort to my mind which, although never really acknowledged until it was no more, was just behind the curtain of my mind, directing emotion in a calming script that brought a peace through many storms past and the many that would soon blow into my young life.

Today however was different. There was a sadness that I felt as I trudged my way out to the barn, shooing the cats away as they too, eagerly greeted me crossing the barn yard, some just getting in from a nights hunting, some just getting up like me. The farm had come alive. Today would be a day of blood.

I felt helpless and my mission pointless, as I gathered the buckets drawing feed for the cows from the old gravity bin dad had built in the far corner of the barn beyond the three pens the cows were in. I climbed the ladder to the hay mowes and hurled the heavy hay bales and much lighter straw bales down that we’d need for the day. But my mind was distracted. I knew an era would come to an end on this seemingly perfect day. A life would be over. A friend would be lost. Dead.

You know that feeling. It doesn’t matter if you grew up in the city or a farm, a foreign land or just down the street. There are common things that bind us together and loss is certainly one of them. On that particular day, a beautiful bull would have his life ended. He was set to be slaughtered and there was nothing I could do about it. I loved that animal. I had spent hours scratching his head, talking to him, brushing him and watching his personality as he grew from a small calf into the monster he was now. Web, born to Charlette, was a huge bull with a gentle demeanor and today was the day his life would be over. He knew it.

The butcher truck arrived, backed up to the barn door and dropped the ramp.  I wondered how many cows had made their way up that ramp to meet their doom.  There had to be something terrible that the animals could sense about it.  Web sure could.  This huge boy stood in the back reaches of the pen, tail shooing away the annoying flies, staring at the activity and preparations.  He stood defiantly broadside, head up, ears forward and eyes wide, not in fear, but a confident curiosity and maybe knowledge of what was going on.

I got in the pen and began talking to him.  I had a lump in my throat as sadness wrapped it’s cold fingers around my neck and began to squeeze and guilt began stomping on my chest.  He truly was a gentle giant.  I approached him and scratched his head right between his eyes.  I hadn’t thought about it at the time but today I think of the irony of it as it was probably in the exact spot they would later penetrate in order to end his life.

He lowered his head at my touch and he slowly moved towards the door.  That portion of the Barn had been rebuilt at one time with cement block while the rest of the walls were old stone and mortar.  The old and the new.  Web walked towards the door, swung his head back towards me and I though he was looking to see if we were really going to do this.  There were no options.  He knew it.  What happened next has never left me and while I’ve maybe placed too much emphasis on it over the years, it seems real and exactly the way I’m about to tell you.

To me I think that Web wanted to leave us with a visible reminder that he “was”, and that he mattered.  He walked out of the pen and placed the flat front of his head against the cement block wall and stopped for a moment.  You know what I mean.  It’s like when you bow your head, close your eyes and place your head against a wall in hopelessness or contemplation, ball up your fist and place it too up on the wall.  That’s what I imagined.  He then shifted his weight back a few inches and rocked forward an explosion of power that left me awe struck.  His head impacted the block wall and the entire wall cracked and shifted out about two to three inches.  He then stepped back, took about three steps to his left and walked up the ramp into the truck.

My dad had to get the tractor out and push the wall back into place but the crack in the wall, it’s slight misalignment and the barn door that no longer fits quite right are all physical reminders of Web.  He left an impression as if to say, “I was here, you will remember me.  Please, remember me.”  We do.

Some people want so badly to leave a lasting impression on others and the world that they go to extremes and often end up causing great harm and destruction in their wake.  Yes they are remembered but for all the wrong reasons.  There is never an excuse for that.  But you must know that you matter and you have left an impression, a memory, a reminder on the lives of people around you.  I know there are spots in the community that I worked in that I drive past and remember the people whom I had contact with there.  They are there and I can relive those memories; some good, some bad.  But just as I remember them, they remember me.  I’m no one important but I had an impact on peoples lives and that’s an immense responsibility.  Sadly, I know that not all those impacts were positive.  I can never make the bad ones right.  I can’t apologize enough for that.  But I can learn from it and ensure that it never happens again.  In the same way, Web made a huge statement that I didn’t fully understand at the time.  But I see the wall, and I remember.

You have an impact.  You will leave your mark on peoples lives and people will leave their mark on yours.  I look at that wall and tell my children about Web.  They know the story.  Maybe they will pass it on to theirs.  Thats what we give when we give of ourselves to others.  You are a story waiting to be told in the life of someone else.  That, my friend, is riches beyond measure and it can even happen out of great pain.  There IS hope and promise in that.  Make a positive impact today for a memory tomorrow for you matter.

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