When you are seven years old, it’s normal behavior to question the concept of death. But, as a well cared for rural child with a happy temperament and lots of natural curl, you don’t entertain the reality of death or the dying process, until you have reason to.
Photo: Little Teresa, Dad (holding the baby sister) and little brother.
I think it was the autumn of my seventh year (although I cannot swear to it) my dad, my brother and I went to cut wood, in the woods, for our wood stove. I suspect my mother sent us off with my dad because she was expecting my sister and needed rest.
My first memory of that day was my brother and I as we hopped out of the pickup. We were going to cut wood just "over the hill" from our grandparent's farm. Immediately, Dad laid down the rules. We were told we had a certain area we could play in and were not to go any farther than the imaginary boundaries he had set in our minds. There was good reason to stay in our assigned area; he would be using a chainsaw felling trees.
Even though the rules had been set, I knew in my mind and to the very core of my seven-year-old soul that I had to keep an eye on my four-year-old brother. He wasn’t trustworthy- then. (Of course he is now and I’m not saying that because I’m sure he’s reading this.) We played. We watched the frantic squirrels gathering their winter’s store. They didn’t appreciate my brother and I collecting acorns- huge acorns. We played on a stump taking turns jumping on and off.
I heard the popping noise and turned to look at the tree that our dad had been cutting on. There was a snap and then a swoosh as the tree fell freely through the air. The next thing we saw, my brother and I, was the tree falling toward our dad and grazing his head. Then the tree fell and our dad fell nearly simultaneously.
On the ground, he lay bleeding. I remember it being from his head. My dad, my brother’s dad, our only dad lay lifeless, on the ground. The world seemed to stop. My brother and I were frozen. The birds weren’t singing. The squirrels had disappeared. The crisp breeze had stopped. The world was still and scary.
Through my fog, I heard the voice of my brother. “Daddy’s dead, Daddy’s dead.” He ran in circles around our dad's body. Around and around he ran screaming that our dad was dead.
I was the oldest and I had no idea what to do.
“No, you can’t.” I said running after him. I knew the keys were hanging in the ignition. “You don’t know how to drive.” Experience with my head strong brother told me I might have a difficult time stopping him.
Photo: My brother and I.
It had only been a few minutes since the tree had fallen when we heard our dad groan, saw him move a little, and sit up. He wasn’t dead after all and my brother wouldn’t need to drive the pickup to our grandparent’s house.
When I was a child, there were things that a rural father would do to support his family that could be dangerous. Necessity would dictate that fathers go hunting, cut firewood, use farm machinery or work factory jobs to provide for their families. But, sometimes accidents caused by these tasks would result in death.