Travis stared at the phone next to his plate. He knew he had to make the call. He had barely slept all night. He had turned his father’s words over and over and over in his head. He had examined the situation from all the angles. And as hard as it was for him to admit, the old man was right. It made sense. This was the best solution. For all of them.
Keisha and Bree got a place to live. Hell, a more stable home than they ever had. Then there was his insurance. He knew that Bree had Medicaid with her SSI, but his military benefits were better. He would get some extra help with his dad, better and more reliable than the nurses that came in occasionally. Besides, he knew his dad was already taken with Angel. This might give him a new lease on life.
And Trav could use any extra bit of time this arrangement provided to work in the garden. This place might never be the working ranch it had been before his mother’s death and his father’s decline. The mental and physical effects of war meant he lacked the energy necessary to make a real go of it. But it could and did provide much of their food, with a bit of extra to help out a few neighbors in need. That was something, right?
So, why did he keep hesitating? But Travis knew that as well. It was what kept him up, tossing and turning most of the night. His failure as a husband and father. He had never thought about remarrying and certainly not parenting. He had never been much of a father. His older sons made that abundantly clear by ignoring all his attempts at communication. Even his youngest son, Daniel, barely spoke to him. Once a month, polite conversation for a few minutes.
Bree was almost the same age as Daniel. Travis smiled as he remembered that Christmas Eve miracle. It seemed a lifetime ago. It might have been years, but he probably knew more about her than he did his own children. But that did not make him good father material.
“What you waiting on, boy? That call ain’t gonna get any easier. With the time difference, I’m sure they are up by now.”
He chuckled at his father’s words that mirrored his thoughts. “I know you’re right, Dad, but…”
“But what? If you’re worried that she’ll say no…”
Travis brought the cup of hot, black coffee to his mouth. It scalded his mouth, “Honestly, I’m more worried that she’ll say yes.”
His eyes met his father’s. It was like looking into a mirror. Except this man could not understand. He knew what it meant to be a husband and a father. “I’m not… I’m just not sure… I was never any good as a husband or father.”
There, he had said it. His fingers trembled, and he spilled some of the brown liquid onto the old plastic table cloth. He’d come this far, and he might as well get it all out in the open. “And these days, Dad, I ain’t much of a man either. All this therapy, and I’m still no closer to getting a job…”
“Stop right there, son. You have a job. You’ve been caring for me and this place since your mama passed. That’s a full-time job. And what about all that writing you do? All those men you help with your stories and that blog thingy?”
“But those things don’t pay the bills.”
His father laughed, “What bills? Travis, we might not be rich, but we got a solid roof over our heads and food that you grew mostly yourself on the table. We got power and water. Some of it from those solar panels that you and Chad put in. You have your disability coming in every month. That more than covers the little, we need. Heck, you even have a bit of money in the bank.”
His dad almost collapsed into the chair next to him. The gnarled and weathered hand with purple, blue, black, green, and yellow bruises covered his on the cup. “And you know this place is free and clear. I made sure of that. One day, when I’m gone, this will be yours. Hell, if it’ll make you feel better, we can go to the county courthouse and file the paperwork today.”
“No, Dad, this place is your home. You built it. I’m just sorry that I couldn’t keep it going the way you had.”
“Nah, boy. Things ain’t the way they used to be. Ranching was never easy, but these days with all of them big corporations. Well, a man can’t make much money from his honest work. I think Chad and you might have it right. All that new-fangled permaculture stuff the boy keeps spouting about Earth Care, People Care, and Fair Share makes a whole lot of good common sense if you ask me.”
Travis gently gripped his father’s hand, not wanting to add more bruises to those from the dialysis needles. Those words meant a lot to him.
When he had first reconnected with Chad in the dinner after coming back here three years ago, it had been their shared camaraderie as Marines that drew them together. But as he got to know the other man better, meet some of his ‘crazzy’ friends as Chad called them, those seemingly radical ideas began to take root in his mind, more likely his heart.
Spending time in the garden, with the chickens, milking the cow – they brought calm to his mind and soul. When things got really bad, Travis had found more solace in taking to the piney woods that encroached closer and closer to the house. Listening to the birds sing, the wind whistle through the trees, the bubble of the old creek that ran along the edge of the property that separated his land from his friend’s – those things were better therapy than the doctors at the VA. And nothing beat digging his fingers deep into rich, brown-black humus in the dozen raised beds that Chad had helped him to build.
But he was never sure that his father, who had once run herds of cattle on the hundred-plus acres that he grew up on, would understand or accept any of that. They had talked a couple of times about selling off some of that land, which now was mostly fallow. Travis had been shocked at just how much it was worth. Especially to city slickers looking to get away from Houston or Dallas.
Still, neither of them seemed able to part with what was their family heritage. He had never thought that being an only child was lucky. But listening to Chad talk about how his family’s old place had been parceled up and sold off had changed Travis’s opinion about that.
His friend’s words about being a steward of something precious had taken root in his heart. He did not have words to explain, especially to a former rancher like his father. But somehow, he had felt it was his destiny, his Fate. What he was called to do with the rest of his life.
Of course, what would happen to this place when he was gone had always weighed on his mind. He never wanted to see this place become like the old Wilson homestead. But his sons had no connection to this place, their family history, or the land.
And now, this? What kind of life was this for Bree or Keisha? They had lived their whole lives in Atlanta. The big city. What would they think of this place? He sighed, more like, what would the folks round here think and say about them? But did that matter? Was this truly the answer? The blessing that his father believed it to be for all of them?
He felt his father draw back that arthritic hand. He looked back up at the lined, chapped face in which he could see his future. The old man held out his phone, “Make that call, boy. You know it’s the right thing.”