By Andrew J. Hanna
I was ten years old. I was walking up a hill with my father, humming a tune that has long since faded from my memory. The sweltering summer sun was setting, and a cool breeze had picked up, whistling through my unkempt hair. Beside me, my father shifted his grasp on our fishing rods as he trudged up the hill, silent. Finally, we reached the top. Before us lay a small lake, glinting as it reflected the flaming sun. My father handed me my rod, tightening the knot that held the hook in place. For a few minutes we sat quietly on the grass, loosely holding our rods. I reeled my line in slowly, spreading ripples across the glass-like surface of the lake. After a time, my father put his hand on my shoulder. “Son,” he murmured, his voice barely louder than a whisper.
“Yes,” I responded, turning to look at him.
“Come with me,” he said, still gazing into the distance.
He got to his feet and motioned that I follow him. I stood up and walked next to him, waiting for him to speak. Finally, we reached the edge of the hill.
“Look,” he implored, “look.”
I did. The sight filled me with awe. The sun was sinking in the sky, bathing the world in crimson light. A slow mist had settled over the earth, shrouding it in shadow. Beyond lay the San Gabriel Mountains, rising like giants over the desolate landscape. Overhead, brilliantly colored clouds drifted through the sky, pushed by the calm, cold wind. But these wonders were not what my father wanted me to see. Following his gaze, I looked down at the farm that lay beneath us, stretching far into the distance, set against the craggy peaks of the San Gabriels. Squinting, I saw our horses, our barn, and our house, isolated from humanity itself. I shivered. My father turned and pulled off his jacket to drape it around my shoulders.
“Here,” he said, putting his arm around me.
“What did you want me to see?” I asked.
My father didn’t respond. He just looked at me; his brown eyes were as soulful as those of an aged horse, as deep as the ocean that churned and foamed just beyond the horizon.
“Son,” he began, but his voice broke.
Haltingly, he gave his reply. “I have something very important to tell you,” he started, his eyes glistening. Again, his voice cracked.
“Go on,” I encouraged, curious, “please.”
“Next to you, this farm is all I have,” he said, choking on his words, “our family has lived here since the beginning. This farm is our life, our soul.”
Even at ten years old, I realized how serious he was. I understood the immensity of my father’s love of the farm and, more importantly, of me.
“You are my only child,” he whispered, “there’s nobody else but you.”
For a second, he couldn’t speak. A lone tear trickled out of his eye, tracing a path down his lined, weathered face. With an immense effort, he started to talk again.
“When I’m gone, I’m going to need somebody to take care of my farm—your farm. I need…you.”
The iridescent lake shimmered as the last rays of sunlight glanced off of it. The sun sank below the horizon while we stared, motionless, at our farm, watching as the gentle mist swept over the buildings. Only the chirping of crickets punctuated the blanket of silence. A full moon began to rise, its silvery, ethereal light illuminating the tears that were pouring from my father’s eyes. I knew what I had to do.
“I’ll never leave you, dad,” I said quietly, “I’ll never leave.”
He looked at me, his features tense, a sense of urgency in his eyes.
“Do you promise?” he whispered.
“I promise,” I replied.
The subtle tinges of blue and green disappeared from the sky, leaving only distant, twinkling stars painted against the black sky. Neither of us said a word. The profound stillness, the rhythmic chirping of the crickets, and the slow rippling of the grass spoke for us. Each second felt like an eternity, but I never wanted it to end. Awed by the splendor of the earth and the sky, we didn’t move until the sun began to rise over the San Gabriel Mountains once more, its hues of red and gold heralding the birth of a new day.