Tough questions ... by Del Bartels

As heard on the Good Stuff with Jim Thompson

          The grandfather hurried into the barn, supposedly to get the cab of the tractor cleared out enough for his young granddaughter to ride with him, but to also get a moment or two of simple quiet. She was still on his heels. “Grandad, why don’t those birds up by the ceiling mind when you come into their barn?” Funny, he’d grown so accustomed to them, still, he often relaxed to their chirping and notes when he was working alone on something in the barn.

          “Did you know that I took your last piece of bacon at breakfast? Why did Grandma giggle when she told you I could help with the chores? Aren’t grasshoppers neat, except when they land on your arm? Why is your tractor always so dirty? I like the smells around here, don’t you?”

          No – yes; he hadn’t thought about it for years. The smell of hay, of the shelterbelt trees north of the house, even of old spilled grain near the bins, even of the cattle pasture ... they all were what he came home to after being in town or visiting relatives on long weekends. Longer vacations just didn’t happen, because he always had work to do, and because he felt best when he was home, when he was here.

          “I love it when you lead Pet around with me riding him. Wow, does he go fast! Why don’t you ride horses all the time?” She was seated safely beside him as he chugged along, putting some of the single hay bales together in a storage row. He used to ride horseback far more than he did now. Some work still was best done from the saddle, but not as much nowadays. He wasn’t as young or as limber now, but he missed the feel of a good day’s work on top of a good horse. Maybe he would make time to saddle up for awhile, just because.

          “Why did God make weeds? My best friend is Sammy. Is Grandma your best friend? Don’t cows chew kinda funny?” He had given up trying to answer most of her questions. Some, though, called forth answers of their own accord, at least in his head. He felt so exhausted when the grandchildren left after visiting. He felt so good, too. He must have once been as annoyingly energetic ... distracted ... inquisitive ... young. It would take at least a week before her questions would quit popping back into his head. Each one would open a different train of thought. Some, like “Why do things have to die?” would haunt him. Some, like “Why do we have to grow up?” would amuse him. Some, like “Why are boys so weird?” would begin to impose an awkwardness that he would leave for his own son to answer for her, eventually.

          He turned the tractor back home. After lunch, during her nap, he might tell his wife of all their granddaughter’s questions. Over a cup of coffee, the two might even try to figure out some of the answers.

          She snuggled into his side, then, almost quietly, “Grandad, why do you love me?” He wrapped his arm a bit tighter around her. Of her million questions, that was the hardest to try to answer. It was probably the only one where an answer was neither expected nor needed.