I was living with my parents, in between places, jobs, and sustainable relationships, when my father came into the room. Could I could give him a hand with something, he asked. No specifics. I knew he was outside tinkering. I asked what he was working on and he proceeded to tell me he was moving that rock that sticks up.
I know which rock he means. My parents have lived in their home, the home I grew up in, for almost 30 years. What was initially a cow pasture became a back lawn of about an acre that my dad maintained with his riding mower. Closer to the house, there was a rock that stuck up just far enough that the lawnmower blade always clipped it. The easy fix for decades had been to be conscious of the rock and raise the blade or try to maneuver around the tip of stone that peaked no more than three or four inches out of the ground. Apparently, my father had grown tired of this solution and decided that he needed to dig up the stone and move it. It was a nice sunny day and I didn’t really have anything pressing going on. Besides, I thought it would be a nice father and son project.
My father had also presented as if the task was almost completed. He tended to own something, work on it alone, for as long as he could before he would come and ask for help. “Can you give me a hand,” is a phrase that I had grown accustomed to meaning, “I begrudgingly ask for help. It’ll just take a minute.” Over the years of my life, things had changed little with this phrase. But recently, my father had been diagnosed with peripheral artery disease. “Can you give me a hand” was only a little more frequent and a lot more begrudgingly. So I was surprised when I exited the house and found the state of his project.
The earth around the tip of stone in the yard had been removed and the true girth of this behemoth rock was beginning to come to light. A smattering of different shovels, a post hole digger, and make shift pry bars littered the area around the mouth of a growing opening into the ground. As I neared the work site, my father was standing with his weight leaning on a long metal bar, bucket hat and tinted sunglasses, leather work gloves, and a watchful look to examine how much of this he was going to have to explain and how much he was going to be able to leave unsaid because I am his son.
For the next few hours, we bent to the task of excavating a stone the size of Bigfoot in a fetal position. With a series of old boards and fence posts from scrap wood piles and projects abandoned, we worked. We did figurin’. We chatted. Leverage. Laughter. Cumberlong and chains. Father and son.
We could have moved all the excavated dirt back and buried that son-of-a-bitch and our afternoon of toil just deep enough so that it never dinged another lawnmower blade. That idea was something I only offered in jest. With late afternoon sun wearing its way across the azure of summer sky, we had maneuvered the rock to the edge of victory. Wedges, fulcrums, lots of verbal encouragement, yet the stone persisted. So my father got the keys to his jeep, some scrap trucking straps, and another chain.
The jeep tires scratched for traction and spun. The weight and inertia of a stone that had happily laid for hundreds, thousands of years, tensioned the chain and everything living watching as I waited for the jeep hitch and most of the rear end to yield. And finally, the stone budged and cleared the lip of its bed of earth. It came to rest four hard earned feet from where it had been, its irregular shape and smoothed surface scoured in the sun like a defeated tuna on the deck of a fishing boat. My father couldn’t have been happier to say he had no idea what we were going to do with it.
Later that summer, a friend of mine called and said he had some tickets to a PGA tour event in the Boston area. The stone sat above the ground, unchanged from its extraction, while my father’s peripheral artery disease had advanced. I had always shared with my father the game of golf. When I was 9 or 10, I walked the course and carried his bag. Then I began to play. Lazy late Sunday afternoons after a day in the sun, waiting for dinner, we’d watch golfers do things on TV we’d often convinced ourselves we were capable of. So, I secured the tickets and my friend and my father and I headed down on Labor Day Weekend to kick something off a bucket list.
We arrived late. As we moved our way from the parking area to the gigantic 18 hole layout, we discovered that the primo space for watching was all the way on the other end of the golf course. I looked at my dad. He was plodding with his calf muscles already painfully contorting. His breath was labored. As my friend moved quickly along the concrete paths, I tried to find a pace somewhere in between. I could feel my father trying, struggling, and still moving. I stopped to let him catch up. My friend continued moving, not realizing we had stopped. As I was about to say something defeatist to my dad, make some suggestion of alternative than to walk another mile only to sit and watch other people play golf, my father said something I will never forget and I understand differently every day I grow older.
“Remember the rock,” my father said.
It took me a moment to realize what he was talking about. I smiled at him. Seeing that I had understood, he smiled back. I started my feet up again. My father grimaced. He moved forward. Together, we found our spot along the lines where my father could enjoy and ache. And was I wounded. And I was proud.