Mr. Peterson looked at me through a veil of white and silver hairs, hanging just past, below, and above his piercing green eyes. His eyes seemed to burrow into everything me, into my darkest recesses.
Peterson’s heavy face had at least 5 days of unshaven white and silver hairs.
I had just arrived in my rental car, after reaching the airport a couple of hours ago.
My father’s farmhouse was 45 minutes from the nearest town where I could buy gasoline or food.
Peterson came up in an old Chevy truck within minutes of my arrival.
My intent was to get inside the farmhouse, to begin to organize what was thrown away, what was kept for family. In my mind, there was nothing in there for me.
Pop had died 5 months ago.
Now, feeling the weight of Mr. Peterson’s glare His eyes caused me to remember things I had ever lied about in the past. Missing the bag when I was running for third base and the umpire was right there, or things I told Beverly, my first unwilling kiss at 13.
My lies came to the surface because this old farmer seemed to dredge the truth up, with the glare of God.
His heavy breathing came from the facts he towered over me by several inches and his girth was twice mine. He had a chaw in his left side cheek that made his face looked it was deformed like a nickel balloon was inside.
While the August heat sat around everything discouraging even the slightest breeze to stir the smallest leaves of the trees, he glared.
“Now, young man, I ain’t exactly calling you a liar, but I knew the man that lived in that house for nigh on 25 years. I knew he had two daughters. No doubt. Never heard him tell of no son. I can see you got keys to the fence gate, so that is one thing. You might even have keys for the front door.”
Peterson seemed to slow down on his thinking and concentrate on burrowing deeper through me.
“I need you to show me some form of ID, so I don’t call Deputy Sheriff Bob. I will do it! Don’t test me on it.”
Peterson’s gorilla arm swung to point to his left.
“And, my Harvey leaning over there on that Chevy Truck? You see his hand in his coveralls? He ain’t pulling on himself! No sir, He has a hog leg he cleans on a regular type time. It is probably itching to come out and clear its throat! At you!”
Peterson leaned in closer to me, like a jilted lover willing to slice an important part of me away, while I smelt his clothes of last week and his latest chaw.
“Give me one reason to doubt you, make a move for that sissy city car of yours, well, Harvey is more than just nervous. He is prime and you might not see the sun come up.”
So, how does a son respond to the fact that the father, likely bragged of his daughters, but had never spoken of his son to an old farmer?
The same farmer half convinced the man standing in front of him was a liar, and probably a thief?
Gently, now, I thought, “The old man did not like the competition of the male kind. He liked people to follow his orders. He might even have been a little ashamed of a son that took to the books instead of the fist. So, don’t judge him poorly that he never told you he had a son.”
I paused just long enough to glance at Harvey and where his hand was.
“I am proud he told you of his daughters. Hell, to me, he only bragged about his animals, cows, dogs, so on. Never family!”
Peterson changed his stance over me slightly, but not his glaring eyes.
I said, “He was a private man, not given to a lot of boasts. Maybe he did not understand me, where I was in the world. Hell, he built things, he commanded people that did not understand why they had to follow his will, but they did. I was just somebody he trusted when no one was left he could trust. Doesn’t mean he bragged to the world about me.”
Mr. Peterson seemed to soften just a slice, and said, “Yeah, my old man was hard too. He did not trust anyone. He made me the same way. I tried to make my son like him and me. Didn’t work for my son. Seems sort of soft to me. Maybe, you were the same? Soft to your old man?”
Gently again I went on,
“The old man never actually liked having me around. I tried to please him after I was a grown man. Protecting him, fixing things for him, listening to him. It never worked. But, still, I am here to honor his last wishes of me. A few months before he died, he took both my hands, looked into my eyes, and made me promise I would follow his orders after he died.”
“So, Mr. Peterson, can I go in now? I have lots of things I promised him I would do, and absolutely nothing inside his house I want to do. My heart and mind are filled with dread, and I would rather do anything other than what I have to do.”
Peterson gave Harvey one white brow look. Harvey pulled his hands out of his coveralls, and the bulk of Peterson backed away to my left.
“Go ahead, boy. I will be watching you though.”
Thank God, I have never denied my children like that. They will never have to face farmer Peterson as if he was guarding the Pearly Gates, instead of a rundown farmhouse.