When I was a boy my dad bought a white plastic rectangular sign with magnets on the back so you could slap it on the side of your pickup truck. It read:
James L. Roy & Sons
Cane Hill, Mo
I didn’t know what GW 6000 meant — still don’t — but I got the rest. Pa was making a declaration. He wasn’t just James Lee Roy, farmer; he was James L. Roy & Sons, businessman. The family farm was the family business — he was the CEO, but he had a couple of vice presidents sharing the bedroom, I mean office, next to his.
Oh sure, he had a couple of daughters, too, but they didn’t count. They were temporary Roys. They would grow up and get married and become Perreys or Busbys or somesuch. Their kids would be Perreys or Busbys or somesuch. No, it was up to the sons to carry on the family business.
I’m pretty sure that the reason my parents had four children is because Pa wasn’t going to stop until he had a backup in case anything happened to Randy.
I’m pretty sure it didn’t take Pa long to realize that I wouldn’t be taking over the family operation. He didn’t let me drive the tractor or the combine or the brush-hog (and I didn’t ask to). Still, he found meaningful ways to keep me in the business — picking up rocks, picking up walnuts, stacking hay in the barn loft where there was no oxygen, shoveling corn in a silo where there was no oxygen.
Pa was a hard-working man who did not tolerate laziness. I left Cane Hill at the first available moment.
Pa wasn’t crazy about my love of dinosaurs but he didn’t see the harm. He even went out of his way on our one family vacation to drive to a dive that had a giant sloth skeleton and a Protoceratops skull. And he stood in line for a long time one Saturday morning with me and Cindy to see a matinée of “Journey to the Beginning of Time.”
Pa hated — hated — my love of comic books. “You could buy a car with the money you’ve spent on those things” he would say. Again and again. Whenever I needed change for a comic book, I always knew to go to mom.
Dad was a hunter, a fisherman, a builder, a mechanic, an athlete, a veteran and a good-looking guy. So was his son. His son Randy. Whom he named after himself. How could he have known what was to come?
If Pa was disappointed in me he never said. But then, he was a quiet man.
Dad’s hands were huge. I figured that’s cause he was an adult. But now I’m an adult and my hands aren’t nearly as huge.
When I was a freshman we had more drummers than drums and since Robin Stanton could beat me up, I had to play the bells. This required me to learn how to read notes, so I had to take the bells home and practice. I put them out on the porch on top of the freezer and slowly began pecking out the notes so that I could memorize what bell to hit when.
Pa comes in, looks over at me, doesn’t say a word, walks into the kitchen. “What’s that boy doing?” he says to ma. “Playing the bells,” she says. “Isn’t that a girl’s instrument?” Yes, Pa! Yes, it is! Once again I have been emasculated in your eyes — but this time it wasn’t my fault!
The next year I gave the bells to Cheryl and never looked back.
My senior year Mike Crutcher and I took a day off from school for a “college day” in which we drove to Columbia to visit the campus. Mike drove. Just as I thought it was time to head for home, Mike wanted to go visit an old classmate. They talked and talked and it got darker and darker. As we were driving home Mike thought we were about to run out of gas so he drove out of our way to Bolivar to get gas. The gas station was closed. We somehow made it to my house after midnight.
I go to the door. The door is locked. Now in the country we don’t lock our doors with keys, we use latches. The only way I’m getting in is if someone gets up out of bed. I’m getting ready to go sleep in the barn when a light comes on and Pa slowly comes out and opens the door. Pa wasn’t big on listening to excuses.
A few years later the boys decide to camp overnight at Buzzard’s Bluff. Mike, John and I take Pa’s pickup out early to set up camp. Night falls and someone has to go back to town to pick up Jay and Aaron and probably Rod. I have no idea where we are so I let Mike take the truck. On the way back a tree jumps out and sideswipes the pickup, denting it along the side.
Mike is being all apologetic. All I can think of to say is, “You know Mike, my dad never really liked you.”
When I went off to college, every Sunday night around 6 p.m. I would call home. This became a burden once mom died because she always carried the conversation. The one trait I did inherit from my father was an inability to engage in small talk. So every weekend ended like this:
“How’s it goin’?
“Pretty good. You have a good week.”
“Yep. How’s the weather?”
“Little hot. Had some rain earlier in the week. How about you?”
“Yeah, we got about an inch of rain Tuesday.”
“How’s the cattle?”
“Cattle are good. How’s Laura and Andrew?”
“Good. How’s everybody in Cane Hill?”
“You watching the Rams?”
“No, I’m watching the Chiefs.”
“You’re not missing anything.”
“Well, I don’t know anything else.”
“Well, I don’t either. Thanks for calling.”
“Talk to you later. ‘Bye.”
When mom died it just about killed Pa. He was inconsolable for a long time. Every weekend Cindy would go home to make sure he didn’t kill himself.
One of dad’s best friends was his cousin Robert. Robert and his wife Norma were always hanging out with mom and dad. They played cards, they traveled (but never too far). Robert died some time after mom did. Dad and Norma married some time after that.
If that seems strange to you, keep in mind that the dating pool has always been pretty shallow in Cane Hill, regardless of your age.
For Father’s Day this year Andrew was going to get me a 48-inch Sony LED widescreen television with two HDML outlets. BECAUSE EVERYBODY ELSE HAS ONE. Why am I the only person I know who’s still watching television on a square, 600-lb TV? It’s going to be great. I’m gonna get it on Saturday and have it wired up and spend all day Sunday watching Marvel movies.
Instead, I spent Father’s Day with my family, burying my dad.
In the end it wasn’t Pa’s sons that became the most important of his children to him. It was his third child, Cindy, who earned that honor. She worked for it, too, although she wouldn’t call it work. Nearly every weekend from the moment he went into the nursing home she was there — holding his hand, talking, feeding him, watching TV with him. And the rare weekends she wasn’t there she would pull sister Teresa from Oklahoma to serve in her stead, complete with instruction manual.
Parents are supposed to outlive their children. That’s the way of things.
Still, sucks for the kids.