Abby and I went to her hometown of Ryan, Oklahoma, again this weekend, to help the family deal with Abby’s dad, who is currently hospitalized in Nocona, Texas, after a fight with pneumonia. While he is responding to treatment for the infection, his illness, coupled with degeneration of strength in his legs, may leave him unable to walk or care for himself.
Abby and I are both very sad to see this once very powerful man succumb to the ravages of advanced age. He will turn 87 next month. The next ten days will establish our course; will he regain enough strength from physical therapy and pain management to return home, or will he need professional nursing care?
Last year as he prepared to sell the house in which Abby grew up, Hershel was ascending a short flight of stairs when he looked at me and said, “Don’t ever get old.”
I thought of all this yesterday evening when I went out to the Shoffner’s barn to turn on the windmill so the cattle could drink. Hershel and I had done this together a week ago, though he needed four rest stops along the way. I turned on the windmill, which spun up quickly and started pumping water into the blue water tank so the steers could drink and the goldfish could swim.
The evening light was beautiful, and the steers, which actually belong to Hershel’s lifelong friend Raish and his family, gathered around me. At first I thought it was because I made the water flow, but after a bit I realized they were just curious. I had a camera, since that’s my tool, so I made some images of them as they drew nearer. I stood quietly and watched as they got closer and tried to figure me out. Though they are large, powerful animals, they are quite nervous and shy, so if I moved at all, they would scatter away.
Ultimately I enjoyed the warm, breezy night in that perfectly flat slice of the American plains, but I missed my wife, and thought of Hershel and the grand things he and his strong, stoic self would probably never do again. He wouldn’t be out there any more, riding fences or welding gate pipes or teaching the kids to ride four-wheelers. I wished he was out there with me, whittlin’ or pickin’ ticks off the dogs or some other quiet country activity.
If this entry is about anything, it is about your next breath, and how precious it is. Now is our time to be strong. Hershel was so strong for so long, and we admire that so much. Go, now, and be strong while you can.