‘I see ya brought a helper’

My dad drove a gas truck for the local farmers cooperative when I was a kid. He delivered bulk fuel to farms for tractors and furnace oil to village dwellers for heat.

In the summer or on a school break dad liked nothing better than for me to go with him on the truck. It wasn’t for any big help I could offer. It was for company, for hours of father/son time that we didn’t often get because he worked long days.

If the farmer was home when we pulled into his yard, he sauntered over to visit with my dad, who was highly regarded in four counties. Visiting so many households, he knew the news  and was a mobile encyclopedia of current scuttlebutt.

Invariably when I hopped down from the cab and popped my little buzz cut head around the corner to unreel the hose, the farmer would call out, as if he was the first to notice or to think it, “See ya brought a helper with ya today, Marv.”

I knew I really wasn’t much help, but the implied compliment buried in that observation never got old. I puffed up a bit each time someone called me my dad’s helper.

I walked quicker and straighter and leaned into pulling the long, heavy hose while trying to act as if it was no effort at all. If I needed to roll an 80-pound liquid gas tank around to the kitchen, I hoped they couldn’t see that it took every ounce of my strength. Dad handled them like they were as light as baseball bats.

Fifty years later, or last week for those of you keeping score at home, I was with dad in Wisconsin. He doesn’t drive the gas truck anymore. In fact, I did the driving.

We went to the county nursing home where dad assists his pastor in a monthly communion service for residents. Dad brings the communion vessels, wafers and Welch’s, which he keeps in a large, plastic, covered bin.

Dad punched the security code, held open the door and I carried the box in for him. A couple of other volunteers were waiting on us to help set up the worship area in the common room.

“See ya brought a helper with ya today, Marv.”

I didn’t see it coming, that line from across the room, or across the decades. But it zinged through the air like William Tell’s arrow splitting the apple atop his son’s head.

I’m still my father’s helper. It’s a role I cherish and a compliment I don’t deserve.

That nine-word phrase bookends my life. The phrase is the same, but everything between the bookends is different.

I’ve grown from a child to middle age, from a kid to a grandfather, from innocent to wary. And although I’ve earned some frameable papers, been to three county fairs and a hog killin’, swam in the ocean and written things that must be said, perhaps the highest compliment I’ve ever been paid and the most important task to which ever I’ve put my hand, is to be my father’s helper.

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