I come from good people.
This is the face of the man I love, the face of God, the face of a smiling man from whom I got my eyes, my sense of humor and my will to live. Every time he lifted a shovel or gutted a fish or raised a gun he and I shared the exact same knowledge and joy of being human and being men.
Every time he drank a glass of whisky or put down the empty glass because he knew he’d had enough I admired him even before I’d been born and he knew it, because there has always been a connection between men who know one another in the time honored sense of integrity, honor and good. I am so tired of lesser men. I love this one for being real. He never knew the world as I have known it, but if I know mine as well as he knew his, then we have both done our jobs to the best of our ability and all others can be responsible for themselves.
There is a power in him when I feel none within myself in his broad shoulders and open collared shirt, his short cropped hair and all I know of him. He is my fore bearer, the man among those from whom I sprang, the honest day laborer whose body accepted impossible odds until they beat him fair and square with age and death to hold not one but both of his arms behind his back. Then he let them win, but I still have this picture from when he could take it and dish it out.
They said he fought bare knuckled for prize money, as much as twenty dollars a bout and went to work at age fifteen because, he said, he could starve just as easy away from home. He became foreman of the camp before he became a man and beat men up for calling him a boy. He walked twenty miles or so to see the girl he intended to marry and shoveled the walk when he got to her house when her father demanded the chore and handed him the snow shovel. That’s him smiling in the picture, un-embittered by any aspect of a life in which sex from his wife, a cigarette when he picked up the habit, whiskey if it happened to be handy and a good plate of hot food made life a paradise, never mind about the hell they taught in Sunday School.
He smiles at me today and pauses in his work as once he did the work no one else could do and he encourages me to do mine. So I smile back at him across the infinity God has drawn between us, this man I know so well and love so much and will not see again except in photographs as this one or in heaven. There is no hell tough enough to hold him and God who made him says to me as I have said, “If I your God Almighty have a face, this is it. Don’t worship me. Get back to work and I’ll be the one who does the watching. You can look at this likeness on your own time any time you want, but have no fear. It will never change. I’m the man you need, the power and the glory in the self same image I used when I made you. I knew you before either of you were born.”
It’s a poem.
It’s a rhapsody where none belong, because this big close shaven man with his hair cut down to nothing but a crop of uncombed thatch on top of his head never wrote a poem or troubled his brain with deeper meaning all his life.
He taught me drinking songs.
“Oh Mary, Mary you wicked girl. What are you doing in this desperate world? You’ll ruin your fame and fortune too, by play on your ding dang do.”
That’s how the song goes and it goes on. He taught me all the words.
In my desperate gamble for respectability, I actually studied about God and let other people grade me, when I’d already sat on this man’s knee as a child and he bid me take a puff on his unfiltered cigarette and sip his whiskey and let me row a boat and stand up underway without shouting at me about falling overboard. Who could know more about God or who could teach me? How much more could I hope to learn when I had seen this man roll up the sleeve of his white dress shirt and feel the muscles in his arm that built my world in seven days? That’s how long I saw him once every year when we went to Washington Island where he lived on our summer vacation.
He lived elsewhere, as God is apt to do, but he ruled in heaven on the Island with his wife who baked cookies. God is a man who picks up one hundred pound rocks and carries them to where he wants to put them down and puts them down exactly where he wants them.
There is a story as if from the Bible about one day how my grandfather told a man on his road crew to move a rock off the right of way and the man refused, because he said he couldn’t lift the rock it being too big with the impression nobody could lift the goddamn rock.
Grandpa told the man to sit on the rock he and nobody else could move.
Then Gramps lifted the rock and the man and carried them howsoever far he wanted to go.
Then he set them down.