The Holden Stone

Reflections of a Fantasy Writer

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Home Other Works by Susan Shell Winston When It's Springtime in the Rockies

When It's Springtime in the Rockies


I don't remember them. Not the different rocks you taught me. Gneiss was it? Serpentine. A rock I knew by taste, cold tart scratchy on my tongue. The quartz crystals we'd take to you excitedly in our pudgy hands from a field of them, rock after rock, on a hillside where you grew up.  Rattlesnakes in every hole, I knew it, must be, scared to death of snakes to this day. I saw you kill a rattlesnake once.   Many times actually. But the big one I remember was on the front porch; you with a manure shovel in your hand, an ancient timeless farmer from centuries ago, striking, hoeing, cracked metal thunking fast, year screeching past year against cement; I far away, safe, trying not to look.

We'd bring the quartz rocks to you; and you'd grin, flip out your tiny geologist's magnifying glass, patient, never telling us without looking, without scratching with your pocket knife against the rust and orange streaks of impurities, that no, not this one, this wasn't a vein of gold. I never saw in that poverty land of starvation, rocks, and rattlesnakes, scrub oak and Mother Lode, why it wasn't, I'd just run go get another rock.

"When it's springtime in the Rockies," you used to sing to me, rocking my bed gently, I closing my eyes pretending to go to sleep. You'd sing "Let me call you Sweetheart," what you used to dance to with Mom, you'd say, but I always waited for "Spring time in the Rockies." I'd ask for "Grandfather's Clock" every time you got your fiddle out, thinking that was my favorite. But it was "When it's springtime in the Rockies" that you croaked to my baby daughter when you held and rocked her for the first time. *When it's springtime in the Rockies, I'll be coming home to you.*

Where are you now, Dad? Where today?

It was Mom who knew every wildflower, the name of every bird and tree. It was you who took the pictures for her, catching a dewdrop shining on a plumeria blossom in Hawaii, and the silk fragile stretch of a perfect spider web behind the barn, and the dug-out canoe that paddled out to the seismic ship in Port Moresby, the one you traded two cans of ham to the headhunters in it for my grass skirt. I'm only big enough now to wear the grass skirt. You found out later from the ship's mate those cans were spoiled ham, long past their usable date. The ship's mate showed you his trophy board; he'd traded far inland, upriver in headhunter country for it. The two skulls hung from tough twisted sinews from the board by holes through their nose bones. He borrowed your camera to take a picture of you holding his trophy board -- at arm's length! -- one skull was sun-blanched white and smooth, the other still golden brown, too recent to be legal.  The expression on your face holding them made a picture I wish I had never lost.

Where are you now, Dad? What picture in your life?

I used to think I had a picture of you I never would forget. I used to think one moment, fourteen years ago, the night before your heart operation, could define you. It's just one of many, I realize tonight. You stood, barely breathing, your baby-soft wisps of white hair flying wildly facing the wind that could have knocked you down, as feeble as you stood, facing the sunset, the black silhouette of the mountains, the dark rain clouds broiling over them towards us fast. A piece of newspaper scratched cartwheels down the street, plastered itself against your legs. You turned to me, your eyes bright. "This is life!" you said. "Anyone can love a blue sky, beautiful weather; but this..." You turned back to face the grey clouds.

The pig valve they gave you the next day to save your heart had a life of 10 to 15 years, they said, fourteen years ago. You would have preferred the pig valve failing one day since then than to ever live like this. You climbed the back of Half Dome once, you said, just to do it, to very top of the mountain, to face the wind. You taught me to open up a geode to always look for the quartz crystals in it.

It's springtime in the Rockies again, Dad. I'll be coming tomorrow to see you. Will you see me? Will you know who I am?

We have more work to do, Dad. Find a nursing home, or an Alzheimer's unit that will take you, feed you, bathe you. The last time I saw you, a month or two ago, you were in a world I couldn't see, talking to people who weren't there. Will you see me tomorrow, Dad? It's springtime in the Rockies, I'll be flying over them, coming to see you.


[Author's note:   Dad passed away almost ten years ago now.]