Some are born with an innate sense of purpose, responsibility, and determination. Add to that a father’s stolid example. A father who everyday of his life rose from his heaped quilts, trudged to the barn, fed the animals before he fed himself.

His father had not expected him to hoe the same fields, to rise before dawn, turn the key in the tractor, eat a sandwich alone in the dust of newly plowed furrow.

“This is no way of life, boy,” he’d told him more than once, more than twice.

But he was his father’s son. How could he rebel against such an example? His father had never nagged him to get of bed, never begrudged him a day off when teenage angst had got the better of him. Most of all, when it came time to choose his livelihood, he had not dissuaded him from his college curriculum of animal husbandry, sustainable agriculture, plant and soil systems.

The son made changes. He alternated acres, planted drought resistant crops. He cut out pesticides, introduced bees, installed drip irrigation. His father, always open to the son’s modern methods, let his boy take over, performed those tasks his son required.

Mornings father and son leaned at the kitchen sink sipping coffee in an awkward silence. The son questioned that unease, never could figure out what they lacked, why there was no shared language. Love dwelled in that silence. That much was plain. That much he knew. He believed that was enough. He believed it still.

“A good day, son,” his father might offer up, at the end of a day. His son understood it as a token of thanks for his good fortune in rearing a son who loved the land. His mother put to good use the fruits of their labor, cooked up extras of pork and greens, chicken and vine-ripened tomatoes, steak and new potatoes. On the occasion the son parked the tractor at the front door in the middle of the day to retrieve a misplaced glove, or bandage a bleeding hand he stopped to listen, fingers wrapped around the screen door handle, to his mother humming jazz standards gliding through the few rooms of the house.

Ambition found him as it does the investment bankers and entrepreneurs the world over. Ambition for a certain level of renown. We all want that, don’t we? That’s what he believed. He believed it still. He would make something of himself, and this acreage he’d been allotted, the same acres his parents had sweated the whole of their lives.

When his father keeled over, as the townsfolk told it, in the field one hot summer day, the son was there to pick up his body, lay it carefully in the bed of a wagon and haul it home.

The son, he was the only one left to fulfill that contract and try to justify the labor and the harshness and the mistakes of his parents’ lives, and that responsibility was so clearly his, was so great an obligation, that it made unimportant and unreal the sight of the motley collection of pallbearers staggering under the weight of his father’s body, and the back door of the hearse closing quietly upon the casket and the flowers. He buried his father on the land he’d troubled over for sixty years.

His mother followed his father to the grave in six months time. It was then, going through his parents’ lives, unfolding squares of yellowed papers, reading through ledgers, folding and unfolding clothes that he discovered the nature of that unease he’d always felt at the kitchen sink in the mornings sipping coffee with his father.

He was not his father’s son.




For SAM’s Master Class…     Kelly provided us with the last line of Wallace Stegner’s The Big Rock Candy Mountain. We could use that line anywhere in the story. We could use any or all of it. I chose the whole line, as an exercise, to see what I could do with it. I have not highlighted it here hoping it would fit in as seamlessly as possible. Though I am in no way comparing myself to the great Wallace Stegner!

Click the Master Class link to find out what the line is and let me know how I did.

Thanks for reading!

15 thoughts on “Obligation

  1. I love how you build the beauty of a parent-child relationship regardless of dna. This piece is written so lovely and such a great reminder of what it is to be a parent. I also love that you were able to incorporate the entire prompt.
    Amanda Lynn recently posted..Beyond AppeasalMy Profile

  2. “He raised me from a boy to a man.
    He is my father. Because my biological?
    Didn’t bother”. -Shaquille O’Neal, circa 1994

    This OBLIGATION took me back to the
    farmlands of your Central Pennsylvania.
    So, of course, I enjoyed the journey…

  3. This was a wonderful thing to save for my last read of the night. I will be able to transport my thoughts to this place that you have created. It reminds me of a simpler time, in a familiar place where time is only kept by the crowing of roosters in the morning, and the stars that line the sky on a clear night. I enjoyed the visit. Everyone else has already said what a great twist you placed at the end, but once more won’t hurt, right? GREAT twist at the end!
    k~ recently posted..A Rocky Beginning (Master Class 2014)My Profile

  4. Wow. I’m giving you a standing ovation. So beautifully written – there was love there. So beautifully constructed and so emotive. And then the prompt so cleverly and perfectly written in – in full, no less! But the ending….(clutching heart), so heartwrenching! Lovely prose, excellent writing…
    Rebecca recently posted..IndenturedMy Profile

  5. This was terrific, Steph! First I love how he returned to the land; love the work-a-day routine you describe so very well; love how his ambition gets in the way. And man, that twist at the end. Would love to see what happens next!

  6. Killer twist there at the end! That was just fantastic! I’m so glad you joined in! I could see them sitting at the table, working the land. I could smell the kitchen and hear his mother singing. Well written.
    SAM recently posted..TMT: Motivate MeMy Profile

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