by Jack Sommerville
As I read the e-mail entitled “HOW WE TREAT PEOPLE” that my mom sent to her e-mail list on July 19th, I was taken back with a couple of the stories told. One was about a 10 year old who could only afford a single scoop of ice cream and the other was about the 5 yr old who thought he was giving “His” life to save his sick sister. If you have yet to read these short stories then please do. It seems to me we are all amazed by the young minds of our children and the things they do to make us happy.
My story however is about a person a bit older than the two mentioned. My stepfather Von spent years, 19 years actually, building and working on his “garden”, as he called it. Most of us just called it “The Hill”. He started with the brick work very early on when he had intended to make my mom two planter boxes under the downstairs windows. Day in and day out he would return from the supply store with more brick, concrete and sand bags to be brought down the hill and mixed for his next project, whatever that would be.
During this time, I was in High School thinking of doing anything BUT hauling 90 lbs. bags of concrete down “The Hill”. Every single day (even if it was only once a week, it still seemed like every day), Von would come home and find me to let me know that there were more bags and bricks to be removed from his trunk, and down the hill. Sometimes I might have a friend over that would help me, but most of the time it seemed to be my task alone to perform. More brick, sand and concrete….down the hill. It seemed like years. Come to think of it…. it was! Of course, I always jumped to the occasion eager to please with a smile on my face, and was always right there for him….NOT!
I remember one day as if it were yesterday. Von came home after I was already back from school. He found me down stairs listening to the stereo that was up a bit too loud as he would say. Once again he was back and his trunk needed to be emptied. I said I would get right to it. About a half hour later, he came back downstairs and asked me if I had finished. I shook my head no and told him I would get right on it. About ten minutes later he was back. I had still not even moved a muscle and now was watching TV. I told him I would be there ASAP. He left. Not 30 seconds later he was back and not at all happy with me.
Day in and day out, all it seemed I did was emptied his stupid trunk of bricks, concrete and sand. I was steaming as So, I reluctantly moped up the stairs to the car. All I could think was, “Get the bricks and get the bags..Get the bricks and get the bags.”. The keys were on the trunk lid of the car. I slowly opened the trunk….only to find a present. A present just for me.
I stared in the trunk for a moment or two and then looked over the roof of the car to see if Von was watching, but nobody was there. Just me there to unload…my shiny new weight set. Von always did have a sense of humor.
Unfortunately, I don’t remember if I ever thanked him, but years later I would not miss my chance. And although I didn’t know it at the time, it would be the last time I would ever see Von alive.
We were all outside saying our goodbyes, when I figured this was my chance. I went back into the house and found Von sitting in his chair, alone watching TV. I walked up to him and looked at him. He seemed not to notice me. So, I got closer to him and said “Von” …. He kind of reacted, but still wasn’t giving me his full attention.
I then looked straight into his eyes …. and said, “Von. Look at me”.
He did and said, “What?!” angrily.
I said, “Thank you!”
He stared at me for a second or two, and asked, “For what?”
I said, “For everything you’ve done for me.”
He smiled and gave me a big hug. We shared a few more private words with each other and then I left.
I originally told this story to O.L. Von Stetten, Von’s oldest son just a few days after Von had passed on. O.L. was telling me of his father and the kind of person he was with him. I thought O.L. should know the kind of person Von was to me. O.L. asked me to tell my story at the funeral, but at the time I told O.L. it was just for him.
The story of the 5 and 10 year old boys are very much like many of Von’s experiences with me. As we see, even in their 80’s and 90’s, people can still go out of there way to make us feel happy. We might have missed our chance when we were all 5 and 10 to have our story, but there is plenty of time “NOW”, before we are in our 90’s to treat people right and create a story of our own.
Thank you again Von and thank you all for taking the time to read my story…
© 2006 Jack Sommerville, all rights reserved.