Saturday, June 14, 2008

Bean Boy

Once upon a time there was a young girl with a difficult family. Her father was old enough to be her grandfather, and though kindly and interesting, he treated his large family with a kind of bemused detachment common to men of his age and demeanor. Her mother was a poor manager of money, of which there was never enough, and an even poorer manager of children, of which there were plenty. The young girl was clever and had a way of seeing quickly to the heart of an issue. She knew that their family was not entirely normal, and did what she could to teach her younger siblings what she had learned of the world despite her tender years.

It was about this time they moved from a smallish city to an even smaller town. It was as though a great magnifying glass had been shone on their oddities. The other girls her age seemed so capable, so tidy, so well-dressed. She felt shabby and embarrassed, and the other kids were happy to ignore or ridicule the girl and her motley siblings.

In the summer, to earn money, the young woman (for she had lived in this town a few years) and her sisters worked at the bean patch. They would work all day in the sun, filling large, flat boxes full of beans. As they filled each box, they would work together to drag and push the heavy flat to the end of the row. When it was in place, one of them would yell, "Bean Boy! Bean Boy!"

The girls who were pretty or popular or well-dressed or able to keep their hair in neat braids, would wait just moments for one of the farm boys to come along and easily lift the box to take to the truck. In the truck, the box would be weighed and a number would be made next to each person's name in the ledger book. At the end of the day, the girls were paid for how many beans they picked.

But to the young woman's deep embarrassment, she and her sisters would stand at the end of the row calling "Bean Boy!" over and over again, and nobody would come to help them, at least not for several minutes. Some times they ended up dragging the heavy box to the truck by themselves.

About this time, a new family of brothers started working at the bean patch. The oldest brother was the same age as the young lady. Despite his small stature, he was popular and athletic. Their family owned a small dairy and they worked hard. His family was even bigger than the young lady's, but his mother was not bad with money or children. She liked the way he had always looked her in the eye and had never made whispered comments behind her back.

But what she liked best is that when she called, "Bean Boy!" this young man would always make sure that her flat or her sisters' flats were picked up immediately. If he was unable to do it, then he asked one of his younger brothers to help her. In her whole life, she had never met anyone as genuinely nice as this boy.

She later married him and they had four children.

One day, many years later, her daughter was home from college. She had watched for years as the relationship between her eldest, bookish, daughter and her husband had deteriorated to almost mutual hostility. For all his generosity of heart, her husband was also stubborn to a fault and took it so personally when he was disagreed with. She wished there was a way that her daughter would see that all she despised in her father was absolutely reflected in herself. Except for her love of stories and the features of her pretty-ish face, she had inherited nearly everything else from him. She could see, as they didn't, that if they would both give in just a little bit, their relationship had potential to bring them much joy.

So the mother watched as her daughter and husband dug into each other one night. The daughter expressing her opinions with no filter and attacking her father for his; the father becoming so frustrated that he finally barked, "Just get out of my sight!" There was silence, the daughter's sharp tongue finally silenced, and a look of resolve the mother had never seen before moved through her eyes. The girl turned on her heel and left the room.

The mother momentarily thought that perhaps the daughter had made a breakthrough: had she finally just learned to walk away when tempers flared? And then, minutes later, she heard a car start in the driveway and walked outside. Her daughter's car was loaded with a mountain of half-finished laundry and she was backing out.

"What? No goodbye?" The mother said carefully.

The response was volatile. "How can you love him! He is mean and angry! He never has a kind word for me and he acts like a child. He hasn't said a nice word to me in months. . . " She went on in this vein for a couple of minutes and though she was certainly exaggerating, the mother knew her daughter did have some valid points.

Her tirade spent, the mother invited her daughter back in where they could talk. Her daughter refused saying, "I'm leaving today. He told me to. I don't know when I'm coming back." The mother let her go, not saying much, wise enough not to point out that the girl wouldn't get far if she decided to really make a break for it in a car which her father made the payments on.

Four days later, the college girl got a letter from her mother. The letter contained trouser socks: her mom was never able to send a letter without some kind of token present. The letter was four or five pages from a yellow legal pad--every line used on both sides of the paper. In the letter her mother told her why she loved this man by telling her the story of the Bean Boy, concluding with, "Whenever I feel frustrated or angry with your father, I just remember that inside he is still that Bean Boy--caring, compassionate and rescuing."

The girl cried. She drove to the mountains. She prayed. And in the end she heeded the best advice she ever got found at the end of her mother's letter: "I know that he is the adult. I would love to say that if you just bide your time he will one day reach out and this will all be behind you. But I know him. And I know that it is not in his nature to do so. If having a relationship with this man, your father, is important to you, then you must forget yourself. You cannot expect to meet him half-way. You need to go all the way. I think you'll be surprised by the man you find on the other side."

About six months later, that daughter went on a mission to Sydney, Australia. She cried when she hugged and said goodbye to her dad. All barriers down, he too wept unashamedly as he loaded her on the plane for the greatest adventure of her life. She had come to realize that he, in all his imperfection, was a part of who she was. She had finally come to see his generosity, his insecurity, the way he had always supported her, the respect he had for her as an adult. And she didn't have to go the entire distance on her own. He had come to meet her.

Years after her mission, that girl moved to Texas. Her father remarked to her mother that loading her and newish husband into the moving van was the second hardest thing he'd ever done. When asked what the hardest was, he replied, "Putting her on a plane for Australia."

I know this story is true, because it is my story.

I love my dad for teaching me how to work, how to ski, how to do algebra, and how to give. He never begrudges the money or time my mother spends trying to bail out her family. He showed by example that we never turn down callings, even when we feel unworthy and overwhelmed. I love my parents for making the decision early in their marriage to be active in the Church, though many in their families chose otherwise. I love him for coming to endless dance and music recitals and plays, though he hates that kind of thing. I love my dad for calling me on the phone just to say hi whenever he sees and Oregonian license plate. I love him for always making sure there was money in my pocket when I went out with friends and even now, filling up my tank "anonymously" before we head out on a road trip. He IS kind and generous and all of those things my mother helped me to see before it was too late.

Happy Father's Day Bean Boy.

8 comments:

Doreen said...

Oh, that was sweet. I like your writing style. Glad you got everything worked out. I had a pretty rough relationship with my dad, as well, but it's gotten lots better since I've gotten married and had kids.

Jessica said...

i always enjoy reading your posts even if i don't always comment. what a great story to be passed on to your kids as well.

Z. Marie said...

Oh, wow, that made me cry. Wish him Happy Father's Day from me, too!

Dickey said...

What a beautiful story!! You have such an amazing talent writing your thoughts and feelings.

denedu said...

I always love finding blogs where the "blogger" has a way with words. You certainly do!!! What a wonderful story. :)

Yankee Girl said...

Beautiful.

kanaboke said...

Bean Boy....I love that!!! What a beautiful tribute to your dad..the telling of it is so vivid that you can see you and your father as he's sending you off on your mission...you are an awesome writer!!

ELASTICWAISTBANDLADY said...

This was a fantastic story. I got a little teary-eyed reading it.