It was just after 6:30 A.M. when the school bus arrived. My sisters and brothers had already climbed aboard when mom asked me to stay behind. She didn’t feel right and thought she might be going into labor.
Dad was in the fields working, and she did not have a way to reach him, so she asked me to drive her to the doctor’s office. Dad had taught me to drive a stick shift dune buggy a year earlier when I was just twelve years old. He believed I was mature enough and said I should know how to drive – just in case. This was one of those just in case moments.
I drove the old Pontiac station wagon twelve miles into town to the doctor’s office. But mom no sooner went into his office, than she came out and said we had to go to the hospital. The urgency in her voice scared me, and I knew something was terribly wrong.
When we got back into the car, mom started crying. I had never seen her breakdown as she did. I asked what was wrong and she haltingly explained that the baby might not be alive.
When we arrived at the hospital, a medical team took mom behind closed doors. I stood there a while not knowing what to do, and then realized that there was nothing more for me. I was a child in an adult world.
I drove home alone, past fields of cotton and sugar beets, past the cattle feedlots, past the lake where we liked to swim. I barely noticed my surroundings or the speed at which I drove. Mom’s tears had left me with my own.
Dad rushed to the side of the car when I drove into the yard. “Is mom okay?” he asked. I was crying so hard, I couldn’t speak. Finally, dad told me firmly to calm down and answer him, “Is mom okay?”
“She’s okay,” I muttered, “but I don’t think the baby is.”
Dad’s face tightened at those words, and he told me that I had done a good job. He asked me to go in the house and take care of my six younger siblings, then he left for town.
I did not tell dad the real reason for my tears, not then. I waited to later, to when dad had returned with the awful news and was sitting alone in the darkness. I asked if I could tell him a terrible secret, and he said yes. I told him about my scary dreams, the ones in which the baby was born dead. I cried as I spoke and told him I was afraid my nightmares had caused this tragedy.
Dad listened intently to what I was saying and then told me that he, too, had the same dreams.
When he shared this with me, I was relieved for then I no longer felt that it was my fault. A huge weight lifted and with it my tears.
Some fifty years later, I told a friend about this incident, about how dad and I had the same dreams. He smiled at the end of the story and said, “As only a loving father could say to his young daughter.”
At first, I did not understand what he meant and asked him about it. He simply repeated his words, “As only a loving father could say to his young daughter.” And then I knew. Dad told me that he had the same dreams, because he did not want me to carry the burden.
My dad was not one to say, “I love you,” in fact, I only remember him saying those words once to me. But over time, I came to realize that his life was his I love you. And he gave that life to those he loved every day.