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Goodnight, My American Dream. March 12, 2011

Posted by littlebangtheory in Love and Death, Politics and Society.
Tags: , , , , ,

A Short Fiction woven from loose threads of the unraveling fabric of our Society.


Remember when that old Ford truck was new?

Well, I do.

I remember diggin’ potatoes, I was just little, and Daddy tellin’ me he hadn’t saved the farm back in the Bad Years by sittin’ on his hands, that he’d done whatever it took, some things he wasn’t proud of, but mostly just a whole lot o’ hard work that never stopped.  Eatin’ mostly potatoes and chicken and every kind o’ thing he could grow, and ’cause nobody had money to buy it, givin’ away the rest.  Daddy taught me to work hard, and to never give up, and to dream big and pray that I’d get half-way there.

When I came home from The War, Uncle Sam put me through college and gave me a loan, and I bought that truck brand spankin’ new.  Daddy was so proud, you’da thought it was a miracle or somethin’.  Said it made life a whole lot easier than before.  Sometimes we’d take her for a turn ’round the fields after it got too dark to work, just to be able to sit down and relax and look at what we’d done.

Yeah, Daddy loved that truck.

We worked side by side, plantin’ and harvestin’ and tendin’ the milk cows till I got married and the kids started to come, and I needed some real money to make ends meet.  I got a job in the mill, a good job, a union job, and with my education they moved me up pretty fast and gave me my choice of shifts.  I took second so I could help Daddy most of the day.  He wasn’t gettin’ any younger, and I owed him just about everything I knew or had.

Then Momma got sick, and Daddy had insurance, but they dropped her, just like that.  He mighta’ been late on a payment; payin’ the bills had always been somethin’ Momma took care of.  Guess we never really knew how hard she worked, takin’ care of everything indoors, puttin’ up food to get us through the winter and takin’ care of the business end of things too.

Daddy had to take out a mortgage on that old farm, first one ever, to pay the medical bills.  It damn near killed him; it’d been his dream to leave it to me and Jane and the kids.  Said we could sell it if times ever got that rough.

When Momma passed and the hospital bills kept comin’ we sold the place off, bit by bit.  First the milk cows, then the machinery, then a couple of back lots.  Daddy all but stopped talkin’, except to the kids.  He’d tell them about the Good Old Days, when he and their Daddy used to dig potatoes together.

We might have made it through those bills if my job hadn’ta gotten “right-sized.” That’s a dishonest way of sayin’ they could Git ‘er Done cheaper in Mexico.

Well, I guess Mexicans got to eat too.

When the bankers came and put the foreclosure notice on the front door, Daddy wouldn’t even look at it.  He went in and out the back way, like he did when the farm was working.  He’d go up in the pasture where the old Ford truck had stopped runnin’ and sit for hours, his knuckles white on the steering wheel, staring off at God knows what, maybe some scene from his past, him and Momma doin’ something nice together.

We had thirty days to get out.  Jane and I got a little apartment in town, not much of one with me not working and her not making much, but we had a little room for Daddy.  He said he wasn’t leaving, but we knew the reality of it, and planned accordingly.

It was a hard winter for moving, real icy, and the two of us did it ourselves, not trusting Daddy’s bad back to move even small stuff.  We sent the kids off to their cousins’, and Jane and I had our first night alone in our new “home.”  It was too sad to be romantic, and we held each other in silence ’till we drifted off into something like sleep.

We got back to the farm around 9 the next morning and found the house empty.  The wood stove was cold, the wood we’d left for Daddy still piled by its side.  It wasn’t ’till then that I went back to the kitchen door and saw the tracks heading up the hill, blown over from a long night of wind.

We found my Daddy sitting in that old Ford truck, his rigid fingers still wrapped around the steering wheel, cheeks whitened with tears turned to frost, glazed eyes staring imploringly at God and Momma.

Jane took it pretty hard.  She kept saying she couldn’t understand, that we had a place all set up for him, that this just wasn’t right.

But I understood.  That old Ford truck had been the last place I’d ever seen my Daddy smile.

Goodnight, Daddy.

Farewell, My American Dream.


1. eileen - March 12, 2011

This is a powerful post both for your memories and the pain of losing your Dad that way. It reminds me of what my own father went through when his health started to fail. He was a typesetter in the Boston Herald/Traveler back in the days of laying out lead trays of type. He had to “retire” early because of his health. In the heady days of forming unions, the local? of the typographical union document was drafted in my parents’ living room – before my time. He would be shocked at the state of affairs today, to think that the rights of workers could be so vulnerable. Didn’t we settle this question 60+ years ago? I just can’t put aside the feeling that the repugs are anti-america. What happened to these people? How do they not know history? I guess because it was not part of their experience.

But we have to believe the American Dream will continue. Our fathers would demand it.

2. littlebangtheory - March 12, 2011

eileen, I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear in my tags – this is a fiction, not autobiographical, but rather a composite of common circumstances and their devastating results on American families. It was inspired by the photo I took of an old farm truck rusting in a snow-bound field behind a once-grand but now collapsing barn.

These scenes are common here in Massachusetts, as they are in most of America these days. They always make me wonder about the lives and losses of the people who live there (as they still do in this case,) and to tie the changing tides of familial misfortunes to the socio-political collapse we’re witnessing as wealth consolidates and jobs bleed out to more easily exploited populations.

My Dad wasn’t a farmer, I was never in The War, and my wife’s name wasn’t Jane – the words are just a way of allowing my photograph to say something which needs to be said.

Thank you for sharing your father’s true story – we might never have heard it without the prompt of my imaginings, and it’s certainly worth hearing and reflecting on.

3. kkryno - March 13, 2011

Wow, Ralph!

Very provocative.

4. Nixon is Lord - March 13, 2011

If jobs are going to the 3rd world, why are so many 3rd worlders coming here for jobs? Do that have THAT much of a population surplus?

5. littlebangtheory - March 13, 2011

Hi Vikki, and thanks.

NiL, Welcome. I’ll take it that your questions are rhetorical and asked with tongue firmly in cheek! 🙂

6. liberality - March 14, 2011

This story sounds depressingly familiar. Where are those flowers you promised? 🙂

7. littlebangtheory - March 14, 2011

Hi liberality – Really, I thought I was choking you all with the flowers and wanted to mix it up a bit. But I’ve got another couple of posts worth of flower pics in the works, I still promise!

8. susan - March 15, 2011

That was a truly amazing story and one that proves your abilities go far beyond your photographic skills – never mind what you do on the job. There’s a powerful truth to the tale and some synchronicity too. Let me explain.

One of my favorite journalists the past 5 or 6 years has been Joe Bageant. After writing a book called ‘Deer Hunting With Jesus’ he spent years as an ex-pat in Central America and Mexico writing amazing essays about the American experience. In January he was diagnosed with cancer and returned to the US for treatment at the VA. Just a few days ago I read that his book ‘Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir’ will soon be available in the US. You might enjoy looking at the reviews and perhaps checking out his archives.

Your wonderful short story reminded me of him.

9. littlebangtheory - March 15, 2011

Susan, thanks for the recommendation, I’ll check it out! And thanks for your kind appraisal of my efforts at getting some words out. What used to regularly “just happen” is now a rare occurrence, though this one fell out of me as I thought about putting my photo in context.

10. Adam - March 17, 2011

Nicely done. So why aren’t you writing more?

11. TheCunningRunt - March 17, 2011

Writer’s block, Adam. I specialize in the passing of brainstones.

But thanks for liking this little bit of slippage; it’s encouraging when something gets out and isn’t awful! 😉

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