(EDITOR’S NOTE — Buffalo born-and-raised writer Gerry Dempsey has graced the 1120 Press pages before with his unique voice and we’re happy he’s back. Read his latest story below.)
"Go get the chainsaw, son. We'll knock this job out, and I'll throw you some passes, okay?"
"Sure, Dad. Does it need gas or anything?"
"I don't think so. I used it last week to cut down that stupid Bradford pear tree. See this scratch on my head? That friggin’ thorn almost stabbed me in the eye when the branch snapped while I was cutting it. These trees are a menace. Do you know they are invasive and banned in some states?"
“Yeah, Dad, you've told me that five times already."
"Hey, don't be a smartass!"
The son went to the shed feeling annoyed. He liked helping his dad but would grow tired of repeatedly hearing the same old stories. Older people like to talk, the son reminded himself. Then he just smiled, got the chainsaw, and returned with enthusiasm.
"It makes me a little sad that we're taking the swing set down," the son told the father.
"Meh," muttered the dad. "We got our use out of her. Besides, the wood is rotting and will likely break soon enough. You wouldn't want to be swinging on this thing and have one of the wooden beams snap like that goddam Bradford pear tree, would you?"
"Yeah, I know, Dad. I just started thinking about all the fun times me and Jess had swinging on this thing and playing in the tree house over the years."
"Oh yeah," the father replied. "Do you remember when I got grandma on this thing and kept pushing her higher?"
"Yeah, Dad, you made her pee her pants!"
"Well, it serves her right, drinking all that beer."
"Dad, you scared the piss out of her, literally!"
The father and son both laughed and went to work cutting the swing set apart. They removed all the bolts and separated the wood from the metal and plastic, and both wondered how they could repurpose some of the materials.
"Did I tell you about the swing set we had as a kid?" the dad asked.
"Nope, I never heard this one. Tell me."
"So, when we were little, we had this shitty little metal swing that came with our house. When I was five, my brother and I were riding the see-saw. You ever see those kinds?"
"Yes, Dad, they have one in the museum," joked the son.
"Okay, Mr. Comedian. Anyway, the swing set was rusty and used to shake when you got going fast, and one of the poles would come out of the ground and go back in, adding danger to the thrill of the ride, you know."
"Yes, Dad, I do know. What I don't know is if there is a point to this story."
"Well, quit interrupting me so I can get there."
The son closed his mouth and made the ‘zip-your-lip’ motion with his hand.
“Bert and I swung so hard that we made the swing set flip over. We both went flying to the ground. Bert got his leg cut by a piece of rusty metal that broke during the action. We're both lucky we didn't die. I only say he is a dumbass because he was the one that kept telling me to pump harder. I knew it was a bad idea. He had to go to the doctor and get a tetanus shot, which he said hurt worse than the injury.”
"So, then what?"
"Well, this made my dad angry because he wanted to rip the swing set down when we moved into the house in the first place. My mom talked him out of it, telling him the old rusty one was fine. She told him, ‘Waste not, want not!’"
"Ah, so your dad was like, ‘Why did I listen to you?’ Right?"
"Not in front of us, he didn't. He just kept his mouth shut and stewed about it for a while."
The dad seemed lost in thought, and this confused the son. He was now curious about why his father stopped talking. He was always talking. It was one way, though, like a monologue of sorts. He did his thinking out loud. That is, most of it, at least.
"Dad?" the son said, looking concerned.
"Dad, are you okay?"
The father's eyes were sparkling. The son wasn't sure if his father was about to cry or yawn. Either way, the son found it unnerving.
"That swing set was awesome!" the dad finally uttered after a long pause.
"What swing set?" the confused son replied.
"The one my dad built."
"Tell me about it?"
"Our yard sat empty where the swing set used to be after my dad ripped it down for about a year. One day, my dad came home from work in a giant step van."
"What's a step van, Dad? Is it like a stepbrother?"
"No, wiseass, it's not."
"It's like a UPS truck that's not brown. This one was blue. Anyway, there were a bunch of metal pipes in the back and this huge welding tank. My dad and one of his buddies from work carried all this stuff into the backyard and started cutting and welding the pipe. After a couple of hours, they'd made a swing set out of iron pipes left over from a job they'd been working at. He'd made swing seats from a two-by-six, also donated from the job site. That weekend, my brother and I helped him paint it green; it was the coolest thing. You could swing as hard as you wanted and go as high as possible, and the poles wouldn't pull out from the ground. I wanted to be a welder like him when I saw the cool stuff they did. Watching him use a torch to cut the iron pipe was neat, too.”
"Why didn't you?"
"Good question. Watching my father work his ass off made me feel bad for him. We had neighbors who wore suits to work and drove nice cars. My dad wore beat-up old work clothes and drove junk cars, and while that didn't bother him, it bothered me. I wanted to do better. My parents struggled with their finances, which caused them stress. I didn't want that for myself or my family."
The dad paused again. He was having trouble speaking without showing his emotions.
"My dad once told me not to be dumb like him. He told me I was smart and should go to college. Use your brain, he said. Your body will give out before your brain will. He said that I would do well in life, and I should try to get rich instead of being poor like him."
"Are we rich, Dad?" asked the son.
"In some ways, yes, and in some ways, no," The dad said, smiling.
"Oh yeah? How's that?"
"Well, we have our health, we have food, clothing, a nice house, and we have each other." The dad grinned again. "And that is enough."
"You forgot one thing," said the son.
"We have love, Dad. Duh"
"Yeah, but we don't have a private jet."
"Who says we need one?"