I stared out the window of the quiet room where I sat with my family. It was a lovely spring day, the first day of May, and I watched as the birds outside the window flitted happily from one shrub to another. Outside, the world was bursting forth with life; but death loomed heavily within these walls. I glanced at the old man on the bed, with his gaunt face and scrawny arms. “That is not my Dad,” I mentally screamed. My thoughts turned to the father I had known for most of my life...
Dad worked in a factory and was a backyard mechanic. I remembered his muscled arms and sinewy hands, always black from grease and oil. I smiled to myself. “I don’t think I ever saw Dad with clean hands until he came to the nursing home,” I mused. Dad’s favorite place was his garage, where he spent most of his spare time. It was like his den, a place he could escape from the responsibilities of raising a family and do the mechanic’s work he enjoyed so much. The garage was large. Dad had built it himself and wanted plenty of room to work. Having a self-expressed hatred of “dungeons,” he had left the entire south side of the garage open. Dad almost always had a radio playing and, as kids, my brother and I always enjoyed listening with him to the Grand Ole Opry, various radio ministers and especially the Indianapolis 500, which took place every Memorial Day. Often, Dad would be working at the bench grinder which he had mounted on a large wooden post set in the ground just outside the garage.
Since he had known nothing but hard manual labor all his life, Dad’s only hobby was work. So when he “retired” from the factory, he became caretaker for the local cemetery in order to keep busy. And the month of May was always the busiest one of the year. After a long winter’s hibernation, the young blades of grass pushed enthusiastically through the warm soil, eagerly soaking up the rays of sunshine and gentle spring rains. The little wisps grew rapidly, soon carpeting the cemetery grounds with a plush green cover. Arriving toward the month’s end, Memorial Day always brought a host of visitors who came to decorate graves of loved ones. And, of course, these annual pilgrims expected the grounds to be well manicured. So, early in the month Dad would stand at the bench grinder and sharpen the mower blades, preparing them for the grass cutting task ahead.
I was only vaguely aware of the television which was playing in the background for my attention stayed focused on the bed where my father lay, his life slowly ebbing away as we all sat in silence listening to the shallow breaths grow weaker and farther apart, wondering which one might be the last. Suddenly the melancholy of the moment was interrupted by the sound of engines revving as the sportscaster announced the latest reports from the time trials. I had almost forgotten—it would soon be time for the Indianapolis 500. If Dad were still able to work, he would no doubt be at the bench grinder right now, sharpening the mower blades in preparation for yet another season of grass cutting.
Monday morning we received the call we knew was inevitable—Dad had passed away at 1:00 a.m. We spent the rest of the day taking care of the usual necessary tasks—calling other family members, making arrangements for the services, finding something to wear, etc. By night, we were tired and slept soundly, no longer concerned that our slumber would be interrupted by “the call” we had so dreaded to receive.
Tuesday morning was ushered in by a call from Mom, who said she had just heard from the country neighbors. Mom and Dad had moved to town several years ago, but had kept the family home place, a ten-acre plot in the country consisting of the house where we grew up as well as Dad’s garage. The neighbors had become self-appointed guardians of the property, quickly reporting to my parents any unusual sights, sounds or activities they observed. That was the reason for the phone call this morning. After the usual condolences, the neighbors reported they had heard a noise the night before and thought, perhaps, we might want to check it out.
My husband was conscripted to perform the investigation. After arriving at the property, he parked his vehicle and began to look around. He saw no one and, for that matter, found no evidence of any recent visitors. However, he did hear a noise which sounded like that of a piece of machinery running and appeared to be emanating from the vicinity of Dad’s garage. He continued following the sound until he found the source—it was the bench grinder! The grinder had not been turned on since Dad had last used it about three years ago, but it was running now.
Chills raced up and down my spine as my husband related the story to me. Who would have turned on the grinder and why? Was the whole incident just some sort of strange coincidence? Or was it something else? My heart beat rapidly. Was it possible Dad had asked St. Peter to take a detour on their voyage to the Pearly Gates? Could the episode with the bench grinder have been Dad’s way of saying “I was here for one last visit?” You decide. I know what I think.