Memories have a great deal of power. They follow us wherever we go, speaking to us and often times guiding our paths. Some memories give us a lifetime of happiness, while others give us a lifetime of heartache.
This is one of mine.
I grew up on a farm in the beautiful countryside on the outskirts of a small town. It was quiet, safe and most of all my mother and siblings were all together. For a little girl, that home was a dream come true. I didn’t have to ask for a pony, because I already one. We had goats, chickens, horses, cows and a wide range of other household pets. The years we lived there were truly the best years of my life.
They were also the most difficult. My step-father at the time was an alcoholic, an angry alcoholic. When he drank, which was often, his temper would flare. He and my mother spent countless hours arguing, while my brother, sister and I would shut ourselves up in our rooms. Sometimes my brother would gather us up together in his room and turn up the stereo in an attempt to drown out the yelling. There were times when the arguing would get so furious and loud, that I was sure my step-father would physically hurt my mother. During those times, my brother would literally have to hold me, so that I wouldn’t run out to save her.
I spent those years growing to despise my step-father for his drinking and for how he treated my mother. After years of enduring his behaviour and hoping he would change, my mother realized that the change would never come. So finally one day, we left.
My mother hurried us all into the car while my step-father was rushing out of the house to stop her from leaving. He wasn’t angry then. Instead he was heartbroken. From the backseat, I watched as he came towards the car as my mother began backing out of the driveway. He fell to his knees in front of us, crying with his arms outstretched, begging my mother to stay. That was the last memory I had of him.
That memory haunted me for almost 20 years. I never forgot him and for all those years I wondered how he was. One day, the thought came to me to find him. The internet is an amazing thing. At first he was no where to be found, but then low and behold I came across an electric bill with his name on it. Go figure. There he was complete with address and all. So, I wrote him a letter along with my phone number and a picture of my son. It was a long shot, because I didn’t know if he would respond or if he even still lived at that address. But, I always tell myself “you’ll never find out, unless you try.” So, I tried.
A couple of weeks later my phone rang. After 20 years, I still recognized the sound of his voice. With just a simple “hello” I was already in tears. In my mind, clear as day, he was still knelt down before our car, crying and begging for us to stay. As our conversation went on, he shared with me his regret on how he had been all those years ago. He talked of how he had missed us deeply and thought of us often. I was overjoyed when he told me that a few years after we left, he had a major turning point in his life. He quit drinking and even began going to church, where he now plays guitar before the congregation.
He remarried and his life now revolves around his grand-children. He said he can’t go back and fix all the mistakes he made with us but he can make it up, at least a little, now with his grand-children.
I made up in my mind during our conversation that I had to see him again. That opportunity presented itself the following year right after Christmas. After attending my father-in-law’s funeral, my husband and I decided to take the scenic route home. 270 miles out of our way and five hours later, there we were pulling into his driveway, which was literally at the fence line of our old farm. Looking up, I watched as an old man emerged from the door of the house. The years had changed him, just as they had me.
After a long tearful hug, we went inside. As we sat there talking and reminiscing together, I took notice of a picture on his wall. The man in front of me was old and feeble, but the man in the picture was the step-father I had known all those years. It was the same face of the man who was knelt down, crying and begging for us to stay. But, he was no longer the alcoholic from my memories. He had been replaced with a kind-hearted, gentle and loving old man.
I looked back over at my step-father as he picked up his guitar and began to play us a song. I sat there in awe, watching him and listening as his fingers picked at the strings. He played beautifully. With every note he played, the memory that had haunted me all those years slowly began to disappear.
As we pulled out of the driveway that day, this peaceful old man waved goodbye to us. I fell apart, knowing it was probably the last time I would ever see him. But, finally after twenty years, we were both given closure. When I see him now in my memory, he is no longer knelt down, crying before our car. He is an old and gentle man, sitting on his sofa with his guitar in hand, playing us a beautiful melody.
Lesson learned – Life can change people. Giving someone a second chance may be taking a risk, but it may prove to be a risk worth taking.