Chickenshit: Or How a City Girl Does Country All Wrong

Crisis #1 


January 5, 2013 

 

Buckets of water. Carrying them back and forth, for whatever reason. That’s really all I remember from my time on the farm. My mom and my dad split up when I was four, and she and I went to live with my grandmother in Boise for a couple of years before moving to Sacramento. My dad remained on the farm, and I saw him only a few times over my childhood. He came to Sacramento twice that I can recall, and after that, it was monthly phone calls that turned into birthday phone calls.  

At twenty-three, I sit by his bedside at Freedom Plaza Respite Care as he prattles on about goat intestinal conditions and chicken mites. I don’t know why he wants to tell me all this, but it’s important, so I let him rant. He is in the final stages of Alzheimer’s and could go on forever like this. Or it could be over tomorrow. He started asking for me, so someone tracked me down. Even though he hasn’t recognized me since my second visit and he sometimes calls me Shelly, I am glad to at least get the time to say goodbye and to keep him from being alone. I wish I felt something more. 

 

January 7, 2013 

 

Dad has stopped ranting and is quiet for long stretches, staring into space, sleeping a lot of the time. I held his hand for an hour and read to him from The Hobbit, one of his favorite books, as I remember. The nurse said that she is familiar with this stage and there may be few semi-lucid moments left. She said there aren’t any guarantees and we should call anybody who wants to say goodbye sooner rather than later. I left a message with Mom. She’s sure Dad doesn’t care about her presence but she wants to be there for me, so she has a ticket on standby.  

A couple of Dad’s friends came by today and told me how much my he cared about me. They told me how I was his “bucket brigade” when I was little, carrying water in buckets almost as big as I was out to the garden and to the chickens. One of them said Dad always told a story about how when anyone called me Billie the Kid, I would turn beet red and steam would shoot out of my ears. “And if looks could kill, we’d ‘a all been a goner,” he quoted. So Dad nicknamed me Outlaw on the spot, which seemed to appease me. I could hear Dad on our last phone call at Thanksgiving. “Hey, there, Outlaw,” he said, sounding every bit like Sam Elliot, “what’re ya up to on this fine morning?” I was barely awake and only half listened to him on speaker phone while I made my breakfast.  I wonder if he wanted to tell me how bad things were. I wish I had paid attention. 

Honestly, though, I wouldn’t have been shocked if they’d said they didn’t know Daniel Hatcher even had a daughter. I assumed he didn’t talk about me much, and I teared up, hearing their stories. 

 

January 8, 2013 

 

One moment of eye-to-eye contact. It is impossible to know if he knows who I am. He could only mutter under his breath, and I can’t understand what he is saying. Mom is on her way, thank Goddess. Today was a hard day. 

 

January 9, 2013 

 

Mom and I sat on either side of Dad and held one of his hands. “Dan?” she said, like she was asking him if he needed a pillow, “Billie and I are here. We love you and want you to know you can be at peace, now.” 

How did she always know what to say? It was all I could do not to start blubbering on the spot, but I could actually see his body start to relax and his breathing grow easier.  

When she went to talk to the nurse, I finally spoke the words I needed to say to him. “Dad, I always wanted you in my life more and blamed you for not being there, but maybe I should have gone looking for you. It’s not like I didn’t know where to find you. I don’t blame you anymore. I love you.” 

 

January 10, 2013 

 

The respite nurse called to let us know that Dad passed away during the night. Mom is taking care of the funeral arrangements. I am so relieved because that is far above my pay grade. 

 

January 14, 2013 

 

I am exhausted. The last few days have been nerve-wracking. I have been staying at my friend Olivia’s house in Boise’s North End, and my mom is sleeping on the pullout couch with me for a few days. She arrived the day before my dad passed, and even though most of my dad’s final decisions had already been covered, it was still a lot to work through. I have to keep pushing macabre thoughts from my mind. I keep seeing these flashes of my dad in a Tim Burton-style filter, the way Burton blends love and sadness, creepiness and humor. It’s distracting. 

We had the funeral service tonight at a small church near the farm. The people were a bit backward but seemed to think a lot of my dad. Tomorrow, we are taking his cremated remains back to the farm to bury them.   

Mom will have to leave day after tomorrow. I guess I should start figuring out what my next step is, I can’t stay with Olivia forever. My life in Seattle is kinda screwed up, so do I move here to Boise or go back to Seattle and start over? I have no clue. 

 

January 15, 2013 

 

Life can sure throw you a curve ball sometimes.  

We drove up to the farm to bury Dad’s ashes under his favorite tree. The place is in an unincorporated area called Milepost, and the farm was nothing like the wild, weedy mess that I thought it would be. There are twenty acres, with over half of it covered with pasture and hay, but the area close to the house was extremely organized and set up for subsistence. I say that like I know something about it, which I don’t, except the chickens and goats fertilize the crops, the crops feed the animals, and the crops and animals both fed my dad. 

I was really starting to find a sense of peace about things after Mom and I placed the box of ashes into the hole someone had already dug up for us and we covered the box. The weather was clear and we could hear a small creek that ran through the woods. Mom told me a couple of stories I had never heard about Dad about our short time here on the farm. We sat on a ragged bench next to Dad’s tree, she said, “It’s strange being back here with you. You know, farm life is just not for me, but we did have some good times, here. One summer, we set up a fire pit, right here, actually, and we’d roast corn and have s’mores until you fell asleep and he’d carry you to bed.” She looked up towards the snow-tipped mountains wistfully. “Remember, your dad would play guitar and we’d sing those corny folk songs?” 

We walked back up the driveway and found another vehicle parked beside mine. It was dad’s lawyer/friend, Bill Conliff. I was surprised but yet not surprised when my mom gave Bill a huge hug and said how glad she was to see him. She ruffled his hair and smooched him on the cheek, in her gentle way, like he was her long-lost brother. He reddened a little but took it with a smile. He apologized for bringing up business, but he had heard she was leaving in the morning. “I’m so sorry I was gone this week. My wife’s mother passed on Wednesday, and we just got back last night. My clerk got you everything you needed?” 

“He did,” she said. 

“Dan and I talked about a year ago to square up all his plans. I think it took a while, but he did finally forgive me for leaving and going off to college. I know you plan to be gone before the formal reading tomorrow. I wanted to see you, and I brought these over.” Bill handed my mom a small stack of books tied up with string.  

“These are his journals from when you were together. He wanted me to give them to you personally.” He shrugged. “There may be some things you want from the house, I don’t know.”  

“I don’t think so, sweetie. I left that life behind me, but I will definitely read these.” She held up the journals and brushed his arm with them. 

“I’m not good at these feeling things,” he said, choking up a little, “but you know you and he were my family when I really needed one.” 

“Sweetie, you were like the little brother I never had. I mean my brother’s a little shit, God love him. But you know how much you mean to me and to Dan.” She bit her lip and pointed her head towards me.  

As I stood there wondering exactly what she meant, Bill snapped back to the matter at hand. He reached in his coat pocket, pulled out the biggest carabiner I have ever seen with about a million keys on it, and handed it to me. “Here you go, you’re the new owner. I think this one goes to the house. ” He leaned over and held one up between two fingers. “Maybe you can figure out what the rest of them are for; I don’t remember him ever locking anything. There’ll be a little paperwork tomorrow, and I can transfer the deed. Property taxes and utilities have been covered for the year, but there’ll be some other expenses. You may need to sell some hay or some animals to cover you until you figure out what you want to do here, or you can sell the place, although the market’s pretty soft right now.”  

“Wh-whah?” I stuttered, and my head began to swim. 

Mom raised both her eyebrows and doubled over in a huge belly laugh. She stood up and looked skyward. “Dan?!  You are still a piece of work!”

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