I was mowing for the first time this season, headphones on, iTunes on shuffle, when John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy” began to play, and it drew me back to Dylan’s birth in 1996. “Mr Holland’s Opus” had been released the year before, a poignant film about a father-son relationship in which the song played a key role:

I can hardly wait

To see you come of age

But I guess we’ll both just have to be patient

In the corner of my eye, I saw Dylan, tall, broad-shouldered and sunburnt, wrestling two apple trees into the ground with a big satisfied grin on his face. He’s been coming back weekends to tackle some landscaping projects.

I thought about the song and how John Lennon never got to see young Sean come of age and it choked me up. I remembered holding Dylan in the nursery after his birth while doctors worked on his mother after a C-section. I rocked him as he looked up with piercing blue eyes, seemingly hanging onto every word as I told him that big things lay ahead, a beautiful life. And now, here he was.

I shut off the mower, commandeered his Bluetooth speaker, and shared the song and the story of his birth in halting sentences standing there on this green dot of paradise on the North Dakota prairie. Birds chirping. Sun shining, trees and plants growing so quickly after a long winter that you could almost hear them, like an old man rising from his chair.

To the west, a majestic 40-foot weeping willow, Gunnar’s tree, planted there two decades ago with the ashes of the baby boy we lost when Dylan was still an only child, before India came along to stir things up. I think about what might have been sometimes. I look at that tree, but when I mow around it, it gives me peace. But, as Forrest Gump might say, that’s all I have to say about that.

To the north of the new apple trees, Atlas’ Garden, a circular mulched patch surrounding a prairie boulder, with day lilies and iris’s so large, they’re almost threatening. Atlas was Dylan’s behemoth St. Bernard. A mischievous, big-hearted pup the size of a Freightliner.

A hunter who, along with some friends, had rented the old church we moved and repurposed years ago, pulled in at 3 a.m. after a long drive, and was breathing a sigh of a relief that nearly turned into a heart attack when he glanced over and saw “Cujo,” flat-footed, peering in his passenger window.

When contractors were working on the church, they soon learned they couldn’t leave tools on the ground because for Atlas it became a one-way game of fetch. Hammers and screwdrivers just vanished.

An old friend of mine was painting the window trim one day when Atlas trotted off with his hat. Later, when Atlas gave him an affectionate bump, the kind you might get from a Bighorn sheep, Doug growled, “Oh, no! I’m mad at you! You stole my good hat!”

As he always did, the tender-hearted monster slunk away and sulked awhile, within eyesight, but at a distance. Later, when my friend descended the ladder, he found Atlas waiting, hat in hand.

Much of the vegetable garden is in, now. We broke new ground this year; and the tiller, a couple of times — but after five passes, Dylan two, me three — the black dirt almost seemed to beckon the seeds.

We’ve named this black patch Gare Bare’s Garden after my old friend who decided to bail out in October, before times got tough and weird. Gare Bare planted glorious gardens and canned shelves full of salsa every year. I’m not sure he would appreciate the honor because the rows aren’t straight and the edges are a little ragged, but if he were to show up and critique, I would tell him that I’m contour farming.

On this overcast, foggy morning, before I started writing, I opened the front door, looked out, contemplated the weekend’s accomplishments, and felt... something.


Copyright © Tony Bender, 2020

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