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  • I was born late in life. No, not my life. I was born at the right age, the age of zero.

    My parents, though, had already raised one set of kids when they found themselves expecting another baby. My brother had enlisted in the Army, to fight in the Korean War; my sister would be graduating from high school and marrying her football captain sweetheart. That story would play itself out over the next 22 years, ending with her divorce and my marriage, but I'll wait to tell you that saga some other time. Right now, let's talk about my father.

    Daddy was 43 when I was born. He had worked extremely hard, and would continue to do so for the next 16 years, and had turned an economic corner. My parents owned their own farm. Daddy had built the house in which we lived. Pretty good for poor, uneducated people who came to California during the Dust Bowl era. The Grapes of Wrath story. That was my parents and my siblings. I, on the other hand, was born into a charmed life. My sister would always resent the life I had. The one she didn't have.

    I guess you could say I was spoiled. Daddy doted on me the best he knew how. I never had to do chores or work in the fields. He let me play in the big shed where he kept the tractors. I talked incessantly but he never told me to be quiet. He just did whatever work it was he was doing out there, and I talked. We made a good team. Often he would come into the yard, from plowing a field, on the Ford tractor, and stop at the gate so I could run out the back door, through the gate, and clamor up on the tractor to ride to the back of the property to the shed where the tractors were stored. My mother would stand on the back stoop, wringing her hands, worried that I would fall off the tractor and be crushed by the big wheels.

    Daddy was the risk-taker. My mother was adverse to any kind of risk. I remember so many evenings, after the work was done, my parents would be in the kitchen, my mother finishing the dishes, daddy splayed on the floor by the backporch door, letting me climb over his long legs and across his broad shoulders. They would talk for hours about crops to plant, new methods of growing something, how to get a better yield. All those things grownups talk about and kids pay little attention to. Voices rising and falling. Questions being asked. Sometimes with no answer. There were no other kids around for me to play with, so I was always right in the middle of those grownup conversations. I'd like to think I'm more akin to Daddy's risk-taking, but I know Mama's desire for safety lies just below the surface.

    Daddy died the summer I turned 16. About six weeks before my birthday. About two months before his 60th birthday. This year, when I turned 60, I thought long and hard about a birthday Daddy never got to celebrate. And how Daddy's little girl grew up to be the woman I am today. I think he would be proud.
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