Son of the Right Hand

Sorry, I haven’t been writing much lately.  We’ve been involved in a very painful process.  This my tribute that I posted on Facebook about a month ago.

Ben Farnsworth 1967-2016

Last week I lost my firstborn son – Benjamin, “Son of the Right Hand,” – he liked that meaning of his name. He made it to his 49th birthday, and a couple days more, and he was gone.  Ben was so strong, how did this happen to him? He worked so hard, even when he wasn’t paid more than salary, yet “on call” 24/7.

Ben - Feb 11 - 2012

Home schooled, he learned to do all kinds of things, from roto-tilling to milking goats, getting jobs at the neighbors’, and even learned to drive a bulldozer when he was a teen.  He and his brother Dan were so creative, making up games with their (also home schooled) friend Jacob, creating maps of fantasy countries with monetary systems and rules, and 3-dimensional things out of cardboard.  They played in the woods, making forts and trails, learning to throw a Bowie knife and tomahawk, herding Ben’s goats, scaring off bears. Together they built fences and a barn and chicken house, and learned to shoot black-powder pistols.

Later, with so much experience, Ben was able to get a job whenever he needed to.  He learned metal fabricating and all kinds of construction and electrical and plumbing work.  He could design and build just about anything. He worked at a Great Harvest Bakery and eventually was the one that got there first at 4 AM to open up and get things going.  He was the only one, for a while, who could lift the heavy sacks of flour and the huge bread dough sponges. Later, he drove an 18-wheeler for Interstate, several years, but had to stop for health reasons.

Ben loved goats. He had them when we lived at Little Siberia, our home near Duvall, Washington, and he had them later when he worked managing two mobile parks in Bremerton. The goats were good stress-relievers, and he had a lot of stress. The mobile parks were old, run-down, and needed constant repairs and evictions of felons and drug addicts, who kept clogging the plumbing with their needles. Guess who had to slog around in sewer water to unclog them? When the main pipes needed to be dug up, he didn’t call anyone – he rented a backhoe and dug them up himself, to help keep the parks going, without the astronomical expense they would have had to pay. They may appreciate that, now that he’s gone.

He worked at that job for years, dreaming of some day when he could try out all his design ideas and build and make things and sell them, and to go to art school and learn to play his banjo and mandolin. He did get to do some art – he painted beautiful designs, including gold leaf, on the undersides of harpsichord lids built by a friend. But it takes a long time to build a harpsichord, so he didn’t get enough of that kind of work to support himself.

He dreamed of someday having a family, and he did have a stepson for a few years, whom he loved dearly and had hoped to adopt, but things didn’t work out that way.  He succumbed to a cancer, brought on by a combination of stress from his job, chemicals he’d had to work with on some of his earlier jobs, and an unfortunate marriage which left him deep in debt, leading to bankruptcy.

He fought it valiantly for over a year, but it was already in stage 4 when they discovered it. It happened just when he was getting his life together again, ready to start a new chapter. But there are reasons known only to God that it didn’t happen.  I just wish I knew what they were.

‘bye Ben. You’re still my “Son of the Right Hand.”

Mom

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Gene also wrote a tribute, which I am including here:

Benjamin Joel Farnsworth 1967—2016 – – – – – –

Ben – – – you left us far too soon on June 2nd at 7:20AM But, you have done more in your short life than many men have done in a life time. Your time on this earth is now complete at age 49 (7 X 7). In your brief stay here, more than your share of roadblocks, obstacles and trials have come your way. But you plowed your way through them with dogged determination and class.

Your life was cut short by a high stress job that you were not paid nearly enough for, and an extremely difficult marriage to someone who was not worthy of you. And yet, with your classic sense of humor, you entertained us by describing some of the more bizarre duties of the job with a smile that would light up any room you were in.

And then, in your final trial, you valiantly fought the good fight with a tenacity I can find no words to describe. And, though you lost that battle with the big C, without doubt, you won the war and now rest peacefully in the arms of a loving God awaiting the time when we’ll all be joined together again for eternity. Farewell, my son – – – we’ll see you later on the other side.

Dad

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By Bridie McGuire

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This story contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this story may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author / publisher. © Bridie McGuire, 2016

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A Mountain King

The goats were late. Dad had a hundred or so of them, and he’d let them out every day to meander up the mountain and forage. Towards evening they’d come home, but if they were a little late, Dad would stand out in the barnyard and call them, bleating like a nanny. Sometimes a bear or cougar would scare them into climbing up on the rocks, and they didn’t want to come down. But usually they responded to Dad’s calling — they’d come spilling down the mountain in a cloud of dust, bells jangling, and pour into the pen by the barn where their bleating and yelling were answered by smaller versions inside.

Dad had a separate pen for the kid goats in the barn. I liked to climb over the log wall and play with them.  I’d get down on hands and knees and they would jump onto my back and play “king of the mountain,” butting each other off.

But now it was nearing sundown. Dad stood at the edge of the barnyard and called, wondering where the herd had wandered. He couldn’t see any on the mountainside. All was quiet. A bit uneasy, he began the climb to see if some varmint had them cornered on the mountaintop where the big rocks jutted at the sky.

Well up the mountain, he could hear them coming, so he stepped behind a tree to let them pass. Not seeing him, they continued on down, here and there some snatching at a tempting twig or bud. Seeing the last of them go by, Dad was about to step out behind them and follow them home, but for some reason he hesitated. He was astonished by what he witnessed next.

His goats had been joined by another herd. A small number of deer, mostly does and yearlings, were following close behind the last goats. But wait — bringing up the rear, with his great rack of antlers lowered to discourage any dawdlers, was a magnificent buck. He skimmed by so close that Dad could almost have touched him. He could see the white hairs on the old monarch’s muzzle – the wisdom of the wild had brought him to a good old age.

Dad was an avid hunter in those days, but he had no wish that he might have brought his gun. Something like this was beyond just a chance to shoot something – this was something he’d tell his grandchildren about.

By Bridie McGuire

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This story contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this story may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author / publisher. © Bridie McGuire, 2016

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Snowy Oaks

At Buzzard’s Roost, where I grew up, our house was surrounded by gigantic black oak trees. One winter, when we had a particularly deep and wet snow, the weight was just too much for some of them. One split in half, clear to the ground, sending one side down the hill, the other half falling precisely between our outbuildings and house, snow-muffled to silence, with no damage! Another oak lost two enormous branches, one going down the hill on the other side of the house from the first split tree, and the other branch taking off the corner of our porch roof!

That scared Dad. For the next few winters, we moved up to Portland to stay a few months with my brother! You see, there was another branch remaining on that enormous tree. The trunk itself was eleven feet around, and that branch was huge, horizontal and heavy! It ran straight out over the main bedroom of our old house! What if we had another of those deep, wet snows?

It wasn’t easy pulling up stakes every winter, moving several hundred miles to Portland, getting me uprooted and re-started in a new school, then reversing the process in the spring! One of those springs, a mama cat got scared and escaped our trailer. She left us with a batch of kittens. Then a wheel came off the trailer in the mountains, shooting down the road ahead of us as we dragged to a stop. We arrived in a late snowstorm that was too deep to go home for several days, so we stayed in the Rogue River Hotel.

Many years have passed. My parents have passed away and the house is gone. The big limb? Oh, it’s still there — hanging out in mid-air where the house used to be.

[Originally posted on January 10, 2014 on Ash Creek Writers]

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This story contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this story may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author / publisher. © Bridie McGuire, 2014

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Brunswick, Maine

In 1994, Gene and I took a trip back East in our van, with several ideas in mind.  He wanted to find his sister, who had been adopted at the same time he was, 43 years before. Through relatives and school records, he found her, in New Hampshire!

My quest was to look for ancestral homes and landmarks.  My Jordan ancestors had helped colonize Maine in the early 1600’s, along with a few related lines, namely John Winter and the Purchase family.  Thomas Purchase traded with the Indians and built several homes in the area around Pejepscot, Maine, later named Brunswick. At the start of King Philip’s War, the Wampanoag Indians burned his house and forced him to flee with his family.

We went to Brunswick, and found an old map of the town, including the hotel that was built on the site of one of Thomas Purchase’s old homes. The Androscoggin River rushes past the town, and a big outcropping of bedrock sits across the street from the hotel. Thomas knew my other ancestor, Robert Jordan, and sold him land to build his home on, near there.

I love old rocks — they can go unchanged for centuries, and take you back in time. I can just imagine Thomas and Robert, 380 years ago, talking, walking by that very same rock, or perhaps sitting on it, listening to the roar of the Androscoggin!

By Bridie McGuire

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This story contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this story may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author / publisher. © Bridie McGuire, 2015

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A Comedy of Swamp Airs

When our two boys were in their teens, we lived way out northeast of Seattle in a swampy woods that ran along a ridge. Being higher than the surrounding country, it always caught the first frosts and snowfalls. We called it Little Siberia.  The road from the main highway was actually about a mile of an old logging railroad bed, with the tracks taken out, drive-able only in the dry months of summer.  We’d park our crew-cab pickup at a neighbors’ yard and walk in, carrying all our supplies — groceries, drinking water, gasoline for the generator, laundry, livestock feed, things like that.

I made knapsacks for the boys, and they wore long wool jackets and floppy-brim leather hats from the thrift store.  They carried a rifle to scare off the bears that sometimes showed up along the way. Home schooled, they didn’t live by town rules.

After a few years, we rented a small cabin with electricity and plumbing, down by the highway, as our Pastor had decreed that this life was too hard on me (even though I’d grown up that way). The boys still lived up at Little Siberia, to take care of their goats, chickens, donkeys and other animals.

Crossing the highway from the cabin was risky — there was a sharp bend in the road, so you had to listen, then run across quickly. One day, the boys loaded up their knapsacks, and went hotfooting it across the road, just as a small pickup came into view. It was an off-duty policeman with his wife and little boy. He saw two suspicious-looking characters in slouchy hats with a gun, and bags slung over their shoulders, sprinting for the woods!

Quickly, he let his family off at our house to wait for him, and took off up this old dirt road into the swamp. He didn’t see them anywhere – Aha! They were hiding! He searched up and down — no one!

Meanwhile, the boys had heard someone coming, and jumped into the bushes.  What they saw was a suspicious-looking vehicle coming up the road. Drug dealers and illegal dumpers often used our lonely road, so the boys thought this might be a chance to get a license number. He was looking for someone — who?

The policeman finally gave up and came back to our house, where he at last learned the identity of the desperadoes. We had a good laugh, and again later with the boys. But I always wondered what story the policeman told the next day, down at the station!

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By Bridie McGuire

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This story contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this story may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author / publisher. © Bridie McGuire, 2015

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Eek! A Cecropia!

This is fiction, though most of the story really happened to me, but after I was grown and married.  I was with my husband, who was actually a truck driver at the time. Interesting how stories go together….

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After dinner on her eleventh birthday, Andie and Dad went to PJ’s Burger Barn, in town, for a milkshake. They sat at a corner table with their shakes, watching the people. The smell of burgers and fries was heavy in the air, and the constant sizzling muffled other conversations. This was a special treat, “Night Out With Dad,” because he was gone, driving a truck, for weeks at a time. They liked to talk about insects, since Dad shared Andie’s special passion. They finished their shakes and wiped up the drips with their napkins.

“HEY!” someone yelled from the kitchen.

“What’s THAT?” cried the cook.

“Wowww!” Andie heard the counter girl say breathlessly. “I never saw a butterfly like that!”

A butterfly, — here? — at night? Not likely! Andie sprinted across the room. A big Cecropia moth had found the pass-through window and fluttered in. It was clinging to the cash register. “That’s a moth,” said Andie. “A Cecropia moth.”

“EEEEE!” squealed the counter girl, ducking under the edge of the counter as it flew past. “Will it bite?”

“No! Can you get me something to put it in?” asked Andie. She was suddenly in charge, forgetting her shyness. “I’ll take it home and let it loose in the woods.” She gazed at the huge moth. “Oh, he’s a beauty.”

The cook brought her a paper milkshake cup. But now the moth was fluttering toward the lights overhead.

“Excuse me,” Andie said. She clambered onto the counter. The other customers gathered around, staring. How did I get in this fix? Andie thought, as she teetered on her tiptoes. The crowd of people gawked up at her. She felt dizzy, standing so high, and embarrassed, trying to coax a huge fuzzy insect into a cup!

She held the cup in front of the creature, hoping it would go in. It clung stubbornly to the light. Its wings and fat body were soft and furry-looking. It was brown and red and white, with a seven-inch wingspan and tiny fern-like antennae. In some ways it looked like a cuddly butterfly. Its beady eyes stared back at her.

Andie loved moths. As a toddler, she’d watched them every night, fluttering outside on the windows, attracted by the kerosene lamp on the dinner table. Their eyes had looked like tiny orange reflectors.

Holding her breath, Andie nudged her finger in front of the huge insect. It climbed on. Its sharp feet clung with a grip so strong it sent shivers down Andie’s spine. But she didn’t dare chicken out now. All those people were watching, big-eyed, and gasping at the moth’s every move.

What do I do now? Andie wondered. He’s holding on so tightly — how do I get him off? The moth needed to be free — out in the woods, not in town! She remembered the night a Cecropia had come to the living room window, looking like a giant among the other moths. It had been years since that night, and she’d never seen another one.

“Come on, big fella,” Andie whispered. Clenching her teeth, she carefully pried the moth off her finger. She eased it into the big cup. The cook had a lid ready. Andie popped the cover on the cup. Knees wobbling, she climbed down, slowly, as everyone started talking and laughing again, wanting a peek at the moth. Someone started clapping, and several others joined in.

Andie grinned. She bowed, then laughed. Then she looked at Dad, who was standing back, smiling, his chest thrown forward, hands on hips. “Ready to go?” he asked.

“Yes!” Andie said in relief. “Hey, do you think there’s a girl Cecropia around our place?”

“Could be,” said her father. “Could be.”

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By Bridie McGuire

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This story contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this story may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author / publisher. © Bridie McGuire, 2015

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Old Betty

When I was little, my dad had a cow named Betty.  She had a lot of character — she was a character! Every Saturday morning, she’d take off to go visiting. How did she know it was Saturday? Never mind it was miles away to the neighbors’ — she was going.  She would visit different ones all day, but towards evening, she knew she had to be milked, and she would trudge up Fielder Creek Road and stop off at Griffins’ house, lying down in their front yard to chew her cud.  All the neighbors knew her, and Mr. Griffin watched her from the window of their octagonal log house.

Along about this time, Dad would go out and stand on the hill overlooking the valley, and bawl like a calf.  Mr. Griffin told us, Betty would prick up her ears, stop chewing, and slowly get up, mooing an answer.  Then she’d start home, and we could hear her bell: dingle-de-dongle-de-ding, all the way up our road, about a mile.

One Saturday morning, Dad decided he’d had enough of this — he was going to keep old Betty from traveling!  He tried to head her off as she made for the gate, but she nearly bowled him over as she rushed past.  He couldn’t catch her halter, but he was able to grab her tail. This was at the top of the steep part of the road, and Betty was just getting started!  As she gained speed, Dad’s strides lengthened until he was nearly flying with every step!  He had to let go, and watched Betty’s hind quarters disappear down the road once again.

Old Betty lived a good long life for a cow.  One day, either she was careless on the road, or some driver wasn’t paying attention, and she was hit and her leg broken.  I don’t know any details, but I was told she was put down that day.  It was my only memory of her, the men, tall above my head, gathered around her, talking quietly, and they took me away so I wouldn’t know.  After that, we had lots of goats, but no more cows.

By Bridie McGuire

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This story contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this story may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author / publisher. © Bridie McGuire, 2015

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