by Jim Farrar (1986)

Where I come from, Memorial Day is still celebrated in much the same way as it always has been. Several generations of family pile in the station wagon and take a gravel road up to the cemetery, where they place fresh flowers on the graves of those who will see no more Memorial Days.

And they remember, which is, after all, what Memorial Day is all about. What makes this holiday so special in a small town – in my small town – is a sense of continuity, a feeling, I suppose, that comes from spending an entire lifetime in the same place. That's why rural cemeteries bloom in May.

My father is buried in a small town. He lies in what used to be the "new" section of the old Twin Falls cemetery, near, if memory serves correct, a bean field that runs parallel to the east-west highway that skirts the town. My father's tombstone is remarkably ordinary: a light granite slab that lies so flat that one must know exactly where to look in order to distinguish it from the group of other graves that define the border of the bean field.

Though my father's grave is nothing special, the same cannot be said, by all accounts, of the man that lies in it.

By all accounts. Interesting phrase. And also the only means I have of knowing who my father was.

I was almost four years old when he died. My memory of that night is clouded by the passage of time and by the natural amnesia of early childhood. Thus, my only understanding of my father comes from what I have been told by friends and family and from the cardboard box that my mother has, the cardboard box that contains the usual junk that accumulates over a lifetime, worthless souvenirs that are priceless only to those that are somehow connected to the things that they serve as a reminder of. In this case, it is a man. A man whose life, finally, has been condensed to a stack of photographs, newspaper clippings, and most important, words. His words.

My father was a writer. Until recently, I didn't know that. He wrote short stories for fun. He was also a professional writer. He wrote a column, an agricultural newsletter of sorts, for a trade journal whose name now escapes me. I didn't know that either.

This epiphany occurred about three months ago, over the Memorial Day weekend, while visiting my mother and my step-father in Twin Falls.

My wife and I had just returned from the cemetery, where we'd been trying to find my father's grave. It had been some ten years since I'd been there and I wanted to show her where my father is buried. I couldn't remember where the exact spot was, however, so we spent about thirty minutes wandering around the cemetery, going marker to marker, before giving up and returning to my parents' house, where my mother gave us directions and drew us a little map.

We returned to the cemetery. I had been close – I remembered the bean field – but we'd been searching too close to the highway. Finding the grave brought back a flood of memories. I hadn't been allowed to go to the funeral, my mother thinking, probably correctly, that I was just too young to comprehend all the confusion going on around me. I was taken to the grave site some time later, where, in all probability, an attempt was made to explain to me what had happened to my father and why he wouldn't be coming home. Whether or not I understood I can't recall.

What I can recall, however, is a night some twenty five years later when my mother brought out the cardboard box. She'd saved everything: photographs, cards and letters she'd received after his death, the columns he'd written, old school assignments and report cards, his short stories.

His short stories. Stories that appear to have been written more for his own private and silent amusement than they were anything else. Little gems by a part-time artist who didn't yet know how to polish such precious stones and probably didn't care. One story in particular, about four or five pages long, stands out. It is a half-religious, half-satiric little piece about revenge and self-reconciliation called The Light. In it, my father writes about a young man just recently released from prison who is bent upon killing the man who he feels is responsible for sending him there. He has a change of heart when he confronts him, however, and a moral conclusion of sorts is reached.

The story is unremarkable. What makes it special to me is the Twilight Zone flavor it lends to this story and the atavistic implications of it.

When I was in high school I wrote a short story for a creative writing class. It was called – get this –"The Light" and, aside from a few minor details it was essentially the same story that my father had written so many years before.

It's easy to think that at some prior point in time I'd probably run across my father's story or was aware of its existence before writing my own version of "The Light," but I honestly don't think that's the case. And as I look at my father's picture here in my den (I have his smile), as a grown man and more than twenty five years after his death, I wonder, sometimes, if this man I never knew gave to the son that he never knew more than just his grin.

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