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Chapter 1

My early youth was seldom exposed to dangers or unknowns. I was free to bounce from the safe haven of the maple, to the softness of my mother's heart, to the security of my father's strength. Never far from comfort. Always loved and protected. I was the center of my own universe; anxious to grow, wide-eyed, alert and basically full of it. The recollection of the birth of my sister, Susie, is a fuzzy, out-of-focus picture. At two and a half years, all that's remembered is walking down the sidewalk of my grandma's to the car where my mother was holding her. I do recall thinking she came out of Mom's stomach through her belly button. I just figured that was the closest way out! To my amazement, the attention I was so used to never seemed to waiver. Jealousy was never an issue. I had a little person to play with, teach, and love. Upon Susie's arrival, I was able to progress one step on the growing up scale. In addition to having the added responsibility of helping take care of her, having a younger sibling meant I was no longer the littlest in the family.

My mother, as I perceived, seemed to think the sun rose and set in me. I could do nothing wrong. I was always "cute". Thinking now, I believe most all mothers feel that way about their children. Dad, on the other hand, was interested in having a son carry on in manly fashion. Doing chores, helping with the livestock, and handing him wrenches were proof and reinforcement that he had a son capable of growing into manhood. In order to please all parties, it became necessary to develop multiple personalities . Learning not just what to say and do but how to say and do it was a long, arduous process. Despite years of practice, it never becomes a reflex action. It must always be well thought out in order to succeed, and unfortunately, to deceive, as well.

The small steps to manhood seemed to drag on for an eternity. While real men could spit straight as an arrow, my attempts were poorly controlled slobbers. The hands of hard-working men were always dirty and callused. I couldn't get dirt to stick to mine and Lava soap was scratchy. And talk like the men? Only if I wanted my mouth washed out.

Sitting on Dad's lap, I would steer the tractor, most times, without him correcting my far-from-straight progression. I remember watching the tires when making a turn, noticing the one on the outside always had to travel further and faster to keep up with the inside wheel. I always wanted to be the inside wheel, the one with the advantage. Why couldn't I be turned loose to drive on my own? After all, I knew where the clutch, brakes, throttle, and gearshift were. Then one summer day my dad opened a gate at my grandpa's place and told me to drive the tractor through. By myself!! Driving an eight-foot tractor through a twelve-foot gate demanded the utmost skill and attention to detail. I slowly crept through the gate with room to spare on both sides. Had my buttons not been sewn on so well, my chest would have exploded. What I don't remember is hearing how proud my dad was of me. I'm sure he was. I just knew that, from that day on, the expectation was I would always be able to drive through that or any gate; regardless of size. Later gates, I would discover, would become progressively smaller and some, despite my confidence and tenacity, truly impassable.

While proving manhood held such a place of importance, I still had the need to be nurtured. Falling down and scratching my knee meant instant sympathy and major medical care. I always thought of my mother as a nurse. She could make anything better. The iodine put on cuts always burnt like crazy, but Mom would blow on it to take the sting out. The stain on my skin was there to draw attention to the fact I had been severely injured, yet I was still walking and running around as if nothing had happened at all. I remember thinking that people probably thought I was a brave, strong individual, and surely wondered how I could even function with an injury that serious. Nowadays, I grin and shake my head.

Injuries to real men, on the other hand, never required attention. Wiping blood off on pants legs and continuing with the work was the manly way of dealing with pain and bodily damage. Displaying an untreated scratch was my way of showing "I could take it." I really don't know if that made much difference to anyone at all . . . maybe just myself. I was fortunate throughout my childhood to win out over the risk of deadly infections (a warning from my mother) and retain all my appendages. Invincibility was mine. I truly had the best of all worlds. Picture perfect.

Oblivious to what was happening during this early portion of my life, I never realized that, like the maple, my roots were reaching deep into the earth which bore me. Only now do I comprehend the extent to which I was and remain attached to that holy ground. The master blueprint called for a foundation set deep within. The Architect and Engineer worked in perfect harmony . . . as though they were the same person; and, after researching from the inside, I discovered they are, indeed, One. The project, still under construction, is proceeding on schedule despite setbacks caused, not by foul weather, budget cuts, or shortages of material; but by my own internal squabbling and foolishness. This project, I've come to realize, was intended to last a lifetime . . . . .