Mr. Haydon’s Father

I don’t often think of my Grandpa Haydon. He died before I was born. But I did last night. I woke up in the middle of the night and there he was---the living image of that black-and-white photo of him, with his fedora on, stern-looking, about 60 maybe.

And I spoke to him from some place I didn’t quite recognize. “Thank you,” I said, to the man I’d never met. “Thank you for being a friend to my Father. He told me once that you were the best friend he ever had. He told me he missed you terribly after you died. And for all his years thereafter.”

He stared at his shoes for a while. He cleared his throat. “I liked Joe a lot,” he said. “I liked him and respected him.”

I was deeply touched by our conversation. So much so that I got up and wrote it down so it wouldn’t be lost in that middle-of-the-night fog of half-remembering and forgetting. I was touched because this was not a simple relationship. Even as fathers and sons go. It was a relationship between a patriarch and his heir designate. This was a relationship also between an employer and an employee---men who later became business partners. They were mentor and protégé.

It was a relationship between a father and a son whose lives would unalterably change that day in 1910 when the son, who was then 7, shot and killed his father’s fair-haired, 5-year-old daughter.

****

I actually know very little about my grandfather. I know he had very little respect for his own father, though I don’t know why. I know he farmed for awhile. I know he married a rich man’s daughter and raised his family in the fine Victorian house on Main Street that his father-in-law had built. I know he helped bring electricity to our little town and allowed his oldest daughter to marry an Irishman, when many in that town wouldn’t.

I know he became a successful businessman in his own right, and eventually bought and operated what became Haydon Mill and Grain at a time when farming was the primary enterprise of Washington and surrounding counties. I know he bought and operated a couple of farms. But that’s about it. Only two generations removed, and I know so little.

In another Age, I would know all the stories of my grandparents. In another Culture, I would know their stories as well as the stories of their grandparents, and their grandparents’ grandparents. On back through Ancient Mists. And my children would know those stories as well as their own. It would have been my responsibility to make sure that they knew. But this Age does not encourage that. This Culture does not foster that. So this is a short story. It is a story without much background. Because I know so little. But it is a rich story, about a Father and a Son, full of forgiveness and redemption. It is about a Son who, even more than most, needed his Father’s friendship. And a Father wise enough to understand that and compassionate enough to give it.

****

After they buried that little girl---Martha was her name---they hardly spoke of her. They could not grieve in the usual way. The accident had made that impossible. They had the living to try and protect and allow to heal. They put her in the ground and pretended that she had never really been. They gave all their attention to the survivors.

One assumes they decided they would try to deflect the shame and the guilt by the force of their love. They would Protect and Defend. They would march on without looking back. It was an imperfect solution of course. Both the Present and the Future demand all of the Past. You cannot pick and choose. They were a wounded family, and Joe Haydon was a wounded man.

But I honor their intention. I honor the strength of their conviction and their capacity to bear pain, to do what they deemed necessary. I honor their resolve. In particular, I honor Grandpa Haydon who, by all accounts, stood by his son, taught him his work ethic, paid for an education well beyond the norm of the time, encouraged him and mentored him. He gave his time freely and offered his son a most cherished friendship.

****

“Before you go,” I said, as the dream began to fade, “that was your pistol, wasn’t it?” He stared at me without replying. “And you left it loaded, in a place where a 7-year-old could find it.” He did not respond. “There was more than my Father’s guilt in that house, wasn’t there?” He looked away, and his silence was heart-rending.

In a while, we stood facing each other. “I forgive you,” I said. “We all do. Just as you forgave your son. Things happen. It’s what you do afterwards that matters. It is what we remember. Thank you.” I reached out to him to give him a hug, which he accepted stiffly. He stepped away, nodded, tipped his hat and faded away.

****

It was a powerful dream. I’m honored that he came. I’m glad I had the opportunity to meet him. And I’m glad I had the chance to thank him. It’s a fine story, and I’m glad I got up and wrote it down.

But I don’t think I would have necessarily shared it. There are many powerful stories in my family. In all families really. And there are many more unfolding every day. We can’t share them all, can we?

But this morning, when I opened my eyes and realized that today is Fathers’ Day, somehow the story got more powerful. Somehow it became more than an imaginary reverie. More than a dream encounter between me and my long-deceased Grandfather. It became a kind of spiritual connection. It became less a dream and more a real-time visitation. It became a personal, inter-generational, hands-reaching-across-Time encounter. It became a real moment between men separated by many years but connected by both Blood and History.

So I pass it on. I introduce you to Grandpa Haydon--- George Lloyd Haydon Sr.---4/16/1860-11/10/1943. I thank him for those few things I know about and the many I don’t. I thank him for his hard work and perseverance. I thank him for his wisdom and compassion through difficult times. And I pass along my sincere and heart-felt Happy Fathers’ Day wishes.