We cannot stop the winds from shaking at the tree, but surely
we can stand with the tree, lean against the tree, cling on to
the tree, while fighting against the wind together.
When was it that I realized Father was slowing down? His
speech was slower, his thoughts were slower, his every movement
was slower. The last farmer in Taiwan had once climbed
the hills and toiled in the hearts of the fields, carrying countless
burdens on his shoulders; but now even his steps have become
sluggish! Once his chest was like a mountain, his two hands the
strongest clamps; his skin strong and tough, so smooth and
glowing that no mosquito could land. Now his grandsons are
already in college, but he still asks when they will be attending
junior high school!
Try as I might, I could not stop Father from growing old,
just like no one could stop the winds from shaking the trees.
Oh mighty Wind! Can you please leave my Father alone!
Yet “the wind continues to blow despite the tree’s wish to
be left alone.” I said to my wife: we all understand this proverb,
but we must not let it be a cause of regret in our lives!
From then on I decided to return home once every month,
and I also contacted my elder sister living on Wu-hsing Street
and my younger brother and sister living in Taoyuan to organize
a schedule, so that each family must return home once every
month. I went on week one, my elder sister on week two, and
my younger brother and sister also took turns, so that someone
would be keeping our parents in central Taiwan company every
week. If somehow someone could not meet the schedule and
two families happened to return on the same day, all the better!
Along with my youngest brother’s family who lived nearby in
Shetou, there was life in the old house again, and Father also
looked much happier!
Actually there was not really much to do when we went
home, other than listening to Father recount some old stories,
slapping his back, helping him with a few steps, and sometimes
maybe joking at his expense to make him chuckle in embarrassment.
At noon we took him to Teacher Hsiao’s place at Ching
Shui Rock for dog-tailed chicken cuisine, and told him who
would be returning next week, so that he could count the days in
eager anticipation. Or perhaps we traveled a little further to
Tianwei Highway Gardens to admire the flowers in full bloom.
Just these little things, but were they not the important things?
It was most imperative to return once a month no matter
how busy we were. My elder sister did so, and my younger
brother and sister also did so. We did so in summer, and we did so in winter.
Were the blood vessels in Father’s brain already clogged
back then? Why else were his steps so laggard? And then one
day he really had a stroke, and could no longer get out of bed.
That enormous tree in my life had simply collapsed in one
moment! My brothers and I spent even more time with him,
gently patting his hands, pulling at his arms, but nothing could
call him back to consciousness. During those final hours I had
held his hand, and he had allowed me to massage, shake and
slap it, but never said another word. The cold from his palm
gradually passed to mine and seeped into my heart, and then the
slivers of icy cold slowly spread throughout the rest of my body.
I could feel Father’s life slowly but surely leaving me, and the
unbearable pain in my heart silently swelled, overwhelming me
without a sound.
A son wants to take care of his father, but his father is
already gone! His father will wait no longer even though were
the son to cry a sea of tears!
Our only comfort is that maybe in those last few years, we
had stood with our dearest father against the wind.