As kids on the farm, my brother and I would celebrate the end of the evening milking by racing from the milk house to the kitchen. He would win every time, but one day I was two strides ahead. For whatever reason he pushed me through the storm glass window of the kitchen door. I wasn't hurt, but when Father saw the shards of glass strewn across the linoleum, he picked my brother up by both heels and spun him in circles face down, grazing the pea gravel of the driveway.
I did not realize until late in life that my father was an abusive man. On the farm, a boy grew into his chores. At 8, I was strong enough to carry the milk pail from the barn to the milk house, and so one winter evening I was there when Dad went to milk a first calf heifer that had just freshened. Like a horse that has never been ridden, cows milked by machine the very first time tend to kick. Out of habit, Dad wrapped a chain around her rear two hocks so that if she did go to kick, the worst she could do was knock herself down. Which she did, pinning my father underneath her. It must be a child's fearful imagination colors the memory, but as I recall, he wrapped his arms under the cow's belly and lifted her off him. Then he said, "Ken, go get the sledge hammer."
I shuffled toward the wagon house, my mind swimming in familiar fears, when Mother happened toward the barn carrying the pail for the house milk.
(Photo courtesy of Ken Youngblood)
"I'll talk to your father," she said, relieving me of my heavy burden. Then and always, it was my mother who stood as a buffer between her four sons and a father so filled with fury he had little room left to love and nurture. I can remember him saying, "Don't you wrinkle that upper lip at me" when overcome with fear or tears or anger It all seemed the same, somehow.
Thus, we learn by example, even negative ones, but I was fortunate enough to befriend an older man who became the father I never had, teaching me all about love and forgiveness.
This past Oct. 8, my father died just short of his 90th birthday; then on the day after Thanksgiving, my mother drew her last breath. A week later, Art Robertson, blood-dear to me for the last 40 years, died unexpectedly. Death, I now realize, is a study in absences.
The result of all the cramming I have been doing of late is this: in the first instance, the realization that the most profound regret one can have is dying before learning how to love freely and unselfishly; in the second instance, realizing there is no more sacred a moment than standing witness to a loved one drawing her last breath; and in the last instance, the comforting realization that when life is lived long and well, the only regret for the dying and those left behind is to not have what both know will be the last conversation.
We are fortunate to have death in our lives for so many reasons, not the least of which is that it gives us pause to reflect in the seemingly eternal race through time. I realize now that death is always, in every way, what happens to the living.
Adirondackers will, for as long as we remember, miss Art Robertson, a loving father and husband, a rock-solid friend not afraid to confront you with his truth, a teacher unrelenting in his search for truth and fair play, a steward of the wilderness we hold so dear.
Ken Youngblood is a former Saranac Lake resident and Enterprise staff member who now lives in Taos, N.M. He says an open memorial for Art Robertson, a science teacher at North Country Community College from 1969 to 1985, will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Mountain View Cemetery in Gabriels, where he is buried, followed by a reception from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Mount Pisgah ski lodge in Saranac Lake.