By John Thomas Tuft

It was one of those days when the sun makes a brief appearance, then quickly retreats before the gray gusts of clouds and tired leaves. Rain accented the days before and promises to punctuate the rest of the week with an ellipse. High up in the mountains September snow has already fallen, just a tease for what lies ahead, not yet the soul crushing, pass blocking, road closing drifts that are nature’s way of evening the score. Overhead a flock of buzzard ride the breezes, flying in lazy circles above the treetops, surveying for carrion or other delicacies. Mums huddle for warmth in ill placed shadows, and the old shed heaves a sigh of relief as the winds rehearse for winter.  She sits on the back porch, letting it all wash over her, fingering the piece of graying wood from the old barn that rests in her lap.

Her father gave it to her when she turned ten years old. Her gaze goes to the far fields where she used to help him, running down the hill and through the creek, up the other side, feet churning, basket swinging from one arm carrying his lunch to him as he worked the harvest. He always used his vacation time from the mill to put up the crops that fed the family through the coming storms. “Life is hard and life is work, so you might as well put the two together,” he always said, with the big laugh that made the good china in the handmade china cabinet rattle like church chimes when the organist is a step or two behind the good preacher’s wind up to Sunday services. That big laugh has now faded away as he lies in the hospital bed, life’s hard work now reduced to desperately trying to grab one more breath.

The old barn board in her lap pulls him close in her thoughts. With one finger she traces the words burned into it: HOLD ON TO LET GO and below that, LET GO TO HOLD ON. “Ruthie,” he said, when he gave it to her, “you might not understand now, but you will as you grow older.” He sat beside her and stared hard with his blue eyes directly into hers. “Decide what you want you to be. What kind of person you want to become. Because it really is up to you. Decide what you want to hold on to and, let go of all the rest. Every day in a hundred ways, you will decide what you want to be.” Remembering the earnestness in his voice now brought a lump to her throat. “And,” he continued, “every day in a hundred ways you decide what to let go of. Every day you hold on to let go, and you let go to hold on. Hold on to peace. Hold on to hope. Hold on to love. That way, even when I am not here, you will never have to be afraid.”

“Daddy, what do I let go of? I don’t want to ever lose you!” She could feel his gentle, calloused hand on her hair, even now, as he said in that voice that reminded her of the rush of the creek as the snows melted, “Oh Ruthie, let go of whatever keeps you from becoming the kind of person you want to be.” Her face scrunched up into a question mark. He chuckled and pointed to her chest. “Imagine that a butterfly lives inside your heart. Not just any butterfly, a very fierce butterfly. Fear makes this butterfly grow weaker, so you have to do everything you can to help it stay strong.” She remembered giggling at that picture. “Daddy, a butterfly inside me would tickle me!” “Exactly,” he exclaimed. “It tickles when she beats her wings real fast from being afraid. The more she has to do that, the weaker she grows. To keep the fierce butterfly from being afraid, you decide each time to do what helps you become the kind of person you want to be, and the butterfly will be happy. She will be strong and fierce, not afraid.”

Ruthie glanced up again at the circling buzzards. “Not exactly butterflies, Daddy,” she whispered, unaware that her hand rested on her chest, over her heart. The fields are overgrown, the path to the creek is choked with brush and weeds. Her phone rings; it is her daughter from the west coast. “Momma, I keep trying but nothing helps. I’m never going to make it. Everybody out here is just out for themselves. I don’t want to end up broke and alone, Momma.” Ruthie sighs. “It’s okay, honey.” She checks her watch. Almost time to leave for the hospital. “Tell me all about it.” “Stan, that’s the guy I’ve been dating, I think he wants to get married. I don’t know if I’m ready for that. And kids? Who even knows, Momma? I feel like I’m losing control over my own life.” Ruthie feels the wind ruffling her hair, like the beating of a thousand invisible wings, as she lifts the old board to her lips for a silent kiss. “When what I want is not the most important thing to me,” she begins, then stops. Smiles as she says, “Honey, did I ever tell you about the fierce butterfly?”

  Words are magic and writers are wizards.