The future’s a lot to think about

This coming Sunday is Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s Summer Festival. When our kids were young, the three most anticipated days of the year were Christmas, Easter, and the Church Festival. They knew Dad would be generous with funds for the Fish Pond, Spin-the-Bottle, Cherry Bowl, etc. Plus, the normal strictures about healthy eating were abandoned for a day.

The Council of Catholic Women puts on the Festival, and Katherine Kretschmer is a promoter. Katherine and Bart Kretschmer are friends of ours who farm out south of us. In something of a ritual, Katherine brings over a bottle of wine to “recruit” Pam to work at the Festival. Similarly Bart will bring a 6-pack of beer when he comes over to get my Fertile Crescent Seed order. They evidently think we are easily plied.

Pam was working late when Katherine came over a few weeks ago. I invited her to set on the porch till Pam got home. Besides, the younger Kretschmer kids were risking injury on our trampoline, screaming in delight, and Katherine wasn’t about to extract them from that.

The Kretschmer’s oldest, Billy, is in the same class as our youngest, Ezra. They’re going into their senior year. I showed Katherine the letters we’ve gotten from Ezra who is at National Guard Basic Training. Billy’s working for Schwartz Farms for the summer.

Neither of our boys/men is sure what they’ll be doing after graduation. Katherine and I agreed it’s quite a juncture in their lives. We raise these children, making all the important decisions for them. Then one day, they’re not kids and they face a host of life-defining decisions. In a few short years they’ll pick college or work and take aim toward a career. And they’ll decide if they’ll marry, who they’ll marry, where they’ll live, if they’ll have kids, and on.

Katherine said, “That’s a lot for someone who was picking out which Captain Underpants book to read a few years ago.” I’ve known Billy since he was little. I coached him in ball a few years, and he’s been over to help with baling and such. Billy’s a so-so student and a pretty good worker. Katherine said he hasn’t gravitated toward any college plans yet.

That reminded me of a day that I had to tell her about. Billy gave Ezra a ride home from school; Ezra’s car was in the shop. They were sprawled in the living room playing Xbox in the way that only teenage boys can sprawl, limbs hanging all directions. They were eating chips and licorice, neglecting a seldom-enforced rule about eating in the living room.

I was working in the kitchen. Our first floor is fairly open and I could hear them. Mostly they were talking each other through the Call of Duty mission they were on. “Look out for that guy over behind the trees,” as they nonchalantly took out dozens of heavily armed terrorists.

Actual conversation was interspersed between gunfire. I heard Billy say, “Hey, are you thinking much about what you’re doing after graduation?” Ezra grunted something affirmative.

Billy went on, “Sometimes I just want to ignore it. I mean, I kind of like being in high school. So, Ezra, what if I’m really good at this? What if this is what I’m best at? My mom always says I need to find my bliss. What happens if this is my bliss? You know, working some, playing ball, hanging out. This might be my calling.”

I could tell he was kidding, but I had to step into the living room. “Billy, I want to know if you find a job like that; if it’s not too late, I might change careers.” Without looking up, Ezra said, “Nah, you’d suck at hanging out. You either gotta be doing something, or else you’re falling asleep.”

Then Billy asked me, “You grew up here didn’t you? What did you do after high school?” I said I went to St. Thomas in the Cities for a couple years. “You went to St. Thomas? For farming?” Billy looked skeptical. I said I thought about going to law school. “So, what happened?”

I told Billy that my brain hurts if I think too much, and that I like being hot and sweaty and greasy sometimes. Now Billy was losing focus on the Special Operations Force that he was part of, and Ezra wanted to shuffle me out of there. “Dad, why don’t you go make some pizza rolls?”

I told Katherine about that. She smiled and said, “Yeah, Billy doesn’t seem in a hurry to get on with real life.”

Then Katherine told me about a conversation she’d had with Billy a few days ago. It was a reminder that our boys got a harsh lesson in maturing rapidly last March. That’s when the four young men were killed in an icy crash west of town, including our sons’ classmate Payton.

Billy said to Katherine, “Mom, I know I’m supposed to be thinking about what I’m gonna do after high school. But a lot of times, I think about what Payton would do. He had all that energy and that big sense of humor and all that life in him. He would have done something great, I just know. Sometimes I think maybe I’m supposed to do some of the stuff he won’t be able to. Not just me, but all his friends. You know, pick up the slack for what the world’s gonna miss.”

We talked about what the boys’ senior year will be like after the accident. And how the reality of death can take layers of time to accept. Football practice starts soon, and Billy told Katherine, “I think Payton’s going to be there when we start practice. I mean, I know he’s not. But part of me says he’ll walk into the locker room, being loud and joking around like he always did. We’re gonna have his locker and jersey there, but I just want the real Payton there.”

Then Katherine shared with me something she told Billy. She remembers being a little girl when her grandpa died. Sometime during that all, Katherine was crying on her Grandma’s lap. “My Grandma told me that every time we lose someone close to us, we take a little bit of that person and put them in our heart. That way, our heart gets bigger and we’re able to love more.”

Katherine said she told that to Billy, and then said that was probably more for little kids. Billy said, “That’s OK, Mom, I know what your grandma meant.”

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