Gentle Strength

This one is for my mom.  The following piece was my first assignment in a two year writing course I’m taking. The assignment was to write a description of a person. I chose my grandfather, my mom’s dad. Everything in the piece is real and how I see him in my mind’s eye most often, along with a vision of him and his TV tray with his coffee and crossword puzzle, and the pencils he had near him and behind his ear.  He really was the good and gently strong man that I wrote about. Everyone who knew him had nothing but good to say, even before he passed away. Including his wife and children. That is a true test of a man.


The years in the War changed Virgil Wright. Before enlisting, he was a happy-go-lucky, joking young father with not a serious bone in his body. On this day, so many years later, Virgil drove along the curves and up and down sway of the hills, his whistling tune changing from one songbird melody to another. How could someone who could whistle so beautifully not be able to sing a single note? It was a mystery that was none the less true.

Virgil glanced out of his soft brown eyes at the auburn English Shepherd in the back seat, “Hey, Old Boy, we’re almost there.”

The dog looked back at him, lifted his ears and one eyebrow, stopped panting for a moment and seemed about to speak, but went back to fogging up the sliver of window and taking in the fresh air rushing past. The strong man in the front seat was what dogs call a dog’s best friend. The dog loved him more than any human he’d come across. He liked it when the man’s heavy calloused hand would sometimes rest on his head like a kind bear giving a blessing.

Virgil pulled the big old Buick onto the overgrown driveway of an ancient, abandoned farm house. It was a good place and a good car. They suited him: aged, quiet, smooth and comfortable. The car even resembled him a little. Like the paint job, he was light brown from the sun, and his hair had turned a faded white like the car’s interior.

About halfway down the driveway, he rolled to a stop under the shade of some overgrown trees and parked. He left his window rolled down as he opened the door and unfolded his bowed legs to stand to his full six feet of height. If his legs had been straight instead of cowboy parentheses, he may have even been six two, but of course, they weren’t, and he wasn’t. A wiry frame supported his large rib cage. His granddaughter often felt that his arms were like young tree branches when he hugged her tight to his big barrel chest, where she would breathe in his clean earthy, woodsy smell.

“C’mon, Boy,” he called calmly, quietly, and the dog jumped over the back of the seat and out the door. He looked up adoringly at his human and trotted beside him.

“Well? Go ahead! Go on!” Virgil chuckled in his soft Western drawl, and the dog bolted ahead, running aimlessly as fast as he could. Virgil smiled to himself as he ambled along, resting his hands in his pockets, breathing in the piney smell of the woods mixed with the inexplicable smell of ripening wheat. This was part of him. This is where he felt most like himself.

He rocked back on his heels, in no hurry to leave this place. Actually, he was never in a hurry to do anything. Nor was he ever late. The dog returned, then ran again, the way dogs do, and Virgil took up his songbird warble again. The War had changed him. He loved more deeply, acted more gently, and became that rare man worthy of admiration.

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4 Responses to Gentle Strength

  1. Robbye says:

    Even though I’ve read this before it still makes me cry. Felt like he was right in the room just sitting there watching my son with a smile on his face. Thanks again for the wonderful reminder!


  2. Dane says:

    Yeah, trying to read this without crying is an exercise in abject futility. You captured this scene perfectly. I know it very well. I have no idea how many times Brian and I were a part of this but it was every night for more than a year.


    • What a blessing to have spent those nights with him! I think of each instance as a dot of perfection in my childhood landscape, and you two have a few hundred of them. I’ll never stop missing him. I can’t wait to hear him pray again!


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