C.W. Gusewelle

For Father’s Day, a favorite column from Charles Gusewelle: That miracle day

Charles W. Gusewelle's daughters Anne and Jennie as young girls.
Charles W. Gusewelle's daughters Anne and Jennie as young girls.

As a Father's Day remembrance, The Star is publishing a favorite piece from Charles W. Gusewelle, the longtime columnist for The Star who died in November 2016. This column, from his book "Quick as Shadows Passing," was selected by his daughters. In addition, daughter Anne Gusewelle wrote a column of her own.

There's no explaining such a day of autumn light in summer. A gift without reason, that's what it was.

Cool the morning began, the air blue, the pale sky cloudless. Presently the sun climbed above the trees and began its march toward afternoon. But, oddly, this day it was not a thing afire. Where it fell directly, there was only a pleasant warmth. And in every shadow was a sudden coolness.

That's how the light is in the high mountains. Or in the forest of the far north. Or in the shank of a fine October in the midlands, with the year in quick decline. But this was brutal summer, whose days are never kind. We'd driven to the country cabin, my daughters, the old dog and I, prepared to suffer some for being away together. And received, instead, the gift of that miracle day.

We did all the old things. Fished the pond, which sparkled with the rush of sudden little winds across it. Picked blackberries, crying out as the thorns caught us. Took aimless walks. Built fires for cooking over. Heard the red-winged blackbirds whistling from the reeds.

Listened to the unaccustomed stillness of our hearts.

The old dog, who at home can barely climb the stair, scampered like a pup. She swam twice across the pond, then, grinning, swam a river. And you could tell she was remembering how it was before the soreness came.

We remembered, too. Recalled the people — gone — whose shadows walk those woods. And remembered the day we began, together, the building of the tree house. We still think of the tree house as new, but the girls were small then, and now they're nearly grown. So something in our chronology is flawed.

In a few more weeks, the older of them will leave for college. The other remains another year, then follows off to somewhere in the world. The old dog's cataracts and deafness are worse. Some nights the leap to the bed defeats her. The changes start to be a load to carry.

How many more such country days? we thought, though no one asked it aloud.

Sometimes we just stopped, still as stones, to wonder at the peculiar quality of the light — shining on plump hay bales, on the curious cow faces across a fence, on weed stems. The trees at field's edge were drawn as in a painting, their shadows black.

Then evening came, and lakes of ground fog rose and pooled and flowed across the land. And in the darkness we drove nearly 50 miles to find ice cream to put the berries over, thus achieving the final perfection.

You're lucky if in a whole lifetime there are just a few days that fill you up that way. Nearly everything we did, we'd done before. But it was different this time. This time, besides the pleasure, there was about each moment a sense of conclusion — no, of completion.

The feeling had something to do with that strange summer day of autumn light, reflecting off leaf and water, reflecting off the memories of gathered years, in this season of all our uncertain passages.