Below the Surface: Seeing the Light

Published online: Dec 31, 2020 Below the Surface Tyrell Marchant, editor
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This column appears in the January 2021 issue of Sugar Producer.

It’s a Monday in December, and I don’t particularly want to be back in the office staring at a computer monitor. Don’t get me wrong—I really do enjoy my job and am thankful for it. But if I’m being completely honest … well, it’s a gorgeous day. The sun is out, the wind isn’t blowing, and while I wouldn’t exactly call it warm, it could certainly be a lot nastier out this time of year. We got just enough snow over the weekend to make the hill sleddable, and the kids have been begging to do just that. 

Alas, there are deadlines to meet, people to call, columns to write, coworkers to gossip with, bacon to bring home. So here I sit, and I’d better find a way to be happy about it.  

My cell phone rings. The caller ID informs me that it’s Dave, so before I even answer I’m smiling. I don’t get to see or visit with Dave all that much anymore, but for more than half my life, any day that includes a conversation with him has been a good one. If I were to use a single word to describe Dave, I would say he’s a character. The man is easily six-foot-six, and though he’s put on a little weight as he’s aged, he remains a complete string bean, carrying considerably less bulk on his frame than I do on my own, half-foot-shorter, one. His favorite thing to say is, “Oh, yeah, baby!” with an elongated emphasis on the “oh.” He is passionate and hilarious and about the sincerest guy you’re ever likely to meet. He always, always has a story to tell, usually one that’ll make you spray milk through your nose if you happen to be taking a sip when he leans in close and conspiratorially fake-whispers the punch line. 

Dave is a native-born son of my hometown, the zillionth generation of his family to have farmed the valley’s 20-foot topsoil. For years, he and my dad have worked together as barely-compensated (some years completely uncompensated) assistants on various high school basketball coaching staffs. In fact, my friendship with Dave is largely based on my time under his tutelage as an undersized big a decade and a half ago. Between my sophomore and junior years, he patiently worked with me on my free throw form, turning me from a complete late-game liability to … well, less of a liability.

All that and more is why I smile when I see Dave’s name pop up on my phone. I answer, and Dave opens up with a, “Hey, how the heck are ya?” He’s simply calling to say he just finished reading something I wrote recently, and that he loved it. As he thanks me for my perspective, I distinctly hear his voice crack in a sob that lets me know he really means it. I was not expecting this. And while surprise and just a hint of smugness are definitely emotions that flit through my mind, what I feel most is very touched that something I’ve said or done could bring a little bit of light to someone who has brought so much to my own life. I’m thankful, too, that Dave has actually taken the time to tell me—not in a text or on Facebook, but with his own human voice—that he’s proud of me.

We shoot the bull, catching up on the comings and goings of each other’s families and how much he loves being a grandpa. After a few minutes, we end the conversation with a couple “Take ’er easy”s. I hang up and just smile for a moment. My day has completely been made. 

I decide that in 2021, I want to provide more of what Dave just provided me: affirmation that people’s efforts are doing some good in the world. There are legions of people who have made my life better—my wife, my kids, my parents, my boss, my neighbor who shoveled my driveway when I didn’t drag my butt out of bed early enough to do it before work, the retirement-age Walmart checker who welcomes me to her lane with a sweet smile. And while I don’t consider myself an ingrate, I’m usually not great at expressing the appreciation I sincerely feel for all the good folks around me. Well, that’s about to change. 

I figure if I’m going to do this right, I might as well get an early start. Yep, I tell myself smugly, that’s a fantastic New Year’s resolution. You, my friend, are awesome.