As Ray scanned the property, he couldn’t help but notice how run-down things had gotten after mom died. Cancer had come quickly for his mother, and when she left three years ago, an integral part of Ray’s father left with her.

Ray’s sister Barbara and her husband Jay tried to help out the old man when they could, but their twins were starting school this fall and Jay had been offered a manager’s position at the paper mill in Cossington, almost four hours away.

Barbara had called Ray a couple of weeks ago, which was rare because they hadn’t really talked much after the funeral. She made the obligatory small talk before finally revealing the true purpose of the conversation.

She explained Jay’s whole job situation and told Ray they would be moving by the end of next month. The million-dollar question now, was what were they going to do with dad?

Ray’s father had always been a difficult man to deal with. He had served in Vietnam and returned home with medals, nightmares, and an affinity for alcohol. Hard working and stubborn, dad was the true definition of old-school, and dad didn’t want to go anywhere.

Ray’s mother had lost her first husband in the war when she was only 17. Her parents had moved out to the country and as much as she didn’t want to at the time, it was for the best that she moved with them.

The first time she met Ray’s dad, she was horrified. Apparently, a man in town had the reputation of being cruel to his dog. Ray’s father had been drinking after work, and on his way home, noticed the man abusing the animal.

As Ray’s mom watched from the back seat of her parents Buick, Ray’s father advised the man that it would be in his best interest to stop what he was doing. The man made the mistake of shoving Ray’s dad, and in the ensuing argument, promptly received a beating which resulted in a broken arm.

Ray’s father took the dog, stepped over the man who lay bleeding and howling in pain on the sidewalk, and began walking towards the Buick. As he passed, he noticed the scared, young girl through the open window and stopped.

“I’m sorry you had to see that ma’am, but that guy seemed to be confused about things, I just wanted to clarify the situation.”

The smile that was flashed afterward erased all apprehension for his mother, and within six months of gentlemanly courtship, the two were married. That would have been 46 years ago this winter.

Mom always had the ability to calm her husband down. In time, she persuaded him to lay off the booze. Barbara was born before their second anniversary. Six years later, they had Ray.

Their family was like any other blue-class American family as far as Ray was concerned. His father worked as a laborer in the local union, and while they weren’t rich, they always had what they needed.

When he was younger, Ray worshipped the ground his father walked on. He thought the old man was the coolest, toughest man on the planet. Sometimes his dad would put him on the back of his motorcycle and they would roar off together as mom would freak out, waving frantically from the porch. The helmet was way too big for Ray’s seven-year-old head, and he had to constantly push it up so he could see the blur of the trees as they rolled past them.

The two would return in a half hour or so to mom’s scolding, and dad would say he was sorry but everyone knew he wasn’t, and all would be forgiven. The memories of these cruises still brought a smile to Ray’s face.

One time, Ray found a Sharpie pen in the garage and decided he wanted some tattoos like his father had. Mom scrubbed his arms until they turned pink and he cried. Dad just smiled and pretended to read the paper.

Then there was the night when the whole family went out to the yard and caught fireflies. They kept them in some old jars for a while before releasing them, and mom said that they were the spirits of loved ones who came around to say how happy they were.

Father and son remained close until Ray hit his teens and their relationship began its downward spiral. It was now more important to hang out with his buddies than to work on whatever project the old man had going on at the time. They just didn’t seem to have anything in common anymore.

He had started playing guitar and a couple of the guys formed a band. Ray grew his hair out and there was increasing friction over the loud music, late nights and lack of enthusiasm to participate in any of the family activities.

One night, when Ray was 16, he stumbled onto the porch around two in the morning. The lights were off and he thought the coast was clear, but when he opened the refrigerator for something to drink, the light revealed his father sitting at the table. He was not impressed.

That night, Ray and his father fought. Not like the usual arguments that had become more frequent in the last few months, they fought. Mom and Barbara were both crying as they wrestled around the kitchen, breaking chairs and dishes. The old man was screaming he was going to kill him while his mother begged and pleaded for them to stop.

Ray finally broke free, grabbed some clothes and his guitar, and left. He vowed he would never step foot in that house again.

He moved into the drummer’s place that he shared with some roommates and finished up his last year of high school. After graduation, the plan was to take the band’s act to the west coast and get a record contract.

Ray would still see his mom occasionally. She would slip him some money and try to tell him how sorry the old man was for what happened, but Ray didn’t want to hear it. The night of graduation, Ray’s father stayed home.

California was awesome. Ray and the boys managed to get a series of gigs around some of the hot spots known for showcasing rising talent. They didn’t make much money but the excitement of what could be was all the band needed.

Ray got a job tending bar on the nights they weren’t playing out, and he met a cool hippie chick who knew some people in the record industry. She introduced Ray to a guy who told them he would pay for the studio time to print their first CD if they agreed to a six-month tour in support of it. He didn’t have to say much more than that.

The following six months went by in a blur. People liked their music and were more than happy to show their appreciation during the late-night festivities after performances. There were plenty of females and party favors. Different venues and different faces seemed to blend together in a haze. It was during this first tour that Ray was introduced to heroin.

At first, it didn’t seem like a big deal. He was only sniffing it periodically and it helped him to relax after a little too much cocaine. In a relatively short period of time, however, what had only been recreational use had escalated to an addiction.

Ray managed to hide his habit for a while. The band released a second CD and plans were made for the next tour of the circuit. But then the singer was injured in a car accident and things had to be put on hold.

They tried to find a replacement but no one measured up. Sales took a drastic hit and it looked like the dream was over. One of the guys got married and moved back east, leaving the others scared and confused.

Ray was still tending bar, so at least he had some money coming in, but his increasing habit was slowly wrecking him. After his second overdose and being revived by Narcan, Ray signed himself into a treatment facility. Six months later, he was sober.

Ray reached out to his family over the holidays. He never went into detail about what had transpired in his life since he left so his mom wouldn’t worry. She was the conduit between him and the old man. Ray knew his father was listening as she excitedly told him about everything that was going on back home, but he never spoke to Ray directly. It was probably just as well since the conversation would have been strained at best.

Barbara was the one who told Ray about mom being sick. Doctors had given her six months to live and she thought he should be there. Ray put it off as long as possible but when mom had to be moved to the hospital, he came home.

He barely recognized either of his parents. The disease seemed to have shriveled both of them up into frail, scared children. His mother smiled weakly when Ray brought her flowers. The old man grunted an acknowledgment and left the room. His mom begged Ray to patch things up with his father. She told him how worried he had been in Ray’s absence, and how guilty he was for what had happened. She said he always asked about him after they spoke, and she knew he still loved Ray, he just didn’t know how to show it. Mom died two days later.

Ray hung around for a few days after the funeral. His father didn’t have much to say. After Barbara and her family went home, the two of them would sit in silence or talk about insignificant things like the weather.

When Ray decided to was time to leave, he shook his father’s hand goodbye and their eyes met briefly. Ray remembered the hero of his youth long ago. The years of physical labor had taken a toll on the old man. He was several inches shorter from being humped up. His white hair was pretty much gone and his veined hand shook as he extended it to his son. They both wanted and needed to say more but it didn’t happen.

Then, three years later, he got the call from Barbara and she asked him to come home. Ray reluctantly agreed. On the flight, Ray tried to picture how things would be between his father and himself. He knew the old man would refuse to be placed in a home. Maybe Barbara and he could come up with a live-in caretaker to watch him but he wasn’t sure how that would go over either.

When he arrived in the rental car from the airport, his father was sitting on the porch with their old dog “Biscuit.” She was named after the dog the old man had rescued the day he first met Ray’s mother. Ray and his dad sat on the porch until dark. Neither said much, they just took turns petting Biscuit, watching the sunset. The old man knew there was a reason for his son’s return, and while he didn’t say it, he was grateful.

The next morning Ray got up and had some coffee. He had heard the old man leave in the truck, so he knew it was just him and the dog. He put on his hat and decided to walk around a little and Biscuit was only too happy to accompany him.

As she lumbered off in search of birds to scare, Ray was left alone with his thoughts and memories of his childhood. He remembered everything. The good, the bad, and the ugly. He thought of his mother’s dying wish to have him reconcile with his father. Evidence that his weakened dad needed help taking care of things was everywhere he looked. There was peeling paint, the lawn needed care and the old motorcycle they used to ride on was covered in dust, forgotten in the shed, along with happier times.

Biscuit’s happy bark as his dad returned from his errands brought Ray back to the present. He helped his father with some bags and they slowly made their way back to the house. That night after supper, the three of them sat on the porch and watched the fireflies in silence. Finally, the old man spoke, “So now what are you going to do Ray?”

Ray hesitated as he looked at the father he loved and missed so much under the porchlight. He had known the answer to this question long before his plane had touched down.

“I don’t know dad; I was thinking about maybe moving back here.” The old man smiled, “I think that sounds like a plan son, your mother would like that.” Biscuit wagged her tail happily as the fireflies continued their dance.