THE RIDE By Sandy Sessler

Joel Beckwith was the youngest of the Beckwith children and as far as he was concerned, the least favorite. Right from the get-go, he was considered…different. Now, at the ripe old age of 30, he was certainly not a child anymore, but he was still very different from the rest of the Beckwith clan. So here it was, a month after his sister, Sophie had tracked him down that he found himself hitchhiking back East for the reading of the will. She wasn’t able to find him in time for the funeral and for that, Joel had a small amount of regret. No, he never got along with old man, but he was his father, after all. When his father banished him from the family eight years before, Joel had always planned to make a trip back home to try and mend fences. But in reality, he knew there was really nothing he could have done or said to repair the rift. Except, of course, to do exactly what his father wanted him to do. And that was something that Joel was never going to do. Still, now that it was over and his father was dead and buried, Joel was saddened. He

knew that James Beckwith wasn’t necessarily a bad man…an evil man. He was just a greedy man. And Joel couldn’t abide a greedy man whose desire for his youngest son was to follow in his footsteps. Footsteps that only he seemed to oppose. His brother, Jeffrey certainly didn’t object to his father’s amassed fortune…the fortune that was now be split 3 ways. Jeffrey, the oldest and most like his father, had joined Beckwith Enterprises right after college. His meteoric rise to assistant Vice President had as much to do with his own lust for money and power as it did his father’s. Now, with their father gone, Jeffrey would step into the prestigious and very lucrative position of CEO and Chairman of the Board of Beckwith Enterprises. As far as Joel was concerned, he was welcomed to it. And then there was Sophie. Poor misguided Sophie. She always meant well, but when it came right down to it, she always caved in to her parents’ influence. She just didn’t have what it took to stand up and be her own person. She was the middle child, the only girl and her Daddy’s favorite. And James Beckwith spoiled his daughter unmercifully. Even Joel’s mother thought Sophie was too spoiled. But James Beckwith did what James Beckwith wanted and he wanted Sophie to have every advantage…and then some. Unfortunately, Sophie didn’t find out until it was too late, that getting what you want and wanting what you have are two different things. And at the age of 32, she was getting ready to end her 2nd marriage and enter her 3rd. Luckily, or unluckily from Sophie’s standpoint, she was unable to conceive, so there were no innocent children to drag from relationship to relationship in her quest for…love. For Sophie, it wasn’t the money that she was seeking. It was her lust for love. That all-encompassing, sweeping and grand love that you read about in fairy tales. It was the romantic, idealistic stuff that Sophie’s dreams

were made of and she had yet to grow up and realize that in her search for the unrealistic, she left many broken hearts in her wake. And one of those hearts was hers. Still, she clung to her notions that one day she would fine true love and her life would then be happy. Poor misguided Sophie. As the bus pulled into the station, Joel hoisted his backpack off the cement and waited to board. With ticket in hand, he knew that he would be arriving in New York in a couple of days to meet his new fate. He tried to tell Sophie that they could just do it without him. But she assured him that the lawyers were very specific. Joel was named in the will and needed to be present at the reading. He dreaded the very thought of it. He already knew what was in his father’s will and what the stipulations were going to be. James Beckwith made it very clear to his son they day he threw him out of their luxuriant 5th Ave. penthouse. Joel had boarded the first bus out of town, never to return. Not until today. And if it wasn’t for secretly wanting to see Sophie again, he would have just disappeared into the sunset and let himself officially become James Beckwith’s bum of a son. It wasn’t too late yet, he thought as he settled into a window seat. No. Go home, Joel. Be a man about it. Face the discordant music. “Going far, son?” the man next to him asked. “To New York,” Joel answered the kindly looking elderly man in the worn tweed suit. “Aah, New York,” the man smiled a slightly toothless grin. “Is that where you’re going?” Joel asked. “Heavens, no,” he laughed. “Just to Bakersfield to see my daughter and grandson. Been there once though…a long time ago.” The man’s face misted into a far away look that hinted of pleasant memories.

“My name’s Joel,” he offered. “Max. Max Osterwald,” the man said, as he shook Joel’s hand. “Just visiting New York? Or do you live there?” Joel hesitated. No, he didn’t live there. He hadn’t lived there for a very long time. Not since that day after he graduated from Harvard. It was the one thing that he wasn’t able to stand up to his father about. His education. James Beckwith was adamant that he pursue and obtain a business degree from Harvard, his old Alma Mater. And at the time, it seemed the only way for Joel to get out of the house and out from under the old man. So he obtained the obligatory education, all the while secretly studying the things that mattered most to him. Philosophy. Literature. The Arts. His father would never understand because his mind gravitated to the Dow Jones, not the DaVinci’s. So when his father beamed the day of Joel’s graduation, it was shortlived. Joel informed him the next day that he planned to take the summer to back-pack across Europe before he returned to New York to work in his father’s firm. “But I have it all arranged for you to start at the beginning of June,” his father argued. “Dad, I’ve studied very hard and done as you asked. I’ll come work for you in September, but I need to take some time away from school and work and get my thoughts unscrambled.” “Unscrambled? What the hell are you talking about? You just spent 4 years in college, not the Russian army! I’ll give you one week to get…unscrambled. And then I want you at the office…or out of this house!” his father yelled and stormed out of the room. Joel sat in the rosewood paneled study and hung his head. You have never understood me, he thought. The only thing that matters to you is the business…the money…the

prestige…the social standing. All I want is some time alone to see the things I’ve dreamt about. The paintings, the sculptures, the colors of the Tuscan hills. To feel of the musky earth of Bologna beneath my feet. Then…then, I’ll come back and work for you. For as long as I can stand it. But, I’ll never be like you, Dad. As he sat there, he realized that he had made his decision. Or rather, his father had made it for him. He knew that his father’s ultimatum gave him little choice. He stuffed his backpack with as much as he could knowing he would not be back. The only memento he took was a picture of his mother and the three children from a family vacation long ago. It was his father who had taken the photo at the Jersey shore. They looked so happy. He placed the photo in his wallet along with the graduation money he had received from relatives and sat down to write the letter. He actually wrote two. One to his parents who would never understand what he had done and would consider him an ungrateful, rebellious son. The other to Sophie who would understand, but grieve that he was gone. They had always been close and she would tell Joel her secrets when she couldn’t tell anyone else. He wished he could take her with him, but she was already engaged to be married and set on her own self-destructive course. He placed the letters on the hall table before he slipped out the door and he never looked back. “Just a short visit,” Joel sighed. “Got family there?” Max asked. “Yeah,” Joel said with a hint of melancholy. “There’s nothing like family,” the old man said, sagely. “They can be the greatest blessing or the greatest curse.” Joel looked more closely at the man next to him. He could see a hint of sadness that lie

behind the smiling eyes. “You said you’re going to visit your daughter and grandson. Are they your only family?” Joel asked. “All that’s left, I’m afraid. My wife passed four years ago. Cancer. It was a blessing when the Lord took her.” There was a glistening tear in the corner of his eye. “I’m sorry. How long were you married?” “Had just celebrated our 50th anniversary when she took sick. “Fifty years,” Joel whistled. “Guess that’s a long time, nowadays,” Max laughed. “Five years is a lot…nowadays,” Joel laughed in the man’s same vernacular. “Things are certainly different. I don’t envy you growing up and raising a family today. Guns, drugs, terrorists, war.” “You had war,” Joel interjected. “Yes,” Max sighed. “We had war. And we thought that was the end of it. But look what we’ve done. We went and made it bigger and better. Man is determined to just blow itself up or burn itself out.” “Were you in the war?” “I was in Korea. I met my wife in the Army Hospital,” he said, as he unconsciously rubbed his left leg. “Were you hurt?” Max nodded, silently and stared past Joel out the window. Joel knew Max didn’t want to talk about it. “Did you get married after the war?” Joel asked to change the subject.

“Yes,” he smiled. “I asked Marion on a Tuesday and we were married on Friday.” “You’re a fast worker, Max,” Joel ribbed. “Well, son, I saw her beautiful face and the heart that went with it. I knew what I wanted and I decided to go after it. I guess I’ve always been like that. Guess I’m a bit of a rebel,” he laughed. “Me, too,” Joel said with a detectable note of sadness in his voice. “That’s not necessarily a bad thing,” Max responded. This time it was Joel who stared out the window. “What’s wrong, son?” Max asked, gently. Joel just shook his head. It hurt to have this kindly old man…this stranger, call him… son. How different his life could have been if he had a father like this man. A man who listened to him, who talked to him. A man he could look up to and admire. Why didn’t he have a father like that? Joel wasn’t the type to dwell on the negative or wallow in selfpity, so he shook himself out of it. “I’m okay,” he finally said to Max, but could see the doubt in the man’s eyes. Max looked right into him and he felt his soul had been laid bare. “Tell me,” was all Max said…and he did. For the first time in almost eight years, Joel shared the pain that he had been carrying and he found himself spewing forth years of hurt that left him spent when he finished. Max sat quietly listening as the young man unloaded his burden. Ah, the journey of youth, he thought, as he watched years of pent-up emotion unravel from the young man. He remembered what it was like to be confused and angry at the world…at life. How unfair things could be and how you tried to figure it all out, when in the end you just

learned that life happened on its own terms. The best you could do was to roll with the punches and learn from your mistakes. Most of all, you learned that if you didn’t forgive those who wronged you, you would be a miserable son-of-a-gun. And in the end? What was it all about? Max wished he could impart some nugget of wisdom on this nice young man, but he knew first-hand that wisdom came from the harsh experiences of life. And mostly on the looking back at them. Never when you were in the middle of it. No, he could just sit and listen. Joel would have to learn it all for himself…just as he had. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to dump all that on you,” Joel said after a bit of silence. “”That’s what friends are for,” Max answered. He could see by the look on Joel’s face that he was surprised by the word friend. “A friend is the most precious gift the Lord gives us. And it can come from anywhere, anytime that God senses we need one. It can last a second or a lifetime. And in the end, aren’t both of those things the same?” Joel looked into Max’s eyes and saw the wisdom of the ages. He saw kindness and forgiveness in this humble man in the worn tweed jacket. “Well, this is my stop,” Max said, as the bus rolled to a stop. Joel looked out the window and saw the wooden Bakersfield sign. Max stood up and reached across to shake Joel’s hand. He noticed that the young man seemed reluctant to let go. “Follow your heart, son. Let it lead you in the path of what you know is the next right thing,” Max said, as he felt the release of Joel’s grasp. Joel sat back down as he watched the old man limp down the aisle and hobble down the steps. A simple man. A simple message. He called me son.

As Joel felt the bus pull out, he saw a woman with a teenage son run to greet the old man. Max put his arms around the boy in a hug of affection. Joel could feel the mist in his eyes cloud his vision. He sat back in his seat and closed his eyes. It was time to do the next right thing.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful