Susan Salisbury

The Cycle of Life

Daddy’s white head bobs past the kitchen window, his bony shoulders slightly hunched. He is in search of a steel trap.  A hated commonplace, nuisance has gnawed holes in his baseboards, eaten his food, conjured fears of disease. A rat brings on the kind of aggravation and work that can only be created by its simple nature.  Once again, it instigated that old familiar battle of steel traps and wit. It has been this way for as long as Daddy has lived in these hills.

As I watch him pass by the window, emotion and memory intertwine, a thousand dormant images parade through my mind. How many generations can I see in that image of his white head, his daddy, his daddy before him and even beyond, to his daddy?  I can visualize that far, but I wonder about older blood running through his seventy five year old veins. It pools and forms the same coarse waves of hair, dark brown in youth now turned to white, the walk with the same gait now with a frail limp, and the peering cornflower blue eyes showing intent and experience. I see how youth has gradually and silently tiptoed away with that ravaging enemy, time.

He has the same know-how of those who have gone before him. I am blessed. I feel my lineage as I glance out the window, and I know those generations with surety.  It is  a sacred possession, and with it comes the question of where I fit in with these men, at least five generations, and me a woman.  What do I have to ball up and fuse together to send that essence in my veins, out of my present existence and up into the air for all to see? I wish I knew, I do not think I do. I wish I did. Maybe I can’t see it yet. Maybe it will take another generation to see it.  I just hope, I want, someone to see it in me.  Maybe no one ever will and I am only a vessel with the sole purpose of passing that evasive quality on to my own sons and daughter.

From the window I am reminded how I once looked out to see another white head trot hurriedly past the window pane, carrying an axe.  He was in a chase for dinner, a chicken, to be exact.  I was young then, so thoughts of him getting hurt, stumbling on the axe, cutting himself, or somehow not succeeding in his task, never entered my mind. These concerns didn’t pop up as they do now with my current image of the fragile hands holding a trap.

Back in the present, Daddy’s worn, drawn, familiar yet feeble hands attempt to pry open the steel trap, and I feel apprehension and fear. It’s not the same fear of a trap that I had as a carefree child trying to heed the warnings about my own hand or foot. Now the fear is for the one setting the trap, holding one of the many traps that so long ago sprung grim jaws to kill God-only-knows how many creatures. ‘Possums, coons, minks, muskrats, foxes, and of course just plain rats, all have met their doom in those steel mouths.  Whether for hides to sell or simply to kill a no good varmint, the same device has been used for generations.

Please Lord, don’t let his hands get hurt. Please let those hands be strong and able enough to open the tight spring of the trap. Don’t let him feel the defeat of time. 

As he carefully, or maybe just slowly, opens the trap and positions the bait, he says, “I remember when I was a little feller, I had to use my foot to open the trap. I wasn’t strong enough to open it with my hands.”

In many ways he has once again become that little feller. I see the shift. My daddy, who always knows what to do, who does what he has to do to get by, and is strong. My daddy who has always taken care of me and been my sure rock, he is not quite that solid any more.   I see his frailty and it terrifies me. I’m supposed to be the little feller who has someone who can and will do anything for me. The time is here when I need to be the one who knows what to do, who does what I have to do to get by, and to be strong. His precious life is my foundation and my foundation is slowly eroding.  Unlike me, he’s not afraid of what is happening, he is content, or perhaps unaware. How much does he realize that he isn’t as he once was? I hope he isn’t aware.  I hope he doesn’t care.

Time feels slow and constant, but then suddenly not slow enough. With the realization that it is coming to a heartbreaking halt, time becomes a raging force that won’t stop until all is gone. It can be devastating and overpowering, but then comes with the subtlety and gentleness of a falling snow.  It can be a silent beautiful calm. It can take away power, warmth, and comfort. This duplicity, this unsolicited role reversal, it is the cruel reality of the cycle of life.

Now the sad understanding settles in, having knowledge of existing in this cycle isn’t like a textbook lesson. I am now in what once was merely a diagram of pictures and arrows depicting birth, maturity, and death.  As I try to come to terms with it all, I look into the future with dread for my own children’s understanding. There will be a time when they will realize their place in this inevitable, beautiful, sorrowful cycle that we all are destined to know.  Can I find comfort in the Apostle Paul’s teaching,O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”  I think no, not yet. I can’t yet find comfort in the hope of a triumphant resurrection, a restored and perfect body. I want him here, strong and with me in this life. I don’t want to give him up so that he can become victorious. My lack of comprehension makes me selfish.  I don’t want to know if I can bear the hurt.

Perhaps, somewhere in this cycle is a place that I have yet to reach. Perhaps I will become content, like my daddy. I will look forward mortality putting on immortality.  Maybe I will not be aware. Maybe I won’t care. Only time can answer these questions. Maybe one day posterity will see my essence appear through another’s gesture or particular movement. Then, from some realm beyond, complete knowledge and contentment will come in my knowing my days spent here on Earth were remembered by those I loved.

I realize these memories, hopes, wonders, dreads and fears emerged because my daddy set a trap for a creature that lives in the shadows and is only known by its destruction. A menace that people want to eradicate from their homes because no apparent good can come from it has caused me to reflect on generations of kin, and I’m glad. I am glad I was able to realize these emotions and come closer to understanding the life cycle, no matter how painful the lesson. There is a time of youth, maturity and death, and it comes to all, ready or not. We are all at some point in the circle. Maybe a rat does serve a higher purpose after all. It did for me.


Susan J. Salisbury resides in Eastern, Kentucky, a town with the same name as its geographical location. She has lived in the heart of the Appalachian mountains most of her life, having taken root the same winter she was born. She holds a BA from Alice Lloyd College and has only recently taken up the pleasure of writing and preserving the stories and escapades of kith and kin.