To Hubert Harold Farnsworth, the dying were legion. Never hesitating to broach his Pro-Life views on anyone willing to listen, Tom, the eldest of the Farnsworth clan, noted as he grew older his parents were invited to fewer and fewer social gatherings. To Tom, his father’s life seemed to revolve around his professional work as a detail man for GlaxoSmithKline pharmaceuticals; his religious life at St. Stephen’s Church, where he was he collected the tithe at every Sunday Mass; and, his participation in the Knights of Columbus, the right arm of the Catholic Faith, and all that that entailed. As a Knight of Columbus, Tom had to listen to him rant and rave about abortion. Millions of lives were snuffed out by godless gynecologists across the country. Roe v. Wade was the sorriest decision ever handed down by the Supreme Court of the United States. For his father, fighting abortion became the touchstone of his life. It was what he lived for. It was the itch he couldn’t scratch.
Neither a short nor tall man, first impressions of Tom’s father to strangers left little lingering impression. Thin to the point of gauntness, Tom suspected that many a bully had sent his father crying back to home while he was growing up. I could imagine him as an asthenic child, one prone to asthma, that made his way calculating through this life growing up weighing just what the downside of a decision would be before acting. In that way he suspected his father had been like puny Yorkshire mutt the family kept making its way along the wainscoting before he finally came over to be petted. As a man, he appeared no more substantive than a soul who could be torn away by the wind. But when matters came down to religion, there was a certain fierceness that shone through his blue eyes, translucent as a cove in the Bahamas. Showered with freckles was his face, covered by red, thinning hair that appeared to be sliding back on his scalp. The thinning red crown was brushed over the bare spots of his scalp that flushed red when he spoke out on the gospels. Though his father went to St. Stephen’s Catholic Church like the rest of the Farnsworth’s did, Tom could not fathom where he got the fire in the belly for all matters of the Pro-Life movement when he was such a milquetoast in the other, more mundane aspects of his life.
Herbert would drag Tom along to the Pro-Life demonstrations that he never wanted to go to. Once, when he was just in seventh grade, he took him to a protest conducted in front of a doctor’s house who performed abortions in the community. From the light post in front of Dr. Schneider’s house hung a white-washed picture wrought iron silhouette of a stork bearing a child into this world. Perhaps a hundred attended the anti-abortion demonstration spilling out into the street in front of Schneider’s house and across the street onto a private park owned by Schneider and other of the neighborhood. Andy Petefish, Tom’s best friend, lived in one of the adjoining houses on the block. When Andy’s father, Bill Petefish, turned on the corner and drove down the block to his own home, he was impeded by demonstrators who blocked his way. Rolling down his window, Herbert shouted at Andy’s dad, “Do you know what this man does for a living. Can you appreciate the lives he snuffs out?”
Not one given to profanities, Andy’s father told Herbert to “go to hell.” He then honked his horn. The crowd dispersed to the point that Andy’s father could drive through. But like the ocean, they swelled back as the vintage Cadillac passed through. The pump for the park sprinklers was at the edge of the Petefish’s lawn. The first thing that Andy’s dad did was turn the sprinklers on them. That quickly scattered the protestors.
Furthermore, Herbert was no less peculiar in his day-to-day activities. To get about town, when he didn’t feel like using the family’s antiquated red Ford LTD station wagon, Herbert would conduct his affairs by commuting on a tricycle bike that looked as though it was an original prototype of the NASA’s moon-rover. A lengthy contraption that Herbert pedaled from the back of the tricycle between its two rear wheels, the rider slouched in the contraption like he was sitting in a recliner in the family den. Such was its length Herbert was often cut off by cars turning in front of him. The man’s answer this dilemma was to carry a bag of pebbles with him that he tossed at the offending vehicle. Not a few heated arguments would ensue when one of these stones hit its mark, the offending driver debouching from his car or truck giving Herbert a piece of his mind after assessing the damage the missile incurred. One irate driver smashed Herbert in the nose dislodging the man from his seat on his tricycle.
When Tom was a junior at Central High School in Riverton, he invited Andy Petefish over to dinner one Saturday night. Under the brow of the Bookcliffs, together they had spent a sunny day in May criss-crossing the desert north of town on their trail bikes. Both dusty and grimy with oil from their machines, they washed up in the bathroom next to the kitchen of the Farnsworth modest house on the outskirts of Riverton. Herbert barbecued hamburgers for the Farnsworth family and Andy in the gathering gloaming in the Grand Valley of the Colorado River. The dinner proceeded in normal fashion, until suddenly, In the midst of reaching for more potato salad, Herbert Farnsworth launched into another diatribe about how people stood by while abortionists reeked another Holocaust upon the world. “Do you have any idea, Andy, how many lives are lost in abortion clinics across America?” In the middle of taking a bite of the cheese burger, Andy’s eyes blossomed open no less startled than starlings taking flight from their canyon nests. Andy, half-choking on his bite of cheeseburger, just shook his head. What could he say, he had no idea. “Don’t know?” my father said. “Well, I’ll tell you.” Horrified as to where this was leading, I had to take a long pull from my Coca-Cola just to wash the cheeseburger down. “Just over a half a million babies – I refuse to call them fetuses: they are humans like we are – die in America’s abortion clinics each year. I bet you never imagined a figure that high,” prodded Herbert. He continued on despite Tom and Andy’s dismay. “Each year since Roe v. Wade came in 1954. For every thousand live births, there are one-hundred and eighty-eight abortions.” I had stopped eating too, though the rest of the family, inured to dad’s orations, kept on imbibing on father’s hamburgers and the potato salad and hot, buttered ears of corn Tom’s mother prepared. Father spooned up another hamburger patty from a plate on the middle of the table placing it on Andy’s dish. “Have you ever seen what an aborted fetus looks like?” Andy shook his head. Looking suddenly dyspeptic, Andy swallowed down his half-chewed hamburger with a long gulp of his soda pop.
“Honey,” said Tom’s mother, Jane, “Let us eat in peace. After all, we have a guest!”
“I ask again, Andy, have you ever seen an aborted fetus? Well I have pictures to show you.” With that he wiped his mouth with a napkin, and stood up from the table, heading to his study. He returned with a fistful of photos, spreading them out on the table for Andy to see. The rest of the family had seen them before, the photos displayed images of dead, scarcely human-appearing pieces of tissue, matted with blood. The aborted fetuses in no undue way looked like slaughtered piglets lying on green surgical towels. Andy looked aghast at the photos. Glancing at them, he quickly turned his head, his gaze askance.
“Herbert, put those pictures away. Tommy’s guest has seen enough. Do it. Do it now.”
“Yeah, dad,” Tom said. “Andy doesn’t want to see these photos.”
Reluctantly, father gathered up the photos and hustled them back to the top desk drawer of his study. Returning, he asked Andy, “Want any more potato salad?”
“I’m pretty full, Mr. Farnsworth,” Andy replied. “I suppose I should get home. My mom wanted me to mow the lawn today. I forgot that I promised her I would do it.”
Tom’s father succumbed to a heart attack at the annual Celebration of Life Banquet that the Knights of Columbus held at St. Stephen’s High School gymnasium not two months later.
By Joseph Dylan