Its the hellos and the goodbyes we remember, the beginnings, the ends, the first kiss and the last. So it is with the old man and me and our first walk along the path which cuts its way through the tall wire grass of summer.
“See that field?” the old man said as he pointed toward the greening acres. “The farmer planted in the spring, and he will harvest in the fall.” Adjusting his twice worn out hat that barely kept the sun out of his eyes he added somberly, “The problem is most people expect to plant and harvest in the same season.” Looking squarely, he said, “And son, that’s the problem with your mama.” She had left me with him that morning along with a change of clothes and a promise to be back soon.
Time has passed since that day, still I see the old man. Only now in my shaving mirror, or in the evening when by the flickering light I read from the box of books the old man passed on to me.
“A man’s got to earn his keep,” the old man insisted, pointing to the kitchen table, handing me a book. “In the beginning …,” he began, after which I picked up and read, until four seasons and a shoe size later, I reached the book’s final ‘Amen.’ With the smell of whiskey on his breath,he would sit close to me as I read to him every night I lived under his roof.
What we read next is still in that old box along with all the places a boy can go and all the things a boy can do and memories of what we talked about when we walked the fields scaring up quail or sitting by the dark water of the river.
“Who’s gonna read to me when you’re off to college?” he asked one evening.
“College? Papa, I’m barely in high school,” I replied in a voice changing gears as boys’ voices do.
“You’ll be, and I can’t read.” Looking through the disbelief in my eyes he added with determination, ” I reckon if I can read a deer’s tracks, I can read tracks on paper.”
“I reckon,” I added, beginning a boy’s journey of teaching his papa to read.
Our last walk through the tall wire grass of summer is a memory of the smell of whiskey gone from his breath and how the old man talked of the Bible, and in his own simple way, of all the places he had been and people he had met since I taught him to read.
“You can’t plant and harvest in the same season and expect to get very much,” he added with sadness for the books he would never get to read. Understanding what the old man meant, that like the fading sun lighting our way home, his season was passing, and I must let go of all but the memories.
Copyright 2013 Edward Reed All Rights Reserved.