Autumn

Autumn

Friday, February 10, 2012

Divergent Paths

Willie Lee knocked on my backdoor and asked if I'd take a walk. We set off through my backyard and cut across the orange grove and scrub towards the old barbed wire fence into old man Dexters' cow pasture. It was early June, late afternoon, warm. We crossed the pasture, another fence and climbed the embankment to the railroad tracks. Two miles and we were at the trestle over the creek. We'd walked in silence.

We eased off the tracks and down to a high bluff over the old swimming hole. The creek beneath the trestle formed a bend and our swimming hole was deep, the water dark and tannin stained. We each lit a cigarette. Finally, "What's wrong, Willie?"

Across the creek and deep in the swamp a woodpecker worked hard at a tree and I could hear old man Crawford on his Ford tractor and thought about the watermelons he grew each summer and watched a leaf float gently on the dark water and then took my well worn old .22 pistol and took a few shots. I walked the hits into the leaf by the splash of the water. A game we'd once enjoyed. 

"Is that necessary...now."

"Guess not, so, what's wrong?"

"When you leaving?"

"Monday, early."

Willie Lee sighed, flipped his butt into the water, and said, "Thought so."

Across the creek I could see the old oak. One of its limbs snaked over the water and there was a short piece of our old sack swing rope still attached and it dangled useless. A poison ivy vine climbed the tree and I remembered my little brothers cries of pain as my mother doctored his rash after he rubbed his butt on the leaves on a dare. We'd played countless games of 'gator' in these waters. Fished and walked and camped and hunted the banks of this creek for years...all now gone.

He said, "It'll be different now."

"I know."

Then I asked, "What will you do, where will you go?"

"Not sure. Probably work on the Gulf, a shrimp boat probably. No college for me, or the military."

"Could if you wanted."

I looked across the creek and saw the spot where I'd gotten my first kiss from an old girlfriend. We'd formed a nest in the soft grass and loved each the other for hours under the light of a full moon. She was a full two years older than me with the necessary experience and slim and smelled of Spring and her skin was soft to my touch. It had changed me forever.

Then again, I was a big fan of Henry Miller.

He asked, "Will you come back home."

The sun was low and I could hear owls, an occasional whippoorwill, and off in the distance the screen door of some farm house slam shut. I didn't answer. Instead I rose and said, "Let's walk, it's getting late."

We climbed the bank back to the tracks and walked the crossties toward home. I knew the answer to his question, but how was I to explain a young mind filled with the gift of literature. Willie Lee didn't read. Even though we'd been best friends for years he'd never understood my need for words. Hemingway and Miller and Ruark and many others had placed the need for travel in my mind. I wanted to see and experience France and Italy and Great Britain and most of all, the bullfights of Spain. To eat and enjoy the favors of their food. To hunt and shoot and fish foreign lands. My mind had been set for years; I needed to escape this, my old home. Even then the agrarian lifestyle of my youth gave way to development. The land had become crowded and I wanted nothing of it.   

"Well," he said, "Will you come back home?"

We'd reached our divergent paths.

We stood at the edge of the Dexters' fence where the orange grove, to the right, gave onto the hardwoods and then into the swamp. My path lead ahead, his left.

"No," I said, and reached over and tapped his shoulder with my fist. "I'll never come back, Willie, I'm sorry."

"You know, they'll send you over there."

"I know, it's part of it."

"Shoot one for me."

I said something like, "Sure."

And with that, without a goodbye, he went down the railroad bank, across the fence towards home. I waited until he was out of sight. I never saw him again, and I never did return.

Stephen

34 comments:

  1. I had to read that twice. Your words make it feel like I was standing with you. I wish I could express my own thoughts so eloquently.

    I do hope you are on the mend as well :)

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  2. He's Back! Doing what he does so well. If ever this man stopped storytelling, well there would be some unhappy campers. In a style all his own, he takes you in that story. And with an added flair, he gives us and ending that leaves you without breath. Now breathe. . . Stephen, thank you for such a goodbye story. After kleenex wiping is done, I still have to ask Why? Why are men so much like that? I guess it is the >man> in them. Ok, would like another one soon as it comes to mind!

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    1. You are welcome and thank you for the kind comment...I'll be back.

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  3. Stephen, enjoyed it, me wished I could write dat good

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    1. My brother, it's in you. Just allow it to shine.

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  4. Ahhh What a chick flick moment

    I realize that gruff, good natured taunts don't translate well into comment type though so don't take it the wrong way. :)

    Ya could have told him if he threw a party with lots of booze and dancing girls you would come back... at least once!!!

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    1. Thanks, Bubba, alas, it was not in cards...

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  5. Very good. very well written.

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    1. Thank you, John. You're not so bad yourself.

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  6. Phyllis (N/W Jersey)February 10, 2012 at 4:47 PM

    ... I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference...

    Glad you are feeling better, Stephen!

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    1. Indeed, hate to think what would have become of me had I not taken the road less traveled. Thank you, Phyllis.

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  7. Thanks Stephen for sharing your life's story's with us. I hope you are feeling better. Will you and SW see LB this weekend??

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    1. Thank you, my friend...Little Bit is now here, and having fun with her Nana. She's doctored me and found me sound for play.

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  8. Stephen,
    Would you consider continuing writing this story in it's entirety on the net?

    You have been blessed with a talent and a gift of vibrant wording and storytelling.

    It's time....

    YGA

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    1. My Guardian Angel, that's quite a nice compliment, but please understand, these little vignettes are chapters of my life. I have written other chapters (here) and will continue others as my muse and time allows. These stories are my journals for my grandchildren; a little piece of me for the day when Valhalla whispers my name and when all that is left of me are mere shadows on their memories. Thank you for the kind compliments and comment. God bless.

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  9. Excellent writing Stephen. Have you ever tried to find your childhood friend or have you just decided to let old memories stay memories?

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    1. Swamp Dog, thank you for the nice compliment. In answer to your question, yes, many years ago I asked a distance relative still living in that area if she had heard or seen Willie Lee. The report I received was sad. He was at that time, in the early 80's, homeless, living on the streets, an alcoholic. I wish I hadn't asked. It's best sometimes to allow ourselves only those good memories of our distant youth, when life was still full and fresh.

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  10. I never thought I'd say this to anyone other than Brigid, but you've taken a scene from my own memories, written it more eloquently than I could ... and made it better.

    Thank you for sharing that memory with us. As I realize there are rather fewer years ahead of me than now lie behind, such memories become more poignant.

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    1. Rev. Paul, I'm at a loss for words. Thank you for the kind compliment. God bless.

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    2. R.P. is correct, you do write on her level now. bad thing is, you've got a reputation to maintain now. :)

      Matt

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    3. Matt, thank you so much for the kind comment...but, I'm not on Brigid's level...she's special. Where's your all seeing eye?

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  11. Ah, you are not only so kind, you are a brilliant writer. Really enjoyed reading this post.

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    1. Thank you, very much...it's a good thing I had Sweet Wife read it. She's my editor and pointed out a couple of my goofs...

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  12. This was like standing in my favorite bookstore and reading the blurb on the book jacket. I would have bought that book in a heartbeat.

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  13. Divergent paths. We've all had them and they can completely alter your life. Well written, my friend.

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    1. Thank you, my friend. You are correct, and if even by fate, it's a decision we must all make sometime in our lives.

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  14. Replies
    1. You are more than welcome. My pleasure.

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  15. That book was too short. You left me craving more. Which is as it should be. Well done!

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    1. Thank you, my friend...these brief books are difficult to write...too many memories.

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