An old man laments the possibility of having to leave his beloved mountain retreat as his health declines; by R E Derouin.
"Dear Dad," it started, and he could picture his son George sitting in his spacious California home trying to find the best words to say this difficult thing. He skipped the first two paragraphs, the kids' flu, the new car and all, and turned the page to the real reason the letter was written.
"I talked to Dr. Cramer today, long distance, and he brought me up to date on the problems you've been having; yes, even your chest pains. Dad, why didn't you tell us? The doctor agrees with what Sis and Joe and I have been saying for years. You shouldn't be up there alone at your age, especially now that winter is almost here. Ever since Mom died we've wanted you to come out but you wouldn't budge, but now that the doctor has made it official, we won't take no for an answer.
"No argument about it, Dad, I'm flying out next Wednesday and you're coming back here to live. Joan and the kids will love it and..." He couldn't continue. He didn't want to hear about the places they could go, the things they could see, the warm weather, the orange blossoms. He had heard it all before. Nor was there solace in how easy it would be to find a "competent realtor" to sell the farm and an auctioneer to gavel away a lifetime of memories. Yes, eighty-three years of going, going, gone to the bark of his mallet.
The sun was just an orange sliver now, painting the hills and the valley and the room in its dying light. Painting an orange light like itself that changed the colors of everything there, the sofa, the flowered wall paper, Emma's picture. Oh, how he wished she were here with him now! But like the sun, and last summer, and all his bygone years, she ceased to exist except in his memories. And, oh, did he have memories. There wasn't a nook or cranny in this old house that he could look at that didn't bring them streaming back. That spot over there where the doctor stood and told him he had a son and the room up the hall where he held Emma's hand and looked into her eyes and saw her smile when God came for her. He rose, as if taking some unseen visitor on a tour and slowly walked to the front yard.
"Doc would give me hell for being out here with no coat," he said aloud, but it really didn't matter. The wind was cool, but sweet as it blew up the valley with its pine smells and hint of burning leaves. The glow was still bright enough to see the entire valley, all the way down to the river... the same river the Thompsons came up two hundred years before. Now he stood, the last Thompson, the end of the line, here and alone.
And he cried. It kinda snuck up on him and took him by surprise. There was no calling it anything but real tears and he felt as much ashamed as sad. Even when Emma passed he hadn't cried, but somehow this was different. He would lose it all now. When she went, he could at least go down by the wall to the little family plot and maybe put some of those early daffodils that broke the snow on her grave. He could talk to her about the lateness of spring or the heavy rain of all the things that made up his life. He was the last of a species, the end of a dying race.
George had meant well. The old man knew father and son loved one another, in different ways. He also knew that love was not enough to produce understanding, which had always been lacking between the two.
"He doesn't understand at all," the old man said to himself, and to the night things that were beginning to gather before him, unseen, in the woods and meadows.
"I had him and the other here, seventeen, eighteen years maybe, before they went off to school and out on their own. I guess it just wasn't enough time. They don't even think like me, nor Emma, nor my ma and pa. Not that having their own ideas is bad, but what ideas they are! Everything has a price tag and the only prize is more. Work is the thing you have to do to get it and that's all. No one loves what he does anymore. No one takes time to watch it grow, do the very best, no matter what the chore. No one has roots, no one loves a place with the love only a lifetime can make."
His pipe had grown cold, and so had he, more from his thoughts than the chill of the evening. He returned to the house, to his chair, contoured to his body from years of use, more comfortable now than usual. He knew he should get up and fix a little supper, but he stayed. His years and the day owed him a little rest.
After a while, a silver moon bathed the valley and the hillside, casting long finger-shadows down the dusty lane by the meadow. A rabbit poked a curious nose around a fieldstone fence and a bobwhite called to a friend. The farmhouse was still and dark, dressed in its years, and wearing them well. It seemed almost to be waiting, in a resigned way, for that New York couple to "restore" it, and show it off to their friends, trying to buy a past that could never be theirs.
Inside, the old man still slumped in his chair, amid the smell and sounds and chattel friends of a lifetime, dreaming dreams of years no more. Pleasant dreams, and sad dreams, all with no regrets.
Later, much later, when the moon had dipped below the mountain on the far side of the river, and the deep night-stillness had silenced the birds, Emma came back. She smiled and held his hand and he didn't even wake before he was with her. Like the sun and last summer, and people loved, he passed, and with him a generation.