Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Sun and Last Summer by R E Derouin

An old man laments the possibility of having to leave his beloved mountain retreat as his health declines; by R E Derouin.

With work-wrinkled hands the old man opened the envelope for the fifth time. He shuffled across the living room of the ancient farmhouse to catch the late afternoon sunlight that bathed the room through the large front window. He didn't expect the contents of the letter to change from the last reading, but somehow it seemed something this important should be read, and re-read and read again until it was almost committed to memory.

"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.

15 comments:

  1. A beautiful story of passing time, passing life, replete with pathos and yearning - but also dignified submission. Many thanks,
    Ceinwen

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    1. Thank you very much for your very nice comments. I appreciate your taking time to read and review this little story.

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  2. This is a wonderful story, with so much heart and perspective - such a true characterization and contrast of the aged and the young. Thank you so much!

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    1. Thank you for your kind comments. We lived in this area when our family was growing. I attended many household auctions and always wondered about the occupants.

      Thank you.

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  3. Yes it is about passing, but also knowing a way of life is coming to an end.And the world is not better for it.Beautifully written and descriptive. A fine story.

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    1. I would see unopened gifts up for auction at the closing of Vermont farms and it made me wonder about the different lives of the parents and children.

      Thank you for your very nice comments.

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  4. Sorry. That last comment is from me
    Mike McC

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  5. A great intro draws the reader into the story from the first sentence and then, like an artist, the writer has built scenes that advance the story with with word descriptions that are the equivalent of water colors; lightly shadowing the protagonist life, past and present. I would have liked more. Bravo.

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    1. Wow! I really appreciate such glowing comments. Thank you very much.

      I did cut this piece back somewhat as I didn't want to over do it. I always start with far more than when I finish.

      Again, thank you so much.

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  6. I really like the perspective of age and the understanding that the age experiences more loss than death. The sense of place is lovely as well. And I really loved the poetic ending.

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    1. Thank you for taking the time to read this offering and comment. I truly appreciate you most kind words.

      To me, Vermont is a very unique place. In the countryside, it shows a way of life around every curve in the road.

      Thank you!

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  7. This story was beautifully told with prose that flowed lovingly. I was pleased that the ending provided what I and perhaps all of humanity ultimately hopes for; a timely death.

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    1. A good friend passed away last week, at age ninety-three. He was playing tennis the week before, volunteering for everything in town and totally involved in life. The month before, I sat with him, watching a staging of a play I'd written, staring his eighty-seven-year old wife.

      Life is in the living.

      Thank you so much for these kind words.

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  8. Great sense of setting and great ending that left me satisfied. Nice writing also

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