All the kids called him “Pops”. I did too. I had known him all my life, they were just always there.
All of us would sit for hours and listen to his stories of the woods, the mountains and how he loved them, how he felt so attached to them. You could see it in his eyes as he spoke, such passion, such…yearning? Every word echoed through the valleys of oak and maple, you could hear the leaves rustle as he talked of every step he took.
As we call him “Pops”, so she had always just been “Ma”, more than likely because that was all we had ever heard him call her. They were so perfect together. It seemed almost urban legend now that they were married at 16 years of age, that being the case on this day it would mark their 80 years together! As kids we didn’t appreciate that stretch of time, but our parents certainly did. That day, an evening of celebration was on the schedule at the town hall for everyone to celebrate.
The news that day trickled slowly at first like a melting glacier; by early afternoon it had turned into a torrent of terrible, raging unbelief.
Pops had gone out early that morning to walk his garden as he did everyday. There she sat, on the porch swing, her head gently tilted to one side, her morning robe arranged neatly beneath softly place fingers. As he slowly walked towards the porch he had to have known, after all that time, all those years, how could he have not?
They say he just sat there next to her on that swing and held her hand. When the mail came around shortly before one in the afternoon, the news spread quickly. Those who had lived close by were the first ones there. They stood at a distance to just look and perhaps…to say goodbye.
He let go of her hand, that last time when they finally had to take her away…it was just after 3pm. Those who saw him said there only seemed to be one tear. He just sat there on that swing with her, quietly, as they shared that last day together.
Every single person was amazed when he showed up that night. Talk was held to cancel the event, but most felt that would be even worse. He smiled, he shook all the hands, and he even tried, just a little, to laugh. They had created wonderful story boards with pictures everyone had brought together. Friends and family alike had contributed a thousand memories of the two of them. He stopped and looked at every, single picture.
On the table near the end of the storyboards was a “well-wishers” table. A large white sheet of paper covered the table for everyone to write something on. As he got to that table he reached into his jacket pocket and retrieved an obviously old and well-worn envelope. He gently open it and removed something that no person in that room had seen until that very moment.
Slowly he unfolded the yellow newsprint, being ever so careful to be tender to every fold as he placed it there on that table. Every eye in that room was riveted to that news-clipping he had laid out before them.
As he pressed it firmly to the table he touched a trembling finger to his lips and placed it gently on the picture of the beautiful young woman in the picture. There for all to see, dated those 80 years previous was their wedding announcement and a wonderful picture of two young people in love. There was not a dry eye in the room.
The next morning we were all jolted from our beds by the fire siren that hadn’t been used in no one knew how long. “Pops was missing” was all anyone and everyone could say. How could that be? Where would he go? Why would he go? No one understood.
As dawn broke every able-bodied soul in town searched high and low for any trace, a message a note…anything. And just like that; there it was. There on the front door of the old city hall building was a pink faded post note. Written quite clearly and legibly for all to read just one simple phrase: “I’ve gone home”.
Human nature is a funny thing. As kids we didn’t understand it then, but the search just sort of stopped…they all just stopped looking. I couldn’t though, I just couldn’t. I ran across to the big field that stretched out at the foot of the mountains and stared off towards the treeline, trying to will something, some sign…into existence.
Just as the morning clouds had begun to lift and one ray of morning light filtered down…I saw him. Strange it seems that I didn’t call out. This was where he wanted to be. As he got to the very edge of the forest he slowly turned towards me. He raised his arm; as strong and proud as any man one-tenth his age and waved towards me three times.
I could barely see, the tears filled my eyes more quickly then I could wipe them away. I looked up to see him step into the forest, the sun broke through the last of the clouds and….he was gone.
I still sometimes go back to that spot, there at the edge of the forest. I think of all the stories, the laughter, the love and I find I am still unable to wipe away all the tears.