It’s Time to Go Home
By Ronald Douglas Drobeck
Yes, my favorite spot will take a little work!
A year ago, I would’ve had this tall grass stomped down to a straw mat. This flat spot was on an inside corner facing a wide spot at a bend in the creek. It was perfect for fishing, watching the clouds and thinking.
My dad would’ve been with me when he could find time from the farm work. Sometimes, he’d suddenly come over the hill, swishing through the grass, carrying his willow rod and a smile. So we’d fish, and soon we could hear mom swishing toward us, swinging a basket of food and a smile. This memory passed through my heart for the first time, and I felt a little empty as it lost hold and drifted away. I straightened myself and took a deep breath.
Today, I was up before the sun. I had my chores done by ten and then helped mom with the chickens, some harvesting from the garden, and picked some apples.
A consumption took my dad about a month ago. He coughed terribly for a couple of weeks, took to the bed for a couple of days and was gone. The traveling doctor arrived after he was buried. My mom and he talked for a while, and then he left in his buggy.
Almost everything was planted and growing on our little farm. Our two cows were healthy, and we had those chickens. My dad’s brother lived near, and they shared the work and the crops on both farms. I did what he told me, and we’ve got some extra help when harvest rolls around.
So today, I’ve got some emergency fishing to do. It’s the first time I’ve been able to go fishing since he passed on. It was a little strange and lonesome, but I’d fished before while he was doing the farming, so I just pretended he was out in the fields working.
I took my last year’s shoes off, put a worm on that hook I made from a nail, just like he taught me. Then I tied a little piece of stick on the line about two feet up from the hook and dropped the line in the water.
It was quiet. A ‘missing someone’ tear squeezed itself out of my eye. Just one! I snuffled and wiped it, then looked up at the clouds drifting. I ‘dreamed starred’ for a bit at the drifting, drifting clouds, and then I caught a couple of trout. More drifting clouds went by, and I caught another trout.
I leaned back on an old fallen tree to do some more of that cloud watching and fish catchin’ when suddenly I heard something or someone swishing through the tall grass. I thought it might be my mom, so I lifted up a little and turned my head. I could not see her, but I did see the top of an old wrinkled hat bouncing, barely visible over the three-foot tall grass.
I froze in place.
The bouncing hat was approaching from behind the log. It stopped for one moment, then through the air, and over the log flew a little man with a walking stick, and single strap bag slung over one shoulder.
I was startled but not scared. He was smiling too big for me to be scared. His broad rimmed hat was well worn and tipped to the one side a little. The top of the hat bent over proper, and there was a curved pheasant feather wiggling around the back. Everything from the bend at the top of that impressive hat to the bottom of his boots was wrinkled and earth colored.
“Good day to you!” he said.
I managed a nod, and I think made some sound. My surprise was turning to fascination.
“I’ve named myself ‘Onion’!” He said as if to answer a question I hadn’t asked yet.
“I try not to meet many of you, but when I do, I call myself ‘Onion’!” He exclaimed.
“I had to come up with a name for this side quickly one day, so I picked ‘Onion’ ‘cause I like ‘em,” He said, anticipating my asking, again. He was very quick!
While talking, he dropped down to a knee next to the tree stump from whence came the fallen log I was leaning on.
Without loss of motion, he pivoted on that knee and came to rest, as his wide bottom trousers landing at the base of the stump raised a poof of dust. It was a perfect pivot and sit down. His air expelled with an ‘oof’ sound as his rump hit, and the weight of those broad, traveled shoulders and massive head, was relieved from his wide leather tethered feet.
I sat and watched him in silence, ne’er missing a thing, thinking, “He is something quite familiar!”
His eyes sparkled as if lit by stars, and his suddenly rosy cheeks squeezed his eyes to slits in a smile of joy as he looked at me.
Still appearing to be in the middle of that long conversation with me, he exclaimed, “And now, after thousands of leagues, and many seasons of exploring under the ‘Sea of Stars,’ I go home!”
“Go home?” said I!
And, before my eyes, he began to settle back into the stump. I mean not just lean, but settle back into the stump as if it was a feather pillow. He casually lit his seasoned, stained, earthen, puffin’ pipe, which caused another pause in this one-sided conversation.
I blinked my eyes to make sure I saw what I thought I saw, and it happened again. His shoulders had receded into the stump another measure.
He saw and heard the surprise! I’m sure my eyes grew as big as a hoot owl’s eyes, and my mouth fell open as I did a startled inhale, quickly and four times as much as normal!
His belly laugh was the same as I’d heard the first time I saw him. I was remembering! It was Something that happened many years ago. While slapping one bent knee with his hand, he said, “Yes, I go home!” He said it as any traveler would sound if he’d been away for a long time.
“While you have gone home each night to your warm bed and kin, I explored and wandered, and made my bed wherever I happened to be when the sun arose. Now after all of these seasons, all of those moonlit beautiful and stormy nights of travel, I’m going home to be with my kin, in my own bed, and on the proper end of the trees.”
“This is the tree from where I came six summers ago (as he patted a root of the stump). Do you remember then, little ‘red-haired’ fisherman?” he said, eyeing me for my reaction.
“I do, I do!” I said in wonderment. “You are the reason my father thought that I am a dreamer. I ran to him that day, after you disappeared over the hill and told him that a little man with a walking stick and a bag on his back just stepped out of a tree!” I exclaimed.
I said he said, “Hello little red haired fisherman, I’d be finding my way beneath the ‘Sea of Stars!’ And, then you winked, turned and began to walk in the direction of yesterday!”
“And I have seen many tomorrows and learned about this side, the ‘Sea of Stars,’ the creatures on this side, and you! And, now I’m going home.” He said.
“I don’t have to go home through this tree, but it helps to go back where you came in or out! It’s also good luck to have the witness that was there when you came and when you left!”
And, as I watched, listened and blinked my eyes, he settled back farther into the stump up to his ears. The smoked from his pipe was rising as the steam from one of those new trains. Puff, puff, puff, puff, it went up with a little pfft, pfft, pfft, pfft sound as he tongued the hole to make it draw right. That sound he made from the pipe caused me wonder whether or not he was allowed to take that long-stemmed, puffin’ pipe with him to puff on the other side!
Was he was working to get the last out of it?
By now he’d been absorbed by the stump up to the wrinkles of his eyes.
“Will I see you again?” I managed to squeeze out during this sudden intake of sights, sounds, and swirling feelings.
The puffin’ stopped. There was no pfft. He leaned forward out of the stump, his eyes looking straight into my eyes.
With glee he said, “As you are my witness, I’ll be no more than two feet from you if you wish and should ever need me!
We are now joined at the ground. You being here now as I leave means this was meant to be! I’ll just be, to you, upside down.
I’ll put each of my feet on the bottom of each of your feet when I feel you need me. You will have the courage of the other side coursing through you when you need it. I’ll shake the roots of the trees, and the leaves will wave, and their breeze will assure you. The breeze will move you along so that you may run swiftly; I can charge you with the energies of nature to give you sharp eyes and clear thought. As long as you need me, I’ll be near.”
With that, he did his wink again, that same wink I saw six years ago. I could hear the pfft of the pipe, but there was no puff of smoke. It was done, and the pipe was gone too!
Within the next blink, I heard a joyful chuckle. As my eyes opened from the blink, the last of his foot trappings disappeared into the stump.
There were goose bumps and the hair stood straight up on the tops of my short-sleeved arms. A rustle of the leaves startled me straight in the fading light.
My fishing pole in hand, my twig bobber was nowhere in sight, so I lifted the willow pole up straight away and found a country creek Brownie attached to my line. Up out of the water he came in one motion to be added to the other three.
The leaves waved as if applauding! A little breeze from the leaves brushed the hair from my eyes to remind me that the light was changing.
It was late, and I needed to get these fish home for supper. I’m the man of the house now, and my mom will be pleased, I thought with a smile. It’s time to go home.
I tied the shoelaces of my old weathered shoes together and threw them over my shoulder. With my willow pole, my trout, my shoes, and my dreams, I effortlessly trotted up the path toward my house and my bed.
The ‘Sea of Stars’ at my back had just begun to twinkle from the direction of yesterday when I heard a rustling sound.
The leaves rustled as if applauding again so their breeze at my back could push me toward tomorrow.