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by John William Smith
After this it was noised abroad that Mr. Valiant-for-truth was taken with a Summons by the same Post as the other, and had this for a Token that the Summons was true, That his pitcher was broken at the Fountain. When he understood it, he called for his Friends, and told them of it. Then said he, I am going to my Fathers, and tho with great difficulty I am got hither, yet now I do not repent me of all the Trouble I have been at to arrive where I am. My Sword I give to him that shall succeed me in my Pilgrimage, and my Courage and my Skill to him that can get it. My Marks and Scars I carry with me, to be a witness for me that I have fought his Battles who now will be my Rewarder. When the day that he must go hence was come, many accompanied him to the River-side, into which as he went he said, Death, where is thy Sting? And as he went down deeper he said, Grave, where is thy Victory? So he passed over, and all the Trumpets sounded for him on the other side.
After dinner, they took the same walk that they always took. The boy knew nearly every step. What he waited for eagerly were the stories his grandfather might tell as things along the way brought back memories. When the boy was small, he had lived quite close to his grandparents, and the Sunday afternoon walks over the farm were regular. Now he lived far away, and he only came during vacations and sometimes on holidays.
This is where your grandmother and I built our first house; it burned in 1937. If you look carefully, you can still see the corner of the old foundation.
See the opening there in the barn right under the eave? Thats a hay mow. Your father fell out of there, when he was just about your size, and broke his arm. (The stories were much longer, but we have no patience for long stories.)
Oh, now, Dad, the boys father interrupted. He doesnt want to hear that story again; youve told it ten times.
But the boys father was wrong, and he wasnt only wrong, he wasnt telling the truth. It was he who didnt want to hear the story; it stirred too many painful memories of a happy past of a life that was so different from his present one that it didnt seem possible that both lives could have been lived by the same person. The stories reminded him of the contrast between what he had planned and hoped to be and what he had become
and the contrast was not something
he was comfortable with.
The boy hadnt realized it it was part of his consciousness and he didnt realize it now, but a sense of the significance of family history and his personal identity had come through those walks and stories. Now he was fourteen, and in his jumbled, confused time of physical and mental transformation, the farm and his grandfather were things that gave meaning and perspective to his growing, changing world. Although he would not have said so, he loved his grandfather,
and he loved the stories.
As they approached the windmill, where the steep ascent to the upper pasture began, his grandfather paused his thin, white hair matted down with perspiration and his normally clear, blue-gray eyes a little misty. You and your dad go on up, he said to the boy. These old legs just wont make it up there anymore. Ill just rest here and wait. That had never happened before, and as the boy and his dad walked slowly away, a thought began to gather in the boys mind. It gained momentum and clarity as he and his father silently climbed to the pasture. Finally, unable to go farther without hearing his thought out loud, he stopped. He looked at his father and said, Grampas getting old, isnt he, Dad?
What a world of budding maturity lay behind those words.
Yes Dad, your grandpa, is eighty-five this year. The father was not close to his son because he was very busy, and he had no time to tell him stories. Because he didnt know his son, he failed to hear what was behind the question.
Do you think he minds?
Youll get old, too, wont you, Dad?
Yes, you bet I will. Ive already started, and I hate it. Again, the bitterness.
I cant believe Ill ever get old, the boy said.
Its hard when you are as young as you are, and all of the good things are in front of you; in fact, I guess thats what being young is all about all of the important things are in front of you. Why, I remember... he began enthusiastically, but his voice trailed away. The boy had turned in anticipation, anxious to hear his fathers story, but his father stopped, shrugged his shoulders in resignation, and said, Oh, forget it.
Nothing; it was nothing. I thought I remembered something there for a minute, but its gone.
Two hours later, they returned to the windmill and found the old man asleep, huddled in a corner out of the wind and where the spring sun would fall on him a shrunken bundle of faded blue denim and wrinkled flesh. His head lay at a precarious angle, and saliva dripped from the corner of his mouth. His breathing was so shallow that the boy feared he had died, but when he touched his shoulder, the kindly, thoughtful, blue eyes blinked in the sun, and he smiled. As they began the walk back, the boy, still pursuing his thought, expressed his concern.
Dad says youre eighty-five, Grampa. Getting old must be terrible. Dad says that the worst thing is that you dont have anything to look forward to, that all the good and important stuff is behind you.
The old man paused and looked long at his son and then at his grandson.
I think your father has forgotten that I have been preparing for this all my life, he said solemnly, that the most important and the very best things are yet to come, and that crossing the great river in front of me is the most important challenge of all.
River? What river, Grampa?
Ask your father; he knows what river Im talking about. He needs to remember, and he needs to tell you about it.
Is it time you remembered something your children need to hear?
Author: John William Smith
Publication Date: June 19, 2002
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