by Micki Cottle
The old man walked gently through the spring morning, talking rapidly, telling the small boy who tightly held his hand, (his grandson) of other springs, in other years.
There was a spryness in his step that contradicted his ninety-six years, and although he carried a cane on this fine spring day, he usually managed to conveniently forget it, when he left the house.
The cane had become a burden for the old man that has been pressed upon him by his daughter and son in their concern. “You might fall, Daddy,” they argued. So, to keep peace he tries hard to please.
To him the cane is a symbol of winter rains and the seasons of snow, and of men who doubt that the sun always comes back again. The cane is like his tall ladder-back rocking chairs that have aged as gray as his beard and creak comfortably in the wind on his sagging front porch.
Who, the old man argues, “needs a cane when there is sun and spring has come again with soft mists in her hair and a warm wind in her mouth and sweet budding everywhere.”
Only the old, the very old, might need a cane; and the old man will never admit he is that old. He will not let his memories linger. Not now, not yet, he smiles to himself. Certainly not as long as he can breathe the sweetness of the lavender and watch merry tulips and lilacs smile at the sky.
His daddy made rocking chairs and canes, though he never really had much time to use them himself. He sold them for $2 or $3 dollars in nearby towns. He lived to make a wagon-load of chairs and then go on the road to sell them. His obituary in the local news, when he died at 102, called him “a maker of good strong chairs.” He would have considered that a compliment, but “artist” or even “craftsman” would have been too vain for his modest Baptist soul. He simply built chairs and rockers, and canes to withstand weather and time and the rough and tumble of grandchildren.
So, as he walks through the spring morning, the old man talks lovingly to his grandson of how spring used to come whispering to the south, and how it was a time for the earth to stretch and time for folks to be about the job of planting.
“Spring,” he explained, “was a time for clearing the land and a time for plowing.”
It was a time of going barefooted and a time for picnics and spring tonics.
It was a time when the cobbler would come by and mend shoes. “We all had something to share, even a good story now and then. A bit of life.”
The whole family” the old man said, “worked from sunup to sundown. There was no such thing as ‘throw-away.’ There was a purpose to living. No throw-away things, no throw-away people.” He pats the boy’s head gently, and gazes fondly at his short, sturdy legs. This, he thinks is the most absorbing sight in the world.
He never experimented much. He planted and the land yielded its bounty. Like his daddy he made the same chair and the same canes and rockers, over and over. When his crops were planted, he always felt good. “There!” he would say; “Another beginning. Do what needs to be Lord, amen.”
“It was hard work boy, hard work. But, it was our kind of living, and the land was all there was. You understand that?” He squeezes the boy’s fingers tightly until he looks up at this giant of a man, whom he loves so dearly, and answers; “Yessir, granddaddy.”
“It was a good time, but now then, this is a good time too” he chuckles. “This is a time for us. You and me, right now.” He tousles his blond hair, so much like his daddy’s. “You and me. Yesterday and tomorrow!”
The old man remembers how he had whittled small animals and whistles for his sons when they were only tad-poles. It was just about time he found an elderberry tree and made something that would last for this fine grandson of his.
Perhaps that was why their steps this spring day had led to the creek bank where the old stand of elderberry trees still thrived.
And, in the distance it somehow seems he can see the two of them walking through eternity; he smiles to himself as he listens to the rustlings of yesterday. He is almost young again, he thinks. And, as he did on another spring day, long, long ago, the old man fishes in his pocket and pulls out his worn pocketknife and cuts a limb from an elderberry tree and begins whittling.
Life was good. Spring had come again.