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I dislike such things as plastic flowers and television evangelists. What I do like are old people who sat in front of country stores dozing and telling good stories, dogs, and Vienna sausages eaten directly from a can on a riverbank.
Hubert was a customer of mine that ran a country store for more years than I like to think about. Hubert was a World War II veteran that flew a B-17 flying fortress and carried out bombing raids over Nazi Germany.
Lately his driving had been suspect. My, what the years do to a man. Hubert asked me if I would consider taking a few minutes to drive him back to the farm where he grew up. It was about 12 miles from the store, but what could I say? He had been a valued customer and friend for so many years.
It was a sunny, breezy day. Mayrine, his wife, went along but stood out by the truck while Hubert showed me the old home place. It was deserted now. Whether that was a temporary condition or a permanent situation I didn’t know. If Hubert knew, he didn’t bother to tell me. Maybe he didn’t know or maybe he didn’t want to think about it.
He showed me where the sandbox had been where he played during his first five years. It was near the house, just outside the kitchen window so his mother could listen as her boys played.
He showed me the “scraper,” a blade that he and his brothers, long since departed from this life, had used to wipe the manure from their boots before they walked toward the house.
He took me out to the huge old oak tree where he and his brothers built a tree house. It was hidden by foliage during the summer months and it was a good 200 yards from the house. This was a place, no doubt, where he and his brothers could go to talk about things adults didn’t need to hear.
It was October now and I could see that a few remnants of the floor still remained lodged between branches some 30 feet above ground.
He showed me where the barn had stood that the tornado picked up in 1937. Then he pointed east and told me the tornado had deposited the barn “out there,” more than a mile away.
He showed me a still-standing barn where the cattle were fed and milked, and a smaller barn where they housed the horses that pulled the plow each spring.
The old house was empty now and locked. I could tell that he would have liked to walk through it and tell me his memories of growing up in it. Instead, we stood outside and squinted into the sun so he could show me the second-story window of his bedroom. It was through that window that he looked at the world during the first 16 years of his life.
After an hour or so, we headed back. He was silent all the way home. So were his wife and I. He died just two months later, very suddenly. I always wondered if he had known his time was coming and I always wondered how I would have felt if I had failed to take the time off for him.
But most of all, I wondered if he had asked me to make the trip for his sake or for mine.