Welcome to the Writer's Place: The Gift

I know they’re staring . . . and I suppose it’s understandable that they would. After all, it’s an odd place to find one of these. Doubly odd to see someone as old and weather-beaten as myself attempting to affix it here. But you see, I’m honoring a promise. She knows I’m a man of my word and she’s waited long enough! Finally, the inquisitive eyes approached. "How do you do . . . yes, lovely day. What's that? Yes, I suppose . . . if my reason for being here interests you so then I’ll be happy to tell you. It began on an April morning much like this one, sixty-two years ago. I had been twisting Sarah in circles, as kids do, while she sat tentatively inside an old tire of my uncle Petes. It had been secured with a rope to an old maple tree in our yard. I was twelve and showing off. Sarah was eleven and scared to death!" "Rudy Pearson!" she shouted, her voice falling somewhere between pleading and crying, "Not so tight! That old rope might break and I’ve got my new checkered dress on. If you get it dirty . . . I swear I’ll . . . " I didn’t give her time to finish her threat. With all the might I could muster I flung the old tire in the opposite direction. I thought she would never stop spinning but she finally did and as I helped Sarah from her precarious perch, we both staggered and fell, overcome with childish laughter. We laid on our backs in the grass, the ground still cold from the cool early April mornings. We talked about how odd it felt to have our backsides so cold while our faces were so warm from the already threatening 1936 sun. Isn’t it funny how little things like that can stay so fresh and clear in your mind through the years? It’s as if I can still feel the warmth of the sun that day and see little Sarah lying there. We’d look straight up into that old maple tree of moms and go for an hour or more never saying anything . . . just listening to the breeze murmuring through its branches . . . each of us, I suppose, lost in our own young thoughts.

One day Sarah caught sight of a little blue wren house dad had built and hung in one of the lower limbs for my mother. "Who made that little birdhouse, Rudy?" she broke the silence and asked. "My dad." I answered matter-of-factly. "He made it ‘cos mom wants to see some baby wrens from the kitchen window."

"Your dad is awfully nice, Rudy. He must really love your mom," she replied. "I guess so." I answered. "Did your dad love your mom too?" I inquired in a childlike fashion. You see. Sarah’s father was killed while trying to extinguish a hotbox fire for the Union Railroad. She was only six years old at the time. Her mother never remarried. "I don’t know . . . I can’t remember," She answered softly. "But he never made her a birdhouse." We fell silent once again. Suddenly Sarah startled me by breaking the silence.

"Rudy, would you make me a birdhouse someday too?" She ask, and I still remember the look on her face. It was almost as if she was afraid of what the answer might be. Where would’ya hang it?" I unsympathetically answered. "Anyway, your ‘ole cat Fluffy won’t let no birds set foot in your yard. You know that." Her dissapointment didn’t register at the time.

"Beg your pardon? Oh yes, we had known each other a long time. Her family lived close enough to ours that we could join up and walk to Westfield country school together. Sometimes, when she wanted me to think she was mad she’d let George Chambers carry her satchel home. I’d pretend I didn’t care, but I did . . . and Sarah knew it. "I saw you on the teeter-totter with Blanch Mulgrew today, Rudy," she’d say accusingly. "Hope you had fun!" Then she’d add sarcastically . . . "See if Blanch will walk all the way to Taubman creek with you just to hold your crawdad bucket while you tie that old bacon on your string."

What did she look like? I can see her face just as if she were standing in front of me now! Her eyes were blue, but . . . a smokey blue like snow in the evening shadows, and her hair was the color of fresh-cut wheat and fell in ringlets across her shoulders. With a smile like . . . How's that? No . . . no, as fate would have it, we drifted apart a couple of years later. You see, her mother Betsy took down sickly and died in the spring of ‘37 best I can remember. Sarah and her brother John went to live with their aunt in Tulsa. That was more than three hundred miles away, and to a poor boy like me, that seemed like the other side of the world from Fair Grove, Texas. We did write for a while.

I grew up like all boys do and in 1944 my brother Jack and I joined the army. Well, dad had died a year earlier and my oldest brother Charles stayed with mom to look after the place. Jack and I figured our army income would help ma now more than we could and we damn well sure weren’t scared of Hitler and those Nazis’. We were young and feeling pretty good about ourselves then. We finally got to Tulsa for our enlistment. What? Oh I thought about looking her up, but time was short and Jack convinced me that Sarah was probably married by then . . . having forgotten all about our days in Fair Grove. What I didn’t know until later, was that Sarah had enrolled in the Baptist College for Young Ladies of Conviction and was furthering her education not three blocks from the induction center.

Beg your pardon? Oh yes, Jack and I both went overseas. We spent six weeks together in basic down in Fort Polk Louisiana. They split us up after that. I didn’t see him again for thirteen months. I’d heard that his outfit was stationed outside Paris in late 1944, and after a lot of searching I finally caught up with him in a little cabaret having the time of his life. It was good to see him. Turned out it would be the last time we would be together . . . you see, Jack was killed in action near Bastogne on the German border about a month later. They say he died saving his two buddies from a grenade. I believe it’s true. He . . . was . . . well, quite a fellow, my brother Jack. Anyway, we took care of the Germans and they finally mustered us out for home. I stayed around Philadelphia for about a month with a fella I met in my outfit, then I came on back home. The war had taken its toll on mom what with losing Jack and all but she still managed to fix a fine Sunday dinner for us every week.

Charles? Oh, while I was overseas, he married Lucky Dorner’s sister Mary Beth, and gave me two nephews to tease. He worked in the freight yards back home . . . retired a few years back. Who me? No, I just never got around to it somehow. Guess I just never found the right gal. Oh . . . I kept company with a few from time to time but I just never felt like they were the right ones. I just kept thinking that maybe one-day I’d run into . . .

Sarah? Well you see, that's why I’m here. Sarah’s niece told me that after I left for the service, Sarah finished school and wound up here, teaching school in Omaha. She said Sarah never married and lived in the Mossman apartments on Beryl Street. I’m getting on up there in years so I decided that if I was ever going to find Sarah, I’d better do it now while I can still travel. Anyway, I ask at the apartments . . . they said she was here.

That, then, is why I’m here . . . working tooth and nail before dark catches me. I’m fulfilling a promise I made sixty-two years ago. You see, I’m hanging a little blue birdhouse on my dear, dear . . . Sarah’s grave!

Jim Knott (ok90@earthlink.net)

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