Alfred C Thompson II
The old man approached the stairs with some trepidation. There was a long winding car ramp further down the road. The car ramp would be easier on his knees already sore from the walk to the edge of the park. It had been years since his eyes and his reflexes had made it safe for him to drive. He missed driving but in his heart he knew his son had been right to insist he give up the car.
The old man debated the difference between walking down the stairs and walking another half mile to the car ramp. He decided on the stairs. They were there. He would think about getting back up later.
There were a lot of stairs. The old man stopped at the platform half way down to catch his breath. From the platform he had a great view. In front of him was Lake Michigan. He could watch the gentle waves wrap around the jetty and lap against the beach. To his left and right he enjoyed the view of the green woods alone the steep drop from the heights to the beach. The trees were still wet from the early morning rain. The road had already been dried by the sun but many of the trees were shaded enough from the sun to sill be damp. The breeze through the trees was both cool and damp.
The dampness ultimately helped the man make the decision to continue down the stairs. His body didn’t like the dampness and he longed for the warmth of the sun on his body. After a brief hesitation he took the stairs to the right. The soft sand at the bottom was traitorous under his feet. He remembered that there was a time when he wasn’t even aware of the quality of the ground under his feet. Those days were gone and the old man was grateful for the cane and the added stability he needed from it.
His eye caught sight of the large rock to the side of the beach. The rock was flat on the top and just about the perfect height for him to sit upon. Its location was perfect for him. It was far enough from the edge of the water that he didn’t have to move based on tides. By noon the sun would be too high and strong for him to remain there and he would retreat to another favorite location among the trees. For now this location was perfect. The sun was warm but not hot. The sound of the waved gently scampering up and down the sand relaxed him.
This beach was his wife’s favorite place. They’d bought their house nearby because of this beach. For years they had brought their children to this beach. Their children had learned to swim there. In later years the children had grown, married and moved out of the area. Their beloved grandchildren had learned to swim in other beaches. The old man and his wife had continued to come to the beach throughout their life though. They had sat together on this same rock holding hands and reminiscing.
When the old man’s wife first passed away he couldn’t bring himself to sit on the rock. The absence of his wife was too painful. He’d watched his eldest son bring his mother’s ashes out into the lake from a folding chair carried to the beach by his oldest grandson. With tears in his eyes he remembered the ashes being scattered into the lake his wife loved so much.
On the first anniversary of his wife’s passing he returned to the rock for the first time. He had sighed, as he still did on every visit, and looked to his side where his wife should have been. Then his eyes returned to the water and waves, his thoughts on his wife and his children and grandchildren. “The sea is life” his wife had often said. The old man searched the water for signs of this life. The birds flying over head suggested life but it wasn’t the same for him.
The old man wasn’t on the rock long when he heard the sounds of children approach. He watched the approaching family as they entered the cove where he was sitting. His privacy was broken but he didn’t mind. He recognized the family. This family had moved in a cross the street from the old man a few months ago. He hadn’t met them yet but he waved to them from his yard when they went out or came home.
The whole family wasn’t there of course. The father was probably at work. But the mother was there with her two children. A boy and a girl. The old man had never had a daughter and he wondered briefly what it would have been like to raise a little girl.
The mother set up camp as it were. The kids ran to the edge of the water and jumped in up to their ankles. A blanket was unfolded on the sand. A cooler was placed in one corner. The children’s shoes, kicked off and abandoned by the children in their rush to the water, were collected and placed on a second corner. The mother sat down of the far corner of the blanket to watch her children.
Occasionally she called out to the children to come closer to the beach or move back along the beach towards where their mother was sitting. The old man remembered his own wife herding their children from the same location and in the same way. No one noticed the old man on his perch.
After an hour or so the mother called her children to the blanket. She handed each child a juice box with its own straw. The old man thought how much easier boxes like that would have made things for his wife. She’d always had to bring a thermos and cups. He remembered his children chasing run away paper cups blowing in the wind.
As the children drank their juice the skies began to darken. A storm was blowing across the lake as storms were want to do. The rains would be their soon. The old man and the mother noticed the skies at the same time. The old man looked to the stairs uncertain if he could get to the top before the rains arrived. The mother collected her children urging them to put their shoes back on. The juice boxed, empty now, we put back in the cooler to make the trip home to a wastebasket.
As she folded up the blanket, the mother noticed the old man for the first time. She paused in her work for a second to think for a minute. “Mr. Holmes?” she called out. The old man turned as he heard his name. He didn’t know how she knew his name. Perhaps she had read it off his mailbox. “Mr. Holmes, is that you?” she repeated.
“Hello” he replied. “Looks like rain is coming.” The young mother laughed at the statement of the obvious. “Can I give you a lift home?” she inquired.
The man thought for a minute. He didn’t really know this woman. But she seemed nice and her children seemed well behaved. He looked back at the stairs. It was a long way up. The woman waited, her blanket half folded, for his answer.
“Yes” he replied. “I think that would be a good idea. If you don’t mind of course. I wouldn’t want to be a bother.” “No bother. No bother at all.”
The group walked back to the parking lot together. The children ran back and forth and around and around the adults. The old man wondered where children found such energy.
The little girl yelled out “shotgun” as they approached the car. The mother called out to the girl whose hands were already trying to open the front passenger door to the car. “Karen I think we’ll let Mr. Holmes sit in the front.” “Oh Mom, I never get to ride in the front.” The mother sighed. The old man smiled as he recalled hearing similar complaints from his own children. It was a big deal to little children.
“I can sit in the back. I don’t mind.” Really he didn’t mind either. He was just happy not to make the long walk home. “You sure?” the mother asked skeptically. “No problem. Let your daughter sit in the front.” The young woman seemed relieved. The old man suspected that trouble had been avoided. Children have their own set of priorities he knew.
The little boy seemed please to have company in the back seat. “Do you like the beach?” he asked. “I love the beach. It’s my favorite place in the whole world.” The boy scarcely seemed to pause for a breath. “I wish we didn’t have to go home? Do you really think its going to rain?” finally the little boy paused and stared at the old man. The old man sensed that is was finally his turn to talk. “Yes, I love the beach. It is my favorite place in the whole world too.”
The little boy seamed pleased with the old man’s answered. The little boy chatted the whole way home. The old man heard about the boy’s school, Pre School but he was graduating to kindergarten in the fall. He heard about the boy’s room in his new house and how it was different from his room in the old house. The old man smiled, pleased to have been accepted by the little boy. It was wonderful how quickly little children could decide they liked someone and how open they were about the exciting things in their lives.
The car pulled into the woman’s driveway and the car emptied. The old man thanked the woman for the ride. “Any time” she replied. The old man started down the driveway towards his own home. As he reached the edge of the driveway he heard to sound of little feet running after him. He turned to see the little boy running after him with his arms wide open.
The boy hugged the old man, barely avoiding knocking the old man over with his momentum. The old man looked down on the smiling face. The little boy smiled back and said “See you at the beach. Maybe next time you can play with us in the water.” “Maybe” the old man replied. Then as fast as he arrived the boy ran back to his own house under the gaze of his mother. The mother and the old man’s eyes linked. The mother unsure how the old man felt about the unexpected embrace looked uneasy. The old man smiled and waved. “Thanks for the ride. See you at the beach.” The mother relaxed, smiled and waved in return.
The old man crossed the street and returned to his home. His dear wife was gone but life remained. Somehow he knew that trips to the beach this summer would be the best he’d had in years.
Copyright Alfred C Thompson II 2007