The old man walks slowly down the path, his knees are worn from a lifetime of miles, his aching hips creak with every halting step, he leans on his cane, his back is bent. Still, he walks His clear blue eyes water in the cold air, he raises a handkerchief to his nose once again, as he searches the horizon for a sign, a sign he'll know only once he's seen it. Still, he walks. Miles that he once easily strode are measured now by the familiar pain. His wills his reluctant feet to continue though no sign is seen, and the horizon recedes. Still, he walks. The solid ground 'neath his worn boots, long acquainted with his weary stride, a partner for all his many years, waits patiently to enfold him in its cool embrace. Still, he walks. On the horizon, the old man saw the sign that only he would know. He straightened his back, and lengthened his stride. Gone was the pain, so long his companion. Ahead a companion, so long departed. The horizon was not so far after all. Near the end of the path, he turned to look back upon the many miles he'd walked. He raised his handkerchief one last time, and took the last few steps. The old man walks no more. (C) Tim Blodgett begun 10/19, completed 04/17/20
I wrote the first four stanzas of this poem October 2019 after my Uncle Charles stopped by my store. He was returning from an apple orchard in Easton, where they had the best Northern Spies. He couldn’t stay long, it was getting late in the day, and he wanted to be home before it started to get dark. He was having trouble with his night vision, I suppose at 87, that’s to be expected. We talked about fishing, he loved to fish. We talked about hunting, he loved that too, but he said he was getting too old to get out anymore. I told him that I would go with him if he wanted get out into the woods for a little while. He said he would like that, but he couldn’t walk very far on account of his hips, and the cold really got to him nowadays. We talked about apples, apple pies, and grafting apple trees. I remembered learning about that from my grandfather in his small orchard back in the early ’70s. We talked the small garden he kept. He was wearing a beat up old hat we had made for our store years ago, he wanted to get a new one next time we had them made.
His voice was strong, his mind and sense of humor were sharp. His eyes were blue and clear. They watered, like his nose, but the ever-present handkerchief was at the ready when needed. (That’s a Blodgett thing, I remember my father and grandfather also exhibited this trait. I have not yet reached the age where that has become a concern for me. Yet.) I looked closely at him. His skin was getting more transparent and spotted with age. He had become more stooped and crooked over the years. He was 87 after all. Still, I thought he had a few years left in him.
I was wrong.
His journey ended April 16, 2020, a little after 6:00 am. It wasn’t Covid that sent him to the hospital for his last few days. He was tired, at peace, and ready to join with Aunt Bev.
I wrote the last three stanzas April 17, 2020, after I wrapped my head around him being gone.
His death caught me by surprise. My sister told me and I told my brother, we were all caught by surprise. I guess we all thought that he would be there, old and unchanging for ever. How childish we can be.
He was a good man, we will miss him.
Whenever I hear the song ‘Band on the run’ by Paul McCartney and Wings, I remember when He and Aunt Bev took me camping and fishing on a lake in the Adirondacks about ’74. I remember hearing that song, it was raining and grey and I was fishing. I went camping with them at the Boreas River also, they had a pop-up camper, I didn’t catch any trout, but I caught a smallmouth bass. The first time I ever drove a car, (13 or 14) I drove his old Jeep Wagoneer. It was standard shift and I had to drive it up a narrow, steep logging road up to a cabin that he helped his father build years before. The steep stretch of the road dropped into a deep ravine a couple feet from the edge of the road. I was terrified, but I did it. He had a revolver, I think Smith & Wesson, chambered in .41 Magnum, that he used to carry when hunting and camping. He taught me how to shoot it when I was much younger than anyone would think prudent nowadays. I remember asking him if it kicked much.
“It kicks like an elephant”, he replied.
I’ll never forget that. I learned about firearms, how to handle them, to respect them and to be responsible with them at a young age. Those were valuable lessons that extend far beyond their original intent. They guide me still in the way I handle any tool, machine, or device that can do harm when mishandled. More people should learn those lessons.