The Old Men and the Sea of Leaves

This was a dreamer day, warm temperatures, golden grass and trees and neon-colored, crackling leaves underfoot, mellow folks dressed in shorts and tee shirts, walking along the river.

Farmer Orville and Quilt Queen weren’t home, so I opened the dog pen and let out Ruby Puppy, Reba the farm dog and Bud who was visiting. We romped across the fields, and the dogs dove at holes. Bud is elderly, but he was leaping in the tall grass. We passed the beehive, which was abuzz with workers prepping for winter.

Juncos have arrived from up north, slate-grey with cream-colored breasts. They ran along in the grass and under leaves using their beaks for plows. Bluebirds perched on the Osage Ironwood posts. The sky was filled with circling turkey buzzards and the resident red-tail and Cooper’s hawks.

The dogs and I got back to home base just as Orville and Quilt Queen came back from shopping. Beverly had fed about twenty people yesterday, and she was exhausted. She excused herself and went in the house for a nap. Orville made fresh coffee while I set up porch chairs. Old Walt emerged from his house, headed for the confab, so I set out a third chair.

Walt is nearing 90. His wife has been in a nursing home since I’ve lived here. He soldiers on. He walks as slow as a human can, leaning on a stout cane. He has a mane of lush white hair. He was born in Orville and Quilt Queen’s house. He is a big fan of my newspaper columns. He almost always tells me so, whereas Orville and Quilt Queen figure Midwesterners don’t need praise lest they get big heads.

Orville brought out the coffee and set the cups on the outdoor table. “No pie left,” he said. “The grandkids ate every morsel. The turkey skeleton ain’t got a bit of flesh left.”

How was my Thanksgiving? my friends asked. I told them I ate a cheese sandwich and Fritos for supper. Orville shook his head at Old Walt and said Gene doesn’t get it. It ain’t about sex. It’s about pie and holidays arranged by females—that is why us boys need women in our life. We all do. Walt guffawed, even as he knows his wife will never be able to return home. I said my last wife’s pie ultimately cost me $30,000.

The breeze blew the leaves into funnel shapes. It had been coming from the north for two weeks, which is why, Walt told Orville, all his dang leaves were in Orville’s yard, saving him from raking them. The leaves will be bundled and carried to the blackberry bushes for mulch and protection from the weather.

“I hate shaving,” Orville said. “See, Gene, what a wife will do is get you to shave and bathe regular. Have you boys seen that 19th century beard of Letterman’s?” Whereupon Walt and Orville discussed how they missed David Letterman, shocking me to my core. It’s a long turn of the channel knob to go from Fox News to Letterman/Colbert.

It dawned on me that Orville might actually envy me for my independence. He would have eaten a cheese sandwich and Fritos with chocolate chip cookies for a chaser, had he been by himself on a holiday. Perhaps that is your dream, when you have been married for sixty years.

I headed home for a nap, smelling of dog licks and decaying leaves and crusted honey and barn mold and Old Spice. “Good to see you,” Old Walt called, his words warming me to my core.

This was my Thanksgiving.

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