Time marches on.
Originally published on LinkedIn — October 18, 2020
The two fishermen anchored their boat not far off the shore from where I stand. I had been seeing them here every week for a number of years. One was an older man, and the other younger, well, middle aged. I knew they were father and son from listening to their conversations as they fished. I had gotten to where I looked forward to seeing them each week. They seemed to always take note of me each time they came. One day I overheard the following conversation:
“You know, if that ole sycamore could talk he could tell some tales,” said the father to the son as they both looked at me.
“Bet he could,” replied the son, smiling.
The two men had no idea, but I did have a tale to tell, and it was about them. Of course, at this time, 30 years ago, the whole story could only partially be told. Now, all these years later it is still unfolding. It has been a story of the love the two men obviously felt for each other, and the special time they were able to share each week out here fishing. But, like so many stories do, it turned into one of great sorrow and times when it broke my heart.
You see, though I couldn’t have known it at the time, the day I spoke of in the beginning was the last time I would ever see them out here fishing. However, the story would continue, but it took a heart wrenching turn.
I don’t remember when it hit me. I did notice the following week that they did not come to fish. I didn’t think much about it. Occasionally they would miss a week. But the weeks turned into months, and at some point I began to wonder if something had happened. I felt sad. I missed seeing them. Time marched on. My leaves fell, reappeared, and started to turn to their fall colors again. It had now been about a year since I had seen them. I remembered that my leaves were starting to turn the last time they were here, and Orion was back in the early morning sky, as it had been then.
One day, about this time, I noticed a vehicle pull over to the side of the road behind me and a man emerged. I didn’t pay much attention at first. I thought he was just another fisherman that would come down to fish off the bank. Yet he didn’t have fishing tackle with him, and he wasn’t dressed like someone who intended to spend the day fishing. I started paying closer attention.
There was something very strange about his behavior. He was a slim, fit looking man dressed in western attire. I wouldn’t expect to see such a man crying, but he was. Actually, “crying” is not the best choice of a word. The man seemed overcome with grief. He looked about aimlessly for a moment, then walked down the bank toward the water where a large cluster of Goldenrod was in full bloom. He pulled out a pocket knife and began to cut a large bouquet of wildflowers, and walked back up to the road. From there he walked out on the bridge, where I was standing to the left of him, and he looked out at the water. I felt alarmed. I thought he was going to jump of the bridge. But he didn’t. He started talking, as if to someone down on the water. He was so distraught that it was hard to understand what he was saying. After several minutes he leaned over the bridge railing, and dropped the bouquet of flowers into the water. He watched them floating away on the current.
To my surprise he then looked up at me, and spoke, “Morning, Mr. Sycamore. If you could talk I’ll bet you could tell some tales.” Saying this seemed to intensify his grief, and he looked back at the water, sobbing.
It was at this moment I realized who he was. When I saw his face, as he looked up at me, I thought I knew, but when he said what he said, I had no doubt. He was the younger man that once came here weekly to fish with his father. His behavior this morning told me why they had stopped coming. It had to be that the the older man had died. It all made sense to me now.
He walked back to his vehicle, stopping once to look back at me, and to my surprise he saluted me. Then he drove away. I knew I would never see him again. However, now I knew the end of the story. I had wondered about it this whole past year. Or had I?
My leaves fell, winter came, then spring and summer. I thought of them from time to time, and the memory of the grieving son made a memory I knew I would not forget. I noticed my leaves starting to change again, and Orion was back. I realized that a year had passed since that day the son had been here.
To my surprise, I watched as the same vehicle drove up and parked. A man got out, and it was him. It was like it was on cue – like he had marked a date or something. For the second straight year, still overcome with grief, the man followed the same routine as the year before. He cut flowers, walked to the bridge, spoke out to the water, dropped the bouquet, and spoke to me. Walking back, he turned and saluted me before he drove off. I was astonished.
He came back on the 3rd year, the 4th, the 5th…
It has now been 30 years since the young man fished here with his father, and he has come every year at this time, cut flowers, walked onto the bridge, spoke out to the water, spoke to me and saluted me before driving away. I realized years ago that each year he had been talking to his father when he spoke out to the water, and telling him the events of the past year. He hasn’t missed a year. Some things have changed. I remember it was the 7th year that he followed his ritual without crying. But, there is an irony to the story that I started to notice as the years went by. He was getting older. Today, as he stands there on the bridge, he isn’t a young man any longer. He looked the age, I remember, of his father. Maybe even a mite older.
This time, I have to admit, I shed a tear. Time marches on, and I know the year will come that will be his last. He will have gone on to be with his father, and I will never see him again. I will cherish each year until then, because I know he will come. Then I will grieve, but rejoice at the thought of him being with his father once again, on another shore, where they can fish together again. Perhaps there will be a sycamore tree there who can continue their story, which will go on for eternity, without end. Maybe it can be me. I like to think so.
Yes, I do have some tales to tell. I can’t say that the son, standing on the bridge now, has told anyone about his annual pilgrimage, probably not.