We are moving into the season of hot apple cider and pumpkin spice lattes. My friend The Old Tree that stands across the street from my home is now like the others and completely leafless.
During the mornings, I step outside before sitting in my car and I look at the street at the end of my block. I stop for a moment and face the east.
The sky is in its early moments of change, and with the empty tree branches of tall trees poking above the houses in my community like black crooked fingers in the foreground; the colors of heaven vary in shades of orange and purple in the background.
The winds have lost their warmth and the warmer months have either slipped too far behind us or seem too distant in the future. My breath smokes and the exhaust from running cars in the driveways on my street lift into the air.
In one week’s time, families will sit together and give thanks for what they have. In one week’s time, it will be Thanksgiving, and while some of the seats may have emptied with sad losses, others will fill with new life, and so shall it be that we evolve, year after year, as we follow the cycle of life.
The last meal I had with The Old Man was on Thanksgiving. He and my mother drove up to the farm, along with the other parents of the other inmates. The came for a meal that was made by us, and served by us. We cleaned the main house the day before. We waxed the floor of the dining room by hand. We vacuumed, arranged the couches, as well as cleaned the bathrooms. We prepared the layout of the tables and the serving procedure. And by we, I mean myself along with the rest of the inmates (Or patients, depending upon the opinion) e all cleaned up well, and as a symbol of humble gratitude and penance, we served Thanksgiving dinner to our families.
I was no longer pale or painfully thin. The dark rings beneath my eyes were gone and my speech was understandable. I no longer spoke through gritted teeth or mumbled. I no longer said, “Man,” or “Dude,” in nearly every sentence and I no longer sounded as if my mind was relaxed from the heroin nods. I was clean, and not only in mind; but I was clean in body.
My hair was cut short and neatly combed. I wore a sweater, nice pants and a pair of shoes. I looked completely different from the person I was only a few months prior to my arrival on the farm. I was no longer in trouble and there was nothing threatening me anymore.
I stood with The Old Man, and together, we looked through the dining room window, which overlooked a small lake, the red barn, the cows and their pasture. In the distance were the Upstate New York tree covered mountains. The seemed to interlock like the clasped fingers of two hands that came together.
The sun was on its way down and the sky was beautiful. The Old Man watched this without words—because there was no need for them at the time.
After several minutes, I felt The Old Man’s hand on my arm. He gripped me and said, “You look good, kid.” There was no more anger in his voice. There was no resentment or concern. He simply said, “You look good, kid,” and I cannot recall another time when The Old Man ever said those words to me.
That was our last Thanksgiving together. However, that was the first time I ever understood what it meant to be truly thankful.
The other night, I walked through the double doors of an elementary school. I passed the lunch room, which was decorated and painted as it would be in any elementary school.
I believe the walls in the cafeteria in mine were themed with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
The desks were low to the ground and the chairs are smaller for the smaller bodies that sit in them. I walked passed different classroom with different artwork hanging on the wall.
The rooms are so colorful with learning in mind. It is hard to believe that I was once that little and the world was once so big to me. But more, as I walked towards my daughter’s classroom, and preparing myself to meet her teacher; I thought of how much I used to dread Parent/Teacher Night.
I dreaded it because The Old Man used to take a notepad and pen. He used to take notes, and each year, every teacher asked if I was okay the next morning.
“I never saw a parent take notes before,” they would tell me.
“Well, you didn’t have to give him that much to write,” I would answer.
But those were different times and parents disciplined their children in different ways. Fortunately, my daughter does not behave in school the way I behaved in school. So discipline, while important at any age, is less of an issue with her than it was with me.
She does her homework. There is room for improvement—but this does not take away from the excellent report from her teacher.
I am not sure why or where the tears came from, but with watering eyes, I listened with so much pride. I thanked her teacher after a long and truly wonderful conversation.
After leaving, I passed by the other classrooms. I exited through the double doors, which are right next to the cafeteria. Then I walked outside beneath a nighttime sky. The wind has picked up over the last few days. The temperature dropped, and some of the puddles from a previous rain were frozen on the ground. The colored leaves tumbled across the street and piles of them lined the curbs.
I looked up at the sky and thought about The Old Man. I wished I could speak to him. I wished he could see me as I am now. I wished he could see my daughter and we could laugh about the difference between her Parent/Teacher conferences and mine. Now, that would be a gift. But gifts are for the next holiday.
Guess I’ll have to write Santa a letter and see what he can do . . .
“You look good, kid.”
I can think of no gift better than to hear The Old Man say this