SARAH KING

WHAT WE LEAVE BEHIND

 

The nurse carried the newborn down the hall, a persistent white-haired man at her side. “That is my granddaughter. Let me hold her; I can give her to her mom”. The nurse explained again that the child had to be given to her mother first. “She is just going to hand her to me.” The conversation continued until the two entered the small hospital room where the new parents waited to meet their baby. The nurse placed the little girl in her mother’s arms, she smiled and handed the baby to the aging man who now stood beside her. “I told you,” he chortled to the nurse as he took his first grandchild into his arms. I must have heard the story a thousand times in the sixteen years I had with my grandfather, and it never got old. It was the story of how I met my best friend.

A few years later we were inseparable, I was “papaw’s little hunting buddy,” and he was my window to the world. In the fall our antics would take place mostly in the Cherokee Forrest that surrounds our area, its dense foliage made it seem like we were in another world instead of twenty miles from home. Each morning, as we would walk the dirt trail where we had made camp Papaw Wayne would point out the strange tracks along the road, three in a set and all in line with each other. It was the elusive three-legged deer. He had a story for everything, and this was always my favorite. With short legs and the tendency to fall behind it did not take long, even at four years old, to understand that he had created the tracks with his cane, which folded out into a three-legged chair he could sit in. Even knowing the truth though the sense of wonder never faded from those “three-legged deer” tracks. We would make our way deeper into the woods, forgoing the trail to set atop whichever ridge looked best that day. Our bows leaned up against a nearby tree, him perched upon his versatile cane and myself against a tree trunk, he would remind me that if we wanted to see the animals, we must be soundless. Silence is often difficult for the young, but he taught me to listen to the world around me, the voice of

the wind in the trees, how the natural sounds of the forest would shift when danger approached, how the animals would change when they became accustomed to your presence. It was a fascinating world to grow up in, even if we never did kill a deer.

Our summers were spent whiling away our time by the lake. The old pop-up camper set up in a large open field away from the rest of the campground, making it feel like the woods, far away from the rest of the world. Our mornings would start early on the old dock it overlooked, fishing rods in hand and bait at the ready. The lake was peaceful in the mornings, no boats to stir the water and most people still sound asleep in their beds. Together we would sit as still as possible, waiting for a bite on the line, talking about our lack of plans for the day and whatever questions my mind could think up. As the sun rose higher into the afternoon sky and the lake became more active driving the fish deeper into its depths, we would return to the campsite for sandwiches, and he would tell his wild tales of adventure and disappearing strangers he stopped to help on the side of the road. When he would go in to rest I would wonder off to the old rope swing he and some of the others had built for the few kids who came to stay at the small camp and marvel at his stories of the world that seemed so nonchalant through the eyes of any other. As the shadows would grow long when the day began drawing to a close, I would head off to find him once more. Our summer nights would always be welcomed the same. We would sit together in an old porch swing hung in the trees by the lake’s edge to watch the sunset over the water. Talking idly about what seemed like nothing then and seems like everything now.

As the years flew by and childhood simplicity gave way to the hectic schedule of teenage years’ time became much more scarce, we began a new tradition. Every Sunday morning around eleven I would hear his car pull in, the morning paper in his hand and a smile on his face, ready to begin the day set aside for our adventures. Each one started the same, a trip to the old flea market down the road to

see what deals we could find and for my weekly lesson in how to haggle with the vendors. Afterward, we would head to the mall for lunch in the food court and a trip to the bookstore. He encouraged my reading addiction and was the only one who would take me to buy the next book in whatever series I may be reading at the time if I could not find it at our first stop. If the day were pretty enough, we would finish at the park, playing on the playground if there was no one there or watching the children if there were. I could not tell you how many Sundays we spent this way, he and I. He even devised a word for our trips together, galybating. It was as unique as the days we spent together and the man who came up with it. He used these days to pass on the wisdom he had learned over the years, both in trade and in how to be a patient, kind, and selfless person. Lessons I will never forget.

It has been eleven years since I heard the story of the day I was born, since the last fruitless hunting trip, since the last time we cast our fishing lines into the lake, and the last grand adventure. I still look out my window on Sunday morning expecting to see him. When I sit in the silence of the woods, I can almost hear his voice on the wind. On the days when I need him most, all I must do is watch the sun set over the water. The Sunday trips are made alone now but sometimes when the day is just right I swear I can nearly catch a glimpse of him beside me, his striking sky blue eyes alight with joy and his curls of white hair dancing on the breeze. There are those who pass through our lives, and we barely notice. Then there are the few who make us who we are. The best parts of me were passed down and left behind from the most uniquely beautiful soul I have ever met: my best friend, my Papaw Wayne.

 

 

Sarah King  lives in Bristol, Tennessee where she works as an Assistant Operationals Manager. She is a full time student at Ashford University working on her Bachelors degree in Psychology with a long established passion for creative writing.