You know, at the end of every good day there comes a time to say goodbye. And the time to say goodbye for me was fast approaching. The sun was setting, my father and brother were most undoubtedly looking for me and I was getting hungry. A nine year old boy not eating as long as I hadn’t eaten can get unnerved. I knew from my stomach that it was time to leave. I decided to make my way through that thick underbrush to the parking lot and then to the dirt road my father was clearing out through the woods.
I did this and it took quite a bit of time. But do you want to know the strange thing? As I was maneuvering my course through the underbrush towards that dirt parking lot, I started noticing an area that was sort of opening up into a trail. I began to wonder if the pond was as secret as I had thought it was. Maybe the pond was known about a long time ago and no one had visited it in a while and the trail to it had just become overgrown. But since I was headed back to face the music, as they say, I had to tuck all that wonder in the back of my mind to save for another day. I just continued to push myself through the trail and out to the edge of the dirt parking lot.
I stood there looking down at the ground. Down at my feet. I began to try to kick the mud off my sneakers in an attempt to look somewhat presentable for my father. I already knew I had a lot of explaining to do.
And then I looked up.
I looked up and saw the old man. He was standing there staring straight at me. Perhaps not straight at me – more like straight through me. Right through my dirty little body. With that hat and that button down shirt of his. And that wrinkly chin and that big nose. His mouth hanging open – his lips still closed. He stood there looking right at me with his light blue eyes as if he had never seen me before. As if he hadn’t known of my existence before that day.
And then he slowly and deliberately walked towards me, knelt down and took my hand in his. He knelt down so his level was par with mine and he let his knees fall softly into the dust of that parking lot. He positioned his face mere inches away so I would bear witness to his quivering lip and the tears welling in his eyes. The tears forming right above those sad, drawn cheeks. We were face to face and as we were, he tensed my hand and said, “If I ever see you near that pond again, as God is my witness, you will never experience another ounce of this land for as long as you live. So help me God.”