The last I saw of him was when his body disappeared behind a 1966 teal green Nissan Sunny that had pulled up almost immediately as he outstretched his arm to hitch a ride. He had stooped down, probably to talk to the driver, but when the car drove off no one was standing there. I can remember it clearly as the November sun had formed a starburst on top of the old car which in turn played mischievously with the white hairs on my husband’s head.
It was only by sheer coincidence that I had caught him sneaking away. We had all just sat down for Thanksgiving lunch, and almost immediately, he had announced that the knife was not sharp enough to carve the turkey. With a few groans and “Oh Dad” coming from the many present, he had quickly pushed his plate away and gone out back for the grinding stone. I wouldn’t have followed him except I had forgotten to take the cranberry tea bread from the oven. I had spent just a few minutes trying to locate a clean oven mitt, since everything was covered in some kind of grease, and when I could not, I decided to pull the hot pan out using the tongs which were standing propped against the kitchen sink. It is then that I saw Walter.
Perhaps an outsider would have looked upon the scene and not noticed anything unusual, but when you have been married for more than forty years, every movement and every word seems already rehearsed. It was with this knowledge that I regarded Walter. He seemed different, perhaps more fit; more youthful than I had ever remembered him being. As I was about to whistle to him, in that personal way that communicated many things to each other, I was dumbfounded as I watched him throw the grinding stone under the hedge of wild blueberries before collecting something from the ground and then vaulting over the deer fence.
It all seemed to happen too quickly yet at the same time in slow motion, quite like watching a bullet as it proceeds frame by frame to its mark. I stood there speechless, with my hips pressed against the wet counter top and the tongs held up high like an exclamation mark. I couldn’t make heads or tails of what he was up to, though it became clear to me when he pulled on his green beret, the one he had worn home from Nam and which he used for important occasions. I watched as he fitted his old worn-out rucksack squarely onto his shoulders, and without one backward glance Walter made his way down the hilly embankment that led to the road.
I never did understand why he kept that grinding stone in the shed, after all we only ever needed it in the kitchen. Long gone were the days when Walter would sharpen his ax or other tools out back. I had asked him several times to bring it inside, but he always seemed to forget. And what now was the use of wondering why? Wondering wouldn’t have stopped him from leaving. Wondering how long he had wanted to leave wouldn’t have stopped his desire to want to go. Maybe you would think I should have said something, maybe I should have made a fuss. I could have called Kevin, or even pregnant Rita. Certainly, David or even Oliver would have gone after their father, and most definitely little Walter, our eldest grandson and my husband’s namesake, would have run after him crying and beseeching him to stay. Maybe I would have gone after him if I thought he was not of sound mind. But, I knew there was nothing wrong with my husband.
The bitter smell of scorched cranberries brought me back to the present. Smoke was coming from the oven and I quickly rushed to remove the tea cake. I could hear Rita’s heels clicking against the old wooden floor, on her way to see what was taking me so long. Wiping my hands on yet another greasy dish towel and brushing a stray tear away, I took a deep breath and leaned against the swinging doors that divided the two rooms. With a last look through the white lace curtains that my mother had stitched for one of our wedding anniversaries, I watched the car disappear into parts unknown.
At the table, our four children and their families were eagerly waiting for us to come back. Kevin, the eldest, had already carved the turkey and his daughter our youngest grandchild, was already eating Pa-Pa’s turkey.
The knife had needed no sharpening after all.
© Copyright 2015, Susan M. Wolfe~All Rights Reserved
22-06-2015/One Fine Day