"Hey there, old timer." A voice called and broke the old man's sleep. He stirred in his rocking chair on the porch and his wrinkled face looked up in the direction of the man’s voice. The stranger’s silhouette blocked the afternoon sun, obscuring his features. Behind the younger man, a gray sedan was parked on the gravel driveway leading away to the south and on to county road 22. The Alabama sky was growing old in the hot August day and the porch ceiling fan whirled with a rhythmic creak. To the left of the old man, the south pasture could be seen through two screen doors, each at opposite ends of a hall stretching the length of the house.
"Afternoon." His voice was still gruff with sleep. "Don't get many salesmen out these days." He capped his eyes trying to make out the man's face.
"Well, what do you sell to a man who’s got everything?"
The old man grinned. "I don't know about all that."
The stranger turned his head to survey the pasture land around him, the blinding light still impeding the old man’s eyes. “Nice spread here. You work this land alone?”
“’Reckon about ten years now.”
“Your help up and leave?”
“I manage on my own. Had help once, my son, but he didn’t take to it. He had ‘places to go, people to see’. “
The stranger grinned at the phrase. “Young folks are like that.”
The old man reached into his overalls and rubbed his chest and shook his head. “Try to raise ‘em best ya can. But when a bird’s wings get too strong, they got to fly. I put my Bible in his hand, patted him on the back, and told him to bring it back to me one day.”
“Sounds like you did right by him. “
“I hope so.” The old man’s eyes grew tired and sad. “I surely do. It seems for some the open sky and field is as closed as a locked cage.”
“It’s a beautiful sky. That’s for sure.”
The old man rocked his chair and a breeze swept between them, ruffling their hair.
The old man laughed as he began to speak, “I told his maw when he was a little ‘un, ‘He’s too busy to work the land. His heart just can’t quiet down.’ Just couldn’t be still. I tried taking him fishing. There’s a pond down at the end of this road. But he couldn’t wait for the fish to come. He’d dive in and catch ‘em with his two hands if I’d let him.”
The stranger cackled a laugh.
“I gave him a pellet gun and sent him after squirrels. You know what he did? He dang near killed every squirrel within ten miles of this place. Quit when he couldn’t find no more.”
The two men laughed and shook their heads.
“I tried to teach him simpler things. Love your family. Love the Lord. But heck, I was doing pretty good if I kept him from shooting spitballs on Sundays at the Baptist church. Lord, how I would tan his tail for shooting spitballs on Sunday morning.”
The stranger stood quiet, nodding, with a grin. The old man’s face grew more somber.
“But try as I might, the Lord didn’t take either. I taught him of the Lord’s love and to do right by His name. I prayed. Lord, how I prayed. ‘Lord, show me the way to his heart.’ I would say. But I couldn’t get there. I tried to...I tried…” The old man trailed off.
The stranger’s voice was quiet and deep. “I reckon the Lord is taught for some. For others, they’ve got to learn Him on their own.”
Silence fell on the two, as the stranger stared at the sad wrinkled face and then stepped up on to the porch.
“You did alright, old man. Your son had to find his own way. ” The stranger knelt by the old man’s side and placed the Bible he had been holding on the old man’s lap. “You planted the Lord’s seed in his heart. It took time, but the harvest did come. The Lord took him in and led him home.”
The old man picked up the Bible and held it to his chest. The old man looked up to the young eyes and smiled. He lifted his old hand to his son’s face and gave it a soft pat. “I’ve got everything now. “
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