It was a glorious Spring Day in late May. The flowers were blooming robustly, and the birds were singing their lovely songs.
At the gates of the hamlet’s necropolis stood an aged lady. She had walked from her house several blocks away.
This was her usual routine each day, rain or shine. Winter chill and snow could not keep her from her routine.
Her blonde hair was now silver. Her cerulean-tinted eyes were still vibrant, even though they spoke of sadness, a sadness of the heart searching for the memories of the past.
She made her way along the cobblestone path until her eyes fell upon the aged oak tree in the distance. This was her intended destination.
For when she was young, the oak tree was outside of the cemetery perimeter. She spent many Summer days playing on that tree with her friends.
Someone had built a treehouse for them as well as rope swings. From the treehouse one could see the magnificent lake and the sea gulls.
She loved to watch the sailboats with their niveous sails catching the lake breezes as the gulls circled overhead waiting for some morsels to be cast upon the water. When it was hot, the leaves and lake breezes kept the tree house cool.
As she neared the oak tree, she paused at her parents’ graves. There was the family plot with her grandparents and many aunts and uncles.
Unlike her, they had never ventured far from the hamlet of their birth. She had traveled far and wide after college, but there was something about the hamlet which drew her back from time to time.
After she finished her journalism career in the big cities, she resettled in the hamlet. She thought it would be a fitting place to spend the remaining seasons of her life on this planet traversing the cosmos.
When she arrived at the oak tree, she marveled at its size and the shade it cast on the myriad graves on all sides. Some say it is over 100 years old, she surmised, but she knew it was much older.
There were some rotten beech planks from the treehouse still visible. The steel hooks for the rope swings were still embedded in the lofty branch about twenty feet off the ground.
The ropes had disappeared a long time ago. A pair of cardinals had made a nest around one of the hooks, and the mother bird sat on her nest while the male watched for anything dangerous which might disturb their home.
The birds had grown accustomed to the lady and viewed her as a friend. She always brought a pocket of sunflower or safflower seeds for them to swoop down and consume. For a special treat she gave them red millet.
Chipmunks were scurrying about gathering acorns. There were plenty of nuts to gather, and due to their nature they would gather up any leftover seeds after she was gone.
She stepped to the side of the tree facing the lake. There was a grave surrounded by bluebells and the remains of delicate snowdrops.
On the grave was a verdant layer of grass, rich and thick. It was the greenest patch in the whole cemetery.
The simple headstone was made from amethyst with an engraving of a broken Calla lily. The hamlet hills were blessed with opulent deposits of quartz.
There was a granite bench beside the grave, made by the occupant’s father. After the long walk from her house, she found it refreshing to sit and visit with her old childhood friend.
“Well, Alex, it’s Marinka. It’s another beautiful Spring day.” She paused for several moments and bowed her head.
“I wish you were here, and we were children again playing in this oak tree.” She smiled as she recalled the good times of childhood.
She still could hear clearly Alex’s voice warning her that she was not being careful on the rope swing. Of course, no boy was going to tell her how high she could swing.
She reminisced fondly how she stumbled and sprained her left arm when she jumped off the swing. Alex had tenderly held her arm as he walked her home and brought her a different flower each day from his mother’s garden until she could return to play under the oak tree.
Her favorite was the purple Calla lilies. Alex always said that the flower reminded him of her.
“Such good memories, Alex,” she said. “You were always so thoughtful and caring.”
She reached into her pocket and pulled out an old, torn letter. It was the last letter that she ever received from her childhood friend.
Alex had left home when he was eighteen. He wanted to see the world, hopping train cars and hitching rides with odd jobs tossed in the mix.
He worked in a carnival which was his favorite. Window washer was his least favorite, he had written.
Of course, when Marinka turned 18 she headed off to college in the big city. She had thought about majoring in a health discipline since her mother was in chronic pain ever since she could remember.
However, when she returned home on her first semester break, her mother convinced her that she should follow her passion for writing. There were enough good doctors and nurses in the world but not great writers with an inherited passion for the art.
Her father agreed. So she returned to the big city and completed a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism with minors in pre-law and languages.
During her return trips home, there was always a stack of letters from Alex waiting for her, describing his adventures and his misadventures. She could not return a letter to him since he was on a constant trek with no mailing address.
Each Christmas and Spring Break she returned home believing that perhaps Alex would be there. Each time she was disappointed, but there were always letters from Alex.
After graduation she became a reporter for a city newspaper several hundred miles from home. Her parents were proud of their oldest daughter and her career.
As things happen and the seasons roll by in their never ending progress, Marinka’s visits home became less frequent but she always called on the weekends no matter where she was. Her career took flight, and she received extensive travel assignments to various locales.
When Marinka visited a locale mentioned by Alex in his letters, she would inquire about him. Unfortunately, her inquiry resulted in a shrug of shoulders or a shake of the head. No one knew Alex.
As fortune would have it, she became the associate editor of a national magazine. After a few years she became senior editor.
The letters from Alex had ceased coming two years after she became editor. His parents were greatly concerned about their eldest son.
With her many contacts Marinka searched for Alex, but he could not be found. It seemed no one knew Alex, or they were unwilling to say they did.
One day as she sat in her top floor office looking over the city, she received a call from Alex’s mother. A letter from Alex had arrived for her.
A day later she was home again and visited Alex’s mother. Alex’s mother handed her the letter, and said sadly, “He asked if you could read this under the old oak tree.”
Marinka sensed the sadness in her voice. Taking the letter, she walked to the old oak tree and sat down under it facing the lake.
Opening the envelope, she saw dried tears on the inside fold of the letter. It was not his usual style of writing and succinctly read,
“My dear Marinka,
“Sorry that I have not written in a long time.
“I had a dream about you last night. We were together under the old oak tree. It was a beautiful, peaceful dream.
“The times we played and grew up together are very precious to me now. I hope they were precious to you as well.
“The story of my life since I left home has not always been one of joy. The last several years I have spent in prison where one only has dreams and memories.
“I have little hope of leaving this place. Freedom will never be granted in this life.
“You may wonder what my crime was. Perhaps, it was wanting the world and not realizing the price it would exact.
“There was a bar fight over a pretty girl, and I killed a man, a real bully. It would have been self-defense, but the man’s father was a judge and his mother a state representative.
“The court showed no mercy, but my lawyer filed appeal after appeal delaying the sentence. There was a sliver of hope until last week.
“In a few minutes the warden, chaplain or, like my father would say, an old padre, and my lawyer will walk with me to the final place of no return. I am sorry for so many things.
“I hope you will find it in your heart to remember me from time to time. Perhaps, I don’t deserve it, but asking you to do this under our old oak tree, may give you the reason to do so.
With all my unspoken love for you,
“PS: I told my lawyer about you. He plans to visit you someday soon.”
She began to cry. She had cried every time she had read the letter over the decades.
Folding the letter, she placed it back in the envelope and into her pocket. A breeze was stirring the leaves from the lake.
Standing up from the bench, she looked down at Alex’s grave and said, “May the green green grass of home always cover you, and may the bluebells always twinkle with the wind. Your lawyer did visit, and we married eventually because our common bond was you. He was a wonderful man like you.”
Marinka walked toward the gates and paused to cast another glance at the oak tree. She felt a raindrop or two, but realized it was water from the lake carried by the winds.
She smiled and continued her walk home. Her grandchildren were coming for a visit, and it would be a grand time, and perhaps there was another oak tree where they could play and create precious memories.
For every community where oak trees grow, children always play. There is something special about an oak tree which has decades of history in its growth as well as those precious memories of children playing in their innocence.
G. D. Williams © 2019