by David Norris
We used to have a pear tree in the front yard. In the spring, that old tree would burst into white blossoms. They were glorious, and even then, while I was still a little boy, I wondered at how they looked like snow when they began to fall in the early spring beneath the sun and on the warm breezes. That’s been over 40 years now, and that image is still in my mind as clear as if it were yesterday. Certain pictures and memories are burned into our minds, and we carry them with us our whole lives. Some of them are horrible memories, like the assassinations of Jack and Martin and Bobby, and more recently, the World Trade Center crumbling before our eyes live on national TV. But others are good memories, and one I still see in my mind is of Pop and Bud, and my two dogs, Whitey and Taffy, and old Tom, the cat, out there in the yard in the summer time on the side of the hill along where Mallow Road ran, the young pears growing on the limbs of that fine old tree. The big snowball bushes are still there on each side of the porch, and the garden on the other side of the yard beside the house still has squash, cucumbers, corn, tomatoes, green beans and turnips growing in it. Chickens still run in the yard, and in the evening the scent of lilacs fills the air.
Pop and Bud used to sit under that pear tree. They’d sit and look down over the mountainside toward the river and the tall mountains on the other side beyond Walton’s Field. The road ran right in front of our house, halfway down the side of the mountain, and Pop would wave at folks when they passed by, and they’d wave back. In the summer, the ice cream man would come along around 3 o’clock in his little white and red Dairy Queen truck, and I’d get a Dilly, a moon-shaped ice cream covered in chocolate. Pop loved those Dillies too. We’d see the mailman stop and put the mail in the box. And the paperboy would come along and hand deliver the paper to Pop.
Pop always read the obituaries first. I’d fuss at him about that. I’d say, “Why you want to read about dead people? That’s depressing.”
He’d look over the top of his glasses at me and say that one day I’d understand. Bud was still pretty young then, in his 50s, and he pretty much echoed my sentiments. But after Pop had gone, that one year we still had Bud, he repeated that ritual. When the paper came, he would go first to the back page and look for his friends, to see who had left before him. Well, a lot of years have gone by, and now I find myself doing the same thing.
My university alumni magazine came in the other day, and I thumbed to the back immediately too see what the graduates just before me and just behind me have been up to with their lives. Those are the ones I knew. And at the end of that section, the names of those who have left this world are listed by the year in which they graduated. I was shocked at whose name I found.
I grew up with Ricky. He is one of the half dozen people I’ve known the longest on this planet, and he’s the first one from my generation on Mallow Road to go. He lived next door, his house about 20 yards away from ours. I remember one time when we were about ten years old that we tied a string to two tin cans and ran them between our bedroom windows so we could talk to one another. We’d heard that would work, but you know what, we couldn’t hear a darn thing through those cans, but we could hear one another’s voices above the cans! Another myth down the drain.
Those cans are primitive by today’s standards; they were primitive even then, back in the times of party-line telephones and black and white television with only NBC and CBS to watch. I remember when Pop brought me home a little radio thing about the size of a matchbox. It was red plastic and had an earphone and an alligator clip attached to it on little black cords, and I had to hook that clip onto something metal in order for it to work. I’d listen to a radio station coming out of Chicago, and that was so far away. I didn’t even know Chicago was in Illinois or even where Illinois was back then. In some ways, I’m still the same; if I haven’t been there, I don’t know where it is.
Ricky and I used to love to climb trees. We climbed up in his father’s cherry tree many times. It stood right in between our smokehouses, Pop’s and his family’s. Sometimes we’d jump off the roof of Pop’s smokehouse and land on the ground and roll in the grass, laughing as kids do when they are filled with joy. Other times, we’d play soldier and argue over who got to be the general and who got to be the Germans or the Japanese, because the Americans always won, and generals never died. There was a stone wall over in the yard at Ricky’s house. It was made of rocks the size of softballs and footballs and held together by concrete. It was a decorative piece in the yard, about ten feet wide and another ten feet tall. For some reason, one day while we were playing war, I ran headfirst into that wall. For the life of me, I still don’t know why; I shake my head in wonder when I think about it. Ricky took me over to Mrs. Fridley’s, my substitute mom, and she had me lie down on the couch in her living room. She told me not to fall asleep just before I dozed off.
One day we were playing cowboys and Indians out behind the house, down over the hill, and I told Ricky, “Big people don’t know how to have fun! I’m never going to stop playing cowboys and Indians, even when I grow up!”
I don’t remember if he agreed with me or not.
Ricky was always a serious kind of a person, even as a child, and especially as a young man, and later as a professional in the work world. After Pop and Bud died and I went on to live for a few years with my mother, Ricky and I lost touch. I transferred to a new high school, and rarely saw any of the boys from Mallow Road again. He went off to the University of Richmond and majored in business administration. Landed a good job, married and went off to live and work in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. I read in his obituary that he was a member of the Christ Episcopal Church, Monday Rotary Club, Pine Lakes Country Club, and Mother’s Brothers Golfing Group. He was a former president of the Elizabeth City Chamber of Commerce, past drive chairman of the Albemarle Area United Way, past president of the Jay Cees, a board member of the Dominion Credit Union and a former board member of B. B. & T. He also served in the US Army Reserves. He fathered two sons and they gave him two grandsons.
Ricky did good, but he left here too early. That makes me sad. I hope to see him again some day.
WRITER’S BIO: David Norris has lived in Asia since 1985. He currently resides in Seoul, Korea, where he lectures in writing and literature for the University of Maryland University College Asia. His work has appeared in The Chariton Review, Taproot Literary Review, Poetry San Francisco, and The Dan River Anthology. David was born in the small town of Covington, Virginia, way up in the Alleghany Mountains. He left when he was 20 and has been traveling ever since.
Read more of David's stories at USADS:
The Watch Man
The Candle and the Flame
A Double Jack With a Sidecar
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