“The Trail” by Joseph Sherry


            There once was a boy named Bobby, who loved nothing more than to try things he never tried before.  He kept a notebook and recorded everything he learned, carefully logging anything he thought worthwhile.   He kept his mind open to new things, but he could not help having his favorite subjects.  Bobby read anything he could find: handbooks, how-to guides, science-fiction, adventure stories and his favorite: fairy-tales. A lot of fairy tales took place in the woods, and he pictured them happening outside of his bedroom window.  He loved the black and white morality, how easy it was to tell the villains from the heroes, and at 12 years old he already realized that life did not offer the same clear cut answers he could find in his books.

            One day Bobby was visiting his grandfather.  He loved to sit on the porch and hear his grandfather talk, whether about the woods, and the creatures contained within or the trouble his father got in when he himself was just a boy.  His grandfather had a great voice for stories, low and deep, but animated in subtle ways that created a quiet stillness inside Bobby.   Bobby took a big sip of lemonade and looked at his grandfather.  Despite the heavy creases around his eyes, there was still a spark in them and Bobby wondered what his grandfather was like at his age.  His grandfather finished a story and Bobby said, “Grandpa, you must have been a great boy. I bet you had some great adventures! What did you do with all of your summers?”

            “Well Bobby, I don’t rightly know. I suppose I fished, and played soldiers.  I think I remember lots of games, most of which involved a ball of some sort, all of which involved some running.”

            “Grandpa! How could you forget being a boy? I know you’ve lived a long time, but surely you most of had some fun.”

             “Must have, had some fun,” his grandfather corrected him, “Not must of.”

             “Then you must have had some fun!”

             “I suppose I must have. But it was a long time ago, Bobby, and in the grand scheme of things, I guess I just kind of lost track.”

            “I wouldn’t lose track. I know it”

             “Well, you have to remember, I married your grandmother at 19, and we had your Uncle John the following year.  Two years after that, we had your father, and making sure the three of them had food took over my thoughts. The adventures of boys paled in my memory, and it was time for new adventures.”

            “I guess I understand.”

             “You do?”

             “I do.”

             “Good, now why don’t you go play? Enjoy being a boy!”

             And with that he did.  Bobby ran through the woods, and crouched on the ground. He lifted logs and watched bugs scatter, and he skipped stones on the small pond off the path.  When it started to get dark, he momentarily lost his bearings and wasn’t sure which way led home.  His heart sped up and panic set in quickly. Just as he started to feel helpless,  he looked around and noticed a familiar elm, and trotted off back towards the house.

            Getting lost, even for a second, reminded Bobby of one of his favorite stories, Hansel and Gretel.  It wasn’t the witch or the candy house that he liked, but the cleverness of the children. The  dropping of the pebbles along the path so that their cruel stepmother didn’t succeed in getting them lost, was a great trick.  The first time anyways.  Of course, using bread crumbs the second time around, didn’t work as well.  He thought time acted an awful lot like that evil woman, trying to get you lost and turned around so you couldn’t even remember being a boy. If only he could leave a trail of pebbles, so that he could always find his way back to being a kid!  But how?

            He looked around his room, and saw a model of Frankenstein’s monster, the plastic painted green, to resemble dead skin animated by a  mad scientist’s touch. After he finished painting it, it was his prized possession, and he would stare at it endlessly.  These days it just sat on his desk with Bobby rarely remembering it was even there: it was just a part of the clutter.  Over the summer his bike was the thing he couldn’t live without. He thought about the way he outgrew things, and how rarely simple stuff stood the test of time.  He smiled as an idea took shape in his head.  Of course! He went over and cleared the top of the toy chest he hadn’t used in years. This will work perfect, he thought to himself.  He started cleaning out the inside and saw some green army man that he had melted down, one afternoon when he was feeling particularly destructive.  He remembered the thrill of watching their bodies turn soft and turn to a thick sludge before drying into the lumps he saw before him. He remembered how warm the sun was that day, and how the breeze felt when it flipped his hair around. He decided to leave them in the chest.

            He went around his room searching for relics, things that reminded him of being 6 or 7 years old. He found an item for every year. Last went the Frankenstein model.  He held it a second longer than the others, his love for it fresher than the older things.  He toyed with the idea of tossing in the horn off of his bike, but he wasn’t ready to give that up yet.  By next summer, it joined the rest of his stuff.

            Bobby added one new thing every year, something that had meant a lot to him, and would remind him of where he was.  His ball glove got added and when he was a teenager, a scarf that a girl, a very pretty girl, had given him went in with his treasures.  It started to get pretty full, but even as he outgrew the things that he was putting inside the chest, he didn’t outgrow the ritual itself. When he was 24, he added a tiny man in a tuxedo, one with just a dab of frosting on his small artificial dress shoe.  It was the last thing he would add.

            More years passed and Rob and his wife’s family grew.  They moved twice, and although it remained unopened the chest made the move with them both times.  His wife asked about it one night, and he waved it away. “Not a big deal, just some stuff from when I was a kid”

            “Do you want me to go through it, and clean it out?,” she asked him.

            “Nah, I’ll get to it.”

             Together they grew old in their house, and their children had children of their own.  Rob loved all of his grand kids, but one, Tommy, would ride his bike to their house at least once a week usually just to say hi. One afternoon, when Tommy was 11, he sat across from his grandfather sipping on a cool glass of iced tea, he got a look in his eye. “Grandpa, were you ever a kid?”

            “I think we both know the answer to that Tommy!,” he said with a chuckle.

            “Well, what were you like?”

            “What was I like? I was a boy.”

            “I know, but what did you do for fun?”

            “For fun? All sorts of things I suppose, I…” he paused.

             “Tommy, what time do you have to be home?”

             “Well I told Mom I’d be home for supper, and that’s not for a few hours yet, why?”

             “Because I’d like to show you something.”

             Robert opened the door to the cellar and felt for the piece of string that turned on the bulb over the stairs.  He pulled it and a yellow glow lit the basement.  Tommy followed his grandfather down and under the stairs he saw an old chest. “Little help, Tommy?” Tommy helped the old man to pull the chest out and together the lifted the lid.  Together the two of them followed the pebbles back to an old man’s childhood, and Robert was glad he didn’t have to follow the path back alone.


(Note: The image is from mooseyscountrygarden.com)


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