By Marty Duncan   
The Pilot's Mate
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Shin'ar, My Love
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Gold...then Iron
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Iron Lake Burning
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Black Powder, Gray Hope:

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Black Powder, Gray Hope:
A Civil War Romance

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Black Powder, Gray Hope:
New Americans

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               Once beside a pond, in the woods so near,
               A little girl played, she was so dear,
               Her Grampa stood back, watching in the shade,
               He smiled and laughed and occasionally prayed.

          Thin cirrus clouds, high in the blue, stretched their tracks across the sky. In the foreground, a tall man and a young girl stood by a pond, throwing rocks. The pond was greenish, in the shape of a big comma, thirty feet across but 300 feet long in a gentle curve. Tall pines cast cool shadows over the western end of the pond. In its narrow middle, a humped bridge spanned the water. Beyond the pond, a gentle slope with scattered evergreens rose gradually to a ridge line where a row of tall poplars stood sentinel duty.
          A garish sun threw white light against the far side of the hill, backlighting the poplars to a blue color. When the man squinted he could just make out the poplars were green, not dark blue. Closer still, green water lilies floated on blue water in the shadow of the bridge. Outside the shadow a white glare reflected up into the eyes of the man. He was watching the girl in blue cotton shorts and a white tee shirt. She threw a rock that spun and dove into the water. She picked up another rock and threw it. This rock seemed to turn on its side and spinning vertically, dove into the water.
          It was a blue white day by the side of Grampa’s pond. The girl stamped her foot and looked up at her Grampa.
          “I can’t do it,” she said. “I just know these rocks won’t skip for me.” She stamped her foot again, and her soft blond hair bounced. Her eight-year-old eyes looked at the old man, with expectation and trust. Her face held soft cheekbones and light eyebrows and a short nose. When she was stubborn, her nose seemed pugnacious. When she smiled, her face became innocence dappled with the spunk of a child.
           She touched the belt on the man’s tan shorts and then she made a tug. He was wearing a green plaid shirt and a raggedy tan golf cap. His face displayed the cracks of age and the wispy smile of a man who loved his granddaughter. “I can’t do it, Grampa,” she said once again.
          “Perhaps we should take a break,” said the man leading her away from the pond. They walked into the shade of the tall pines, where brown needles covered the floor of the pine grove. He slowly bent over, then squatted until he could lower himself onto the needles. The girl sat next to her Grampa, crossing her legs, folding her hands in her lap.
          “It was a day much like this one, with white glare on the water. I suppose that is what reminded me of the day my Grampa Lyn took me fishing.”


          “It’s an image that has stayed with me all these years. I suppose I was nine or ten years old, about two years older than you are now. Grampa Lyn was in the back of a fishing boat, holding the throttle with his right hand. He wore a straw floppy-brim hat, a shirt and jeans held up by suspenders. The sun was a white glare behind his right shoulder, directly into my eyes. And he was angry with me. Or, at least, it seems to me that he was angry.”
          “What did you do?” asked Alison.
          “I think I said I was tired of fishing.
          “Well, Grampa, that’s ok.”
          “No, it wasn’t. Grampa Lyn had promised me that I would catch a sunfish.” The old man remembered the sun, and the heat, and his discomfort watching his Grampa catching five sunfish.
          Alison’s Grampa remembered this day as the day he helped his Grampa change a tire on the new Buick. It was a light pink car, with the three ‘barrel holes’ in the side of the fender …a big car with four doors and a good radio that picked up WCCO Radio from Minneapolis. Harry Reasoner was announcing the crop and livestock markets when a loud ‘whang’ jolted the car and the front right tire wobbled. Grampa Lyn pulled the Buick off the road. He asked Alison’s Grampa to help with the tire, and together they changed it. Alison’s Grampa earned a pat on the shoulder.
         When they reached home that evening, Grampa Lyn bragged about the help he received from his ten-year-old grandson. Gramma Louise wanted to reward Alison’s Grampa with a silver dollar, but Grampa Lyn said no.
          “Why was that?” asked Alison.
          “I already had a silver dollar.”
          “Oh …cool?” she said with doubt ringing inside her voice.
          “Remember I said Grampa Lyn looked like he was angry? I sat in the boat, sweating.           He didn’t say a word. I was afraid to look at him.”
          “Oh …poor Grampa?” said Alison with tenderness.
          “Then out of the blue he says “Them with grit don’t quit’. I was surprised. But his meaning was clear. Then he told me to count ‘bobber-two-three-four-hit!’ meaning wait five seconds, then jerk the fishing line.
          “Did it work?” She sat quietly, watching her Grampa. Her hands were on her knees. A soft warm breeze was moving through the pine trees. In the distance, a crow was chastising someone’s dog. Grampa lifted his cap and with his right hand, wiped the moisture out of his hair.
          “We hit the quiet time. Nothing was biting. About an hour later I caught my first sunfish, bright yellow with a little band of red on its side. Then I hooked the largest black sunfish I’ve ever seen. Grampa Lyn called it a crappie. It weighed one pound and four ounces. It was huge.”
          “Back at the boat landing, the man who ran the rentals asked to see my catch. I showed him the huge black crappie. He said I won the daily prize for the largest panfish and gave me a silver dollar.”
          Alison smiled to herself. She wondered what she could buy with a silver dollar. Alison’s Grampa didn’t tell her that he suspected his Grampa Lyn had given the man the silver dollar. He smiled and looked out across the pond. The hillside seemed blue …a cloud was blocking the sun. A jet black crow flew across the pond, and said ‘caw’ twice, talking to Grampa.


          “He’s laughing at you, that crow is.”
          “Yes,” said Alison’s Grampa. “I suspect he is.” Grampa laughed and watched the crow fly up the hill. He reached out and gently touched Alison’s back. “I think the reward for the most skips with a rock is a silver dollar.”
           “Oh, Grampa,” she responded, “I can’t.”
           “Yes, you can,” he replied getting slowly to his feet. He pulled his cap down onto his forehead and brushed pine needles from his shorts. Alison went ahead and found a flat rock that she gave to her Grampa. He tossed it and watched it skip across the water. “The mark is five skips,” he said.
           “Oh, Grampa,” she said slowly, searching for a word. “You’re cruel.”
           “No, I am not. You can do it.”
           An hour later Alison’s Gramma was sitting on the porch of their cabin, back in the pines, away from the pond. She had her feet up on an old brown hassock and she was reading a book. She heard Alison and her Grampa coming from the direction of the pond. Alison had a smile on her face and a hand in her pocket, as if she was guarding a treasure. Alison’s Gramma smiled to herself, wondering what the contest was today.
           “Guess what, Gramma,” shouted Alison with a beaming smile.


© Marty Duncan 11/23/01


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