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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               There once was a place, not quite so near,
               Where a little girl played, she was so dear,
               And her Grampa sat, by the pond in the shade,
               And wanting to protect her quietly he prayed.

               On a warm June day, an old oak cast shadows across the pond. It was a long, thin pond, gently curving with an arched bridge across its narrow middle. Water fronds stirred lazily while a breeze bent the marsh grass on the far end of the pond. Overhead, white clumps of cloud slowly swam across a blue sky. A white and orange carp swam lazily across the pond toward the shade. He had spotted the little girl in the white shirt and pale yellow shorts …she sometimes brought the breadcrumbs he loved for a snack. The girl saw him when his white and orange back emerged from under a water lily.
               The carp swam while he watched her hand, expecting her hand to throw, possibly some crumbs or even some carp feed. But she tossed nothing …neither crumbs nor food. She sat, instead, at the water’s edge on a wooden little ledge.
               Her blue eyes smiled at the carp, and her laughter twinkled like a harp. She raised both hands, her palms turned upward, making the sign for ‘all gone’. The carp saw her smile, and her empty hands, and turned away, swimming slowly under the lily pads at the pond’s edge.
               “Grampa,” said the girl, “Lee the Carp is lonely.” She turned to Grampa and her soft blond hair bounced. Her two-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 became pugnacious. When she smiled, her face became innocence dappled with the spunk of a child.
               The old man sat with legs outstretched, watching Alison. He was wearing his favorite cotton plaid shirt, a pair of khaki shorts, white cotton socks and enormous jogging shoes. His pleasant face smiled at Alison from behind dark-green clip-on sunglasses. Alison’s Grampa was six foot four inches tall with muscular arms, brown hair on the back of his head and silver hair on the sides. He was a gentle man who treasured his time with his only granddaughter.
               He saw her right foot inching toward the pond, and he smiled. She curved her foot, lowering the big toe into the light green water. From her right Lee the Carp came rushing back to kiss her toe. Alison jumped a little, pulling her toe out of the water.
               “He tickled me,” she said, turning to Grampa. She looked at her Grampa for a moment and then she lowered her foot. But Lee the Carp had lost interest, and was stroking his way toward the other side of the pond.
               “You’re probably right, Alison,” said Grampa. “He looks lonely to me.” Alison stood up and walked back to Grampa. She placed her hands on his arm, and ran her fingers through the brown and silver hairs on his arm. Then Alison leaned down and put her cheek against Grampa’s arm.
               Grampa led a solitary life as a school superintendent, and seldom smiled. But when he looked at Alison, his heart burst with the tang of happiness and he could not stop smiling. Grampa was still smiling when he heard rustling in the bushes by the far side of the pond.
               Alison heard the noise, and turned to look at the closely packed lilac bushes. Thousands of young branches were sprouting from the ground …an animal caught inside the lilacs could have a difficult time. Alison walked to the edge of the pond, trying to see into the dense branches. There was a ‘yelp’ and Grampa knew some animal was caught.
               But Grampa could not move. Even though the pond was only two feet deep, he couldn’t just walk to the other side, leaving Alison unattended. He stood up, behind her. She turned and walked back to Grampa, putting her two arms around his leg. She looked back at the bushes …and a small cream-colored terrier burst out of the bushes and ran to the edge of the pond. It was a puppy, with floppy ears and a tail wagging back and forth.
               “It’s a puppy,” Grampa said quietly. Alison stood and looked. The terrier puppy barked at Alison and seemed to say, ‘I want to play’. It jumped on the edge of the pond once, then again. Grampa said ‘Go Back!’ to the puppy but on the third jump, the puppy sailed into the pond and began to swim across.
               Grampa felt Alison’s arm tighten around his leg. “The puppy is having trouble,” Alison squeaked. Grampa could see the puppy was struggling. He looked around his side of the pond and found a branch from the oak tree …it would have to do. He picked up the branch, walked to the pond edge and leaned out as far as he could. The puppy grabbed the end of the branch with his teeth and held on. Grampa pulled the puppy to Alison’s side of the pond, and she grabbed the puppy by his ears.
               Grampa dropped the branch and reaching down, took hold of the puppy by bunching his skin at the back of his neck. He lifted the puppy onto the edge of the pond, and then he pulled the puppy away from the water. Alison laughed when the puppy tried to shake the water out of his drooping coat of fur.
               “Oh, Grampa,” she said. “He’s so cute.” She reached out to touch the dog. The puppy looked at her and barked softly. His tail beat a bam-bam-bam against Grampa’s leg.
               “Hi, puppy,” Alison said directly to the dog. She touched the puppy, and he suddenly raised his head, listening. They heard a woman yelling, ‘Goldy, come here’. The puppy turned toward the bushes, and Grampa saw a woman in a sleeveless blouse and jeans just when she poked her head through the lilacs.
               “Oh, there you are, you naughty dog,” The woman forced her way through the lilacs while she held onto an enormous straw hat. With the sun behind her, Alison and Grampa could not see her face. She walked around the pond, and stopped in front of Grampa. “Thank you for catching my dog,” the woman stammered. “Goldy is a bit im-pet-you-us.”
               Up close, Alison could see dark glasses, and a wart on the left side of the woman’s nose. The woman reached down to Goldy’s collar, and attached a black leather leash. When the woman stood up, Alison put her hand under Goldy’s collar. She looked up at Grampa.
               “You have to let him go, Alison.” Grampa’s words were firm and left no doubt. “He is a cute puppy, but he is not your puppy.”
               Alison released the collar. The puppy turned to Alison and licked her hand. Goldy’s tail waggled, three times. Then the puppy followed her owner around the pond and back through the bushes. Alison watched the puppy and the woman walking through the trees in Grampa’s grove.
               “That puppy would make a good friend for Lee the Carp,” said Alison with a smile. She raised her eyebrows, as if she was asking a question.
               “But he’s not the right kind of friend for Lee the Carp.” Grampa sat down in his campfire chair and stretched his legs toward the pond. Alison walked to his side and put her hands on his arm. She looked at the freckles and brown hairs and silver hairs on Grampa’s arm. Grampa smiled at her and put his big hand on top of her two hands. “Our carp needs a friend who can swim all day, not one who jumps in, then out of the pond.”
               Alison stood silent, for a moment. She was thinking. “Why do you have silver hairs on your arm, Grampa?”
               Grampa was silent, looking at Alison then at the pond. Finally, he raised his hand and brushed the silver-brown hairs on his arm. “Your great-great Gramma, who was my Gramma Louise, told me when I was a boy, that every time I did a good deed, a silver hair would grow on my arm.”
               “Goodness, Grampa. You did a lot of…” and she paused, “…good deeds?”
               “That is when you help someone …or something.” Grampa was holding back a strong chuckle. “Today we helped a puppy, didn’t we?”


© Marty Duncan 11/06/01


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