It was November and Grampop had left the world six weeks earlier. Three weeks after he died I turned 13. He was the man who took me on hikes in the deep woods. He made up Indian names for each one of us, taught us about the animals, told us the local history and legends. He taught me how to fish, shoot a gun, use a bow and arrow, and row a boat. In spite of those more boyish pursuits I was always his "Princess." He was the only one who could call me that because I knew he didn't mean the ball gown and glass slipper type but the buckskin and moccasin type (even though he made sure I had a steady supply of white patent leather go-go boots as I was growing up). He showed me the fun in sitting to watch the deer and bears come forage for food. He showed me how to get a chipmunk to eat from my hand. I watched him feed wild song birds from his hands. He's the only person I ever knew who could manage that. He also had his own repertoire of silly songs he'd sing on the long drive up and back. I was missing him terribly that weekend.
This fun took place in the musty old trailer (and environs) he and Nana had in the mountains for weekend escapes. It wasn't much to look at but that place was a haven for me. Right next door was a somewhat newer trailer my great aunt and uncle owned for similar purposes. Nana and I were making our first escape since Grampop had left us. She told me I was welcome to invite a friend for the first time. I think she may have figured we'd both feel kind of lost with out Grampop and maybe need the distraction.
I asked Patti to come along. I had only known her since we both moved up to 7th grade in September. The girl who had been my best friend since 2nd grade had dropped me rather abruptly once we moved up to the Junior High School. Thirteen is such an awkward age to begin with. I was devastated when Grampop died and stinging from my friend's rejection. Patti seemed as unsure as I felt but she also seemed genuinely nice and we got along well. I was glad when her mom said she could come along to "the mountains."
Nana pretty much trusted us to wander around the whole wide woods by ourselves because I knew where I was going. I took Patti on all our old trails. She couldn't believe how deep into the woods we were allowed to go. I pulled out the BB gun and set up the tin cans (Nana said no to the .22 that weekend). Patti thought we were like Annie Oakley knocking them down. I showed her how to get the chipmunks to take a peanut out of her hand. She decided she'd rather watch them eat from my hand in case they wanted to nip her fingers.
Then I asked Nana if we could go to the lake and take the row boat out. I had never been allowed to take the row boat without an adult before. Nana shocked me by saying we could go by ourselves. I didn't wait around for her to change her mind. I grabbed Patti by the arm and all but dragged her as we practically ran the mile to the lake. I plopped a life vest around her neck and tied her into it before having her plunk down in the boat as I shoved it out into the water as fast as I could. I got us about halfway out to the little island in the middle of the lake before I noticed the slightly terrified look on Patti's face. I asked her if she was alright. She nodded kind of tentatively but wasn't very convincing. I asked again before she confessed that she was a little frightened because she didn't know how to swim and her mother never let her anywhere near water. I asked her if she wanted to go back because I felt bad for never really asking if she wanted to go in the first place. She thought about it for a minute and asked about the safety of the situation. I read her the safety rating on the life vest, showed her how shallow the water actually was by poking one of the oars down to the mud and still having part of it above water, and made her promise not to stand up in the boat except when and where I told her to. She asked excitedly, "Can we go over to that island and look around?" When I told her that was part of the plan all the time she grinned broadly in great anticipation. We had a ball and after checking out the island she asked me to teach her how to row the boat. She couldn't get over being able to get us from the island back to shore by herself.
We went to bed that night gabbing about all the day's adventures and how she felt so liberated by being able to do so much exploring. As we relaxed I started sharing my broken heart over my grandfather's death other friend's rejection. Patti listened and provided true comfort which left my soul feeling freer. She shared wisdom and truth with me in a clear way no adult had been able or willing to do. She learned from me how to feel stronger and more confident in the physical world. I learned from her how to begin finding comfort and strength in a spiritual world. A lifetime later in the slanting golden light of early November, when I see the trees with only a few brown leaves clinging tenaciously to branches, when I see the early frost on dried stalks of wildflowers and corn, and when I hear the chill wind whisper of impending winter I remember how after one death came a new awareness of life and hope in living it.