Reflections From The Front Porch
Written by Darrell Anderson.
Jonathan sat on the tailgate of his pick-up truck, slowly savoring the cool well water from his thermos. He enjoyed being in the woods and although cutting firewood was physical labor, he nonetheless did not mind the work. The exercise and fresh air always did him good and he always enjoyed a toasty warm house when winter hurled insults at him.
In the distance, too far to see, he heard a red squirrel complaining vigorously about Jon’s presence. A nearby noisy chickadee was easier to locate.
He always paced himself, never cutting too fast or too laboriously. He was a young 46 years of age, but he was not naive to the potential results of a sudden or jerky motion. Every time his chain saw needed gas and oil, he took a short break and paused to enjoy the mystery of nature that surrounded him. Today was a picture perfect spring day with blue skies, 62 degree temperature, and a handful of puffy clouds. The deciduous trees had not yet begun blossoming their leaves.
Jon slapped the back of his neck, and in the same motion used his fingers as tweezers to grab a wood tick. Damn. They’re out early this year. He flicked the tick over the side of the truck. I guess I’ll have to strip and search when I get home.
His eyes wandered toward the next tree he was going to cut. He felled his trees in the fall, before winter howled in to stay for many months. Felling the trees in the fall helped avoid the spring sap run and helped pre-dry the wood before he cut the trees to firebox length. He tried to cut only deadwood and trees that “wouldn’t amount to much.” He wanted to be a part of the land, preferring to avoid the nonsensical philosophy that humans were somehow masters of nature. Some folks just don’t understand that humans are merely a part of nature.
As he always did, he surveyed the tree and gauged how he would begin cutting. He’d start with the limbs. That is how he created his kindling. He hated wasting resources.
Kindling. That’s the small stuff used to help start the fire. Just like the small stuff that has lit the fire in my heart.
Lately many of his thoughts had centered upon a new friend he had met. A wonderful woman, and from the first exchange she had intrigued and fascinated him. He smiled at the memory. Actually, she fascinated me the moment I read her profile. They had met at a conference for writers. Still, they had crossed paths and he was grateful. They had been emailing one another for several weeks. They still knew each other only by first names, but he was in no rush to invade or destroy her privacy. They had yet to meet again face to face. If things were meant to be she’d eventually share more information. He brushed a pesky fly from his face.
For some time he had wanted to disclose his full name, but he thought that might place her in an awkward position. Maybe she wasn’t ready for that next level. She had left an awful marriage several years earlier and she had shared with him the bare essentials about some of her less memorable subsequent encounters. Add two nincompoops who she dated recently short-term, and Jon figured that he had no choice but to move slow.
That was okay with Jon. He had a simple philosophy for life. Mind your own business. He had no desire to rule or govern other people and he detested all the politicians and self-appointed nannies who thought they had standing to rule him. Nothing but a bunch of irritating flies and wood ticks.
Nonetheless, at 46 years, he noticed that his heart ached whenever he thought about Ellen. She’s a special woman. She’s different. I feel it in my bones. His great uncertainty was whether he eventually could convince her that he was a decent man. He never had “settled down” with a woman, although he had his share of relationships through the years. A few of them were serious, but here was he was, living alone in the middle of the woods. Not a hermit by any means — a town was seven miles away, but he was several hours from anything called a metropolis. He preferred a quiet and peaceable life.
Although many people had helped him, he basically had built his house on his own. He cut the first tree to begin clearing the property, he pounded the last nail before he moved in. Incredible, actually, considering I once was a total city slicker. A simple two bedroom house. He slowly had been finishing the basement through the years, but never seemed quite able to conclude the project. He knew why. There’s only me here — what’s the rush. He easily could envision Ellen sharing the house with him. Certainly needs a woman’s touch, that’s for sure.
Ellen liked the rural life too. That was one of the things that had caught his eye. He smiled. In her own words Ellen had described herself as being “low maintenance.”
Yet, those past relationships had left Ellen sour on seeking anything intimate right now. Well, a good wine needs time to ferment. Ellen needs time to heal. I’ve been alone a long time and I’ll continue to survive. I think.
About 50 yards away Jon spotted a whitetail deer. Then he exhaled and slid off the tailgate while grabbing his chain saw. The wood won’t get cut sitting here thinking about fine women.
* * *
After a couple of months of writing to one another, Jon was feeling frustrated. He really wanted to meet Ellen again, but she had yet to open that door. What frustrated him was that she insisted on maintaining those damnable psychological walls that prevented them both from bumping the relationship to another level. Every half dozen letters she’d insert a single sentence somewhere in a letter about her not seeking an intimate relationship. Why the continual reminders? I’ve gone out of my way not to discuss relationships, dating, sex, or anything else of that nature. I’ve gone out of my way to say nothing that would threaten her. I’ve simply shared many wonderful discussions with her.
The more he learned about Ellen the more he believed how much they had in common, especially their dreams. His mental list kept growing of what they had in common. He knew he was right for Ellen. Did she know that but was scared to take another chance at possibly breaking her heart?
There are no benefits without risk. Should he ask to meet again or continue corresponding by first names? Hell, I can’t do that. If I push the envelope and she is not ready to reciprocate all I do is create an awkward situation for us both.
Then Ellen surprised Jon by telling him her full name and the name of the novel she wrote. He did some web surfing and decided he liked what he read. I’ll buy the book. Seems to be somewhat autobiographical too. I’ll learn a little more about her; but damn, she told me that information prefaced with another one of those disclaimers that she is not in the market for an intimate relationship. Damn.
* * *
Jon enjoyed the almost daily conversations they had through their email letters. He found that he was able to open his heart and write long letters. Occasionally Ellen was surprised at the length of his letters. He continued to go out of his way never to discuss “relationships.”
Yet Jon knew that eventually something had to give. He did not want to lose what he had with Ellen. He greatly enjoyed their written conversations. What to do? Why were relationships often so tricky? Next letter I’m asking her to meet again.
* * *
Around the seventh month of Ellen’s pregnancy, Jon came into the bedroom one night with a book. Ellen looked at Jon but said nothing. Jon crawled onto the bed, pulled up her night shirt to expose her ever-growing belly, and kissed her. Ever since she announced to Jon that she was with child he had kissed her belly every night as they went to bed.
Jon often talked to the baby and Ellen enjoyed what had become a nightly routine. Somehow Jon had the uncanny ability to pretend that the baby was conversing with him. She never knew what Jon would discuss with the baby and often the topics were silly and pure nonsense, but Ellen loved every minute. God, how she loved this man!
“Scout, I figure it’s about time I introduce you to the wonderful world of books. Through books you’ll discover the wonderful world of ideas. Only your imagination limits you, Scout, but as long as you have a book your imagination will soar to amazing heights and you’ll never be alone.”
“Um, Scout?” Ellen asked.
Jon kissed her belly and then ran his hands softly around the entire surface. “Scout,” he replied, matter-of-factly.
Ellen knew the name well. Both she and Jon loved the timeless story of To Kill a Mockingbird. Early when they had first started corresponding, they had discussed the book and Ellen told Jon that while growing up in the isolated woods that she was much like the tomboy character of Harper Lee’s great book. Later, after Jon had grown confident that Ellen one day would join him to share their lives, he had confessed to Ellen that the moment she had shared that information he forever was going to be in love with her. Not only did Jon love the book, but he had fallen in love with the character of Scout. Even more so, he had fallen in love with the character of Atticus Finch. He told Ellen that he wanted to be a father like Atticus.
Ellen ran her fingers through Jon’s thinning hair.
“Scout, the first book I’ve chosen is called Alice in Wonderland. This is a great book, Scout, because the book is pure nonsense! Since you have no idea what life is like out here, you have no reference point to know how much nonsense this world contains. Once you get a hang of things on this side, you’ll see how crazy the world can be and that’s what makes this book so great. I expect us to read this book together many times, Scout.”
The baby kicked.
Jon grinned at Ellen and then began reading. “Chapter One.”
Ellen closed here eye lids while continuing to caress Jon’s head. For some strange reason she didn’t want him to see the tears that were quickly filling her eyes.
* * *
Jon and Ellen rarely watched television, but they did use the box for occasional movie rentals. Yet Jon and Ellen stopped watching everything once Scout grew old enough to start thinking and exploring the mysteries of the world. They both wanted Scout to learn to think and not become a zombie from television programming. They wanted Scout to explore her imagination for several years before they introduced her to the screen.
Both Jon and Ellen spent much time reading aloud to Scout, but by far Jon did most of the reading. Ellen was busier with her writing career than Jon was with his, and Jon never minded remaining in the shadow of Ellen’s illustrious career. He was Ellen’s biggest fan and strongest supporter. Unlike many relationships with two writers, Jon never once showed any hints of jealousy or resentment at Ellen’s success. Jon encouraged Ellen to write as often as the urge struck her. He always joked with Ellen that he cut the firewood to keep the house warm and she put the beans on the table.
Jon and Ellen encouraged Scout in everything she wanted to do. They had home schooled Scout from the beginning. She was reading by four years of age. Without the nonsense of the propaganda school system, young Scout was unrestrained in everything she did. She never learned the word can’t. Scout grew into a startling and intelligent young person.
A short few years after Scout became a prolific reader, Jon and Scout started reading various scenes from books. They read them out loud and their audience was Ellen. As Scout became more proficient at understanding words and the context in which they were used, the uninhibited natural actress blossomed as she and Jon did their evening readings. Scout became so animated in her facial movements and inflections of voice, that often Ellen would be in tears laughing so hard. Jon had all he could do not to laugh, because if he did he would throw off the timing of the reading and that perturbed Scout. Scout wanted to perform and not just read.
One evening Scout had Ellen laughing so hard that Ellen wet her pants. Ellen did not want to end the show, nor embarrass Scout, but Jon knew. When the evening’s skit was finished, Ellen quickly left to change her pants.
Scout looked at Jon, giggled, and said, “I think we really got to Momma tonight!”
“I think you got to Momma tonight, sweetheart. I think you’re far too talented for your own sake.”
She hugged Jon and said, “I love you Daddy.”
She still was small enough that Jon could lift her without strain. With her feet dangling below, Jon hugged his little girl and then kissed her quickly but softly on her cute and precious lips.
“I love you Scout. More than you’ll ever know.” He squeezed her again and set her on the floor.
“I’m going to bed, Atticus. Good night!”
“G’night Scout.” Jon beamed. Somehow Scout intuitively knew of his desire to be a father much like the character Atticus. Every now and then she called him Atticus, with a gleam in her eyes. How the Hell did she ever figure that out by herself?
Jon extinguished the living room light and headed toward the bedroom. An early evening to bed sounded like a good idea. He wanted to spend time lying in bed caressing and talking with Ellen. Although they were actively amorous in the bedroom, Jon always was careful to simply spend time with Ellen just talking and touching. He wanted the same this evening — to love and be loved.
As he walked into the bedroom he instantly noticed Ellen sitting on the edge of the bed crying softly. He knew those tears. Tears of joy. He sat beside her and put his arm around her shoulders. He knew better than to say anything. A crying woman talks when she’s ready. She tucked her head into his chest and wrapped her arms around his waist. They sat that way for several minutes.
Out of the corner of his eye Jon saw Scout returning to her bedroom from a trip to the bathroom. Scout had paused and was watching the two. She was smiling. Jon and Ellen never were afraid to show their mutual affection in front of Scout. Jon smiled and winked at her. Scout, being astute far beyond her years, quietly slipped her hand to her lips and silently blew a kiss. Jon smiled again and Scout spun into her bedroom and closed the door.
Jon caressed Ellen’s luxurious hair. Although graying, he always was in love with her hair. He stuck his nose deep into the strands and inhaled quietly. Gawd, I love her smell. Ellen sensed what Jon was doing and she squeezed him hard.
“Years ago I never would have imagined being so happy. I love you, Jonathan.”
He took another deep breath of her hair and kissed the top of her head. “I love you, Ellen.”
* * *
Jon and Ellen had conceived Scout well into their forties. Both had concerns about bringing a child into this world at such a late age. They wanted Scout to enter adulthood with both parents alive. Jon, being a few years older than Ellen, would be 68 years of age when Scout turned 20. He had concerns of that being fair to Scout. Scout never seemed to mind or notice.
Jon and Ellen never discussed the idea of grandchildren, but Scout and Jimmy surprised them both with a grandson. Although Jon had wanted a daughter with Ellen, he was tickled to see a grandson. Ellen was too. Of course, Jon and Ellen did all they could to spoil little Josh.
The entire gang had decided to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon together. Jon loved pitching horseshoes and Jimmy enjoyed the game too. That was Jon’s usual excuse to have the kids over for the afternoon. The past couple of visits, however, they rarely played because Jon spent so much time with Little Josh.
Scout and Jimmy arrived while Jon and Ellen were sitting out back.
“Daaaaadddyyy!!!” Despite her age, Scout never lost her little girl voice whenever she said daddy. Scout came through the back door and headed straight toward Jon.
“Here’s Grandpa Atticus, Joshie.” Little Josh immediately opened his arms and smiled at Jon. Jon took him from Scout and planted a big kiss on Little Josh’s cheek. He has Scout’s eyes. I wonder if he’ll be just like her — unafraid and uninhibited?
Little Josh hugged Jon around his neck. Tight and hard as only a young child could. He loved his Grandpa. Jon looked at Ellen as best he could with a strong strapping youngster lovingly choking him. She sensed his gaze and looked up, more so with her eyes than by moving her head. They smiled at one another. No words were necessary.
Then Scout handed Jon a worn copy of Alice in Wonderland. Scout looked at Jon. There’s that gleam in her eyes again.