or how we would talk it all in, ah the old days. the old Charley at the counter, smiling and laughing, with unrelenting pieces of tales of a man looking to tell. long gone are the days, eh, but for such there are things are never going to change for better or for worse.
“told ya, James. gotta be good with that girl, okay? ain’t gonna regret, mind the old lady will you.”
what a fine girl she has been, the old man speaks in his mid-forties, reminiscent of a little girl growing up, and for that I could as well remember as good as the old man.
“Laura, that little Laura. playing at the barnyard she always was. quite a girl ain’t she? like her old lady. ah the old one always has the looks, haha!” so reminisces the old Charley with a laugh, perhaps of a love long gone, married to a man to be her husband, and through few years then the little Laura was around. the family (of three, with her mom and dad) had already stayed in the town a long, long time since before we moved in to the neighborhood. counting back then there were Charley and our families with little Laura and little James, both six-years old.
it was said that the old Charley once had a feeling for the mother in her maiden days, but for such to be true or not I never really knew nor cared. nor was I ever interested to ask him about. but the old Charley was a good man; at times he would give me nougats or sweets for helping him with work at the carpentry (though as far as I remember it counts more as looking at him working to me), while some other times we would be fishing across the pond or merely playing catch ball. sometimes we went to the house next door — at Laura’s, her mom was always good with her home-made apple pies, and Charley as I remember always treated Laura with care, like maybe a daughter he never had, or perhaps like she was a niece to his solitary life.
Laura was a quiet girl. she was never a girlish type of a daughter, and her favorite place to play was none other than the barn and the surrounding yard. sometimes, in a not-so-cold weather when the pines begin to ripe, one could see the little girl all by herself picking up the falling conifer cones with somewhat a visceral joy of a child finding something of interest. at such times Charley, back then was much younger than he is, would ask her what to do with the cones. she would then smile and saying things like it’s cute and how she likes to bring some to place in her room, so then we would be looking for some more and when I found one or two that looked good enough I gave them to her. she would be happy for little things like that. we were both 10 to 11-years old back then, Charley was in his late twenties.
on Saturdays and Sundays, both I and Charley were used to seeing her at the church. she sang in the choir, another interest of which she seemed to be enjoying herself in. after that we would be going to either her home for tea and apple pie, or to my house just to play around after the sermon. Charley was always there for us, and as Mom often said to Charley, she was more than happy to have him around the two of us. usually after few cups of tea and sometimes long chat Charley would walk Laura home, while oftentimes it would be two of us walking home together from Laura’s place.
Charley was good with guitars, so he taught me some of his tricks.
“you know, guitars,” he said, “a good friend to an old boy like me.”
he used to sing some country, something like ‘take me home, to the place I belong’ and some others as I remember. he also taught me how to handle the guitar, the keys and the fret and whatnot. not sure if I was ever good enough, but I think why not? life was just what happened, I was enjoying things as they come, and it was about the time when I was going to enroll at middle school. yet somehow I didn’t think of Charley any different; to me there would always be me and Charley, Laura would be next to him, and at times we would come to her place for afternoon tea and apple pies that tasted really good.
in the years spanning in between, a lot if not too many things have happened. we went to high school, while Charley kept himself busy with work. I still managed to visit him when I have time, mostly all by myself to help with the errands at his place. some other times Mom or Dad would ask me to deliver cookies and tea over the workshop, of which Charley would tell me to ‘sit, and help me with this’ before then we end up having tea with some of the cookies.
and Laura, that girl has grown into a young lady not unlike her mother. ever the quiet yet tomboyish girl, spending time in the barn rather than baking apple pies, while on Sundays she would be at the church and afterwards at Sunday school. if anything, perhaps she has grown like a duckling to a swan, though as Charley would often say, her charms were inherited from her mother whose apparent beauty from the old days lingers even years into the present.
I remember once under the trees of the kind she used to be playing around with when we were little. we were both 16-years old when we were walking together around the yard as she was remembering how she likes to play with the cones, and how at home she likes to look at them to see how weather goes: in dry weather, the cones would open up with shriveling scales, while otherwise they would be closing down to its usual shape as the signs of damp weather. she said once that among many things, she really likes when the three of us were looking for the cones; it’s like a little adventure, through bit by bit, and to bring a little part of it home was such a joy.
for that once I remember my face felt like burning when I said that I think I like her. I don’t know what words came out of my mouth (and how!), but by the end of the afternoon we walked home together and none of us were able to say anything to each other. we did say ‘see you tomorrow’ when we parted but it was awkward, and, honestly, I couldn’t even remember how I sounded like. only months later that I learned that she felt about the same ‘sickness’ as I was; back home I didn’t feel like eating, somewhat nauseous, and all I want to do was sleeping all through the next day but then we’d have to go to school and it didn’t help.
sights and sounds are coming back into focus from the reminiscence as I find myself back in Charley’s workshop. the 25-years old James with forty-something Charley, with all and everything we’ve been through. and that’s about Laura, the very girl I’m going to marry tomorrow, with all the good and otherwise I’m going to accept.
“say, James, young man, of the two people like a dear family to me,” he asks. “that little girl, you really do love her?”
I look at the old man, and how could I not answer that? Charley, whose solitary life was met with two children of which he saw growing up, hopefully to a fulfillment he otherwise could never have in a proper bearing of a family.
“you know better, Charley,” I tried to reply as words choked in my throat, “for you, for that girl, sure I do. I do.”
and why do you even ask this? you have and always been with us, yet there are times when I couldn’t speak as clearly as I want to. but old man, you know better do you? of our times at the workshop, at the pond, at the church and at the barnyard, all of them!
“thank God,” but his voice begins to tremble, “that little girl, to be with someone… she loves…”
and somehow, suddenly, a long and awkward silence as the old man wrestle to find a word to say. like dragging a baggage full of emotions, something I have never seen in the old Charley I have known all my life. in the seconds of silence between us, once again I look into the old man’s eyes. and for the first and the same time I know…
“oh God, thank God, James…” he begins to shake, “you know that things weren’t… always…”
but I didn’t let Charley finish the sentence. this is too sad for the man who deserves his happiness, in an irony that joy of present entangled with sorrow of the past. I hug the shaking old man so that he wouldn’t have to say it all; glimpses in the old man’s eyes of which I finally understand, but let it not, let it not be said…
for everything I could remember about what Charley taught me, one thing persists even further more than years later; guitars, like a good friend to an old boy. and tonight, alone in my room, I take the guitar to play the piece I remember.
‘life is old there, older than the trees
younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze
country roads, take me home…’
there was a young man, a little girl, and a little boy. Charley, Laura, and me, for as long as I remember.