The stars that had been high in the black sky had set in the west and finally the eastern horizon began to glow.
I nodded off again, there beside the rippling river swollen with spring runoff. My heavy wool coat, crisp with frost, was spread over my ancient cotton sleeping bag.
My eyes opened to the first ray of sunlight glistening in the hoarfrost that covered every blade of winter-weary stubble. The ray was squeaking its way through concentrations of fog lazing over the river. So comforting, that ray of light. So promising of warmth. So beautiful on the frost.
I fell back to sleep.
The sun was not very high in the sky when I stirred. Sleeping beside the road exposes one to whoever travels by, so it was time to get up.
It didn’t take long to gulp down a couple spoons full of cold beans, kept from freezing in my sleeping bag.
Shaking the frost off my coat and getting into it—getting my box of paints out of the bag, where they had shared my warmth with the can of beans—rolling up the sleeping bag and cinching the rope around it. None of it took long.
The sun was shining, although softened with the lumpy fog. I stepped over the guardrail and headed east, glad for the movement. Movement that meant warming up.
The river had rushed and sparkled on my right for some half mile when I noticed a lady walking across the road in front of me. She stopped on my side of the road and opened a mailbox. Once she closed her mailbox she looked at this stranger walking the road, hesitated, and then stayed put.
When I was in earshot I gave a “Good morning” shout-out. “What a beautiful day!”
She asked what I was up to and we enjoyed a brief chat before she pointed out the little white house on the other side of the road and the few small buildings behind it.
“We rent these cabins during the summer. We love this place but must admit its gotten to be a bit much to keep up with now that we’re in our seventies. We could sure use some help raking up and getting ready for the guests. Would you like to stay in one of the cabins for a few nights?”
Ten minutes later I was enjoying hot pancakes that drooled warm butter and syrup. Sizzling bacon. Steaming coffee. And warm conversation.
Now, forty-four years later, my eyes well up remembering how good it was—the heat and the flavors and the enthusiasm.
And how I still cherish Ann and Jerry.