|The woods at Barholomew's Cobble where Floyd and I often walked...|
Floyd was an old friend. Together we'd walked many a woodland trail and winding road. It was Floyd who taught me in my childhood the names of the trees and plants that bordered the roadside and populated the forests. He taught me how to shoot a rifle one morning and make a strawberry shortcake that afternoon. He awakened in me an interest in poetry, for often while we walked he would recite from memory long verses by some of his favorite authors. We kept in touch even as I graduated from high school, went off to college, married, and traveled to far places. He was one of the first people I looked up when I returned to live in my childhood hometown.
Years passed but we still found time to walk together. Then one spring, Floyd fell ill. I visited him as he lay in a hospital bed, unable to move his legs at all. There would be no more walks for us, I realized. Floyd looked at me, stalwart and not a bit sorry for himself. "I have no feeling in my legs," he said. "I imagine I'll go from here to the graveyard but maybe you'll keep me company here for a while."
Always before, Floyd had been the giver, I the receiver. Over the next few weeks that changed. Now it was my turn to give. Every day I found an hour or two to spend at his bedside. I brought him bits of news from around town, read letters from his friends and articles from the newspaper. I even published one about our friendship. That made him smile. "Maybe you'll write another about our time now?" he asked. And each week he grew a little quieter, his breathing a little more labored.
I began to count the time he stayed there by the flowers that were in bloom. When he first entered the hospital, violets were just poking their shy heads from beneath dark green foliage. He couldn't have flowers in his room because he was asthmatic, but I could tell him what was blossoming. We marked the weeks by color - paper white hyacinths, sunny yellow daffodils, buttercups and purple swamp iris and apple blossoms that blushed pink and white.
As the flowers multiplied and thrived, Floyd seemed to shrink. The light in his eyes dimmed and his strength left him until he was unable to do more than lift his hands. I remembered how strong he'd been, how those hands had wielded axe and hammer and saw. I remembered their gentleness when he doctored small animals and children with bumps and scrapes. When the June roses began to bud, Floyd's conditioned worsened. I left word with the floor nurses to call me whenever he was awake and wanted company. Then I would pull my chair close to his bed and hold his hand, letting the companionship we'd established years ago enfold us.
By the last week of June, when daisies dotted the green meadows like summer snowflakes, Floyd was hooked to an oxygen tube. When I touched his hand, his eyes would flutter open and focus and a look of recognition would light his face. Then his eyes would close again. The room was filled with his raspy breathing. One day I brought a book of his favorite verses with me. We could no longer converse but the nurse assured me he could still hear me so I read on through the afternoon, telling the sagas he'd so often recited to me as we walked the sunlit woods. On the last day of June, the day the first orange lilies lifted their shining faces to the sun, Floyd took his last walk with me, a walk of the mind and heart.
That was twenty years ago. Today I am going on a hike/write with a local naturalist as we've done for several years. Floyd will walk with us unseen but not unheard.