Out here where the foothills of the Rockies meet the rolling prairie of the heartland, there is an old saying, "If you don't like the weather, wait 15 minutes, it will change."
My best friend and I were familial oddities in our growing up. We were both single children, when at the times six was not an unheard of number of siblings to have roaming around a farm.
Jess Christensen was and continues to this day to be my best friend. We came of age right after WWII. Back when Poodle Skirts were all the rage. For some it was a golden age of knowing your place in life. Men did this, women did that. There weren't a lot of uncertainty, you either went to college or got a job. Eventually you got married and had a family. Pretty clear cut rules to live with or guide your life by.
My friend Jess had a secret. He had the worst case of wonder lust any two human beings could ever posses eating away inside one huamn being. I can remember hanging out at our Secret Ranger Head Quarters in the hay loft of his father's barn. There we would listen to short wave radio reports on the war in Europe. Or plan a daring raid across the border to steal back our stolen horse herds from a band of marauding horse thieves. Along one wall Jess had a map of the world with red pins stuck at various locations.
I can remember asking him about them."Pretty simple Buddy, I plan on seeing all of those places before I die." He replied in an off handed remark.
The first weekend after graduation, from high school I had planned on surprising my best friend with a fishing trip. I drove over to his house to see him. I was greeted at the door by his mother.
She said,"Buddy, you just missed him. He and his father have just driven over to Albuquerque."
"Well I guess that blows that surprise out of the water," I replied. "Do you know when they will get back?"
Mrs. Christensen gave me a funny look, paused for a second and then replied, "Well Mr. Christensen will be back early tomorrow. But I thought you knew, Jess has gone off to join the Merchant Marine."
You could have knocked me over with a feather. My best friend was just up and gone. As it turned out, it was almost twenty years to the day when I saw him next. His father had suffered a massive heart attack while on a stock buying trip and was in the hospital down in Rosewell.
My family and I were at Our Lady of Lourdes praying for him. When I noticed a slim middle aged man slide into one of the back pews. He looked familiar but I couldn't quite place where I had seen his face before...
I walked down to the pew and slid in next to the man sitting there.
He glanced over and said to me, "Hey Buddy. How are you doing hoss?"
Damn and blast! there sat Jess Christensen bold as brass! As if we had just parted company mere moments before, we began talking. Pretending there was 20 years of not seeing each other laying between us like a dead steer floating in the proverbial stocktank.
I was sort of taken back and finally said,"Well my wife and I are praying for your daddy Jess."
With a moist eye he told me, "Buddy, better change those prayers. I just got word from Momma. Daddy didn't make it. I hope Our Father up in heaven will take him as kindly as my old man took everything and everyone else in his life."
Jess and I sat there and looked at each other. I gave what comfort and compassion I could without ever saying anything. We came from a time where men didn't "Get in touch with our feelings." If you loved your wife, you told her and saved the mushy stuff later on behind closed doors.
Three weeks later, after settling his father's estate, Jess and his mother left our small community. I didn't see him again for another ten years. Bright and early one very cold and crisp Autumn morning, as I was making coffee for my wife and I. looking out my kitchen sink window I spied what looked to be an older looking cowboy riding up my gravel drive way on the back of a sorrel mare.
After the cowboy got off his horse, he looped the reins over the rails on my pickup truck's bed, turned and yelled,"Hello the house! Can I bother you for a cup of that coffee I have been smelling all the way up your drive?"
There he stood. Jess Christensen. Older, skinnier, missing most of the hair he had when we fought off horse rustlers. But there behind the wrinkles there was the boy, the young man, and now the older adult. Each age superimposed on top of the other as if, in some strange photomontage. I stood there shaking my head. He walked up to me and we hugged like the long lost best friends we were.
"Have you seen enough of those wild far off places yet?" I asked him, after we had come inside the house and were sitting at my wife's kitchen table.
"The short reply is yes."
"After momma passed away last year. I was out bound from Singapore when I got the news. I had a hold full of computer chips and a deadline to make in Shanghai." He paused for a moment, then slowly continued on, " Somewhere in the Formosa straits I told my number one to take the wheel and I went out for smoke. The waves that night were just rolling along, with a three foot swell. Other than my ship passing across the water there wasn't a sound to be heard. That old ocean just got to looking like the prairie does in the spring time. It struck me real hard I had done what I had set out to do. It was time to come home. Then sitting in the Freighter Embarkation Depot in Long Beach I saw a part of a poem written on a wall next to a phone. When I read it, I realize I had made the right decision."
He reached behind his back and pulled out his wallet. Inside was a many folded, dog eared piece of yellow paper. He unfolded it and pulled a pair of reading glasses out of his shirt pocket.
He began softly reading to me, " We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all of our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time. Through the unknown, remembered gate When the last of earth to discover Is that which was the beginning; At the source of the longest river The voice of the hidden waterfall And the children in the apple-tree Not known because not looked for But heard, half-heard, in the stillness Between two waves of the sea. Quick now, here, now, always- A condition of complete simplicity (Costing not less than everything) And all shall be well and All manner of thing shall be well When the tongues of flame are in-folded Into the crowned knot of fire And the fire and the rose are one." He paused for a second letting those words impact me. "I found out later it was T. S. Elliot."
I sat there for a really long time, running those words back and forth in my mind. I don't know how long we sat there. Finally I looked up at him and asked, "Guess the weather changed eh?"