Stopping by the cider mill

cider

From where he sat, the yard sale didn’t look

like much. But Clayton saw the cider jugs

for sale, and he thought cider sweeter in

the fall–preferring it to winter’s mint,

to maple syrup in the spring, to drops

of summer’s honey. With October’s frost

apparent on the leaves, Clay stopped the truck.

The old man put a finger on the page

to mark his place and looked up long enough

to nod a greeting.

………………………….. Clay said, “Hey. What’s up?”

Beneath the chair, the dog’s tail thumped the ground.

Above the barn, a setting sun poured rays

of yellow light that bathed the fields in gold

but could no longer warm the autumn air.

Clay thought he’d make a cordial pass around

the goods before he bought his cider. You

can’t ever tell, he told himself, might find

a thing or two worth having. That was when

he found the wooden turkey call, the kind

that makes the basic gobbles, whines and yelps.

The lid was fairly worn, so Clayton knew

the box was old. The wood was strong in grain

and hue; the craftsmanship was stronger still.

“I made her m’self,” the old man said. “She’s sound.”

Clay looked at him with doubt, then noticed his

two rough and burly hands. They marked a man

who did most things himself.

……………………………………  “She’s old, but not

as old as she might look. I worked her some,

I guess. There’s times I call ’em just for fun.”

He smiled a shy smile. “Local roosters got

to know me.”

……………….  Clayton looked again and saw

the lined and weathered face, the peaceful eyes,

the wind-blown silver hair, and knew this was

a man who’d lost the need for straying from

the truth.

……………..  “She’ll still call though.” He closed his book

and opened his left hand, and Clayton put

the call in it. He slowly dragged the lid

across the box until it closed and made

a clear, sure two-note whine. “That side’s the hen,”

he said. “The gobbler’s on the other.” Then,

he gave it back to Clay. “It don’t take long

to learn.”

…………   “I’m sorry, but the turkey hunt

was never my best sport.” The man and box

returned to chair and table. Clayton made

his rounds, then bought his cider in two jars,

a gallon each. About to stow the jugs

behind the driver’s seat, he heard the old

man softly ask,

XXXXXX “Say, you got kids?”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX Clay said,

“Just one, a son,” and thought the question odd.

The old man stood and pulled the handmade bird

call from the pile again. He rubbed his hand

across the grain, as if to brush away

some dust, and looked it over through a long

and heavy sigh before he said, “Well, I’m

alone–my line has reached its end–so you

might just as well have this ol’ piece of junk.”

Clay reached for money, but the old man shook

his head. “Your boy and you might call a bird

or two with it, eh? Even just to watch.

Who knows, it could be you’d come ’round here now

and then.”

……………. Clay nodded that he understood

and, after shaking hands, he took the box.

“The cider’s good,” he said, not knowing what

to say. “I think I’ll take another jug.”

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