I visited John, like I had a thousand times before, on a sunny afternoon late on a blue-sky day. His hand-built house sits at the end of a moderately long dirt road below the peastone driveway, cut into the side of the top of a hill, with ample oaks providing shade most hours of the day. In his living room sits a piano that seems to be used more as a platform for family photos rather than its original design. His wife plays it well, but I imagine less frequently than she would like.
On this afternoon a friend joined me and sat down at the keys and played into the wind as John and I sat on his front porch to chat. The chickadees did their chickadee dances and sang their chickadee songs while the breeze kept us company as it cradled and rocked the music in and out of our conversation.
We lazed like I imagine others do on porches far and wide, something I have a hard time with generally, but it came easily as fingers meandered across the keys and the melodies continued. I felt something close to happiness. We looked out over John’s shaded grass partially obscured by his neatly stacked wood pile, and an old gray stone wall framed his land, a wall like the ones he has spent decades repairing and imitating.
“I’m going to move that wood soon,” John told me. “It will be nice to see straight through the trees.” A tuft of purple phlox sat in front of the firewood, framed by a fence that is no longer there.
I offered him my tractor.
“Why would I want that? I’m going to move it one piece at a time, and I hope it takes three days,” John said.
This jogged his memory, just as an afternoon on the porch should, while his cat climbed across the table and his blind dog followed its nose around the freshly mowed lawn, searching for something unknown.
“Before he died, I taught Stanley Burnshaw how to use a computer,” John told me as the soundtrack to our afternoon continued in his living room.
“I used to watch him work late in his life. He wore a green printer’s visor while typing on his typewriter, a Triumph from Germany. He would type out a poem, remove it manually from the typewriter, read it through then mark it up and start over again and then type up the new version, always starting over. So I showed him what a computer could do by deleting words, adding lines and new stanzas.
“Now you don’t have to type the poem over again, I proudly announced to him.
“He turned to me and asked, why wouldn’t you want to?”