Longleaf Stories

full circle in the hundred acre wood


HE WAS DRAWN TO THE WINDOW WALL and stood there, gazing toward the far mountains, hands clasped behind his back. He and Buck went out on the deck, while his wife and I sat on stools at the kitchen island bar, she asking questions and me providing answers for the mundane but essential details of life in this house.

I could see her husband talking with Buck, shoulders slumped into his chest and belly swayed out over his pants, in that way of too-long deskbound newly retired executives. His mannerisms and short, ash-blond hair reminded me vaguely of the actor, Brian Dennehy. Stubby fingers chopped the air as he talked. Every moment or two, he turned back to the view and rested his elbows on the deck rail.

His wife of more than forty years watched him from where she stood with me in the kitchen. “It’s always been his dream to have a glass house in the mountains,” she said, a trace of something in her voice. Wistfulness? Worry? “He had better live at least ten years, because I don’t plan to move again. They’re going to have to carry me out of here in a box, or down the hill to the old folks home.”

We all walked around the house together.. Buck and I demonstrated the many light switches, how the fancy faucet in the kitchen sink worked, the quirk in closing the dishwasher door, where the satellite dish wiring enters the house, and the various other small details any of us could think of. Then it was time for them to go, to return to their home several states away, pack up and return to move in on June 11. The house will be empty and ready for them, by then, only a bottle of champagne and fresh Smoky Mountain Roasters coffee beans left in a basket on the kitchen counter.

We gathered at the top of the steps near my desk, looked through a French door to the tree-lined ridge, and stood there in silence. He spoke quietly: “I had a bout with non-Hodgins lymphoma about four years ago. Went through a round of chemo.” Thud. I felt it in my belly. I could see Buck tighten, too. We waited. “Last month, a spot of something turned up on the Cat scan. I may need to go through another round.” He hit the subject lightly, and with considerable grace, but there it was.

They came early the next evening to meet with a contractor to talk about adding another set of exterior stairs and a garage. We went out to visit with them for a few minutes and wish them safe journey. Just before leaving, he shook our hands, and this man — who I suspect is considered by many to be undemonstrative — hung onto Buck’s hand an extra beat, looked at both of us intently, and said, “You’ve just given us everything — everything. Thank you.”

Upstairs, alone again, Buck poured a scotch and water for me and made himself a Manhattan. We stood in the kitchen and looked at one another. Finally, I spoke. “This man needs some time here, looking out over these mountains.”

“Yes,” Buck agreed. “They need this place at this time more than we do.”

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