UNDER THE LOCUST TREE
They were two old men, Felix and Arthur, and they sat in the blue Adirondack chairs under an ancient locust tree at Brant Lake Camp. Every day they sat under that tree. Usually in the morning. Once they had coached tennis at that boy’s camp. And they played. They possessed precision forehands, powerful backhands. In the early years they played singles, then doubles, and as the seasons passed they occasionally hit to one another, simple volleys, their strokes still smooth. Now, Arthur and Felix sat in the blue Adirondack chairs under the locust tree with branches spread as if to enfold them in a protective covering. Sometimes, when I walked by, they called to me and I would pause or, perhaps, slide into an empty Adirondack chair. There was always one chair set aside for passersby, that Arthur and Felix need not be alone.
Resting in the blue Adirondack chairs they waited for someone willing to listen to stories from long ago. The chairs graced the main circle of the camp where children spent the summer months but I believe those chairs represented a safe haven not only for the children but for those seeking a refuge in old age. For Arthur and Felix. That was the gift Brant Lake Camp bequeathed to those individuals who had welcomed a myriad of sunrises and now reclined in the sunset.
I would settle in and Arthur would reach out and take my hand in greeting, the marks of time pronounced on arms brown and wrinkled after decades in the sun. We would talk. More accurately they would talk, of summers spent in tents on the far side of Pharoah Mountain, or climbing Marcy to view the panorama of the Adirondack High Peaks. Remembrance. Of the war years when they were young, 18 or 19. Many of their friends never returned from the Great War. But Felix and Arthur came back, taught in the New York public schools, sang “My Great Big Brother Sylvest” at Sunset Mountain Lodge and played tennis. Always tennis.
One day, in the midst of relating details of earlier years, Felix, tapping the coals of his pipe, was silent. Only the sound of a mourning dove in the towering locust tree penetrated the quiet. Then, with a sigh, Felix turned to me and said: “Dan, what am I now? What is left of me? What is left?” And, sadly, he answered his own question: “I am the composite of my memories. That is all. Someday you may learn that for yourself.” And I wondered, I who had decades still to live, whether memories were sufficient or whether, in addition to memories, we should always look into the future—whatever our age. I hoped my vision would never die.
The original locust tree was cut down after a storm and Arthur and Felix have been gone for many years, but from the roots of that ancient tree, new growth, an offspring, now reaches into the sky. Yet the words of the two old men continues to haunt me, “What is left, Dan? What is left?”And I knew that, eventually, I would discover the answer for myself.
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