He was ten years old. This was back in the olden days, when kids collected stuff other than paper stickers and cell phones. He had a single blade Barlow knife. He had a baseball cap for his favorite team. He had a train set he kept under his bed. There were some World War II model airplanes hanging from his ceiling.
He had it all. Well, almost.
The family packed up the station wagon two weeks after school let out.
Vacation time. They were going out West. Cowboys and Indian territory. They were on the road for a week. One little town, one city cafe, one roadside motel after another.
Eventually, they stopped at a Park. His Dad wanted the family to see it. It was on a mountain top. He could see for miles. It was God’s creation, a beautiful overlook, a desert valley below. Walkways for hiking carved into the side of the mountain.. The Ranger warned them all about the rattlesnakes and Gila Monsters.
They were headed home tomorrow. He wanted a souvenir, a rememberance .
There was a rock. Up on a ledge, just out of his reach. It looked like a brown, sandy colored football, a little over a foot long, about 6-8 inches thick, tapered on both ends. Sitting there, maybe forever. Watching the valley, day in, day out.
“Dad, I need some help.” he said. “Can you get that rock for me?”
His father reached for the rock. Dads do that sort of stuff.
“What are you doing?” his Mom asked.
“I’m taking this rock back home with me.”
“Really?” as only a Mom could voice.
The football-shaped rock went home. It sat on the top of his chest of drawers. He grew up. He was headed to college.
“What about that rock?” his Mom asked.
“I’ll take it with me.”
Off to college. It survived. Then it went to his first apartment. It moved in with the newly weds. It was there for the first born, the second and the third. It moved around the house. It was abused, as only a rock can be.
It spent a couple of years in the flower bed. The dogs did what dogs to rocks, trees and fire hydrants. It went to the garage. The grandkids saw it. They didn’t understand.
He’d pick it up, hold it for a minute, smile, gain that far away look in his eyes and put it down again.
But, he never got rid of it. Never.
Until just a little while ago.
He’s in bad health now. He’s too close to the far side of being old.
“I want to go back out west before I die.” he said. “I want to go back to that National Park, one more time.”
His son said “OK, Pops.”
They flew. They rented a car. His suitcase was heavy.
They found the park, it took him a while to find the ledge. He was taller now. He didn’t need any help.
He held the rock for a while, then, as gentle as a man can be, he put it back, maybe in the exact place it was seventy years earlier.
“I’m ready to go now.” he said.
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