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Five-Skip Rocks


Folks, when my great-grandson came to Here for a visit I took him for a long walk at the Oleander home place along No Mile Creek.  He needed some outdoors, to keep from moping.  You see, his dog Scooter just died, some kind of tumor.  He knew my old cat died.  He knew I wouldn’t be getting another.

In the barn, Billy climbed the ladder into the hay loft and scared a few mice and fluttered a few pigeons.  We rimmed the pasture Myers rents from me:  his bull was nowhere, but I'm neither young nor foolish enough to share the same enclosure of barbed wire with even an invisible bull.  Finally, we made it down to the shallow pond.

Billy found a few rocks and skipped them across the water.  He couldn't get more than four skips.  He threw a rock straight in, and whispered, "Damn."

"You know, Billy," I said.  "It's the nature of a rock to sink.  A bird flies, a horse runs, and a dog ... well ... sometimes a dog dies."

"I know that," he said.  "I need some better rocks."

We looked, but I wasn't much help.  "If I could just get five skips," Billy said.

"Then you'd want six.  Then seven," I said.  "You told me you asked your folks about a new dog?"

He threw a rock.  It skipped four times, then sank.  "They want me to wait," he said.  "They don't understand."

"Sometimes it's better to wait," I said.  "You want to get a different dog.  Not just a replacement for Scooter."

"You don't want me to have a dog, either."  Billy threw another stone:  four skips.  "You don't want me to get five."

I looked into that pond.  I'd fished it enough to know what hope was, and how seldom I'd gotten what I'd hoped for.  The surface reflected the sky.  But the bottom was squishy with mud.  Somewhere in that mud lay an old catfish with at least four hooks somewhere in its mouth or lips.  "Well," I told Billy, "you don't always get what you want.  At least not right away.  You have to keep trying."

Billy threw his last gathered stone.  We both counted four, but neither of us said the number out loud.  I sat on the bank, and took off my shoes and socks.  I rolled up my overalls.  Billy did, too.  I emptied my pockets and we stood in the mud at the edge of water.  I took the first step into the pond, water shivering my ankles.  "What're we doing?" asked Billy.

"What you want is in here," I said.  "You can't see it, but it's here."  Ten feet out I started digging in the mud for skipping stones.  In a few minutes, we had found more promising stones in the water than we could have found in the pasture.  We climbed out and stood in the sun on the bank.  I threw a stone.  We counted to five.

"How did you know you'd find those in there?" asked Billy.  He hurled a curved rock across the water and we counted to seven.

"I was once a hopeful boy," I said.  "I filled that pond with stones."

"I bet someday I get a new dog," said Billy.

"I'm sure you're right," I said, and we put on our shoes and headed to Here.  We even walked through the pasture of the invisible bull.  We felt that young and hopeful.