While conducting research at the Museum of Sycamore Shadows, I found the following brief story in the papers of the late Robinson Hardy, written in the last decade of his life. Although too sappy for my taste, those who prefer sentiment to substance may enjoy it for Valentines Day:
We waded to a midstream rock—you might call it a boulder. I’ll point it out when you’re in town. Holding hands we sat and talked, each word a discovery, each smile a delight, telling each other who we were, and I felt as if I could have lifted the rock—the boulder, if you prefer. I didn’t care to, but I could have, no doubt—could have held it above my head, and though I have not seen her since, I still remember each look she gave, and every word she said.
People in deserts must fall in love, as difficult as it seems when surrounded by sand and dust. As for me, I need water, whether it sleeps as a lake, still but for laughing when swallows tickle, or passes a trout as it courses a glen, or teases the beaches as it carries great ships on its shoulders. Or water that reaches a stream in Ohio, flowing around a midstream rock—a boulder.
Perhaps we love because God made the water; I favor that’s why He made so much.
So quietly did we talk that day, a great blue heron landed nearby, noticing but not understanding the love I felt—at least I felt the wish for love—and while the heron fished, we kissed.
I think it was when she tucked her legs and wrapped her arms around her knees, that she found, where high water had lain it, half hidden in moss and floody debris, a hemlock pine cone, the size of a thimble. She gave it to me as she answered my questions—things I hoped I would need to know—told me of her siblings and parents, saying I should visit, telling me what route to take.
For many years I kept the pine cone—way too long, I’ll admit—secure in a special box where too few things deserved to be placed. If ever her face began to fade, I would take it in my hand, reviving a joy that still lingered in the deepest recess of my memory.
And then one day the pine cone was gone. I could not imagine where it went. I looked beneath the bed and the dresser, searched closets and corners and drawers. I have not seen it since.
Because she would never become what I didn’t yet know, forever retaining the mystery and perfection of new love, I still look. Not deliberately, for I am too old to admit to such maudlin things. But I wonder if, maybe—perhaps—the sucks and sweeps of vacuums and brooms, and the years, and moving things in and out of the room, have not whisked it away. That it awaits, somewhere.
And maybe one day, I’ll pop a button or drop a pen, and probing some dusty recess, find it again.
[Illustration caption] Sailor Imaginunchkin by Henri Rêvasser, circa 1938. Imaginunchkin Collection, Museum of Sycamore Shadows