She said “I want to tell you about the time I got lost. I want you to know that when you found me that was the second time that you scared me. The first time was when I was four.” She just looked at me for a few seconds then continued. “I was four and grandpa, Uncle Mike and Aunt Debbie brought me, mom and my two brothers to your house. They were talking to you and you looked as sad as I felt so I got into your lap. I was sitting there and you pulled me tight to your chest and held me. After Uncle Mike stopped talking you screened and almost knocked me on the floor. I didn’t know why then and didn’t for awhile till Aunt Debbie took me to church one Sunday and to the graves. After I asked who they were and she told me.”
I saw a tear stat to roll down her cheek so I whipped it away.
She said “after that every Sunday we would go to church and Aunt Debbie would tell me stories about Amy, you and Emily. Afterwards we would both cry, but I also feel better.”
I whipped away a few more tears both hers and mine.
She said “It was the next year that I asked where you were and she told me about what happen. I felt so bad and when I heard grandpa and Uncle Mike talking about you and I heard them say that no one could have made it through the winter. I cried every Sunday at the graves till I found the wild flowers”.
Paula was openly crying now and for some reason I pulled her to me. She laid there with her head on my chest crying for a while as I rubbed her back.
Once she stopped crying she continued. “I was so happy that you were alive. I told everyone you were alive but grandpa told me that anyone could have put them there. I knew you were.”
She stopped talking and just laid there in my arms. She looked and said “when the first snow came I made Aunt Debbie take me to the graves because I was sure that we would see your foot prints. When they weren’t there Aunt Debbie said that you may not have been able to get down or that you went south.”
What she told me next had me crying and her holding me. She said “we didn’t have any flowers to put on the graves so every Sunday I would lay down on the graves and make snow angles for you”.
Once I stopped crying I kissed her forehead and thanked her.
She said “I waited all winter and once it started to warm up I sat down with Aunt Debbie and told her that we need to let you know it was time to come home. So she wrote the note to you and I left it at the graves. It was two weeks before you took it and I waited all summer for you to come home”. She put her head back down on my chest then continued. “I cry so hard the day we found your note”. Then she started crying again.
When she stopped she looked back up at me and said “every year I waited for you to come and stay but every year you would leave so when the Girl Scout said we were going for a hike up in the hill I planned to fine you and if you wouldn’t come home I was going to stay with you”. Then she giggled and said “it didn’t work out like I planned”.
She giggled again saying “you know you look nothing like the picture I have of you”.
We both started laughing. After we stopped laughing she sat up and said let’s eat. She pulled out some fried chicken that smelt wonderful. My mouth was watering just thinking about it. I couldn’t remember when the last time I had any and I told her so.
She said that she got up early this morning to make this for us and that she had been planning it all winter long.
It was the best meal I had ate since the accident, fried chicken, potato salad, fresh homemade rolls and ice tea.
All through the meal I keep telling her how good it was. When she said wait for dinner I guess she saw the worried look.
She laughed and said “Aunt Debbie is making it and I will meet her at the end of the trail and bring it up”. I relaxed a little bit after that.
After we finished I helped her put everything away, she stood up and took my hand and walked us to the trees by the lake. She pointed to a group of people in the park and said “see those people”. I just nodded. She said “they are my mom, my two brothers and their families, my grandparents and some of my cousins”.
I looked at her and asked her why she wasn’t with them. She laughed then said “I can go join them but only if you will join me”. When I didn’t say anything she said “I understand, mom knows we are here. I told her last night what I wanted to do”.
She pulled me down and said let’s watch. As we sat there she said “over the winter I was so scared that you might have got caught in the snow and mom knew something was wrong. So I told her that I had lied to her about where I was most of the summer. Then I told her about asking you to stay one more week because I wanted to tell you about my dance even though you said you needed to get going. I just knew if something happen to you, it would have been because of me”.
I whipped away a few tears and pulled her close to me and told her if anything happens to me it would not be her fault. Last fall I choose to stay knowing the risk but I felt it was more importation to be here for you and it was worth the risk.
We just sat there with her head on my shoulder and my arm around her waist. We watched as her families picnic ended and everyone leaving but for one person standing by the lake looking in our direction.
Paula stood up and helped me stand, she said that’s my mom, she has always wanted to thank you for letting us live in your house. She slowly started to pull me through the trees while asking me if I trusted her.
As we came out of the trees she walked us to the edge of the lake, then she waved to her mom who returned the wave. I saw her put her hands to her face and I heard her yell “thank you”.
I just waved and she returned it then turned around and started to walk back to town.
Paula led us back into the trees and once we were in the clearing she hugged me and thanked me for doing that for her and her mom.
I looked at her and she said “even after everything that Aunt Debbie and I have told her I don’t think that she truly believed but she will now”.
She still had her arms around me so I pulled her in tighter for a hug. I know we stood there for awhile before she said she needed to go meet her Aunt Debbie at the church.
We walked back the way we came and once we were at the main path Paula said “I know that you’re not ready to come home right now but can you come with me. I know that Aunt Debbie really wants to see you.”
I told her I wasn’t sure if I could. She put her arms around me and asked “do you trust me”. I smiled and said you already know the answer. She gave me a kiss on the cheek then started to pull me down the path.
We were almost to the end of the path, there was one turn left then it ended at the church. Paula stopped me there and said “wait here”. With another kiss to my cheek she walked around the bend.
I could hear her talking to someone then I heard a car door close and I could hear two people walking up the path. When Paula came around the bend she was hold a different basket in one hand and Amy’s moms hand in the other.
Now she had seen me the other night but, it was really dark with no moon so I don’t know how good she could see me. Now there was good light and she showed no sign of shock at what I looked like. I’m sure that Paula had told her all she knows about me. At least that’s what I got from our talk today.
As they got to me Paula let go of Amy’s moms hand and stopped but Amy’s mom keep coming to me. She stopped in front of me and took both of my hand and brought them up and kissed them.
Now I know where both Amy and Paula got this from.
She smile and said it’s nice to see you again. Then she dropped my hands and wrapped her arms around me and hugged me. Slowly I put my arms around her and hugged her back.
I looked up and saw Paula smiling and I smiled back. Since last Sunday I just couldn’t help it, when I saw that she was happy it made me happy.
I heard Amy’s mom giggle and I looked down to see her looking up at me. I let her go and she stepped back. She looked backed to Paula and then to me and said I hope to see you again soon. She turned around and as she passed Paula she said she could make it back by herself.
I watched Amy’s mom till she was out of sight. I looked to Paula and she was watching me with that smile and I felt happy.
Paula said come on lets head up and see what we have for dinner. As she came to me I held out my hand and she seemed too smiled even more. She took my hand and we walked back to my camp.
When we got there she opened the basket and pulled out another blanket and handed it to me. I spread it out then took the plates and containers with the food and put them on the blanket.
Once everything was laid out she handed me a wet cloth and she had one and cleaned her hands. I did the same then we sat down. She started to place food on to the plates.
Again the smell was making my mouth water. There was roast, green beans, mashed potato, fresh bread and there was a apple pie.
After she had put the food on the plates she handed one to me and then sat down next to me and took her plate. There wasn’t much said while we ate but I keep watching her and she was watching me. After eating the roast, green beans and mashed potato, Paula took my plate and cut a piece of the pie and put it on my plate.
Paula moved in front of me then gave me a bite then took one for herself. I took the fork off of her plate and she gave me another bite. I cut her a bite and feed it to her. She giggled and I just smiled.
We finished the pie and we put everything away. When I looked around it was already getting dark. I told Paula I would walk her down the path because I didn’t want her getting lost on me again.
She giggled and said “you could walk me home, you know where I live”.
When she saw my reaction, she ran over to me saying, “I’m sorry” as she wrapped her arms around me.
I told her that was ok as I held her. I said I know where you live but I don’t know if I could go there.
As I watched Paula turn the corner and disappear I step back in to the trees to wait for it to get dark. As I sat there I keep getting this feeling like I was being watch.
The first winter with Trapper John he taught me how to know when you’re being watch. He said once I knew what it felt like, I would know what an animal felt and might be able to stop it.
I didn’t see where they were right now and it didn’t matter because I’m sure they could not see me now and were just watching the area I stepped into. So I put it out of my mind for now and sat back to wait.
I started to think about today, I had a good time with Paula. I liked to watch her when she was happy or curious. As I started going over what she had told me, Paula was the little girl that I have watch over the years at Amy’s and Emily’s graves. From the way she talked she made sure that they were taken care of, even when I wasn’t here.
But there was something else from our talk, she wasn’t just taking care of them because I wasn’t there, she was doing it for me, to let me know she care about me too. I didn’t know till today that I had been hurting her by leaving every fall not knowing if I would ever come back.
All of a sudden us eating the apple pie popped in my head. I had acted like some young kid in love feeding her bites of pie. Then I realized she had started it first and I started to get confused.
Without even checking to see if I was still being watched or if anyone could see me. I ran out of the woods to Amy’s grave.
I was on my knees telling her how much I loved her, missed her and how sorry I was for feeling so happy today.
Somehow I again didn’t hear Amy’s mom walk up. I didn’t know she was even there till she put her hand on my shoulder. Once she sat down next to me she told me that Amy knew how much I loved her and Emily but she also knew that Amy would not want me to be unhappy because Amy was always the happiest when I was happy. I looked at her and she said you have grieved for them, now it’s time that you lived for them and be happy for them. It’s time to come home, you know we are here for you.
She sat there with me for awhile till she said that she needed to go. I helped her up and she gave me a hug then giggled and said you know this tickles as she flipped my beard. She turned around and walked to the parking lot and got in a car that I hadn’t noticed and then left.
I laid down between the graves thinking when I felt someone was still watching me. I felt whoever it was leaving a little bit later.
A couple of weeks passed and every day Paula would come up. Some time we would go fishing or just go for walks but most of the time we would just sit and talk.
I woke up early the next Sunday and cleaned up and cleaned around the camp then went fishing. I got back to camp just as people started to show up for church so I cleaned the fish I caught and ate while waiting for church to get out hoping to see Paula.
I was thinking about her and what she had said. Here was a little girl whose father had left her and her family when she was four and since she hasn’t mention him I guess he never came back. Then she saw me, who lost his wife and little girl and I always came back. I wonder if by her taking care of their graves she thought I was coming back for her too. That would make since to a little girl but what about now.
She knew that it was my house that she lived in and allowed them to stay when I couldn’t. I figured out a long time ago that I didn’t leave because they were there. I left because of the memories that were there, now most of them I can hardly remember now.
How long have I been living in the wood, I didn’t know. The next time I see Paula I will have to ask her what year it is.
I had just finished cleaning up the dishes when the church bells rang and people started to come out of the church. I couldn’t understand why I wanted to see Paula as much as I did. Maybe that was why winter seemed so long this pass year because I couldn’t wait till I got back. She was the only person that I have talk to in many years.
As I watched the first person going into the grave yard I knew it was Paula, but today she was followed by two ladies. After Paula kneeled down and put down fresh flowers I swear it looked like she was talking to them and when she kind of pointed up to where I was I knew she was.
After Paula stood up I could tell that the three of them were talking. Now I knew that one of the other three ladies was Amy’s mom but the other one I didn’t know. I watched them start to leave when I saw Paula waving.
I don’t know why I did it but I waved back even though I knew she could see me.
It was awhile before I heard someone coming up the path below. I took my scope and saw that it was Paula. I didn’t wait for her to come up I started down to meet her.
When I could see her, she had a backpack on, not like the one I had started out with so many years ago this was much smaller. When she saw me she waved and quickened her pace up the hill.
When we met she gave me a hug and asked if I was going somewhere or was it that I couldn’t wait to see her.
I just pulled her in tighter because I didn’t know what to say. After I let her go she took my hand and led me up to my camp.
When we got there she smile real big and asked me if I trusted her, then she giggled. She didn’t wait for an answer, she took the backpack off and started taking thing out of it.
She pulled out towels, soap, shampoo, and when she pulled out scissor and a razor I knew what she had planned. Now cleaning up I did, but what it looked like she was planning was a whole lot more.
As she was pulling out the last thing out of the backpack she said I hope this fits you, holding up a shirt. I guess she saw that I was unsure of this so she again asked me if I trusted her. This time I nodded yes and she smiled.
Now the reason that I camp in this spot is that there is a fresh spring that comes right out of the stone wall behind the camp. There was only one year that it didn’t run and there was hardly any rain that year.
She walked over and picked up the biggest pot that I had and walked over and filled it up then put in on the fire. I put some more wood on the fire as she started to get things set up the way she wanted it.
Once she was done she looked at me and asked “when was the last time you had your hair cut”. I told her before I left. She giggled and said it looked like it.
Now she was going to be in for a real surprise because she hasn’t seen my hair when it wasn’t tide up. I was 6 foot and when it wasn’t tide up it would drag on the ground. I guess she mistook the look I had because she said ok I won’t cut it but she did want to wash it if that was ok. Then she quickly added that her aunt said that she needed to cut that stuff off my face.
So as the water warmed up she took the scissors and started to cut off my beard till she had it as close to my face as she could. When she stepped back she turned her head one way then the other and finely said that looked a lot better and she just might leave it like that.
I felt it and she didn’t cut it as short as I thought she had, it was at least a haft inch long. As I was doing this she moved behind me and started to untie the raw hide strings that I used to tie my hair into a ponytail.
After I wash my hair and while it was still wet I started in the middle and fold it in haft while tying it up. I guess she figured this out quick because she moved to my side and asked how long was it. I told her I didn’t really know.
She laughed and said she was thinking of cutting it but now she thought she would wait. She went to the pot and felt it, when she said it was still too cold I told her that was ok I normally just used cold water anyway. She laughed and said not today because today was a special day.
I asked her what was so special about today. She turned around from the things that she had laid out and said “today’s my birthday”.
I got up and walked over to her and hugged her and as I was holding her I whispered happy birthday. She gave me a kiss on my cheek and said thank you.
I let her go and sat back down and as she turned back to her things I saw her wipe her eyes. I asked her what was wrong. She said nothing but her aunt was right my beard did tickle.
I laughed and told her ok she could cut it off. She didn’t turn around as she wiped her eyes again but said she just might. Finely she stopped playing with the stuff and checked the water again.
She came over and sat next to me. I put my arm around her and asked if today was her birthday didn’t she have a party to go to with friends and family. She put her head on my shoulder and said yes, her mom had rented the VFW hall and they were going to have a party there tonight for her. Then she looked up at me and said “but I wanted to spend some of this special day with you too”.
I saw the tears start before she put her head back down. I kissed the top of her head and told her I didn’t know if she knew how much it meant to me that she would want to spend even a minute of this special day with me.
I held her even tighter. I felt her stop crying but she didn’t move, she even held on a little tighter till a log popped. She wiped her eyes and stood up and said it was time for her to wash my hair as she went to the pot.
The water was hot and she got another pot with some cold water and mixed it till she had it just the way she wanted it. When she turned to me she said that I needed to take my shirt off so she wouldn’t get it wet.
Now this isn’t what I wanted to do because I was pretty scared up. My first year trapping I made some pretty dumb mistakes. Like not making sure a bobcat that I caught in one of my traps was dead before trying to skin it. I got some pretty bad scares on my chest and back from that. Then there was the time I caught a cougar in a trap that didn’t hold and ran off the side of a cliff as I was trying to get away. I was lucky that it was only about a twenty foot drop before the tree broke my fall also leaving a few scares.
Maybe she just thought that I was just being shy because she said “I’ve seen guys without their shirts on, remember I have two older brothers”. With that she started to untie my shirt. I was watching her and saw the shock look, but she didn’t say anything right away. When she did, it was just “you will have to tell me one day about these”.
She started to wash my hair from the top down having to go back once to get some more water. Once she had it washed she dried it the best she could, she started brushing it out.
Once she was done she went and got some more warm water and a wash cloth and started washing my back. I felt her more than once run a finger along one of the scares. After she had finished with my back she washed my chest.
As she washed my chest I watched her the whole time and again she traced a few of the scares.
Once she was done to her liking she went back to her backpack and pulled out something that I didn’t know what it was. When she saw me looking at it she laughed and said it was for my hair but if she knew it was that long she would have got two of them.
It looked like a leather sleeve that was about 12 inches long with braided leather holding the sides together. She folded my hair in half and slid this up my hair, then she giggled saying that she would have to use some of my ties to finish. Once she was done she walked back to her things and brought the shirt over and asked if I would try it on for her.
I stood up and she helped me put it on. Once it was on she stepped in front of me and buttoned it up. When she was done she put all of her things back into her backpack.
Once she was done she said “take me for a walk”. I took her hand and we walked around for awhile and when I decide it was time to head back I knew where I wanted to end the walk. When we walked into the valley that I found her in over four years ago she squeezed my hand.
I stopped us as close to the spot that I first saw her, she pulled me into a hug and held me. I held her till she looked up at me with a tear just started to roll down her cheek. She said thank you for today and she gave me a kiss on the cheek.
She stepped back and said “I know it’s time for me to go”. She started walking up to the ridge pulling me behind her. She was quite till we got back to my camp.
After putting on her backpack she turned to me and said “I know you might not be ready but I want you to know I really want you at my party tonight but I understand if you can’t come”.
I pulled her into a hug and thanked her for understanding and for sharing today with me. I took her hand and said I would walk her to the end of the path.
When we got to the end of the path I again gave her a hug and thanked her again for today. She gave me another kiss on the cheek and left without asking me to come to her party.
I walked back up to my camp. I just sat there thinking about today. Paula had given up most of today to spend time with me. It made since why she wanted to wash my hair and cleaned me up. She wanted me to come to her party and if I didn’t she had this time together.
I got up and started to clean up and put everything away. It started getting dark so I started walking down the path to the church. It was still a little light but I walked to Amy’s and Emily’s graves. I told them about today and how good it felt that Paula wanted to share today with me. When I told them that she wanted me to come to her party, it was like I could hear Amy telling me that she wanted me to go. I even looked around to see if someone was standing there.