*For One Who Came Back*
In memory of Sam I and Sam Too
I’ve been told that kids who grow up in cities love their urban landscapes as much as any kid loves whatever landscape he or she calls home.
But I’ve never believed it.
I grew up on an acre of frequently dandelioned lawn stamped into a small woods and adjoining grassy field, bordered by two adjoining rivers and a two-lane road, all surrounded by even more woods and grassy fields stamped here and there by other lawns and cut by the long stretches of the two rivers before it spread out into farmlands and then (gasp) cities. The best thing about our land (besides the nearby fishing holes, I mean, of course), is that the rivers would overflow their banks each spring and roar around the house and transform our lawn (which was usually reserved for biking, go-carting, dandelion breeding, and occasional mowing) into a smooth, green pond just right for canoeing.
Dad put a pump in the basement and made us stay clear of the rivers when they were in full flood. He feared us getting sick or electrocuted in the wet or swept under a flooded bridge and drowned. But when the floodwaters receded somewhat, we all took advantage of the slightly boiling, quick brown flow that smoothed the bouldered rapids so we could glide our canoes through them and shoot too fast a few miles downstream.
It was on one of those trips that I met Sam.
He was floating belly down on the surface of the flood, head low, limbs outstretched, fingers spread, drifting alongside in the current almost keeping pace with us. I feared that he was drowning, but Dad said no. But he looked so out of place atop the water like that, so comically out of place, that I thought to save him anyway. So I lifted him up on the flat of my paddle and slid him to safety on the floor of our canoe.
He was sorta cute in a funny sort of way, so everybody loved him and Dad said we could keep him. When we got home, Mom got a round ceramic pot out for him that was at least ten times his size, and we put him in it with water and a rock, a bit of gravel and some sand, and we fed him little balls of meat on toothpicks and laughed as he ate them.
And everyone was happy, especially Sam. He had a cozy palace to himself, neatly landscaped in the style of his previous home but with a high, round wall and a wide, dry moat to keep him safe from toothy fish and pinching crabs; he was safe from the dirty, cold water that could have swept him down and drowned him (from which I had saved him); and we fed him all the best food for free: little cubes of cheese, fresh ground beef, and even crisp bacon. The first time we brought him live minnows he snuck out slowly from behind his rock and stabbed his head out and snagged them like a collie snags a Frisbee from midair, scattering silvery scales about as he mauled them into gruesome chunks and gulped them down. We could hardly get enough of watching that! But later he got full and lazy and lost his appetite, and then he let the minnows die by themselves before he ate them, if he did, and that got boring fast.
And so it went through many months, until one night it got too cold in the breezeway where Sam lived and he froze up in the ice. Mom was able to thaw him out, so he was fine. But not the next time. The next time it happened, Mom had to send us to the river with him. We should have taken better care of him, she said. And as we stood there praying and paying our last respects, we were pretty sorry about it.
But that summer we found someone else swimming in the river, so we caught him in a net and brought him home and put him in Sam’s old ceramic pot. We missed Sam a lot, so we named this new friend Sam too.
But after just a few, happy days, Mom put an end to it: “You have to take Sam II back home,” she said. We protested that his home was with us now and that we loved him. But Mom said that sometimes, if you truly love someone, you have to let them go. We cried a lot and argued that Sam Too was our good friend. But Mom said he was only really our friend if he came back on his own.
So we let him go later that day just where we had found him. He waved hard with all four hands even before we put him in the water, so we waved and called after him as he swam hard away, saying we hoped he would please come back on his own to be our good friend again, only this time really.
We visited that spot in the river many times that summer, wondering if Sam Too had ever been our friend at all, worrying that he had starved or gotten eaten or was swept downstream and drowned or caught his death of cold in the dirty water. We urged him to come home with us each time we dropped by, and we promised to take even better care of him and to give him even better things to eat and an even bigger rock in an even bigger castle, if he wanted.
But we also wished him well and swore we loved him as good friends should even if he never did come back. And though we hoped our words would make him want to come back, we also really meant them. And I still do:
Love and all the best to you Too.
(To be continued.)
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