*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 lake just right for canoeing.
Dad put a pump in the basement and wouldn’t let us near the rivers when they were in full flood. He didn’t want us getting sick or electrocuted in the wet or swept under a flooded bridge and drowned. But when the floodwaters receded somewhat, we’d take 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. Mom got a round ceramic pot for him when we got home, 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 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’ve swept him down and drowned him (from which I’d saved him); and we fed him all the best food for free: juicy worms, shiny minnows, and even fresh ground beef. The first time we brought Sam minnows, he snuck out slowly from behind the 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 lazy, 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 to bury Sam at sea, so to speak. We should have taken better care of him, she said. And as we stood there at the river 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, when 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’s only really your friend if he comes back on his own.”
So we let him go later that day just where we’d 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’d 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’d been swept downstream and drowned or gotten eaten 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 give him whatever he’d most like 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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