|Posted: December 2, 2011|
|As I got older, I forgot about the Hippie guy more and more. It began to feel like a dream. Even my close encounter with death seemed to be something I made up. Life went on the way it had for generations. I helped my dad a lot more and went to the woods a little less. Farm life is not easy. My mother did a lot of work no one knew about but lately she began to feel ill. She said it was just a cold and it would pass. That’s when I took over some of her chores. I didn’t mind. My mother was a hard working woman and I felt it was my turn to carry my weight around the farm.
Unfortunately, Mother’s ‘cold’ did not go away and it got worse. She finally went to the doctor but the news was not good. She had lung cancer, which I thought was weird being she never smoked a day in her life. She said it was hereditary. Cancer has been known to exist on her side of the family. She started chemotherapy right away but it was horrible. There were days she didn’t even get out of bed. I took over as much as I could for her. On her better days, she taught me how to do all the paperwork and that kind of stuff. Like I said, farming is not just about planting and picking. This was their business, their livelihood. Without it, there would be no farm.
My mother’s medical bills became a burden on the farm. My dad worked extra hard to make sure ends were met and food was always on the table. It took its toll on him but he never complained. He didn’t talk much about it but I knew how scared he was. My dad was a simple man, but he loved my mother deeply. He was a handsome man, well built. My mother was beautiful. Their life was filled with the love they held for each other. It was the one thing I noticed most about them. My fondest memories are of them sitting on the porch swing holding hands. My mother would lay her head on his shoulder and sing softly to him. He would smile a soft smile and close his eyes, listening to every word. I always wished to one-day find that kind of love.
Then the day came when Mother knew she would not be with us much longer. She fought the disease as long as she could. It seemed cancer would win in the end. I remember I was washing dishes from breakfast when my dad came up to me.
“Let me finish those for you.” he said taking the sponge from my hand. “Why don’t you go spend some time with your mother instead?”
I didn’t think much of it. “Alright.” I replied, glad for the break.
As soon as I saw her, I knew this was going to be our final moments together. She was very pale and sallow. Her eyes were dark and sunken. She wore a yellow scarf since she lost her hair due to the chemo. Still, the one thing that never changed was her smile. She had the most beautiful smile that lit up any dark room she entered. Dad always said it was the first thing he noticed about her when they met. As soon as she smiled at him, he fell in love with her.
“How are you feeling today Mother?” I asked trying to act like business as usual.
“I have been better. Here, sit down. There is something I need to talk to you about.” She patted the bed.
“What’s up?” I tried to remain oblivious.
Mother looked me deep in the eyes. I saw something there, a secret of some sort. Whatever she had to tell me was something very important.
“You are going to have to do a lot around here now. Your dad is going to be very reluctant to let you take on more of the responsibilities but you must not listen to him.”
“Mother, I know what has to be done. I’ve already been doing most of it since…”
She reached out and took my hand. It felt so cold and a shiver ran up my spine. Never before had she felt so… so… lifeless. “You must listen to me now.” she said in a serious tone. Just as suddenly, her face softened and a smile spread across her lips. “Do you remember our trips to the forest?”
“Well of course I do.”
“They are precious, much more so than you could ever imagine. There is a reason why they are so special. They hold a secret. They are magical.” she said, her voice very mysterious. Then she took my chin in her weak fingers and turned my attention on her. “I know you understand what I am speaking of.” Her eyes bore a hole all the way to my soul. To this day, I will never forget that feeling. She read me like a book and there were no more secrets. “You must protect the forest now.”
“Protect it? Protect it from who?” I said confused.
“Who is not important. There may come a day when this land is threatened. Do not let anyone take it. The forest is a part of this land and one will not survive without the other.”
I started to think she was affected by all the drugs she’d been taking for her illness. “Maybe you need your rest now.” I said, almost afraid of what she might say next.
“Tell me, all the time you have spent playing in the woods, have you ever felt threatened or scared?” she asked.
I had to think about it a moment. “No. No, I always felt quite safe there. Sometimes more so than at home.”
Mother smiled. “You are protected when you are there. You are guarded from any harm in the forest.”
Suddenly, a vision of my Hippie friend came forward from the back of my brain. I remembered how safe I felt as we spoke to each other, even though he was a stranger. “I met a man in the woods one day. It was a few years back.”
Mother’s eyebrows scrunched up. “You never told me of this.”
“I think I wanted to forget about it.” I had an overwhelming urge to tell her what happened that day. I felt she needed to know, as if this was my only chance to tell her. I looked down to my lap and let the memories wash over me. “I… I almost drowned at the pond. It was hot and the water felt so cool. I know you always told me never to go swimming alone. I was only going to go in up to my knees but it felt so good. The weeds caught my legs and pulled me under.” Here I paused as a lump in my throat rose, almost choking me. Tears came to my eyes as I conjured up the old feelings. “I was gone Mother. I lost consciousness. My lungs filled with water. And then I felt a hand on my ankle. Someone pulled me up and got me breathing again. I lived due to the kindness of this stranger.”
My mother’s face looked so distraught by this news. “Why did you not tell me?”
“I was afraid you’d be mad at me and not let me go to the forest alone.” I said in a small childish voice.
Then my mother’s face turned from concern to questioning. “Who was this man that saved you.” she said desperate to know.
“I don’t know. Just some guy. I don’t know what he was doing in the forest that day. I’ve never seen anyone there, besides the hunters during their hunting season. It was just a miracle that he was there when this happened. But what you said about the forest being a safe place, well that’s what I felt in this guys presence. I felt protected.”
My mother’s eyes widened. “What did he look like?” she whispered as if this was the biggest mystery ever to be unveiled.
I hadn’t thought about my Hippie guy since that day so I paused to relive the memory. “Well, the first thing I noticed was his long blond hair. It wasn’t just blond, it was almost silver. And his skin was so pale but not in a sickly way. He seemed to glow. But the strangest thing was how he was dressed, wool tights, leather jerkin, tall boots. He looked like he stepped out from a renaissance fair or something. It just wasn’t normal. But the one thing I remember more than anything was his eyes. They were a piercing blue, as if they were mirrors and the sky was reflecting in them.”
My mother lay back in her bed and breathed deep. A smile formed on her lips. She looked satisfied, as if I had just told her what the meaning of life was or something. “I knew it. I was right all along. Your grandmother did not believe me and I began to doubt myself but I was right.”
“Right about what?” I asked cautiously.
“This man in the woods you saw, I saw him too, when I was very young like you.”
O.K. So it seems my mother is experiencing some kind of side affect from her medicines. “You couldn’t have seen this guy. He wasn’t old. He was young, like in his twenties or something. If I had seen the same guy you did, he’d be an old man by now.”
My mother sat up and took my face in her hands. “It is the same one. I am positive. You have described him exactly.”
I shook my head. “But…”
“Now listen to me. I know this makes no sense now but there is something very magical about that forest. As long as this land is ours, everything will remain the same. I fear for what might happen after I am gone though. Your father will have a hard time keeping things going. You mustn’t let him make any hasty decisions. Keep this land in our family. It is the only way to protect it and our mutual friend. But whatever you do, keep him a secret. Do not even tell your father.”
I was completely shocked. My mother never kept anything from my dad. “Mother, you are just tired. Maybe you should…”
“You must do this for me, for him. He is special… magical.” she said desperately. Then she looked up at the ceiling as if searching for her memories. “I went back every day to the forest, trying to find him again. He was so beautiful and I just wanted to see him one more time, to know I was not crazy. I made the mistake of telling your grandmother about him. She told me to get my head out of the clouds and do what I was told. To her, life was about working hard and paying bills. She never went with me to the forest. The older she got the stricter she became. I swore that when I had a child, I would never become like that.”
I smiled. “And you aren’t. You have shown me so much. You always gave me the freedom to find out things on my own. You are the best mom in the whole world.” I couldn’t keep it in any longer and began to cry. I leaned forward and rested my head on her chest. She put her hands on my back and gently soothed away my sorrow. When I regained my composure, I sat up and looked at her again. I saw a new light in her eyes, but I could tell it wasn’t for this world. She had accepted her fate. She finally told her secret and was relieved. So was I for that matter. I see now that she carried that mystery around with her most of her life. I felt better to have told her about the Hippie and maybe it would not burden me as it did her. Still, one thing weighed on my mind. Who was he and how could he never have aged between our sightings? I asked Mother about him but she did not know, only saying he was special and magical.
Later, as I lay in my bed, the song ‘Magic Man’ by Heart came on the radio. I had to laugh when I paid special attention to the first few lyrics.
“…a pretty man came to me. Never seen eyes so blue*.” I sang. “Yea, maybe Mother’s right. He’s some kind of magic man.” I said to myself and drifted off to sleep.
*Magic Man by Heart, 1976
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