The big old barn had been built with muscle and sweat for the purpose of housing animals and storing tractors, but to us children, it was a place to slide down the hay stacks, invade the sacks of raw peanuts, savor the sweet smell of alfala, straddle the worn leather of an old saddle, hook an old wagon to our imagination and spend days traversing the wild west fighting off the Indians.
The creek behide it was where you looked for polywogs, overturned rocks, built dams and took cattails apart so you could watch what was inside fly off into the air like the dandelion seeds. Nearby you looked for big trunks on the trees. They made the best place to build "your" house; its construction materials gathered from wherever junk was piled. It was never much more than a simple platform lodged in the junction of two limbs, but it was home and so terribly important a place. Because it was ours alone, and we knew it was a magnificent castle. We could borrow a few crackers and bring a jar of koolaid from mom's kitchen and have a royal feast.
But our pockets? They contained the most valuable things imaginable. That was where we deposited our treasures, each item had a special story to tell--over and over again and again. Personal, private, hidden things you only showed to your best friend. Important things that you might need some day. Special stuff.
I do not remember when it happened; just that it did. But the transition was so subtle, I scarcely knew it was happening. Crackers and KookAid in a treehouse gave way to cheeseburgers and Lattes in a mall. Checkbooks, hair brushes and lipstick now replaced the puppy tails--that flattened penny I had placed on a railroad track, and peanuts I had once kept for when I felt hungry.
I grew up. My pockets got emptied of "important things" and replaced by others...
This week I went with some friends to visit an old man named Stan in the hospital. He was lying in bed with his mouth open, hooked up to oxygen and whatever else kept him alive. He was in his 90s, and very frail. I looked down at his hands. Very little of him remained to tell of the days when much stronger ones once held a rifle on the beaches of Normandy or hunted for caribou up near Paxton, proudly held up a flagpole on Veteran's Day or guided an airboat upriver to rescue people when Fairbanks had its great flood.
Stan never seemed to lose his childhood and the joy of simple things. For those same hands at age 80 lovingly placed a little yellow Smiley on childrens arms in Walmarts. It was "his mission" he explained.
He said nothing, lying there, whereas a week before he could laugh with us. But one eye spoke volumns. Just blinking it was enough to say I'm still here and I'm listening.
We decided to sing him a little song, for we knew he loved to sing hymns in church. There was no smile, not even a tear emerged...but I think he heard it all and his silent baritone voice was joining with us in every note, just as it had when he sang with Bing Crosby in the USO.
I then realized something.
You could say that life is really about pockets. Pockets in the heart. Stan never really replaced his "special stuff" with worldly enticements like I had once done, or if he did, he later repented of it (as I also did). But Stan kept adding to it with the important things that mattered in life despite thoughts that said "you're grown up now and don't need this anymore."
No wonder it is that Jesus said to Nicodemus, "Except ye be born again and become as a little child, ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Stan knows his time has come. If, by some miracle, he is restored and lives to wet another fly in the Little Su, or walks over that Great River into Glory--either way he takes with him only those eternal things he's carried with him in the pocket of his heart.
And so do you and I...
NOTE: Stan Larimer passed over into Glory this afternoon.
MARY E. ADAMS