The tall trees, with their giant, branched limbs, held each pine needle intact as if it had nothing else to do. It was early morning when Anand and Alicia jogged down to the group site to get some exercise before the sun would delicately scorch everything that wasn’t shaded. Summer in these parts is dry, with low humidity and skin crackling.
They saw Dale, one of the camp hosts at Sharp Creek campground. He was going nowhere in a hurry. He stopped to talk to them. In unison, they greeted him.
Alicia with gleeful curiosity, “What’s goin on?”
“Oh, a little of this and a little of that.”
Dale had a way with words. He was quick-witted, artfully humorous, and used a vocabulary that seemed foreign to the young couple, but still easily understood.
“Gonna go dancing with my daughter in town. We’re learning the Cowboy Cumbia.”
Dale recently lost his wife, Sally to covid. They had been married for fifty years. They got the virus at the same time, but sadly, she didn’t make it.
His long smile, kind eyes, and rosy cheeks stood out every time he mentioned her name. He lost his best friend and was trying to make sense of something, but didn’t know what. His daughter, Patty did her best to pick up the broken pieces of her heart while making sure to lift his every Tuesday when they danced together, something Sally and Dale shared before she passed.
Alicia and Anand knew of Dale’s loss and listened with intent when he would bring up Sally. “You guys would have liked her.” He was holding back tears, but a few brave ones fell and traveled down the hills of his cheeks as he smiled.
“What do you miss most about Sally?” asked Alicia.
Dale looked at the clear blue sky for about a minute as if the answer could only be found there.
“Well you know, most nights when it was late, Sally knew I had a rumble in my stomach. She asked if I wanted popcorn. I gave her the eye, and she’d pop some kernels, brown bag it, and bring it back to me in bed.”
The three chatted for some time and parted ways so Dale could check the new camp guests in.
After running through the group sites, Alicia said, “I’m going to make Dale some popcorn today.”
She’s always had a soft spot for elders. When thinking about Dale, she remembered her grandma, who also lost her better half a few years back. In our fast world, it’s rare to find love that has endured.
“I know you are hun.”
Anand knew this was on her mind as soon as Dale talked about the kernels. It was her nature to help others in these types of sentimental ways. It’s one of the many reasons he married her.
Towards the end of the evening, Alicia went up to Dale’s campsite. She had popped some kernels, brown-bagged it, and added a touch of Amish butter.
“Well gosh, would you look at that, brown bag and everything,” said, Dale.
“We’d thought you enjoy this.”
“Well yall thought right.” Dale held the bag and in harmony with the evening breeze, unconsciously cradled it ever so gently.
After some moments, Alicia began walking up the hill back to her campsite. It was closing in on dusk. Dale saw her faintly as the hill sloped back down. Her wavy brown hair slowly drowned with the sunset. When he couldn’t see her anymore, he went back inside his trailer.
He sat down on his bed and opened the brown bag in anticipation. He took a handful of popcorn and examined it as if it was something of great value. Before biting into one, he looked to the left where Sally once slept. He then graciously raised his eyes to look up through her window, and into the night sky for about a minute as if some sort of answer could only be found there.