• Sahar Abdulaziz

A Proper Send-Off

Story Starter #3:

"I’ve lived in this town my whole life, and most of the time that’s fine by me. But in late fall when the sky fills with birds migrating south for the winter, traveling thousands of miles, I get homesick for places I’ve never been. Places like …" *

... places like Breckenridge, Colorado. My collection of old, faded, photos are still pinned forever on my bulletin board depicting one dazzling foliage display after the next. Mountain tops full of woods erupting into what could have only been a kaleidoscopic of splendor. Miles and miles of trails fortified by magnificent aspen trees which all seemed to know when to turn a stunning autumn gold. Tall pines that saluted the skies above, and wildflowers which littered the landscape below. As I sifted through my husband's letters, it occurred to me that these photos, the few that I had, always seemed a bit too perfect. Postcard picture perfect.

I have for so long envisioned taking quiet strolls along the many pathways, with the Rocky Mountains looming majestically in the backdrop. Strolling along endless wooded corridors looping here and there, affording me the privacy of my thoughts and the freedom to shed the weight of the world, which now demands my allegiance. But most of all, I yearn for a quiet space to once and for all, scatter the ashes of my memories along this old mining community's sacred grounds.

John Richard … he was a proud, decent man. Worked the mines till death do them part, all to send money home, but at heart, I knew the rivers called him, a fisherman–through and through. Trout, being his favorite catch.

“The fish are year-round here,” he’d share in his barely legible, scraggly handwriting. “Big brown trout–enough for a proper feast. I think that now that the air has cooled some, they’re all at once in a big hurry to move up along the river to spawn. What a sight to behold, I tell ya.”

I could almost hear the excited lilt rise in his voice as I read his words over, determined to place myself there with him. Holding his hand as we walked, admiring how the sunset bowed and beckoned the awaiting full moon.

“One day soon, once I’ve saved up enough, I’ll move you and the family out here,” he once wrote me. “We’ll spend nights counting stars and days exploring the land. We'll build a big, fine home, a place we can grow old together.”

John Richard shared with me that he relished time spent sitting alone by the stream, especially after a long and arduous week of work. But he was also a man who never did much care for the whimsical mentality of those that surrounded him. The kind that was always on the lookout for the next big Pike Peak Gold Rush. No, he didn’t bother with all that. Oh, he’d write and tell me about how he’d listen to the men tell their tall tales, full of dreams and vigor, however consumed. The way they’d spend the gold they’d yet to discover way before it ever had a chance to land in their hands. He also shared how he'd try to remember to include a little prayer for them ... that their dreams would someday materialize, but never once did he attempt to deride the faith of those that used their hopeful aspirations to fuel their dreary existence.

On his one day off, John Richard would make sure to scoot away before the sun rose to find a secluded spot to read and perhaps take a nap in peace. Working below the earth had taken a terrible toll, he wrote. Not just on his body, but in his mind. Aging his thoughts along with his limbs, while managing to slowly extinguish his expectations. For this proud man, my husband–the refuge of clean, cool mountain air had become a necessary and a welcomed respite. A small piece of solemnity he could declare his own. However, once his lungs had begun to seize, his long day trips to the river became less frequent until ultimately, I’m told, they stopped altogether. Much like most of his mail home did.

That’s when I knew …

For years, I’ve wondered what his last hours and minutes were like. Alone, under the Lord’s sky, in the only place he cherished, besides home with me, I hoped. The last letter I received came tucked in a small hand carved wooden box, along with a few of his personal effects. John Richard never did own much, although if asked, that fact never seemed to bother him–not a bitter bone in the man’s body. He took each day as it came, one foot planted stoically in front of the other, more than content to support his family back home, even if it meant long months of separation, and ultimately, his untimely death.

I wrote my husband often, but after a month of not receiving any word back, I became frightened. The Foreman, a kindly soul, eventually wrote. Told me that he and some of the other men grew concerned when John Richard didn’t come back at dusk like he always did. They formed a group lighting lanterns to combat the dark and went out in search for him. It hadn't taken long. They finally found my dear husband, his body leaning on a tree as if sitting by the river’s edge in contemplation not too far from the mining settlement.

I’m told that many people attended John Richard’s funeral, men from the mine. As a tribute to another fallen friend they all lit their pipes in his honor as his body was lowered. A proper send-off for an honorable man who fed his family working from deep within the confines of the earth.

*Story Starter #3 From: Complete The Story by Piccadilly

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