Stopping by the cider mill

From where he sat, the yard sale didn’t look
like much. But Clayton saw the cider jugs
for sale, and he thought cider sweeter in
the fall–preferring it to winter’s mint,
to maple syrup in the spring, to drops
of summer’s honey. With October’s frost
apparent on the leaves, Clay stopped the truck.

The old man put a finger on the page
to mark his place and looked up long enough
to nod a greeting.

………………………….. Clay said, “Hey. What’s up?”
Beneath the chair, the dog’s tail thumped the ground.
Above the barn, a setting sun poured rays
of yellow light that bathed the fields in gold
but could no longer warm the autumn air.
Clay thought he’d make a cordial pass around
the goods before he bought his cider. You
can’t ever tell, he told himself, might find
a thing or two worth having. That was when
he found the wooden turkey call, the kind
that makes the basic gobbles, whines and yelps.
The lid was fairly worn, so Clayton knew
the box was old. The wood was strong in grain
and hue; the craftsmanship was stronger still.

“I made her m’self,” the old man said. “She’s sound.”

Clay looked at him with doubt, then noticed his
two rough and burly hands. They marked a man
who did most things himself.

……………………………………  “She’s old, but not
as old as she might look. I worked her some,
I guess. There’s times I call ’em just for fun.”
He smiled a shy smile. “Local roosters got
to know me.”

……………….  Clayton looked again and saw
the lined and weathered face, the peaceful eyes,
the wind-blown silver hair, and knew this was
a man who’d lost the need for straying from
the truth.

……………..  “She’ll still call though.” He closed his book
and opened his left hand, and Clayton put
the call in it. He slowly dragged the lid
across the box until it closed and made
a clear, sure two-note whine. “That side’s the hen,”
he said. “The gobbler’s on the other.” Then,
he gave it back to Clay. “It don’t take long
to learn.”

…………   “I’m sorry, but the turkey hunt
was never my best sport.” The man and box
returned to chair and table. Clayton made
his rounds, then bought his cider in two jars,
a gallon each. About to stow the jugs
behind the driver’s seat, he heard the old
man softly ask,

X                     “Say, you got kids?”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX                Clay said,
“Just one, a son,” and thought the question odd.

The old man stood and pulled the handmade bird
call from the pile again. He rubbed his hand
across the grain, as if to brush away
some dust, and looked it over through a long
and heavy sigh before he said, “Well, I’m
alone–my line has reached its end–so you
might just as well have this ol’ piece of junk.”
Clay reached for money, but the old man shook
his head. “Your boy and you might call a bird
or two with it, eh? Even just to watch.
Who knows, it could be you’d come ’round here now
and then.”

……………. Clay nodded that he understood
and, after shaking hands, he took the box.
“The cider’s good,” he said, not knowing what
to say. “I think I’ll take another jug.”