I went out to Twig Forest today ...ostensibly to rake pinestraw for garden mulch. With 20 acres of planted pines, we have an unlimited supply of this most excellent stuff.
No one went with me today, no paintball warring kids or trail cutting machete crews. Just me, a rake, a wheelbarrow and a pickup. The pinestraw is thick with lots of pine cones and twiggy sticks mixed in, not like the storebought bales that have been raked and gleaned by crews of illegal immigrants. Mine has rough parts and flaws...like me.
Raking, like other mundane tasks, allows for deep thinking since none is needed to accomplish the task at hand. I was thinking about two dear friends who will almost certainly pass away this week. I'm optimistic to a fault sometimes, but when hearts and kidneys begin to fail in the elderly, a true recovery is rare. I'd love to be wrong about this.
These two people, both in their 80's, are not family, but they have always filled every requirement of that title, except for the direct DNA link or legal contract that makes it official. They have lived full lives, raised kids, and been a huge part of my life.
She, my mother's best friend has always been "Aunt" to me. I don't know if that's a southern thing or not, this tendency for very close non family members to be labeled aunt or uncle. Widowed twice, she is a sweet lady who has had so much trial and tragedy in her life that I used to joke, "Aunt R. must have done something horrible in another life, because she just can't get a break in this one."
I'm not joking anymore.
The wheelbarrow is full, overflowing actually, and I push it around the pines, down through the ditch, and up onto the dirt road where the old pickup waits patiently rusting. At the bed of the truck, I reach into the pinestraw and toss mounds of it over the tailgate. Then back into the woods to rake more...
He was the next door dad in the "Leave It To Beaver" type neighborhood I grew up in. His daughters are like sisters to me, we grew up together and share Godparent duties between our own kids. Our parents stayed together, in love, in the same houses they built in the mid-50's as newlyweds. Our families could not be closer if there was a blood link. His wife is very frail also, and I fear for her if he should go.
It's quiet out at Twig on this spring afternoon. Hot enough to work up a sweat, I notice it because it's been months since that has happened. The flitty warblers that had rustled among the palmettos and gallberry are gone north or south, wherever LGB's go. Their busy twittering is noticeably absent. The only real sound is the swish of the rake and the wind in the tops of the young pines.
Eventually, the truck is full of brown gold. I pile the wheelbarrow and rake atop the needles and wonder what the week will bring.