The days grew shorter; the air cooled; the leaves changed color; migrating birds made their way south – fleeing winter. Fall was upon us – my favorite time of year. My daughter, age six, and my son, age four, held my hands, as we waded through the fallen leaves – a deepening blanket of confetti on the path we followed. It was a trip through nature’s art gallery. The trees competed with each other, each a part of nature’s glorious work.
I carried a backpack. Inside were boxes of juice, bottles of water and sandwiches in bags. My children helped make the sandwiches that morning. We planned a picnic at the park while looking off the cliffs along the Hudson River.
A canopy of color shaded us. We stood under it, looked up and saw sunlight streaming through the branches. It struck each leaf and was reflected back with unimaginable brilliance.
In the quiet of the forest, I heard a faint snap. A single leaf floated delicately to the ground. A light breeze stirred the branches – a multicolored storm. The colored flakes landed on our heads and shoulders. They covered the seeds and nuts dropped on the ground weeks ago. Some already had small sprouts reaching for the sky.
The seeds of new life were soon buried under a cover of delicate and dying leaves, a cover provided by the tall trees standing over them. The leaves protected the future from the cold winter to follow. In spring, the leaves decomposed and provided rich nutrients to strengthen a new generation. The air was already scented with the odor of dampness and decomposition – a pleasant smell.
We shuffled along, pushing the leaves in front of us. They parted and swirled around our feet like the waters on a beach.
I looked at my children. I was their tree, sheltering them.
“Hey there!” I jumped as an old man sitting on a bench spoke to us.
He was dressed in the dirty rags of a homeless person. He smiled warmly at my children.
I was wary, but my children weren’t. They smiled and said, “Hi! What’s your name?”
“I’m Bob. What’s yours?
My daughter replied, “I’m Vanessa.” She nodded to her brother, “That’s my brother. His name is Justin. He’s a booger.”
That made both Bob and I laugh and Justin frown.
“Daddy?” My daughter looked up at me. “We can have our picnic here. Bob can join us.”
I hesitated, looked at Bob and asked him, “Would you like to have lunch with us, Bob?
Without hesitation, he said, “I would love that.”
Still wary, I said, “There’s a picnic bench over there.” I pointed down the path we were walking. “We can eat there. I’m afraid all we have are baloney sandwiches and the old standard of peanut butter and jam.”
He smiled again, “That’s steak to me.” he chuckled.
For two hours, we sat at the picnic table, shared drinks and ate sandwiches.
My children shared their stories about their summer vacation, swim lessons and their new teachers.
Justin complained about a bully in his class.
Bob said, “You will meet a lot of bullies in your life, son. The best thing you can do is stay away from them. Stay close to those you trust.”
My children listened to Bob’s stories of days gone by. He’d fought in two wars and was now homeless. His wife died at an early age. He was left to raise two children on his own. They grew and were now living far from him. He hadn’t even met his grandchildren. He was alone – forgotten.
It was time to go home. We bid our farewell to Bob and promised to meet again.
I was proud of my children. As years passed, I’d become cynical. I didn’t trust many people. My children, innocent, trusted all.
There is knowledge to be learned from the elderly and, yes, even the homeless.
They’ve experienced a lot.
They have lessons to teach.
Michael T. Smith
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Keep on waving