open spaces

The dinner dishes were cleared and conversation chattered back and forth, but when there was a brief lull my cousin Richard said, “I have to tell you a story about my daughter’s mentor.” He speaks slowly with open spaces between most words as if leaving room for the Montana sky to coexist with what he has to say. He must have been working up to the telling because we had eaten an entire shrimp feed and sour cream lemon pie between his first mentioning the mentor and this announcement. These stories are rare and Richard’s friends and family know to settle down to listen. As it turns out the story was a sentimental one, not unusual, about the uncle of this man who meant so much to Richard’s daughter. It was far removed from its source, but had taken on folkloric even mythic proportions. The uncle had been in Hungry as World War II ended and was part of a detail offering assistance to survivors. The soldiers, including this uncle, were passing out Hersey’s chocolate bars to children. At this point in the story Richard’s eyes begin to collect water. He is a sentimental man. His wife Alicia teases that she can’t take him out in public, as you don’t know when he might tear up, which is not untrue. As the story goes, this uncle of the man who mentored Richard’s daughter went back to Hungry as an old man and by some serendipitous coincidence met up with one of the children he had given the chocolate to. The boy had saved the Hershey’s wrapper…perhaps as a testament to hope or generosity. And this boy, who was now a man, insisted on giving the wrapper back. At this point in the story it is clear Richard can go no further. The rest of us at the table easily fill with sighs and clucking, but it is Rufus’s beautiful South Carolina drawl at just the right pace “that’s a real nice story,” that complements the telling. There are places around the world that inspire slower speaking. Do these places also inspire a trust of “observational powers,” as Annie Proulx calls them. This place, the eastern Montana prairie is a place where time invested in observation inspires quiet and consideration.