“I don’t want to hear your philosophy if it doesn’t grow corn,” he used to say to me. It was a quote from an old geezer who lived on the reservation up the highway.
There was a perfect place he knew to picnic on Highway 200 behind a stand of trees. We used to go and eat and talk and make out. He knew the owner so it wasn’t trespassing, he said. In the summer it was perfect; it was just warm enough to take some of your clothes off and there was a cold stream to stick your feet in if you got too hot.
We went up just about every day after he graduated; except Sunday. Sunday was for church -- I felt weird going to church in the morning and sneaking off to the woods in the afternoon. Every week I got the lecture about how much God loved me, and while it felt good to make out. Okay, okay, we were making love -- having sex. I don’t like that; just say we were making love. But I know God loves me, but making love felt too... it didn’t feel like a sin. Back then I was still a little unclear on my personal relationship with Christ. It seemed rude to hurt God’s feelings, but it still felt like it was okay.
So we would be up there just about every day for an afternoon picnic. In the great outdoors with not a stitch of clothing between us; but it still felt safe. No one could see us but the songbirds. We talked about a lot of things; never about him leaving though. After making love we would lay back and try to see the clouds through the trees, saying which of our friends they looked like. I didn’t realize clouds could look like baseball players and cheerleaders and debate team captains, but they can. We talked a lot about writers; he said he wanted to go to college and become a writer.
He certainly did read a lot. That’s where he got the corn quote from. Or the quotes about religion. And the quotes about people. He had a lot of quotes handy and memorized some of the Shakespeare sonnets. I read them now and they sound funny; but when someone’s reading them to you...you just don’t know what it’s like ‘til someone does it.
One time I got very angry when he teased me about going to church every Sunday. “Religion is the opiate of the masses,” he said. I told him I didn’t like he would say things about my church; he didn’t know anyone there. They are all good people and help each other out; just like any religion tells you. Even humanism says it’s a good idea to be nice to each other, or at least that’s what I read.
One time I started talking about how being kind sometimes means confronting people you love; kicking them in the butt, so to speak. But then he cut in with “your philosophy doesn’t grow corn!” and try to splash water on me.
At the end of the summer I had finally gotten through to him. And for a couple weeks we had some really great times. Be patient, all ye sisters with well-read boyfriends; one day you will get a word in edgewise.
The night before he left for the Marines we drove out one last time and lay under the trees. It was starting to get chilly at night, but there were still a few lightning bugs around. They were like little stars hung under the firmament of leaves and branches.
I got a few letters from him when he was in training and a few more when he was overseas. They weren’t regular, but I could kind of tell things were rough. I think he was trying to hold on to anything normal in his life, so I would write him back telling him to stay safe so we could drive back out to our old picnic spot and he could tell me all about writers and philosophy.
There are no secrets in a small town and everyone knew we were going steady. No one asked me to prom ‘cause they knew I would say no. My last quarter in school, everyone knew I was ready to be gone. When he got back from the Marines, we were going to both going to move to Northfield and give the “young couple in college” thing a try.
It was weird when his father came over to the house. I don’t know what I was thinking he was doing there. His dad was the town dentist; I honestly thought he was coming to scold me for not brushing my teeth after lunch or something. We almost got all the way through it before we both broke down crying. First me, then his dad. He had died from wounds received during a firefight in an area that was supposed to be safe; that’s all I remember.
I used to go out to our spot up on Highway 200 from time to time and scatter wild rice to try to get the songbirds to fly in close. It was always Blue Jays that would take the rice, but I guess that’s okay.
One day I saw a couple of kids up near our old spot and thought it best to give them some distance. I guess our old spot wasn’t as private as I thought.
The next summer I came home from Moorehead and asked his dad to go with me to church.. We sat in the back row while the preacher talked about forgiveness and light in the darkness and everlasting life. I don’t know if I believe in heaven; if there is an after-life, it’s better and different than this one. After the service we hugged and he walked up to look at a painting of Jesus on the cross. He looked at it like he saw something for the first time and slowly walked back out to the car.