Don’t ask me how I ended up at Ray’s Farm last night and by a singular miracle picked up the last chestnut of this season. Don’t ask, because I’m gonna tell you anyway . . .
Ray’s Farm is nowhere near Shade these days, Shade being that route I am on all the time and may very well retire on. I have no idea, of course, what is going on really, but retirement or not, last night I was at the Farm, in the dark.
Yesterday I delivered on Shade—all that I could—and I think I picked up some outgoing as well. Then, long before sunset, I was finished and was heading back to the station. It was an easy day of Sabbath work and I was looking forward to Sunday and Monday off, due to always-off Sundays and always-off holidays (Veteran’s Day).
I unloaded and was tidying up, getting paid by the minute, when I heard a stream of colorful words coming from the night supervisor’s mouth. They were coming from his mouth, but I imagine that they had begun a little lower because of their nature.
“What the $#&% is this on the cart? Where the =@*& did all this mail come from?”, he was shouting. I went over and looked at the mail. It was a very full tray of letters, a full tray of flats, and a half dozen parcels or so just sitting there on a cart at the end of the day. Weird.
I looked through the letters and noticed that they were from my old Prayer Route, the one Ray lives on. I won’t go into why they were still undelivered, but it has to do with that guy who was my buddy, then my former buddy, then my buddy, and is now most definitely a former buddy. He’d just brought it all back and told no one.
In a panic, the night super looked at me with pleading eyes and I nodded. He said, “Timothy, can you, uh, will you, uh, do you know this route? Can you split it up three ways so you and two others can get it done?” Sure, I know the route, I was saying. And I was thinking, that just the day before I had told another guy how much I missed Ray’s Farm and that I had not been able to watch the chestnuts grow and fall and then disappear when Ray and his boys gathered them. And I told him how I missed stopping there mid-day. I did not tell him but was thinking it: how horribly I missed stopping by that certain tree to pray.
“Last year”, I had said to the guy, “the chestnuts were all gone by mid October, and oh well, it’s November and I am simply not on that route anymore, so I missed it.” Dang it, how I had been missing it, had missed it, am missing it I was thinking.
So, yeah, I told the night super, I’ve got this. I split it up in less than a minute, and we headed out, the three of us, driving twenty minutes one way, to each deliver twenty minutes of mail, and then we’d return, driving twenty minutes back—three guys getting paid a total of probably $250 to do the work that a former buddy could have done for $30 or so. You see, it is not just the hourly wage that it was costing USPS for us to do it, but now it would be after dark, and we get an extra $50 each for that.
I did my twenty minutes in 15 minutes and then headed straight to Ray’s because it was practically on the way back, and I’d have gone anyway because clearly the path had been made straight once again.
I am turning around that curve on Maplehurst and the moon is gorgeous, just gorgeous in the night sky as I turn right onto that gravel road. I kill my lights letting the sound and the feel of the gravel guide me. I know this path so well that I can get there backwards if I must, but the moon is now behind the trees on my right, casting a light above the fading horizon and throwing those three trees into relief as a perfect backdrop. I stop where I have always stopped and let the engine die, burying it with the lights that I had killed. I get out and wait for the sound of the sliding door to be silenced, erased from memory, and then I walk just a few steps, bending a little beneath those branches.
I kneel and trace my fingers against the flesh of one chestnut tree and I breathe deeply, the scent of wild grasses and night air filling me with wonder. With hope, I look to the sky and my smile joins the curve of the crescent moon and then with renewed resolve I look to the ground.
I cannot see anything.
I am not an old-timer, but I am like one as I reach up and turn on my headlamp, the one that I had put on earlier when I knew that I’d be working in the dark for easy money. The light shines a nice white-light circle on the ground and I see only one thing: the last chestnut of the season, the only one that was left overlooked by Ray’s boys, unwanted for whatever reason (it matters not at all to me), but most, most precious to me. I pick it up with my left hand and feel its smoothness as I drop it into my pocket with a prayer. Just for kicks really I decide to look around for another minute. I see nothing else but fallen leaves on the ground.
There is only that single chestnut, now in my pocket, made mine by a miracle.