November 27, 1980
The water rides high between brown banks. Sea gulls cruise the gray sky, a sky pregnant with the promise of oncoming snow. The crisp wind rips at my face and snatches each plume of smoke Ben’s pipe produces as we sit along the riverside waiting for the snow to arrive.
A few ducks float on the oily water as brown as chunks of wood, and strangely silent – except for their cousins across the river who yap as they root through the reeds in search of food, flapping their wings when they find it to discourage others from taking it away.
Holidays make me nostalgic, and surprisingly, Ben, too.
He talks about how he used to visit his family in Pennsylvania this time of year, traveling by train through the Delaware Water Gap and up through the Pocono Mountains to some point near Scranton, and how much food waited for him when he arrive, mounts heaped as high as the mountains he had to pass through to get there, he says.
His family, like my grandmother’s, came from
Germany, and more
than a few of the dishes he recalls were German, although he says he missed
German potato salad most.
“Quick Chek has German potato salad but it’s not the same,” he says.
He also says he misses the mountains as he stares out across the river at the distant cliffs that overhang
Clifton, cracked rock laid bare by the coming
of the cold and the waiting for snow to pain the brown rock white.
I ask Ben why he never went back, why he spends his days clinging to the side of this river when he misses other places so much.
“This is all I got,” he says, puffing hard on his pipe so that even the wind can’t steal all the smoke that gathers around his face. “All the rest faded away long ago.”
“Not the mountains,” I said.
“No,” he admits in a low voice. “Not the mountains.”