Helping Hand for Ethan
Daniel Lance Wright
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All Ethan Lee wants to do over summer vacation is spend his time swimming on the family farm at the bend on Meandering Creek. In this idyllic setting, Ethan meets a stranger, a familiar young man that he can’t quite place. This likeable young man charms the youngster into a fast friendship deflecting every attempt Ethan makes to determine who he is, where he comes from and why he keeps showing up. And, how does this guy know so much about his family? Ethan has no clue at the beginning, just how interesting his tenth summer was destined to become, the final summer in an age of innocence.
Ethan retraced the path of the tractor ride home down the hill over the terraces all the way to the bend in the creek. He swam across and climbed to the higher rock then dropped and dangled his feet over the edge. He picked up pebbles and hurled them at the water's surface--bitterness propelling each one.
Jessie always gets her way! He threw another rock at a cottonwood tree. The impact sent a sparrow searching for safer haven. Tears blurred his vision. He held his breath, forcing blood into his face then exploded, "It's not fair!" he shouted. His voice echoed down the creek channel.
"You're right. It's not fair," came a voice from somewhere to his side.
Startled, Ethan's darting gaze scanned the tree line but saw nothing. "Who's there?"
Failing to spot the source of the voice, "This is private property. You shouldn't be here." Ethan looked all about.
"I know. It's been in the Lee family since your great-great grandfather Mitchell Lee homesteaded this little piece of heaven at the end of the Civil War."
"How do you know that? And, where the heck are you?" Movement caught his eye in a place he'd already looked several times.
A young man walked from between two cottonwood trees. "I'm right here."
"Whew," Ethan said, pretending to wipe sweat from his forehead. "I thought for a second you might be a ghost."
"Would that scare you, seeing a ghost I mean?"
"Well, yeah! That's a dumb question."
"I know what you mean. Just the word "ghost" is enough to raise the hair on my arms."
Ethan studied the young man, unable to take his eyes away as he approached. He felt comfortable with the stranger's presence. "Do you live around here?"
"Yep, all my life." He came to stand over Ethan. "May I sit by you?"
"Sure, I guess so." He pitched another stone into the water. "If you've always lived around here, how come I've never seen you before?"
"You have. You just don't remember."
Ethan examined the young man's face. "I have seen you before…somewhere. Do you live at the Bradley's?"
"I didn't think so. Besides, that's over a mile from here." He swept his hand across the stone surface he sat on, pushing small twigs into the water. "Even if you did live there, I don't think you'd walk all this way just to sit on a rock and visit with me. But where do you live?"
"For now I think I'll just tell you I live right here on this bend in Meandering Creek. If I tried to give you directions where I came from, it'd confuse you."
"You are from Texas, aren't you?"
"Certainly. Where else? This is the greatest state in the union. And, speaking of great places," he fanned his arms wide, "this is such a wonderful place right here, don't you think?"
Drawing a deep breath, "Yeah, it's neat." He leaned back on his elbows.
The young man emulated Ethan's posture. "I bet God was feeling pretty good the day he created it."
Ethan sat bolt upright. "Hey, I told my daddy that very same thing a while ago." He looked the young man in the eyes and tried to remember where he'd seen him. "Maybe I've seen you on the streets in Plainfield."
"Not likely," the young man said, as he flicked a twig into the air and watched the breeze carry it to the water below.
Ethan tilted his head. "You don't say a whole lot, do you?"
"Sure, when I have something that needs sayin'."
"And when would that be?"
"How about now?"
"Ethan chuckled. "What's the deal, you waitin' for an invitation?"
The young man nodded. "Sort of. I'm not the type to rattle on unless someone's willing to listen. Are you willing to hear what I have to say?"
"Heck, I'm only ten years old, goin' on eleven, and no one ever asks my opinion about anything. I'm usually beggin' to say something." He leaped to his feet, pacing behind the young man, hands draped on his hips above the drooping blue jean cut-offs, and taking long exaggerated steps. Water dripped from the ragged denim fringes. He placed a finger to his lips and tapped them as an academic with profound thoughts might. "You have my permission to speak. What's on your mind?"
"Don't be too hard on your dad. Okay?"
Ethan stopped pacing so fast he almost fell forward. He became confused and dropped back to again sit next to the young man. "Whaddaya mean?"
He flicked his chin toward the house. "I mean Sid had a reason for not pushing your case up there. He didn't want to pit you against your sister over something as unimportant as letting your hair grow." As the young man waited for a response, he sent a flat stone skipping across the creek to land in the mud on the other side.
"How do you know this stuff?"
"Let me just say that if giving you directions where I came from would confuse you, then telling you how I know these things would really make your head spin. The young man rose. "But I do need to beg your trust and ask you not to tell your family about me. If you do, they'll demand to know who I am and it'd only embarrass you."
"Because I can't talk to them."
"It's simple. As rude as it may sound, you're the only one allowed to see and talk to me. Sorry. That's just the way it is."
"You're right, that is rude," Ethan said as a thought struck him. His eyes grew large and then scooted back until the chinaberry tree behind him stopped his retreat. "You are a ghost."
The young man didn't move or even blink. He held a smile and waited.
"If you're not, then how come I can see and hear you but they can't?"
"Have you ever heard of the age of innocence?"
"Let me see if I can explain it." He effortlessly rose to his feet and stepped over to the nearest chinaberry sapling. He walked full circle around it until he again faced Ethan. "We're all born with a straightforward unbiased view of the universe."
"That just means you see everything in clear-cut ways. You haven't reached an age where decision-making is difficult."
"I think so."
"In the first stages of life when we first become aware of the world around us, we don't judge others. In fact, we're incapable of it." He grinned. "Not enough stored information in our little cue-ball brains.
"What's a cue ball?"
"Never mind. The important thing is, we're born believing and accepting of everyone for what and who they are, everyone is equal, no debate. We believe that dividing lines are plain, black and white, yes or no, but no gray areas. As we grow older, temptations and problems start weaseling in. We begin to see more of those gray areas in need of interpretation before we act."
"What's a gray area?"
"Not black, not white, but gray...between yes and no; something that's not quite right but not quite wrong either."
"Sure. The number of temptations and choices--gray areas--begins to overload our ability to decide. That blurs the line between right and wrong. Eventually, we all leave the age of innocence. Sharp intuitive sensitivities disappear, along with that unbiased view of the world. It's unfortunate really." He took another swing around the chinaberry sapling. "Regrettably for some, hardened criminals for example, all sensitivities vanish." He paused. "You don't have to worry about that. The young man again sat beside Ethan. "But, there will come a time you'll be less sensitive to experiencing…well, me for example. You're not there yet. Therefore, I have the great privilege of coming to see you."
Ethan sighed. "I didn't understand a thing you told me."
"Then not telling you where I came from or how I knew those things was the right decision." He patted Ethan on the back and rose. He stepped over to the big cottonwood tree and leaned against it. A breeze rustled the topmost leaves. "Ethan, would you like to kiss a girl or have a girl kiss you?"
"Oh ick, no way; I don't want to swap spit with a girl. Good grief!"
"When you do, then the age of innocence will be more in your past than your present and certainly not in your future. Does that make it easier to understand?"
Ethan wrinkled his nose. "No." He dropped a leaf and watched it drift to the water's surface. He then jerked his head toward the young man. "Are you messin' with me?"
The young man ignored the question. "One more thing; ask your dad about crop hail insurance." He stepped back and turned to walk away. "Your dad loves you but there are certain things he can't bring himself to do for fear of alienating your sister or you. It saddens me, but I may have had something to do with that way of thinking."
"Huh? Alienating? What does that mean?" Ethan scratched his head. He tossed a handful of rock chips at the water and thought about all the things he'd just been told. He glanced over his shoulder for an answer but the young man was nowhere to be seen. "Wait a minute. Don't go. I still have questions."
A fading voice floated in on the breeze, "All in good time, Ethan."
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