The last time I saw him was twenty five years ago; I can fix the year fairly well because we visited with my grandmother, who died twenty two years ago. He was one of two elderly brothers, friends of my grandmother’s, who lived together on a farm their entire lives. When I was little, I would visit the farm with my grandparents; we would drive from the town for what seemed like hours, and eventually the houses would stop and there were just fields of corn and wheat and cows as far as I could see. Eventually, we’d get to their farm, where I would run through the rows of plants and apple trees with their schnauzer, and sometimes they would cut a giant gladiolus for me to take home.
On our last visit, my Aunt drove, and the houses didn’t stop, even when we pulled up at the old white farmhouse. The brothers still lived there, together, but the farmland was all gone, sold by their nephew, a real estate developer.
The farmhouse was the same, and we sat in it for a while and visited, and he took me downstairs to show me the root cellar, full of apples from one of the trees I remembered, which still remained. He retrieved a box of photos, including one of me, age three, in a red corduroy dress, posed with my hands clasped by my face. We agreed it was a long time ago and much had changed, but then he wanted to know what I was doing now, and I explained my job at a magazine.
I’m a writer too, he said. I wrote a book once. Would you like to have a copy?
Of course, I said, and moments later he presented me with a thick typed manuscript, detailing his experience in World War One.
I didn’t expect to receive a hand full of history, and thanked him appreciatively, and promised to read it.
Word spread among my aunts and my mother, so the next year, for Christmas, I made copies for everyone. When he died, not long after that, I pledged to myself that I would get his manuscript into some museum or archive, or at any rate, somewhere where it could be appreciated by someone who would know how to appreciate it properly.
I didn’t know where to begin, though, and before I could sort it out, my grandmother died and a family war over possessions was waged and I got married and my possessions and papers were consigned to boxes for one move, then another, and another. When I finally remembered the manuscript again, I could not find it in any of the boxes.
I asked my mother, who didn’t know where her copy was, and my aunt, who remembered seeing her copy and would make me a copy when she found it, and my other aunt, who didn’t answer my letter.
Every time I thought about it, I was angry at myself, or sad, that I had been trusted with something so important and had failed the man who was never anything but nice to me. He had saved my picture so many years, and I had lost his manuscript in return. After many years of fruitless searching, I consoled myself: in all the time I had known him, he had never once gotten angry with me, and if he were alive to do it, would surely forgive me.
Then I put the manuscript out of my mind, and mostly forgot about it, right up until the moment I began to clean the spare bedroom, and there, in a paper bag from Macy’s, piled haphazardly on top of my junior high school diaries, was his manuscript, a little piece of me, restored.