The letter from the Wise Old Man came the last day of June. It was an old envelope, coffee-stained and bug-streaked and the paper was from a Big Chief pad. The epistle was written in pencil in careful, painstakingly stately penmanship. The paper looked as if it had been around for decades and it had coffee cup stains in three places. It said:
“Dear Dan and Mrs. Ford, please come to my home in Union Parish north of Choudrant in the New Hope Community for the Fourth of July. I’ll be serving dinner at 5:30 and I sure hope y’all can come. If you are standing in front of the Baptist Church across from New Hope Cemetery, go left for a half mile and when the paved road goes off right, you go straight on the dirt one. My place is on the creek beyond the mounds. With every good wish, ________. P. S. no need to repondez vous.”
Even though we had other plans, it didn’t take much of a conversation between us admiring spouses (or is that spice) to decide to go, which we did and we both were entertained and edified. Even though his directions seemed vague, all the geography fell into place from the time we reached New Hope Baptist to rounding the mounds to discover an antebellum plantation home, all white and shiny in the late Louisiana sunshine. The Wise Old Man was sitting in a cane-bottom chair smoking a cob pipe and waving. There were two well-maintained horses under saddle tied to the porch railing along with a skinny old white mule under pack. Twin middle-aged men, whose faces and hands were Vermeer brown, were sitting on the steps smoking big cigars that gave the atmosphere a very homey smell.
When we got out of the Toyota, the Wise Old Man said, “Hey, y’all, you’ve gone international. Last time we visited you were driving a Chevy.” I replied that it was a bargain lease car and we liked it. “Way to go, son,” he said in an encouraging tone.
“I’d like to introduce Keats and Shelley, my co-owners of this place. We call it Americus Farm and we raise cane. No, really, you know, sugar cane.” The twins grinned and blew big clouds of smoke in reply. Keats and Shelley are going down to D’Arbonne to camp tonight after we eat. They should come riding back up here tomorrow with 40 or 50 channel cat.”
As the five of us were sitting at table after eating some of the most wonderful barbecue pork, beans, slaw, corn and biscuits imaginable, the Wise Old Man said this:
“Our country is 236 years old. We have had trouble as a people, deep trouble. We are diverse, eccentric, independent, free and stubborn. But I have learned that love is the cork on the line and when it jumps you pull. What comes out will always satisfy. The cork is jumping, y’all!”
Keats and Shelley grinned broadly, both sporting identical gold teeth. Then they said in unison, “Any friend of__________is a friend of the twins.” We watched them ride away leading the old mule laden with camping gear and fishing equipment until they disappeared around the mounds. I said, “I miss the simple life.” My wife replied, “Just watch the cork, Danny.”