A slight, grey-haired man stood at my back door. His greeting was quaintly sweet and respectful, “Hello! My name is Elton Greta. I lived in your house until my mother sold the farm when I was ten years old. The river was my favorite play area. Would you please allow me to walk on your property along its bank?”
Surprised and wondering how many years it was since he was ten-years-old, I generously responded, “Yes. Go right ahead!”
That one-minute conversation in 1982 was the only person-to-person interaction I ever had with Mr. Greta. Only later did I find out that he was seventy-nine years old to my thirty-one years. I didn’t see how long he stayed or where he walked, because my two-month-old daughter had a clinic appointment. His car was gone by the time I returned home. I found a letter from him taped to my back door.
In a swirling script and with flowery prose, Mr. Greta described his childhood home and the land where it sat on the north bank of a small river as, “the hallowed grounds of my childhood.” His “sainted mother” sold the farm in 1913 when he was ten years old.
After eating supper that evening, I read his letter to the family. At the end, I looked up and said to Arnie, my husband, “I think this man wants me to write to him! He signed with his full Sioux City, Iowa address.”
Every month for the next ten years, Mr. Greta and I exchanged letters. In the beginning, when my father heard me talk about my new pen pal who was two years older than him, he asked, “What is it that you write about to an old man like Mr. Greta?”
I answered, “He loved the land along our river, so I describe the weather, the birds and animals I see when going for walks. He also seems interested in the goings-on in my family.”
Arnie thought my correspondence with Mr. Greta funny. He teasingly called the old man my boyfriend.
My newsy letters described things like the butter-yellow golden rods in a field across the road, dipping and swaying in the wind as though dancing to music unheard by human ears, the noisy gathering of squabbling black birds by a field of grain before migrating south for the winter, of the undulating black ribbons they formed in the sky, after they took flight.
Each season I’d report on things like:
- The tender green buds appearing in the flowerbeds where the soil was darkened by spring showers.
- The shimmers of heat I could see looking across the field behind my house during July.
- The veils of mist that creep up from the summer-warmed low lands when autumn sent us cold nights.
- How drifts of wind-whipped snow in our yard looked like piles of meringue.
The other evening when I was driving home from town and descending the hill half a mile south of my house, the sun dropped below the western horizon. The warm fall countryside quickly adopted the cold, damp chill of an autumn night. I noticed thin, slinky veils of mist beginning to creep up from the warm pockets of marshy land along the road.
Carl Sandburg was a great writer, but he too was touched by the mysterious movements of night mists in his famous poem, Fog.
The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city,
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
I’ve been inspired to write a haiku; a poem that has three lines with five syllables in the first and third lines and seven in the second line. I call it, Fall Spector.
Sinuous veils float,
up from swamps dank and dreary.
Heat turned to chilled mist,
I love living on the north bank of the river. It isn’t hard to understand why Mr. Greta felt homesick for his childhood home, even seventy years after he had moved away. There is something about the place that makes me wax poetic.