I was at the back of the house hacking at wood one evening when fate walked up behind me. Had the axe raised, and a tap on the shoulder froze me solid as stone. And there was Bramwell Crewe.
“The old man puttin’ ya to work is he…”
Bramwell never spoke a single word to me before. He’d been mayor since before I was born. A short man with a tall man’s face and hands.
His job was something he took seriously, like it was his reason for being here, on earth. As our mayor, he felt it was up to him to keep the town busy, or looking that way. To keep it from rubbing off the map, at the very least.
“I hears you’re quittin’ school. Headin’ out west is ya?”
“No,” I said. “I haven’t got no plans yet.”
He knew I didn’t have any plans. He knew I wasn’t going anywhere. Not until I had money to. He knew I didn’t have a red cent.
“Why’d you quit then? If you don’t mind me askin’…”
“Well, I don’t need no more French or math textbooks than I already got piled up by the stove and I spent enough time wastin’ time in that box up there.”
He laughed so immediately hard his false teeth started slipping out of his face. I spit my spearmint gum to the side and let the axe come down. It split the knot and the two halves parted ways.
Next thing Bramwell scooped the junks off the ground and turned to me with one in each hand.
“See… see this?” he said with bonfires in his eyes. I nodded and starred at the halves of birch, half scared.
‘I’ve seen every kid up and leave’
“Daniel, Daniel, Daniel. My boy… I’ve been mayor of this town for more years than people used to live back in the old days. And I’ve seen just about every kid up and leave us as soon as their folks is ready to let ‘em go. I see a young fella like you about to do the same thing and I think to myself, ‘why?’ And then I thinks about what it might take to keep you here, how much it might cost to keep you here, or anybody for that matter.
“For argument’s sake, let’s say I was your grandfather and you were that tree standing right there in his yard — the one he’s been watching grow for the past 17 years. Then, let’s say, one day he’s lookin’ out his back window in a storm of wind and the tree is threatenin’ to blow down — crack it right in two. Sure he’s had a few warnings, but just like that, he’s faced with losing this whoppin’ birch that got a good hundred years left standing right there.
“Wouldn’t he ask himself, ‘what in the world can I do?’ Sure he can’t make it stop blowin’, but something in him’s gonna tell him something got to be done. He can’t just watch it happen can he? He got to try and keep that wind from havin’ its way with that tree.
“So, maybe he steps out in the storm with some rope in his hands and climbs half way up that tree and ties the rope tight to the limbs and secures it to the ground…
“It might not work, but at least he’ll know he tried, right?”