I did go back in my days of old age. I knew where my heart wanted to be and for so long my heart ached to go home to my little pups. Near the end of my own life I felt it would only be fair to pay the respects for my dogs that shaped all my life.
So I made the journey to my old town, to my old life. I walked those same dirt roads, I spoke to old friends. They were different now. The boys I knew so long ago were not educated like me. Some of them were dead too. But I didn't want to think about that. A boys days will always be a boys days.
I knew when the sun was no longer at its highest I was ready to see my pups. I walked the whole way up and I felt a jolt in my bones to keep me moving. I felt young again walking up that old worn road. I felt I could run or skip the whole way as I had when I was a boy.
The memories of old days were not a flood but a constant stream of the love I had shared and received in that old house.
When I reached the house I could see the for sale sign. I could tell it wouldn't always be here just as I couldn't always be here, and just as my pups couldn't always be there.
I walked up to the house and knocked on the old warped door but there was no answer. I opened it and saw that no one had lived in it for years. I could still see past the uneven paint job and find my old memories in the still standing yet ancient house.
I guess that's how people see me, old and somehow still standing, with a story larger than life to tell.
I saw all the places where our old pictures and nick knacks used to stand proudly, now covered in dust and empty. The walls where me and my sisters played and enjoyed our childhoods.
Walking through the house I could have sworn I smelled Mama's pies. I knew it wasn't true but it was eerie just how much an old home, an old friend can bring back. I knew every crevice of this place, all the places where God gave me a hand. All the places where I worked and trained for years to get my pups and with them when they were here.
I almost felt like if I stood in one place long enough all the memories would stop being memories and start being real.
I found myself outside the house with my heart still smiling at the memories of old days. The days of boyhood live until a boy dies and even then some are lucky as they live on forever.
I know my legs are taking me to the right spot and when I get there I could cry. The graves still intact with their little grave stones supporting the growing weeds. The red fern now stands tall above me and looks more like an oak than a fern. But I know what it is.
I know the angels are keeping Old Dan and Little Ann good company until I get to heaven. I bet they're up there training right now. I'll be a boy again and we can hunt coons all day long.
I'll get to see Mama and Papa, I'm crying now just thinking about how happy we'll all be. How everything will be perfect and God will make everything okay like he's always done for me.
I sit there talking to Dan and Ann until the sun sets 'cause I know they've missed me. I know they can't wait just like I can't wait. I know in my heart that they're hearing me.
I stand up and smell the fresh air, I hear the sound of coon hunting dogs. A boy and his dog, the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. I wonder if he's new or not. I wonder if he's using a good lantern like Mama gave me when I first started. I wonder if his Papa taught him right. Or if his Grandpa taught him any good tricks.
I wander through the woods and I don't feel old like I am, I feel young. It's almost like the spirit of my childhood is taking me up. I walk all night long and find myself so hypnotized by my memories I turn to tell old Dan and little Ann to head back now. But they're not there when I look.
I make it back feeling tired but with worth whileness to it. I feel like I'm ready to go when my time comes. Like I'm ready to die when ever God calls me home. I'm ready to meet Papa and Mama and Old Dan and Little Ann.
I'm ready now, and some day I hope you are too. I hope you go back to the past and feel like your memories are not your memories but are barely happening. I hope you turn around and realize it isn't real so then you can know this too. What its like to know your ready.
I know I'm ready to leave this home, my home, and my boyhood all behind. Because I know now I'm ready for God to take me away.