When the air begins to get crisp, they meet out at a cabin in the woods. One by one they trickle in, down the dirt road and up to the little lodge. Most of their lives and all of their pretenses are left behind when they travel that bumpy road. Each one has something special to share whether it’s food or drink or possessions or stories. Activities have become habits and habits have become traditions. The first one in will light a fire and pour a drink that will soon become a round as the others arrive. They will be well settled by the time I arrive. As I climb out of my truck I will be enveloped by the smell of smoke and whiskey and the feel of stubble and fleece. Although I was born several decades too late and am of the wrong gender, they have allowed me into their brotherhood. Most have known me since my first days. They have watched me grow from baby to girl to woman and have walked beside me though happiness and heartbreak. They stand beside me without question and when others drift they remain to tell me about how things would be if they were but thirty years younger. Their actions are those of gentlemen even when their words are not. They find me a chair and pour me a glass and we tell dirty jokes and talk about women and morons and each other. The world stands still while we sit in the cold waiting on the evening’s meal. And each night when the time comes, they offer me just one more and I decline and slip off into the night. Their jobs change, their wives change and their lifestyles change, but the bonds that have been forged in the fall night air always remain the same. And now the season approaches. The temperature is dropping and you can almost smell the weather. The tracks are fresh and the rye is green as leaves gently float to the ground. I know my next encounter is just around the corner and I’m getting excited about seeing my motley crew. But now my heart is heavy and I wonder how I will feel. I know we will have laughter. I know we will have stories. I know we will eat and drink and talk about everything and nothing. Yet this time it will be different. There will be cold beer in the cooler and fresh scallops on the stove-top, but this season there will be two empty chairs.
Thinking of Thomas Lee Shannon and Bob McKinnon. May they both rest in peace.