CHRISTMAS EVE. 1947

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Denon never owned a pair of store-bought shoes. He never wanted any. He was the first to live in Seab Hollister's rent house. As long as we could remember, he had lived there alone.
We visited with him often, told him everything we did and listened to his every word. He often spoke of unseen mansions and had a tenderness for all living things. Youth was his friend. Our most unforgettable visit was on Christmas Eve, 1947.
We had talked about it all afternoon and could hardly wait until "first dark". When the sun finally set, Forest, Jr. stuffed the present deep into the inside pocket of his mackinaw. With the pull of his zipper, it was hidden.
We started toward Denon's house, and as soon as we reached the front porch, the door opened. He had been watching for us. The black man, thirty years our senior, invited us to his fire. We would talk, drink coffee and then do what we came for, we would swap.
Each year we swapped with Denon. Our gift to him was always the same, an almanac calendar with fishing signs. His gifts to us were different, never bought, but treasured above anything Montgomery Ward had to offer.
The only visible thing that hinted the Christmas season in Denon's house was a small limb of greenery sticking from a pop bottle decorated with bits of tinfoil from gum wrappers.
Denon was a master of patience, and he knew how to outlast Forest, Jr. He pretended not to be the least bit interested in swapping. He sat and sipped his coffee, occasionally punching the fire. What seemed like an eternity passed.
This year he gave in first and, placing his empty cup on the floor, started toward the bed. He didn't say a word but reached under it and brought from the darkness two kitchen matchboxes tied with string.
Forest, Jr. pulled Denon's present from its hiding and the swap was made.
We were so busy discovering what was inside our boxes that we didn't see Denon open his but could hear the paper tearing, obeying his huge hands. Inside our boxes were two of nature's greatest luck bearing, disease ridding wonders--buckeyes. Denon had carried one in his pocket for years.
We didn't need to tell him how much we approved. He could see it all over us, and he knew we would keep them forever.
The three of us schemed how we would set our hooks on Jackson Creek and how we would catch blue cat. As always before, a day would be chosen and a promise would be made by Denon to take us fishing, come springtime.
Springtime never came for Denon.

photo credit: Ronald L. Freeman