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Kathy Bradley

Link between the past and present

Gray-brown like south Georgia dirt, the hickory nut rolls around in the palm of my hand. It is cracked, but still whole. The little point at the end, what the botanists call a stigma, is worn down to a smooth nub.
    I picked it up eight or nine years ago one sunny fall afternoon from under a tall tree frosted with Spanish moss. The tree grew on the edge of a lake, on a lot my friends were considering buying. The three of us walked around, our feet shuffling through the leaves that had already begun to fall, and talked about where a house might sit, what the view would be, what good times could be had there.
    The nut and a couple others like it ended up in a bowl in my living room along with a handful of acorns the size of quarters that I’d picked up along a hiking trail in North Carolina, some shells from the beach on Saint Simons, an abandoned wasp nest, some bird feathers and a pine cone the size of a dime. It has been there ever since.
    My friends did buy the lot at the lake and they built a vacation house there. There were pansies in the window boxes and an aluminum windmill that spun like a top on windy days. From the rocking chairs on the screened porch you could hear the water lap against the sea wall, an echo of the wakes of the motor boats out in the channel. On clear nights the moon spread out over the water like a million mirrors.
    Once, when I was lost and needed a place to try to figure out my coordinates, I went to the lake house to breathe. I had hoped to sit on the dock and watch the winter sun rise and set and find in that rhythm one of my own. Instead, I sat inside and watched it rain for three days, kept company by pencil, paper and homemade pimento cheese that my friend had laid in store for me.
    The endless torrent of water was matched by the one that fell from my eyes. I huddled under the bed covers and asked myself how I would ever find my way. I read. I wrote. I prayed. I listened as the beat of the rain on the roof became the pulsing of my heart.
    And somewhere in the coldness and darkness and wetness of the night I began to understand that I am lost only if I insist on knowing where I am going.
    On my last morning there, as the sun began clawing its way through the clouds, I wrote in my journal a quote from Barbara Brown Taylor: “We [must] simply give up the illusion that we are in control of our lives and step out. Which is why, perhaps, it is called a leap of faith.”
    A couple of years ago, a spark ignited a flame which became a conflagration which ate up the lake house. It was too strong, too fast. By the time the fire truck arrived, it was out of control. In a few short hours, all that was left was the concrete piers, a post-modern Stonehenge. When I got the call I felt as though someone had desecrated my church.
    My friends are resilient souls. They decided to rebuild and, this time, to make the lake house their year-round home. It would be bigger, big enough to accommodate lots of family at once. As a result, the hickory tree, already damaged from the intense heat of the fire, had to come down.
    The construction is done now. Time to check the view from new windows. Time to move in and consecrate the new rooms with love and laughter. Time to put aside the old memories long enough to make new ones. Time for a housewarming present.
    And I know just the thing.
    The hickory nut rolls around in the palm of my hand. And today it is going home. A reminder of the connection between the past and the present, a link between what was and what is. And a gentle reminder that what will be is totally dependent on that leap.

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