Max and Darrell walked up the path next to where a man steadied himself over a golf ball and then putted. They watched as the ball rolled by the cup. Darrell’s mother, his grandma, his grandpa, and Kendra, his four-year-old sister, followed close behind. Darrell and Kendra carried plastic bags that they hoped to fill with golf balls.
“Here?” Darrell asked, as he followed Max up the hill, looking into the clumps of last year’s grass. Max had picked up dozens of balls that spring, coming out on his lunch hour, and he had suggested to Darrell’s grandma that she bring him out when she told him that Darrell collected golf balls. With Darrell along, this walk would be different—Max didn’t want to disappoint Darrell, who seemed to be a boy who took things seriously, perhaps more than he needed to. Max remembered being like that when he was a boy.
Kendra, barely into the grass with her grandpa, found the first golf ball. This bothered Darrell. “She doesn’t really care about finding them,” he told Max. Then Max spotted one, half buried in the ground. Darrell picked it up and checked its marking. “It’s all dirty,” Darrell said. “I’ll have to wash it.”
When Darrell found one on his own, he put it in his bag and went looking for more. His mom and grandma stood by and chatted about the time Darrell, on a visit to a farm, picked up a chicken egg and dropped it into his bag—forgetting that, unlike a golf ball, it would break.
Half listening to their talk and half watching Darrell, Max recalled his trips to the chicken coop—nudging the hens aside with a board, then reaching to snatch the eggs from underneath. He had been pecked enough while doing that to put on gloves, but after he gathered the eggs, he would take the gloves off and hold a warm egg in his hand.
This was an experience he came to in his thirties, not as a boy. His landlord had built a chicken coop and ordered the chicks through the mail. Max and his family did the chores each day, and the landlord shared the eggs and meat with them. During an April blizzard, when they were without power for three days, there was as much warmth inside the coop, with the chickens huddled on their roosts, as there was in the house.
The memory pulled on Max. He thought back to the time when his children were young. The chickens, going about the yard in quick, jerky movements, pecking at the ground, were part of their life and provided more than just eggs and meat. But then he remembered an errand he needed to take care of, and realized he was tired and not much of a companion for Darrell. “You’re here to help Darrell with his hunt,” he chided himself.
Darrell was pleased with what he had found. Max dropped the few balls that were in his pocket into Darrell’s bag, and Kendra, riding on her grandpa’s back, told Darrell he could have all of the balls she found—she really didn’t want them anyway.
Back in the parking lot, Max said good-bye to Darrell and asked him if he had enjoyed the hunt. Darrell said he had, and asked his mother when they could come back. “We have to wait for them to hit more up there,” Max said.
“Why do they hit them up there anyway,” Darrell asked, “and just leave them?”
Max was reminded of Darrell’s question when he arrived at the store and realized he didn’t have his wallet. He searched his van, and, when he didn’t find it, drove back to the office, but it wasn’t there, either. Other times when he had misplaced his wallet, he would retrace his steps and find it, but for some reason this time he didn’t know that he would.
He went back to the hillside where they had been hunting for balls, but he wasn’t sure which clump of grass he had bent over when Darrell slid off his back. The shadows grew, making the grass look different. Returning to the van, Max noticed a man who was leaning up against an SUV as he changed out of his golf shoes. That man could go home and relax, but Max had a lost wallet to find.
He called his wife and told her he wouldn’t be able to run the errand; he would check once more for his wallet and then come home. She told him it would turn up, and said she was going outside to rake the grass she had mowed. He phoned Darrell’s grandpa and grandma, but they were out, and as he was leaving his message, he wondered why he had called them. It had been his idea to invite Darrell out, and Max didn’t want the evening to turn in a different direction.
He called his daughter, who happened to be shopping at a nearby thrift store with her younger sister. He told them what had happened, and added that he wasn’t sure he could do anything more about it that evening, and that he would meet them at the thrift store. There he found his daughter walking to the changing room with several blouses draped over her arm. She was getting married at the end of May. She would finish school and have a few weeks to prepare for her wedding. It would be, she told them, a simple, country wedding. Her fiancé would arrive a few days before with his family, including his godmother from France and his groomsmen. They asked Max to read during the wedding ceremony the story of Abraham’s servant, Rebekah, and Isaac. For their honeymoon, her fiancé would take her fishing, and then, after a few days of visiting, to their home in Canada.
Max enjoyed shopping on occasion at thrift shops, looking for clothes you wouldn’t find in the department stores. His daughters enjoyed it as well, he knew, but as he looked at his daughter by the mirror, discussing the pros and cons of a blouse with her sister, he wondered how she might change when she moved to Canada with her husband.
This evening, looking through the clothes racks didn’t interest him. He told his daughters he was going back to the golf course. They said they would come over when they were done.
When she arrived at the golf course, his younger daughter began walking aimlessly through the grass, even after Max explained the route that had been taken. “How would she know any better,” Max thought. “She hadn’t been here with us; how could she find her way now?” His older daughter, wearing sandals and not wanting to scratch her feet, stayed on the cart path. Her mind was on other things. He told them he would look for a while longer, and sent them off. “Hope you find it, Dad,” the younger one said. It was easy for her to have a cheering effect on him, but this evening it wasn’t that way, and he tried to keep himself from blaming her, or anyone else, for his mood.
His thoughts turned to his elderly mother—how she would become confused and search the house for something she might not need at that moment, but needed to find in order to put her mind at ease. On a bad day, her agitation could build into anger, as what was once in her grasp now eluded her.
He didn’t live close to his mother, so he relied on his sisters and brothers to keep an eye on her. When they talked on the phone recently, he reviewed with her the lines from the Apostles’ Creed—born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. On the third day, he rose from the dead. “Yes, I remember,” she said. She enjoyed sitting at the table with a slice of tomato or the blueberries that a family friend picked and dropped off. She put them in the freezer and took them out a bowlful at a time.
Max walked to his car along with the last group of golfers, aware not only of his mother’s feebleness, but of his own, and found himself thinking about how his daughters would come to view him.
That night he cancelled his credit card and went to bed. He didn’t sleep well, walking in a dream through long grass, but realizing when he woke that it was an old farm he had walked to as a boy. In the dream, he arrived expecting a gathering and a chance to go inside the buildings, only to find that everyone had left. During his coffee break the next morning, he went to the hillside and looked once more, but soon decided it was best if he forgot about his wallet.
The days passed, and Max’s thoughts turned to an older friend who had recently passed away. He had traveled to Canada with Max’s family, and would take his daughter out of the car seat and carry her under his arm like a football—he was a large, kind man. He prayed for his friend’s wife, now a widow. He thought about Job, a wealthy man, and how the Lord had taken all of his possessions. God took his family, too, and that was a greater hurt, and afflicted his body with boils, but it also hurt to lose his possessions.
Then there was the man Jesus told about who found a treasure in a field and sold all he had to buy that field. Just as a boy’s heart moves on from one treasure to the next, there is a letting go—daughter, mother, husband, all that Job had. Max thought about the walks he took as a boy through the fields behind the abandoned farm. He had no wallet then—he had his troubles—and was ready to sell what he had, but didn’t know what it was he needed to buy. He now could tell the boy to empty his wallet and buy the field Jesus talked about. Although much will fall away, what is lasting will remain.
The author is a member of Bethel OPC in Carson, N.Dak. New Horizons, Dec. 2012.