Bridges to Opportunity.
He'd just crossed a bridge. He almost drove by the lane but a green mailbox with hand painted yellow flowers caught his eyes. That spring day of 1965 in Mad River Indiana was a time that Jake Alvens would remember in vivid detail, yet he would never understand the events or his decision. He made a wide turn in his black 1957 Chevy Bel Air and whipped into the gravel lane.
Jake was on the road selling shoes. He was an official,"Man And Maiden Footwear" salesman. He would havd been in Vietnam but a bad parachute jump in training left his right knee crippled. Jake often cared more about seeing the countryside than he cared about selling shoes. A Pennsylvania hometown girl had left him with a broken heart but Jake was on the mend with hope from meeting happy couples in his travels.
The gravel lane was winding . The light of the afternoon sun and shadows of tall tree branches skipped over his windshield like flocks of crows and doves. He slowed down as he saw a man working by the fence line. Jake stopped, got out of the car as the man wiped his brow and hung his fencing pliers on a near post. Jake quickly introduced himself. He could see that the man was an old farmer. The deep wrinkles leading to his pale blue eyes told a story of a hard weather life and work.
The old man pulled a pouch of chewing tobacco from his worn and torn bib overall pocket while offering Jake a chaw. As Jake declined, the old man noticed his limp and cane, asking, "What happened to your leg son, wounded at war?" Jake looked down at his slightly crooked knee and back up, saying, "Never got the chance to go to war. The ground came up faster than my chute came out."
The old farmer grinned, offered a handshake, introduced himself as, Franklin Simpson and as he shook hands with Jake, he said, "Life is war enough son. None of us need to go anywhere to be in one." They talked a little about the weather and it wasn't long before Jake made his sales pitch. The old farmer let him finish to the last word, grinned and said, "Well son, I don't need shoes but the Misses up at the house might be interested." He grabbed his fencing pliers from the post and went on saying, "She don't get to see many folks. I'm sure she'll enjoy the company."
Jake looked up the lane and could see the shining tin roof of a frame farm house along with two silos and the tops of barns. He thanked the old farmer, got back in his car and drove up the long lane. As he pulled over a small hill, he could see the large front porch that wrapped around two sides of the three story brick house. Jake pulled in the driveway next to an old dusty farm truck, checked his hair in the mirror, got out and opened his trunk to get his sales kit. It was a large case full of leather samples of shoes, soles and insoles.
Jake made his way towards the front porch steps as he caught a glimpse of a lace curtain closing from the second floor. He was about to step on the first step when he saw her open the screen door a litte. Jake was a bit startled. He was expecting an old woman. He grinned and said, "You must be Mr. Simpson's daughter." Jake could see this young and very pretty woman's figure through the screen. When she stepped out on the porch, he was amazed at how beautiful she was.
She was wearing a plain white cotton dress with the hem just above her knees. Her almost platinum blond hair just brushed the top of her shoulders. She rested her left elbow in her right hand. She rubbed her neck and then twirled her hair with her fingers, saying softly, "I am Rene Simpson. I am Franklin's wife." She hung her head a little, looked at Jake and said, "You saw Frankin by side of the lane working on the fence, didn't you?"
Shoes, Shoes, Shoes!
Jake smiled and said, "Yes I did" as he took another step up to the porch landing. Jake was confused and stunned that the old man he had just met was married to this young, gorgeous woman....but Jake had a customer. As he began his sales pitch, Rene held the door open and invited him into the parlor that was left of the foyer. Jake limped to a red wing back chair as Rene stood by the green davenport. He propped his cane on the chair and flipped the latches on his sales kit case as Rene offered him a glass of iced tea.
Jake told her that iced tea was his favorite drink as he watched Rene turn and walk towards the kitchen. He couldn't help but notice the graceful way she moved. She walked past a ray of light coming through a high window. He saw the form of her legs under her dress. Jake told himself, "Get a grip...get a grip...she is married and her husband is not far away." Thoughts and fantasies annoyed Jake until Rene came back in the parlor with two glasses of tea.
Rene sat on the davenport as Jake sipped his tea. He handed her a little square sample of insole mateiral. Rene leaned forward to take the sample. She squeezed it, smiled and said,"Mmmm...that is nice." Rene sat back on the davenport, lifted her right leg, flipping her slipper on the floor. She placed her bare foot up on the edge of the coffee table and smiled wide, saying, "It feels fine on my fingers but I want to know how it feels on my feet."
Jake ruffled through his kit and found a shoe size sample. He placed it on the floor and Rene put her foot on it, then stood up and said, "I would love shoes that feel like this." Jake pulled out his order book as he handed her a sample booklet. He noted that her shoe size was 5 & 1/2. She ordered two pairs of high heels, three pairs of flats and a pair of boots. Jake was happy. He just made a $42.00 sale to one of the most beautiful women he'd ever seen.
He packed up his sales kit, grabbed his cane and stood up while thanking Rene. She walked him to the door and then the porch as he told her that her shoes would arrive by mail in less than six weeks. As he began to take the first step down, Rene asked, "Will you hug me before you go?" As Jake looked confused and surprised, she asked again, "Will you please hug me? I so miss being hugged. Franklin is a ghost. He's been gone three years now."
Jake looked around the farm yard and down the lane. He nervously said, "I don't want any trouble. You're married. What do you mean, your husband is a ghost? Gone as in dead? Sorry maam but this is getting pretty crazy. I need to get going."
Rene put her hands on her hips and sternly said, "Hug me or cancel my order and return my money." Jake really needed that $42.00. His cut was $21.00 and that was his gas and food money for the rest of the week. He sat his sales kit down and opened his arms with his cane in his right hand. Rene smiled and stepped forward for her hug. She wrapped her arms around his neck and whispered, "Oh I miss this so much."
The gentle goodbye.
Jake gently caressed her back. He could smell her hair and feel her warmth. He softly said, "I really need to go." Rene hugged him tighter and said, "If you would ever like to have more hugs, come back to me." As she released him, she gently kissed him on the cheek. Jake's face turned red as he nervously said, "I might...I might just come visit when I pass through these parts again." He was mezmerized by the sparkles of light in her ocean blue eyes.
Jake felt her hands fall gently from his shoulders. He grabbed his sales kit and made his way to his car. Rene stood with her right foot on top of her left foot and hugged the porch post as she smiled at Jake's parting words, "I will never forget you or this place. Goodbye Mrs. Simpson." Jake drove away as he looked back, watching her wave and smile. His mind was racing and he still seemed to feel her embracing him. He had just had the strangest experience of his life. Even though he thought she might be a little crazy, he could love a woman like her. He could really love a woman like her.
The sun was perched on the tree tops as he drove down the lane. The house roof was just disappearing in his rear view mirror when he slammed on the brakes! There was the old farmer, still working on the fence. Jake's heart dropped as he slowly eased down the lane. Jake thought, "If this guy is a ghost, I'm Barry Goldwater!" Jake was thanking God that the old farmer hadn't came home while he was with Rene on the porch.
Jake had to gather his nerve and composure as he approached the old man. Jake stopped as Franklin chuckled and asked, "Well, did you sell the Misses any shoes?" Jake nervously answered, "Yes...yes I did sir." Franklin laughed heartily and said, "She told you I was a ghost, didn't she." Jake looked stunned. Franklin then said, "I'll make a trade with you son. These old fence pliers and this gold ring on my left hand for your car."
Jake could only say, "What? What in the world do you mean? My car for a ring and pliers...that's crazy talk." Franklin grinned and said, "Let me explain. She's an Angel. More than forty years ago I came to this farm selling pots and pans. A man was right here mending the fence. It was a wood fence then. He told me to go ask his wife about the pots and pans." Franklin leaned on the fence post and went on, " She hasn't aged a minute in all those years. I asked her a thousand times...why and how...but she always just told me she was an Angel."
Sweet old Franklin Simpson smiled with tears in his eyes and said, "She and the farm can be in your hands. You only have five seconds to decide."
Jake's mind was buzzing as he thought of his situation. The old farmer started counting down the seconds as Jake pleaded for him to wait! The old farmer counted...five...four...three...two and Jake screamed,Yes...yes...I'll trade you!"
Franklin grinned wide as he slipped the gold ring off of his finger. Jake quickly got out of his car with just his cane. The old farmer handed him the ring and the fencing pliers, then got in the car as he told Jake to be sure and put the ring on. He added, "Someday you'll come out to mend this fence and your love will send a young man to her. She is an Angel you know."
Franklin Simpson slowly pulled away as Jake stood by the fence post. The car suddenly stopped. Franklin stuck his head out the window and shouted back at Jake, "By the way, I am a ghost! Angels never lie."
Jake Alvens smiled wide and his big brown eyes gleamed! He put the fencing pliers in his pocket, slipped the gold ring on his finger and walked up the lane to heaven.
A walk to Heaven may not be far.
© 2018 Tom Cornett