The ups were getting to me. The elevation was getting to me. The dreary rain bursts were getting to me. A rare opening along The Appalachian Trail appeared. I could see mountains for ages. I decided to take a seat in the middle of this Rocky Top field and enjoy the view before trucking on.
As I was sitting there Larry with his thick Ozark Drawl rolled up and exclaimed, “THAT’S THE SPOT!”
He looked around, taking in the scenery. Looked back at me and pointed to where I was sitting, “yep right there. I’m ready. This is damn near perfect isn’t it?”
I agreed. This was one of those spots that you need occasionally to take in how far you have come.
“Yep. I need to bury something and right there is the spot.”
He asked if I had a metal trowl, but I alas only had a cheap plastic one like him. He started digging next to me in the rocky soil. His plastic trowl scrapping the rocks as he made as shallow grave. I wanted to help in someway so I stood up and started collecting loose rocks to cover the shallow grave he was digging.
“What are you going to bury?”
“My hat. I said I’d bury it when the time was right and it’s right right now. ”
I looked at his Vietnam Veteran hat, “oh, so you are burying it for a friend or something?”
I kept building my Loose rock pile.
“This is the spot, eh?” Not sure how much he wanted to talk about why he was burying his hat.
“I’m letting all of this go. I’m 70 years old and this pain has stayed with me for 50 years and I’m not going to the grave with it. Carol, what I saw. What I did. This pin has consumed me. I’m done carrying it around anymore. It’s time to let it go.”
I knew Larry needed some space. He needed to grieve. I strapped on my pack and grabbed my poles.
“There should be enough rocks to help bury it. Piles right here,” I pointed to the pile next to him that he hadn’t noticed.
“That’ll be just fine darlin'”
“I hope you feel lighter.”
I wandered off.
Larry had a good cry.
A short way down the trail he caught back up to me (it’s not hard) and he decided we were gonna walk the rest of the way together. I told him he was going to have to have his biggest day yet. And he let me know that he was getting off the trail the next day after he made it to Clingmans Dome (the highest point on the Appalachian Trail). He didn’t need to be out here anymore. He had come out here to let go of the pain he had been carrying around with him since the Vietnam War. Now it was time to go home and help his wife fulfill her dreams she had sacrificed for him to be out here, but this wasn’t where he was needed now.
We talked about our pain. How it can be hard to let go. How it can be difficult to trust. To love. To feel safe.
After we talked about all of our pain we were letting go of we talked about how Tom Hanks is the Himmy Stewart of this generation. We talked about how he used to date Stella Parton (Dolly’s sister) before she was a lesbian and how his buddies always like to pick on him for it. And we quoted our favorite Red Skelton bits to each other to keep us moving up the mountains.