I'm visiting the farm where I grew up, and it's raining so hard that I think we might have another of the occasional floods that I remembered from my youth. As I duck into an old shed to get out of the downpour, I notice a man standing in the road, looking intently at the rising waters of Wolf Camp Run. Then he pulls a disposable camera from his coat pocket and snaps a few pictures of the stream. He's a fairly short guy in his 30s who looks vaguely familiar to me. When he sees me coming out of the shed, he turns and begins talking.
"They really screwed up this creek back in '96," he says. "I told them a dozen times that they're just making it worse."
I nod, and he keeps talking, telling me that the county authorities dredged the creek poorly after the flood a few years ago, and he's been waiting for a rain like today's to show how badly they damaged things. Then he tells me that he lives half a mile upstream, and that the dredging actually cut away several yards of his property that he was not compensated for.
"The county's too chicken to admit screwing up," he says.
Suddenly, I remember who he is. He was a neighbor kid named Mark, a few years younger than I was. We were never really close, and the last time I saw him, he was 16 and had taken his father's car to speed up the road by our house. We heard him slam on the brakes near the shed, then watched, crowded around the kitchen door, as he got out of the car, moved around the front to the passenger side, bent to pick something up, and walked slowly to our porch with a white bundle in his hand. I thought it was a small pillowcase filled with something.
He knocked on the door, and Dad opened it. Mark looked surprised that our whole family — Dad, Mom, Grandma, my three sisters — had gathered in the kitchen to investigate the commotion. This was an event for us, something to break the rural summer monotony. There was more than a little fear and shame mixed with Mark's surprise. He held up the white bundle by a scrawny set of pinkish legs, and I realized with a start that it was one of our chickens.
"I'm really sorry, Mr. Sheirer," he said to my dad. "I ran over one of your chickens. I feel really bad about it, and I was wondering if I could pay you for the damage."
"That's OK," Dad said, taking the chicken from him and placing it on the kitchen table. "We'll have this one for dinner."
When I tell Mark who I am, his eyes widen in recognition as we shake hands. I can't resist telling him the story of how he killed the chicken. After a moment, he remembers, chuckles, and blushes a bit.
"Dad was really impressed that you came to the door and owned up to it," I tell Mark. "He really admired that."
"I was really scared," he says, "but your dad was a good guy."
He goes back to snapping pictures of the creek. The blush is gone quickly. He tells me his father is in the hospital, dying of cancer. I remember seeing Mark's father around the neighborhood. He was short and stout, much like Mark — and a lot like my dad. It's hard to imagine these strong men so weak and frail, dying.
Mark doesn't show much emotion. He climbs the bank and askes me to get into the picture.
"I'll show these to my dad," Mark says as the camera clicks. "He's the one who made me admit it when I also ran over the Millers' cat and the Emerichs' dog that summer. Your chicken was the last straw."
"It wasn't a big deal," I say. "We were gonna eat that chicken, anyway."
"Well, it was to my dad. He didn't let me drive for a year after that."