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The Cranky Yankee - reprinted from the South Shore Puzzle Journal, Issue No. 49 - April, 2010
By Stephen Martin

      The terrible March nor'easter has finally passed. A barred owl rises with the sun over a brilliant world of ice and snow. Audacious crows pierce the silence. There's no other sound. Something has happened in the woods near Clayton Lake.
      Elmer, the oldest, tallest tree in Maine, has fallen. After 240 years of braving these storms, having somehow survived the Dutch elm disease, the beloved 110-foot-tall hero could stand no more.
      Shrouded in white, he awaits the April thaw to begin his well-deserved reunion with the earth. In death he'll sustain the billions of life forms that will work to hasten that reunion. His mighty limbs will keep the cabin warm for years. New life will spring forth from his trunk as it decays to nourish the earth.
      Elmer harbored thousands of birds and squirrels in his time. Four generations of our family picnicked in his shade as children - our grandfather, the Cranky Yankee himself, us and young Cranky III, in whose memory he will live another long time.
      Cranky couldn't get up this morning. Ma rekindled the fire, called the family doctor and then us. She was going to dial 911, but the old man would have none of it.
      "If it's my time to go," he rasped, "I want to go right heah, in yoah ahms. You know that's what I always wanted, Ma." She nodded with a brave smile, holding back tears. "And if it ain't, we can wait 'til Doc MacDonald gets here."
      The roads, of course, were impassible. So they whiled away the day together, she propped up in bed next to him, her kntting in her lap. They reminisced a bit, but mostly they sat inside their special silence, as they had for as long as they could remember.
      About three o'clock he broke the silence. "Thusty," he said in a reedy voice, watching dust motes float like milkweed thistle in a slanting shaft of golden light.
      She gave him a sip of water. "Bettah?" she crooned.
      "Ayup," he replied. Smiling, he turned on his side to face her. He nuzzled his great head into her bosom. She wrapped her armns around his head and shoulders.
      "I love you, Ma," he said. "Oh, I love you too, Pa." she answered.
      He yawned, a deep, contented yawn, and went to sleep. She stroked his hair a little while, then broke down and cried and cried. She was still crying when she got up to let in Doc MacDonald at around five-thirty, but she retreated to the bathroom and composed herself.
      When we arrive at around six, Ma greets us with hugs and a sad smile. Seated around the kitchen table later, we ask if she'd like to stay with us.
      "Nope," she says. "This is my home. Lately I've pert' much been runnin' the place myself anyway." She touches the notebook on the table, the notebook in which Cranky finished his memoirs, just last night. "Besides," she adds, "he's still alive in my haht, in how I live my life, in everything around heah." We think she'll be all right.
      Indeed, Cranky's still alive in all our hearts, and in how we live our lives, And in his grandson's memory, he will live another long time.

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