by Adam Shepard
When I’m seventy, my grandchildren, all six or seven of them, will sit around my La-Z-Boy at Christmas, and they will want to hear stories about my one-year journey. The aroma of a honey-glazed ham, green-bean casserole, and cheesy hash browns drifts softly into the living room from grandma’s kitchen. Two pies—pecan, my favorite, and pumpkin, which I don’t care for—are cooling out back on the screened-in porch.
And my grandchildren will ask me questions.
“Did you meet the Dalai Lama?” they will ask. “Did you buy anything for Grandma? Like a scarf or something? Did you see any Asian people? I mean, like, real Asian people. Not like the ones with funny accents that we have in the United States.”
Then, a raised hand from the corner will catch my attention. One shy grandchild will sit alone, having remained silent this entire time. When our eyes meet, he’ll wait, hand still raised, for me to acknowledge him. Good Lord, son. You needn’t raise your hand to speak in this household. I’ll point to him.
“What is the one place you enjoyed the most during your journey?” he’ll ask, and I’ll be curious why it takes the most intelligent ones so much time to gather the moxie to be more outgoing. Why are you sitting in the corner? I’ll wonder. Please don’t sit in the corner. Are you listening to the rest of these questions? You really are the only hope for this family.
This question, though, is one I’ve long pondered. The one place. Maybe it won’t be fair for me to think about these things, since I’ll have enjoyed the trip as a whole, and every individual spot from start to finish will have been new and exciting and held its own flavor, and besides, our greatest adventures are the next ones—whether those adventures are a segment of a ’round-the-world trip or just hoping to finish dinner without our teeth falling out.
“Honduras,” I’ll say, and this will grab everyone’s attention. They’ll all scoff at me.
“Honduras!” they’ll yell, looking one to the other as if I can’t possibly be serious. He must be kidding, this antique of a man. “You fought bulls in Nicaragua and rode an elephant in Thailand and hiked Abel Tasman in New Zealand and bungee jumped in Slovakia, and you’re telling us the place you enjoyed the most was Honduras?” They haven’t heard favorable reports from Honduras.
I don’t necessarily have a particular affection for Honduras as a country, but when people ask me the one place where I wish I could have frozen time, I will tell them to put me back on that field with those children in Honduras. It’s three o’clock, an hour shy of closing time. I’m exhausted, muscles groaning and begging me to lie down and be still. Two sessions of activities with the kids; weightlifting during the lunch break
Carlos, eight years old, zips over to me with a wide smile that can’t possibly be replicated. He looks up and into my eyes. He makes his appeal. “Adán!” he pleads. Man, that smile. “Adán! Avión!” He raises his arms up to me. It’s airplane time; three o’clock is always airplane time, and as soon as he mentions this, the herd drops the soccer ball they’ve been kicking among themselves and thunders toward me. Assembling around me, they cheer one another on while awaiting their turn.
One after another, I hoist them up by their waists, grunt as I stretch my arms over my head, and sail them through the air. I run fast, careful to keep from slipping in the muddy grass. I make each flight as thrilling as I can while keeping a little gas in the tank for the next flyer. They open up wide, arms and legs extended to capacity, and they set themselves free. Tonight, they’ll sleep three or four to a room, sharing hard, scratchy, fifteen-year-old mattresses, and they’ll wish their parents could afford just one more fan to keep the sweat from beading all over their bodies while they sleep. But right at that moment out on that field, they’re soaring through the air, no worries. The breeze plays across their faces; the air welcomes and embraces them and makes them forget. One after the other.
“Más rápido!” they chant, and who am I to take them for a ride in a puddle jumper when they clearly signed up for a ride on an F-15? I pick up speed.
We soar from one end of the field to the other and back. Again and again, one plane at a time, twenty little birds following behind, their laughter echoing through the soccer field and bouncing off the trees and cracked plaster and wooden homes around us.
We catch a drift. We swoop and we soar. We’re at the mercy of that burst of air now; it’s out of my control. They laugh and bellow for more. And life is good.
I wish this moment would never end.
But it does. Just like that, we have to go inside for story time. This frustrates them for five seconds or so—they’ll play airplane until next Tuesday if given the chance—but they quickly get excited about which story we’ll be reading. To which land will we travel today? Will Dr. Seuss be there? Curious George? That fierce dragon from yesterday’s tale? The ugly duckling? There’ll be more time to fly in the avión tomorrow.
Yeah, Honduras. Sitting there at seventy, I’m imagining that my life will have mattered to somebody besides my family. It will have been a great life, and if I keep walking my two miles a day and taking my cholesterol medication religiously, maybe I’ll squeak out some more years. I should probably go easy on the whiskey, though. But looking back on my year, that great year I had in my twenties, if given the opportunity to pick one place to which I can return, I’ll want to be back on that field in Honduras. Miserably hot, no water in sight, shade an illusion, no air conditioning to look forward to; and I couldn’t possibly have cared any less. I just wanted to see those kids’ eyes sparkle.
I just wanted to take them for one more ride in an airplane.
Adam Shepard's first book, Scratch Beginnings, was featured widely in the national media and thenceforth chosen on the curriculum or as a common read at over ninety colleges and universities across the United States. His newest book, One Year Lived, recounts the year he spent out in the world: seventeen countries, four continents, and one haunting encounter with a bull. More information (and a picture of Adam's mullet) are available at www.OneYearLived.com.