As a child I always enjoyed returning to Brandon, MS, towards the end of the summer every year for our family reunion. The family filled my great-grandfather's home with hugs and laughter that I will always remember. Although I have special memories from every year there is one year that was very emotional for all of us.
My great-grandfather (we call him Pa) lives in a very old house on about 17-20 acres of land. There's a fishing tank, an orchard and lots of dirt trails that lead to several different wooded areas. Like most children, my cousin and I were intrigued by exploring every inch of his property. Of course Pa always warned us against getting too far from the house and we always assumed it was a precaution like our parents would give back home about riding our bikes off too far.
That year was the year that my Uncle Bobby passed away in an auto accident. He was my great-uncle but he was only 38 and our family was devastated to lose him. He always had the loudest laugh and warmest hugs for us kids, we really missed him.
As we set out on one of our grand adventures my cousin and I were discussing how everyone seemed sad that he wasn't there. Being kids we really didn't have the understanding of death that you learn as an adult. We just knew he wasn't there and never would be and we began to talk about things that he had said or did that made us laugh (he was a very comical man).
As we journeyed down a chosen path I noticed that one of Pa's apple trees branches were being moved about like there was a strong wind. I remember thinking this was odd since the rest of the trees weren't moving. This particular tree was surrounded by several others so it seemed very strange. We continued to hike down our trail until Diane, my cousin, stopped abruptly and asked me if I remembered ever seeing this fort (tree house) we were walking up on. I had never seen it before but began to remember that it seemed like I heard someone mention it. It really didn't bother me too much because it seemed so inviting. Diane was a little hesitant at first she believed that we had passed by this particular spot a dozen times and had never noticed the fort. I really didn't care, I insisted on running towards it. It looked like so much fun! I coaxed Diane in and we began to play. It wasn't long after we had entered the fort that both of us began to feel very cold. What happened next will always be with me.
As I turned toward the entrance of the fort there he was. Plain as day, my Uncle Bobby. Only he was my age. I knew it was him, I don't know how I knew. But, he walked in and began to play. He was talking to someone, I don't believe it was Diane or me. But we stood there in amazement and watched. I don't believe it was very long although it seemed like an hour flew by. I think back and I can remember exactly what he looked like, I have since seen pictures of him as a young boy and there is no doubt in my mind that it was him. I can remember what he was wearing, how his hair parted and the colour of his old shoes.
Just like he appeared in the entrance he exited the same way. We watched him go out and back up the trail a little way and he was gone. Diane and I weren't scared at the time, it took a few seconds for it to sink in, you know, what we had actually seen.
We were running back up to the house to tell the grown-ups what we had witnessed. I recalled seeing the apple tree and told Diane what I had seen before. When we got to the house and began tell everyone Diane told my aunt about the apple tree as well. It turns out that the fort used to be my Uncle Bobby's, his older brother, my Uncle Roy had helped him build it. They had spent many summer days out there. So, I guess thats who Uncle Bobby was talking to.
Later that day Aunt Becky approached me and asked me to show her the tree that was moving. When I took her there she showed me where her and my Uncle Bobby had carved their initials in the tree when the were teenagers.