Keepsakes and Companionship

An injured redtail hawk on the banks of Goose Creek, 2004
An injured redtail hawk on the banks of Goose Creek, 2004

We crossed paths briefly after college by accident.

In 1973 when Ann was 7 months pregnant with our first child, I gladly took the  only available job I could find– in the University of Alabama Medical Center in the Department of Comparative Medicine. My new boss, Dr. Charley Hunt who would become my good friend, took me down the hall, introducing me to the staff–mostly DVM researchers doing various laboratory animal studies of human disease.

And lo and behold, behind one of those doors was my college friend, Steve, whom I’ve just recently had the opportunity to catch up with after a long, long time.

In our rekindling common memories from our early days of friendship, I recalled that he and I had made an excursion after class to the nearby national forest. Along the banks of the creek, we found a dead red-tail hawk.

Not wanting its life to have been lost in vain, we each took a talon from the dead bird. Did he remember that?

“Why yes, Fred, where is yours? Mine has been hanging above my work desk now for almost 40 years. I brought mine with me and was looking forward to pairing it with yours.”

I thought he was just jerking me around. I’d kept mine on display at first (to Ann’s disgust), then in a drawer, then in a storage box, and rather doubt it will be ever be found.

Later on the morning of Steve’s only full day of his visit this week, he brought down the talon, the shank carefully wrapped tightly in black thread, then coated with a thin covering of wax. He handed it to me, both disappointed and pleased I had at least remembered.

And such is an aging friendship, some things kept, some lost forever, and a hope for new memories and common experience even yet.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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