Note: Reader interest is high, so I decided to print the whole Allagash story as it appears in the Story Tree. Sonny’s real name was Willie. Here’s Part One:
It was our last day on the river and we were the last canoe. The Allagash was low, the temperature uncommonly high for Northern Maine—90 plus. My bow paddler was distressingly slow. I’d yell hard right and we’d be on the rock before he decided which side was right. None of the campers wanted to paddle with Willie.
We’d been drifting, swimming, and goofing off for five days; a dozen boys and two men. I chose Willie for my partner out of compassion. I generally bring up the rear on the trail or water to make sure no one gets left behind, and Willie assured me that position.
He was 12, maybe 13, from a foster home. Short sandy hair, brown eyes, scrawny; he read poorly but could he talk! He chattered away, seamlessly moving from one topic to another, delighted to have a listener. “See that duck?” he said, pointing to the sky. “No, in the clouds.” I saw no duck, but I noted the clouds were thickening. “Wish I had my camera,” said Willie. “Why?” I asked, looking skyward. “No, down the river.” There in the shallows stood a buck with a huge rack in velvet. He watched us approach then ambled into the woods. Willie paddled quietly a while.
Willie spoke again: “Cap, were you ever scared?” “Sure, lots of times.” “I mean really, really scared.” “I guess so,” I replied, wondering where this was going. “I was really scared today,” said Willie. I had paddled with him since morning and nothing scary had happened. “Tell me about it,” I said. “Remember when we stopped to eat and you asked us to tell about Jesus?”
We had rendezvoused on a sandbar for lunch and devotions. I asked the kids to tell what they had learned on the trip and how they met the Lord. Last-day excitement ran high so responses were meager, and we pushed off for our last stretch of river with some distance to go. Nothing scary had happened.
“I wanted to tell how I met Jesus,” said Willie. “I have a Bible but I don’t read good. I wanted to say something, but the kids always laugh at me. I got really, really scared.”
That tore at my soul: a boy pouring his heart out to a friend. Guilt for my impatience swept over me. I wanted to hug Willie and tell him I cared. We paddled silently for a long time.
We’ll pick up the story next time.
Old Grandpa Lloyd