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It was the summer 1966. I was spending the three month holiday with grandfather at his countryside mansion in Connecticut. With vast lands and a beautiful free-flowing river, Grandfather‘s estate was my favorite place on earth. Our favorite thing to do on a hot summer day after fishing all morning was jumping in the river to cool off. This was the routine from June to August just as I had done every other summer I can think of, but this particular summer is one I know that I will never forget.
It all started on June 13, my twelfth birthday. I woke up to find my favorite breakfast already placed on the table: French toast and bacon. But instead of eating breakfast with me as he normally did, Grandpa only had one place set and told me to meet him in his study when I was finished. So I ate my delicious breakfast and then ran up the cherry wood staircase and into Grandpa’s study. There he was sitting at his desk, face down and engrossed in his work, but as soon as he heard me come in, his head popped right up and his face lit up with a smile.
“There’s my birthday boy! Happy birthday, Benjamin! Wait right there; I have something for you.”
As he reached under his desk, I prayed he would pull out a new fishing pole, so when I saw him holding a tall wizard’s hat embroidered with tacky white stars, in one hand, and a maroon cape and shiny wand in the other, I tried to hide my disappointment.
“Wow, thanks Grandpa.” I uttered.
“Now listen, I know you’re getting too old to be playing with these kinds of things, and you’re right.”
“No Grandpa, it’s great. I like it don’t worry.” I didn’t have the heart to tell him otherwise.
“No, no, Benny, don’t be afraid to hurt my feelings. Because I know you’re too old to PLAY with these things, but you are finally old enough to USE them.”
Confused and afraid that Grandpa Charlie had finally lost his mind, I asked, “What do you mean? I don’t understand…”
“Come, follow me. I’ll show you.”
I followed him downstairs, out the great mahogany door of the house, past the airy fields, through the thick forest, and finally stopped at the familiar, gently flowing river. Carefully, he put on the cape and hat and held the wand in his left hand. Closing his eyes, he a muttered something I couldn’t understand, and then he gracefully waved the wand bringing it higher and higher above his head. Ever so slightly, the noise from the river grew louder, and the forest came to life. Deer, rabbits and birds of all colors drew nearer to where my grandpa was standing. I stole a glance at the river and a beautiful little waterfall appeared where I was certain it hadn’t been before! Flowers bloomed and the whole forest came to life right before my eyes.
I stared in awe at my grandfather and he said to me, “So, what do you think?”
“How…when…what…” I was too stunned to conjure up a full sentence.
“It’s a long story,” Grandpa Charlie interjected, “it goes back as far as the American Revolution. I’m a wizard, and my grandfather was a wizard, and his great grandfather before him. It skips a generation. When I was twelve I learned of my powers in this very forest.”
“So that means…”
“Yes, my boy, it means that the next generation is you. You have the power to make this forest burst with life, and these fields prosper, and most of all, this river flow with an abundance of fish and beautiful waterfalls. And I‘m going to teach you everything I know.”
From that day on, for the rest of the summer, my grandfather and I made our way to the forest every morning after breakfast to practice magic. We would go all day, sometimes even forgetting to stop for lunch. Referring to me as a “natural,” he said that I was even better than he was at my age. He taught me all kinds of spells to make the land more beautiful, and he even showed my how to make the river into my own water park by arranging tree trunks to be slides crashing into gentle waterfalls. The forest became my version of paradise.
I was starting to get really good at the tricks my grandfather had shown me, and I wanted to try things on my own. So one night I snuck out of the mansion, hat, cape, and wand in hand, a went straight to the river. I chanted some spells from memory just as my grandpa taught me and just as before, the creatures congregated and the flowers bloomed. But I wanted adventure. I wanted bigger waterfalls and a quick flowing river that would carry me like a roller coaster. I wanted to show Grandpa Charlie the next day all I could do on my own. So I created more and more waterfalls, and called up more flowers from the earth than ever before. I moved trees and swung on vines and made slides so tall I could hardly see the ground. I played for hours and that night I felt like I was living in a fantasy world.
I got so wrapped up in doing more and more and having a good time that I didn’t realize that the river was overflowing and the forest was starting to drown! When I saw this was happening I immediately tried to reverse what I had done, but then I realized that every time I was here practicing spells with my grandfather, he was the one who always put things back to normal before we left. It wasn’t until that moment that I remembered that we hadn’t gotten that far in our lessons yet! I began to panic as I watched everything I had created quickly drowning and the animals struggling to stay afloat as water rose higher and higher. Panic amongst the creatures and once blissful wildlife grew before my eyes. Drawing a complete blank, I tried desperately to remember any words that my grandpa had spoken everyday before going home. To my demise, I couldn’t come up with anything.
Just when I thought I had destroyed everything my grandfather ever gave me, I saw the flick of a wand and the flash of a cape in the distance. Though the roar of the waterfall was loud, I heard the faint yell of my grandpa.
“Benjamin! Where are you? Can you hear me? Benjamin!”
Soon his voice became more clear and he was standing near to me. Before I could say anything, he waved his wand with fury and shouted spells at the top of his voice. One by one the waterfalls disappeared and the animals and flowers resurfaced. He put the trees back where they belonged and sent the creatures scurrying home, terrified. He calmed the river until it flowed at its normal, gentle pace, and reassured the fish that everything was fine. When he was finished with all this he turned to me and said, “Let’s go home.”
I will never forget the long walk back to the mansion with my grandfather that night. But the patience and kindness he possessed when he failed to reprimand me, even one time, I will forever remember. I could tell by the look on his face that he was disappointed in me, but relieved that I was alright. I guess he could tell by the look on mine that he didn’t have to say anything for me to never do anything like that again.
The next day we went back to the forest as usual. He did not scold me or make me feel even worse, in fact, he never mentioned that night ever again. Instead he continued to teach me all the lessons I needed to know to be a good and productive wizard.
I never practiced magic on my own from that day forward until I my Grandpa was done teaching me everything there was to know. Although my Grandfather is gone, I have made a promise to continue his legacy and teach my own grandson about the magic, and I suppose if he is ever as big a fool as I was on that summer night, I will show him the same love and compassion that my own grandfather showed me.