We could all see it when Dan got back. He smiled more. His eyes seemed brighter. He even talked more.
“Well, you look healthy, Dan.” Janet did her usual grandmother-like once-over.
“Thanks.” Dan nodded shyly and looked away for a moment before starting in again.
“You shoulda seen the size of the watermelons there. We could take one and eat it until we were sick and still be half left for later. And they were there for the taking.”
“Cool” I said. “What else was there to eat?”
“Lots of baked things. As you walked into town, there were fields of oats and barley and wheat I think. They’d grind it all up into flour and make all kinds of things. Everybody had lots of flour.”
And he went on to tell us how he walked into town, on the dirt road that followed the river through the low hills. The hills were covered in all sorts of crops and the people working in the fields along the road would say hi to him passing. Of course he didn’t know any of them, but he explained that they welcomed him as an old friend, like he was returning home. They shared their food and always told their stories of the day.
In town, they lived in the old stone buildings covered in vines that arched over the narrow streets. In other places, great trees provided the centerpiece for the small gathering areas where people would come to relax and chat. Apparently the town was built over a series of large springs that welled up into old stone basins where people drank freely and much of the water ran through little stone channels to the river at the edge of the small town. In places the stones were shaped into small pools where trout would dwell. In other places, the water was routed so that it cascaded down a wall, now all covered in moss and ferns from the never-ending supply of cool water.
But what Dan talked about the most were the people. They had a happiness and an easy going nature about them. Disagreements were rare and typically resolved over a bout of laughter. He never met the wealthy nor the poor. Everyone seemed satisfied. Few people traveled beyond the hills and, oddly, none of them seemed interested in Dan’s stories from those other places. It wasn’t a bad thing, there were plenty of matters at hand up for discussion. Far off places just didn’t seem to figure in there.
Over the following weeks, we’d see Dan telling others of that place he visited for a brief time this summer and always, his eyes sparkling and his gestures full of life. We didn’t have to hear a word to know what he was talking about. Oddly enough, he never talked about wanting to go back. I think he knew deep down, that he never could, but somehow, he also knew he would carry it with him for a long, long time.