It seemed fitting that he had been born a storyteller, because that's how he lived, and then died. I can remember so many things about him; however, I can't seem to remember my multiplication tables. I can remember when he first aroused my voracious curiosity.

"Do you want to hear a riddle?" I only had permission to get candy at the general store, but Mom couldn't get too mad for answering a riddle. I turned to the chess table. He carefully studied his pieces, then reached out a steady hand to move one. A wide grin crept through his wrinkles.

"Checkmate." His partner groaned and slowly got up, but the winner turned to me, a triumphant smile breaking across his face. I couldn't stop my own, though I don't think I had wanted to. I nodded, then waited for his riddle. His hands were on his knees; my gaze was drawn to those ginormous hands. They completely engulfed his knees, rubbing them in an odd circular motion.

"What is black and white, yet read all around the world?" I bit my lip. I had already heard this one from my dad, but I didn't want to hurt his feelings. So I pretended to think, imitating what I thought adults did. With a finger tapping my chin and my eyes tightly shut, I missed the amused look in his eyes. I decided I had thought long enough.

"Oh, it's a newspaper, isn't it?" A laugh seemed to erupt from his chest, rumbling like a volcano. He nodded, still laughing. Sporadically, a hand would lift up then slam back down on his knee. With eyes twinkling from tears, he reached into a pocket and pulled out a shiny penny.

"Here you go. Buy yourself some candy and run along." I grinned happily as I grabbed the upheld coin. I hadn't expected that. I didn't see the faraway look in his eyes as I skipped towards the counter. I went home later and asked my mom about him.

"Honey, that was Jack Williams." She waited as I pieced together what I already had known with this new information.

"Wait, all those stories? They were about him? Wow." Wow indeed. He was well known throughout our small town, mainly for being the only young man to come back from the war alive and uninjured. Many regarded him as somewhat as a hero, but I had always thought that he had awful luck. I just shivered to imagine how it must feel to come back alone, when you had gone with friends you had grown up with.

The Bible story my dad read that night was Job. I tried to imagine how that faithful man would feel. He was rich one night, in every way possible. The next, he had lost pretty much everything: children, animals, his house, his wife and friend's support. But he alone knew that he had the most important thing of all. God.

I couldn't help but compare the two men. Both had lost nearly everything they held dear, yet they stood firm in God. I suppose I had romanticized both of them a bit. Especially Jack Williams. But his life seemed like a tragic modern Shakespearian play.

He came back from the war to find his high school sweetheart gone. Most say she ran away with a traveling salesman, but not every piece of beauty salon gossip can be believed. My mom came into my room just as I was starting to really think. "Sweetie, don't go bothering Mr. Williams. I'm sure he just wants to spend his last years in peace." She brushed my hair away. Her fingers were soft and cool against my skin.

"But Mom, I just have to." I sat up ramrod straight, as if that would convince her of the importance of what I was saying. She smiled at me and pushed my shoulders back. I collapsed onto the bed with an exaggerated sigh, wishing she would just understand.

"Okay honey. Why is this so important? Is there something you aren't telling me?" I shook my head, making my hair fly about my face.

"Not really. I dunno if I can explain it good enough."

"It's I don't know and well enough." I bit my lip. I hated it when she interrupted me.

"Fine. I don't know if I can explain it well enough." My tone grew more urgent than sarcastic now.

"He's so different. I just have to know more. It really doesn't have to be a lot more. He's really the only interesting person in this town. Everyone else just seems dull and bland in comparison. Kinda like milk to orange juice. Now which one would you rather have?"

She shook her head. "Just sleep. You can wonder and wander about in that huge imagination of yours tomorrow. Goodnight."

I smiled and leaned back into my pillows. Her face was the last thing I saw before my sleepy eyes gave up their fight.

As soon as my mom let me, I was rushing out the door. My chest seemed to want to burst with excitement. I really tried not to knock into anyone, but I don't know how well I succeeded. The door of the general store blew open with my energetic push and the bell tinkled. I searched the area around the chess board. No luck. I whirled out of there like I came.

No matter. I knew where he lived. It was a tiny farm not far from town. People talked of how big the Williams farm used to be. Thy also talked of how Jack Williams had to sell it off piece by piece just to get through the hard times. I admired him for being able to hold onto the last piece he had. I just knew it was the prettiest spot in five counties.

I came up over the hill and saw him hoeing his small garden. I paused for a minute, closing my eyes and letting the warm sunshine and fresh country air wash over me.

"Hello, there. Come on over." The welcoming shout broke into my thoughts. As I scampered down the hill, his smile nearly matched the width of my grin.

"Well, now. Aren't you the girl that solved my riddle yesterday?" I bobbed my head silently. I couldn't believe I was standing in front of the Jack Williams. His eyes stared down into mine. They were like glinting onyxes held in a worn piece of creased leather. My mom called all those wrinkles "smile lines." It was a fancy way of saying, "I'm getting old but I don't want to admit it."

"Can I help you with something? Another riddle?" I finally broke my awe-induced silence.

"Not really. Maybe I could just…" He patiently stood there while I tried to think of a reason to stay.

"Maybe I could help you with your garden?"

He chuckled and swept a hand towards the neat rows sprinkled with green sprouts. "Be my guest. I always love help." I glanced enviously towards his worn overalls and red-checkered shirt. Oh well. My mom could deal with a few tiny dirt stains, right? We both knelt, me with youthful vigor and him with a carefulness that is borne by the old. I watched him bury his hands in the rich brown and breathe in deeply. Curious, I did the same. The earth was warm at first, but as I buried deeper my fingers found the traces of the cooler night. My ribcage lifted as I breathed. It smelled like sunshine and night time all at the same time. I did it again and again, not able to get enough.

I watched him for my cues. He methodically worked his hands around the weed and gave it a quick yank. I tried the same, but sometimes my weed didn't come all the way. The first time I did it, I stole a glance at his face. He was smiling.

"It takes practice. I didn't get it on my first try either."

I grinned happily and got back to work. Time seemed to slip away as we labored. He was a great storyteller. He told me of how he longed for his own horse when he was younger, of the many times he got in trouble. He told me of his teenage pranks, of his quirky friends.

I could almost see Sam with his bright red hair, freckles, and the skinniest frame in five counties. And Rick, he was the troublemaker. Dark hair, dark eyes. Both boys had had a bit of a rivalry growing up. Jack Williams had turned to me then.

"But don't you ever think Rick hesitated throw himself in the path of a bullet to save Sam. Sam cried for days afterwards. He didn't think I knew, he would go about it secret like, at night. But I knew because I was crying too."

We had the bean row done. We moved to the tomatoes next. "Before the war, we were best friends. During the war, we were brothers. After Rick died, nothing was the same. Sam and I grew apart, both of us knowing that death could rip us apart any second. We didn't want to deal with the heart-ache again."

"I can still remember the day Sam lost his legs. It was early morning. The sky was gray; the wind was making our noses run. We had been up all night, watching the flashes from the machine guns and the mortars. We were exhausted from blocking the sounds of war. It wasn't pretty out there. I had seen the sun begin to rise. So I stretched the tiniest bit. Sam saw the mortar coming, I didn't. He threw himself at me, covering my body with his. I couldn't hear anything; it was like a hazy nightmare. I finally pushed Sam off of me. He smiled an odd little smile, then passed out. I dragged him all the way to the medics, praying he was still alive."

I didn't completely understand all he was talking about then. I knew he was sad. But now I know more. I know how Sam's legs had been blasted off, how Jack went back to the battle, recklessly throwing himself in front of bullets and mortars alike. He secretly wanted to be hit too. He knew it wasn't fair. He won so many Purple Hearts that day. He saved as many men as he could, hoping to somehow redeem himself for something he had never done. But he couldn't tell a small girl that. He really didn't know it himself.

Then Jack smiled, trying to lighten the mood. "I try to remember the good things about the guys though. My favorite story is when Rick was dating this one girl, Mary. Rick was really only going with her because Sam had taken a shine to her first. But no girl ever said no to Rick. So Sam decided to even the score. His cousin, Sally, came that summer."

"He didn't tell anyone that she was his cousin, that would've ruined everything. Rick never knew what hit him. Sally used her big city charm to her advantage. Rick fell like a ton of bricks. He broke up with Mary, leaving her broken-hearted. Good ole Sam was right there with a hankie and a shoulder for her to cry on. And Sally led Rick on for months. Finally, she went back up north. Rick tried following her, but his daddy found out and took him out back to the woodshed. Later Sam came over with a huge grin on his face. Rick could barely walk, let alone run to catch Sam as he ran away. Rick was sore about it for months afterwards. But he got back by dumping a snake down Sam's back while he was on a date with Mary at the movies. Mary never did forgive Sam for smacking her in the face as he screamed and flailed around."

I laughed at this. I could almost see it too. We were done. I stood up and wiped my dirty hands on my yellow print dress. I winced at the black streaks they left, but Mom was a wonder at getting all my stains out. He stood up too, though a bit slower than I had. I could almost hear his joints creaking. With squinting eyes, he glanced at the sun. "It's about noon. Your mom expecting you home for lunch?"

My eyes widened. "Oops. I completely forgot. I'm sorry, I loved hearing your stories." He stretched his arms above his head.

"Well, if your Mom lets ya, you can just come on over after lunch if ya want." I squealed and wrapped him in a hug.

"Thank you Mr. Williams! I'll be right back, I promise." I rushed down the path to home, missing the rather stunned look on Jack William's face. At our house, I endured Mom's lecture about my dress, then scarfed down my lunch. She let me go back, on the condition that I would wear my old pair of overalls and that I would behave. I accepted both with a smile and ran back faster than I had come, mainly because I had thought of something he hadn't mentioned yet.

"Mr. Williams, what about the girl? Why did she leave?" I arrived breathless with yet another question. He paused, letting both hands fall limp. I was a bit worried, because he had been carving, and that knife looked rather sharp. As I look back, that was one of the two times I had ever seen his hands completely still.

"Go ahead and call me Jack. I dunno as if I've ever been called anything else." He reached over and handed me a paint can and a brush. "We gotta paint that fence over there." As we walked, he continued talking.

"I suppose those old biddies have been saying things again. Isn't it time they a new hobby other than boring ole me?" I giggled. He was the farthest thing from boring.

"Her name was Jenny. She was the prettiest thing I ever did see. Every time I looked at her it about stole my breath away. She had the richest hazel eyes, you could almost drown if you stared too long." He chuckled. "And I did. A lot. But we were both so young." He paused and looked at me sternly. "She didn't run off. I told her to go. She had a dream she wanted to pursue and I was the only thing holding her back. Not too long afterwards I realized that I had been in love with her beauty, because she was awfully dull. While I stared into her eyes, she would prattle on about hair care and other odd things."

I listened attentively. I was a bit disappointed. Everyone said that his life was the saddest love story God could've possibly thought of. Where was the zing? The tears? I had even prepared myself to cry.

"Careful there." He grabbed my hand. It had been angrily flicking paint all over the place. I scratched my head sheepishly.

"Whoops. But Mr.- I mean Jack. That isn't a love story." My scratching turned to flicking my hair back indignantly. "That isn't even really love." He patiently guided my hand back to the railing. He sat back on his haunches and stared up at the apple tree on the hill above us. I looked up too and saw initials carved into its trunk.


"Kristy was the one who convinced me of how much I really hadn't loved Jenny. She was like a whirlwind, but in the quietest way possible. She turned my world upside down without me even knowing it. She was a nurse in the hospital. We became friends first. I couldn't understand why I was so drawn to her. I never even considered love. I was a blind fool. Everyone said she was plain, so I believed them. Her soul was a dazzling diamond among pebbles. I didn't fall in love with her looks, I fell in love with her kindness, her mercy, her wit, her dry humor."

He had to remind me to keep working as he talked. I would get so into the story that I forgot to paint. But he always kept up a steady pace.

"I don't even know the exact moment I started loving her. There were no fireworks, no pointing arrows. It just happened. One day Sam wheeled up to me. I was staring at her hair as she read to one of the men. He reached up and hit me on the side of my head. I wanted to know what that was for. I can remember what he said to this day. 'Jack, when are you going to ask that girl to marry you? You certainly don't deserve her, but she's crazy about you. Get on with it buddy, or you just might lose her to someone else.' He grinned and rolled away before I had really processed what he had said."

"The next day, I bought a ring in town and asked her before I lost my courage. I made the mistake of asking her in front of all the guys. They actually hooted at us. I was embarrassed, but she threw her head back and laughed."

My head was on my hands, I was completely enraptured. Paint dripped down my arms, but I didn't notice. I noticed that he had stopped talking though. I nudged him.

"Hey. What about the rest of the story? Did you have any kids?" This was a completely different story than what I had heard.

He stared at me. They made me want to cry. I could just feel emotion radiating off him. Sadness was too tame a word. I got a funny feeling in my tummy. Those eyes had seen history, had made it. Wisdom comes at a cost. I know that now.

"Yeah. We had a son together. We were so excited for him. She made up a nursery; I made him a cradle. There were bottles waiting, little socks. Tiny clothes. She made them all.

"There were complications and he came too early. They both died. She named him Jack." His voice broke. Tears crept through the cracks on his face to slide off his chin. I couldn't stand to see him so sad. It was all my fault too. I crawled into his lap and wrapped my arms around his neck.

"I'm sorry. I really shouldn't have asked. Mommy did ask me not to." He awkwardly patted my back.

"Nah, its okay." I pulled back and stared at him incredulously.

"No really. Nobody has ever listened to me talk. They got too uncomfortable. But you didn't care, did you?" I shook my head, even though it was a bit more of a statement than a question.

We became really good friends after that day. I loved digging through his garden. His dog had a litter every year. But I came mainly for his stories. He told them so well. I told him he should write a book, but he always told me, "I'm no writer. I'm more of a teller." One day, we made a compromise. He would say it, and I would write it down. We would write a best-seller together. But right after my fourteenth birthday, he died.

I went to his funeral. I didn't want to see him dead, I wanted to remember him alive. But my mom made me. So I went to see him one last time. But it wasn't him. His face and hands were so white, nothing like the tanned leather-like skin I knew. He was wearing a suit. I didn't even know he owned one. He should've been buried in his over-alls and red-checkered shirt. And his hands. They were completely still. I had only seen them like that one other time. He did not look like he was sleeping. I could almost hear his voice as I stood there:

"This suit is uncomfortable. Who could sleep with this dangflabbit thing squeezing my breath right out? Did I ever tell you about the time I managed to talk Sam into wearing a suit? He looked so silly."

Nah, this wasn't Jack Williams. Jack Williams was somewhere in heaven, making Job and God bend over double with one of his stories. Years later, I can still remember digging my hands into the soil with him right beside me. "Let me tell you a story."