When I was a small boy I became fascinated with shadows. I could stay cool during hot summers in Indiana simply by staying in the shadows of trees. I could find out how tall an object was by measuring its shadow, then measuring the shadow length of an object with a known height, and then doing the math.
Shadows revealed the approximate time of day. A shadow could expose someone coming close. I learned that shapes and sizes of shadows were caused by a position of the sun, the moon and by different kinds of lights. Spooky shadows were created at night by kerosene lamps when wind caused the flame to flicker on the wick.
In the dim recesses of my collection of childhood memories I remember a great horned owl swishing low overhead allowing me the unique experience of being touched by its shadow. I marveled at the first airplane I ever saw and I tried to follow its shadow as it droned overhead.
As a child I stood by a railroad track and tried to count the shadows of train cars as they rumbled by. I was mesmerized by the shadow of chickens and grazing cows. I chased the shadows of kites as they did a dervish dance on a windy day. I treasure the memory of a covey of quails crossing a lane followed by the same number of small shadows scurrying along.
One day I noticed that horses and mice had shadows. Ducks make indistinct shadows as they jostle for dominance on a surface. I followed the endless shadows of telephone lines.
I recall my grandfather explaining the personality of shadows. They were dependable and would always be there. He showed me how my shadow followed me everywhere, or went in front of me. Sometimes it would be alongside me. When fearsome storms covered the moon and the sun, I could make shadows with my flashlight.
When my grandfather walked with me in the fields our shadows were obliterated by the movement of windswept grasses, but they always returned. He said my shadow was my friend and could be trusted when nothing else was certain.
When the sun was slanting in the late evening, he and I would stand next to the barn and compare our shadows. I could see how large his shadow was and how tiny mine was by comparison. We stuck out our hands and wiggled the shadows of our fingers. When we hopped up and down our shadows were in harmony on the wall. Often he would set me on his shoulders. We made a towering shadow. I felt like I was on top of a mountain.
During the full moon my grandfather’s shadow would hunt my shadow as I grinned from under the grape vines. When he found me my shadow would run wildly from his shadow until both shadows collapsed in hugs and laughter, followed by milk and crackers.
The height of my shadow was nearly the size of my grandfathers when the war came. He said for me to take care of my shadow. Our shadows hugged as I entered the Greyhound.
Years later I returned from Europe. My grandfather was seated in the front yard. He stood with a cane. I could see that his shadow was stooped with rounded shoulders. He seemed much shorter. Childishly, I asked him to jump with me. He smiled faintly. Separation had taken its toll.
Three months later my shadow fell across the shadow of his casket as it was lowered into the ground. I had the feeling he knew I was there. I waited in the cemetery until the moon made millions of shadows, extending mine up the slope, until it merged with the shadow of my grandfather’s marker.
Last night I went for a walk with my grandson. He and I watched our shadows changing as we went under street lights. We carried sticks to defend against phantom grizzly bears when they came too near. We jumped, trying to touch the moon. We ran, trying to escape from our shadows, but it was impossible. We pointed to distant planets and our shadows pointed, too. I told my grandson his shadow would always be with him and would remain his friend.
I put the small boy on my shoulder and our shadow was as tall as a mountain, just like my grandfather and me so many years ago.
After my son took my grandson home I walked outside in my yard and remembered my grandfather. The moon cast some shadows. I saw my shadow and was shocked to see it was shorter. I could see roundness to my shoulders, perhaps tired like my grandfather’s shoulders when I returned from the war. I suddenly recalled celebrating my grandfather’s birthday after I returned, just one month before he died. I realized my age is the same as his when he died. I hope my grandson will tell his grandson about his shadow when it comes his time.