Getting rid of an old stump

Tommy sees someone who reminds him of Dan – an excerpt from the book

      Anyhow, it’s time to go. I get in my car, but pull over after only a couple of blocks. Reflecting in the sunlight is a pickaxe striking the ground beside a tree stump. It’s hefted by a strong colored man. He wears his hair shaved close and his neck muscles show above his wide shoulders. His clothes are stained with sweat and dirt. I watch him work on that stump and, in my mind, I go back fifteen or more years to my own backyard.
      “Hey, Dan, what are you doing?”
      “Getting rid of this here, tree stump.”
      “How come?”
      “Well, this ol’ tree took ill.”
      “It’s sick?”
      “There’s nothing you can do for it?”
      “No. There ain’t no cure. This tree got somethin’ that spreads. Like the flu and it pass on to the others. Make ’em sick. Kill ’em too.”
      “So you had to cut it down?”
      “Yeah. Your daddy said cut it down. And now I gots to get it out, roots and all.”
      “It hard?”
      “Sure it’s hard. What tree wants to leave this here, Earth?”
      “So how you gonna do it?”
      “Chopping down this tree? That was the easy part. Then I hads to gather it all up and haul it away. Now I gotta dig out the roots.”
      “How you gonna do that?”
      “That’s the hard part. I gonna use this pickaxe, saw and shovel. Dig all around them roots. Cut ’em out best I can.”
      “That it?”
      “No that ain’t it. I gots to build a fire and keep it burning. Burning until what’s left of these ol’ roots ain’t nothing more but ash.”
      “Then it’s gone?”
      “Then it’s gone.”
      I look out the window and watch the man attack the ground with the pickaxe. Sweat rolls down his face. His arms and muscles are like how I remember Dan’s. Dan would be in his sixties by now, and I have no idea where he’s gone. I asked around some years ago, but Dan is as gone as those tree roots.

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