They wished they could take their friends with them when they moved. It wasn’t far, trading one small town for another, not even
a hundred miles across the state line. A point of pride to keep in touch, long distance calls on Sundays after supper, person-to-person
for Carleen to catch them up on the local gossip that wasn’t local anymore, then Croft might come on the line with a hunting story
in or out of season—these were men who liked to laugh out loud—maybe that time in the ice storm, sleet freezing to their clothes
but the dog didn’t want to quit so they kept at it, and when they got back to the house their ice-shellacked hunting coats stood up
as if phantom hunters were still in them. “Wasn’t any weather bad enough,” Croft said, “long as we had birds.” They could count on
a Christmas card with a Currier and Ives scene and a note penned inside, all the sentences happy with double underlinings
and exclamation points, except when she told them old Sport had to be put to sleep and Croft hadn’t set foot in the field since.
It doesn’t take much of a missive to bring a close friend close. Croft had someone send word when Carleen’s cancer came back. Already
the day of the service before they heard she was gone, too late to get dressed, gas up the car, and make the trip. With no Carleen to write it,
they went a year without a Christmas card from the old town, and another, then it seemed like the holiday stamp on every piece
of December mail was canceled by a Kentucky postmark, season’s greetings they wouldn’t display on the mantel. No one was sure
of all the facts. Croft had wandered into the stubbled fields, winter again in the Ohio Valley, and was found before he was missed,
frozen to death, not even wearing a windbreaker, his cheek pillowed on a furrow edge trimmed with a selvage of linen-white frost.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.