Fall in Maine, like many of the New England states, is an extremely colorful affair. The maples burst in brilliant reds and orange and yellow. Leaves tumble and swirl and find a final resting place on the ground turning it into an animated assortment of beautiful piles. St. Johns Street is a quiet street in a quiet town called Skowhegan. A town famous for its shoe mills and a few years ago, the filming of the movie, Empire Falls. It is also a town that bears the ghost of a little boy. On this street I stand alone and stare at the 2 story cream colored house sitting across the lot from where I am staying. I close my eyes and hear the laughter of boys back in the mid-70s. They are playing football. In the huddle they draw a play in the dirt that was once green grass now worn down by endless games throughout the summer. They range in age from 8 to 16. It is a time when the neighborhoods were tight in this town. A time when everyones doors were open and most of the time their refrigerators too. Grandma T., lives in the house I am staying in. On Saturdays she would bake cookies and pies and cream puffs. The boys would partake in these delicacies. The little boy who was 8 at the time would follow his siblings and devour many a baked good from Grandma T., but only under one condition and it involved drinking a glass of milk with their cookie or cream puff or pie or cake. Back to the game of football they go. The little boy, with his baggy Levis and red and white Dukes of Hazard t-shirt lines up next to the ball. The play begins and a mad scramble begins….
The cream colored house sits alone. It is bordered by trees whose shade is welcome in the summer. Second story windows have white blinds pulled closed to keep the afternoon sun out. The tin roof glistens. It has a steep pitch so that the winter snows will slide off. It is snow that would be shoveled off the porch steps by the little boy even though he would struggle at times with the weight of the wet snow and an over-sized shovel. He worked hard doing that and in the summer mowing the grass. In time he would grow bigger and stronger and more athletic.
Back to the game……..a pass is thrown, caught and then the ball pops loose and squirts along the ground right to the little boy who scoops it up and runs……he runs as fast as he can…this is his chance, his glory……he darts left then right then back. He stops and starts and fools the older boys with his quickness. He only needs to get past the maple tree. With a final 8 year old burst of speed and a brilliant move he breaks the imaginary line in an imaginary stadium and scores in front of a hundred thousand imaginary people. Yes, yes, yes.
I open my eyes and look at this yard. The wind blows softly and whispers to me. The home I am looking at and the yard where this game was played is the home of a little boy named Jay Thomas Aubin.
I will be placing the very last flag at the waters edge in Rockland, Maine. It is the flag of Major Jay Thomas Aubin. He died in the pre-dawn hours of March 21st 2003 on the border of Iraq, piloting a helicopter. He would be one of 6 to die that first day of the war but there is no glory in being number one when it is only for numbers sake. I chose to place him last because finishing in Maine I felt it appropriate.
As I look at his home, his street, his yard, I see him as a young boy. I feel the exuberance of his life, I feel the tremendous potential in his future, I feel his presence. Grandma T., remembers him fondly as she does most boys from the neighborhood. Jay Aubin would become a great man. A great father with 2 children and the rare breed of Marine who rose up through the enlisted ranks and then became an officer. Grandma T., remembers his smile. As I stand here alone, the sun pours through these remarkable colored trees and I feel the warmth of that smile from the blue sky above.
Yes Jay Aubin you are not forgotten, I traveled across this country, running the miles with you and so many others and we will play a football game in the heavens one day……..