It was a bright sunny day in Walnut Grove. Willie was working in the restaurant as usual when Harriet arrived
as she did each morning. She had a perplexed look on her face and didn't seem to want to be there.
Nels wasn't far behind her and he seemed to be in somewhat of a somber mood as well.
Nels summoned Willie to the kitchen where Harriet was, and informed him that they both had some news to share.
It was then that Harriet began to get somewhat teary eyed as Willie sat down with them both.
Nels looked at Willie and said you know that Albert arrived yesterday and is staying with Laura. Yes Father, I
heard this morning. I was planning to go over there after we close today and see him. I thought maybe we could
plan another baseball game. The last game we played was so close that I am sure Albert would go for a rematch.
You know how he loves baseball!
Nels looked at Willie and replied: Son, your Mother and I have some bad news. Albert was in Winoka to see the doctor. You know
he had problems with nose bleeds last time he was here. It has turned out to be a very serious condition. Some kind of blood
disease that cannot be treated. Charles has told me that Albert is dying. He only has months to live and wanted to come back to
Willie sat speechless for several minutes with thoughts running through his mind about the last decade . He remembered the first day he
saw Albert in Winoka, standing there with a shoe shine box and talking to Laura. Wishing he could go to school with Laura instead of wearing
that God awful uniform to private school. The football games he played against Albert and the fun they had in the big city. He remembered
how Albert was always the clever one....fending for himself and always surviving, no matter what it took. And secretly respecting him for it,
while never letting Nellie or his parents know how he really felt about his buddy.
I have to go and see him said Willie, as the tears started to flow down his face. I have to talk to him! There are some things that must be said.
What will you say? asked Harriet. The boy is dying, what can you possibly say? That's between me and Albert said Willie, between me and Albert!
The restaurant closed that night at it's usual time. Willie let his wife know that he was going to Laura's to see Albert and not to wait up for him if he
was late. He was going to walk. It was about three miles to Laura's house and he needed to think before he arrived to see Albert. He was going to
lose one of the best friends he ever had and he wanted to say the right things to him.
It was summer and it stayed light until pretty late in Minnesota. As Willie approached the house, he could see Albert sitting on the porch looking out
over the fields of green that surrounded the house. The sun was setting low in the west among several clouds and it was a beautiful sight. But all the
beauty in the world couldn't conceal Willie's sadness. He only hoped that he could hold it together when he saw Albert. Control his emotions so he could
really let Albert know how he felt and set things straight.
As Willie walked under the trellis and approached the porch, Albert walked over to greet him. The first thing that Willie saw was that big smile that always
lit up the world. The smile that he remembered as a kid playing after school, fishing, and especially when Willie was sent to the corner. Albert always got a kick out
of that. And Lord knows, it happened enough.
Albert continued to have that big grin on his face as he extended his hand out to Willie. How could he be so cheerful with what he is going through, Willie
wondered. Always the calm strong one. Willie lost it as he pushed Albert's hand out of the way and hugged him. It was then that Willie started to cry.
Albert looked at him and told him everything was going to be fine. As he told Laura the day before, he didn't want any tears around him. He had come home
to experience the great things he did as a kid.
I came up to see you to talk about the past said Willie. To apologize to you for anything I did that was mean or unkind. When we were kids, Nellie was a bad
influence on me. I did a lot of things that I am ashamed of. Like making fun of you for being adopted or calling Sarah bad names when you were sweet on
her. I want you to know that secretly I always admired you and thought of you as my best friend. I only wish I would have showed it more when we were kids.
I remember when formed the club with Andy and Laura. It was the happiest time of my life! Outside of the fainting part!
Albert laughed when Willie mentioned the club. He told Willie that he always knew that he didn't mean any of the things that he did. The last thing that Albert
wanted was for Willie to have any guilt over their childhood memories. He told him that they were the greatest part of his life and that Willie was a part of them.
Albert's eyes were welling up and Willie couldn't find the words to express how greatful he was to Albert for saying that. Albert was dying, and here he was trying
to make Willie feel better. Always the strong one.
I wanted to know if you are up for some baseball? Sure am said Albert! Already planned. And I want you to be on my team. It will take all we have to be beat
Mr Edwards and his snakeball. It sure will said Willie, but we can do it.
As Willie was about to leave, Albert told him that he had been to the school today and the class was planning a trip up to the keepsake tree. I am going to make that
climb one more time Albert said. I need to do that.
Willie began the walk home feeling good that he had talked to Albert. As he looked back towards the house he was resolved to do one thing. As soon as he got home, he would call Andy in Winoka.
He, Andy and Albert would make that walk up to Keepsake tree TOGETHER.