I spend hours now just watching that Mississippi River slowly working its way to New Orleans. It passes many old towns but there is only one Winona. For a long time, it had been delivering the weary and the hungry to a town filled with hopes, dreams and charlatans.

I've seen a lot of folks come and go through the years. I have shared a drink with most everyone and if we met in a bar I might have known your grandpa or great-grandpa. You can never really leave this little river town even after the final act and the curtain has been pulled.

I was a townie who never learned and kept making the same mistakes again and again. I was in reform school by the ripe old age of 10. People tried talking, telling and beating me but I had a mind of my own and those are hard to change.

It never did me much good. It seemed as if I was always stealing cars, fighting or drinking and driving. I knew all the cops and the judges though I'm not certain they ever enjoyed my company. I don't blame them anymore.

My grandpa served at Gettysburg. I learned a lot from him and not all of it good. In the end, we helped each other home and the old drunks would buy me a drink for getting the old boy tucked in. He wore the old uniform when days were special, right until the end. He did give me quiet moments in this loud and crazy world I lived in and tonight I'm looking for Grandpa.

I will always remember him wearing the old uniform. It had a few holes and was missing more than a few buttons. It smelled like Gettysburg he said, and it was his way of never forgetting the men who died and for those who walked with its shadow.

He always told me that sitting and sleeping under the stars brought memories of his Ma and Pa. I could almost feel him laughing and then he would remember the war that ended the life he knew. He would raise his eyes, as if raising his glass to what might have been and then he told me the same stories as if the life he remembered and knew ended the day before America's birthday in 1863.

It was one of the places we talked - under that shade tree on the Levee - before he died. Here, I sit under that same tree 31 years later with no hope and a tomorrow not looking any better.

I can feel his heart beating and the smell of the Union jacket making it seem like yesterday. Those were the best times of my life.

I stare out into the dark Mississippi and I see the Milky Way and all the stars over my head. I say my prayers, take a few pills and I feel warmth creeping up in me that I haven't felt since he left me. I start to see that old Vermont farm and Grandpa and the rush of memories going through the narrow window of my mind and I realize I'm coming home at last.

This old townie passed away one night in 1951 under an old shade tree on the Levee. He hopes you remember his grandfather with a tip of the cap the next time you make it to the Levee.

Merle Hanson,