The man walked slowly up the long driveway, his hands trembling from the cold, he had no gloves, and his head was uncovered. He had forgotten how cold it could get in November in Kansas.
His mind raced as he trod heavily, avoiding patches of ice, ice that had formed the night before with a biting, wet rain. He wondered whether he would be welcomed, or remembered, because he had been away so long and people tend to forget those who no longer fill their lives, even those who they have loved, because time changes things.
He noticed the long row of oak trees, ancient now, yet still sturdy, their branches coated in ice and snow, bending, not breaking from the weight of a cold, hard winter, and he smiled at the tenacity of nature. The barn had a new coat of paint, bright red, and the color burst through nature’s billowed cotton drape, the blanched whiteness stained and shocked by the scarlet structure rising above the pasture.
He continued along the road, over the small wooden bridge that covered the narrow creek which fed a small pond behind the smokehouse. There ducks and geese frolicked in warmer weather; he had fond memories, feeding those birds and making idyllic life plans while the sun set in the Western sky.
The old bridge creaked and moaned as his bulky frame, added to the week’s worth of snow and ice, stretched the load capacity for such a fragile platform. Small patches of ice and snow cracked and dropped from its sides into the freezing, winding waters below, disturbing a blue jay resting nearby.
An old wood-framed house was in view now, just in time as his hands were nearly numb and his face was reddened by the sharp winter wind. He noticed that the Christmas wreaths were already up, on each window, hand-made of course, and the old horse-drawn sleigh that was stored in the barn was out and ready, should anyone want a ride through the neighboring woods. Many of the neighbors were always ready to take that long and joyous ride, and the plow horses never tired of that long round-trip either.
The house was quiet, and the man suspected no one was home, maybe everyone had gone into town for one thing or another, as there is always one thing or another that needs to be done the day before Thanksgiving.
As he approached the door he sensed the aroma of roasted turkey, although he was not certain it was real or his imagination taking him back to Thanksgivings years before, when he was young, and naïve and life was simple. He had not seen a turkey, let alone tasted one in a long, long time. He rapped lightly on the screen, in nervous anticipation that someone may actually be there and see him, and in response he heard the sound of footsteps across the floor.
The front door opened slowly and an awkward period of silence took place, as each of them, the visitor, and the mother who had given birth to him, nursed him, raised him, and stood by helplessly as he was shipped off to war in a far off, distant place, struggled to comprehend the reality of the moment. The silence was shattered by her scream, and his loud laugh and cry, “I’m home, mom, just as I promised!” The man, still dressed in a sharp, desert colored uniform, flung open the screen door and gathered up his mother in his brawny arms and lifted her high. The commotion brought his sisters and his father running where they came upon the poignant scene. Each one, in turn, expressed the sentiments that had been so long delayed and denied by the soldier’s absence.
A man, who left home as a boy only four years ago, returned home, to his family, and the holiday joy that had only existed as a cherished memory while he lived and fought as a soldier, in the dry and deadly mountains of Afghanistan. No matter how far, no matter how long, he knew that one day he would see the old barn, cross the bridge, and weather the long, cold walk towards the home he missed and the family he loved.
Twelve hundred miles away, another man, once a boy, rode anxiously in a yellow taxi cab through the streets of the Bronx, New York City. Unsuspecting family gathered at the same moment to toast the Holidays, and the hope of seeing their son, once again, alive and well and back home.