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Two Wheels and a Realization

I don’t know what your history has been with bicycles. I think most of us have ridden one at various times and places. When I was about five, our family found a fat tired model during a walk in the woods. We took it home and I thought we were set (although I wasn’t big enough to ride it) but my mom insisted that we call the police. We did, and they said they would take it to the station and try to find the owner. They tried to make it fit in the trunk of their cruiser, but quickly realized it wouldn’t fit. So they gave it to us, but even I could see the bike would fit easily. The police were making a gift to us, and I was very happy.

After we moved to Fairfax, I learned to ride the big bike by the time-honored method of having someone run alongside me and hold the bike up. One time my uncle (who lived with us them for a while) was running alongside me holding on to the seat when suddenly he let go, leaving me on my own. I circled the yard, imploring him to come back until I tired and navigated into one of my mom’s bushes. Everyone found this very funny, except for me. And my mom.

I eventually learned to ride that machine and graduated to what we called an “English racer,” a bike made in England (go figure) with three speeds. I thought that was cool, and make the bike even cooler by taking the fenders off. I thought this would reduce the weigh of the apparatus and increase my speed, but it didn’t.

When we moved to a farm in Loudoun County, I didn’t think that much about bikes, preferring to think about cars. I got my license and had driven a few years when I decided to save the earth and buy another bike in 1971 with my first paycheck from my first real job. It had ten speeds and was extremely fast and light.

I still have that bike in my shed. I don’t go into the shed much anymore, but I had occasion to get some African violet fertilizer and potting soil for Becky and when I opened the shed, there lay my ten speed. I hadn’t ridden it since I narrowly missed running into a fire hydrant one day. That memory made me realize that my cycling days are over unless I use a senior tricycle, but I’m too vain for that.

The point of all this is that changes come to us all, and we can resist them (generally to no avail) or we can accept them and move on. I’m okay with that except if the change involves an adult tricycle.

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Rocking and Porches

Isaiah 41:13: For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.

I don’t know if you’ve ever spent some time rocking on a front porch of a house. I know I did. Until I was in high school, my family and I went to Tennessee to visit relatives. There were a lot of them, and they all came at one time or another to my maternal grandmother’s house, which lay hard by a railroad track. When we heard the whistle, the children ran to the track for the candy and loose change that the train men threw to us.

The property had a hen house, a pump for water, a barn and some cows, and more to the subject here, a front porch with a swing which would take four people at one time, as long as one of them didn’t weigh very much. We rocked and talked and sometimes fell asleep. I felt warm and cared for. In fact, rocking on the porch was my favorite activity there, even more than candy, and that’s saying something.

I was thinking that being with God is like rocking on the porch. There we were safe and comfortable, and we knew we were loved by all those around us.

The house has been sold now, but I sometimes think of it and I smile. We do not only have memories like that: we also have a God who gathers us in mighty arms and tells us we are loved, both now and forever.

Praise God for the care he brings and for the promise of salvation that comforts us and keeps us going through it all. Amen.

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Changes

Isaiah 40:28: Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.

I don’t know if you think about change that much. I know I do, and lately I’ve been thinking about telephones and how they’ve changed. Many of you probably remember rotary dial phones, party lines and making a long distance call.

Now if we’re forced to use a dial phone (and don’t ask me where you could find one), it seems to take forever for the dial to do its duty. If you were making an emergency call, someone might be suffering while you dialed. And of course, the dial phone was replaced by the push button model—it was much faster.

We were on a party line when I was a lad, and I enjoyed listening in on our neighbors and their business. Such ill-gotten pleasure did not last long when my parents found out what I was doing. They took away my phone privileges, which didn’t bother me since there was no one I wanted to call. Eavesdropping was better.

Making a long distance call was a big deal. For one thing, we had to call the operator who put the call through. Then we had to decide whether we wanted a usual call or to make it collect or even—gasp—person to person, a relatively expensive proposition. Not that it bothered me since there was no one I knew who could take a person to person call.

Obviously, all the changes to phone service came as a result of changes, though enhanced services sometimes could be a problem. We carry our phones with us, which means we are accessible until we turn it off. And then there is the curse of unsolicited calls, which means that I can renew the warranty on my seventeen-year-old car or improve my medical insurance or have my roof fixed. I don’t need any of those, but they keep calling.

The point of all this is that change is a mixed blessing. We need some of these improvements, while others we really don’t need. God, as we know, never changes, and God is good, staying with us throughout our lives and beyond. Praise God for God’s eternal presence, given to us while we were yet sinners. His gift of love means that God will always with us, now and forever. Amen.

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Adhesion

Adhesion

Romans 8:38-39 “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

I don’t know if you receive a lot of packages in the mail, but I know we do. The recycling bin fills up rapidly with packages, mostly from Amazon and music companies, so I have to empty it twice a week. Before I put boxes in the bin, I have to, as us disposal engineers say, “break it down.” That means I have to cut or tear tape and labels off the boxes. Now, I know these companies have a vested interest in not having the labels and tape come off (as do I), so they have developed the strongest glue in the universe. To show how strong these adhesives are, NASA used them to glue the heat-resistant tiles on the shuttle. That explains why the labels and tape are so hard to take off.

I have two methods for removing tape and labels. First, I try to scratch them off with my fingernails, which doesn’t work well. I keep my nails short so I don’t scratch myself. This accounts for my difficulty removing a label. Usually I end up tearing what few nails I do have. If that fails, and it usually does, I have to resort to a knife or scissors to remove the stubborn item. The drawback there is that I’m clumsy, and sometimes manage to stab myself in various places. If I didn’t want something like a book on the clothing of Romantic poets so badly, I wouldn’t open the box. But I’m curious and have to see what’s in the box. It’s a kind of Christmas throughout the  year.

The point of this is, just as labels and tape stay on boxes and can be removed only with effort.

In the same way, God has bound himself to us through the death of His son, and if we accept this gift, nothing can separate us from God for eternity. Let us praise God that God has saved us and we will be with Him, forever. Amen.

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On the Wings of Sacrifice

Chapter Twelve

New Life

January, 1979

Otto sat at a table in Mata’s café, enjoying a cup of black coffee. Maria tried to get him to order something fancier, but he told her he wasn’t in the mood for fancy. He had almost finished his drink when he saw D come in. He stood up and waved him over.

“D! Come sit down! How are you?”

“I’m fine, Dad.”

“And how are Samantha and the baby?”

“They’re fine. I hadn’t talked to you for a while, and when I went to the office to do that, Mata said you were here.”

“You could have called. I would have come back.”

“Thanks for that, but I wanted to get away from work for a while.”

“Oh? Is there a problem?”

“No, I just wanted a change of scenery.”

“Well, sit down and let’s talk.”

D sat across from Otto.

“So, how do you like being a father?”

D smiled. “It’s amazing to watch her grow, but we do lose some sleep.”

“Oh, yes, I remember those days.”

D sat silently for a while, and then he said, “What would you say I’ve been offered a really good job with United in Chicago?”

It was Otto’s turn to be quiet. Then he said, “If that’s what you want, sure. Why not?”

“You don’t sound too sure.”

Otto put both hands on the table. “Look, D, here you have everything you know here, and your family is here to help guide and support all of you.”

D sighed. “Yes, I know that, and I’ve been grateful for it, but I feel I need to have my own identity, and that can’t happen around here.”

Otto could think of nothing to say about that. Finally he said, “You know that whatever you do, short of any sort of felony, you have our love and our full support.”

“Thanks, Dad. I appreciate that more than you can know. Now I’d better get back to work. I’ll tell Mata about the job in Chicago so she can get the paperwork started.”

Otto stood up, as did D, and they shook hands. “I’m sure I’ll see you around for a while,” Otto murmured.

“You bet. See you soon.”

As Otto watched him walk out of the café, he thought, this still doesn’t seem right to me, but I’ll see what Mata thinks.

Otto finished his coffee and started back for the office. When he pulled up in front, he didn’t see D’s car there. He must have finished his business, he thought, but that’s good because I can talk to Mata without him around. He walked in the office.

“Hey, Brother. How was your coffee?”

“Oh, pretty good for a local effort.”

“Hey! I can make you drink lattes until you can’t drink any more.”

“What a horrible punishment.”

“Did D find you?”

“He did, and I’m sure you know about the Chicago job offer by now.”

Mata sighed. “I do. He came by here after he saw you to get the paperwork started. I think it’s a mistake, but I didn’t want to say anything until I talked to you.”

“I think it’s a mistake as well.”

“So what do we do?”

“Other than tell him that, not much. I expressed my doubts and told him this was the best place for him and his family right now, but he was having none of it.”

“So.”

“So we let them go and then see what happens. We have no other choice.”

“I suppose you’re right.”

“Are I always?”

“You don’t want to hear what I have to say about that.”

Otto laughed at that and went into his office. I suppose that waiting is all we can do. I just hope nothing bad comes of this, but I think it will.

 

 

 

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On the Wings of Sacrifice

Chapter Twelve

New Life

January, 1979

Otto sat at a table in Mata’s café, enjoying a cup of black coffee. Maria tried to get him to order something fancier, but he told her he wasn’t in the mood for fancy. He had almost finished his drink when he saw D come in. He stood up and waved him over.

“D! Come sit down! How are you?”

“I’m fine, Dad.”

“And how are Samantha and the baby?”

“They’re fine. I hadn’t talked to you for a while, and when I went to the office to do that, Mata said you were here.”

“You could have called. I would have come back.”

“Thanks for that, but I wanted to get away from work for a while.”

“Oh? Is there a problem?”

“No, I just wanted a change of scenery.”

“Well, sit down and let’s talk.”

D sat across from Otto.

“So, how do you like being a father?”

D smiled. “It’s amazing to watch her grow, but we do lose some sleep.”

“Oh, yes, I remember those days.”

D sat silently for a while, and then he said, “What would you say I’ve been offered a really good job with United in Chicago?”

It was Otto’s turn to be quiet. Then he said, “If that’s what you want, sure. Why not?”

“You don’t sound too sure.”

Otto put both hands on the table. “Look, D, here you have everything you know here, and your family is here to help guide and support all of you.”

D sighed. “Yes, I know that, and I’ve been grateful for it, but I feel I need to have my own identity, and that can’t happen around here.”

Otto could think of nothing to say about that. Finally he said, “You know that whatever you do, short of any sort of felony, you have our love and our full support.”

“Thanks, Dad. I appreciate that more than you can know. Now I’d better get back to work. I’ll tell Mata about the job in Chicago so she can get the paperwork started.”

Otto stood up, as did D, and they shook hands. “I’m sure I’ll see you around for a while,” Otto murmured.

“You bet. See you soon.”

As Otto watched him walk out of the café, he thought, this still doesn’t seem right to me, but I’ll see what Mata thinks.

Otto finished his coffee and started back for the office. When he pulled up in front, he didn’t see D’s car there. He must have finished his business, he thought, but that’s good because I can talk to Mata without him around. He walked in the office.

“Hey, Brother. How was your coffee?”

“Oh, pretty good for a local effort.”

“Hey! I can make you drink lattes until you can’t drink any more.”

“What a horrible punishment.”

“Did D find you?”

“He did, and I’m sure you know about the Chicago job offer by now.”

Mata sighed. “I do. He came by here after he saw you to get the paperwork started. I think it’s a mistake, but I didn’t want to say anything until I talked to you.”

“I think it’s a mistake as well.”

“So what do we do?”

“Other than tell him that, not much. I expressed my doubts and told him this was the best place for him and his family right now, but he was having none of it.”

“So.”

“So we let them go and then see what happens. We have no other choice.”

“I suppose you’re right.”

“Are I always?”

“You don’t want to hear what I have to say about that.”

Otto laughed at that and went into his office. I suppose that waiting is all we can do. I just hope nothing bad comes of this, but I think it will.

 

 

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Diamond Resolution

Chapter 35

Reflections

July, 1865

The next day, we had our usual evening meal with all of us present. “With all of us here,” I said, “the cabin is getting crowded.”

I noticed that Hiram looked troubled at this, but I continued on.

“I think we should build on to the back for bedrooms for Adolphus and Andrew.” They had been sleeping on pallets in front of the fireplace.

Adolphus nodded in what I took to be assent.

“Please, Caleb, what about us?” Hiram was plaintive, and I understood his troubled look earlier.

“Don’t worry—we’re not going to send you away.”

“That’s what I thought when you said it was too crowded here.”

“I apologize for giving you that impression. You are part of this family and always will be.”

“That’s good to hear,” Clinton told us. “We didn’t know how you regarded us.”

“Have no fear,” I said. “We’ll take the pump porch to make room for you.”

“That’s wonderful,” Hiram answered.

“No, it’s you boys who are wonderful.” Laurel spoke thoughtfully. She looked around. “All of you are wonderful, and we are so blessed that you are all here.”

We sat a while longer, talking and laughing and then drifting off one by one to go to sleep. I was the last one left, and I took myself to engage in a practice I had gotten into since my return from the war. I went out and sat on a large stump in our front yard and faced the forest, waiting for the moon to rise. At first it was a glow behind distant limbs, then throwing a sliver of itself past the tree line, then growing to its full round and silvery form. I found this calming, and as I sat there, I thought of all I had been through in the past several years. First there was joining up and all the excitement, then being captured, learning to play baseball and being drawn into a spying scheme, my several escapes, slogging through months of fighting and the end of the war. I had met many find people, some of whom are no longer with us. I lifted my cup of apple cider to them in a toast, thinking, here’s to you, my friends. You have made my life beautiful and I am grateful for your presence in my life. And thank you, God, for all you have given me. Amen.

 

 

 

October 1, 2018—March 30, 2019

Manassas, Virginia

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Diamond Resolution

Chapter 34

Resolution

July, 1865

I had just returned home from hunting with the two rabbits I had shot. I wanted to bag a deer, but they are harder to find, so I had to settled for what I had. As I stood in the doorway, I saw a black carriage roll up. It looked much like one Eleanor used, although I knew, of course that it couldn’t be her. My curiosity was aroused. Who could it be?

I quickly put the rabbits in a little shed we had built and smoothed back my hair as best I could. I was lucky I didn’t dress the rabbits after I shot them, because that would not have failed to smear blood on my clothes.

I went over to the carriage and arrived there as the carriage driver put some small steps under the door and then opened it. A distinguished-looking man dressed all in black with a black top hat came down the steps, looking around. I stepped forward. “Good afternoon, sir. Welcome to our home. I trust you had a good journey.” I felt fortunate that Adolphus had instructed me in a proper welcome.

He extended his hand. “I am Cornelius Barnham, counselor at law, and I am here on a special mission to make delivery of something I am certain will make you glad.”

“I’m Caleb Dillard, and I’m pleased to meet you.”

Barnham nodded. “I know you are are. Your name came up in Mrs. Perry’s will, and that is tied in with the purpose of my visit.”

I nodded. “Before we get to business, may I offer you anything to eat or drink?” I surmised that he would not partake of our rough food, but Laurel and Clinton had discovered a spring not too far from the house. It gave us some of the best-tasting water I have ever had.

“I don’t suppose you have any whiskey.”

“No, sir, we don’t. We’re too poor to afford it and too honest to make it ourselves.”

He laughed. “Well put, sir. Perhaps you have it in you to become a lawyer.” I thought that an odd thing to say since he had just met me, but took his as a polite response.

“I’ll have some water, then.”

“Very good.” I turned to Andrew, who had come out to see what was going on. I turned to him. “Please fetch a new bucket from the spring. And hurry.”

I turned back to Mr. Barnham. “This will take a little while. Would you like to come in and sit down.”

“Yes, please. It was a long ride from Georgetown.”

We went into the house to find Laurel, Hiram, Clinton and little Caleb sitting around the table. They all stood except for Laurel. I introduced each of them in turn, and was pleased that the boys knew the proper way to meet someone. Laurel, of course, knew what to do.

She rose and offered her hand. Mr. Barnham kissed it and said, “Enchanted to meet you, Madame Dillard.”

“And I am pleased to make your acquaintance. Will you have a seat?” She motioned to Clinton, who gave Barnham his seat.

“Thank you, young man. I appreciate your kindness.”

“Think nothing of it, sir.”

Barnham looked around. “Is this everyone in the household?” he asked.

Laurel spoke up. “Other than Andrew, who has gone for water, there’s another one of us, a former seminary student and soldier named Adolphus Custis. He has gone to town on business.”

“Ah. I am sorry to have met him. I believe I knew his father, who is lately deceased.”

“That’s right,” I said, wondering that he knew Adolphus’ father.

“Anyhow, I believe you can relay the contents of our conversation. This, sir—” he handed me a long envelope—“is for you.”

I took it from him and asked, “May I open it now?”

“It is yours, so you may do as you wish.”

With all eyes on me, I tore open the envelope and took out a single long piece of paper. I looked at it and gasped. Then, looking at Barnham, I said, “Surely there has been a mistake.”

“There is no mistake. This is a portion of Mrs. Perry’s estate generously given to you by her brother because of Mrs. Perry’s state.”

“But it’s for $50,000.”

“Indeed it is. But Mrs. Perry was an extremely wealthy woman, thanks to her husband’s work. If she were here, she would not miss this amount.”

“Will you thank her brother for his generosity, then?”

“I would be shirking my duty if I did not.” Just then Andrew came in with the bucket. He set it down next to the pump. Laurel got to her feet and went over to the bucket and pour a glass for each of us. Clinton helped her and Andrew bring it to the table.

Barnham raised his glass. “Here’s to you in your new-found wealth!”

The rest of us raised our glasses and then drank.

“And here’s to John Duncan in his generosity and to you, sir, for your effort.”

Once again we raised our glasses and drank. I noticed Barnham finished his glad quickly. He looked at Laurel and said, “May I have some more?”

“You certainly may.”

She went over and filled Barnham’s glass and took it to him. He stood to receive it and bowed. “My hearty thanks, Madame. I have had the finest wines, but this slakes my thirst like nothing I have ever drunk.”

Laurel blushed. “Thank you, sir. It is only water.”

“But water of the first rate. You could sell this.”

“Thanks to John Duncan, we won’t have to!” I exclaimed.

We all laughed at this, and after we had all finished our water, Barnham stood up, and we with him, with Laurel’s exception.

“I fear I must be going. And I must tell you, my reception here was far better than I had expected.”

“We were pleased to meet you,” I said, “and wish you a safe and comfortable journey back.”

“Your wish for safety I do appreciate, but I am doubtful of the comfort I shall have. Good-bye, now.”

We all went outside to see him off, and saw Adolphus coming toward us. I went to meet him.

“Adolphus, you will not believe what happened!”

“Is it good news or bad?”

“Excellent news, as you shall hear.”

“Humph! Tell me!”

“A lawyer for the estate of John Duncan was here to present us with a check for $50,000.”

“Are you sure?”

I pulled out the check. “Here it is!”

He took it and examined it. “It looks good. If it is good, we can start that school we talked about.”

“That we will. Come in and let’s have a drink to celebrate!”

“You know you have nothing but water.”

“Mr. Barnham the lawyer said it was the best water he had ever tasted. He also said we could sell it if we were so inclined.”

“I’m not ready to get into the water business, but I will toast our success. Let’s go in.”

And so we went in and drank to our good fortune.

 

 

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Diamond Resolution

Chapter 33

Moving On

June, 1865

I leaned on my hoe to rest for a moment. Our crops were coming in, and so were the weeds. But I relished this toil after all I had been through. I looked around to see Adolphus and Andrew doing the same thing. I had to smile at the prospect of Adolphus doing manual labor probably for the first time in his life, but he went at it with determination. Hiram scooped the weeds into a basket and dumped them in the woods where they would be eaten by animals. He did this remarkably well, considering he only had one arm. And Clinton had joined us shortly after we came home in April. He had been separated from us in the battles since February. It goes without saying that we were glad to see him. He had gone to town for supplies, but I expected him back shortly.

As I was thinking about that happy month, I was reminded of the sadness we felt with the news of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Although he led the other side, I still thought him to be an honorable and honest man who did his duty. I also thought of that day I met him on the ball field close to the White House. He was generous and kind to a rebel prisoner, and I had not forgotten that.

We were shocked, as were many others, at the idea of an actor shooting him during a play. Ford’s Theater was not far from our ball fields, and although I never went there, I knew where it was. Subsequent reports in the papers of the progress of his funeral train and burial gave us pause. He was one of the last of the soldiers to die in that destructive, divisive war. I had little hope of healing those wounds with that I had read about Andrew Johnson. But that world of politics and division lay far from our little home, and we had plenty to attend to.

Laurel came to the edge of the garden. “It’s time to eat, boys! Come on and get it!

We did not need second invitation but lay down our hoes and basket and made our way to house where Laurel had laid out a spread worthy of a small wedding. “You’ve fixed so much!” I exclaimed.

She gave me a hug. “You’re worked so much!”

“Don’t you get tired of fixing so much food?”

“I’m so happy we’re together that I scarcely notice.”

“I’m happy about that too,” I said, and kissed her.

We all went in and sat at the table when Clinton came in with the supplies. “Clinton!” called Andrew. “You’re just in time to eat, as usual. You’ll do anything to avoid work!”

Clinton wiped his brow. “If walking to town in this humidity and then walking back carrying several bags isn’t work, I have no idea what is.”

“Aw, Clint, I was just joshing you.”

Clinton smiled. “I know. I know what you’re like.” He put his bags down and sat at the table. Laurel looked around. “Whose turn is it to say grace? Hiram? I believe it’s you.”

I knew Hiram felt that he was not as eloquent as Adolphus or as plain-spoken as Andrew. He also had no particular religious belief, so he had a number of reasons he disliked praying. Nonetheless, he bowed his head and we followed.

“Lord, you know I don’t believe in you, but I can’t help who I am. I didn’t have no parents and didn’t go to church. I’m not even sure who I’m talking to, but these good people know You, and I’ll take that for a guarantee. I thank you for having them take me in, for keeping me safe during the war, and for making sure I had a nice home with people who love me and plenty of good meals like this. This is me, Hiram, saying this to you. Amen.”

Andrew and Clinton looked at each other when Hiram’s prayer was done and burst into laughter. Hiram hung his head.

“Boys, that was very rude. You apologize to Hiram.”

Andrew blushed. “M’am, we wasn’t laughing at him. It just struck us as funny that he says he doesn’t like to pray and then he goes and lasts as long at it as Alphonso.”

“You didn’t upset me by laughing,” Hiram said. “I knew why you did it.”

Laurel looked around at them. “I’m glad I understand, but you boys forgot something.”

All three of them blushed this time. “I think Hiram prayed pretty good,” said Andrew. “He didn’t leave nothin’ out.”

“You just did it again. “It’s ‘nothing,’ not ‘nothin’. And you said, ‘I think Hiram prayed pretty good,’ when I’m sure you meant, ‘Hiram prayed very well’.”

“Oh,” said Andrew.

She turned to Hiram. “And you said, ‘I didn’t have no parents’ when you know you should have said, ‘I didn’t have any parents.’”

“That’s my excuse,” Hiram said. “I didn’t have no parents to teach me right!”

“There you go—” Laurel started to call him down but smiled instead. “Of course you didn’t dear boy, and I should remember that. Still, it’s important to speak correctly. I know you will try.”

“Yes’m,” they mumbled, but I remembered how poorly I spoke and wrote at the beginning of the war and how patiently Adolphus taught me better.

We started eating, and once again I was struck how fortunate I was to have such a loving family and, now that the conflict was ended, such a wonderful life.

 

 

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Diamond Resolution

Chapter 32

Devoutly to Be Wished

April, 1865

I found that although we were moving as quickly as we could, it wasn’t enough for my sensibilities. It is an odd thing how time stretches out when we are awaiting some event we have wished for, and how it shrinks when that day comes, or we are with the person we have been waiting to see. It seemed to me that we were scarcely moving although I knew this was not the case. Adolphus must have sensed my mood because he said, “I know this long journey seems longer to you than it does to the rest of us.”

“I was just having the same thought,” I said. “It seems like we will never get there.”

“You know we will, eventually.”

“Yes, but I feel that with my head. My heart says otherwise.”

“Let us press on with renewed vigor, then.”

This we did, although we seemed to pass through the towns in slow procession. We camped out for the night and slept soundly because of our exertions. Thus fortified, we increased our pace and reached the Winchester area about noon.

“It won’t be long now!” I called.

“Indeed!” Adolphus answered. “I am anxious to meet Laurel and see where you live.”

“So am I,” I said in a tone that made the others laugh.

We followed the way that I was so familiar with, first as a street, then a lane and then a wide path and finally a narrow one. It was hard to keep from running, but I wanted to stay with my fellows. Finally, when we came to the slight rise beyond which my cabin lay, I could restrain myself no longer, and broke into a dead run for my family.

I saw Laurel bending over in the garden hoeing weeds while little Caleb, who was much bigger than when I saw him last, picked out errant bits of greenery.

“Laurel!” I shouted. “Laurel, I’m home! I have come back to you!”

I saw her straighten and shield her eyes from the sun, and then it was her turn to break into a run. We covered the distance in short order, and then we were in each other’s arms, kissing, holding tight, and murmuring words I do not recall except they were full of passion and love. We held this posture long enough for the others to catch up to us, but they stayed a distance back, respecting our privacy as much as they were able.

Finally we broke apart and took each other by the hand. Little Caleb had reached us by then, and I swept him up with one arm and held him there. We stood there holding that pose for several minutes, happy beyond words to be together at last. Finally I motioned my comrades over, and they came up. Andrew and Hiram deferred to Adolphus since he was the eldest of them, and so he stepped over to us. He took Laurel by the hand, bowed and kissed her hand. “I have been looking forward to meeting I have been looking forward to meeting you for so long,” he said. “Caleb has made clear that you are a woman of quality and virtue, and that he loves you like no other.”

Laurel blushed at this. “I am so pleased to make your acquaintance,” she said. “Caleb has likewise described in in letters your many fine qualities and how you have been the best of friends to him. Welcome to our home.”

Since Hiram and Andrew knew Laurel, they each gave her a hug, but said nothing. It was clear from the look in their eyes that they shared in their particulars the thoughts and feelings that we had heard to that point.

Laurel broke the silence. “It’s time for lunch, and I bet you all are hungry. I have a side of beef we’ve been eating off. How does that sound?”

“Anything but pork sounds beyond belief,” Andrew offered, and we all laughed.

“Yes,” Laurel said. “Caleb has informed me of your cuisine in the army. Let’s to the house, then!”

We followed  her and went inside. Little Caleb went over to Hiram. “Where’s your arm?” he asked.

“Someone took it.”

“That was a mean thing to do. If I had three arms, I’d give you one.”

“And I’d take it gladly.”

We watched this scene play out with emotion and also with thankfulness that we had raised so sensitive a child. Actually, it was Laurel who had done the raising, and it was to her credit that little Caleb had turned out as he had.

“All of you, sit and relax while I prepare what I have, ”Laurel said. “There are also some dried beans I can boil up, and also some dried apples. If you had come along later, I would have fresh food for you, but that is not possible.”

I went over and put my arms around her. “It will taste like a feast fit for a king because we will be eating it in a house filled with love.”

As Laurel busied herself with the meal and little Caleb helped her, the three of us sat in chairs and, tired from our journey, soon fell asleep. It was nice to do so without having to listen for a duty call or the sound of bugles. We were home, and peace lay across the land like a benediction.

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