Storytime with Stidmama

Chapter Four

July 29, 2006

As the young man and his family turned into the lane to home, sleepy baby on his shoulder, tired children in the cart, the mother and her husband were turning the corner around the park across the street.

Comfortably, the two couples walked toward each other, surrounded by their own thoughts, enjoying the cool evening washing over them.

Of course, neither recognized the other -- at first.

The mother saw her son and involuntarily squeezed her husband's hand.

A rabbit hopped across the dusty street and a bat fluttered between the trees.

The father followed his wife's gaze, and paused, uncertain.

Midway between them, their home stood, a welcoming lamp lit on the now dark porch and the glow of the living room sweeping the path to the street.

The wife looked up with loving eyes and smiled. "It's okay," she whispered, "He's so much like you."

And the young man looked up and squinted into the dim street.

He recognized his mother's shadow. The man's shape looked familiar...

He drew his own wife a little closer, and they continued on.

They met in front of the house and stood for a moment, trying to decide what to say.

Inside the house, the three older girls were making a stew for dinner while the youngest set the table. The boys had put the treasure back in the box in the bucket; but they put the little bird on the mantelpiece.

The youngest boy walked out to the stable and made sure the donkey and other animals had water for the night.

The sun was now well down, and the sky was fading from light gray to dark purple. Quiet sounds and wafts of cooking came from all over the village.

The young man walked slowly to his parents and looked questioningly at his mother. He gestured to the stranger -- who took a step forward.

The young man looked at his father -- at the careworn face, the grizzled beard, the tattered clothes. And finally, he looked down at the hand stretched toward him in tentative welcome.

It was a strong hand, but old. It was scarred from use, and the fingers were bent from injury. It was a familiar hand, and a warm hand.

The young man grasped it firmly, then wrapped his arms around his father and let the tears fall.

His mother held the baby, his wife stood silently, waiting.

The two women, each in her way, had a peace about her, a sense that, one way or another, things always worked out. And a strength -- or rather a fearlessness -- that allowed them to face whatever life brought.

The horse that had been drawing the cart all day tapped his hooves on the cobbles in the lane.

Finally, the two men moved apart. The Mother introduced her daughter-in-law saying, "This is Anna. You remember her parents, they moved to the other side of the mountain when our eldest children were toddlers."

The horse nickered softly, and shook its neck, jiggling the reins.

The twins heard the horse, and came out on the porch. The recognized their brother and his family, and the stranger who had given them the cart, and their Mother.

They walked down the steps and quietly lifted their niece and nephew out of the cart and carried them indoors, still asleep.

The man looked at his daughter-in-law and smiled. "I knew my son would find a good wife. I am glad it is you," and he hugged her, and his son.

By now, the girls and the youngest boy knew their mother had returned with the stranger... and that their eldest brother was home for a visit. They trooped out on the porch and lined up along the railing, watching silently.

The mother quietly walked up the path and handed the baby to her youngest daughter, who carried it into the bedroom to set down.

The remaining light was fading fast. The other children moved to the cart and began unloading it.

The man and his eldest son turned to the cart and began to lead the horse to the stable.

The young wife walked up the steps into the welcoming light.

In the back, the youngest son had finished bedding down the animals when he heard hooves and the rumble of wheels on the packed ground outside the barn.

The man and his eldest son backed the cart into the barn while the boy held the doors, and unharnessed the horse while the boy fetched water and hay to the stall.

Finally satisfied that the horse was clean and comfortable, the three of them walked toward the kitchen, where the sounds of happy women sparkled.

The boy looked up at his brother -- "Is this the man who gave our brothers the cart earlier?" he asked.

The older man stopped and knelt down to be at his youngest son's eye level.

"I am so sorry," he began, "I have missed so much. You have missed so much."

And the boy understood.

He put his hands on his father's shoulders and looked seriously into his eyes.

"I think, sir, that you must be my father."

He stopped, not sure how to go on.

The man's eyes glistened as more tears threatened to fall.

An owl swished overhead and a mouse scurried along the fence, looking for grass seed.

The eldest brother went on into the house, entering the bustle and hustle of a table being reset and benches being brought in from other rooms. He picked up his son and held him out of the way while dinner was laid on.

In silence, the man and his youngest son looked at each other, each feeling the lost years, exploring the strangeness, looking for familiarity.

The cat meowed at the back door, demanding to go in.

Finally, the man lifted his son in an embrace and swung him around.

Laughing now, they skipped and walked and jumped and chased up to the door and let the cat in, and tumbled in behind, breathless and happy.

And the family sat down to dinner and tales of adventures great and small.