The Gift of Yesterday
5586 Gumwood Trail
Gilmer, Texas 75645
Word count – 2159
An eerie stillness and cold emptiness engulfed me as I slipped into a painful moment of grief. The house was forever quiet, a heart wrenching reminder of all that was lost to me. What had once been a home filled with love was now a dark cave I wished to escape from. My wife had passed away three years before, of cancer, leaving me with only fading memories of a life that had passed by in what seemed like an instant. We had not been blessed with children during our marriage so I had no one to fill the hours and days that ticked by like a slow moving wind after her death. Holidays became nothing more than just another passing day on the calendar and what lie before me was only bleakness. Tomorrow was her birthday, typically a day we had celebrated joyously with a night out on the town. This year, like the last few, would be different.
What I didn’t expect was the solitary life I so dutifully endured would all change in an instant. I was sitting in my recliner, feet up, watching the news and listening to them talk about how 1991 was almost over. What did it matter anymore?
The phone rang and I reached over to answer it.
A deep yet timid voice replied back to me. “Is this Frank Simmons?” His tone sounded like that of a young man in his thirties yet I hesitated to make hasty assumptions. There was something about the way he asked that indicated he was older and somehow reluctant to be making the phone call.
“Yes, it is,” I replied. “Can I help you?”
I pulled the phone away from my ear and stared at it. Had he hung up?
His voice finally resounded through the earpiece. “Perhaps, I wondered if maybe you knew my mother when she was younger. Her name was Sara McCann.”
My breath caught in my throat as images flooded over me of the young beauty who stole my heart in the early days of the war before I had been shipped overseas. Her soft blond hair and baby blue eyes pierced my soul from the instant I saw her. It had been a love like no other, strong, passionate and deeply rooted in admiration. I asked her to marry me before I shipped off. To my delight she said yes and I knew my life would never be the same again. We promised to write while I was away and marry as soon as I returned. Had it really been nearly fifty years since I had seen her last?
“Hello?” The man asked, bringing me back to the present.
“Yes, I’m sorry,” I cleared my throat. “I did know your mother, but that was a long time ago. I haven’t heard from her in some time. How is it that you came to find me?”
“Well, I’m not sure how to tell you this, but I believe I’m your son.”
The room began to blur as I sat upright in my recliner. Surely I had not heard him correctly or perhaps this was a prank call. The neighborhood children had been a nuisance lately, which was causing a stir in the community.
“I have to say this is not funny! Whoever you are, you should be ashamed of yourself, giving an old man a heart attack. How you came to have this information is beyond me but this is taking teenage pranks too far.”
“I’m sorry I have caused you grief,” the man said. “But I assure you this is not a prank. Please let me explain. My name is Tim Carthage. My mother was Sara Carthage. McCann was her maiden name. I was sorting through her things and came across some letters she exchanged with you a long time ago. That is what led me to you. You see she passed away last month.”
Sara! Sweet, beautiful Sara was gone? Could it really be? And this man on the line, why would he think I was his father? I tried to comprehend the conversation when all I really wanted to do was hang up and forget the whole thing. This was a joke! It had to be! I knew there was only one way to find out the truth.
“Go on,” I insisted.
“My mother kept a diary along with the letters from you, in a box. I came across them the other day while sorting through her things. In the journal she writes that she met and fell in love with Frank Simmons back in 1941 and that you were shipped off just a few months after you met. She goes on to write that after awhile the letters stopped arriving and she received word you had been killed. At that time she moved back home to be with her parents on their farm in Ohio. By this time she was with child. An older man in town, who owned the local general store, married her, claiming me as his own flesh and blood. She wrote that when I was about two years old she heard you might still be alive after all, but by this time she was married so she never tried to find you, although she writes, that her heart ached for the love she had once shared with you.”
My mind was a fast spinning whirlwind of emotions and memories. It threatened to drag me down into its white foaming water as I gasped for air. All this time I thought Sara didn’t love me and had changed her mind, when in reality, she had been told I died. The letters had stopped so abruptly and being thousands of miles away, in the midst of battle, I had been unable to do much about it. When I returned from the war I tried to find her but no one knew where she moved to. A few years later I met and married my wife. We had a wonderful life together but Sara had always been in the back of my mind. She represented a life of “what ifs” and “could have beens” left hanging over my head.
As if someone slapped me across the face, the full realization of what this man was saying hit me. I gasped and practically jumped to me feet. My son? Could it really be true?
“I know this must come as a shock to you,” Tim said. “It certainly has been a lot for me to absorb. All these years I thought I knew who I was when really there was this whole other side to my life. I have had a couple of days to adjust to all this so I understand if you need time to think things over.”
I barely knew how to respond but I needed to know more.
“I want to meet you,” I blurted out. “And I would like to see Sara’s letters and diary.”
“I can come whenever you want,” he said.
“No, I will come to you, if that is all right.”
If there was one thing I wanted, it was to get out of this lonely house. I also wanted to see where Sara had spent her life and where she had raised her son.
“Yes, of course,” Tim said. “I live in Ohio in the same small town where I grew up. I think you are about a three hour drive from me.”
A three hour drive! Had I really been that close to Sara all this time?
“Give me directions and I will be there tomorrow,” I said, grabbing pen and paper to jot down his information.
After I had finally cleared my head from our phone conversation I realized all the questions I wished I had asked him. On the same paper I had written directions to his house, I also scribbled down questions I wanted answers to. It seemed silly but I didn’t want to leave with unanswered questions. I had to look upon this as a business venture and put all my ducks in a row. I somehow had to leave emotions out of it if I was to protect myself from someone who may wish to harm me. After all, I still wasn’t sure he was truly my son.
I awoke the next morning before the alarm had a chance to sound off in an assaulting manner. I quickly showered, grabbed the bag I had packed the night before and jumped into my car. The drive seemed endless. I practically counted the white lines in the road to keep from going crazy. The petal was down to the floorboard of my old 1982 Chevelle as I egged it on, pushing it to go faster than the posted speed limit sign.
Could it be God was giving me a chance at a family after all this time? I suddenly pictured a life less lonely, one filled with laughter and joy again. I feared putting too much hope into this encounter but I prayed God would guide my steps. How would I know if this was real? And if it was real, if Tim was my son, what did I have to offer him? I had turned into a crotchety old man, used to being by myself. Was it too late to form a bond with him this late in life?
I slowed the car as I neared Tim’s street, scanning for address numbers. Pulling into the driveway I took a deep breath before emerging from the parked vehicle. The walk up to the door reminded me of the steps that had once taken me from Sara. I had agonized over leaving her but had no choice. Once Pearl Harbor had been bombed I knew my place was overseas defending my country. But I remember how each step weighed me down heavier and heavier until I felt like I couldn’t take one more step in any direction but towards her. I remember her brave smile when I looked back one last time to wave before boarding the ship. It was the last time I would see her smile.
Standing in front of the stone house sitting at the end of a country road I hesitantly knocked on the door, knowing that Sara’s son was on the other side.
Reminding myself that I had to be sure about facts before giving into any nonsense I straightened my shoulders and lifted my chin.
When he answered the door I knew without a doubt he was my son. His facial features held a combination of my square chin and high cheek bones intermingled with Sara’s blue eyes and blond hair, which was now frosted with a hint of gray. He stood tall, a mixture of angst and excitement dancing in his eyes.
“Frank Simmons?” he asked.
I couldn’t speak. My son was standing in front of me and in a flash I saw the life I had missed. There were so many lost chances at memories and experiences, years that I could never get back. I would never see him take his first step or say his first word. The first time he said daddy it had not been meant for me, but instead had been spoken to a man who had taken my place so long ago.
I choked back tears as I tried not to fall to pieces. After all I was supposed to be the strong one.
As if understanding the battle raging inside me, Tim silently stepped forward and wrapped his arms around me.
Yes, this was my son! Somehow I had found my way home from the war after all these years.
After those first few silent moments we filled days, weeks and even years with stories and adventures of our own. I didn’t just gain a son that day; I gained a daughter in law and two wonderful teenage granddaughters as well. I went from being a lonely old man to a father and grandfather who had someone to spend the holidays with again. I came to life once more, no longer lingering in solitude but finding comfort in my new warm surroundings.
Tim took me to Sara’s grave. I was able to thank her for impacting my life twice. Once when she showed me the joy of young love and again when she gave an old man a chance at a new life. I prayed she was in heaven fully aware at how much she had meant to my life and just how much she had given me.
I had been blessed with so much. Some men only get a chance to love once but I had been loved by my precious wife for forty years and also by Sara who had given me a son to fill my last days!
On what was my wife’s birthday I had been the one given a gift, the gift of yesterday.
The Gift of Yesterday / Stormo / 1
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