Abby stepped outside on the front porch, sipping a glass of iced tea. Her first thought, as she opened the front porch door, was how cool the afternoon had gotten. She stood on the porch, with the door standing wide-open, gazing at the afternoon sky. The sky was growing dark, and she watched as storm clouds started to roll in from the west. The shadows from the clouds were slowly sliding over the farmland behind her house. She watched for several moments, slowly sipping the cool tea.
Her gaze turned from the clouds to the house. Everything about her small farmhouse filled Abby with pride. That the house was well kept was a testament to her nature. The siding was white; the paint never allowed to crack or peel. The roof was only two years old, and kept well maintained by Abby’s husband Abram.
Inside the small farmhouse Abby maintained order with a kind, but firm hand. The furniture was arranged neatly, and showed little sign of wear. Her kitchen was immaculate. Abby would tolerate no mess in her kitchen. The dishes were always washed after every meal. The counters were kept clean and clear of debris. Her floors were swept twice a day, once after breakfast and once after dinner.
Abby enjoyed her orderly life. Everything had its place, including her family. Abram was a simple farmer, who enjoyed the same kind of formality that Abby did. His fields produced some of the best crops in the county. In late April to early May, depending on the weather, he planted corn on the southern fields. In September he planted wheat in the northern fields. Abram spent close to every waking moment in the fields during those months. He left home at sunrise and returned home at sunset. Abby rarely saw Abram take a break from his cherished land.
Abby had a small orchard that she took care of herself. She had several peach trees, and a small garden that produced that majority of the vegetables that her and Abram ate. Abby was content with her life, except for the fact that her only son was gone.
In the fall of 1971 Abby’s son, Jonathan, went off to war. He had spoken for close to a year about going to Vietnam, but Abby would not hear of it. The thought of having Jonathan gone from her life was more than she could bear. Jonathan was the child that she thought she would never have. Abram had not wanted children, but when Abby became pregnant after six years of marriage, he was thrilled.
Jonathan brought peace to their lives. He was disorder, in an otherwise orderly household. Every time Abby thought about him in the battlefields, she was filled with an ache that was indescribable.
Abby tried to push the thought of Jonathan out of her mind. She turned around and went back into the house. She cleaned out her teacup, and placed it back on the proper shelf. She looked out the window at her garden, and decided to do some work in it, as the tomato plants were looking a bit wilted.
She stepped out onto the steps of the porch and allowed the door to swing closed behind her. She stood on the steps, looking up at the sky. The clouds were now almost overhead. There was something ominous in the air that made Abby shiver. She mumbled softly, “There is death in the air.”
She shuddered at the morbid thought, and tried to push it from her mind. But, the nagging sensation that something was wrong would not leave her. She took a moment to look out over the fields, but she could not see Abram. “You are being silly, Abby. Just get to work,” she told herself.
She headed down the steps and towards the garden. She had gone no more than fifteen feet from the house when she heard the sound of a car coming down the lane. Abby turned to look behind her at the road that led to the house. There were only two reasons that someone would be coming down the road. They were either visiting her or her neighbor, Candice. As she was not expecting any visitors, she continued on towards the garden.
She was surprised to hear the car growing closer. She turned to look back at the small vehicle and saw it pass Candice’s house. The blue Mercury bumped down the rest of the lane and slowly pulled into her drive. Abby frowned at the thought of an uninvited visitor.
“It must be important for them to come all the way out here,” she mumbled under her breath. Wiping her hands on the green apron that hung around her waist, she made her way over to where the car had parked.
Abby stopped in her tracks as she saw a young man step out of the car. He was dressed in the formal uniform of an army officer. There was something about the way he carried himself that caused her heart to drop. She heard the car door close, and saw him neatly put on his hat. Under his right arm there was a clipboard, with a pen tied to it. The pen had slipped from its resting spot and was hanging down off the clipboard.
Abby saw the young man look around slowly, and then take a deep breath. He started towards the house, keeping his gaze steady and fixed on the door. Abby watched as he began climbing the steps to the house. It was not until he lifted his hand to known on the screen door that she regained her senses and called out to him.
“I am over here. Did you need something?” Her feet began to work again, and she headed over towards him. The wind picked up slightly, causing the hem of her dark blue dress to billow around her legs.
He turned around at the sound of her voice, and looked over in her direction. At that moment, Abby knew. This man was not bringing good news. She took a deep breath and continued walking towards him. He took the steps one at a time, and waited for her at the bottom.
He was younger than Abby thought he had been. He appeared no more than twenty or twenty-one. He’s too young for this responsibility, Abby thought.
The man cleared his throat and began speaking. “You are Jonathan’s mother, ma’am?”
She nodded her head, and surprised herself to hear how clear her words were. “I am.”
He took the clipboard out from under his arm and pulled out a small letter sized envelope. He said, “My name is Lieutenant Ernest MacIntire. The army regrets to inform you, ma’am, that your son Jonathan was killed in battle.”
Abby saw him offering the envelope. Somewhere in the back of her mind she heard the lieutenant speaking of how the letter inside the envelope was from Jonathan. She saw her own hand take it, and she heard herself say “thank you” to the young man. But, inside she was screaming. Her son, her only son, was gone. Abram needed to be told. There needed to be a funeral. There were so many things to take care of, but most of all she needed to see her son.
From somewhere she heard the lieutenant’s voice ask her if she was all right. She looked up at him with a pale, blank expression and shook her head. “I… don’t know.”
He looked heartbroken, but he offered her no comfort. Instead he said, “When his unit was attacked everyone who was not killed was taken prisoner. Your son was one of those taken prisoner. We eventually found your son and his troupe, but by that time it was too late. The enemy had taken everything from them. The only identification we had of your son was this letter. There was mention of Clayton Township, Georgia in the letter, but there was little else to go on. It was signed simply Jonathan.”
“The army was able to find you, only because of this letter. I am sorry to have to be the one to bring this news to you ma’am. Is there someone I can call to come and be with you?” He was looking down at Abby with sad eyes, but she ignored him.
She was staring at the letter in her hand. She tore her gaze from it, and turned towards the house across the way. After several moments, Abby curled her hand around the envelope and looked up at the boy. “No. There is no one. My husband will be home soon. You can go now. Tell the army… tell them… thank you.”
The lieutenant nodded his head and turned back towards the car. Abby watched him as he got into the car and backed away. She saw the Mercury bump back down the road. When it was gone from sight she turned her focus on the letter. Something that the lieutenant said was bothering her. He had said that had found Jonathan. But, the only way they had of identifying him was through this letter.
She stared at the unopened envelope for several minutes, before she looked up. Her gaze returned to her neighbor’s house. It was a place she had not visited in over twenty years. The last words she had ever spoken with Candice were those of anger. She did not want to approach Candice, but she had to know if her suspicions were correct.
Abby slowly moved across the yard and crossed the road. There was still dust in the air from where the lieutenant’s car had traveled. Abby mentally went over in her mind what she was going to say to Candice, but when she arrived at Candice’s front door all words escaped her.
It took her several minutes before she had the courage to knock on the door. Finally, she swallowed her pride and rapped her knuckles on the door several times. Almost instantaneously she heard Candice call out, “Coming!”
Several seconds later the door swung open. Almost in the same moment, Candice’s smile faded and her eyes opened wide. She blinked at the sight of Abby standing on her front porch. Her surprised quickly faded and she angrily said, “What do you want, Abby?”
Abby simply lifted her hand and offered Candice the envelope. Candice glanced down at it, and then at Abby. Something in her face softened, and she stepped further through the doorway. She took the envelope from Abby’s hands and began to open it up.
Abby said softly, “Read it out loud?”
Candice looked up at her sharply, and then slowly nodded her head. She began slowly:
Dear Mom and Dad,
I know it has been some time since I have written. I am sorry for not being in more contact with you. I have tried several times to write, but something always gets in the way. Just the other day I wrote you a really long letter, but I wound up not being able to mail it, because we were pulled into combat. It got wet while we were traipsing through the swamps, and it was unsalvageable. But, I am writing now, and I promise to get this to you!
How are things there in Clayton Township, Georgia? I miss you guys and the town a lot! I think one of the things I have missed the most is the sense of family that our community has. I remember leaving and everyone being so sad, and happy at the same time. It was one of the memories that have kept me going here. Mom, tell Dad that I am doing good, and I promise to be safe. Dad, please don’t let Mom worry so much.
Well, they tell me that we have to move out again. So unfortunately, this letter will be short. I will see you both soon. I love you!
As Candice finished reading, she looked up at Abby with questioning eyes. Abby responded with a choked sob, “It was the only personal effect they found on his body. His dog tags were gone. This is the only identification they have of Jonathan. He never mailed it.”
Candice looked down sharply at the letter. She shook her head slowly, speaking quietly, “Are they sure it’s your Jonathan?”
Abby shook her head slowly. “All the lieutenant told me was that they know it was Jonathan from Clayton Township.”
Candice gasped softly, and pulled the letter to her chest. “No, please no.”
Abby stepped forward and pulled Candice into her arms. For several moments to two mothers stood holding each other. It was Candice who finally broke the embrace. She stepped back from Abby and motioned to the small table and chairs sitting on her front porch. “Let’s sit and talk.”
Abby followed her to the table and sat down next to her. Candice laid the letter down on the table between them. She said softly, “Does Abram know?”
Abby shook her head. “No, he is still out in the fields. I thought perhaps we should talk first.”
Candice looked up at Abby. She had tears welling up in her eyes. “It could be my Jonathan, couldn’t it?”
Abby nodded her head, but was unable to look Candice directly in the eyes. Both women had named their sons Jonathan. It was one of the many sources of anger that the two women had between each other. As Abby watched Candice try to come to terms with the fact that it might be her son who was killed, she thought back to what had started their fighting in the first place.
Candice and Abby had known each other since they were young. They had gone to high school together, and had grown up living only a mile or so from each other. They had never been friends; both were too competitive. They had dated the same boys, and had gone out for Head Cheerleader. When Candice had made Homecoming Queen, Abby made sure that she was named most popular for their senior year. After they were married they continued competing. Abby had won “Best Peach Preserves” at the county fair. It made Candice so angry that when her son was born she named him Jonathan, which is what Abby had said she would name her unborn son. So, when her son was born she named him Jonathan to spite Candice. The two hadn’t spoken since.
Abby looked down at the letter, and thought of how petty their fight seemed. One of their sons was dead. The lieutenant had said that they had not been able to tell who it was, but only that he lived in Clayton Township and that his name was Jonathan. There were only two Jonathan’s that lived in Clayton Township, and they were Abby and Candice’s sons.
Finally Candice spoke. “Do you remember when my Jonathan broke his arm?”
Abby nodded her head, and offered a small smile. “I do. He came tearing through my yard howling so loud I thought I was going to go deaf.”
Candice laughed lightly, and turned her gaze towards the front yard. “He came screaming into the house that he had fallen, and all I could think of was that he should have gone around your yard. Isn’t that silly?”
Abby placed her hand over Candice’s hand and squeezed it. “No, I don’t think that’s silly. I think the only thing that is silly is the fact that we have been angry for so long.”
Candice squeezed her hand back, but would not look at Abby. After several moments, she spoke quietly. “Would you like some iced tea? I just made some.”
Abby took a small breath and nodded. “I would love some. Let me come in and help you.”
Together the two women walked into the house. Abby paused at the doorway, and turned around to look at the afternoon sky. The clouds still had not passed over. They seemed to hang in the air right over both of their houses. She whispered softly, “Just bring the other one back, Lord. That is all I can ask.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Abby and Candice sat on the front porch drinking from their ice tea. The conversation between the two women died down only long enough for them to pour another cup or to have a bite of the sandwiches that lay in front of them.
Both women seemed at ease. Their conversation had drifted from their sons to their own personal lives. They were slowly beginning to catch up on each other’s lives. In the three weeks that Abby had been coming over for afternoon tea, she never once doubted the sincerity of Candice’s feelings. The two women were growing closer. It had taken a loss for them to realize how much they had to lose. Both women were determined to be the best friend to the other.
Abby spoke lightly, “I have really enjoyed getting to know you these last few weeks. It is amazing to me that we have lived across from each other for over twenty years and I have never once actually tasted your peach preserve. How do you keep it so fresh?”
Candice laughed. “I don’t think I do anything different than you. How about tomorrow I come over and we look at the kinds of cans you use? Perhaps that’s the problem.”
Abby raised an eyebrow in thought. “Perhaps it is. I never thought about it that way.”
Candice suddenly became serious. She gazed across the table at Abby. “You know, I was thinking last night about Jonathan. And I suddenly realized that even thought one of us has lost a son, the other still has her son. That thought should have made me feel jealous. But, it made me feel happy inside. One of our son’s is still alive.”
Abby leaned back in her chair and thought for several moments. She laughed lightly, and looked across the table at Candice, who was smiling. Abby said, “You know, you are right. Our son is still alive.”
Candice smiled at her, and took another bite of her sandwich. She was about to reply back to her when something over Abby’s shoulder caught her attention. It was a car coming down the lane. As she turned her focus on it, she recognized it as the blue Mercury that Abby had told her the lieutenant had driven. She felt her breath catch in her throat and she leaned forward.
She whispered softly, her voice cracking. “Abby, the car.”
Abby turned around in her chair and gasped at the sight of the car coming down the lane towards their houses. She clutched tightly at her glass, and slowly stood up. Candice stood up as well, grasping her hand. They stood watching the car for several moments. It was coming up slowly; giving both women enough time to mentally voice their worst fears.
Abby squeezed Candice’s hand and spoke low, “Let’s go meet it.”
Together the two women walked the length of the porch, and headed down the steps. They slowly approached the car, their hands still clasped tightly together. The driver must have seen them, for the car rolled to a stop. After several seconds the driver got out. Abby instantly recognized him as being the same lieutenant who had told her Jonathan was dead.
He came around the car, looking at both women. Abby clutched at Candice’s hand, which was shaking like a leaf. Abby, unable to speak just stared at the lieutenant. He nodded his head to them both, saying, “Good evening, ma’am, ma’am.”
Candice croaked out from between clenched teeth. “Just tell us.”
The man looked a bit surprised at her words. He glanced behind him at the car, and both women turned their attention to the other man who had gotten out of the car. The lieutenant spoke low, “Ma’am, the army is glad to tell you that your son, Jonathan Price, has served his country well. He is being released from his duties.”
Both women stared at the young man as he stepped away from the car. Abby looked down at Candice, who was looking up at her with a bright smile. Candice squeezed her hand tightly in delight. Abby laughed, her own smile so bright that it seemed to dominate her face. Candice whispered with a laugh, “Let’s go greet out son.”
Abby nodded with a smile. Together the two women, who had allowed their love for their sons to conquer the anger they had for each other, rushed forward to greet their long lost boy.
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