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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Thanksgiving (04/18/05)

TITLE: The Homecoming
By Maxx .


A lump formed in my throat when the old water tower came into view. I squinted my eyes against the moisture pooling in them.

I hadn’t expected to feel like this.

Grandpa steered his old pick-up along the highway. He patted my arm. “Not long now, Jimmy.”

I hadn’t been called Jimmy in three years. It felt comfortable coming from him, like a pair of old Levi’s. “Are Mom and Dad at home?”

He nodded, “Got a few folks coming over to visit.”

“Aunt Lisa, too?”

“I think so.”

I hadn’t seen them in a lifetime.

It seemed as if I still had foreign dust in my hair and eyes. I could taste it, probably always would. The blood of strangers stained my hands. The chaos of war burned my mind. It was all part of me now. Something I would carry until I died. At least that’s what they’d said at my debrief.

I felt dirty.

But the blue of the sky over Emeryville seemed to have a power. I let it bathe me.

I inhaled. The air was filled with the fragrance of corn, wheat, and fertilizer. I smiled. The fields were in sow. The shoots, new again, were fresh and reaching for the heavens.

“You heard they put in a stoplight?”

They’d told me that nothing stays the same. That people had moved on with life while I was away. They said to be prepared, the lights of home will have dimmed.

Three years is a long time.

Sandy had moved away to college in Iowa City the year after I left.

She was one of the guys back then, all barefoot and braces. I’d never thought of her much beyond that, a 17 year old tomboy. And I was a skinny farm brat fresh out of high school. In the ’Stans I began to realize that what I had back home was special.

I hoped I hadn’t lost it forever.

Grandpa turned the corner into town.

The Dairy Queen was still there, faded and peeling just like I’d last seen it. The granary, where Dad had been foreman for the past 15 years, stood majestic and gray. Shar’s Daily Drive-in was still missing letters on its sign, leaving only “har-D-ly Drive-n”, the way it had been for a generation.

I’d carried memories of these places through mountain passes and across deserts half a world away. They made my 50 pounds of gear seem lighter and the pain of loss feel softer. If time had put a little more rust on them, well, that was ok.

After all, I’d changed, too. My body was lean and firm where softness once reigned. Muscles rippled where before there’d only been potential. Tanned skin had covered my freckles.

And there was the scar.

I hadn’t told anyone about the shrapnel that had missed my spinal cord by less than an inch. Nor how I begged the Captain to let me stay in country and finish my tour.

I went to do a job.

I was glad to do it.

The sidewalks filled with people. They were looking at the old truck slowing in the center of Main Street. A banner was strung between the general store and the mercantile. It read “Thank you, Jimmy! Welcome Home!”

An American flag fluttered beneath it.

Folks began to wave and cheer. Yellow ribbons had sprouted from windows and doorways. Red, white, and blue bunting was everywhere.

The bell in the church steeple began to ring.

I hadn’t remembered the town having so many people. They spilled into the road and called my name. Their hands were waving and clapping, each movement as if reaching for me, gathering me, holding me. A soothing, healing, welcoming embrace.

Their mouths, drawn into smiles, had uttered countless prayers in my absence. Now they rejoiced with thanksgiving and their sound touched my heart.

It occurred to me that three years isn’t such a long time when faith and hope remain alive.

Grandpa stopped near the park. Mom and Dad held me, weeping.

I stepped into the midst of the people, my people. They patted and hugged me, bringing me near, drawing me home. I was washed with their laughter.

I saw her, Sandy, standing in the back. Her hands were folded beneath her chin as if in prayer. I moved towards her. She was smiling and her cheeks were streaked with tears… for me… my tears.

I was home.

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This article has been read 1491 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Karen Deikun04/25/05
Oh my goodness! What a wonderful piece. A tearjerker, for sure and so well written!
Kelly Klepfer04/25/05
Ilove the mundane details made sharp, seen through the eyes of the soldier. Peeling DQ's, a new stoplight, in contrast to the inner struggles and ghosts. Lump in the throat, salty eyes, moving. My nephew is coming home in June from the Stans. I think I'll print this to share with him, since he'll be coming home to an Iowa that has changed in his absence.
Dixie Phillips04/25/05
What a beautiful piece! Loved the way you showed intimate details of HOME. And the SCAR..... oh my, it was so heartfelt. Showed scars on the inside....... yet the healing comfort of being home. Loved your story! Love the "IOWA" part, too!
Jamie Driggers04/25/05
well done. beautiful.
Kyle Chezum04/25/05
Touching and written well! Good job!
Lynda Lee Schab 04/25/05
Very touching - excellent writing! Had me near tears. What a wonderful take on "Thanksgiving"!
Blessings, Lynda
Helga Doermer04/25/05
With the strength of your descriptive narrative, your trip home came alive.
Linda Germain 04/25/05
More! More! I want to hear the rest of the story. You hooked me from the first word (a GOOD thing) Loved it.
Mandy Houk04/26/05
I love the details, especially the sign on the Drive In.

Nice job.
Val Clark04/26/05
OK, this one raised the hairs on the back of my neck. This one bought a lump to my throat! This one made me say Wow. I can so identify with ‘like a pair of old Levi’s.’ ‘I felt dirty’ says everything you need it to say and ‘Muscles rippled where before there’d only been potential’ blew me away. Is Emeryville a real place? ‘cos I just loved the symbolism of emery paper scouring everything clean – which is what this experience did. A thought provoking take on a tricky subject. Not too patriotic, not melodramatic or unnecessarily sentimental. Twelve outa ten.

Lori Othouse 04/27/05
I echo everyone else's comments..Wow! So descriptive, made me feel like I was going home with you! Truly moving and left me with a better appreciation for the little things at home. Great writing!!
Dixie Phillips04/29/05
I just had to write a little note again and let you know how much I loved this story! In my opinion it gets TOP BILLING! Every time I read it something else "jumps" off the page at me. Can't get enough of this story. It needs to be a novel... Then, a movie... and even a music video..... :-) I think you get the picture that this story is TOP SHELF!
Suzanne R05/01/05
Brilliant. Ditto to all the above comments. Having spent lots of time overseas, I particularly identified with the 'foreign dust' ... so true! This was very touching. Well done!
Debbie OConnor05/02/05
This is a KNOCKOUT! To me, the very best of the week. Thanks so much for writing it. I loved every line.
Christe McKittrick05/02/05
Smooth and pointed. Everyone has visited this town and been this soldier. You weave in a personal history of the people and the places. It made me wonder what came before and what will come after. Good work!
Cheri Hardaway 05/02/05
Awesome job!

Blessings, Cheri
Kathy Warren05/03/05
Beautifully written. I loved how it flowed. I'm not a man, so I don't know how it feels to go to war and return home, but in this story I could sense some of the young man's feelings. Very well written. I would have given it a 1st place!
Sally Hanan05/03/05
Congratulations Maxx, this was a winner for sure.
Deborah Porter 05/03/05
Maxx - Outstanding as always. What can I say? Congratulations! With love, Deb (Challenge Coordinator)
Lois Jennison Tribble05/06/05
Superb! Like a knife that cuts straight through the heart. What a gift!
Jessica Schmit05/16/06
Two in a row. Two in a row where you made me cry! I think every citizen from any country can appreciate this story. "Shar’s Daily Drive-in was still missing letters on its sign, leaving only “har-D-ly Drive-n”, the way it had been for a generations" What details! it's phrases like these ones that allow the reader to be able to see everything. I could see them driving along the dirt road. I could see the pain in the soilders eyes. I could feel the uncomfortable silence in the truck. The part with Sandy at the end really got to me. That's when the tears started pouring! Beautiful account. Very timely as well.