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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Illustrate the meaning of "Make Hay While the Sun Shines" (without using the actual phrase or literal example). (03/06/08)

TITLE: Day by Day Tending the Family Garden
By Sandra Fischer


The window overlooking the garden had framed so many moments in Johnís life. Changing seasons paralleled the passages of him and his son over the years. Summer had been his favorite Ė bluebirds nesting for a second time, the pond full of fish for him and young Michael to catch. Father and son would cast lines, waiting expectantly for a strike. How they laughed together, basking in the sun as it stretched across the sky in long, languid rays, hoping it could somehow outreach the shroud of dusk hanging on the horizon.

As the days grew shorter, so did the times that John and Michael spent together. The green leaves of summer yielded to the brilliant colors of maturity. Michaelís interests broadened, driven by the winds of time. Days of playing catch and family picnics in the garden were supplanted by Michaelís outings with friends. Finally, like the bluebirds ready to fledge, Michael was ready to leave the family and the garden.

John thought he had prepared well for that day and he flushed even now thinking of how he scrimped and saved to provide for college only to be told by Michael. . .

ďIíve enlisted. I think itís the right thing to do, to serve my country, to safeguard our freedom. I know your dream was for me to attend college, but I can finish that when I return. I can earn credits while in service. I love you, Dad, and I appreciate all youíve done, but it was you who taught me to be unselfish. Thatís why I want to serve.Ē

At first John was shocked, much like the garden when a sudden September frost had taken it by surprise and had snuffed out budding hopes still on the vine. Shock quickly yielded to uncontrolled anger that leaped and roared with incisive words, cutting the bonds of father and son, not with blessing, but condemnation.

Then Ė silence reigned. John would not answer Michaelís calls or letters. The chill of bitterness settled into Johnís heart, blanketing it with the same thick crust of ice that weighed down and broke the limbs of the oak in the garden. The insulating snow on the pines was the same as that which covered Johnís pride. He would not open himself to Michaelís attempts at communication. John erased the phone messages at the first sound of Michaelís voice; he shredded his letters without reading them.

Bryan Marshallís letter was the first sign of a spring thaw. John read it again:

Dear Mr. Mendenhall:

My name is Bryan Marshall and I am in the same unit with your son, Michael. We have been together in training for several months and are now in Iraq. Sir, I know you and Michael have had some problems and I understand you have had a difficult time since he has chosen to serve his country.
I just want you to know that he talks about you every day and how proud he is to be your son. He has shared many stories about how you used to spend time with him when he was young and how you taught him the values of honor and integrity. Sir, he loves you so much and I wish I had a father like you. My father never had time for me and died when I was 10. I want you to know that when I hear Michael talk about you I am sad because, although he still has you as his father, itís as if you are like mine.
It is not possible for you to reach our unit by telephone now, but if you could just send Michael a note to let him know you are o.k., it would mean
so much.

Yours truly,
Pfc. Bryan Marshall

P.S. Michael doesnít know I wrote this to you.

The drip, drip of the snow melting into the ground outside mirrored the softening of Johnís heart. Tears like cleansing rain flowed. He wrote as quickly as he could to Michael asking forgiveness, confessing his foolish pride and telling him how much he loved him and missed him. The letter was - an outpouring of spring sunshine - would renew their relationship like the garden. John hoped it would redeem the time he had forsaken by his bitter selfishness.

Spring came, but the joy of reconciliation did not flower. The seeds of the letter from a repentant father arrived too late. Michael gave his life for his country before the letter reached him.

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This article has been read 564 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Jan Ackerson 03/14/08
Oh, so sad. There's something for us all to take away from this.
Sally Hanan03/15/08
Your descriptions are sweetly done and you made the story very tender--it's a pity that you didn't end the story as sweetly too, although I can understand that you wanted to portray someone not making hay in time.
Debbie Wistrom03/15/08
What a lesson to be learned. your descriptions are clear and detailed, esp loved this "much like the garden when a sudden September frost had taken it by surprise and had snuffed out budding hopes still on the vine." Keep up the good words.
Holly Westefeld03/16/08
You did a lovely job with the descriptions and parallel between the father/son relationship and the cycle of the garden.
I held out hope until the end, and was sad that you opted for the hard side of the lesson, but many of life's lessons are hard, and the writing was excellent.
Patty Wysong03/17/08
What a lesson here! So sad, and yet, this is how life happens at times.