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
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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. Michael’s interests broadened, driven by the winds of time. Days of playing catch and family picnics in the garden were supplanted by Michael’s 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. . .
“I’ve enlisted. I think it’s 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 you’ve done, but it was you who taught me to be unselfish. That’s why I want to serve.”
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 – silence reigned. John would not answer Michael’s calls or letters. The chill of bitterness settled into John’s 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 John’s pride. He would not open himself to Michael’s attempts at communication. John erased the phone messages at the first sound of Michael’s voice; he shredded his letters without reading them.
Bryan Marshall’s 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, it’s 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
Pfc. Bryan Marshall
P.S. Michael doesn’t know I wrote this to you.
The drip, drip of the snow melting into the ground outside mirrored the softening of John’s 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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