Wars were raging in Europe and the Pacific, yet to my surprise I received a week pass and could spend a few days at home for the holidays. It had been three years since my last visit and getting to see the folks would be a thrill.
The bus route ran right through my home town of less than a hundred people. The bus stop was five miles from our house but a walk I had made many a time. I often ran home or stride at a brisk 15 minute a mile pace.
Realizing there was no moon, I thought, Good, I’ll be able to sneak up and surprise everyone. Wonder if Ma has a turkey this year for Christmas? Mmm, sweet potato pie, grits, corn bread, pecan pie and fresh milk. Fresh milk, not powered! I can taste it all.
Just the thought of Ma’s cooking quickened my pace. It was pitch black out but I knew that old gravel road so well. Up ahead was the bridge I used to catch catfish off of. I hadn’t any since I joined the Army Air Corp. Catfish, okra and some fresh cow’s milk! Old Betsy produced the best milk. I wanted to milk her again, head against her warm, soft belly listening to it rumble. Memories flooded with sounds and the smell of the barn.
Coming to the old bridge, I stopped to listen to the gentle gurgling below and dreamed of the lazy days of summer before this hell overtook the world. My thoughts drifted to my three hound dogs. We had hunted the surrounding hills many a night, I was hoping for another hunt while home. Mine were the best hound dogs this side of the Mississippi. Well, either side of the Mississippi for that matter. I had almost forgot what life was like back then. Back then – a young boy’s world gone forever yet living in my heart even today.
The crisp night air started me walking again, still lost in thought. A quarter mile from home, Oh, No! My dogs are howling. I forgot nothing gets close without their alarm. They’ll wake everyone up!
My soft whistle brought calm to the air. It didn't take long to realize, What have I done? With the sound of a dozen paws tearing up the gravel and heading my way, I made a quick calculation: 80 pounds times 3 equals 240 pounds traveling at a thousand miles an hour, then silence...
OH NO, THEY’RE AIRBORNE!
I braced myself the best I could, one foot back when all the dogs crashed into my chest with tongues blazing. It’s good to be home; I hope I survive my welcome!
Happily falling to the ground, I wrestled, hugged and petted my friends. I don’t know who was happiest, me or them. I reckoned even though I was in my dress uniform, they were more important right then.
With face freshly washed several times and dirt in my hair, I worked to stand up but was swamped by flying fur, paws, and tongues. Struggling upright, I tried to get my bearings and discovered lights coming on at home. Why? The dogs aren’t barking anymore.
Happy to be with my best friends, I forgot the lights and I slowly made my way forward while trying not to trip or get knocked to the ground. Reaching the front door, I slowly opened it still hoping for a surprise entry. An aroma of fresh coffee greeted me.
“What’s this? Why is everyone up?”
“Son, no one could call those dogs off like that but you. Welcome home. And Merry Christmas.”
Home, thank you Lord, “Yes, Merry Christmas.”
It was a Christmas I cherish to this day. I left a boy and returned a man. A man whose heart yearned for home and today yearns even more for that great family homecoming when wars are forever forgotten.
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