The Pontiac rolled smoothly to a stop at the far end of an abandoned dirt road. It was twilight and autumn fog billowed around the car in heavy, gray waves. Wearing a crepe mourning band on his sleeve, Tanner, the lone occupant, got out to stand at a rotting pier on the edge of a slow moving river.
He looked over the lake to a cottage set back a few hundred yards from the bank; it was abandoned. Reflective, he fumbled in his pockets for something as his thoughts carried him back forty years, to a moonless, pre-dawn Christmas morning, 1968.
He stood, as now, looking out over the lake to the cottage. The pier smelled of fresh cut alder and a canoe set moored to one of its pilings. He could see Laura, his wife, turning on Christmas lights on a tree with unopened gifts beneath it.
Yellow bows were tied and mixed within the colorful red, green and blue bulbs in the tree. Their lights flickered through the window and flowed over the quiet water in front of him. He bit his lip, fighting tears.
Falling snow enclosed the cottage in a downy blue and white blanket. By the front window, caught in the backdrop of its spilling light, a snowman stood at playful attention. A red muffler was tied around its neck and an orange carrot protruded as its nose.
Smiling, he could picture Laura tying the scarf and their five year-old son, Cole, sticking the carrot onto the face. He strained to hear voices from the cabin. He heard music, Christmas carols.
Laura crossed the front window, wearing a pink robe. Cole followed wearing flannel pajamas. Standing tiptoe, Cole said something to his mother, she left the room and seconds later, the front porch light winked on. A wreath with a large yellow bow hung in the center of the door. The image blurred in tears.
A quiet whimper came from a wicker basket set by his feet. He bent to open the lid. A yellow lab puppy, with a red bow tied around its neck, wiggled inside. She raised her head to lick his smiling face.
Feeling for a diamond eternity ring in the pocket of his jacket, he nodded, stood and then raced to the end of the pier. Moments later, jiggling basket in the center of the canoe, he paddled across the water. Then, heart pounding, face flushed, he stood at the doorsill and walked in.
Time became liquid crystal, poured and molded over the moment to freeze it forever in his mind. Sights and sounds hung in intangible deferment, suspended in crystalline air. The ring, the puppy, the ribbons, the homecoming, melded - preserved in an invisible weight of memory.
His family together for Christmas; their faces stilled in wonder, their hearts brimmed with joy. A precious moment that would someday be recalled to chase despair from an aching soul – a salve for a time such as now, forty years past, standing on a rotting pier.
Lights and sound of an approaching car brought Tanner out of his reverie. Moments later, he felt a hand on his shoulder. “Dad, you okay?”
Without turning, he nodded. “I didn’t know if you remembered this place.”
“Christmas, 1968 – you came home from Viet Nam. We had yellow ribbons everywhere. How could I ever forget?”
“To this very day I weigh everything good in my life against it.”
“I’ll never forget the look on Mom’s face when I opened that basket you brought for me. I don’t know who was more surprised, me or her.”
“Sunny was a good dog. You and Mom did a good job picking her name.”
“You gave Mom a ring, too, didn’t you? I remember because she cried.
Tanner fumbled in his pocket, fighting tears. “It meant the world to her; I caught her staring at it more times than I can count.” His gaze never left the abandoned cottage. “She wanted you to have it – a legacy to pass on to Jennifer.”
“Jenn will cherish it, just like Mom.”
“Cherish the memories, too, son - of yellow ribbons, and homecomings and Sunny – of memories when your heart and the hearts of those you love are full of joy. Those moments, they are what will sustain you.”
“You think Mom’s remembering that, too, right now?”
“Heaven is full of all good things. I know she is.” He looked skyward. “And I believe, just now, room has been made for yet another one. I love you, son.”
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