I picked up the box by the door and walked out to the front yard. Pulling the scissors from the box, I cut the ribbon from the tree. Using the SharpieTM, I wrote a number “3” on the end of the ribbon before placing it inside the box with the others that were marked marked “1” and “2”.
Today is the 16th, the end of the 3rd month since my son had been deployed to Afghanistan. I changed the ribbon every month to mark the day he left. By the time 30 days passed, the sun had bleached the yellow right out of the ribbon; the rain and other elements battered the fibers so much that the ribbon frayed at the edges.
Placing a new ribbon on the tree helped me to mark time. Three months had passed, leaving nine more to go until he was scheduled to return home. I choked back the lump in my throat; the tears welled up in my eyes as I tied the bow around the tree.
Walking back to the steps, I sat down on the porch to look at the bright ribbon now attached to the trunk of the old oak tree. Saying a silent prayer, I tried to wipe the tears from my cheek without being obvious to the town home community. Most of us were of retirement age, which meant there was always someone watching everything going on. Privacy was not an option here.
My shoulders dropped as I fingered the first three months’ ribbons and envelopes in the box. The letters from my son were infrequent as he worked 14 to 16 hour days, 7 days a week. Email and social networking like FacebookTM made it easier to keep in contact with him, even though the time difference was an issue. Web cams occasionally gave us a picture of him, though the image was grainy and it froze off and on while he talked.
He looked so tired when he called last week. My wife said nothing when he ended the call last week. Her eyes said it all.
My daughter-in-law, with three children under six – what a champion she is: balancing family obligations, work and staying positive through it all. I know she has her own worries that she does not share with us. When the kids are asleep and the house is quiet, the loneliness likely surrounds her.
Knowing that he was under God’s protection did little to relieve all of our concerns, even though it probably should have made us feel better. I can’t imagine how families deal with it if they do not trust in God. It was hard enough for us, as believers, to handle it.
We all miss him.
Just then, the mail was delivered, so I walked across the parking lot to get it from the box. There was another letter from the Home Owner’s Association. Opening the envelope with my thumb, I already knew what it said.
“Please remove the yellow ribbon from the oak tree on community property immediately. Sign and return the enclosed acknowledgment in the postage paid envelope. Thank you for your cooperation.”
I grabbed my SharpieTM from the box, wrote four words across the letter in large script, sealed it in the return envelope and flipped the red flag up on my mailbox after placing it inside.
I had nothing else to say. The words I wrote?
“When he comes home.”
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