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The best gift

By Canon Jon Filkins

 

PICAYUNE — The heavy boots, of the young boy and his grandfather, made loud ‘crunch, crunch,’ noises as their footfalls fell upon the dry, dead leaves littering their path on the early winter day. The leaden sky seemed to only further the gloom of the bare trees, seemingly reaching out to capture, or harm, the passersby. A penetrating chill was in the air, and the forecast was for rain. There was a colorless, grayness to it all, as though the very stuff of nature was in sadness.

“Grandpa G,” asked Kevin, “why did you want me to go out alone with you? I mean it is so cold and awful out here.” Keeping up the pace of their trek, George, the wizened old man with the deep furrows of experience in his features replied, “When I was your age, I went to the woods and often spent time with my grandfather, and I am doing the same with you now. Something special is going to happen today.” With a wink, the man turned and increased the pace, as he headed deeper into the woods along Hobolochito Creek, followed closely by the now very curious Kevin.

Life had not been kind to the young boy. Growing up, with only his father, he was taken in by his grandparents when his dad was away. Earlier in the year, Kevin’s father had been deployed to Afghanistan, for a sixth month tour. Everything was all right for the first few months, but then the 13-year-old began to really need his father. He really needed his father’s guidance, and discipline, along with his love. Of course, he had his grandfather, but he could not be his “dad.” Kevin tried to be strong, but his grades fell, he was angry with his grandparents, argued all of the time with his friends and worried he would never see his dad again. On those rare times, he could speak on the telephone to his father, tears would stream down his cheeks. With repeated extended exit dates, it was unclear when his dad would be home

Continuing their march through the forest, they came upon what appeared to be a small hog blind. Someone had taken a tent and rigged it up. It was rather funny, as any self-respecting hog would have run away from the homemade contraption. Yet, in listening closely, there was a strange, growling sound coming from within the blind. “Grandpa G, what’s that noise?” asked the apprehensive traveler. “I am not quite sure,” came the loud reply, “Could it be the Chukacabra we saw in town a few weeks ago?!” At the last remark, a blood-curdling howl came from the interior of the blind. Kevin, still showing a bit of boy lurking under the thin teenage mantle of manhood, grabbed his grandfather’s hand, and held on, really tight.

Soon, silence fell over the scene, with only the occasional lonesome call of a distant crow. Then, there was a brief rustling within the blind. A tall figure stood up, outlined only in silhouette by the fading afternoon light. To Kevin, it all seemed so needless that his grandfather would put him through all of this, as he was having enough troubles, without this terror. Yet, the figure seemed somehow familiar. Slowly, deliberately, then with increasing speed, Kevin strode forward and began to realize what that promise of “something special” was. It was his dad. He was coming home. The boy leapt in the air, and felt the strong arms of his father embrace, hold, and comfort him. All doubts and sadness left him at that instant.

“Dad, you’re home!” sputtered Kevin. The returning soldier, tried to catch his breath, as his son was much stronger and bigger than the father remembered, and was hanging on with all of the youthful energy he could muster. In a horse whisper, he said, “Yes, and for good. No more deployments. My son, I love so very much and I missed you every day. Your grandfather and I planned for us to get back together, amid this wonder of nature.”

As his breathing returned, he continued, “I know you have had your troubles, since I have been away and I don’t blame you. However, you are old enough now to understand all of what we see around us is given to us by God. Sometimes we may not like the setting, our circumstances, or understand it. It may be dank and dark, rainy and cold, or even sunny and bright. We may find ourselves angry about where we are, or what we are, or what we don’t have. Yet, no matter where, or what, we are not alone, for there is our Father in Heaven, who is always with us. It is He who watches over us both and, this afternoon, this Christmas Eve afternoon, He gave me my greatest gift ever: returning home to my son.”

Lowering Kevin to the ground, the trio began their return home and soon began the strains of the Christmas hymn, ‘The First Noel,’ marching stride-for stride to the tempo. As dusk fell, they arrived in Picayune, and soon opened the front door to the familiar house on South Beech Street. There, it was filled with sweet smells and bright lights, along with good friends and family, who warmly greeted the trio’s return.

Something special happened that day. For Kevin, and his dad, each had received the greatest Christmas present ever.

May this be a Merry and Safe Christmas for All, and there be Peace in the New Year.

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