Bundleman (Part 4 of 4)
In morning light the station came to life with the comings and goings of people. Patrick worked up the courage to ask one of the station workers about the address on the tattered letter. The worker could not make Patrick understand the names of streets, so he took a pencil and drew a sketch on the back of the letter to show him the way. Patrick picked up his bundlesack and started off in the direction drawn on the letter. After about an hour, he came to a small house on Maple Street bearing the address he was seeking. It had started to snow, and he could tell by the decorations in windows that it was near Christmas. He had forgotten about the holiday in his long travels.
He took a deep breath before walking up to the home. He removed his hat as he knocked on the door. After a moment, a man in his late-50s answered. “Yes, may I help you?” he asked. Patrick slowly held out the letter he had carried for so long to the man behind the screen door. The man sensed what the stranger held in his hand as he called to his wife. She came to the door and looked out at Patrick holding the tattered paper. Her tears began to flow. The man opened the door and gestured for Patrick to come in. As they entered the living room, Patrick saw, sitting on the mantle, a picture of William wearing his military uniform. He pointed toward the picture and offered the letter to the couple whose faces were wet with tears.
William’s father’s hand trembled as he gently reached and took the letter. The two sat slowly down onto the couch. As William’s mother touched the letter, it was as if she was afraid of what was written on the folded paper. Patrick looked again at his friend’s picture and slowly turned to leave the couple alone with their son’s words. As he did, the man stood up and placed his hand on his shoulder and indicated that Patrick stay and sit in a chair next to the warm fireplace.
The letter was very simple, it said how much William loved his parents and how he hoped that someday they would know that his thoughts were of them and home. He was not afraid of his death because his faith would be there for him and his friend’s kindness would be of some comfort when the end came. However, he was sad that his parents would never see him again in this world. He told them there was no pain. Telling the truth would serve no purpose and only add to their loss.
He signed, your loving son, William. P.S. If you are reading this, my dear friend has made good on his word to try and get this letter to you. If he brings his family to America, make them welcome as you would me. I have given them my small farm outside of town. Please take Patrick and his family home.
William’s parents held the letter tight between them and bowed their heads in prayer. Patrick did not understand the words, but did understand to whom they were speaking. The father looked at Patrick and asked, “Where is your family?” He understood the word “family” as they looked at him questioningly. He lowered his head and they knew he had also lost in the war. William’s parents were grateful for the letter from their son. The Red Cross had said only that he died in a prisoner of war camp and had no details. Perhaps now they would have some closure for the loss of their son.
Over the next two hours, William’s family and Patrick began to understand each other a little better.
Holding his son’s picture from over the fireplace, William’s father told of his son’s decision to enlist after college and go to fight in the war in Europe. Patrick understood bits and pieces of the man’s stories and laughed and smiled when appropriate. A few times tears filled their eyes and all understood the loss of family in a faraway place.
As the day ended, Patrick understood that he was invited to spend the night and in the morning would be taken to the small farm that William had given him.
The small home was everything William had told Patrick it was. He knew without ever having been inside what it would look like. He walked inside and looked at the interior of the small place. William’s parents somehow knew it was time to go and let Patrick find his own way now. He did not notice when they left and quietly closed the door. He realized this was somehow his home and was sad that his family was not with him in this place.
Walking toward the cold fireplace, he stood next to the stone hearth staring for a brief moment. With the sleeve of his gray coat he wiped away the dust from the dark wooden mantle. Next, he sat the bundlesack on the table and removed his wife’s small tea cup. Its delicate flowers would always remind him of her love. Each spring, he would bring flowers to the table, just as she had, to remember her warm smile.
Next, he took out a piece of cloth and carefully unwrapped the small hand-carved marionette. He remembered waiting until his son went to bed before working on the toy late at night. Each piece of wood was carved carefully to fit together to form a marionette, then painted with bright colors and a smile. It made him remember the joy he had seen on his son’s face before he went away to war.
Again, he reached into the heavy sack and this time removed the glass bottle with a few coffee beans still inside. He opened the bottle, remembering the smell of his wife’s coffee from long ago. Closing the bottle, he sat it next to the fireplace as he’d often done long ago.
Finally he looked at the gold watch, opening its cover to read the time. It was time for a new life, in a new country of opportunity. He had made new friends and shared memories of family to help comfort him in this place. His life would never be the same, and he would always miss the life he once had. But, his Creator had guided him to this place and he would work hard to make his family proud of him.
It was Christmas and he had little to offer the family of William who had been so kind to him. The one thing he could do was carve a small wooden cross with his friend’s name on it. Patrick gave them the gift and William’s parents sat it alongside his picture on the mantle.
On Christmas morning, William’s parents invited Patrick to share their home on Maple Street and be part of their family.Over time, Patrick truly would become part of William’s family.
With the help of his new family, Patrick once again took up the trade he practiced before the war. He was a toymaker. And each Christmas thereafter the children of Parlorton would find handmade wooden toys on their doorsteps each Christmas morning. No one had to ask where they came from. All knew that a small man hoped to bring joy to children on the day we celebrate the birth of a child long ago in faraway place. From the Wetzel Chronicle staff and myself, we wish you and your family a Happy Holiday season as we look toward the new year, Thru the Lens.