Jeremiah North stopped and leaned against the walking stick that was clenched in his left hand. He turned to look behind him at the farm fields that ran into the hills a few miles away. The walk through those hills had been hard, but he had been determined.
He had stayed away this long; but the need to see his family, if only from a distance, was too strong to keep him away this Christmas. And he was going to make it just on time.
Christmas was tomorrow.
He turned back to face the town.
Drawing in a deep breath he gazed down the street in front of him. It didn’t look much different than when he had gone off to war four years ago.
Four years ….
He blew the breath out into a long, heavy sigh that created a white cloud around his head. Seeing the vapor reminded him of how cold he was and he could not contain a slight shiver. He looked up at the sky, watching the first snowflakes drift down around him.
It had been summer when he had walked out of this town all those years ago; a bright, hot summer day that seemed more like four life-times ago.
He sighed again, trying to shove the memories away, but they continued to taunt him from the very depths of his being.
So much death and destruction. So many lives wasted. So much loss.
He lowered his head and closed his eyes, but not before his gaze caught what had now become an everyday sight for him. The hanging, empty right sleeve of his coat covered the pinned, shortened sleeve of his shirt. Compliments of a Confederate bullet at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
His right arm. Gone. Just like that.
Leaving him to learn how to manage with the other one. The reason for his delay in returning home.
He had refused to return home less of a man than when he left.
His right arm.
How was he supposed to take care of her when he only had his left arm?
He shoved away the memory of those long months of anger and bitterness; the need to drown his sorrows in a bottle of whiskey as he railed at God for taking what had amounted to his life, wishing he had died instead.
Deliberately, he sent his mind to the elderly couple that had taken him into their home and helped him regain his strength. Then the gentle love and compassion that they had shown him, bringing him back to the Lord that they loved so dearly.
He stood still, eyes closed, and allowed the presence of God to fill him with His peace, shutting out the memories of those tormented months.
He sucked in another deep breath, feeling the cold air burn his lungs.
“Lord, I know we have had this discussion before, but please Lord, You are the only One that knows how things are going to turn out.” He blew the breath out and finished, “I leave this in Your Hands. Amen.”
Still he hesitated.
She must think him dead by now.
What if she had moved on? What if she had begun again with someone else?
In his mind’s eye, he could see the photograph that he had taken with him when he left. It was now ripped and bloodied, but still in his pocket; beckoning him to come home to her.
But it had been so long. What if ….
Suddenly he felt as if the Lord Himself was pushing against his back, nudging him to finish this journey that had started so long ago.
He drew in another deep breath and stepped forward, head bent against a north wind that was really starting to whine through the trees, driving the snow hard against his face. It made him glad of the weeks’ worth of hair that grew on his jaw-line.
The cold seeped through his pant legs, making the wounded leg ache with an intensity he would never be used to.
Another bullet, this one from a Southern sympathizer that he had been unfortunate enough to meet up with in Maryland.
He lowered his chin into the collar of his coat and trudged on, wanting now to only get home.
Was it really still his home? Or did it belong to someone else now?
The question bit into him with all the fierceness of the bitter wind, making him burrow a little deeper into the warmth of his coat.
He walked on, perhaps a hundred yards or more and stopped again, gazing at the house at the corner of the street. It was growing dark, and the wind and blinding snow nearly filled his vision; but he could see it clearly enough.
Lights shone from the windows, smoke curled from the chimney.
His heart leapt at the shadowy figure visible through the lace that hung at the windows. He pictured her bustling about, fixing a meal or cleaning; and found a small smile curling the corner of his mouth.
As he continued down the street, he thought about their first meeting; and the small smile grew wider.
It had been at the annual church picnic. She had been visiting her brother and his wife, come all the way from Syracuse for the week.
And Jeremiah had been lost at the first glance of those blue eyes and that quick smile.
They had been married the following year, expecting a long happy life together with much laughter and joy.
But then the news came of war; and they both knew he had to go.
He lowered his head, deep into memories, trudging through the snow that now topped his boots.
Suddenly a whisper of feeling ran up his spine, sending a nudge of awareness to his heart. He lifted his head.
She was standing on the front porch, hand to her throat, lips working silently.
Staring at him.
The words were barely whispered, but he heard them. He took another step toward her, returning her gaze with a hunger born of four long years of separation.
And then she was coming toward him, mindless of the snow that was nearly to her knees. He could hear her cries and watched in heart-shattering, breathtaking praise as she ran to him; arms outstretched in acceptance and greeting.
He dropped the stick into the snow and reached out to pull her to him. In his mind he was lifting both arms to hold her, but knew immediately when she sensed the change in him.
She pulled back to look at the dangling sleeve. She reached out tentative fingers to touch the cold material, then lifted anguished eyes to his.
“Oh, Jeremiah.” She studied him for a second in silence. Then that smile that he remembered so well filled her face, and his heart. “You’re home.”
The whispered words filled him as he pressed his lips to hers. Then she was wrapping him in her arms and pulling him toward the warmth of their home.
“Come inside. You must be frozen.”
She led him into the warmth of the parlor, fingers quickly unbuttoning the coat and sliding it from his thin shoulders. She stopped at the sight of the pinned shirtsleeve and then repeated the tentative lifting of fingers.
When her fingertips brushed the end of the material, he watched her face twist with emotion. Then she lifted the hand and lay it on the side of his face.
Tears welled in her eyes and slipped down her cheeks.
“Is it really you? Are you really home?”
“Do you want me home?”
Her surprise leapt into her eyes as she searched his face.
“Of course I want you home, Jeremiah. Why would I not want you home?”
He glanced down at the empty place where his arm should be, and then felt his love for her shift inside him as she lifted both hands to cradle his face in their warmth.
“I love you. I have been waiting for you to come home. Don’t ever think I do not want you here with us.”
His brows rose.
“Didn’t you get my letters?”
“Only a few at the beginning.” He searched her face. “Then nothing.”
“Oh, Jeremiah. I am sorry.”
“Us?” He repeated.
She frowned, then her face cleared and she was smiling as bright as that summer day so long ago.
She took his hand and led him up the stairs to the small room that had been empty when he left. Quietly easing the door open, she stepped inside and turned to look at him.
He stepped into the room and glanced at the bed that stood against the far wall. A tiny head of golden curls rested against a small pillow, and Jeremiah swung his gaze back to his wife.
“Her name is Faith. She was born the winter after you left.”
Jeremiah looked down at the little face of his daughter and blinked tears from his eyes.
After all the years of death and hatred, God had finally brought him back to a place filled with life and love; and blessed him with a child on this, his Savior’s birthday.
© Drusilla Mott and https://drusillamott.wordpress.com, 2011