Harry balanced one hand on the cane while he slipped another log into the fireplace. Usually, he burned spruce or lodgepole pine that grew in abundance in the forest around his cabin, but he kept the Pinon pine for Christmas mornings. No other logs burning on a fire smelled as good as Pinon pine.
Harry sat back down in old wooden rocker and covered his legs with the quilt his mother made for him and Gladys on their honeymoon. That was 70 years ago he carried his bride across the threshold of this same cabin, but it was like yesterday. She had been gone for ten years now.
“Merry Christmas, Gladys,” Harry whispered to the fire.
Harry reached for the coal oil lamp on the table beside his chair and turned the flame up just a bit higher so he could read. On the table were two envelopes with letters from his ten-year-old great-grandson, Ethan. Ethan had visited Harry just a month earlier on Thanksgiving and, after Harry showed him all the letters he had written to Gladys when he was in WWII and how important the trip to the mailbox was for him every day, Ethan had written him not one but two letters. He opened the latest:
“Dear Great Grandpa Harry,
I really enjoyed visiting you and reading the letters that you wrote while you were in the war. Thank you for showing them to me. I did a report for my class on World War II and showed them the picture I took with my phone of the box of letters that you wrote. I got an A+ on my report and my teacher cried.
Mom and Dad say we’re coming to see you again on Christmas as long as it doesn’t snow too much since we have to hike up the side of the mountain to get to your cabin.
I’m glad we moved back to this area. I heard a lot about you from Mom and Dad and Grandpa, but we lived too far away to come and visit you.
I am a Boy Scout and like to camp and fish, but since we live in a big city, it’s hard to do.
I asked my Mom and Dad if it was okay for me to ask you if I could come and stay with you for a few days. I could help split firewood and haul water. I’d like to know what it’s like to live without electricity and go hiking in the mountains.Plus, I like to listen to your stories.
I am excited to see you at Christmas. I made a present for you that I’m learning how to do in Scouts. I think you’ll like it.”
Harry leaned back in his rocker and the loneliness he had denied since Gladys passed swept over him like an avalanche. He wondered what would make a ten-year-old boy that he barely knew want to leave the fancy house in the city and all the electronics to come stay with him in his creaky old cabin. Wouldn’t he be bored? Regardless of the reason, Harry felt more joy than he had in years.
Chauncey, the golden lab at his feet, raised his head and slowly stood up. He heard Ethan and his parents coming up the trail to the cabin. Harry trusted this old dog that warned him of bears, shooed the deer out of his garden and kept him company on these long winter days.
Harry rose from the chair and tapped his cane across the wooden floor to the front door. He was so glad to have company on Christmas.
Ethan bounded up the steps and rushed to hug Harry almost toppling him over. Ethan hurriedly through his backpack on the floor and dug out a present, crudely wrapped as only a ten-year-old can.
“I made this just for you, Great Grandpa,” Ethan almost shouted. “And Dad says if its okay with you I can stay here during Christmas vacation!”
“Well, come on in out of the cold, first,” Harry invited them all in.
“Open, it please,” Ethan said again. “I made it in Scouts.”
Harry folded himself back into the old rocker and sat the present on his lap. Slowly, he undid the twine string and bow that Ethan had tied. Grabbing his brass letter opener, he slipped thru the tape holding the paper.
Ethan’s eyes were wide with excitement as Harry opened the box. Inside was a bird house that looked like a log cabin made of little sticks. There was a sign on one end of the cabin and Harry pushed his readers up on his nose to read it better. In hand-painted letter, the sign read:
Harry and Gladys Withers
and Ethan Withers
Harry began to weep. The room was silent except for the sobs of the old man. Slowly, Ethan walked over to the rocker and leaned into Harry. Ethan began to cry, too. Ethan’s Mom motioned to him to come sit back down beside her.
“You’re upsetting Grandpa Harry,” she whispered across the room.
“But I don’t mean to,” Ethan replied. “I just wanted to help him cry.”
(to be continued)