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Another kind of love story...

“The Soldier”

By: Charles L. East

Opening the door having arrived home from work, the man heard his wife’s voice in the background exclaim, “Daddy’s home!” The sound of little feet running toward him caused him to brace himself as the two children jumped up and down demanding affection. Scooping one of them up into his arms and rubbing the little face with his stubble, the child began screaming in delight as the other vied for the same attention. Now, holding them both in his arms, he sees his wife smiling at the three of them as she wipes her hands on her apron.

“Suppers almost ready, you better wash up. Kids, let your father alone now, you can see that he’s tired! Made your favorite tonight.” She turned on her heels, worried about a pot boiling on the stove and disappeared around the corner.

He followed her into the kitchen with the kids trailing along behind and rinsed out his thermos bottle and laid the worn lunch box on top of the refrigerator. He washed his hands and the soap and hot water stung the blisters on his palms and fingers. His sunburned face winced at the discomfort of blotting his hands dry.

“Daddy, can you fix my wagon?”

“Can you pay me for it” he asked, bending down for the hug and kiss.

Smiling as he felt the little arms squeezing his neck he inquired,

“How long before supper?”

“Fifteen minutes, alright? You’d better hurry,” she answered.

Going into the garage and getting his toolbox, he examined the wagon and tightened the bolt on the handle sprocket. Satisfied, he pulled it a few feet and said,

“There, Baby, good as new.”

The child looked at him with gratitude and admiration and said,

“Thanks, Daddy, I knew you could fix it!”

Returning the toolbox to the shelf, he paused long enough to place his hands on the small of his back and arch his body backwards in an effort to relieve the soreness in his muscles. Looking at the folding table next to the washer and dryer, he noted that the clothes were neatly folded and ready to be put away. Coming back into the house he asked,

“Do you want me to bring in the clothes for you?”

“No, I’ll do it while you shower. But hurry up now,” she said, pushing him towards the bathroom, “dinners almost ready and I’ve got to set the table.”

Stepping into the shower, he rested as the hot water soothed his tired muscles. The soap again began to burn the blisters on his hands as he washed his hair. Drying off, he gazed into the steamed up mirror deciding whether to shave now or in the morning. With dinner almost ready, it would have to be in the morning.

Slipping into a clean pair of khakis and a T-shirt, he walked into the kitchen where he found the kids kneeling on their chairs, watching the steam rise from a bowl of hot mashed potatoes.

“Hey, who’s hungry around here…I think I’ll eat all these potatoes by myself!” Seating himself, he smiled as he heard the two little voices in unison exclaim,

“Uh, uh, Daddy!”

“Well, let’s get started,” he said, waiting for the interjection from his wife. It was not long coming.

“Not before we say the prayer. Honestly!” She then gave the classic look of disapproval and asked.

“Who will say the prayer tonight?” The two little ones, looking at each other, immediately chimed in,

“I will! I will!”

“Alright,” said the father, “who said it last night?”

“Mandy did,” said the oldest child, rather dejectedly.

“O.k, little one… your turn.”

The small child kneeling on the chair placed her hands together and closing her eyes, pursed her little lips and very seriously began,

“Dear God? Thank You for our supper…and thank You for Mommy and Daddy…and Gram maw ‘cause we love her…and our house…and, and…uh…my kitty cat and uh…”

“That’s enough, now…supper’s getting cold,” advised the father.

“I’m sorry, go ahead…Mommy’s right.”

Imitating her mother’s look of disapproval and taking her hands from her hips, she again clasped them together and looking at her father with one eye open, continued.

“…and …and…the end…uh…I mean, amen!”

Giving a sigh of relief, she looked at her mother and asked,

“How’s that, Mommy?”

“That was very good. Now let’s have some dinner.”

The plates filled, the father quietly ate while listening to the little ones incessant chatter, occasionally interrupted by the mother telling one child or the other to eat all their beans or to use their napkins correctly. Pushing back his plate he said,

“I’m gonna take this iced tea and sit in the back yard and have a smoke. You coming?”

“Let me clear the table and get the kids into the tub. Then I’ll come out there with you.”

Sitting on the plastic lawn chair, he lit a cigarette and relaxed. The evening breeze felt good and he could watch his wife through the window moving back and forth from the table to the kitchen sink.

“What a good woman,” he thought, “what would I ever do without her?”

He lay back in the chair and heard the screened back door open as she came out and sat quietly beside him.

“Kids are in the tub. It’s so nice and cool out here, can you smell the gardenias I planted?

How was your day?”

She watched him take another sip of tea.


“It was just another day, Hon. Not anything different…just hard work. Tomorrow’s payday.”

“I know…the kids need some new shoes and the light bill is due.”

“I know,” he groaned, “it seems like it is always something! Heck, I need a new tire for my work truck and can’t get it…I worry about if I have enough gas to get me to work all week, I need a haircut! No wonder I’m treated at work the way I was today.

“What happened at work today?” she asked.

“Oh…these big shots came on the job and were prancing around in their white helmets and fancy suits and plans rolled up under their arms…and stood there almost like they were posing! It began to make me sick to my stomach. Phonies! They have no idea what it is to work,” he said bitterly.

“I’ve never known you to complain before…what really happened? Want to level with me?”

“Come on, tell your pal.”

“Oh… hell. I was down in this trench driving stakes with a sledgehammer. The sweat was pouring off me and my heart was beating so hard I could feel it in my throat. I was red faced from the strain and didn’t see them walk up. I stopped and was breathing heavy and looked up and one of them was looking straight at me. I raised my hand, like to say hello and even nodded my head to him in greeting. I know he saw me! I was looking right into his eyes. He looked at my clothes and me and there was no expression on his face, no response.

He turned and walked away, I felt so…they couldn’t even speak!”

She listened quietly and then asked,

”I suppose that would make you feel kind of ignored. I know you much better than that. What is it that really bothers you? I don’t think their being impolite would make you so bitter.”

“Well, it just made me feel like a nothing…a nobody! I do the best I can but it’s never enough! I started swinging that sledgehammer with a vengeance…in a real deep seated anger, not at them so much, but at myself. Grimy, sweaty, red faced! Trapped in this trench for the rest of my life! My fault…no one else’s but mine. I should have done better in school, not have been in such a hurry to grow up, to make my own way. Now I’m paying for it. I feel like such a …failure!”

“Those two men that stood there? The suits they had on probably cost more than I make in a month! Here I worry about…shoes for the kids…or gas…or a haircut. Oh, I guess I could have provided more than I do without it always being a strain. I’m sorry I’ve put you through all of this. God, I just feel…low.”

“Well,” she said, smoothing out the apron she still wore, “I have a pretty good idea of how you felt…how you feel now. Tell me something truthfully? What is it that you really want in life?”

The evening breeze began to pick up and looking up into the sky he said,

“Nothing. That’s the best way I can answer you. The way things are…the way I’ve made it so far…apparently nothing. That’s how I feel…a real nothing and a failure. Let’s go into the house, I’ve got to get some sleep so I can get to work in the morning.”

“Not yet. I want to hear the truth. What do you really want?”

“I want to be a hero…to have honor…and glory… to be something special. Not run of the mill, not a… nothing,” he said, his voice growing softer. “I guess that will never be.”

“I want to tell you something…I want you to listen very carefully. I’ve never told you this before, I guess I thought I never had to.” She reached over and took his hand. Her voice began to quiver as did her chin…and tears welled up in her eyes.

“I’m sorry if I made you cry…I shouldn’t have told you,” he said, watching her blot her eyes, “if I had known…” His voice trailed away as she raised her hand for him to be silent.

“Men are so fragile. You are no different. It is almost like you never listen…or know…where you are in life. You wrestle with the everyday problems of life and still don’t know who you are…or what you are. It’s like men want to leave a mark on the earth, building huge monuments to their passing or those that acquire huge fortunes…just to leave them to others…that they might be remembered. You know, there are a lot of people out there with a warped sense of values…but what is most valuable to a man? I mean…a real man? I have loved you so much! It hurts me deeply to see you degrade yourself because of the clothing of other men or what you do for a living. To feel that you are anything less!

I have always been proud of you and my day begins when you come home. Everything you told me you wanted you already have. You are a hero to the children…they think their Daddy is the smartest, strongest and most wonderful man on earth. There is nothing you can’t do in their eyes or mine either…no question that can’t be answered…no toy that can’t be fixed. And the thing about that? You have never failed at being our hero. I see the weariness you have when you come home…the blisters on your hands…the smile you manage when the day is done and your playing with the children when it hurts to almost move. Today is what counts…you are our monument of strength, we count on you for everything. You concern yourself with what you give to your family because you think it’s not enough but I know that what you give is everything you can…it’s the most you can do. Yes, I love you because of your unbridled generosity, your patience and dependability and in being that kind of man…you do have honor! Honor without title or position, without accolades. You are a man of honor because you rise every morning to do your duty without fail, to provide for your family as best you can with what you have and what you earn. A man of honor because you pay the bills on time. I honor you by washing your clothes…cooking your meals…cleaning your home. I honor you with my love.

You have glory also. You didn’t know it, but you do. Let me try to explain. I watch the gentleness in you when you hold the children, when you are concerned about if they eat enough or are tucked in bed…the way you ask if I had a good day. We are your glory. And you have earned that glory.

You are like a good soldier…my soldier. You combat every day with the strain of work, making a living, competing with time and weather and at the end of each day…come home victorious. Your sunburned face and blistered hands that you don’t complain about…that I do see…are like wounds of battle.

I listen to your old truck as it disappears into the distance each morning and I think… there goes my soldier…and I am proud of you…and I love you.”

She wiped her eyes once again and stood up.

“Now let’s go into the house. I’m tired, too. It’s been a long day.”

She walked to the door and opening it, he said to her,

“You are my greatest glory. You are my ultimate honor. You are from which I draw my strength…you are the love of my life.”

She smiled at him and stepping inside, closed the door behind her. He continued to sit there for a moment and again looking up into the evening sky felt a tightness in his throat and a fierce surge of pride.

“Thank you,” he whispered, “thank you for this wonderful woman. She is the light of my life.”

The next afternoon, the old truck rounded the corner and pulling up into the driveway competed with wagons and a tricycle to park. Looking at the gas gauge, he smiled and thought, another two days gas in there.

Opening the door having arrived home from work, he heard his wife’s voice in the background exclaim,

“Daddy’s home!”

He listened for the sound of little feet running to greet him.

Their hero was home.

The soldier had returned.

©2000 Charles L. East