Evan took a long, drawn out look across the dusty road. He knew this day might not ever come again and he wanted to be the first to take it all in. His sandy hair frolicked in the wind--the same wind that was stirring up the powdery, dry dust. As he stood there, his frayed denim overalls hanging a full two inches shy of his ankles, he began to notice the patterns in the clouds. Maybe it was the intense heat. Maybe it was the lack of inspiration. All Evan could see were waterfalls and springs up in that vast, hot sky. Oh how he longed for something to quench his thirst! But he would not leave his post. He dared not, even for a minute. He might miss it! The main event--the reason for such exposure to the arid and dusty hotness that swarmed around his very being--was more important than a mouthful of sweet, cool water from the stream that passed behind the log house that he called home. He would not falter. He would not miss it.
Almost as if in a dream, his kid sister, Betsy, was standing next to him instantly. Where she came from he did not know, but now he was not alone. This moment--if it was truly going to happen today--would be better shared with a friend by his side. She gently nudged her brother and with a sheepish grin, he acknowledged her presence. Betsy had always admired Evan. Even when he found himself in the most defeating of circumstances he always found a way to bring about joy and contentment to his surroundings.
There was the time when he accidentally let the neighbors horses out of their corral and ended up spending the entire Sunday morning helping to find them. Ma was the least happy in all of this, for Evan had ripped his new Sunday trousers and had missed the meeting that day. Betsy was the one that stayed after and swept up the meeting room. It was Evan’s job to do so, but he had missed, and she didn’t want him to lose his job. He always shared his earnings with her in the form of penny candy. The townspeople usually had some remark or another about Betsy’s endlessly sticky cheeks, but she didn’t mind.
When Evan came home that late afternoon, his face smudged with mud, shins scuffed and bruised, and trousers torn, Ma nearly came undone. Betsy remembered the heavy, disconcerted sighs coming from the dining room while Ma mended the new trousers. She knew Ma was going to give Evan a real stern talkin’ to, maybe even a whoopin’, and wished Evan could go back in time and keep those horses penned up! Betsy always had a strong sense of camaraderie with her only sibling. He had four years on her, but that had always proven beneficial for this fledgling pioneer.
Evan had walked into the dining room and looked at his Ma. Then he spoke for the first time since he had come home. “I know you are mighty upset with me Ma, and I don’t blame you. I’m real sorry I tore my trousers, and missed Sunday meetin’. And I don’t blame you for bein’ angry with me. But Ma, I had to find those horses. It was my fault. And I couldn’t let Farmer Bennigan lose his only two horses. That’s all he’s got. I did what I had to, and helpin’ our neighbor is a mighty important part of livin’ like Jesus would have us to live, right Ma?” Evan had paused. He knew the best part of the morning’s events was about to escape his mouth and he was a little excited, despite the trouble he should be in. He continued, “And guess what? Farmer Bennigan said I could come over and borrow the horses come plowin’ under time. And with Pa gone and all, well, that seems like a mighty nice thing for him to offer.”
Tears welled up in Ma’s eyes and for the next few minutes she sat in silence. Finally she spoke. “Evan, you’re a good boy. Now get on up to bed, son. Get on up to bed.” Even in those times of seeming troubles, Betsy was always amazed at Evan’s ability to turn things around.
Just then a sharp, hot wind kicked up and blew gritty sand into the faces of the two children. Hands shot up to cover eyes and backs turned into the wind for protection. Evan felt the hot sand sting his dry lips and once again wished for a cool drink of water. “What are you doin’ out here anyway, Evan?” Betsy hollered. “It’s so hot and windy! Why don’t we go find a shady tree to sit under at least?”
“No way,” Evan countered. “I’m not gonna miss it!”
The wind finally gave way to a much softer breeze and the children turned around again, facing that familiar field across the dirt road in front of their paltry farm. “How long you suppose it’s been, Evan, since the last time?” Betsy couldn’t remember, because she had just been a baby when Evan watched for the first and only time the great event had taken place.
“About four years. Now quiet, please,” Evan implored. “I just wanna watch, okay?”
Betsy didn’t understand what today was all about, but she knew it meant something to Evan. What was so special about watching men walk through a field? But Evan knew. He knew exactly how important this was, and wasn’t going to miss it for the world. And then it happened. It started!
Evan heard the sound of at least a hundred feet, marching in time to a drummer’s cadence. The bobbing heads of nearly five dozen men broke through on the horizon. They cut through the arid, dusty air, marking the path for the men who followed behind, marching, marching. It was truly a sight to behold. The uniforms weren’t much to look at, but the fact that they were marching home was what mattered. Some were bandaged, some were limping. Some hadn’t come home at all.
Evan stood, still as a statue, as they came closer and closer to the road. It was a terrifying sight to see all those men carrying weapons, but Evan knew there was something of a peaceful resolve because of the very weapons in question. It was finished. The war had ended and the men had come home. How beautiful it was to see familiar faces!
“So what now?” Betsy had broken the sacred silence that Evan had been reveling in up until that moment. With a bit of indignation and even more sorrow, Evan replied. “Now we wait.”
The two children stood still, watching as every last farmer-turned-soldier passed by. Evan spoke in a voice so small that Betsy thought as though she had imagined it. “Bye Pa. Thanks for giving your life so that we could have ours.”
All at once Evan felt an urge, a need, to run away, to cry, to scream at the top of his lungs, to fall down from sheer emotional exhaustion all at once. He had once lived the life of a care-free child. Playing in the fields, rousing the horses, squirting fresh, warm milk straight from their cow into his mouth, and laughing so hard his sides and cheeks ached with happiness were all a thing of the past for him now.
It seemed the only thing certain in his life was the little sticky-cheeked girl at his side. Betsy was such a bright, bobbing little tot; always rich enough to give away every smile and hug that welled up from within her. She possessed a heart that Evan knew had no equal and he was thankful for his sister.
Ma had fallen into a deep sadness the very day they got the news that Pa had fallen in the war. He was such a strong man and a loving husband and father. Evan knew at that moment that life had changed forever. Ma was now his responsibility and he wouldn’t disappoint his Pa. As the days passed into months, and months passes into years, Ma rarely looked on life the way she did before the war. It seemed almost as if Betsy had adopted all the joy that once dwelt within Ma’s beautiful heart.
But Evan knew that Ma could be revived. She only looked hopeless. Every night, this new man of the house would kneel by his bed and pray into the vast midnight sky for her sake. And every night he went to sleep to the sad melody of his mother’s near-silent cries. He had to believe that she would get better. It was true that he had lost Pa, and there was nothing he could do about that. There was no way he would lose Ma too. And so he became her pillar of strength. At seven years of age, this youth had given up the whimsy of childhood to became a man.
The last soldier stumbled past the somber pair as Evan executed a shoddy salute. It seemed as though even with his practicing, when the time finally came to raise his hand, all energy was stripped from him along with the rest of his composure. He slowly lowered his hand as a sorrowful and heavy sigh escaped from his dry lips. A few moments passed as the children stood, listening to the memory of the drums as pangs of grief washed over them both like stormy waves in the night sea.
Evan and Betsy silently turned and walked into the house, closing the door behind them. They found Ma, sitting at the fireplace, weeping. Betsy ran to Ma’s side, sat down and began stroking her hair. Evan mustered up every ounce of courage he had in his nine-year-old self and said, “You know, Jesus died so we could live, and now Pa has, too. In a way, Pa got a real honor, to know more of what it was like for our Lord. We’ll see him again, Ma. We’ll see him again.” And with that he fell to the floor and joined Ma in remembering the great man who was once husband, father, and friend; who would always be a child of God.