s oIt was another cold night in the trenches as Jack huddled around a small fire with several other soldiers. The war had been long and hard, and had brought with it much pain and suffering, but right now, he was grateful for the heat that radiated from the glowing flames of the small fire. He’d also made a lifelong friend in Martin, and was reminded of that as Martin handed him a piece of bread. Jack accepted with a smile and tore a piece off before handing it back.
The two men had met shortly after America entered the conflict, and had quickly become as closes as brothers, helping each other through every step of their journey together so far. And now, in these cold, muddy trenches, the two laughed with the other men who huddled around the fire, attempting to stay warm.
The irony that they were able to laugh at anything under these conditions wasn’t lost on Jack, but he pushed the thought aside. Even if it was only temporary, he wanted to forget the horrors of war, and the reality of what lived just feet away from them, outside of the trench.
Every so often a loud crack would pierce the crisp night air, reminding Jack and the others that a permanent slumber could be theirs at any moment, yet they continued, as best conditions allowed, enjoying the company and bond of friendship for however brief a time it would last.
Jack was from a small town in Montana where he and his wife Lillian, and their now 10-year-old son George, had a small ranch. It was a dream he and Lily had shared from the day they met. But that all seemed like a distant memory now, as Jack was an ocean away from his home, his ranch and his family.
Leaning his back against a dirt wall, he slid down and sat on the cold ground of the trench. His mind drifted as he reminisced, pulling up old memories, all of which reminded him of the short time he’d actually spent with them, Lily and George. He longed to be home, to hold and kiss his sweet wife whom he’d been in love with from the first day he saw her. And George had always such a help to his mother. It gave Jack great peace knowing the two had each other while he had to be away.
He’ll make a fine man Jack thought to himself, grinning as feeling of pride swept over him. “Do hope to see them again soon though” he muttered to himself.
“What was that?” Martin leaned in and asked. “You look a bit dazed,” he said in his normal boisterous tone, causing some laughter from the surrounding men.
“It’s nothing Martin. Just thinking about my family for a minute. Wishing I could be home with them right now.”
His words extinguished all the laughter, and the sober looks on the men’s faces told Jack they had all shifted their thoughts to home and family, ignoring for a moment the gunfire that broke the silence of the crisp night air.
Hypnotized by the flames, Jack let his thoughts wander, until he saw Martin suddenly collapse, followed by the sound of rapid fire that was now just outside the trench. Without hesitation, Jack dove to shield his friend from the bullets that began raining down around them. Then came an even louder succession of gunfire from within the trench, and just as suddenly as it had all begun, the noise was gone.
Jack turned his head back to see a lone enemy soldier, who’d somehow managed to sneak inside the trench. His body now lay lifeless against the dirt embankment, ending the brief moment of threat and allowing Jack to collapse in relief.
When the smoke finally cleared, the soldiers took stock of the damages. Only two bodies remained motionless on the floor of the trench where just moments earlier there had been laughter.
“Jack? you okay?” Martin called out.
It was Christmas Eve as Lillian prepared a dinner for two, a modest feast that could not be fully enjoyed this year without Jack. It had been weeks, perhaps months, since Lillian had heard any news from her husband and couldn’t help but think of the worst.
Others in town had lost loved ones to the war, fathers and sons, so she knew that the odds of seeing her Jack again were poor, and yet she still tried to hold on to the hope that he would find his way back to them. With these thoughts overwhelming her mind, she began to cry out loud, something she’d worked hard not to do ever since Jack left. She needed to be strong for her son.
George had been in his room and came rushing out. “What’s wrong, Mommy?” he probed.
She just motioned for him to come closer, then grabbed and hugged him tightly as her tears continued to flow.
George hugged her back in silence.
After several minutes, Lillian finally let go and smiled at her son. “You are a good boy.” she said as she stood facing him with her hands on his shoulders. “Your father would be so very proud of you.”
George smiled back as he turned away, then walked back to his room.
“Dinner will be ready soon,” Lillian said as she watched him walk away. She waited until he’d vanished around the corner of the open door frame that lead to his small room, then closed her eyes and dropped to the floor again. The tears came quieter this time, as her thought’s remained on her little boy.
She loved George and was grateful to have him, so that she wasn’t alone. She’d lost both of her parents years ago, and with only one sister that lived a few days away, she didn’t even want to imagine where she’d be without her strong boy, who was a constant reminder of the good this life had to offer. These thoughts gave her strength, and she quickly gathered herself together, wiped the tears away, and proceeded to finish preparing their meal for the night.
The snow outside fell thick and fierce as Lillian and George sat down to their evening meal. After a short blessing on the food from George, the two began to eat in silence, with Lillian’s thoughts once again on Jack, wondering how he was and when they would see him again.
A sudden knock at the door startled her, and George stood abruptly and ran toward the door. When he opened it, the light from inside cast a shadow on the figure standing just out of her view.
George stayed still at first, as though he didn’t recognize the visitor, but when the man stepped into the light of the entryway, George called out “Daddy,” rushing to hug him.
Lillian dropped her fork to the ground and began to weep, overcome with emotion. “Jack? Oh Jack!” She finally said as she stood up from her seat at the table in disbelief, then ran toward him, embracing her husband who had not yet spoken a word. “I’ve been so worried about you.” she blurted out through her tears of joy.
“I’m here,” said Jack as he tightly held his family close.
Lillian pulled away just enough to look into her husbands eyes, still struggling to believe he was really here, standing in front of her. Shaking her head slightly she asked “But…how? How are you here tonight?”
Jack ignored the question and motioned them all toward the kitchen. “Let’s just sit and enjoy this time together,” he responded.
Joyful noise filled the room as they sat at the table together, eating, talking and laughing, while Jack told them about his experiences, his friend Martin, and the many good things he’d experienced, despite all of the horror the war had brought into their lives.
He told them how Martin and he had met, when they first arrived in basic training together, and how they’d become fast friends.
Jack had helped Martin improve his skills with a rifle, while Martin, on the other hand was a very outgoing fellow, well liked, and made friends easily. So he’d been able to help Jack fit in, and the two had created an unbreakable bond, playing well off one another’s strengths, and always looking out for one another.
Jack told them about a time when Martin had saved a young soldier who’d been injured in ‘no man’s land’. Martin hadn’t even hesitated as he rushed out into the open field, ignoring the gun fire from the enemy. And by some miracle he was able to reach the young man and return unscathed to the safely of the trenches.
He talked about the comradery between Martin and several other men in his unit, how they’d become a big family, brothers really, always having each other’s back. It made life as a soldier just a little more bearable, and had helped him get through the hardship of being away from his family.
This went on until late into the night, Jack mesmerizing his captive audience of two with the adventures he’d had, until finally he interrupted himself and said “George, it’s Christmas Eve, so you best be getting to bed or St. Nick won’t be visiting tonight.” He grinned and watched as George’s eyes opened wide.
George rushed to hug his mother, then his father, pausing for a moment to whisper something in his ear, then he hurried to his room.
Lillian smiled at Jack. “Help me clean up and we can sit by the fire for a bit before bed.”
Jack nodded, smiling back.
The wind blew hard outside that night, moving the snow fiercely about as it gathered around the home, but the fireplace glowed with warmth inside, and Lillian enjoyed the silence as she sat with her husband, grateful to be holding him again.
Exhausted from the weeks of worry and fear, she held Jack close that night as they lay by the fire. The two only talked briefly before sleep overtook her, dreams replacing the thought’s of this long awaited reunion.
Lillian drifted off into a war-torn France, where she watched a scene from above, as though she were a bird gliding over the men and trenches below. It was a clear, crisp morning in her dream, and she could see several soldiers gathered around a man lying motionless on the ground. His face seemed to be covered by a haze that blurred any telling features, making it impossible for her to see who it might be.
The soldiers standing around him appeared to be paying their respects to a fallen brother, standing silently with their helmets in hand, heads slightly bowed. One man knelt beside the lifeless body, huddled over with tears streaming down his face.
She glided down to see the face of the man who wept, but the moment she got her first glimpse of his face, the early rays of sunlight ushering in the new day arrived and she awoke abruptly from her dream to an empty bed.
For a brief moment she felt a panic come over her, worrying that the previous night with Jack home safe had been nothing more than a dream. She threw the covers off and immediately jumped out of bed, then slipping her robe and slippers on, she rushed out into the main room of the house. She almost started crying when she saw George and Jack sitting on the couch together, talking and patiently waiting for her.
“Merry Christmas,” Jack said when he saw her. “Care to join us?”
Lillian smiled and walked to the couch.
They spent the morning together, enjoying the beautiful scene of glistening snow outside the front window, while the fireplace kept the room cozy and warm.
Lillian cuddled on the couch with Jack, watching George play with a toy airplane that Santa had brought for him. As his small hands moved the plane about, she was reminded of her dream the night before, and began to tense up a little.
“Is everything alright?” Jack asked.
She cuddled in closer. “I had the strangest dream last night,” she quietly said. She then proceeded to relay the dream she’d had, making sure to share all of the details her mind could remember, and when she finished her tale, she paused briefly, waiting for a response from Jack.
A few minutes passed by, but Jack just stared blankly out the window.
Lillian finally interrupted, and softly said “Jack?”
He turned his gaze toward her with a half smile and looked her straight in the eyes. “It was just a dream dear, just a dream.” Then he pulled her in close and held her tighter than he’d ever held her before.
It was nearing afternoon when George finally interrupted the tranquility, wanting something to eat. It seemed his hunger had finally outgrown his desire to play with the new toys from Santa.
While Lillian prepared a late breakfast, George and Jack sat on the floor, playing together. But playtime was soon interrupted by the call for breakfast, and the two boys quickly found their seats at the table for a tasty meal of pancakes and eggs smothered in butter and maple syrup.
The day went on, and breakfast soon turned to lunch, which in turn became supper. Although Lillian had cherished the day with her family, an uneasy feeling brought on by her dream the night before had lingered. And yet, she did her best to focus on the more powerful reality, that Jack was here with her and George now, and she needed to soak in every second she could with the two men she loved most in this world.
After supper, they sat on the couch as a family, talking late into the evening, until Lillian and George both struggled to stay awake.
“We should all go to bed,” Jack suggested.
It had been a long, exhausting day, and Lillian nodded in agreement. “Shall we pray first?” she asked.
The family knelt in prayer, thanking the Lord for wonderful day they’d each had, happy to have been reunited for Christmas. When the prayer ended, George hugged his parents and ran off to bed.
“I’m so glad you could be home for Christmas,” Lillian said as she and Jack climbed into bed. Then she yawned and shut her eyes.
Before she drifted off to sleep, she felt Jack pull her close, and in a soft, quiet voice, he told her he loved her, and that he was proud the fine young man George was growing up to be. He told her that no matter what happens, she needed to be happy and know that everything would be alright. The last words she remembered before sleep overtook her was Jack telling her one last time that he loved her, and that he’d always be with her.
In her dreams that night, she found herself back on the battlefield once again, hovering over the same lifeless man from the night before. Only now, there were other bodies lined up next to his, and the soldiers from the night before were gone. She wondered if she might be able to see the face of the man this time, and as the thought entered her mind, she began drifting closer and closer. Finally, she haze faded and she could clearly see that it was Jack, lying there in the snow, still, yet peacefully.
At first, she felt pain and anguish, and she wanted to cry out, but a powerful feeling of love seemed to surround her and hold her close—much like a father would hold and comfort a troubled child. The feeling grew, and she knew everything would be alright.
Lillian awoke the next morning, alone in her bed. She pushed the blankets off, put her feet on the cold wooden floor, and reached for her robe and slippers. She walked into George’s room where she found him in tears, sitting on his bed.
“What’s the matter?” she asked.
“Daddy had to leave,” he said with a tear stained face. “I asked him where he was going and when he’d be back, but he just said it was time to go, and that I won’t see be able to see him for a while.”
Lillian held her son tight, and the two cried.
Later that day, while sitting together and talking on the couch about the wonderful Christmas they’d had, Lillian was startled by yet another unexpected knock at the door. George started to get up, but Lillian grabbed his arm. “Let me,” she said softly.
She stood and calmly walked toward the door, and when she opened it, a man in uniform stood before her, with a letter in his hand. She’d been expecting this visit, and before the soldier had said a word, she knew that he was there to inform her of the death of her Jack, which he confirmed as he relayed the message and his condolences.
She quietly thanked him for his kindness, accepted the letter he offered, and shut the door. Then she dropped to her knees wept. After several minutes, she sat up straight again, and told her son that everything would be alright.
George came and sat beside her, and on the floor, in front of the front door, Lillian began to pray, giving thanks through her sobs and tears, for the gift of the day before, to have been able to spend just one more day with Jack.
The days went by, and soon a week had passed. Then a month, then a year, until finally, Christmas Eve had come once again.
It was getting dark outside, and Lillian and George sat on the couch in front of the warm fire. They reminisced about the previous year, about the special gift they had been given, to spend one more Christmas with Jack.
As the final rays of sunlight disappeared behind the snowy hills outside, there was a quiet knock at the door. Lillian froze for a moment, and stared at George, who seemed to be in the same state of shock she was. Finally, she took a deep breath, slowly stood up, and walked toward the door. She reached for the doorknob, turned it, and slowly pulled the door open.
Standing on the porch was a man that looked to be about Jacks age, wearing an old, worn army coat. He took a small step into the light and said “Are you Lillian?”
“Yes, I’m Lillian.” She replied in a shaky voice.
“Hello, uh, my name is Martin.”
He paused and Lillian could see the tears in his eyes as they glistened in the light.
“I promised Jack that I’d check in on you if anything were to ever happen to him. I’m sorry it took so long. May I come in?”
Lillian stood in silence for a moment, almost in disbelief before finally responding. “Hello Martin, Jack told us so much about you. Yes, please come in out of the cold.”
Martin entered the warmth of the home, and the three spent the evening remembering Jack, on a cold Christmas Eve.