I've had the pleasure today of engaging someone named Julian in email, someone who reads the blog regularly and who comments on occasion. During that exchange, I learned that he writes and writes exceptionally well. We cyber-conversed on a number of topics ending with his sharing what I post below (with his permission). It's a pognant piece with what I believe to be personal significance for Julian and I'm confident you'll enjoy it... and if Julian is amenable, we'll see more of his stuff if we can prod him into accepting a guest blogging gig:
The old man rose slowly from the park bench.
The chill of late Autumn made tired joints a bit less willing to leave their state of rest, but from the lower position of the sun, he knew that it would be getting dark within an hour or so. So he stood up from the bench – ‘their bench’ she had always called it – and looked again at the plaque. The words simply read, “In Memory of Jam Sandwiches”. He thought of the day they’d come and placed it there, a sunny day as he recalled, in early summer. The plaque had been shiny, made of polished brass by a friend of his in the business of engraving such things.
He could remember the smells, the sounds, the summer colors, the young people walking past, often in a hurry, often letting their youth decay under loads of needless worry.
He remembered her hand softly nestled in his, when they stood together and looked at the words and smiled. A sparkle still danced in his tired eyes, even as they focused on the horizon of memory.
“I remember those days so well,” she had said, her voice the slightest bit frayed and worn with age - like the favorite shawl she kept after these 50 years of marriage, the shawl he’d bought her that first year, at a second hand shop. “So many the time we hadn’t enough to buy coal, and you’d gather old pieces of wood for us to warm the kitchen for a while before bed… we didn’t need much fuel for cooking, though..those were hard years.”
“Yes,”, said Henry – for that was his name – “they were hard for everyone, but they made us strong. And they taught us that when all the world seemed so cold and hopeless, that we had each other, no matter what. And while I wouldn’t really want to go back if I could help it…yet, still, I’d go through that again, and worse, if it meant having you by my side.” And he remembered how she had leaned against him then, silently, two elderly people standing together in a park, on a sunny summer afternoon. Their fiftieth anniversary.
In all those years, they had indeed faced hard and bleak times, yet they’d also shared some moments that made it all worthwhile. And this park had been always a part of those years together. They would come here when they needed to think, to pray quietly away from others, sometimes to weep a bit over news of an old friend’s passing or even some misfortune halfway around the world. And they would sit together, sun or rain, on their bench. When they talked about those old times, Agnes – for that was her name – would often smile as she reminded Henry about the first two years of their marriage, which she called the ‘jam sandwich’ years.
He’d been working so long and hard at a hellish job, although he really wanted to write and publish books and poetry – but taking care of his bride was his first priority, so he’d hired on doing labor for a sharp-nosed and tight fisted tyrant of a fellow. And they managed, but barely. A friend of Agnes, a girl she’d known from childhood, had married a local baker, and being good hearted people, they always had an extra loaf or two at the end of the day, to send over to Agnes and Henry. And though they couldn’t often afford butter, which in those days was rather costly, Agnes had always managed, somehow, to come up with fresh jam every week. And so, for Henry’s breakfast, she made him jam toast; and for his lunch, she made jam sandwiches, and sometimes if things were good, she might put in an apple as well. But the jam sandwich was standard fare. In later years, they had often laughed about those early years but on one anniversary, Henry told her a secret, That all the men he’d worked with, who liked him and looked up to him, had always had a bit of envy, because of a conversation on one lunch break. One of the fellows, in a good natured way, had said, “Henry, another jam sandwich? Do ye never tire of them ?”
And Henry had told him that there was no finer meal in all the world and perhaps even in Heaven itself , than a jam sandwich made by the one who loved you more than anything in the world…and the one you loved that much as well.
“Aye, Henry, yer a lucky man, there, ye are”, had said O’Flannery, and the others had nodded in agreement.
“Yes”, he replied, “I am blessed beyond measure.”
He stood for another moment, remembering. Thinking of their first years, the struggles, the hardships…the times of separation, when he’d taken work on a freight line for a while, and though the money was very good indeed, they decided that the time apart was not worth it, no matter what the pay.
He remembered when she had grown so ill; the doctors were not even sure what was wrong, but their efforts seemed to do little. He had come to this bench that day, trying to imagine his life without her, and he’d said, “Lord, you’ve been so good to me…all these years, I’ve known more happiness than a dozen men. But now…now…I don’t know what to say. Please, Oh God, oh God. Please just let her stay with me. I don’t want her to go.”
And wiping his eyes and his nose on the back of his tired grey sleeve, he had half staggered off through the dry winter foliage, not knowing where he was going…wondering idly whether his feel would haltingly carry him back to their little home, or back to the hospital where she slept, apparently unaware of his presence.
He remembered standing by the hospital bed, holding her hand and speaking in whispers to her. In a silence so soft and deep that not even the whisper of an angel’s wings could be heard.
And he remembered how her eyes had fluttered then opened, and how she had smiled and said, “Henry? Can we go home?”. Though the doctors had no explanation, Henry knew that his prayers had been heard, and that their love was too strong to be separated. Good days, those were. Good days indeed.
Now he stood looking at a plaque which – to anyone else – would make no sense at all; the plaque which summed up his love and gratitude to the most wonderful woman God had ever put on earth, and his tribute to her had not been in prose or poetry, not in flowery language or artistic achievement., but rather, in the simple and honest words of a simple working man who knew what miracles were…a man who knew that love turned jam sandwiches into feasts fit for royalty, and that love took the hardest circumstances of life and turned them into glimpses of paradise. A man who knew, after over half a century, the meaning of the word, “Love”.
As the sun began to slide lower into the graying sky, he turned back eastward and picked up his pace, a smile on his lips. He needed to get home soon. Agnes would be waiting, and he wouldn’t want her to worry.
Besides – maybe she’d made jam sandwiches tonight!
Great stuff... if you agree, let him know in the comments.