Henry travels the long road home...
The Long Road Home
The phone call really surprised me. I hadn’t spoken to Kathryn in a couple of months except for a few short words here and there about when I needed to send the alimony and child support checks. So her invitation had come out of the blue.
“Henry, I know things aren’t so good between us right now but I would really like for you to come spend Thanksgiving here.”
“I probably need to work…”
“You always need to work. I’m sure you could find just a little time…the kids really miss you.”
“I don’t know…maybe…”
“Well, you know where we are. We really want you here, hon.”
And that had been the conversation….short and to the point. I can’t say that I really blamed her. Our failed marriage wasn’t her fault. She had done everything humanly possible to keep us together. Guess Kathryn just couldn’t compete anymore against my job. You think I would have learned from my dad that work wasn’t everything. You think I would’ve learned and put my family first but I didn’t.
So now I rode down the long, lonely road that once led to the warm home I had lived in. The farm house had been in the family for generations but I thought it only fair that she remain there. After all, she had been a good wife, friend, and lover…Besides, work kept me from it most of the time anyway.
As I drove, I could see for miles around me. An old wooden fence lined the left side of the road and the rails ran together like a single brown blur as I sped past. The fields spread out far and wide empty for already having been harvested. There weren’t many trees but the few that dotted the landscape were still the rich, deep green I remembered. Thinking of what I drove to, I eased my foot up from the gas pedal just a bit. Maybe I should slow it down, I thought so I could figure out why Kathryn had called me like she had. And that’s when I saw it…a brown dot far ahead on the left side of the road that I swear had not been there before.
Was it a stray dog…a coyote? I couldn’t tell but I slowed down even more, afraid that it would run out in front of the car as I drove closer. Seems like I drove forever before I reached it but when I did, it wasn’t an animal at all. It was a man wearing an old brown flannel shirt, worn blue jeans, and a brown hat. He swung a tired brown suitcase in his right hand as he walked. He didn’t have his thumb out…in fact he just flat out ignored me. I drove past and looked in the rearview mirror with curiosity. But something in the way he moved caused me to let off the gas even more. I knew I must have been overworked and out of my head when I found myself now driving in reverse to pull alongside of him.
“Hey, you need a ride?” I asked. The man continued walking so I put the car in drive again and rolled slowly forward next to him. I wasn’t worried about other cars…like I said, I could see for miles around.
“Nope. Don’t have much further to go to get home and this walk’ll do me good.”
“Well, you’re goin’ in my direction. My house…er…my uh wife’s house is just up a few miles. You must live close by.” I couldn’t help digging just a bit.
“Yep. Sounds like it.”
I couldn’t remember seein’ him before and didn’t want any weird strangers around my family so I thought I’d check him out.
“Got any kids…family where you’re goin’?”
“Yep. Gotta wife and son. Been promisin’ to spend a little more time with them. Been on the road a lot with work.”
“I know what you mean. Well, come on and get in. No sense in you walkin’ all that way when it would be quicker for you to ride with me.”
The man stopped in his tracks and my brakes squeaked just a little as I instinctively stomped on the pedal. He turned and eyed me closely.
“I’m Henry Masterson…,” I volunteered.
“I know who you are…think I will take you up on that offer after all. Been meaning to get home for quite awhile.”
“What’s your name?” I called out as I unlocked the passenger door to let him in.
He opened it, slid into the seat, and set the suitcase in his lap. “The name’s John.”
“You can stick your suitcase in the back if you want to.”
He smiled warmly at me and did just that. I don’t know what came over me but I couldn’t help but smile back at him. He seemed somehow familiar to me even though I couldn’t recall his face. “What kind of work do you do, John?”
“I’m a salesman. I sell household items. Car broke down a few miles back so I figured I would just walk the rest of the way. What do you do?”
“Guess you could say I’m a salesman too. I’m a stockbroker. You know…buy, sell, trade…”
John nodded his head with understanding. “Not much time for family in the line of work we’re in.”
He hit the nail right on the head. “Nope. You’re right about that.” It was true. My work had become my family.
“Been away from my family for too long. Kept promisin’ that I would slow down if I could just make one more big sell...”
He sounded just like me. I had always been on the lookout for that one big sell that could allow me more freedom both financially and time-wise but so far it hadn’t happened. “Yeah…me too.”
“But when I made that sell, I realized that it hadn’t been worth it. Too many long hours…too much time spent away from my family. Been a long time since I held my wife. Been a long time since I told my son that I loved him…how thankful I am that he’s mine…”
Something in the tone of John’s voice made me glance over to find his piercing, blue eyes watching me. “Yeah, me too. Gonna tell my kids how much I love them and miss them when I get there.”
John smiled warmly again. “Gotta tell ‘em everyday. And you gotta spend time with your family everyday. It’s true what they say…actions speak louder than words. You never know when there’ll be no tomorrow...”
I nodded in agreement. Everything he said was true. Why…my own dad had been a salesman and had always been on the road. There weren’t too many times that I had seen him. Guess you could say I had been fatherless. Then one day I didn’t see him anymore at all…
“Well, guess you can drop me off at that fork in the road up there. Been nice talkin’ to you, son. Hope you get home to that wonderful family of yours soon…”
“I will. I’m almost there…it just takes awhile.”
“Yep…sometimes when you’ve been away for so long, the longest road you travel is that long road home.”
John made complete sense. I shook hands with him and watched him climb out of the car then make his way down the road. Kathryn would have liked this guy. I would have to remember to tell her about him…maybe it would help ease some of the tension between us. It didn’t take him long to disappear and it didn’t take me long to finally reach the old farm house. Even though John was gone, I couldn’t help but remember some of our conversation…don’t know why it kept playin’ in my head but it did.
As I drove into the drive, the front door flew open and the kids raced to the car. Somehow I managed to find my way inside amongst kisses, hugs, ‘I love you’s’, and tickles. God, how I had missed all of this! They dragged me into the kitchen and there stood Kathryn with her back to me basting the turkey. Small tendrils of blonde hair framed the sides of her face while she stood in her multi-colored fuzzy slippers. I couldn’t help but smile at how womanly and child-like she appeared at the same time. My heart squeezed and it squeezed hard. I was so tuned into her, I didn’t even realize that the kids had abandoned me for more fun things to do.
“Hiya stranger,” she whispered without turning.
“Hiya back,” I replied. I didn’t know if I should do this but I couldn’t help it. Quietly, I stepped up behind her and wrapped my arms about her waist pulling her to me. She didn’t say a word as she leaned her head back upon my chest.
“I missed you, Henry…”
I could hear the tremble in her voice. Everything inside of me melted as John’s words echoed in my head then I actually repeated them out loud. “Sometimes when you’ve been away for so long, the longest road you travel is that long road home. I missed you too, Kathryn. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry that I’ve been away for so many years even when we were still together but I’m home now if you’ll have me. I love you…”
Quietly, she turned with tears in her eyes and we both knew without a doubt that this was home once again. Sure, we had a lot to talk about but for now the quiet was enough.
Later, that evening we sat upon the couch listening to the fire crackle and pop in the fireplace. We thought the kids had all gone to bed until the youngest one suddenly appeared at my side. “Daddy, what’s in this old suitcase?”
“What suitcase, son?”
“This one.” He handed me the familiar tired brown luggage that John had carried.
“Oh no…I’m gonna have to track John down and give him this. Thanks son, go ahead and go to bed now. I love you.” Johnny smiled then trotted off like a good little boy.
“John who, honey?”
“A man that lives nearby that I gave a ride to earlier. I don’t know his last name. He’s a salesman whose car broke down.”
“Really…,” she replied staring hard at the suitcase. “Maybe you should open it to see if there’s any identification inside. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind since it could help find him.”
She made sense so I opened it. Then unexpectedly, the tears fell from my eyes.
“Honey, what’s wrong? What’s the matter?”
I pulled out the contents of the suitcase. On top lay a handmade child’s card with a bright picture of a stick family holding each other’s hands and smiling. In a child’s misspelled words, was a poem of love to his father. Signed in print at the bottom was the name Henry.
“Henry? He has a son named Henry? How odd…,” she stated with surprise.
I nodded my head ‘yes’ too choked up to reply. I dug further and found an old photograph of his family and handed it to Kathryn. She studied it hard and turned it over to read the words on the back. “H…Henry…!” she sputtered.
I nodded my head again. “Yes, dear, his son’s name is Henry Masterson. That man I picked up today was my father. Remember him? I told you how he had died so many years ago on his way home to see me. I hadn’t seen him in so long and couldn’t wait…I just don’t understand…”
My wife held me as I sobbed into her shoulder then she reached over and pulled out an old yellowed letter. She read aloud his words of love, sorrow, and misgivings. She read aloud his plea for forgiveness for not being around. Then at the bottom she read, “‘Sometimes when you’ve been away for so long, the longest road you travel is that long road home’”.
“We’re both at the end of that long road dad, we’re home now,” I whispered tearfully as I held my wife and father’s letter close to my heart.