What is it?  Twenty-three?  Yeah.  Twenty-three years sence he had last been home, sence he last walked a free man.

He walked slowly with faltering steps.  He looked for a familiar landmark.  Then he saw the house.  There could be no mistake about that house even after twenty-three years in prison.

Nothing had been altered on the old house at all except that it showed signs of having been freshly painted and the shrubs were well tented.

He stood a full two minutes at the front gate wondering how to proceed.  I should have told someone that I was getting out.

He thought to himself, “What can I say after all these years?  Why have I come back here?  I’ve hardly heard from her in years?”

He walked timidly around the side of the house glancing down from one row of plants to another still feeling uncertain about what to do.  He reached the shaded patio at the read and sat down on the low bench and waited. 

He could hear the kitchen sounds—the running hydrant; footsteps on an uncarpeted floor; sounds of pots and pans being moved about; pantry doors opening and closeing.  Sounds he hadn’t listen to in years. 

He mopped the moisture from his face and smoothed his thinning gray hair back into place, it was a warm Novmember morning.  Suddenly she appeared at the screen door.

“What can I do for you?”  She asked as she moved closer to the stranger.  “Ed, it’s you!  they’ve let you out after all this time!”  She was stunned and bewildered.  “Why didn’t you tell someone you were getting out and I could have picked you up?”

Ed Carson found it hard to find his voice.  Finally in a choked voice he said, “Well Jeannie, I hadn’t heard from anyone in so long that I didn’t know if anyone wanted to hear from me.  How are you and the girls now?”

Jeannie answered with an unsteady voice, “The girls are fine.  All married now, just fine.  Two grandchildren too.  I’m always fine.  Been keeping too busy around here to be otherwise.  And you?”

“Fine, Jeannie, fine,” he lied.

Ed knew that it was Jeannie pride which prevented him from knowing her true feeling.  They both sat silently for a few minutes before he added, “It must have been hard for you,Jeannie.  All these years alone and bringing up the girls.”

“I managed alright, Ed.”

He wanted to say more but he thought to himself, “Jeannie, I was self-centered and a coward.  Couldn’t stand the burden…the responsibilities…so I just took the easy way.”  Out loud he said, “Guess I’ll be going now Jeannie.  Glad to know you’re all well.”

He made a half-hearted attempt to go.

“But wouldn’t you like to see the girls—the grandchildren?”  Jeannie had become seriously concerned.

Ed was ashamed to face the children.  “I don’t think they’d want to see me right now, and I wouldn’t blame them, Jeannie.”

Jeannie was sympathetic.  “It’s early enough to phone the girls and have them over for an early luncheon.  Now you wait here while I call them.”

Jeannie left him alone as she went into the house to make the telephone calls.

To wait and then to have his grown daughters looking at him with accusing eyes or perhaps ignore him entirely would take more courage than Ed knew he had.

He thought to himself, “I’m not going to run out now…I’ve made up my mind now…I’m staying to see them.”

Again he mopped the moisture from his face and moved himself down to a sunny spot on the bench.  He felt that he was coming down with a fever again.  He knew that a man feels all alone when he’s sick.  He had been sick a lot in prison but there had been nothing he could do about it then.  When you’re sick in prison you’re just sick you get better or die.  He wanted desperately to stay now but he argued with himself not quite knowing what to do.

Jeannie interrupted his thoughts when she returned after making the phone calls.  “They’re coming at noon.  Of course they’re curious about why I was so persistent, but I didn’t want to tell them you were here just yet, at least not over the phone.”

Ed wanted Jeannie to forget about it and then he changed his mind again.  “You sure kept the place up nice, Jeannie.  If you’ll excuse me I think I’ll go back there and sit under that old shady elm for a while.”

“All right, Ed.  I’m going in now and prepare the food for lunch.”

Ed relized that Jeannie felt no malice, no vengefulness about her younger brother who had been killed in the robbery attempt with him so long ago now.  She lived not in the past.  Her thoughts were very much concerned with the present.  He was wondering what the girls would do.

Carrol was the first to arrive—living only a few miles away from her mother.  Carrol the youngest one, he remembered her as his little doll with the sunny smile, always with that loving sunny smile.  She was led to the kitchen door my her mother.  Jeannie nodded toward the bench under the old elm tree.  “They’ve let him out, Carrol, after all these years in prison.  They’ve let your father come home.”

Carrol hurried to him but he felt like a stranger to her.  She stopped before him as he arose to meet her and looked at her.  He tried to find some resemblance of the little girl he once knew with the sunny smile but could see none.  He saw that pity was her only emotion.  She put her hand on his shoulder.

“Father, I’m glad to see you.”

The middle-aged man smiled.  “You’re a fine looking girl, Carol.  I always remembered your sunny smile.”   He patted his youngest daughter’s arm.

“Come into the house, father.  It gets chilly out here in the afternoon and the wind starting to come up.”

He felt very good to know that Carrol, his baby, did have some feeling for him afterall.

“No, I think not, Carrol.  I think I’ll just wait out here under this old elm tree for awhile.  Have the other girls come yet?” he asked.

“I’ll go in and see father,” Carrol answer him.

As Carrol came into the house she saw her two sisters helping her mother set the table.  She over heard Cella say “How could she be so friendly towards him,” and Linda answer, “I know that couldn’t be.”

Carrol struggled to keep tears from her eyes.  “Mother, I can tell that he’s still ill.”

“Carrol is right, girls.  His life hasn’t been very pleasant.  I suppose it’s just as much my fault for wanting so much but his loss was the greater.  What he did he did for all of us.  I know you girls had a hard time with the other kids about your father being in prison while you were growning up and I know how much you needed him went you were little.”

Jeannie was looking through the window and still saw him sitting there under the old elm tree.  He waited another half hour and then started timidly for the side exit.  He wonder if Carrol, his defender, would win over Cella and Linda his two older daughters.

He heard them say as he pasted the side windon, “He’s going now.”  The girls stood at the front door as their father passed.

Cella and Linda said in unison.  “Please some in father.  We’d like to see you too.”

There was not much to say during lunchon.  Words seemed so futile.  There were contradicting emotions to be squelched so that the event would, at least, not create more unpleasantness.

Father’s illness had not escaped any of the children.

“Father, you’re staying of course?” said Carrol.

“I’d like to stay, but I feel I’m not deserving.  You all seem quit happy.  Why should I burden myself on Jeannie and you girls.”

“It’s really up to Mama,” the girls agreed.

Jeannie’s eyes blurred as Ed approached her with a new light shining in his eyes.  “You are welcome to stay, Ed.”

That was the begaining of a new life for the Carson’s, today their happy together, Ed, Jeannie, Carrol, Linda, Cella, and of course the grandchildren.  They’re no longer unsure of each other love. 

When was the last time you wrote to your Ed and told him that you still love him???  and that he would still have a home to come home to????