Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Empty Nester/Retirement (from work) (09/10/09)
TITLE: All for Love
By Beth Muehlhausen
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Colonel Charles Cooper retired from the Army knowing one thing: arrogance splashed with too much blood had taught him to train his sights away from conflict. He would abandon battle phantoms and misplaced pride and establish a new life far from the delusions of war.
The Colonel adopted a pioneer mindset and carved a new home out of the wilderness, but domestic hostilities only escalated. His cultured wife Eleanor rejected their rustic, cattle-ranching lifestyle and returned east to the big city without him - permanently. Not long after, his four wild-west sons refused his counsel and simultaneously left home to seek honor and glory on some distant battlefield, hoping to earn the respect their father so readily attracted.
Surrounded by a humpback-whale-shaped mountain range, Charley fell prey to attacks of grizzly loneliness. The family’s collective desertion translated into raw desperation. Alienation led to feelings of inadequacy, which in turn lured him with feverish, fanatical, well-trained urgency to spend whole days tracking and killing the most illusive wild game.
However, occasional letters tempered his despair, allowing intermittent connection across miles, weeks, and oceans.
It is winter here now and the white cap has settled over Big Rock Mountain. Christmas will seem empty this year with all of you gone, but I’ve been cleaning your gun barrel so we can hunt when you get home. I saw an elk with a huge rack recently, and thought it should be yours. You have my love and prayers. Be safe; be smart.
He corresponded with the other boys as well, although exchanges with them were less personal and more ordered and factual - like those with Eleanor.
Things here are fine, and I enjoy my regular visits to the theater with Roseanne and Doug. Downtown Christmas decorations here are always beautiful; I’m looking forward to them. I receive letters from the boys regularly, as I’m sure you do as well. Perhaps a reunion is in order when they return.
On long, dark evenings Charley sat for hours beside the wind-whistling boulder fireplace in the same creaky chair that rocked the boys when they were babies. Family pictures and hunting trophies grew fuzzy as he squinted away smoke puffed from a hand-carved pipe.
In these moments, he wondered why he was still alive. Maybe that magnificent elk was hanging around just to dare his pursuit; maybe forgotten dreams waited to be hunted down and conquered.
One day as the first signs of spring crept into the valley, Charley shed his buffalo-skin coat and flannel shirt to split firewood bare-chested, swinging his axe and flexing his muscles like a much-younger lumberjack. A postal carrier galloped across the barely-green meadow on a breathless horse.
“Hello, Colonel Cooper – several letters for you today, sir.” Letters. News. Connection.
I regret being the one to bear this news, and yet you must know. Jake died a noble death this week in combat; you would have been proud. Ralph, Windsor and I are well. We only hope our continued efforts will redeem Jake’s death.
Your loyal son,
Stricken by grief’s bludgeon, the stunned Colonel staggered toward the house. He groped his way inside, a wounded cripple seeking shelter, as the oblivious rider disappeared over the ridge in a flurry of dust.
Without hesitation, Charley stumbled toward Eleanor’s desk where she used to write rhymed poetry by the hour. Once they’d shared a common passion for literature and composition, and yet he’d abandoned those early loves long ago for more courageous, adventurous, and typically manly pursuits – and with them, Eleanor’s heart as well.
He crumpled into her chair. Too paralyzed to weep, Charley pushed the creased letter to one side and smoothed a blank piece of paper with palsied fingers, then set a shaky pen to it.
Emotion rises like a swollen stream ready to feed a waterfall after the thaw. Jake is gone … gone! How does an old man smear his own soul onto paper with such deathly black ink? Is it too late to collar my true heart and release it in writing, like some stallion tamed in old age? Time and life itself are fleeting. Why have I waited?
The words scripted by Colonel Charles Cooper unleashed a reservoir of vision and longing in the context of agonizing grief. His hands shook as a flood of scribbled memoirs tumbled onto the paper. He wrote to Jake; he wrote - and would continue to write - for love.
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