Time seemed to drag on and the first few weeks after Sanford left everything seemed eerily quiet around the house but, as time would have it, some sense of routine returned.
As the days passed, and before the sun became so hot that all you could think of was a cool shady spot, Daniel and Russell would head out on their bikes soon after breakfast and throw a few balls or get some batting practice in at the batting cages. At lunchtime, they would head back to one of their homes and make a quick PB&J then spend the afternoon at the pool or playing video games.
One day blurred into the next to create an uneventful and relaxing summer.
Shortly before school was to start, the family went to watch Sanford graduate from boot camp and that was kind of like his high school graduation, long and hot. However, with all of the people in uniform, a never-ending parade and that big band along with going through all that security – it was pretty impressive. Not quite the same as only watching one person at a time on some dusty old stage at the high school.
After that, Sanford had come home for a couple of days and even though he spent a lot of the time hanging out with his high school buddies, he still managed to get in a few ball games and a movie with Daniel. On top of everything else, there was even a great article in the newspaper with Sanford’s picture in his dress blues. Daniel’s mom had gotten several copies of the paper so he had taken one and cut the picture out to stick in his wallet.
However, there had been more talk about Sanford being shipped out to the Middle East and fighting in a war, which didn’t sound good at all. Sanford had always enjoyed shooting out at the local range so he was going into training in some area of infantry though Daniel couldn’t remember – something about an MOS – whatever that meant.
Then, as quickly as he had come home, it was time for Sanford to leave again. But this time it was harder and it seemed even quieter than before.
Days and weeks continue to pass and every night he would pray for God to take care of Sanford.
Daniel thought of the story of David and Goliath and how, in the story, so many people had died before the war ended. It made him uncomfortable to think about Sanford being out there fighting and maybe even dying. So every evening he would get down on his knees and pray for Sanford. He found some comfort knowing that God would take care of him.
Fall passed without incident and it was Christmastime and Sanford wasn’t coming home. He hadn’t come home for Thanksgiving either. They did get a letter but that wasn’t the same. He missed the games of catch and how Sanford would cheer for him when he’d connect with the ball. Even though he loved it, playing on his baseball team didn’t feel the same without him there.
So many things were different with Sanford gone. Daniel and Russell had gone to see Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa when it came out a few weeks ago and thought of all of the movies he had seen with Sanford. Now Christmas was in two weeks and everything seemed strange with Sanford halfway around the world.
Once Sanford had shipped out overseas, mom and dad had started watching the news every night after Daniel had gone to bed and that definitely did not help. He’d slip out into the hallway and watch TV in the mirror that hung on the wall across from the TV. Afterwards, he’d get back in bed lay there thinking about what he had just seen. Pictures of soldiers in uniform carrying guns. Pictures of tanks rolling across the sand. Sometimes they would show local kids that had been hurt or talk about soldiers that had died. Daniel didn’t like to think about it because every time he’d imagine Sanford out there in the middle of nowhere and see the guns going off, hear their thundering boom or echo of the ra-ta-tat-tat, he would wonder if Sanford was ok?
He didn’t like to think about it, yet it seemed that he couldn’t help himself. The images and feelings came unbidden and he never felt that he could talk to anyone, except maybe Russell. He didn’t like to do that because he figured that Russell was wondering the same things about his own brother. He continued talking to God and hoping that this would all be over and Sanford would be home again soon.
You would have thought that email would help but Sanford didn’t get a chance to do that very often because he said he was away from any computer with internet most of the time. He would write short notes and occasionally he would even say, “tell Daniel hi for me and remember to keep his elbow up” but even that had been some time ago.
Daniel decided that he was going to send Sanford a special Christmas present so over the weekend he had asked his mom and dad for any special chores where he could earn some money. He helped his dad clean out the garage on a Saturday afternoon and even helped his mom wash and fold clothes. Overall, he had done pretty well earning almost $25. That Sunday evening he talked to his mom and asked her to take him to Wal-Mart. Mom hung in there as they walked up and down the aisles. Daniel looked around stopping to examine anything he thought might be a good gift and finally, he decided to get a baseball. He figured that Sanford might be able to spend time playing catch with his friends and then he picked up some Butterfinger candy bars, the kind they always got when they went to the movies. Daniel wanted to get something else but he remembered that they had to carry everything with them every time they went anywhere new so he simply left it at the ball and candy with a card.
All of Daniels friends knew that his brother was overseas so he wrote a note in the card that night and put it in his backpack. Taking it to school the next day he got his whole class to sign it and bought it home to show mom.
Mom had been quiet the whole shopping trip the day before, waiting patiently while he had tried to decide exactly what he was going to get, then reading every Christmas card to him until they found exactly the right one. However, today when he showed Mom the card with all the names of his friends, she cried. Startled and confused, he told her he was sorry for upsetting her and that he didn’t mean to hurt her. Right then and there she sat down on the floor next to him and held him so close he thought he’d suffocate. “Mom…mom” he said, “Are you OK?” Mom let go and wiped her tears. After a minute, she looked at him and said, “Yes, Daniel, I’m fine. I’m sorry for scaring you honey. I didn’t mean to worry you, it’s only that I miss Sanford and I wish he were home.”
“I know what you mean mom. I pray every night that he’ll come home soon and God will keep him safe while he’s over there.” Mom hugged him again and got to her feet saying, “Go get your package honey and we’ll get it all wrapped up and ready to mail to Sanford tomorrow.
The next day his mom went to the post office and sent the package off, she even brought the receipt back to him so that he had that assurance that it was done.
And still each night Daniel continued to pray so that God would watch over Sanford and bring him home safe.
It was a few days before Christmas when Daniel received a letter from Afghanistan and he hurried to open it. “Mom”, he yelled, running to find her, “it’s from Sanford!” He tore open the letter and began reading:
How ya doing? Thanks for the ball and the candy! I split them with a few of the guys here and we all played a bit of baseball this afternoon. We’ll be moving out tomorrow, heading for a different location. Everyone said thanks for the candy and it reminded them a little bit of home. I miss you kid. I’m sorry I won’t be home for Christmas but you take care of yourself and we’ll see each other real soon.
PS I got a promotion so it’s Lance Corporal now ☺
Daniel was so excited he couldn’t wait to share his letter with his friends so he ran it across the street to read it to Russell.
Christmas Day the family had all gone to services at church and there with the music and the message of the Birth of the Baby Jesus, everything felt good. Daniel felt safe and secure with the faith that all would be well but that changed when they sat down to dinner and it was obvious that Sanford was missing from all of the excitement.
That night, before he went to bed, he sat by his window watching the rain fall. It seemed to reflect how he felt inside. He continued to sit there and then the tears started to fall. He looked up at heaven and stared. “God, why? Why does Sanford have to be so far away? What’s it all about anyway?” He continued to sit there a little longer and finally went to his bed and knelt down to pray again but he didn’t feel like there were any answers. Climbing into bed he fell asleep to the sound of the falling rain splashing against his window.