Leonard - On Mother’s Day

     On the way to the crack house, Leonard noticed a sign: “Call your mother for Mother’s Day–FREE.” The sign created a longing in Leonard’s heart. He missed his parents, especially his mother. If he called, what would he say? Five years was too long to try to bridge with a casual conversation. He couldn’t just say he was sorry and let it go at that. He had too many things to say he was sorry for. It would be too embarrassing to call home and admit he was a total failure. He just couldn’t do it. His only option was to continue on to the crack house and forget the sign.

      Several blocks away, the words still blazed in Leonard’s mind. “Call your mother for Mother’s Day–FREE.” He made a u-turn and walked back to take his place at the end of the line. Still, doubts kept him on edge. How could he even begin a conversation? What if his parents wanted nothing to do with him? 

      For several minutes, Leonard was torn between wanting to leave and wanting to stay. The desire to stay seemed stronger, but the long line ahead intimidated him. Too much time to lose his nerve. Then he had an idea. In his most charming manner, he said to the man in front of him. “Excuse me, sir. I haven’t talked to my mom for a long time, but I have to be at work in a couple of hours. If you’re not pushed for time, would you mind if I go ahead of you?”

      Street people aren’t used to granting favors. They’re more interested in gaining favors. Nevertheless, the man stared at Leonard for a few moments, and then motioned for him to move forward. From then on, Leonard made a game of moving up the line.

      With only two people ahead of Leonard, his anxiety returned. At that moment he noticed a necklace hanging from the rear view mirror of Pastor Kurt’s truck. He was accustomed to looking into cars for things to steal and eventually sell for drugs. It was a natural response but when he stared into the truck, this time, the necklace looked familiar. Excitement rushed through his body when he realized it was just like the one he had given to a special friend many years ago. The crooked cross was accented with stones resembling rubies – the birth stone of Leonard and his friend. 

      Thoughts of the terrific vacations with his parents in Florida flooded his mind, erasing the doubts and confusion about calling his family. The necklace reminded him of good things and courage surged through his soul.

      Tears had already welled up in his eyes by the time Pastor Kurt motioned to Leonard to sit next to him and asked what number he should call. He was too nervous to sit down, so he paced slowly around the chair during the call. He need not have worried about what to say. As soon as he addressed her by name, Mom’s words began to pour out. “Leonard, Leonard, oh my boy. How we’ve missed you. When we didn’t hear from you, we feared you were dead.”

      “Yeah, I’m sorry I didn’t call. I wanted to, but things haven’t gone too well for me. I was ashamed to let you know how bad I messed up.”

      “Let’s not talk about that. Let’s talk about how much we love you. I’ve never loved you more than I do now, Son.”  “I love you too, Mom, but I don’t deserve your love.”  “A mother’s love never dies.” Mom went on to express her love in different ways. Leonard allowed his tears to flow freely.

      Mom didn’t ask personal questions. She must have wondered where he lived and what kind of a job he had, but she didn’t ask. Leonard was grateful to be spared the embarrassment of trying to come up with an answer. For once, he didn’t have a ready lie to save his face.

      Leonard brought up family vacations. “Those were the best of times. When they were happening, I don’t think I appreciated all the good things you did for me, but I do now.” He started to name some of the memories that had been buried for a long time.

      “We can have more good times together,” Mom said wistfully. “When are you coming home, Leonard?”

      Wanting to change the subject, Leonard fumbled for the right words. When a man waiting in line began to yell for the phone, Pastor Kurt tapped Leonard on the shoulder. The interruption came at an awkward moment in the conversation but Leonard was not ready to sign off. To the pastor, he said, “I’ve been gone a long time and this is the first time I’ve called. Mom and Dad thought I was dead. They still love me and want me to come home.”  Pastor Kurt nodded approval.

            “Please come home,” Mom said. 

            “I wish I could, but I’m not ready.”

      “Of course you’re ready. We’ll come and get you.”  “No, I wouldn’t be any good for you. I uh - I wouldn’t be able to leave the drugs alone.”

            “We’ll get help. Whatever it takes, we want you back.”  The offer sounded good but Leonard hesitated.   “I don’t  know ...”

      “Dad is standing here beside me and wants to talk to you.”  Leonard feared that Dad might not be as forgiving as Mom was, but he said, “Come home, Son. We’ll work it out.” The tenderness in his father’s voice touched Leonard’s heart. He longed to go home more than anything else. Making a quick decision, he agreed to wait until his parents came to get him.

      Walking over to stand by the truck, Leonard watched as other people made their calls. Tears. Smiles. Anguish. He noted a myriad of emotions. All the while he wondered what his future would bring. Could he get enough help to leave the drug world behind? What about finding a job? How could he face the people in town who had expected so much from him? Even as questions and doubts plagued his mind, he could hardly wait to see his parents again. Somehow he had to make good on the new beginning his parents offered him.

      When the last person to make a call left, Pastor Kurt picked up the two chairs and headed for the back of the truck. He looked up to see Leonard and seemed startled. “What are you still doing here?” he asked.

            “I called my parents and they’re coming to get me?”

            “When will they get here?”

      “I don’t know. They said it would take them about six hours. I’ve been waiting for quite a while.”

      Pastor Kurt unfolded the chairs and motioned for Leonard to sit down. 

      Although happy to have company, Leonard said, “You don’t need to wait with me.”

      “The time will go faster if we sit together and talk,” Pastor Kurt said.

      Leonard liked to talk and lost no time in getting started. “Pastor Kurt, I’m curious about how you came to have the necklace in your truck. I once gave a birthday present like that to a friend.”

      “A young woman gave it to me yesterday. She said it was the most valuable thing she owned. It’s supposed to remind me that I promised she could call her kids for free any time.”

            “Do you remember her name?”

            “Yes. I know her well. It’s Marlene.”

            Leonard gasped and closed his eyes. “Marlene! My friend from the motel. I can’t believe it could be the same Marlene.”

     “Her mother runs a motel down near the Florida border.”

      Still amazed, Leonard said, “Mountain Breeze Motel. Wow! When I was young, my family used to stay there going to and coming from Florida. Dad always worked it out to stay there so he could avoid heavy traffic through Atlanta.” He paused for a moment to reminisce, and then said, “That’s my Marlene all right. Could you ... would you mind letting me hold the necklace?”

      “Sure. I’ll be glad to do that,” the pastor said as he went to get the necklace.

      Fingering the cross caused tears to well up in Leonard’s eyes. “It’s been so long. So many memories. How I wish I could be back there again. For sure, I would have made some better choices.”  “It’s never too late to start making good choices, Leonard.”   Leonard shook his head. “Yeah, but it’s just such a long way back there.”

      Pastor Kurt reached over to touch the cross. “The cross has great memories for me, too. It always humbles me to remember that Jesus died on that cross. I was a sinner but God loved me so much that He sent His only Son to pay the price for my sins and give me a new beginning.” After a brief pause, the pastor added, “Jesus died to save you from your sins too, Leonard. If you decide to make that long trip back, you don’t have to go it alone. Jesus will help you. He is the master of new beginnings.”

      “I’ll keep that in mind.” It would take some doing to convince Leonard that he could expect any help from Jesus, but he wanted to be open to all ideas. As he continued to examine the necklace, he asked, “Did you tell me that Marlene said this was the most valuable thing she owned?”

       “Yes, those were her exact words.”

      “That’s hard to believe it meant so much to her after all these years. I remember going shopping for this in Florida. I had saved quite a bit of money from mowing lawns and doing odd jobs. Always before, for Marlene’s birthday, I had picked up a trinket from the beach, but I wanted to do something special for her fourteenth birthday. When I saw this in a jewelry store, I knew it was meant for Marlene. I liked it because it was unusual and unique. I guess that was what Marlene liked about it too.” After a brief, thoughtful pause, he mused, “That was one of the few good things I have done in my life.”  Nodding his head, Pastor Kurt said, “Anything we do to bring happiness to someone else brings even more happiness to ourselves.”  Remembering the long line of people who made calls on the pastor’s cell phone, Leonard said, “If that’s true, you must be one happy man.”

            “I am one happy man,” Pastor Kurt said.

      For a few moments, as he stared at the necklace, Leonard’s thoughts were too personal to share. Marlene’s kiss. The way they had teased each other back and forth as he first stalled giving her the gift and then she delayed opening it. Finally, he had demanded, “Give me that bag. I want to put it on you.” He could still sense the thrill of placing the necklace around Marlene’s neck. For him, the kiss then sealed their love.

      Best of all was Marlene’s response that gave him a taste of royalty. She certainly played the part of a princess receiving the crown jewels. For one night in his life, he had felt like a prince, placed in the role by the girl he loved.

      As time passed, Leonard said they had stopped writing and communicating. “I lived my life and she lived hers. We wouldn’t know each other now.”

      Even with good conversation, time passed slowly. Pastor Kurt was a good listener as Leonard shared story after story about his experiences on the street – some true and some products of his active imagination. From time to time, Pastor Kurt offered an expression of sympathy or an encouraging word. Giving the necklace back to Pastor Kurt, Leonard smiled as he realized that Marlene valued their time together as much as he did.

      After a few hours, Leonard expected his parents to arrive any moment. He could sit still no longer. Pacing around the chair, his heart beat faster and faster. Was fear or excitement the stronger emotion? he wondered.

      Finally, a rusty Chevrolet drove slowly down the road. Recognizing his family members, Leonard stood up and began to yell and wave his arms. When the car stopped in the middle of the road, Leonard took off running. He reached the car just as Mom got out of the car, screamed in delight, took Leonard in her arms, and began to smother him with kisses. Even as his tears began to flow, Leonard realized that nothing had felt so right since he had left home. “I can’t believe it, Mom. I can’t believe we’re together again,” he said as the hugs and kisses started all over again. 

            “It’s true and I don’t want us to be separated ever again.”

      Dad stood nearby waiting patiently until Mom was ready to release her son. Greeting Dad was nearly as emotional for Leonard as it was to greet Mom. The two men were more successful in holding back the tears, but Leonard felt a very strong bond between them.

      Before they got into the car to drive off, Leonard waved to Pastor Kurt, who seemed to genuinely enjoy watching the happy reunion take place.

            “Jesus is the master of new beginnings!” Pastor Kurt mumbled. He smiled, got into his truck, and drove home.