Nathanael opened the workshop door just as he’d done many times before but this time he stood in the entryway for a few moments and soaked it all in. His eyes scanned the room. Several unfinished projects lay untouched as if frozen in time, waiting for the next step of the process. Nathanael spotted the rack of screwdrivers hanging on the wall, stepped inside and quickly found what Dad wanted, then looked down at the workbench and noticed Grandpa’s old Bible was opened. Grandpa always kept it closed to avoid swirling and sometimes oily sawdust from landing on it or liquids from spilling on its pages. Nathanael saw a letter-sized paper lying on the opened pages. Intrigued, he carried the Bible and the note to Grandpa’s favorite rocker stationed near the stove. He sat down and began reading…
Dear Nathanael, In case we don’t see each other this side of heaven, I want you to know I love you very much, my only grandson. I want to give this Bible to you to be yours after I’m gone and to give to your own children someday. Notice the verses I’ve underlined where this Bible is opened. These are some of the first verses that my old friend Gustavo showed me when he led me to the Lord and helped me learn more about the Shepherd, to study from this Bible and pray. Grandpa signed and dated it June 6, 1944.
Nathanael read each verse carefully, more so than ever before: Luke 2:8-20, about the shepherds in the fields at Jesus’ birth and what they did to tell others about Him; and John 1:29, about Jesus, grown up and recognized as the Lamb of God, whose perfect sacrifice was needed to forgive man’s sins. Then he just smiled, closed his eyes, and glided a little while longer in the comfort of Grandpa’s rocking chair.
Annie and Sally sat on either side of Nathanael as they traveled ever so slowly down to the train depot. It was Dad’s not-so-subtle attempt to give the family a little more time together with Nathanael. Then everybody heard it—a strange, muffled whimpering sound coming from Sally’s direction… who else? The look on her face confirmed all suspicion. Annie and Nathanael looked at Sally, grinned and said in unison, “puppy!” Right on cue, a puppy’s wet nose emerged from Sally’s heavy winter coat, followed by a floppy ear then another and finally a paw looking for an escape hatch. The back seat erupted with laughter as Sally desperately tried to keep the puppy secured and away from Nathanael’s neatly pressed and spotless uniform.
Another thing Nathanael had told the twins: Grandpa was paid with money; lambs… and a puppy from the border collie, Sam, who helped him survive that first summer herding sheep. This latest edition from Sam’s line was already showing plenty of spunk and determination. Sally would really have her hands full raising and training this pup. But she was up for the challenge.
Nathanael held the return portion of his round-trip ticket in one hand and his duffle bag in the other as the stream locomotive’s whistle grew louder with each blow although the train itself couldn’t be seen yet. One more round of hugs from the twins, kisses from Mom and a firm handshake and hug from Dad gave way to asking once again their biggest unanswered question remaining: What did Nathanael plan to do next?
Nathanael finally satisfied the family’s curiosity just as the train rounded the last curve before arriving at the depot. He held the suspense with a long pause, and then told them that after praying a lot, reading his Bible, and talking with each one of them during this leave, he’d decided to apply for entry at Multnomah School of the Bible as soon as his hitch was up in a couple of months and prepare for the ministry… not yet sure what kind or where, but he knew that he must first prepare for whatever ministry God had in store for him.
It could take him back to Europe, he didn’t know at this point… maybe start an orphanage like Gustavo did, or maybe bring him back to the homestead to carry on Grandpa’s wood-crafting legacy.
Nathanael took a keen interest in what fellow soldier Jake DeShazer was planning to do: studying for the ministry, returning to the land of his enemies—who held him captive as a prisoner of war for over three years—and sharing the gospel with them. Nathanael mused about that kind of love, then said “He and I are fighting again, only this time it’s against a spiritual enemy… and for a different kind of freedom found only in Christ.”
“All aboard!” the conductor yelled, prompting Nathanael to find his seat on the waiting train.
The family no longer had any doubts about seeing Nathanael again—even if it meant in heaven with his grandparents. Suddenly, the locomotive cleared its cylinders with a loud blast of steam that startled Sally’s new puppy. Then the train lurched forward a bit, chugged slowly, gaining momentum and speed until it disappeared out of sight.
Annie and Sally looked up and watched the greyish smoke puffed from the locomotive’s stack drift upward until caught by the winds above the canyon walls. It reminded them of visits to the homestead as children, watching the smoke curls pointing the way there and now they knew a lot more about the shepherd they’d called “Grandpa” all these years.
Nathanael pulled Grandpa’s old Bible from his duffle bag. He looked at those underlined verses again and wondered where did Grandpa get this Bible? A small envelope stamped with the name of a Shaniko photo gallery was tucked between the dedication pages. He held the envelope aside, while reading a hand-written inscription of Gustavo’s gifting of this Bible to Grandpa. Before placing the envelope back into his new Bible, Nathanael decided to see what was in it. Inside, he found a circa 1910 photo of Grandpa and Gustavo. Grandpa was holding the familiar sculpted lamb in one hand and the cross in his other. Now, both carvings remain on the mantle all year long as hope-filled reminders of Christmas 1945.
Alan Summers, GBC Elder