Robert paced back and forth, scowling at the tiled floor in the train station. Martha sat on the bench defining one side of Robert’s path, trying to concentrate on her knitting. Sam sat beside his mother, looking at his watch every two minutes.
Robert stopped in front of his wife and lifted his flinty-eyed gaze from the tiled floor to the large clock over the ticket counter. It showed the time as 11:01 p.m. Part of the reason the station was so empty.
“Where’s the damned train?” he growled, looking from the clock to his wife. “They’re supposed to be on time. They used to be on time, back in my day.”
“It’s only one minute late so far,” Sam offered. “There’s been a lot of snow up north. Maybe it got delayed.”
“If the train’s delayed, they ought to tell us.” Robert stared at Sam like it was his fault the train was late. Then he started pacing again. A loud click echoed throughout the depot as the table of arrivals and departures changed on time to 30 minutes late for the train from Vancouver, B.C. Robert glared at the offending arrival time, then plopped down on the bench across from Martha.
“Damned trains. Can’t depend on ‘em like you used to.”
“Just relax, honey,” Martha suggested, temporarily suspending her knitting. “It’s been twenty-five years since we’ve seen Ben. Another half an hour doesn’t amount to much.”
“Twenty-five years. That’s a long time. It seems like only yesterday that he left.” Sam shook his head.
Martha patted Sam’s knee. “Time flies by. You served in the Army, went to Viet Nam three times, came home, and got your college degree. Then your new job at that software company. Not to mention your new girlfriend. You’ve been busy.”
“I suppose you’re right, mom. I have been busy. I wonder what Ben’s been doing all this time?”
“Hiding up in Canada, so he didn’t have to go to war,” barked Robert. “He wasn’t a patriot like us, son.” Robert’s eyes gleamed with pride as he looked at Sam.
“I think you’re wrong, dad. He didn’t believe we belonged over there. He supported his country by refusing to support the decisions he thought were wrong.”
Robert hung his head down and gave it some thought before he answered Sam. Then he lifted his head, sat up straighter, and spoke.
“You’ve been making that argument for more than two decades, Sam. I suppose you’re right. Since you can feel that way after serving 3 tours in Nam, I guess I should listen.” Robert uncrossed his arms and put his hands on his knees. “When I was in the Marines we had some pretty heated discussions about being patriotic. Especially when it came to buying cars.” Robert smiled, reflecting on his past. “George used to get really excited about that. He tried to convince me the patriotic way to buy cars was to buy the best car for the money. He argued that if it wasn’t made in America, and a lot of Americans bought it, market forces would drive the American automobile manufacturers to do a better job.” Robert stabbed his finger in Sam’s direction. “And I would poke my finger in his chest and tell him he was wrong. True patriots would buy American. Period.” His arm dropped, and he slumped back. “You remember George, don’t you? Came over for the reunion with the guys every time we had one? He passed away last year, from cancer.”
“You still buy Fords, dad. Even though some of them are made in Mexico. And some Toyotas are made in Kentucky. There’s more than one way to be a patriot.”
“You’re right, Sam. You’re absolutely right. There’s more than one way to be a patriot.” Robert slapped his hand against the left side of his chest. “As long as you believe in here that you’re serving your country the best way you know how.”
“As I live and breathe, Robert Wilmington.” Martha’s knitting lay in her lap now, ignored and forgotten. “It warms my heart to see you listen to your son for a change. And admit that your way isn’t always the only way.” All three of them chuckled.
“I wonder if he’s still gay.” Robert stood up to pace again.
“I wonder if you’re still a vet,” Sam asked.
“What do you mean by that? Of course I’m still a vet. I’ll always be a vet, because I served my country.”
“Of course you’re still a vet, dad. You’ll always be a vet, Ben is still gay, It’s who he is. He’ll always be gay.”
“I suppose he will be.” Robert sighed. “That won’t change just because I don’t like it.”
“Here we go again.” Martha picked her knitting back up. “Can’t you just love both your sons? And be glad Ben’s finally coming home?”
“I respect you, father. And I respect your beliefs, even though I don’t agree with them. You know what I think, and you still love me. Right?”
“Of course I do, son. Of course I do.” Robert gave another heavy sigh. “Listen, I’m trying to figure out how to love Ben unconditionally. But it’s hard. Give me credit for finally reaching out to him, at least.”
“Sure, dad. I’ll do that, dad. Even though it was the way mom twisted your arm that helped you decide to make that invitation.”
“Thank you.” Robert smiled at Sam, then he looked at Martha and beamed. “Both of you. I have missed him. A lot. But I still have trouble with this whole being gay thing. It goes against what the Bible says.”
“OK. Now, I’m not a Biblical scholar, dad, but ...”
“That makes two of you,” Martha interjected. “Three of us, really.” Robert and Sam both nodded. Then Sam continued.
“... but I look at Jesus, in the New Testament. He gave us a role model of being inclusive, not exclusive. He welcomed prostitutes and tax-gatherers to the table.”
Robert smiled and looked at the train station clock.
“I wonder what Jesus would think of IRS employees. Or lawyers?”
Sam and Martha both chuckled. “I haven’t finished yet dad.”
“I know what you’re going to say next, Sam. We’ve had this discussion for a long time. Every time we talk about Ben.”
“You’re probably right, dad. But humor me. What am I going to say next?”
“Jesus came to die for us, and give eternal life.”
“And what did he say we needed to do in order to be saved, dad?”
“Believe he was the true Son of God, and accept Him as our Lord and Savior.” Robert was comfortable with this part of the discussion.
“And who did he say that to?” asked Sam.
“I don’t remember who was there at the time,” Robert looked at the station clock again. He didn’t like where Sam was taking this.
“Anyone, dad. Anyone.” Sam put his hands on his knees and leaned forward. “And I have one more thing to mention.”
“What’s that, son?” Martha looked at him, pride in her eyes. She looked at Robert and saw uncertainty in his eyes. That gave her even more reason to be proud.”
“What have you always told me, dad? Ever since we started going to Sunday School?”
“Pay attention, listen, and say your prayers.”
“You also said God didn’t make any junk, dad. If God doesn’t make any junk, and anyone who accepts him can be saved, how can homosexuality be wrong?”
“For someone who doesn’t go to church, you sure seem to have a lot of faith.” Robert slumped on the bench, feeling like his world was being twisted and pulled from under his feet.
“I believe, dad. I truly believe. I have accepted Jesus and my Lord and Savior.” Sam nodded. “I just don’t think I need to go to church. I believe, and I pray.”
“Apparently you paid attention and listened, too. When you were in college. That must be when you got so smart.”
“You started me on the path to learning, dad. You and mom.” Sam turned to smile at Martha.
“Maybe I can learn more, too. From you. And from George. Do you know what his dying words to me were? He said forget the damned wars and cars, Robert. Accept both your sons. Love them like you don’t have another day left. Because some day that will be true.” Robert stood and opened his arms. Sam stepped into his embrace. Martha joined them for a big family hug. Then they heard the whistle of the arriving train.
“Eleven o’clock train from Vancouver,” came over the PA system. “Platform Nine.”
The family headed to the platform to greet Ben. A dozen passengers or so disembarked. The last two to step off the train were Ben and a tall handsome man holding Ben’s hand. They came over to stand a few feet away from Robert, Martha, and Sam.
“Hello, son. Welcome home.” Martha stepped up to give Ben a big hug, then stepped back. Sam hugged Ben next, then asked the question they were all thinking. “Who’s this with you?”
“Everyone, this is my husband, William.” Ben paused and looked at William with love in his eyes. “William, this is my mother, Martha, my brother Sam.” He waited as William gave Martha a polite hug and Sam a brief handshake.
“And this is my father, Robert.”
Robert stood straight, arms at his sides, looking from Sam, to Ben, to William, to Martha. He returned his gaze to Ben. “Welcome home, son.” He stepped over to give Ben a big hug. Then he took a step back and looked William in the eye. William looked right back and waited, not saying anything. Then Robert stepped over between Ben and William and put an arm around each man’s shoulders.
“Welcome to the family, William. Now you two, tell me all about Canada.” Martha smiled and took William’s hand in hers. Sam took Ben’s hand and gave it a good, hearty squeeze. Ben gave him a puzzled look, and nodded at Robert, raising his eyebrows in a “what’s happening” expression.
“I’ve been working on him for twenty-five years,” Sam whispered. “At least when I was home. And I’m not the only one.”
“I’ll take it while I can,” Ben whispered back. Then he looked over at William, shrugged, and listened as William talked about their life together in Canada.