THE COLLECTION

by David Sisler

"Once upon a time, which is all times and no times, but not the very best of times, there was a castle..." (Briar Rose, by Jane Yolen).

"Everyone likes a fairy story because everyone wants every thing to come right in the end... One often suspects that what seems to be untruth is really a hidden truth (The Sleeping Beauty, by Ralph Harper).

Once upon a time, or so the story came to me, its author unknown and I have changed it according to the way I listened, probably so much so, that he or she would not recognize the original story there was a father and son who were very close. The joy of the two men's lives was their art collection. To outsiders, the collection was priceless because of the names of the artists. To the father and son, it was priceless because they had worked together to collect it.

Their joy was tempered by clouds of a world war which hung on the horizon like a vulture perched for carrion. The pair secretly shipped their entire collection to a neutral nation where their treasures would be safe.

The young soon man received his call to serve and marched off to fight. The father and son never saw each other again.

After only a few short weeks, the father received a telegram. His beloved son was missing in action. He frantically waited for more news, knowing in his heart that his son was lost.

Weeks passed, but then his anxious fears were confirmed. His son had died, carrying a fellow soldier to a medic.

The old man withdrew from the world. His mail went unanswered. His telephone rang in an empty house, the receiver was never lifted from the cradle. He shuffled outside only rarely, and then only to buy the barest sustenance and return home. He sat in the dark, never turning on the lights.

Then, as it must with all wars, that war ended. The barbarians who had led the nation to catastrophe lay dead, most of them by their own hand. Healing slowly began.

One spring morning, a morning that would not have been called spring, except that the calendar said it was time for spring, a morning that saw the streets still filled with dirty, grey snow, and thick, clinging mud, a visitor knocked at the old man's door.

Neighbors looked out through their windows and clucked to themselves, knowing that the visitor would never gain admittance into the old man's house of sorrow. Curiously, strangely, though, the old man did open the door, and the visitor, a soldier in a ragged uniform, carrying a package wrapped in newspaper, was ushered inside.

The soldier, without preamble began, "I was the one your son was rescuing when he was shot. He often spoke of you and of the art collection the two of you had gathered. I, too, am an artist, not a good one, but a passable one. Working from memory, I produced this." And he handed the package to the old man.

Arthritic fingers tore the newspaper and tears flowed down the old man's face as he stared at the likeness of his dead son. The work would never be called a masterpiece, but gratitude had enhanced the artist's skills, and the old man smiled for the first time since he had learned that his boy was missing in action.

The old man reclaimed his collection from its hiding place, displayed it in his home, and invited everyone to visit. The center piece of the collection was the portrait of his boy, produced by the soldier who never did give his name.

Finally, the old man died, and, as instructed by his will, the entire collection was offered at auction. The auctioneer began with the picture of the son.

The crowd twittered, because the work was amateurish, and far greater treasures were available. No one bid. Finally, an old woman raised her hand. "My neighbor's son was kind to me, and I would like to bid on the picture. All I have is ten dollars."

The auctioneer took the bid and worked it hard, but there were no raises, no advances. Finally, he dropped his gavel, and said, "Sold!"

The crowd cheered in anticipation of bidding on the rest of the collection.

Stunned silence filled the hall when the auctioneer said, "Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for coming. This concludes the auction."

When the uproar subsided, the auctioneer explained, "It is very simple. According to the will of the father, the one who takes the son, gets it all."

That is the way it is with our heavenly Father, a Father whose greatest joy is in His only begotten Son, a Son who went to a battlefield and gave His life to save others. Because of Father's love, whoever takes the Son gets it all. It really is not a fairy tale. And all who receive the Son, will live happily ever after.

-30-

Published in the Augusta Chronicle 11/21/98

Copyright 1998 by David Sisler. All Rights Reserved.

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