White Cloth

A story of return and how it's never too late to come home.

As David sat on the side of the road in the Dakota plains, waiting for his next ride, he wrote:

“Dear Mom,

If Dad will permit it I would like to come home. I know there’s little chance he will. I’m not going to kid myself. I remember he said once, if I ever ran off, I might as well keep going.

All I can say is that I felt like leaving home was something I had to do. I wanted to find out more about life and about me, and the best way for us (life and me) to live with each other.

You won’t be able to reach me by mail, because I don’t know where I will be next. But in a few days I hope to be passing our place. If there’s any chance Dad will have me back, please ask him to tie a white cloth to the apple tree in the south pasture. I’ll be going by on the train. If there’s no cloth on the tree, I’ll just quietly and without any hard feelings toward Dad, keep going.

Love, David”

The next day, as the truck that had picked David up soon after finishing his letter pulled into the small town in Iowa, David mailed the letter with a knot in his stomach.

The coming days and weeks brought new acquaintances and adventures as David hitchhiked with cars, vans, trucks and freight trains, all the time edging closer to his home in Maryland. Finally, as he ascended the passenger train that would be the last leg of his journey homeward, the knot returned and firmly lodged itself in his core.He could hardly bring himself to imagine the apple tree in the pasture of his childhood home, for fear it would be bereft of the white cloth, even in his imagination.

As he sat down next to the window that would deliver his fate, an elderly gentleman sat in the seat beside him. As day turned to night, and once again back to day, the travel companion shared their stories. As David regaled stories of the West Coast, Canada and even Mexico, he realized that in just a short while the train tracks would take a gentle bend to the right, and there would be the farm on which he grew up, with its south facing pasture, and the old apple tree on which as a child he would climb. He couldn’t look. He was too afraid the cloth would not be there-too afraid he would find, staring back at him, just another tree, just another field, and turned quickly away.


Desperately, he nudged his travel companion beside him. “Mister, will you do me a favor? Around this bend on the right, you’ll see an apple tree. I wonder if you’ll tell me if you see a white cloth tied to one of it’s branches?”

“Son,” the man said in a voice slow with wonder, “I see a white cloth tied on almost every twig.”

(Based on “Somebody’s Son” by Richard Pindell)

Rewritten by Dr. Daniel Rose

Submitted by Debbie Stone