A Modern Prodigal Son

A Modern Prodigal Son

Bob lived on a large farm with his parents and an older brother. His very rich father was growing old and had promised to divide his money with his sons. Now Bob was always hearing about the excite­ment of city life. He'd seen it on television and read about it in comics and magazines. So he became impatient for his share of the money. He wanted to enjoy city life while he was young.

"Dad, can I have my share of your money now?" Bob asked one night.

"Why—why I suppose so. Why do you want it?" questioned the father.

"Well," Bob hesitated, and tried to wipe the sweat from his hands without being seen, "I—I'd like to know just how much I have. I can't decide if I want to go to college or start in business right away."

"I can't see your need for it, Bob, but if that what you want, I'll give it to you. I do hope you'll think before you spend it or use it foolishly." His father got up and started for the (bor.

Bob smiled to himself. "If he thinks I'm going to be careful, he's crazy," Bob thought, "I want to have fun. No college or business for me. I want to see the city. I want to live."

A few nights later Bob slipped away from home. He was tired of farm life. He wanted to get away from his "good" brother. He was tired of hearing, "Why can't you be good like Tour brother?" He wanted to be himself and have adventure.

The city was larger than Bob had ever dreamed! At night it was a blaze of lights that glittered against the ink-black sky; lights that flashed on and off and sparkled like diamonds. He met young people in the restaurants and drugstores. He spoke to people in the parks and on the streets, and soon he had a group of friends. He had enough money for everyone. They went to night clubs aid had big parties in ritzy hotels. They saw the big shows, ball games, fights and wrestling matches. Bob hired fast motorboats and gale midnight cruises. They danced and laughed and drank champagne. Bob even bought a new French car and roared up and down the narrow streets, screeching through red lights. Whenever he threw a party dl his friends were eager to come.

But before he knew it, Bob's money was all gale! The day came when he had to go out looking for a job. None of his friends helped him get work. They forgot him

"I'll soon save a lot of money and then they" come back," Bob thought as he worked.

Now he began to spend his nights in taprooms. He spent the long nights drinking beer and watching fights on the television. When he talked to the people in the taproom, they got mad because they were drunk. Even the television made him unhappy when he remembered how he used to sit in ringside seats. His money and friends were gone. Did real friends run away and forget you when you needed them most? The ones he had known on the farm back home never had.

Hard times came. Bob lost his job and couldn't find another. He had no money for food or for rent, so he was thrown out of his room. He began to sneak down alleys and search the garbage cans for scraps of food.

Winter came and the park bench was too cold to sleep on. He found a big packing box in a dump near the wharves. He curled up there at night in its shelter.

One night when Bob came to the dump the box was gone. Now he had nothing. He thought of jumping off the pier and drowning himself, but he didn't quite dare.

He sat down on the pier, pulled his torn coat around him, and leaned against the cold pilings and tried to sleep. His body was so tired it hurt to move, but he couldn't sleep. The pains in his stomach were unbearable, for he hadn't eaten all day. He hated the friends that had spent his money and then all deserted him He hated the lights. He shivered and tried to forget the dirty streets and the crowded, sweaty, smoke-filled bars. He thought of the big white farmhouse with its yellow-lighted windows, as he kicked at the dirty wharf rat running through the slush on the pier. He thought of his warm room at home. Even the cows in the red barn were warmer than he was, and he wished he could go back.

The blue star-dotted sky over the farm seemed so beautiful as he remembered it. He closed his eyes to shut out the flashy all-night-long lights of the city. Out there were his family and his true friends. All his thoughts seemed to say, "Go home!"

"But I can't," he cried half out loud, and started to sit up. "Dad would never take me back now. He'd hate me. He'd ask me what I did with the money, and I can't tell him, I can't—I can't." He sank back shivering and weeping, holding his wet, torn coat as close as he could.

Then he remembered his father's hired men. "They have homes, and food, and clothes," he thought grudgingly. Suddenly he sat up. "Why couldn't I ask Dad for a job as a hired man? I don't deserve to be his son, but he might give me a job and let me earn my living. There's nothing left for me here. I'll go back and ask for a job on my father's farm."

A few days later Bob stumbled up the dark winding lane. The icy wind blew through his ragged clothes and his legs ached until he felt he could not take another step, but with the house in view he started to run. He ran only a few steps and then he stopped, shivering and afraid. What would his father do? Perhaps he should never have come. Perhaps he should go back now.

As he waited in the snow under the black leafless trees, afraid and alone, the door opened and someone came out. It was his father, and he was looking off into the distance as if he were expecting someone.

Bob wanted to call him, to wave his arms in welcome, but he was afraid.

Suddenly his father saw him. As he watched, his father ran down the road to meet him, and he realized that it was he himself that his father had been looking for. His father threw his arms around him and kissed him, although he was dirty and unshaven and in rags. He held him so tightly that Bob thought his ribs would break. His father was so happy to see him that he cried.

"Dad, Dad," Bob sobbed as soon as he could catch his breath, "I don't deserve to be your son any more. I—I don't ask you to take me back, but you do hire men—could you—could you hire me? I'd work very hard."

"No, Bob, no," his father smiled through his tears, "you are always my son."

He took Bob into the house and gave him a hot shower. He gave him a new suit, bought especially for his return. He had new shoes and he took his ring off his hand and placed it on Bob's, and promised him that he never would be anything but his son. He never even asked about the money Bob had wasted in the city.

That night there was a big dinner for Bob. The biggest turkey on the farm was on the table and all Bob's favorite food. The neighbors were there and all of Bob's old friends. The house blazed with lights and the singing echoed over the snowy fields. Bob was placed at the head of the table and his father announced before the whole crowd that he was proud to claim his son that was lost, but now was found.—Charles Waugaman

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