FIRST LOVE

By Erika Newman-Walker

The sky had that odd golden hue that it gets just after a storm. There were huge puddles and small lakes all over the place. In the west, where the sunset should have been, was a magnificent, living painting of dark blues and grays—the storm had just passed.

It wasn't very cold out yet, nor very windy, although after a storm like that, in winter no less, it would quite likely be uncomfortable soon enough. He was used to the cold—he'd been without adequate clothing or shelter many times-but tonight he would be glad for the cloak whose primary purpose was usually concealment...

And then, suddenly the music started.

Without warning, the music transported him back in time. As a small child he'd been enthralled by the hymns drifting through town—old German strains of Martin Luther and Joachim Neander had been his favorites, as well as the later hymns reminiscent of waltzes. Even an occasional piece by Beethoven, or Bach, although he wouldn't recognize any of them as such until years later.

He remembered fondly the time when, as a young man, he'd stolen a hymnal. By that time reading had already become an all-consuming habit. He'd even read about Neander's Valley many years later—surprised to find that familiar, fondly-remembered name. And he'd wished he could have been a 'New Man'...

His memory returned to the boyhood smells drifting out of open windows in the summer—dinners at the church after Sunday morning services. Smells of meats cooking and baked goods. People's cheery voices, warmth and light inside, horses tied outside.

And the marvelous brick architecture. Masonry and slate roofs and copper reflecting the sun. A series of churches flooded his brain, pictures of many different styles of construction in many different places, some seen in person, others only studied in books, some simple, some grandiose. And then there were all the colors of the stained glass windows, the colors of the flowers in the gardens, the colors of the women's dresses passing in and out of the doors, mixing with the colors of the hymns.

All beginning with that first place of wonder seen as a small boy, that place where almost all were welcome.

He shook the rain off of the cloak and pulled it closer about his face. For one brief moment he had glimpsed another life, where he was surrounded by happy people, where he lived in the midst of such beauty and music. It was hardly even imaginable, that such a thing could happen to him.

He walked on down the darkening street, trying to forget the thing that, for just one moment, he had wanted more than anything else in the world.