To start at the beginning ...
Ruth woke with a start. Sitting in her chair by the fire, she sat clutching Jacob’s old cloak in her lap. She looked about the room, disoriented. What time was it? Was it still day or had evening set? Had she missed him? Ruth reached for her cane that rested against her seat and stood shakily to her feet. She wrapped Jacob’s cloak about her bony shoulders and added her mother’s shawl. Heavily bundled now she turned to the inn door. With a trembling hand, she for the latch and swung the door open.
The inn was filled with lantern light and Ruth squinted in the brightness as she crossed over the threshold from her dimly lit home. She heard a chorus of laughter. From somewhere to her left a booming voice started singing, a song she had learned in her childhood. She smiled and mouthed the words, “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens. Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger!”
The inn was a hive of activity and Ruth stood near the door, out of the way, craning her long slender neck to see over the crowd. She saw Sarah slip by, a tray of food balanced in her hands, making her way to a table filled with several guests. John, Sarah’s husband, stood at the bottom of the stairs. His familiar boisterous laugh rumbled around the room as he clapped his guest on the back. They both threw back their heads and roared.
Not wanting to be a burden, Ruth quietly stepped back into her home and let the door fall closed. The sudden darkness of her house stopped her in her tracks, blinded. She waited for her eyes to adjust before moving slowly toward her front door. Pausing at the window, she pulled the shutter aside and peered out into the street. The shadows were long and the street was grey. The sun had just set behind the hills. Ruth took a deep breath and opened the door, staggering as the wall of icy winter air struck her. She hesitated and then determination seized her.
She had visited the stable every evening on her birthday and this year would be no different. Tottering out into the street, she braced herself on her staff and reached to pull the door closed.
“You weren’t going without me, were you?” a voice said from the street behind her.
She turned with a smile and saw Matthew, holding a lantern, grinning at her. Her grandson had Jacob’s same gentle smile and dark brown eyes. He offered his arm to her, patting her bent fingers as she rested her hand in the crook of his arm. Avoiding a patch of ice, he escorted her around the corner of the building, following the familiar path. As they stepped into the stable, Ruth paused, taking in the scene.
“It’s the same as it was sixty years ago,” her voice trailed off.