We left the church cemetery in the old T model truck. The top had long since turned from simply leaky to almost non existent, the ride was cold and miserable because of it. That ride and my mood were a perfect match for one another.
Bobby pulled the T model into the dirt yard of the home place. The family home was no more than an unpainted shack. It must have been painted once since there were still white bits clinging inside the grain of the wood here and there. I couldn't for the life of me remember anything, but weathered gray boards.
I followed Bobby and Lucy into the house. We silently found seats around the stove in the living room. The fire was still burning, it had been built that morning before the funeral. Bobby added another split piece of firewood before anyone did or said anything.
We sat about in our own thoughts for a while. In my case, the thoughts were of my mother, who we had just laid to rest, and my relationship to her. The term, laid to rest, made me choke back tears. It would be the first rest she had ever known. Momma had worked right up till the stroke took her.
No matter what Bobby said, he and Lucy had not taken care of momma those last years. I knew for a fact that she had helped around the place right till the last moment. I expected to hear their version at any moment. It would have to do with what would happen to the dirt. That is what my daddy had called it when he was alive. The dirt that his father had bought with his ill gotten gain. If daddy had gotten all of it, we would have been rich. It was too bad that Grand Pappy Deacon had been so prolific. The old man had nine head of children and all of them save one were boys. Grand pappy hadn't much liked any of his kids, so they shared the place equally.
"So Eddie what you gonna do now?" Bobby tried to make it a light question but under the circumstances it came out differently. He wanted to know what I was going to do about my share of the dirt. The farm had barely supported one family, half of it would never support a family.
"Well Bobby, I don't know what I am going to do right now." I wanted to leave my options open. Farming wasn't one of them though. I could have told him that and eased his mind. It was pure perversity that stopped me.
"Well Eddie, we need to know something about the farm. Bobby and I took care of your mother these last two years while you was gone." It was Lucy who spoke. I had expected it to come from her.
"Lucy there are two things wrong with that, if you are trying to make me feel guilty. I was not on vacation, I was in the Army. Secondly, most of that time I was in a hole with some other poor soldier, in a different color coat, trying to shoot my ass off. So don't even try to make me feel guilty. As for Ma, it is my understanding she ran this house while you were working at the diner. So, I don't think there was all that much taking care of her involved." Lucy looked as though she wanted to argue, but Bobby caught her eye and shook his head.
"So, I guess you want your share of the place?" Bobby asked it with his eyes on the stove.
"Bobby, I want what I am entitled to. You just got paid for this year's tobacco crop. I will sign the farm over to you for the old T model in the yard. I also want three acres of land at the corner where our road meets the country road. I want that stand of trees there, and that Bobby is all I want."
"You can't expect us to give you the car?" It was Lucy. Lucy had turned into a real shrew.
"Shut up Lucy," Bobby said it nice and quiet. "Eddie you got a lot more coming you worked this place just like me."
"I know Bobby, but I never liked farming. I want to know I got a place to come home to, otherwise you could have it all."
"It is a reasonable amount brother." With those words, Bobby went into the kitchen to get a piece of paper. The paper came from a writing tablet Ma kept there. Bobby wrote the agreement, and I signed it. I just about half expected Lucy to ask me to leave at that moment.
"So how long you gonna be staying?" Since it was Bobby who asked, I took it as just that the harmless question he intended it to be.
"I got to go back to Fort Dix to get my discharge then I will be through with the army. I have to be back there Friday. If I am gonna' drive the T, I should get started first thing tomorrow.
"You got any money for the trip back?" I saw Lucy glare at her husband.
"I am fine Bobby. There is lots of pay I didn't spend in France." I really didn't need his money even thought it was half mine. Lucy couldn't get that through her head. She felt as though Bobby had offered me her money.
"You know that old T is worn slap out? You could buy a new one?" Bobby asked it still looking at the fire in the stove.
"Well you need a new car Bobby, and you got a little money now so get one. I can make the T get me back to New Jersey."
"That's five hundred miles Eddie. That car ain't never gonna' make it there let alone back here again."
"It only has to make it there Bobby. I won't be coming back here for a while." I figured he had already guessed it. He probably just wanted me to confirm it for him.
"You know you are always welcome here Eddie?" I wondered if he really believed that.
"This is not the best day, but I am going to head into town to get some parts to tune up the T." I left the two of them talking as I drove from the yard. I was sure they were celebrating and deciding what kind of car they would buy with my share of the harvest money. It didn't matter none to me, I sure as hell didn't want to be no damn farmer.
I had been gone longer than Lucy claimed she took care of Ma. I had been gone since I was seventeen. I went into the Army just in time for the last year of the war in France. For some reason, known only to the U.S. Army, I got held in France for two more years. Most of the troops got home in 1918, I got home in 1920. I got home on leave one time before Ma died. I should have gotten home more, but it was a long miserable trip by bus.
On the drive into town I gave some more thought to signing over one more time, but decided against it. I might as well get back out into the cold cruel world again. It was going to be very cold and very cruel without a home or family as a safety net.
"Eddie, I saw you at the funeral this morning, I wanted to speak, but I didn't know what to say." The woman who spoke was attractive enough in that country-girl kind of way. I have always associated freckles with the country.
"Thanks Missy, it is okay I wouldn't have known what to say either. So how you doing?" I hadn't thought of Missy in ages.
"I am good Eddie. You surely are handsome in your soldier suit." She blurted it out before she lost her courage I suppose.
"Thank you, I should let you wear it then." I grinned at her.
"Are you gonna' stay around?" She looked away. Missy was still as shy as ever.
"No Missy, I am leaving tomorrow. I have to get back."
"Well Eddie, I was sorry about your Ma. She was a wonderful woman."
"Thanks Missy," I didn't know what else to say. Obviously She didn't either because she turned, then walked away. She did manage a confused goodbye as she turned her back on me.
Inside the store I picked up the turn up kit for the T. I also found a canvas tarp and a can of wax. I didn't have to stand in line to pay. I was in fact the only customer in the place.
"So Eddie, I was real sorry about your Ma." The man behind the counter spoke softly. I don't suppose it would do for anyone to know he had feelings. The might, try to take advantage of it.
"I see you still got the highest prices in the county Mr. Williams." I smiled but he must have known how I felt about him gouging my family.
"Yes my prices are high Eddie, but I give credit when most folks won't." It all evens out.
"Not hardly it don't, I sure hope Bobby never loses our place to you. I surely would take it personal."
"That will be two dollars and fifty cents." Williams did not want a scene even though it was just me and him in the store. More likely he just didn't want me to kick his ass.
I put the correct change on the counter then walked through the door. When I was outside, I realized that I should have bought a case of oil from him. The T would go through most of a case before getting to the post. Didn't matter none, I figured Bobby had some oil around the place I could use it to get to the next town anyway.
In the barn the next morning I put in the plugs and the distributor parts before I cleaned the truck up. Even if I bundled up, I knew I was going to be cold for the next few days. The roads weren't much good so the drive was going to be long and arduous.
In preparation for the trip, I took one of Grandma's old quilts into the barn. I rolled it with the canvas tarp. I hoped that I could use them both along with my great coat to stay warm and dry during the trip. I figured if it rained I would just stop the truck until it ended. I expected I had more to fear from snow than rain.
I slept poorly the night before I left home for that last time. It had a lot to do with disliking the idea of not having a safe harbor. I felt my new found orphan status deeply. The Army could be my new home, but I just didn't see me ever again in the order taking mood. It was time to move on, but to what I didn't know. I expect that 'unknown' also had a hand in my sleepless night.
I awoke before sun up with a strong desire to be on the road. If the lights on the T had been any good at all, I might have started the trip by slipping onto the county road then onto highway 1 headed north. Instead I dressed quietly then moved off to the T. I drove it out to the country road then into town. The main street through town was highway 1 but I pulled onto a smaller street one block off main. I parked in the dirt lot of the only cafe in town.
I ate as large a breakfast as I could, since I hoped to make a lot of miles before I stopped again. I hoped to get at least into Maryland by nightfall. It would take a lot of driving to make it I knew. Not only were the roads treacherous but the car was not all that reliable. It was a gamble but I expected the Ford to make it all the way to New Jersey.
"Eddie what brings you in so early?" the waitress asked as she cleared away my plate after refilling my coffee cup.
"Going back to the post," I replied.
"Not much here for the boys who were in France. Tommy Smith is the only one who went to France that came back here to live. Most of them moved to Richmond or Washington."
"Well, I don't think I will be headed to Washington to live. I passed through it on the train. It is pretty dirty up there. Don't seem to be much clean air to breath."
"So you gonna stay in the Army hon?" The waitress wasn't too much older than me.
"I don't think so. I thought I might try my luck in Ohio. I got a buddy from Cincinnati. He offered me a job up there working with him."
"So what you gonna be doing?" The woman had really bad teeth I noticed them when she smiled at me.
"He and his dad own a construction company. I might give that a try for a while."
"Eddie, you headed back up north?" The voice belonged to Everett Phelps.
"Yep Ev, just as soon as I finish this here coffee."
Without asking Everett took a seat across from me. I knew him because he and my Dad have been friends.
"Did I ever tell you I knowed your grandpappy?" He looked as though he actually wanted an answer.
"No, but I figured you did. You and my dad were friends since you was kids."
"Yep, we played together most all our lives. Your grandpapy Deacon had the biggest farm in the county. He also had a passel of kids."
"Yeah nine, that we know of. Not sure if there are any more or not. Deacon was a rounder."
"Yep, he was that. You grandma never even tried to control him."
"Well Ev, I really would like to stay and talk but the sun is up now and I need to be on the move." I really wanted to get away from him.
"Did you ever read your grandpappy's book?" He wasn't going to let me go.
"What book?" I had no idea what he was talking about.
"I didn't think so. Your aunt Ruth has it. You ought to read it before you leave town."
"I don't have time now Ev. I will read it the next time I get home."
"I expect Ruth will let you take it with you. Why don't you stop by her place. It is on the way out of town."
"Why you so hot for me to read his book Ev?" I asked it suspiciously.
"Cause, wasn't none of his boys man enough to be like him. I expect you are though. Heard about the medals you won in France. You really should read that book."
"Okay, you got me curious I will stop by for it." I said it as I stood to leave. I couldn't believe food was so much less expensive in Blacksboro Virginia. The same bacon and eggs outside the base in New Jersey would have been a quarter. The better meal at home was only fifteen cents. I left Ev and my money at the table. I also left the warm cafe to re-enter the cold morning
As Ev had said I had to pass Aunt Ruth's house on the way out of town. I actually passed the house before I noticed the kitchen light. I almost didn't turn around. I did only because I knew the book would haunt me. Grandpappy had always been a fierce figure in my mind. I still wondered what Ev had meant by his cryptic remarks.
Aunt Ruth lived in a gray house. The house wasn't painted gray it had weathered that color. I parked the T in the front yard, then walked to the rear. I knocked on the rear door. I tried to keep the knock down, so as not to wake everyone who might be visiting.
"Eddie, what you a doing here?" Aunt Ruth asked in her unique voice. The voice was a mixture of southern drawl and honey.
"I am leaving town to day. Have to get back." I said it hoping she would overlook the fact that I hadn't been around to see her.
"You want to come in? I got some grits on the stove." She looked hopeful. I don't guess she got much company.
"Sure," I said walking through the old door. "I ate at the diner though." I seated myself at her metal kitchen table. The top of the table was covered with linoleum
"So Eddie, you gonna' make a career of the Army?" she asked it smiling at me. Aunt Ruth had been one of the prettiest women in town, or so my father had said once. She looked that morning as though she might have been at that. Even without her usual make up she had a pleasant enough matronly look. She had never married but according to town lore she slept with almost every man in town. It was whispered that there might have been a woman or two in the mix.
"No ma'am, I am going to resign my commission when I get back. I should be out in a couple of weeks. The Army wants to shrink its officer staff, so I should be out very soon."
"Good, then you will be coming home?" I could see there was a light in her eyes even at her age. Forty seemed old to me at that time. By forty my mother and father were both dead. Of course it was just bad luck I was told.
"It is a shame about your Ma Eddie. Following so close after your dad. Seems this generation is dying off way too fast. When Daddy died, seems like everyone of the boys just followed along. I expect we are paying for the old man's sins." Far from looking sad or angry Aunt Ruth looked whimsical.
"I don't know about that,, but it does seem odd the number of accidents in this family. You are the only one of his nine children still alive." I smiled sadly at her.
"Hell, I wouldn't count on me dying anytime soon. I am the most like daddy. I expect I will live forever, or damn close to it."
"I'll drink to that." I raised my cup of coffee in a toast.
"If it wasn't so early, I would give you a real drink. I got a little hooch." She grinned at the thought of her corn liquor resting safely in a canning jar in the cabinet.
"It is a little early even for me." I looked at the table. I was enjoying the conversation. I actually hated to leave, but I knew I had to be on the road. It was going to be a long trip.
"So Eddie, what really brings you here at 7A.M.?" Aunt Ruth had not been fooled. I could imagine it had been a long time since any man had fooled her.
"Frankly Aunt Ruth, I came to see if you would let me borrow Grand Daddy's book." I expected I was going to have to explain how I knew about it.
"Sure, you have to promise to return it one day. If not in person at least mail it back. Daddy insisted I keep it." Aunt Ruth left the warm kitchen. I was pretty sure the remainder of her house was cold.
When she walked through the door upon her return, I noticed her body. I had known as a teenager that she possessed a very nice body. Thin where a woman should be thin, thick where a woman should be thick. I was glad to see that at forty she still had the body. I noticed her breasts seemed to hang down, instead of pointing out, otherwise her body was exactly as I remembered it.
In her hand she held a leather bound book. It wasn't the size of a book exactly. It was more the size of a ledger. "So this is it." I flipped the book open carefully. It began, "My job on the cattle drive was simple." I wanted to read more, but I knew I needed to be on the road. "Aunt Ruth, I will get this back to you in a week or two."
"See that you do Eddie." She had gotten deadly serious. "I am the keeper of that book."
I nodded as I stood to leave. When I got to the door, I turned to say goodbye. Aunt Ruth was standing close to me. She pulled me to her then kissed me. It was not the kiss an aunt would ordinarily give to her nephew. Aunt Ruth earned her colorful reputation it seemed.
"Just so you remember your Aunt." She said it with a giggle.
Even though she was at least twice my age, I was tempted to stay. Hell, I would have stayed had she not pushed me out the door. I cranked up the old T then started off down the road, but only after I had carefully wrapped the Deacon's book. I had never thought of him as grandfather. I finally realized that he had always been the Deacon to me. I wondered about that as I drove along the road out of town.
The drive took on a boring feel within an hour. There were lots of things to see, but it was going to be a long slow trip. I hoped to average twenty-five to thirty miles per hour. That would make it a two or two and a half day trip. I did not plan to drive all night. The T had terrible headlights.
I stopped later in the morning to purchase a loaf of unsliced bread along with a small baloney. I used my trench knife to slice both. The drive occupied my body but not my mind. I spend most of the time working on one plan after another. I just couldn't get enthused over any of them.
That first day passed with about three hundred miles behind me. Those miles carried me through many small towns. A few of the towns were large enough to have stop lights. Most were no more than a few frame buildings on a slightly better than dirt road.
I pulled into a small Maryland town just before dark. I stopped at what appeared to be the Town Hall. It turned out to be the county courthouse, and included in it were two jail cells.
"Hello there Deputy, My name is Edward Burke. I am in route to Fort Dix New Jersey." I paused to allow him to speak.
"Well Captain Burke, what can I do for you?" He evidently had either been in the Army or knew something about it. He at least got the rank right.
"Frankly deputy, I am looking for a place to sleep tonight. I have a T model truck and a blanket roll. I just need a spot that won't get me shot by a farmer." I said it with a grin.
"Well, if you got a blanket roll, you could sleep in one of the cells. That is if we don't have to lock nobody up. We don't usually, so you would be pretty comfortable I expect.
"Are you sure?" I asked it because I hadn't expected such hospitality.
"Well, just keep reminding me to leave the door open." He grinned showing me a space where his front two teeth should have been.
"In that case how about I go get us some coffee. Is there a cafe' around here?" I asked it pretty sure there would be one somewhere. I figured, if the place could support a jail, it would surely be able to support a cafe.
"No need I got a pot on the stove in the back. Course if you need food, there is the Dixie on the next street over."
"Truth is I have had enough of the baloney I bought a while back. I could sure use some real food."
"Then just turn right at the next corner. You can't miss the Dixie it has a big confederate flag in the window."
"Can I get you anything deputy?" I asked it trying to act like I didn't mind. A quarter worth of food would be a fair trade for a bed that didn't belong to him.
"Well captain they do have mighty good pie there. You don't have to mind you, but I wouldn't mind a piece of their pecan pie."
"You got it deputy." I tossed my bed roll and bag into one of the cells before I headed off to the Dixie. I had been in the truck all day so I walked to the cafe.
"Howdy Soldier boy, what can I get for you?" It was a truly red redhead who asked. The menu was all over the walls in small signs advertising this and that.
"How about your stew?" I asked it as I looked to the wall behind the counter.
"All sold out honey, it is kind of late you know." She maintained that smile of hers.
"Okay, so what do you have left?" I thought it a reasonable question.
"Most everything," she replied.
"Miss," I started to remind her of the stew but decided not to bother. Do you have any beans and franks?"
"Afraid not," she said. She looked about to go on but I stopped her.
I held up my hand. "I know sold out, it is late." I gave her a great big smile to let her know I was kidding. "Tell you what why don't you just surprise me. I can eat almost anything."
"Don't want to do that honey." She was serious I could tell.
"Okay, any soup?" I asked.
"Bean with bacon,": she advised me.
"Good, how about that with a couple of biscuits?"
"Comes with crackers hon," she said as she turned to the rear of the counter. Through the hole she said in a loud voice. "One soup."
"I got some pretty good bacon you want a sandwich?" She asked that as she stood starring down at me.
"I think that would be a bit too much bacon, ' I replied. The soup was thick. It was also in some kind of red sauce. The crackers turned out to be very thin biscuit dough cooked crisp. It was quite a good combination. I was almost finished when the waitress took my bowl away. I was about to complain until I noticed her pass it back through the window. "More Horace," she demanded.
She turned to me with the bowl. "Gettin' late nobody else gonna be in here tonight."
I smiled up as I went about eating the soup with the thick soft crackers. When I finished the second bowl I asked, "Could I get a piece of pecan pie to go? It is for the Deputy."
"Oh?" It was obviously a question.
"Yes, I am spending the night in jail." I grinned at her.
"Too bad, you could have gotten a better offer I am sure. You are a good looking guy in that uniform and all."
"Me, good looking." I laughed as I placed the twenty cents on the counter."Is that enough?" I asked it because there were no prices on the walls just names of dishes served.
"Yes it is, and enough for a tip too."
"Good, I wouldn't want to go without leaving a tip."
I left the cafe for the short walk to the jail. I didn't pass another person during the walk. When I arrived at the jail, I asked the deputy. "Where is everybody? The town is empty."
"Home I expect Captain. Ain't no reason for anyone to be here. Only thing open is the cafe and it will be closed in about half an hour. They just stay open for the occasionally traveler like you. Won't hardly be nobody on the roads this late."
"Well, I think I will follow their lead. Enjoy your pie, I am going to read myself to sleep."
"You do that. I am going to go on up stairs I think. I will lock the front door before I go. The bolt is on the inside in case you need to get out." He must have had the same thought I did. I wanted a way out in case of fire.
He took his pie along with a cup of the jail house coffee with him. I knew for a fact that the fire would go out early. He hadn't bothered to bank it. That meant I was going to need the bed roll. I opened it on the small cot in the back of the cell. I placed a shoe in the cell door. Just to make sure it didn't accidentally swing shut on me.
After I was pretty well set, I began reading the Deacon's journal. Five hours later I had finished it. I was absolutely amazed that Deacon had done so many things. I knew he was a fierce old man, but I had no idea he had been a killer. I was more than a little surprised to find that he had written those things down during is lifetime. I didn't suppose, with his daughter holding the book, there was any chance it would ever see the light of day.
I fell into a troubled sleep around two in the morning. I awoke at five when the deputy entered the room. At the time I was wrapped in the quilt, great coat, and canvas cloth.
"Damn Captain it is cold in here. I would have thought you would keep the fire going last night."
"Sorry Deputy, I thought there might be a fuel ration, so I just wrapped up good."
"Don't matter none it will be warm soon enough." He said it as he worked on the stove. He shoveled out the cold ashes, then added new wood to the fire. He didn't bother with kindling, instead he went to a small can of kerosene. He poured a few ounces in a tin can, once used for beans I expected. After he had emptied the can onto the split logs, he threw in a match.
"Wont be long Captain." He was smiling when he said it. The door opened for a man in the same uniform but with the badge of a sheriff.
"Who the hell are you?" he asked of me.
"Name is Burke Sheriff, your deputy let me camp in the cell over night."
The sheriff looked to the deputy who nodded. "Okay Burke, it is morning now. The cafe is open so go on down and get breakfast. You from around here?"
"No Sheriff, I am headed back to Fort Dix. Was down to Blackwater Virginia for a funeral, I am just passing through."
"Is that your old truck outside?"
"It is," I replied. I was getting tired of him already.
"Well Captain, I don't think you can make it to New Jersey in that thing." He smiled as if he had told me a joke.
"You could be right. If it breaks down, it will belong to somebody else."
"Well like I said, the cafe is open. Me, and Deputy Sykes got things to do this morning, have a good trip Captain."
"Thanks for the Cot." I said it disguising my anger. They both nodded as I left the jail.
I didn't stop for breakfast until I was out of that county. I didn't want the sheriff to come looking for me. I had a feeling something was not quite right with him. I found a cafe in the downtown section of a small place a few miles away. The cafe was not any better than the one from the night before.
At lunch I again stopped at a small grocery for a chunk of processed meat. I hated corned beef ever since the war, but it was easy to find in the small grocery stores. I got lucky, in that store there was also a jar of pickled eggs.
The afternoon drive was long and boring punctuated only by the need to buy gasoline. The last stop of the day was for Gasoline. When I returned to the T, I was just too tired to go on. I went back inside the store.
"Mister, I need a safe place to park the truck for the night. Do you know anywhere around here?"
"I think, if I wanted to park somewhere safe, I would park in the church parking lot. The first Baptist Church is right down the street about two blocks on the left." The old man didn't seem to be very interested in where I slept. He looked at a newspaper as he spoke. I felt he should have at least have looked up.
I took a quick tour of the town before I parked beside the church. The town consisted of a half dozen brick building plus a few houses. It was a small town, the name of which I didn't bother to take note.
The church was frame and might seat fifty or so people. I parked beside it so as to be visible from the road. I didn't want anyone to think I had anything to hide. I would have enjoyed a nice fire inside a nice building for the night. I had slept in many worse places though. I unrolled the quilt and canvas bed roll. The rear bed of the T was not smooth. I was expecting a very uncomfortable night's sleep.
The two days of travel had exhausted me enough so that I slept surprisingly well. I found a small cafe for breakfast then was on my way again.
I arrived in Fort Dix at 2:10 P.M. After making my presence known to the company's first sergeant I walked to the dining hall. I was late for lunch but I hoped the cook might get past his hatred of officers. He did to the extent of a corned beef sandwich. It, and the hot coffee were more than enough to win him a couple of points in heaven.
After lunch I began the arduous paperwork required to resign my commission. Leaving the safety of the Army was a bit frightening, but I had no desire to remain.
The Army had made several hints about my future should I stay. They all seemed to be similar. If I chose to stay until my term of enlistment ended, I would most likely not be allowed to re-enlist. Too many battlefield commissions of younger men frightened the older career officers.
The young officers, up from the ranks, were not part of the good old boy network. We had no one to help us. The trenches of France just couldn't compare to West Point somehow. It really didn't matter, I was eager to seek my fortune somewhere else.
I had the complete day off since almost all the men of my command were in the field. Hell, they didn't need me to sleep in the cold with them. Besides, the Sergeant ran the platoon anyway, all I did was to pass down the orders. The platoon leaders were even more junior officers passing down orders. It was the Sergeants who led the men into battle. They were the ones whom the men trusted anyway.
I knocked on the door of the company commander. Might as well get it over with. "Come in," the voice of Major Phillips replied.
I saluted like a good little tin soldier.
"Good morning Burke, I see you made it back."
"Yes I did major. Sir, I have been thinking about the word going around." No sense beating around the bush.
"Which word would that be Captain?" The disdain for me and my breed of officers was in his voice. Phillips was a Point man.
"The one concerning the future of the remaining mustang officers." Might as well get it out in the open, I thought. He didn't even try to deny that it was a serious rumor.
"And what exactly brings you here?" Phillips was being his usual abrupt self that morning.
"I came to being in the paperwork to resign my commission." I said it without a hint of regret.
"Very well, thank you for telling me before you began the process Burke. A lot you didn't bother. If there is nothing else, it is a busy morning around here."
"No sir, that pretty much does it." I saluted again, turned, then walked out the door.
"First Sergeant, I need the forms to resign my commission," I said after I had left the Major's office.
"Captain, are you sure you want to do this. The men tell me you are a damned good officer."
"Yes Top, I am sure." I wasn't sure at that moment at all. I had very little money and no job. It might yet prove to have been a mistake to burn all my bridges.
I had the papers completed before the men returned from the field. I called a meeting of the squad leaders to inform them of my actions. It was lucky they made it in on that third day since I was my last one in the Army.
Even though I was going to be a civilian at midnight, I planned to sleep on post, and in my own cot that night. I would be leaving the next morning at first light anyway. It was the way things were done even in 1920.
I ate in the dining hall with my men for the last time. I didn't sit at the officer's table I sat with the men who had fought along side me. I am sure the Major was pissed since he insisted on no fraternization. I frankly did not give a damn.
The T held my two duffel bags and bed roll as I left the base. Inside the duffel bags in addition to my army gear rested several souvenir weapons. If worse came to worst, I could sell them for a few bucks. I might have been an officer, but I was not above taking a few things which had once belonged to the enemy, or even the army. Hell, at times the Army was the enemy.
I stopped at the post office just outside the base to mail Grandpa's book back to Aunt Ruth. I had no idea where I was headed next. I gave New York City some thought then decided against it. I had mentioned a friend in Ohio to my family and friends. I could go try to find Jim. Even if I didn't find him, one place was as good as another. I sure didn't want to start my new life in New York.
The drive toward the small town outside of Cincinnati was a nightmare. It began to snow shortly after I left Fort Dix. I drove for seven hours just to make it one hundred miles. The snow varied from mile to mile thank god. There were enough places with only a few inches to make the places with several inches bearable. When the T got stranded just outside a small town I muscled it off the road. I hooked the duffel bags one on each shoulder then went looking for help. I walked down the closest farm road.
When I reached the mostly unpainted farm house, I was worn out and more than a little frozen. It hurt to even knock on the door. The woman who came to the door must have been forty but she looked sixty. It appeared that farm life in Pennsylvania was hard on women.
"Ma'am, I am sorry to bother you but my car ran off the road a couple of miles from here. I was headed for Ohio. I am just about froze up. Could I come in and warm myself by your fire?"
"Well Mister, you can't come in my man is off to town. You can use the barn to get out of the snow though. I think there is a barrel up there, my husband builds a fire in it now and again. You can use it, if you find it."
I was not happy but it beat sleeping in the open back of the T with no heat at all. "Thank you ma'am I appreciate it." I tried to sound grateful. I really was but the warm air coming out the door made me envious.
I was surprised to find no animals in the barn. Surely they were not in the fields in the dead of winter, I thought. Since it was none of my business, I began looking for the barrel. I found a tank which had been cut in half. One of the halves contained ashes from a previous fire.
I took a look at the size of the barn and the size of the barrel. "The fire is going to be almost useless three fee away from the barrel." I said it aloud.
I was too cold to think about a real fire so I built a quick fire from the old straw on the floor. I knew it wouldn't last long. I hoped I would at least get my fingers thawed before it died. As I warmed my fingers I looked about the place. I noted with some interest that the hay loft was empty. Since there were no animals in the barn and no food for any I guessed that the farm wasn't really being worked. The next guess was that the husband had taken a job in town. He had probably been snowed in for a while, I thought. I could imagine that he would be along soon but traveling on foot.
I checked out the wood pile and found it small. There would not be much more than the house would burn during the snow. The man of the place would need to cut more upon his return.
I was still far too cold to be of much use to anyone at all. I looked about trying to decide what my next move should be. I needed firewood for the barrel there was no doubt of it. My best chance seemed to be a small patch of woods across a small field.
It was going to be a bitch to carry wood across that snow-covered field by hand. Even so I knew that I had no other choice.
The work gathering the wood actually warmed me. My hands were taking a beating, but the rest of me was fairly warm since the great coat contained the heat.
My first load was an arm load of tried branches. They would not burn long but should be enough to get my hands thawed at least. The fire burned for several minutes with just the first small filling of the tub. Even though the smoke was bad, it warmed my fingers. There was some pain as they began to re heat but it wasn't too bad since I had worn my gloves. I had obviously not gotten frostbite. I knew what that was like I had seen it in France.
I made several trips to the woods that afternoon. I increased my wood reserve with every load. It was almost dark when I decided I might have enough to last the night. I knew for a fact I did not want to walk to the woods in the dark. If I stepped in a hole, I doubted the woman in the house would help me. She seemed to be a bit afraid of me, and it didn't matter to me that much. If she had been more attractive, it might have.
The duffel bag contained cigarettes and the remains of the day's bread and cheese. I wouldn't starve but it was not my idea of supper either. I had no water. Even if I did, I would have had no way to drink it. I hadn't stolen my field gear.
The lack of water wasn't really a problem as there was snow everywhere. The problem was going to be in finding a container to melt it. Eating it as snow was a good way to get the cold sickness. I had seen men go into shock from the cold. Once they passed out it was less than fifty-fifty that they would come back.
It wasn't quite dark when I saw the old woman leave the house. She walked toward the barn with a bundle in her hand. I knew that she had to be coming to the barn so I went to meet her. I helped her to battle the wind until we were both inside.
"Oh Lord, I had forgotten how bad this place leaked air. I am sorry mister, but it really is the best I can do. My man would have a fit if you slept in the house."
"I understand," I said it even though I didn't really.
"Look I brought you some things. Maybe they will make it a little better for you up here."
I opened the bundle she handed me. Inside I found some bread and cheese. I would have laughed if I hadn't recognized it as a friendship gesture. The one thing she brought that I could use was a metal cup. It wasn't very large but it would do for melting the snow.
"I thank you for the food, but you should keep it. I have a little with me. But I do need the cup badly." She didn't seem to be in a hurry to leave so I went outside to pack it with snow.