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.
.... There is more of this story ...