I had completed the chore I'd volunteered to do for my sister Carol. I'd driven her car up from Houston, Texas to her in Nashville, Tennessee where she'd been asked to report as soon as possible to accept a new job and promotion in her company. The promotion had been so important to her career she'd flown up immediately to accept it. I'd driven her car up at a more relaxed pace.
I had stayed the week and helped her get set up in her new apartment and settled into her job. I'd had nothing much better to do, and Carol had always been very supportive of me, sending me care packages in whatever God forsaken hell I was stationed in and letting me know I still had a family who loved me to come back to. I'm retired and on disability from the military now.
On a nostalgic whim I'd decided to take a bus ride on my way back to Texas. I had capable friends who owed me taking care of my house, stables, and livestock, so I could take as long as I wanted. I figured I'd do the trip in short hops, stopping anywhere the mood struck me to see the sights. I could always rent a car or take a plane if the trip became tedious or there was a problem at home. It had been my days in the military since I'd ridden a bus, and I could recall being fascinated in studying the variety of people who rode them.
I'll make an explanation here. Once, early in my military career we'd had a mandatory formation in dress uniform to honor a dignitary. I'd left there when it was over and walked to a nearby bus stop. There was a beautiful young lady there, and I do mean world class. She'd looked at me with interest in her eyes and said, "Sgt, you are a handsome sight to behold in your dress uniform! You could be a movie star." The look in her lovely eyes told me she was sincere, and she probably didn't use such terms often or lightly. I managed to stammer, "Thank you, Ma'am. You are quite beautiful, if you don't mind my saying so."
A bus pulled up and my dream girl stepped onto it and turned to wave farewell, and I've always regretted not following her onto her bus and asking if she'd like to exchange names and phone numbers. I never saw her again, quite naturally, but I've always wondered how it might have changed both our lives had I followed her. I suspect it had been a case of love at first sight we had both missed out on. I know I still thought about her, years later. The incident had helped create my fascination with buses.
Carol thanked me for all I'd done by cooking a fine southern dinner, using our Shelby family recipes from memory and long use, and then dropped me off at the bus station the next morning. I hugged my sister and told her I would love her when I'm dust blowing in the wind. Hey, if it is possible, I will do it!
I walked in the door and headed for the ticket counter. I hadn't taken three steps in that direction before I was distracted by the sounds of crying. I looked to see a little red headed, green-eyed vision of loveliness seated in the waiting room. She was bawling her eyes out and my first thought was her mother shouldn't have left the pretty young girl responsible for the crying sibling she was holding all by herself.
Another look showed the front of her dress was unbuttoned and one small swollen pale breast was exposed. I may have been a little slack jawed when I realized that young girl had been trying to nurse her own baby. I am a combat veteran and have callously stepped over dead and dying men on streets and in jungles and deserts around the world on many occasions. Some I've killed myself, but I'd never been one to walk past a young mother and baby in distress without offering to help!
I walked over to her and sat down two seats away from them so perhaps I wouldn't seem threatening. "Ma'am," I spoke quietly and calmly, "your baby sounds like it may have a touch of the colic." I hoped my appearance wasn't too frightening, I was dressed in the typical cowboy fashion I always wore, complete with boots and a Stetson felt hat. I usually wear a cooler straw hat in summer, but I'd expected to be in air conditioning most of the time on this trip.
It seemed to take her several minutes to collect her own thoughts and stop crying. From close-up she was even more strikingly beautiful, with shoulder length, curly, flaming red hair and jade green eyes of an otherworldly shade I had never before seen in a human. I have an almost encyclopedic memory for mostly worthless facts, and recalled I'd last seen those color eyes in the spotted face of a large South American jaguar. It had approached me closely while I was in camouflage in an ambush on a mission there.
Her freckles were uniformly abundant over her otherwise light complexioned face and exposed parts of her body. I found them fascinating and beautiful. "Thank you. I didn't know what it was," she said, "but she hasn't nursed at all today and I'm so afraid for her and my breasts are hurting terribly!"
"May I hold her for a few minutes?" I asked. "Usually a baby's moods will respond to its mothers emotions. You're upset so the baby is upset. It cries and upsets its stomach and makes it cry that much more. It's sort of a self-generating circle, and if it keeps on it can become chronic. I'll try to calm her." That must have seemed logical to her, because she handed the baby to me. At any rate she was smart enough to know she needed help from someone, and from her having told a total stranger her breasts were hurting I knew the poor girl had to be at wits end!
I stood and carefully accepted the crying infant from her, then she straightened and buttoned her dress recovering her breast. I sat back in the chair and looked that beautiful crying baby in her face. I kissed salty tears off both her cheeks, and I calmly told her what a beauty she was, then I laid the baby atop its blanket across my lap face down, and began to rub and pat her tiny back gently. The baby had a good start of curly bright red hair the same shade as her mom's and her remarkable jade eyes. She was gorgeous, as I'd told her, despite her own crying. In my experience every female of any age enjoys being flattered.
I asked the girl, "Do you sing to her? She's what, only a couple of weeks old, but you can bet she's imprinted on your voice." I thought the sound might soothe both of them and distract the little mother from her painful breasts.
She moved to the chair next to mine and sang a lullaby about riding a little pony and going to town to her baby for a few moments. I remembered that song from my own childhood, and I drank in the sound of her sweet voice like a rare wine. Watching the pure mother love for her baby radiating from the face of this exquisite woman child touched my own scarred and broken heart. Despite the familiarity of the lullaby it struck me this lovely creature would have appeared more in her natural surroundings singing and dancing nude in the moonlight around the boulders at Stonehenge, than sitting in this grungy bus station.
The baby stopped crying. I watched her eyes close as she relaxed and rested. I was still patting and rubbing her, concentrating on projecting my protection, confidence, and soothing thoughts to her, something I'd learned years ago with a stepson who had had colic for weeks. The baby burped loudly and spit up a little sour milk. That seemed to have relieved some of her problem with her belly. I smiled and nodded to her mom reassuringly, letting her know that was a good sign. She gave me a million-dollar smile in return! I was working my own version of therapy on both the pretty redheads at once and it seemed they were responding favorably to it.
The mother of the two was right there with a soft cloth to clean up the mess. I could tell she had the mothering instincts, but perhaps needed some experience and support in caring for her baby. She seemed little more than a teen in appearance herself.
"You know more about babies than I do." She said with an angelic smile, "I was an only child and my Granny raised me, but she passed on last year."
"I'm sorry to hear you lost her, Ma'am. She'd have adored this child." I told her, and used the opportunity of her closeness to lay a calming hand on her small one. "It's a damned shame babes don't come with directions on the butt. If it's okay with you we'll let her take a nap then see if she's ready to nurse? You must not have a breast pump or you'd already have used it. If she doesn't nurse after her nap I'll help you find a breast pump and some relief for you, and a Pediatrician for her."
"Your plan is working better than mine," she confided, "Nancy and I don't have anything but the clothes on our backs, and no friends or family in Tennessee. My husband left me here last month, saying he was going back to Alabama where we were raised to find work. I spent all day my eighteenth birthday walking five horrible miles with her from the hospital back to the dump he'd left me in, and that place threw us out last week. I sold my ring to buy food so I'd have milk for her, but the few dollars ran out two days ago. I'm sure there are relief agencies, but I have no idea of how to contact them."
"You have a friend now, young lady, if you will allow me to help you?" I told her. "My name is Jo Shelby, J-o after one of my ancestors, Confederate General Jo Shelby. I'm retired from the military and was looking for something to occupy my time when I heard you and this precious child crying."
.... There is more of this story ...