Eddie handed his mother the letters he’d picked up at Peter’s Store. Nadine stepped onto the little porch surrounded by bright flowers and took her seat on a woven rag rug that served to cover the rough chair. She smiled, appreciating the tranquil sanctuary she’d been able to create here. After ten years in the little rented house, the plantings had established themselves and flourished. Never since leaving her father’s house had she had that much time to make a home in one place.
Her mind flashed back to the day they moved here.
Nadine occupied her familiar spot peering out the little kitchen window which afforded her an easterly view of The Monterey Road. She watched the passersby, whenever there were any. On a couple of occasions she’d even seen an automobile chugging along. As she watched today, her hands always busy, the road was clear but out of the corner of her eye she saw movement on the path leading to the house. She leaned close to the window and nearly gasped when she realized Bill was striding rather quickly toward the house. He walked with purpose as he rarely did when walking toward his family. She quickly tried to count how many days he’d been gone –they were so few that she hadn’t yet begun to keep track.
In a moment the kitchen door crashed open; Nadine jumped despite expecting him. She tried to look deep into his eyes to read whether he was angry, but saw no emotion at all within them.
“Where’s that boy?” he demanded.
She was sure it was Lou he wanted after all, the last words Bill heard in this room were those Lou hurled toward him.
“Lou and Harry are out in the barn, I think.”
“Mary!” he yelled. “Mary get down to the barn and bring them boys up here.”
Mary had been in Nadine’s front bedroom with little Eddie. She scurried through the kitchen without even looking at her father. She took no time to ask why or to greet the man.
Nadine quietly excused herself to go ensure Eddie had been left in a safe position. She was sorely tempted to just stay in her bedroom for she did not look forward to the encounter between her husband and their son. But she realized she must be there, if only to take advantage of any opportunity to keep the peace among her family.
Mary completed her errand quickly and by the time Nadine left a dry and napping Eddie carefully placed in the center of her bed, Lou, Mary and Harry were entering the kitchen.
Lou walked a pace ahead of his siblings, his face set with fierce determination. His mouth opened to speak, or shout, the moment he crossed the threshold. However, Bill did not give him a chance.
“Are them horses shod?” he asked anyone who could answer. “Get one of ‘em saddled. I ain’t a’walkin’ when I leave here this time.”
Harry nodded his head. This was a chore he could easily do.
Bill continued, expecting his family to eagerly hear and attend to his every demand. “Got some fella from down in the Sequatchie Valley gonna’ buy this place. We’re a’goin’ to the court house tomorrow mornin’ so yu’ns will have to get cleared out right quick.”
Crimson red crept up Lou’s neck and his eyes held a wild look. He clenched his fists so tightly they turned white. Nadine stepped forward to prevent Lou and Bill exchanging blows. She wasn’t sure who would win such a match and she had no intention of finding out.
Bill too saw the anger rising but seemed unconcerned. He turned to continue speaking to Mary and Harry.
Lou cut him off short, “How dare you march in here after we’ve worked the whole summer to get this place ready for winter.”
“By-jingo, I dare ‘cause it’s my own place.”
“You own it.” Lou’s words hissed through teeth clamped too tightly for language. “Well, you don’t OWN me or anybody else in this room. We’ll never again be dependent on anything you OWN.”
Turning to the rest of the family and taking charge as he never had before Lou directed them, “Get packin’. I’ll go find us a place to live that he can’t touch. This is the last time I work day and night to make a place fit to live in only to have it sold or traded right out from under me.”
With that, Lou was gone. Nadine feared she would never see her son again, however, she did as he’d asked and began packing. Quietly, she asked Harry to bring the wagon up to the house.
Harry asked, “How we gonna’ pull it if Father’s takin’ one of the horses?”
“Oh, I hadn’t thought of that. Well, wait till Lou gets back, he’ll know what to do.”
When Lou returned it was nearly dark. Nadine saw him riding on a very slow-moving mule which he put into the barn. He walked into the house and surveyed the kitchen from the doorway.
“He left right after you.”
Lou went to the little wash stand by his sister’s bed and bathed his face and arms as he talked to his mother. “I’ve rented the little house of Frank Miller’s just down the road. He’s goin’ up north to look for work; said he was leavin’ by the end of the week but he’ll let you and the baby sleep in the front room till they get packed up. Borrowed his old mule too. Wish I could buy it but there’s just no way. We’ll return it to his pa when we get our house plunder moved.”
“How did you manage? What will we use to pay rent?”
Lou slumped into a straight-back chair, “Went to see Jimmy first. He’ll help us when we need it. I know Jerry will too, ‘cept I didn’t get to see him ‘cause he’s gone with a load of logs. Can you b’lieve he’s drivin’ a truck that’s big enough to pull them logs up out of the Baldwin Gulf?”
Nadine shook her head, stopping for a moment to wonder at her son’s accomplishments after such a short time working in the log-woods. Then she let out a breath she felt she’d been holding all afternoon. She realized that while Bill had constantly moved the family from one place to another, she’d never been without a home of some sort. This had been a scary afternoon for her.
Nadine inhaled deeply of the honeysuckle that wrapped itself around one end of her porch and drew her mind back to the present. No need to dwell on what’s happened ten years ago.
She looked at the letters in her hand and seeing the postmarks, she took a moment to pray. Two letters from her boys. Harry, stationed stateside in Maine and Lou who was somewhere overseas – the Army as so secretive about those things. There was a moment’s joy everytime she saw the AP/FPO address identifying one of them. Three boys overseas, it seemed like such a sacrifice. At least they’d left the youngest of the three within the relative safety of American borders. Still she stopped to praise God every time because that meant that at least a few weeks ago her boy was well enough to write. The feel of the third envelope told her it was the government check paying her the allotment Lou and Harry had each setup to send home. Jerry was also serving overseas but felt his money should be sent to his wife, Vera and Nadine certainly agreed.
Lou’s letter opened with questions about her and Eddie’s welfare. Lou always wanted to ensure that the allotment had been received and that it was sufficient for them. All three of the boys seemed to take comfort knowing that their service was not only helping to keep America free, but it also helped to feed and house their mother.
Eddie skipped the steps and hopped onto the porch, dragging a ladder back chair close to his mother.
Nadine smiled at her baby. She was so proud of him, and she knew his brothers and sisters were too. “You are just in time. I’ve barely started reading these. Will you read them to me? I just love to hear you read aloud.”
Handing off the letters, Nadine again closed her eyes. She allowed Eddie’s strong, young voice to penetrate her mind. She imagined she could see Europe as Lou described it. Somehow she had always thought it would be drabber, less exciting than Lou found it. Yet he described beautiful flowers, green fields and homes finer than any she’d ever imagined. Eddie read on, “I’m hoping we’ll be home before long. We’re always thinking it can’t last much longer.” Any explanation of Lou’s thoughts was caught by the censor’s blade.