by Edward M. Turner
Crap comes to those who wait their turn.
My personal quote. A very succinct description of my early life in the U. S. Coast Guard in the mid-seventies. Stationed at a college campus on the northeastern shore of Connecticut, I'd yearn for home.
Home was a simple clapboard saltbox in a small Maine town. Come what may, good times or bad, that weathered house had stood unchanged on its granite foundation. It blended into the landscape and anchored my soul through youth and early adulthood.
Life in the military was one of separations. Typical prolonged case of home-sickness. The first year in I missed both Thanksgiving and Christmas, spent it at some country-western bar in Ledyard, a few miles inland from Groton, Connecticut. I hoped I had a good time. Every night was blackout night for me and the holiday blackouts began that much earlier. Booze and me got along real fine, except I wish I remembered some nights.
Jesus, one night I did remember was the Friday night I made it home for my twentieth birthday, my first one in the service.
It was early April and I traveled by airplane-New London to Boston to Bangor. The airport bars served the thirsty traveler all he wanted. It's not like one would be driving the plane. If a passenger could stagger to the loading ramp, no problem. Better than an all-night bus ride.
At Bangor airport I received good news. When I called for a ride, Dad said my brother also wanted to come with him and pick me up. This touched me because Brother hated the 35-mile ride to the airport. I said, "Sure, let him come. Glad to have him."
They met me in the airport lounge with its rows of sparkling wine glasses hung upside down from wooden slats above the bar. An elegant mirror reflected the back of the white-shirted bartender. I bought them both a beer. My brother looked out of his element wearing his steel-toed work boots, ragged pants and Paul Bunyan beard.
"Hey," I said, "did you leave your blue ox to home?"
He chuckled in a strained sort of way. I'd been drinking since the plane touched down. My father looked around the bar in a casual manner. He straightened the collar of his flannel shirt. His face was red from razor burn.
"How long you up for?"" my father asked.
"Until I'm hauled back to the airport dead drunk, most likely."
My father just stared at me. My brother gave another thin chuckle.
My brother upended his beer glass and sucked it dry. "You about ready?"
I stopped from ordering another round of beers. "Yeah, I guess."
We left the bar and piled into my father's late-model Ford pickup. Brother drove, I sat in the middle and Dad sat near the passenger door. It was a tight fit, except that brought us closer together, you know? We stopped at a beer store so I could buy a case of Budweiser for the ride home.
As we crossed the bridge from Bangor to Brewer and took the road to Bucksport, a full moon came out from behind clouds. The clouds themselves were like black rags blown by the wind. Hayfields still had patches of snow on them. We could see the blue glow of televisions in lonely houses. People were up late for the news; it was after eleven. An occasional car passed us.
Jesus, the beer tasted good. I felt at peace and in good company.
"There's no snow in Connecticut," I said.
"Not much around here," brother allowed.
"You didn't get that snowstorm last week?" my father asked.
"It rained last week," I replied. "I got soaked hitch-hiking back to my apartment. Didn't know anybody to call for a ride. Not like around here, I can stay with anybody around here."
They didn't comment.
"I did get seduced, though."
"You did?" my brother asked after he opened another beer one-handed.
"Yeah, an old lady, must've been 35 years old. She bought me drinks. Got her barking in a hoarse voice."
My brother laughed like hell. My father remained silent.
"She didn't give you a ride home?" my brother asked.
"Well, I forgot and turned on the light."
They both laughed.
About halfway home, my brother parked alongside the road to take a leak. While he did his business, father said, "We'll stay at your brother's house tonight."
"Really?" I said. "Well . . . why's that?"
"House burnt down."
Brother got back in, rocking the pickup gently on its springs. The wind picked up and gusted against the windows with a soft moan. He shifted into first and drove on.
In the town of North Penobscot, we drove by his house and took a right, went down the hill. We pulled into our driveway. I looked up through the darkness and could see the leafless maple tree standing alone against the moon in the night sky. I looked at the sparse lawn and could see the dim clump of woods beyond the garden field. My vision didn't pick up anything in between. There was no house.
We got out of the truck. Dad led me to the cellar. Brother brought up the rear. It was a dirty hole in the snow, as if my memory of it had been completely vaporized. The recent snowfall acted as a grimy shroud.
"Jesus," I said. "Happy birthday."
I didn't cry, my mind just echoed everything of childhood. I upended the beer in hand and tried to quench my aching thirst. Empty, I tossed it the length of the hole where the bottle busted on a piece of granite foundation.
"Well . . . that's that," I said. We turned our backs to go to the pickup and what was left of the beer.
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