The Homecoming

The Homecoming

I strolled into the field of Texas bluebonnets and knew that not only had Spring come to Texas, but that I had come home, too.

My tired eyes looked down on the town nestling in the sun with the river winding its way to the sea from here in the high country. It all looked the same. Behind, the Greyhound bus grated its gears as it pulled away from the stop kicking out a stinking blue cloud. Shouldering my kit bag, I headed down the hill. So much happened since they drafted me. I survived with all four limbs intact. Guess I should be grateful for that. Not sure about my mind.

The crumpled and many times read letter in my shirt pocket said it all. Helen wouldn’t wait for me. An old flame looked her up and he had an exemption from the draft. Sitting in Bastogne with Wehrmacht shells exploding all around and short on ammunition the mail got through. Can you believe that? No ammo, just mail. And in it my ‘Dear John’ letter. The kind o fmail every soldier dreads.

As I trudged down the deserted Main Street, I heard the unmistakable voice of Pastor Janssen emanating from the clapboard church. Accompanied on the organ probably played by his wife he sang, ‘The Old Rugged Cross’, reminding me it was Easter Sunday. I’d never been religious but when you’re sitting in a fox hole with explosions all around you come close to believing.

Mr Albonetti’s ice-cream parlor was still there on the corner. Funny what you think of when far away from home. God, ice-cream and fields of Texas bluebonnets. I wondered what happened to Lucy after she and her family moved to Dallas. We’d sit on the porch on the way home from school and share an ice cream, neither of us having enough money to buy one each. I was supposed to take her to the school prom, but her father took a job in Dallas a week earlier. We said we would write, but we never did.

More friends than sweethearts but I think we were moving in that direction, slowly as adolescents do. Anyway, I went to the prom on my own and somehow ended up with Helen when her escort, Chuck, got ejected for picking a fight with Mr Giddens the science teacher. That was the start of our romance. Her parents didn’t approve. Helen didn’t name the old flame in her letter. Maybe it was Chuck. I heard he took a job in the oil fields. He wouldn’t be short of money and depending on his role, exempted from the draft in a protected occupation.

As I strode past the Nilsson house with its neat white piquet fence and garden, I wondered if Helen, would be inside. Or had she married and moved away? Over a year passed since Bastogne and the end of the war. A lot could have happened. Her old flame could have burned out. I felt the urge to knock on the door, but pride kept me walking. Or was it pride? My yearning evaporated like morning mist and the dawning of reality.

Crossing the railroad tracks I passed what had been the Karlsson’s place. Whoever owned it now let it fall into disrepair. Lucy’s Dad didn’t earn much in the sawmill, but he kept it nice, much better than most of the houses on this side of the tracks. His garden used to be full of Texas bluebonnets, now it lay bare.

I plodded on. And there was home. The last house after which the land turned to scrub. It looked the same as the day I left.

I pushed open the flyscreen and dropped my kit bag. “Hi Mom!”

She stood transfixed in her gray dress and off-white apron, her hands covered in flour. And then she let out such a shriek it rattled the plates on the dresser. I found myself wrapped in a motherly white embrace.

Footsteps thudded down the stairs. Another shriek as my little sister threw her arms around me and Mom.

“You didn’t say you were coming,” said mother extricating herself and stepping back to look me over to see if I was in one piece, I presumed.

“Didn’t have time. They discharged our Company yesterday afternoon and I’ve been traveling ever since.”

I sensed a presence behind me. Turning I saw Lucy standing by the kitchen door. Not the adolescent Lucy with whom I shared Ice-cream. Lucy now a pretty young woman with a bunch of Texas bluebonnets in her hand.

“Lucy came back to work in the veterans' hospital,” said my sister. “So, she’s staying with us.”

Our eyes met. Lucy smiled. My heart skipped a beat.

“Would you like an ice-cream?” said Lucy.

“Yes, I would.”

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The Homecoming