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Subject:Chapter one: Grandpa's house
Time:02:09 am
Industries and factories had come and gone. Some stayed around long enough to prove their worth, but most of them had disappeared. A company or two had built an empire; a few men had become rich. There was even one factory that managed to employ many through the gain and loss of a small fortune. For some men carpentry was a livelihood, for others it was lumber or maybe even smithing. For the men who made their home in Theary Pass it was coal.

Theary Pass isn't a pass at all. In fact, it has nothing to do with a mountain at all. It's flat. Tallest point is the top of the hospital, which, by the way, is the building with the most rooms in Theary Pass. It might have a population 17,000 in only a few years. It has a Main Street that, as the name implies, is the main strip through the town. Starting with the sun in your face you'll go by an auto parts store, the Lions Club, the Grange, couple of hair salons topped by a few layers of apartments. You'll probably walk right past the Tsao Chung Family Chinese restaurant and not realize it's even there. It isn't small, it just doesn't draw much attention. Next to that is the Calle de Mexico restaurant, and just across SR 68 is McDonalds. Main and SR 68 is the location of one of two stop lights within the town limits. There are a few insurance agencies followed by a grocery store. A gravel parking lot and a Presbyterian church sum it up. There isn't much more then wheat far as the eye can see. So you turn around, cross the street, and start heading north... ish. A challenging Catholic church stands with a tall bell tower, tolling if it had been Sunday. Jennings and son's contracting office was right across from insurance. Then the paint and supplies store followed by a liquor store which seemed a little out of place.
Across 68 there is an out of place park. I think it had been purchased by the Catholic Church a few years back. There is a great arch on that corner that says in roman script 'The Park of Heaven's Light.' It had two swing sets beneath three equally sized elm trees at the far end on a small rise. It is probably the only hill in town. At the bottom of the rise there is a set a picnic tables, five or six of them, all in a long bend matching the hill. On the left marches a parade of small oak trees, on the right there is a fence dotted with oak trees and in the middle is about half a football field of lush green manicured grass. A small slide is made miniature by a big one that probably reaches ten feet. Passing a couple of elm trees and a drinking fountain you'd find Main again.
Moving up Main there was another apartment building with a bottom floor that served as a nice place for a barber shop and a video rental store. Frank and Sons furniture store, a non-descript grocery store, a gas station and carwash.

Coal didn't make my grandfather rich, you couldn't eat it, and it wasn't turned into gold by alchemists. Coal wasn't a quick way to make a dollar either. You would head down a long dark shoot that spits you onto 'Hell's front stoop,' as grandpa would call it. You can't see. It's wet and sticky, or it's so dry your nose bleeds. You dig the thickest dirt and mud out of the earth, who hates you for it, and you send it back out the shoot you came in through. The shovel you are given is about the shape as a spoon. It has the same worn smooth handle and the same worn smooth blade so you don't cut your mouth while flinging slop into your belly between shifts. You spend eight of your precious hours moving this clay. It all gets washed up and dressed to the tails like it's going out to the senior prom. Out it goes ready for a hot night in the furnace. Your eight hours are spent to push electricity through the few hours of TV you watch at night. When you came out of that wretched forsaken hole you were one of two colors: Black as night, or black as coal.

Grandpa didn't watch tv in his spare time. He couldn't. It didn't exist then. Back in those days if you were rich you spent your time going to school, but if you were poor, as was my grandpa's case, you built things. He built a fence. He built a barn. But most importantly, he built a house. He built it with both of his tired bare hands. He measured and inspected each piece of golden lumber. He checked and double checked every angle. He didn't put in every nail. My father and my two uncles helped with that. My father tells me of how they stayed in a tent on the property. They cooked over a fire I now call the fire pit. They washed with water from a well cold as ice. When I was younger I thought it would be lots of fun to be camping all the time. Chores were not short in supply. My father would say, "Ya know son, your grandpa told me that some day this house would be mine. He told me that every day when he'd call us out to work on it. Now it is mine, and I'm telling you the same thing, so long as Uncle Sam don't take you or this house away from me. So you better sweep up this house, son, 'cause one day it'll be yours."

Imagine, if you would, a Victorian house, light blue, white trim, picket fence. Imagine two floors of beautifully intricate Cape Cod windows. Now imagine if you can a brick and sea-glass walkway leading up through moss colored grass which springs up under a great oak that is old as time itself. Imagine great double door entry, not to mention the hardwood floors with lavender and crimson runner style carpet in the halls and great stairway. This was grandpa's house. The banisters were carved with cherry lions' heads at top and bottom ends. The halls had decoratively lathed columns lining every corridor. The kitchen had a marble top island facing the lowered family room that was indistinguishable from the front yard through the sun filled bay window. The family room had carpet so plush you would sink into it like quicksand. If you ever removed your toes from the living room carpet, then you would have a chance to see the library. It wasn't really a library, I think it was grandpa's smoking room, but it had some books in it. There was War and Peace, right beside Moby Dick, followed by a volume of some version of encyclopedia. The next shelf was definitely grandmas. It had Charles Dickens, Emily Dickenson, a novel that was probably French: Hamas Humaine, and finally Pride and Prejudice. We didn't spend much time in there, but we called it the library. Through the mud room you would walk out into just enough room to throw the pigskin, If you avoid the workshop sitting against the fence.

Grandpa had gone to meet his maker, but my father was still around, and so was that old house, when the war broke out. We had read about it in the news. We had heard about it on the radio. We had even studied the geography in high school. 'Mostly sand' we would read, like a large oceanless beach. Cacti abound among the oasis yielding only to the glorious mirages that were so famous. Settlements were few and far between. We would see the kids playing army men out in the fields with their roughly M-16 shaped wooden assault rifles. Rolling back and forth they would hurl dirt clod laden wheat clumps at each other and duck away from the blast. Many of them were injured and left to die, rising a few minutes later to triumphantly overtake their enemy. I remember Freddy Jackson, whose dad owned Tony's Paint and Supplies, had a tank made out of cardboard appropriately colored to match the army style fatigues seen in movies of the day. Freddy and Jacob could carry their tank around holding poles connected to the inside. Dials and knobs painted on the inside would direct and redirect blasts out the main wrapping paper tube barrel. This would go on until meal time would signal a retreat and no band of warriors would be held in either victory or defeat; the deciding battle was always to take place tomorrow.
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Subject:Chapter two: The Trucks
Time:12:41 pm
All my friends wanted to be one of those little boys going off to war to solve the problems of the world and come back home heroes of the nation. I didn't. I was happy right here in Theary Pass. I was happy to drive my beat-up, left-over, heatless bug to work. I was happy to go on dates with my girl on a Saturday night. I was happy to find my place in the pew second from the last left of the isle way every Sunday. I didn't need to go show how brave I was, or prove anything by walking into the line of fire with my chest puffed out expectant of a wound I would shrug off.

The volunteer time of the draft went quickly, as I was not the only person to have the opinion that someone else was going to fight. They began calling people and asking for volunteers in a half car salesmen half military way. I would not answer that call; I would not answer any call. If it was not a general with demands, then it would probably be my boss. I am sure the call came. The phone never rang at our house unless it was my boss telling me about another shipment I had to wake up all too early to receive. That phone would ring, and I was first into the bathroom. I stayed until I heard some one say 'Oh, Aunt Clara, how have you been?" The phone would ring a second time sending me into fits of diarrhea, or so every one thought. "Grandma Carolina, How is your back? Expecting a good crop of strawberries again, well isn't that nice? Sure! We'll be up on Saturday if that's alright with you." Out I would come again panting because I was holding my breath so I could hear. A third ringing would signal yet another entry into solitude. "He's is occupied at the moment. No. Yes, he is. Yes, I'm sure he will. Thank you, good bye."
"Who was that?" I would franticly question. It did sound like a call from someone important. What were they asking? Who was this 'he' they asked for?
"It was your boss, dear," My mother always had a soothing voice unless you got into the pie, or cookies. "He says 4:30am sharp. Got some potatoes and carrots and arugala coming in, and some other things. Tuesday he said, be there 4:30 sharp, dear. I hope you are over this fit you are having in the bathroom."
At ease I felt again. "Thanks mom, I'll be fine. I'm sure of it." After all they wouldn't call me at work.

On that groggy Tuesday morning what cars were out pushed passengers through the highway fulfilling their loyal duty by placing personnel in the hands of the respective companies those people filled. I punched my card. I pinned my nametag in place. I took my well-worn clipboard off its shelf and began to slip the required paperwork under my tablet's tense bite. I was dazing about the world while the pen took care of business. I no longer had to think about this job to get it right. I had been keeping tabs on the comings and goings of the entire produce isle for almost a year, and I was now fluent in the task. My hand saw arugala, and beets, and broccoli, and celery, and carrots, and dill, and eggplant, and fireweed, and grapes, and heads of lettuce. My eyes watched seconds, and minutes, and hours, and days, and dollars, and scents, and bills, and paychecks. My mind gazed at glorified visions of Africa, and Egypt, and China, and Japan, and Russia, and Antarctica, and South America. I smelled fruits, and vegetables, and herbs, and spices, and water, and sweat, and oil. I heard men moving crates, crates stacking up, machines picking up stacks of crates, sprayers washing, doors opening, people buying, and my boss yelling. I reunited myself to go on a lunch break. Chitchat doused what fire kept me interested in co-workers. Another day was half over, but the rest of the day was comprised mostly of stocking and restocking what every one had come to love and use. I had come to despise produce. Tomorrow I would be fine again, I wouldn't mind seeing a bunch of parsley, or a bag of peaches. Right now I couldn't stand to see any produce until after I had finished my roast beef and cheddar on wheat; there was nothing produce about it at all. Carrots, onions, potatoes, apples, oranges, and bananas are first to empty out, followed by lettuce, green onions, bell peppers, peaches, nectarines, tangerines, and most of the herbs and spices. Next are jalapenos, habaneros, sweet peas, string beans, and artichokes. Last to go are the 'exotic' items like bean sprouts, coconut, pineapples, mangos, papayas, guavas, and star fruit is absent last.

With another day of work over with I began the sluggish move toward home. The sunlight baked me while every one was, of course, in my way, again. 'Why don't they go somewhere else?' I wondered. My mind again traveled out of my body to visit far off lands. The flight was canceled and my mind was returned to sender when I saw something I had never actually seen before. There was a military on Madison Ave. Not a foreign militia, it was our own. They were going house to house like vacuum salesmen taking men from their homes and forcing them into big trucks labeled 'Volunteer Army Recruits.' I thought perhaps I was sleepy from waking so early, so I looked again. A man was reaching for his wife and daughter. Her arm cradled the child while the other grasped his outstretched limb for one brief touch and one brief glance. A glare of green army print was retaining her flooded emotions. His head and arm were just visible through two men of brown and green. I strained my ears to just hear the terrified screams above the idling motors. Maybe it had been a long day and I was delirious, so I took a deep breath and pinched my lids tight for a moment. Again my eyes focused on a similar scene. Two boys held back by two limbs of an army green tree that bent over to brace it's branches against the two blasts of flesh. This man also was held by a mass of green with two faces and one intent. I recognized these boys now, they had lain as dead in the battle field of wheat, Henry and his little brother Kevin Davis. This time I saw his frustrated face being pushed into the truck and the door slammed shut. The rest of the ride was all a daze.

Soon enough I was out of my trance, and out of my car. I was out of my uniform, and into my spot to dad's left at the dinner table. "Soup's on!" Mom called. I didn't break out in a rash because it had been long enough since I left work to see another vegetable. I had all but forgotten about the men I had seen crammed into the trucks like sheep and hauled off like The Holocaust was happening again. Soup was delicious. I tried several times to bring up the sights I had seen on the drive home, but I had almost convinced my self that it was an episode I had had from waking up at four o'clock.

The smell of hot soup boiled through the entire house, and I knew which vegetables were in it. Potatoes were always in the mix. Carrots made an appearance often enough, and meat was a staple in mom's soup. Meat spiced with oregano and thyme. A tinge of pepper bit my nose and the fresh from the oven rolls came forth with the butter. Frosty glasses of milk towered over each loaded plate, just north of steaming mom's soup.

Dad says grace. Chit-chat is shared about how work was in the mine, how much produce came in, and mom's new haircut. A distant sound disturbs us all. Only those in the back of the dining room had to lean over to see the seen out the bay window. There they were again like reliving a bad dream. You could see the truck lights glaring through the indigo dusk. The lights were off in the front room. We were flies drawn to the bright bay window television, only this was real. The soldier shaped shadows working the streets like selling vacuums. Our neighbors door, the Wallaces, hanging open. Tim was in the Army years ago, I'm sure he'll make a good rank. Across the 23rd Street, the Harrisons, an older couple, but Daniel speaks Russian. Next door to the Harrisons lives Larry Ford. He works with dad in the mine, no special skills, but there they were knocking. Two vibrant glowing beams were piercing right through the growing darkness, the truck was almost blocking the view. Our house was next.

'Chack chack chack!' That noise echoed forever. Those three simple clicks on the front door ricocheted off every wall in every room blasting our ears with a shock greater than the pressure wave of the dynamite that we knew so well. As the sound slammed into our bodies, they in turn jolted and shivered and twisted with the stressful relief of an over-wound spring. Crouching again for the second shock our bodies tensed against the alarming awakening received only moments before. 'Chack chack chack!' Only this time it stopped dead in the entry way followed by uncontrolled agreed-upon silence. Someone had to open that door. A flash hit me. I was in my car. I could see Madison Ave. I could see men crying out for their families. I could see doors being broken in. I could see men inside that truck door. I could see the label on the truck: 'Volunteer Army Recruits.' The truck was here. It was outside our bay window. It was in front of our yard. It was filled with our neighbors. So I opened the door.

The man standing in our doorway was dressed for a war. He had a great wall of awards pinned to his chest. Two stars weighed heavy on each of his broad shoulders. Sharp creases lined his pants, sleeves, lapel, you name it; if it was folded on this man you could set your watch to the crease. The war was not in our house. It was not in our front yard either. It was in a desert. Hundreds of history book pages away. He didn't ask. He told.
"You are Ashley Borrand Junior, are you not?" He demanded in a rough tone.
Having been required to see many war films in history class, I answered, "Yessir."
"You are going with me in that truck." He didn't even shift his focus. He just thumbed over his shoulder. "If you know your civic duties, kid, you know that you have five minutes to get into that truck."
"You tell me I have five minutes to say good bye and get into that truck?" I pointed. I could only just see it's bland, boring, and obvious army green.
"No. You have four minutes and thirty eight seconds to get into that truck. I will be back at that time. If you refuse in any way I will use force. You will be cuffed and placed in that truck." It almost sounded delicate.
"Should I bring anything?"
"Can I bring anything?"
"No." He walked away.

"I'll go without a fuss. No need getting all beat up to go somewhere I don't wanna go, but don't have any choice about. I have about four minutes, that's a minute of advice from each of you." I smiled a dull and almost listless smile.

They all said their piece about the war, what they thought, and how it would all turn out. These expressions were coupled, of course, to pleas of safety. I began to march the miles of grass from our front door to the street. Or were my thoughts flying so fast through me, that gauging time and distance by their passage was a useless effort? I thought about the dot on the map that represented the place I was going, or thought I would be going. I thought about the pictures I had seen of barren waste-lands inhabited only by scaled critters with spikes on their heads, and black and orange spiders. I thought about the news reports blaring their messages that 'another suicide bomber killed X amount of soldiers.' Interrupting this of all thoughts I was issued a command to look one last time on my family. Obediently I turned to see them all in the front yard waving. This last fleeting moment was disturbed by yet another thought; I had not finished my dinner. I didn't even get the chance to finish one last meal with my family. That was the rub, the thought that hit me most; I may never see my family until after I meet my maker.

"Times up! You're all mine now, soldier. You may never see me again, but if you do you will address me as Major Davenport."
What was I to say?
"Thank you."
"See these badges? See these stripes? See these Medals?" I was interrogated on the first minute. I had no idea what they meant.
"Do you know what they mean?" Like I said, I had no idea what they meant. Green ones with a black stripe, red ones with two white stripes, several that were red white and blue, and a couple of purple-ish ones. There was a dangly medal with a star in the middle; it looked important.
"Do you know what they are for? Do you have any?"
What else was I to say? I did my best to answer all the questions. "Yes, yes, yes, no, no, and no." Which I think, as it turned, wasn't what I was supposed to do.
He pointed at one of them and said "Do you know what World War Two was," at another "where Germany is," and another "Vietnam," and another "or Korea? I do!" He thumbed at himself and continued "Anyone who has these, soldier, especially more than you have, is named 'sir.' You will respond to them in this fashion: 'Thank you, sir!' or perhaps 'Yes sir. Twenty push ups, sir'"

He wasn't unpleasant or bitter after all. He only seemed like he was tired of being mean to people, but didn't know any other way. He was probably about 47. He was married; manifest through the gold band he had had for years on his left ring finger. He had a nice flat top of salt and pepper hair now, hat removed, and a small row of whiskers on his upper lip. He was dark in the face as though he got stuck in a tanning booth for too long a time. His ears were kind of big considering his age. And despite his jutting chin, sharp nose, and stern wrinkles he had soft grandfatherly brown eyes. He rode with us in the back and told stories until we got to the end of the neighborhood. He was surprisingly soothing, but cold seats and hard backs tore at our minds just the same.

A man I didn't recognize asked him about Vietnam. Mentioned about his uncle being a bit different when he got back. Major Davenport took a long pause, a deep sigh, considered a moment, then said, "Blood," A burden crushed his shoulders; they lowered just slightly. There was a break and a fall in his voice; a chill settled in like being in a freezer. Every man felt it; I myself shuddered. "mud, and pain." He pointed at one of his medals and fixed his eyes on the floor.

"We marched." He started, "We marched every day. Woke up in the morning and marched. We lunched and we marched. We marched at night. We marched through dirt, mud, rain, hail, trees, bushes, and meadows.
"We had been marching for about two weeks, and it hadn't rained for about ten days. Dust had settled on everything. The bushes and the trees and the grass was all brown. We were sweaty and muddy, tired and thirsty. Despite the clouds overhead the sun shone touching the horizon when out of the field came fire. Every one pretty much freaked out and hit the dirt behind any bush or knoll they could find. We hadn't been shot at before then. People were falling everywhere; I didn't know that half of them were injured. A bullet missed my head so closely it took off a piece of my ear." Which I hadn't noticed until he had mentioned it.
"I rolled over and took cover behind a tree beside what was left of an arm. From the elbow down it was green fatigue and mud colored. Its tattered stub was deep red. I was so shocked I tried to roll away when more shots rang out. Phil Harris was tucked behind a bush trying to find where the shots were coming from. They had started shooting from the outside to corral us into a group. It was working. Beyond Phil I could see four more dirty green bodies dodging in some bushes. Then more shots and one of them fell. Phil shot back at some rustling bushes with no obvious results. More shots; one more went down. 'Fall back' I yelled at them, but they didn't seem to hear me. Phil did. He said he couldn't. Blood was gushing out of his leg; that's why he just lay there shooting. I told him to bandage up. He hadn't notice, except that his leg 'wasn't working' he told me later. He splinted it, and I gave him some cover fire while he crawled over to me. I picked him up and carried him to the fall back point. I was un injured, except my ear that is, so I went back.
"I found my way back to the place where I was hiding. I crawled over to were I saw those other men. They were still there. They were bandaged yet motionless. I sneaked a little farther and found another man. His belt was splinted around his arm and his ankle was likewise tied off with a bloody rip of his shirt. He was passed out with his pistol still in his hand. I started to pick him up, but then more shots. I dropped him and he groaned. In my fury and fear over the engagement I grabbed his weapon and started blasting shots out in their direction. Silence followed. So I picked him up and brought him back to Phil. Phil could take care of him, and I could still try to find more men.
"I hurried back to the fire fight and scoured the opposite direction to find a man tucked under some brush. He was apparently unharmed. 'Fall back' I said. He look at me then pointed out into the trees. I heard a lone rifle firing in the distance. I had flirted enough with them. This man hadn't. I watched as he stood and traded a handful of rounds for a chest wound. He instantly fell to his knees. He looked at me and said 'I am shot.' 'No shit!' I replied 'Fall back!' I picked him up and started back a third time when more shots echoed. A piece of lead hit me square in the right shoulder blade knocking me to the ground. I picked that man up a second time, but couldn't support his weight with my shoulder so he fell a second time. I tore off his gear. I picked him up a third time but with my left arm. My right arm was pretty much useless. I ran as hard as I can ever remember running. I ran until I found Phil again.
"By the time I got there this man I carried had lost the battle for his life. I laid him down and he looked at me. He said 'Thank you. I won't make it. I can feel the cold already. Montana was beautiful in the summer. I would have liked to have seen it again.' He looked at my tag and said 'Davenport, I'll see you in heaven... Look! It's raining...'

He paused for a moment.

"I couldn't feel my shoulder. I couldn't feel my legs. I couldn't feel the weight of my gear. I could feel the rain starting to tickle my forehead. I felt it pool around my knees. It sizzled on leaves of grass. It cleansed the blood from my face. It washed the mud from our clothes. It cooled our senses. It cleared the air. The rain was as welcome as a hot meal. We bathed in it. We filled our canteens. We washed out our wounds.
"Phil patched me up as best he could. Some gauze and a sling were about all he could do. We started to move the other man, who had since come to, out of the rain, but he said to leave him there, that he too wanted to be clean. We stripped to our boxers and shower under the kindest weather we had had in months. The trees and the bushes and the grass slowly took on a lush, life-like, and lovely green. The dirt was washed off in only a few hours.
"By this time we heard the steady mumble of chopper blades and the wind scattering the drops of water. They took us back and fixed us up right. We were heroes now."
He almost question it. Then he thumbed that same medal.
"I watched eight men fall, five die, and two get carried out on stretchers. In compensation the gave me this medal. But war is different now. War is complicated now. It's more precise. It's more exact. You no longer see your enemy. Remember one thing: When there may only be one sunrise left, stop and watch it. It's so beautiful."
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