A cold wind blew as I stepped off of the Greyhound bus. I paused and hoisted my duffle bag. The Cummins wound up and the bus was off. Chasing that lonely black rib bon delivering her passengers to their destiny. Blowing snow and blurred vision, slick sidewalks and all, I began to walk.
I had left 5 years prior and, well, had fallen by the wayside. Ma and Pa did not approve of my actions. My little brother was barely ten and he idolized me. Sis, well, she had long since boarded the train and had head west to look for her own place in the picture shows. She didn’t care.
I took a few steps toward where 9th was a straight shot to my old home, then paused.
5 years had been gone and I felt as if I was not missed. Years before that, three kids and two parents wrenched apart by hungry mouths and longing for better days. As a GI, I felt part of something, finally. I was part of a unified group. We were a team. Boris, Jeb. Tye. Jesus.
It was different than “home.” We felt part of something. I sighed and walked a few steps an stepped into the Tip Top bar. I was in my dress uniform still with my Army Air Corps hat on. When I stepped through the door, a gust of cold air followed suit. I stomped my feet and shook my shoulders to get the rest of the snow off of me. All eyes turned to me. Behind the bar the bar keep turned his gaze to me, still polishing a beer schooner. His jaw dropped and his hands relaxed. We locked eyes and the glass hit the floor, shattering. He gaped. “You are the Lawson boy!” he said. I stepped back a touch and nodded. “Yassir,” Clem and Jody are my parents. We live on 9th up yonder,” I replied.
“Boy, step up here,” he said. And I did. The bar keep paused to pick up the shattered glass. His skilled hands did so and he never even grazed his calloused fingers. Years of practice, I guessed. As I got to the bar he had already pulled a glass of beer for me. I watched the bubbles chase a spiral in the glass. The pale yellow liquid steadied and was so damned inviting. I grasped the cold glass and glanced up to the bar keep. His eyes were shining. I had seen this gaze so often since we had rolled into Paris and beyond. Eyes rimmed with tears, pride. Hope. It is a look that has kept me alive, really.
“Thank you.” And he lowered his head, and then another voice echoed his.
“Soldier, thank you so much sir, thanks. God Bless you. Thanks.”
And what ever I had held within myself had fallen by the wayside. I was a half mile from home. In my mind I saw Pa by the radio. A can of Falstaff by his left hand. The paper a messed up adin his lap. I could hear the clinking of dishes as Ma was washing and thinking of what to prepare for dinner that night. Did they think of me? Wonder about me? I did not know.
I drank my glass of beer and exchanged many hugs and shook many hands. I had entered the bar at a quarter until 1 and had left at about 3. A little less lonely, yet.
A half mile walked in a snow storm can be many things. A dreamscape or a longing for brighter times. But for me, I was in the middle. As beautiful as it was to see my home town embraced in white, I thought of that winter across seas in Europe. A driving storm. Crimson stained snow and the smell of diesel and fear. At this point, I could see my home. On the door was a wreath. In the window hung a blue star flag. That rocked me back onto my heels. I walked gaped mouth forward and then noticed the hand written notes on the sidewalk in chalk, smeared but still visible. All words about me.
One step, two step, three step, and then knocked.
A second knock and the door opened. Pa gasped, Ma shrieked with glee.
“Welcome home, Boy. I am so Thankful for to see you,” Pa said.
I looked at him and again, was taken back by that certain look in one’s eyes. Thankful.