The end of 1969 I was supposed to report to Oakland for assignment to Vietnam. I conspired with several other shake n bakes to report late. I was to be 7 days AWOL. What were they gonna do...? Send me to Vietnam?
I decided that for the last couple of days my young wife and I would get out of town and go for a long drive to nowhere in particular.
Some of my fondest memories as a young boy happened while visiting Iowa and Wisconsin, so we left our home in Northern Illinois, got on US20, and headed west.
For several years our family had spent Thanksgiving on my aunt and uncle's farm in Iowa. Ringneck pheasants were plentiful in those days. Sometimes late fall could be warm, other years blustery and cold. For two summers I rode the train to their little town, crossing the mighty Mississippi in darkness. The Game of the Week, with Dizzy Dean, ALWAYS featured the Yankees. I kissed a girl from South Dakota one night and held her tender memory within me for a long time.
Memories. The knot in my stomach told me that there was no returning to childhood ways. There was no chasing away the fear.
We stopped in Galena Ill, hometown of US Grant. My old man was the type who never stopped at tourist attractions, thus we passed Grant's Home every year - going to and from Iowa. This time I stopped and stayed at a nearby motel named after the famous General and President. The town was one of Illinois' oldest.
Crossing the Mississippi at Dubuque we headed west to Strawberry Point, Ia. I don't recall much of a town. The rolling hills were picturesque. We headed north a ways, then recrossed the Mississippi at Prairie Du Chien.
In those days the little towns still possessed their individuality. Those times had not yet brought forth the strip malls, and by - passes, which themselves, were eventually developed into glitzy areas of fast food places and malls.
The Wisconsin towns like Lancaster, Orfordville, and Footville still had the mom and pop cafes where farmers and merchants gathered for meals; and where everything stopped, and each face turned to watch, as the waitress showed us to our booth.
How many dead sons were being buried that day in the cemetaries of southern Wisconsin? How many were on their last journey home? One could not tell by looking at the faces. The laughter, the smoking, the clatter of dishes, the talk of local politics and ball games never end during war.
Dread and despair could easily have overcome me if I had let them. We drove in to Janesville. We saw a movie that night. The best I recall, it was with John Wayne, Roman Gabriel, and Raquel Welsh.
I would be leaving in a couple of days. I did not sleep well. I fought back the fear and the uncertainty. I proclaimed that I WOULD return home.
There is a common denominator for those who left to go to war. It is the sense of not knowing whether or not HOME will ever be seen again. Those who served in the infantry, those who clerked, those who sat off shore, or those who cooked - all shared this feeling. It can never be forgotten. Nor should it be.
Two or three years later, I returned to southern Wisconsin. It was during harvest time. A classic Saturday, during Indian summer, and the farms were busy gathering huge loads of corn. Bright sunshine. I stopped the car at one of the many vegetable stands - I was the proud father of two sons who rode in the back seat.
An old German man sold me a beautiful orange pumpkin. He was relieved to know that I intended to eat it and save the seeds for planting the following spring.
I drove my family home that night as a full, golden moon rose overhead. I realized why they were called "harvest" moons.
Stories eventually come to an end, of course. I am not quite ready, though. Don't know if I ever will be.
Tomorrow is Easter, it's a beautiful Saturday today. Once again it is time to plant seeds.
Copyright © 1997 Thomas Dier All rights reserved