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Tacoma, Washington, United States

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Heading into the Unknown

The plan was that Grandpa would take me to the bus stop over to the north of Fair Play where I could get the bus to Kansas City.  One of my many relatives in Kansas City would meet me, then I would stay for a couple of days with my Aunt Ora and attend the wedding of one of my Kansas City cousins.  Someone up there would put me on the train to Portland, Oregon.
Grandpa was to take me to Fair Play in the green Chevrolet sedan while Grandma tended the store.  I recall that it was a bright and sunny morning when Grandma gave me a big tight hug on the store porch, admonished me to be a good boy and to be careful on the trip by myself, and said that they were going to miss having me around and all the help I had been.
I looked back as we started off down that familiar road north that I had walked to school so many times.  The familiar plump figure in that ankle-length dress stepped down into the red dirt of the road and waved.  I waved back and I guess it must have already been warm out there in the sun as, the last thing I saw of Grandma as we went over the hill, she was wiping at her cheeks with a corner of her apron.
I do not recall that Grandpa and I talked very much during the trip to Fair Play.  I mostly watched the familiar scenes going by that I was not to see for a long, long time.  There was the little white schoolhouse, closed now for the summer.  We went up the hill past the Lindley house, but I did not see anyone around nor did I see anyone around Rollo Lindley’s place where my erstwhile friend Roundtree lived.
We went through the Little Sac River bottomlands where I had plowed Dad’s rented cornfields with that mis-matched team, then across the steel bridge that Dad had helped to build two or three years before.  In a couple of miles, we turned past the Doc Hunt place where our dog Pal had died and where Richard and I had milked all those cows.
At Fair Play we only had a short time to wait until the Kansas City bus came.  I noticed that Grandpa’s kindly voice was a bit gruffer than usual when he said, “We’re going to miss you, boy.  You have been a great help to your Grandma and me.  We are right proud that you did so well in school and we expect you to make us even more proud of you out there in the west.  I don’t expect we will see you for a pretty long time.”
I suddenly felt that I should comfort him somehow, but he was still that tall figure of authority that everyone looked up to—standing there in his striped overalls, black coat, and black Homberg hat above his gold-rimmed spectacles.  I think I just said sort of lamely, “Well, Grandpa, I sure hope I was not too much trouble for you.  I was real glad to get to stay a while with you and Grandma and I reckon it won’t be too long before we can come to visit.”
(I had no inkling, of course, that the next time I would see him would be in Vancouver, Washington and I would be wearing the dress blues of a first class petty officer in the Navy with a row of ribbons and three major battles in the Pacific behind me.)
The bus pulled in before we could talk anymore and Grandpa helped the bus driver stow my box and suitcase.  Then he handed me the sack lunch Grandma had made for me to have on the bus and he pressed a two-dollar bill into my hand.
“Goodbye, boy,” Grandpa said gruffly.  “That is for you to have something a little extra along the way.”
“Gee, thank you, Grandpa!”  I pocketed the money then started to shake hands but he suddenly did something that he had not done since I was little. He put his arms around me in a bear hug then pushed me toward the door of the bus and turned abruptly away.
On the bus I took a seat on the right side then opened the window and leaned out as the bus pulled out.  Grandpa turned back around and waved his black hat.  I guess it was warm out there in the sun in Fair Play for Grandpa, too.  The last thing I saw he was wiping his face with his big red bandanna as his tall, straight figure receded into the distance behind the bus.