The morning sun glared through the windshield of my 1952 Twilight Blue Chevrolet Bel-Air as I drove down the two-lane highway taking me to my boyhood home on that thirteenth day of January 1996. I took my Ray-Ban Aviator sunglasses out of their case and slipped them on. The Aviators significantly reduced the glare and I was better able to see the narrow road and surrounding scenery. When I talk of scenery, I refer to the hundreds of miles of small farms, green fields of corn, alfalfa, and soybeans separated by fences, ditches and deciduous trees. I travelled through several small one-horse towns, as they used to call them years ago. When I arrived in Yates Corner, the closest town to the family farm, I noticed the fuel gauge on the Chevy indicated the gas tank was one-quarter tank full. A little 2-pump gas station was just ahead on the right. I pulled under the canopy. Two bells rang in the station as I ran over the hose crossing the drive. A young freckle-faced boy about fourteen years of age, wearing overalls and a denim coat, stepped out of the dingy white cinderblock gas station and began filling the gas tank. He could easily have been a doppelganger of Billy Mumy, a star of the 1960's T.V. show, Lost In Space. He looked over the pristine Chevy appreciatively and commented on how he didn't know what it was but it sure looked good. I thanked him, slipped on my wool jacket, got out of the car and walked over to the red and white cola machine next to the doorway of the station. I put a dime in the coin slot and turned the lever that released the locking mechanism of one of the bottles laid on their sides inside the small glass door. I opened the door, took the bottom bottle out, popped the top on the bottle opener that was under the coin slot, and drank the refreshing libation. I wondered how many cola machines with manual levers that dispensed the bottles were still in existence. I also wondered how many people would even know how to operate the machine today.
The young attendant topped off the tank. "Hey mister, do you also want me to check the oil?"
"Thanks, but I just checked it yesterday. I'm sure it's fine."
He looked disappointed.
"On second thought, better safe than sorry, sure, let's check the oil."
Billy Mumy's double beamed and walked to the front of the car. I popped the lever, releasing the latch and lifted the hood for him.
He found the dipstick and checked the oil level. "They sure don't make them like this anymore, do they? The dipstick indicates it's still full so you're good to go, Mister."
I thanked him, paid the bill with cash, set the now empty cola bottle in the wooden bottle crate next to the cola machine and drove out of the gas station onto the highway leading to the old farm.
As I drove the last ten miles of the journey, I wondered how much the old farm had changed. I recalled the last time I was there. It was the fall of 1954. It was dad's 60th and his last birthday. Dad was always funny in that he always insisted on giving presents to everyone on his birthday. He said if he could be happy on his special day, so should everyone else. My sister and I collaborated on his gift that year. She, her husband, Bob and I gave Dad a new television set and roof-mounted antenna. We set the equipment up for him and with an amazed expression, he watched T.V. for the first time.
After watching the marvelous T.V. for a while he waved me over to him. "Dale, there is a box sitting on the table in the den. Would you please get it and bring it out here?"
I retrieved the gift-wrapped box from the den and handed it to him.
He shook his head. "That's for you. Happy birthday!"
"Dad, it's your birthday."
"So, it doesn't matter whose birthday it is. Open it up."
I carefully unwrapped the box and opened it. Inside were two sets of car keys and a stack of receipts, records, and the window sticker to his 1952 Chevy.
I gave him a confused look. "Dad, these are the keys to your Chevy."
He shook his head. "Now it's yours. I'm never going to drive the thing again. It will just sit and rot in the garage. You take it. Besides, I ordered a new coral and black '55 Bel-Air with a V8 engine. Next week I'm picking it up from the dealer."
I thanked him with a hug. I promised I would take care of the '52 Chevy as well as Dad had. It got an oil change every 3,000 miles and a coat of wax every three months.
Two months after his birthday Dad had a massive heart attack and died before the ambulance could get to the farmhouse. In his will he had given the farm and the new Chevy to Sally and her husband. He gave me the bulk of his savings, which was quite a sizable amount, to my surprise. I decided to take my newly acquired fortune and leave the farm forever. I said my goodbyes to Sally and Bob. I didn't know where I'd end up so I didn't leave a telephone number or address for them to contact me. I said I'd be in touch but I guess time got away from me and I had other things to do.
After traveling around the U.S. for a few years I moved to a remote area in British Columbia, Canada, where I lived in seclusion with my dog as my sole companion on a little farm. I thought about seeking company, finding another mate, but why bother? My heart would always remain with Eddie. It wouldn't be fair for me to find someone else with my heart belonging to someone else, even if he was no longer alive.
Forty-two years later I decided I'd worked my way through all of the baggage from my younger days. It was time to call Sally and get back in touch with the only relative I had. After an hour-long phone conversation, she invited me to come home to the farm for a visit. Although I usually avoided winter travel, this week was the only open opportunity and the weather held out for me. The old dependable Chevy made the 2,600-mile trip to the old homestead with no problems.
At the 190 mile marker I turned left off the highway onto Chandler Road and continued north toward the farm. I passed the Lundberg farm and suddenly a twinge of sadness fell over me. I quickly brushed it off. I was determined to make this a happy visit to see Sally and Bob.
I turned the Chevy into the driveway of the old homestead and parked in the center of the pea-gravel covered circular driveway. Sally and Bob stepped outside to greet me. We exchanged hugs and pleasantries.
Sally grinned and poked my side. "Dale, you're as skinny as the day you left the farm. Haven't you been eating? Well, I cooked a big dinner for us so come on inside and chat with Bob while I get everything ready. I'll get you fattened up a bit."
While Bob and I sat in the family room and caught up on the events in our lives, Sally set the dining room table and brought bowls and dishes of delicious home-cooked food out of the kitchen. The aroma of a farm-cooked meal permeated the room.
Sally poked her head into the family room. "Dinner's ready. Come and get it."
We sat at the dining room table passing the dishes of the delicious-looking courses to each other. Soon we all feasted on home grown green salad of green leaf lettuce, celery, carrots, garbanzo beans, and cucumbers. For the entre' we dined on roasted chicken breasts, mashed potatoes, and sourdough biscuits. Just when I thought we were finished, Sally went to the kitchen and returned with a homemade cherry pie and carton of vanilla ice cream. I could see I may indeed gain some weight staying here.
After dinner we spent the afternoon talking and catching up on the last forty-two years. Sally and Bob wanted to give me a tour and point out all of the changes that have occurred since I moved away from the farm. We climbed in their car and drove into Yates Corner. They pointed out the new convenience store, the church built five years ago and the new county government satellite office. The old coffee shop, Harvey's Dinette, was still open for business, as was Baker Brother's supermarket. A few years ago The Ladies of Yates Corner Society Club collected donations to construct a public park. While these improvements would hardly make the news anywhere else, they were important events to the people in the area. I asked if there were any fast food restaurants or franchise businesses in town.
Bob shook his head. "The county commission wrote letters to a number of companies inviting them to come to Yates Corner. A couple of the guys from a big hamburger chain visited the town. They weren't interested though. They wrote back to the commission, saying 'After studying past, present and future projected trends, there appears to be insufficient market support to project a high probability of sustained economic growth.' In other words, the town was too small for them."
We returned to the farm as the sun set over the horizon. The slightly warmer daytime temperatures relinquished their hold on the land to the chilly cooler evening. After the big dinner at lunchtime Sally served a lighter chef salad and minestrone soup for supper.
After supper I excused myself to put my car in the garage and take a walk around the old homestead. After parking the Chevy in the garage, I closed the garage doors and I found my way to the old hay barn, slid the big door open and wandered inside the old familiar structure. The scents of aged wood and freshly cut hay filled the air. I found the wall switch and turned on the four rusted industrial style lamps hanging from the rafters. A flock of pigeons that had made their way into the barn for the night were startled by the intrusion and flew out of the open doorway. As I gazed around yellow/green bales of hay stacked around the wooden barn, my mind was taken back to a night long ago.
The memories of one evening in the summer of my seventeenth year, August 30, 1952 were etched deeply in my mind. A few days before Dad and I drove to the Chevrolet dealer in Oak Park, where he bought his first new car, the 1952 Chevy Bel-Air he later gave to me on his 60th birthday. After supper Dad asked me to drive the Chevy into the garage and lock the garage doors for the night. I was more than happy to fulfill his request. I remember the fresh factory new car aroma as I climbed in the 3-day old shiny blue car to drive it for the first time. Being only 17 years old, I vividly remember inserting the key into the ignition, starting the car, hearing the six-cylinder engine come to life, putting the shifter in gear and slowly driving the fifty feet to the garage. I carefully maneuvered the car into the garage and shut off the engine. It may have been only a fifty-foot ride but for me it may as well have been an exciting road trip. I made sure to take the keys out of the ignition, set the parking brake, locked the car, and closed the large wooden garage doors. I secured the paddle lock and was walking back to the house when Eddie Lundberg padded up the driveway.
"Hey, Eddie! How are you doing?"
"Hi Dale. I'm doing okay, I guess. Do you have time to go somewhere and talk?"
I could tell by his voice something was wrong. "Sure, Eddie let's go to the hay barn. It's quiet and private in there. My dad is in for the night and won't be bothering us. I just need to give his keys back to him. Why don't you head to the barn and I'll meet you in there."
Eddie smiled and headed to the barn while I returned Dad's keys. "Dad, I locked the car in the garage. I'll be outside for a while. "
Dad set aside the newspaper he was reading, looked over his reading glasses and nodded. "Tell Eddie hello for me, please. Oh, and take some of that apple cider and share it with Eddie if you want. We need to drink that up before harvest time, when we'll have a new batch for next year."
I thought about asking how he knew Eddie was outside but I knew he'd just say he had eyes in the back of his head like all dads do. Instead I thanked him, grabbed the jug of apple cider from the refrigerator and a couple glasses from the cupboard on the way out of the house.
As I carried the jug of cider and glasses to the hay barn I recalled the night I realized I was in love with Eddie. One night shortly after I turned 11 years old, Eddie asked me to meet him in the hay barn. I slid open the big door to find Eddie dancing alone while listening to the radio playing in the tool room of the barn. I vividly remember hearing Betty Hutton singing "Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief" and watching Eddie doing his best to emulate real dancing.
Eddie gave me a big smile. "Come dance with me. It's fun."
I smiled and joined him. We stumbled and tripped at first but eventually we worked out the steps together. After a commercial for Lucky Strike cigarettes, Johnny Mercer sang "Personality." Eddie and I giggled as we fumbled the steps. It didn't matter that we weren't very good. We were two best friends laughing and having a great time dancing to the fun tunes of the day. The next song, "I Can't Begin to Tell You" by Bing Crosby with Carmen Cavallaro, came on. Being a slower tempo we slowed our dancing.
Eddie had watched his parents slow dancing to the songs on the radio in their living room and tried his best to emulate them with me. He put his left arm around my waist and held my right hand about shoulder height with his hand.
Eddie pulled me close to him. "My mom usually puts her head on my dad's shoulder when they dance. If you want, you can do that with me."
I looked at Eddie and he gave me a sweet smile, gently pulling my head to his shoulder. I closed my eyes as we heard Bing croon:
"I can't begin to tell you how much you mean to me
My world would end if ever we were through
I can't begin to tell you how happy I would be
If I could speak my mind like others do."
It was that moment I knew I would love Eddie with all my heart forever.
With Eddie leading and me following, we danced together many nights for the next six years in that old hay barn. As time went on we became pretty good dancers for self-taught amateurs. We even put together a little tap dance routine we danced to "Tea For Two".
My memories returned to August 30, 1952 as I slid open the big barn door, stepped inside and closed it behind me. Eddie had only turned on the rear two lights and was sitting on a blanket on a small haystack just outside of the tool room in the back corner of the barn.
Eddie smiled as he saw the apple cider and me. "I was hoping you would be around tonight."
I snickered. "Where else would I be? Nothing ever happens on Saturday nights in this ole place. Besides, you know I would I rather be with my best buddy than anyone else. Dad says hello and wanted us to have some of this apple cider."
Eddie smiled. "Your dad is a swell guy. Okay, let's have some cider and talk."
I poured the apple cider from the jug into the two glasses and handed one to Eddie. "Do you have something you wanted to talk about?"
Eddie took a sip of the cider. "Well, yeah, sort of."
I knew he wanted to talk about something important but was uneasy about doing so. After being best friends for most of our lives, I usually knew when Eddie had something serious on his mind. He was a year older than I but that made no difference. After spending nearly all of our days and nights together we often knew what the other was thinking before we said it. People said we were two of a kind and inseparable. They were right. There was nothing we didn't share. Eddie told me I was his kid brother. I considered him my big brother and maybe a little more. Tonight he had something heavy on his mind weighing him down.
I moved next to him. "You know you can talk to me about anything. What is it?"
Tears formed in Eddie's eyes.
"Eddie, you're scaring me. Please tell me what it is."
Eddie sipped some apple cider from his glass, took a deep breath, turned to me and explained with heavy tears. "Dale, I've been drafted into the army. I'm so scared I'll be sent to Korea. I've never wanted to be a soldier and I don't have any business fighting in a war. I don't want to go but I have no choice. I'm so sorry."
He broke down sobbing and hid his face in the blanket. I was in shock. I never imagined anything could separate us. Suddenly the army fighting that stupid war across the ocean was going to take my Eddie away.
I lie down next to him and put my arm around him. I knew I had to do something to make him feel better, if only for a little while. That was my job as his kid brother, wasn't it? I stood, walked into the tool room and turned on the radio. When the set warmed up, Delicado, by Percy faith and his Orchestra began playing. I walked over to the haystack and stood. Eddie realized I was standing over him and looked up at me. I reached out my hand for him. He took it and stood in front of me. I took his arm and put it around my waist and took his other hand in mine. We started swaying to the Latin beat. I took the lead this time. We danced our version of a Latin dance, a combination of Rhumba and Salsa we had put together. It wasn't long before Eddie took his mind off the draft notice and focused on keeping step with the tempo. At the crescendo I dipped him and gave him an intense expression of passion. He laughed and called me a goof. We continued laughing and giggling while dancing to Delicado.
The next song, Jo Stafford, singing, "You belong To Me" started. Eddie pulled me close as he always did with slow dances. I put my head on his shoulder, closed my eyes and listened to the beautiful lyrics that seemed so appropriate for the moment.
"See the pyramids along the Nile
Watch the sun rise on a tropic isle
Just remember, darling, all the while
You belong to me.
See the marketplace in old Algiers
Send me photographs and souvenirs
Just remember when a dream appears
You belong to me."
I raised my head and looked at Eddie. Suddenly we stopped dancing and stared into each other's eyes.
"I'll be so alone without you
Maybe you'll be lonesome too---and blue"
We embraced, holding on to each other, never wanting to let go. Eddie turned his head and kissed my cheek. It felt like a bolt of lightning striking my entire body. I turned to Eddie and kissed his lips. He passionately returned the kiss, holding on to me. I was the most important person in his life and he was the most important person in mine.
"Fly the ocean in a silver plane
See the jungle when it's wet with rain
Just remember till you're home again
You belong to me."
Eddie wiped his tears with his sleeve and looked deeply into my eyes. "Dale, I promise I will always love you. You belong to me."
I embraced Eddie tightly. "You belong to me too, Eddie. I've always loved you. Please, come back to me."
"I'll do everything I can to do that."
We lowered ourselves onto the blanket.
"I'll be so alone without you
Maybe you'll be lonesome too---and blue"
"Fly the ocean in a silver plane
See the jungle when it's wet with rain"
Our lips met as we embraced again.
Eddie left late the next morning after promising to write every day and to come home as soon as he could. He gave me a big hug and whispered in my ear that he loved me and would kiss me if there weren't other people here. He climbed in his father's Ford station wagon and rode away just as a gust of wind blew a small cloud of dust from the dirt field across the road. Through that cloud of dust he was gone from my life.
On the evening of Sunday, November 23, Eddie's father, George Lundberg knocked on our door. Dad answered the door and invited George in. I came out into the living room and immediately I could see by his pale stoic expression something was very wrong.
George Lundberg took a moment to compose himself and announced, "A couple soldiers came by the house this morning. They told us Eddie is missing in action. They said Eddie was being transferred from Seoul, Korea on board a C-47 to a remote area. The plane went down in route and hasn't been found. It's assumed everyone on that plane is dead." George started to cry, apologized and quickly left.
I was in shock. I had a lump in my throat but I was unable to cry in front of my father. I went to my room where I was alone and able to cry. I cried all night, remembering all of our wonderful times together.
That was forty-four years ago. Once again I'm standing in the old hay barn. Except for the wind blowing around the wooden barn walls, it's quiet now. There is no radio playing. Nobody is dancing. The memories of that magical night in 1952 are as vivid as my memories from just yesterday. A sudden wave of despair washed over me. I began weeping. The weeping turned into uncontrollable sobs. Everything I had seen, heard, and felt that August night flooded my soul with sorrow. I fell to my knees on the straw-covered floor and cried out years of pent-up pain. I never knew I had so many tears and never knew the pain could be so severe after all this time. Why did they have to have that pointless, stupid war that ended in nothing but a stalemate, causing the deaths of so many good men? Why did he have to go? Couldn't we have spent our lives together as was supposed to happen? For the second time in my life, I cried myself to sleep; this time on the very spot I spent the night in my best friend and lover's arms.
The next morning I was woken by the sound of something munching hay. I turned and saw one of my sister's goats standing near me, chewing his breakfast. I stood, brushed myself off and made my way to the house.
Sally greeted me as I walked in the kitchen door. "Good morning, Sunshine. My goodness, in who's haystack did you sleep in last night?"
I was still groggy from the restless sleep. "How did you know I…"
Sally pulled hay from under my collar and held it for me to see.
I sighed. "I guess there is no getting past you. You always were the smart one of the family."
Sally giggled. "Do you want some coffee? It's freshly brewed."
"The caffeine sounds wonderful but do you have tea?"
"Coming right up. Have yourself a seat at the table and I'll brew some for you."
I sat at the vintage chrome and turquoise Boomerang-design Formica kitchen table that our dad bought about the time he bought the '52 Chevy. Sally had kept things in the house the same, as they were when dad died.
After brewing it, Sally set the large cup of tea in front of me. "Careful, it's still hot."
Sally sat with me and chatted about the days on the farm when we were kids.
Sally laughed. "Becky Coldwater and I used to think we were so much smarter than you and Eddie. We were three years older and thought we knew a lot more about the world than any boys could possibly know."
I smiled, remembering Sally and Becky being the giggling twosome. "Sally, do you still have the pictures we took back then?"
"I sure do. I put them in an album. Hold on and I'll get them."
Sally left the kitchen and returned with a large photo album. We sat together turning the pages filled full of old photographs.
I recognized one snapshot I took. "There is Dad on the day he brought home the '52 Chevy. It was his first new car and he was so proud."
I turned the album page to reveal a picture Dad took of Eddie and me standing next to the car. Tears suddenly filled my eyes and I began to cry.
Sally immediately realized I was upset. "Dale, are you alright?"
I shook my head. "Losing him was the hardest thing I ever faced. Sis, I loved that boy more than anyone I have ever met in my life."
Sally looked at me with a confused expression that suddenly became serious. She put her hand on my shoulder to comfort me. "I'm so sorry, Dale. I knew you two were close. Dale, I'm sorry. I need to get something from the other room. I'll be right back."
Sally rushed out of the kitchen. She quickly talked to Bob, who nodded, understanding the urgency.
While Bob got ready, Sally picked up the telephone and dialed. "Hey, its Sally…Hi…Bob needs your help with something in the barn. Can you get over here right away? No, it can't wait. He's headed out to the barn now. Look, this is really important. If you can get over here in the next 10 minutes I promise I'll bake you fruit pies every week for a year. Yes, I swear I will. Thank you. Please hurry."
It took me a minute to compose myself and continue looking through the photo album.
A few minutes later Bob stepped into the kitchen. "Good morning, Dale. I wonder if I could ask for your help with something urgent I need to do this morning."
"Sure, Bob, anything."
"Thanks. I have a tricky job to do in the barn and I need a couple extra pair of hands for it. Do you mind?"
"No, I'd love to help."
Bob handed me a pair of work gloves. "Great, lets go. I have a buddy coming over who also said he could help."
Apparently Bob was in a hurry to get the job, whatever it was, done. I closed the photo album cover, drank the last of my tea and hurried to catch up with Bob who was just entering the barn. By the time I got there I found Bob at the utility sink just outside the tool room. He had a monkey wrench around a pipe fitting in the wall, just above the sink.
"Dale, here, hold this wrench tight and don't let it slip. I need to walk around to the outside and loosen the fitting on the other side of the wall. Don't let go until I tell you, whatever you do."
I took the wrench and applied force against the fitting. "Okay, Got it."
Bob went out back and I stayed, applying force against the pipefitting. To keep the wrench tight I had to turn my body toward the pipefitting. I couldn't see the barn door or where Bob went. After a few minutes I realized I didn't hear Bob in back of the barn but I kept holding the wrench as he asked me to do. What was Bob doing?
I called out for him. "BOB?"
There was no answer.
I heard a truck drive in the driveway and up to the barn. I heard the engine shut off and someone get out of the truck, shut the truck door and walk into the barn. I heard footsteps walking closer.
"Hey, have you seen Bob? I came over as fast as I could to help him with…"
I turned toward the familiar voice, saw who it was and felt that familiar bolt of lightning strike me. I felt weak and dropped the wrench. A well of tears formed in my eyes as I stared at the man before me, my best friend and lover, Eddie.
His jaw dropped and tears began to flow from his eyes. "Dale? Oh my God!"
He rushed to me and embraced me. "I thought I'd never see you again."
All I could do was nod my head and hug him tightly. He held me tight. I put my head on Eddie's shoulder, closed my eyes and cried, just like I did that August night in 1952.
Eddie lifted my chin to kiss me. My eyes were still shut and filled with tears. "Dale, look at me."
I shook my head. "No, if I open my eyes you'll be gone and the dream will end."
"Dale, I'm not a dream. I'm real. I'm right here holding you."
I slowly opened my eyes, ready to close them if Eddie started to fade. He didn't fade. "Eddie, I don't understand. They said you were…"
Eddie smiled. "I'm still very much alive, Dale. Oh my God, I'm so glad I've finally found you. I looked for you for years. All I knew is that you left the farm and didn't tell anyone where you went. You disappeared and I had no way to find you."
"Eddie, I'm so sorry. After they said you died in a plane crash, there was no reason for me to stay here. I left, not really knowing where I was going. I thought about calling Sally but for years it was too painful to relive the old memories."
Eddie kissed my lips once more. "I promised I would come back to you. Maybe it took forty-four years, but I'm here and if you still want me, I'll be yours for the rest of our lives."
With my tears flowing I nodded. "Yes, Eddie, yes. I've never wanted anything more. You belong to me."
Eddie beamed through tears of joy. "And you belong to me, my beautiful Dale."
We heard crying coming from the barn door. Bob held Sally comfortingly as they smiled at us.
Sally wiped the tears from her eyes and explained. "Dale, when you looked at that photo of you and Eddie, I realized you had no way of knowing Eddie was alive. Bob and I knew we had to get him over here as soon as possible."
Eddie and I thanked Sally and Bob with hugs.
Eddie and I spent the rest of the day talking, laughing, crying, and cuddling. When I asked about the plane crash he explained. The plane encountered adverse weather and went down in an isolated area near the demilitarized zone. Thirteen of the fifteen men on board were killed immediately. He and another soldier survived the crash and made their way to a small village where the people took them into their care. The other soldier died within a few days from internal injuries. With the village so close to the demilitarized zone, Eddie feared being found and turned over to the enemy. The villagers hid him until the end of the conflict, when he managed to make his way to a small town that had a telephone. It took three months after the war to finally arrive home to his family.
Like me, Eddie never bothered to find anyone else. His love was pure for me and no one was going to help diminish the pain of losing me. He also lived for decades in seclusion on his old family farm.
The next morning I called my boss and quit my job. I explained there was a family emergency and I needed to move back home. Eddie and I never spent another day apart.
Eddie and I just celebrated our twenty-second year as a couple. We live in the farmhouse Eddie inherited when his folks died. Ten years ago we drove to Ontario, Canada and exchanged marriage vows.
When the weather is nice we take the car cover off the '52 Chevy, start it up and pull it out of the garage. We wash it often, wax it every three months and change the oil every 3,000 miles. It still looks good and runs like new.
Every night after dinner we go into the living room and dance to the old songs. We're not as limber as we were in 1952 but we do the best we can. We always end with the last dance to Jo Stafford singing, "You belong to me".
Thanks are given to my editor, Mark for your much-appreciated help with this story.
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