By Joe Edwards
Luther had been home from the war nearly four months, now, and worked at the
Carnation Milk plant in Mt. Vernon where his wife, Jenny, worked.
This morning he was in the little Miller cafe next door to the post office waiting for the mail to be "put up". Sitting across from him in the booth was his old friend, Fred Hill. They were discussing the war which was still going on in the Pacific Theatre. Recruitment posters still lined the walls of the little cafe.
Fred had not been in the service, because when the war started in 1941, his parents had been in very poor health; his father with a bad heart, and his mother with cancer. He was needed at home to care for them and operate the farm. His parents had since died, and the farm was now his -- his and Maggie's.
When Luther, Fred's best friend since childhood, had flown over Miller in the B-17, and when the bodies of the Hobbs boys and Billie Martin had been shipped home, and when Perry came home with hooks where his hands should have been, Fred felt guilty. He felt he had not done his part for the war effort, and in his own eyes, he was diminished.
But today, it was Luther who seemed depressed. Fred asked him what was bothering him. "You seem down in the dumps, today, Luther," he said. "I can't see what could be botherin' you. You came through the war without a scratch, you got a beautiful wife and a baby on the way, you got a good job, what's the problem?"
"Jenny's mother is in bad shape," said Luther. "We're going to have to take her in, and with the baby coming we don't have the room."
"Can't build a room on?" asked Fred.
"No lumber available," said Luther. "I've tried here, Mt. Vernon, Springfield, Joplin, and there won't be any more shipments for the duration. Who knows how long that will be?"
"Tried Will's sawmill?"
"Yeah, but he just saws oak, and it's green. The baby'll be here in August, and we can't wait for the lumber to dry. Besides, you can't build a whole room out of oak, anyway."
"Wouldn't want to," said Fred. "Reckon the mail's up?"
The two young men left the cafe and went into the post office next door. Buford Patten, the postmaster, had raised the door to the service window, signaling that the mail was in the boxes. Luther and Fred retrieved their mail and left -- Luther to work at Mt. Vernon, and Fred back to the farm.
That evening, Fred finished the milking and sat on the front porch with Maggie. "Days are gettin' longer," he said. "Man could get half a day's work done after five o'clock."
"Better put your Pa's car up," said Maggie. "Radio says rain tonight."
Fred's father had bought a new 1941 Ford just before his first heart attack, and the car was now Fred's. He had built a new garage for it just before Christmas, and tonight he congratulated himself on getting it built before the lumber ran out. He didn't even know it had, until Luther told him this morning.
Fred drove the car into the new garage and latched the door. He walked back around the house to the front porch. Something was nagging at his mind, but he couldn't define it. He shook it off and sat on the porch with Maggie until darkness fell. They could see heat lightning in the West, and the wind started to rise. They went in the house to listen to the news of the war on the radio, and shortly went to bed.
The next morning, Fred again drove his pickup into Miller for the mail. The air was fresh and clear now, the rain having washed it clean. The sun was shining, and he felt good. When he reached the cafe, Luther was there ahead of him.
"Still haven't found any lumber, I guess?"
"No, I asked everybody at work, and nobody knows of any. I don't know what we'll do."
Now the nagging in Fred's mind defined itself. "I found the lumber for you," he said.
"You did? Where?" Luther was delighted.
"Fella I know. He'll let you have it free, you bein' a veteran and all. He doesn't seem to want you to know who he is, so I'll have to haul it in for you. It's good lumber, fir and pine, cut different lengths and got nails in it, but that's no problem. Tell you what, you get your foundation poured, and I'll bring you a pickup load everyday and help you build it. We'll have it done before the baby gets here."
"That's a friend for you," Luther said to himself, as he drove to Mt. Vernon. That evening he came home with sacks of cement in his pickup.
Luther dug and poured the foundation, and when it was ready for the footings, he told Fred.
"Fine," said Fred, "I'll bring the first load over and be there when you get home from work."
Fred appeared every evening with a load of lumber, and the two men worked until it was too dark to see. Sometimes Maggie came too, and the women sat in the house listening to the radio or talking about babies or Jenny's ailing mother, their sentences punctuated by the sound of the hammers outside.
Over the next few weeks the new room took shape and was finished and roofed. "Where did you get the shingles?" asked Luther.
"Same fella," answered Fred. "He's got all kinds of stuff."
Luther didn't push. Lots of older folks liked to help out the young veterans anonymously. It was common.
It was done! The women fixed the room up inside, and moved Jenny's mother in. The men went back about their business.
At supper one evening, Luther told Jenny he would like to do something nice for Fred and Maggie, since they had been so helpful with the new room. "I know," said Jenny, brightly. "Maggie likes those big wooden lawn chairs like Aunt Birdie has on her lawn. Why not get them a couple of those?"
"Good idea," agreed Luther, and the next Saturday he bought a couple at Callison's hardware and loaded them into his pickup.
When he got out to Fred's farm, there was no one home, Fred and Maggie having gone into Springfield, shopping. "That's ok," Luther thought, "I'll just put them in the garage in case it rains."
He drove around the house and into the driveway that led to Fred's new garage.
The garage was gone. Only the foundation remained to show where it had been.
Luther put the chairs on the front porch and drove home, tears in his eyes.
The two men are now in their mid-seventies, and are still the best of friends. They never spoke of the incident. How could they?
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