Every Way The Wind BlowsbyEdgarJames34©
I do not generally approve of editorializing. It seems like such a redundant and trivial exercise. I like to tell a story, to allow the characters to draw you into the tale. I love to hear that someone enjoys what I write. I even love to hear when I make a mistake, which can show me how I can improve my craft. I loathe the anonymous and pathetic fool who tries to belittle me personally for what spills from my imagination, as though my stories actually tell you anything at all about me. The core of this story is a tiny small piece of a commercial novel I have in the works, and I have just decided that some of it is a bit too graphic sexually for my intended audience. I really like it the sexual part, however, and did not just want to throw it away, so I decided to change it around a bit and see if it could stand on its own here. The year is 1961...it's all fiction...
Whichever way the wind blows next...
He escaped. He watched and listened as all of the arrangements were being made. He ate something when it was offered, he answered questions when asked. They probably were not aware that he escaped, because he had become so damned good at it over the years. Nova was the only one who might have suspected. She allowed him his space, but she stayed close, which made him stay close. The parade of close family came to decide how they would say good-bye to his father, and how the great man would be remembered, as though anything they could do with his dead body would have any impact at all on his legacy. Eva, presided, of course. Her approval was sought by them all, her sister Edith by her side as always.
Nova would sing and speak. Richard asked if he could build the casket, from one of the Oaks near the family campground. What a wonderful and thoughtful gesture to honor the man. Bart asked to mill the lumber and make a special kiln run. EJ would be so proud of them. Leroy asked to be allowed to find and plant the tree at the cemetery, as had been the custom in the family for as many generations as anyone could remember. What a fitting honor. AJ could not allow himself to even think to object, even though he alone seemed to recall that a son, or a son of a son, or no worse than a son-in-law had always planted the tree before.
Tidewater Falls did not have its own funeral parlor. The family, and the town in turn, were far more comfortable with the idea traveling more than sixty miles each way with a dead body than to allow anyone to open such an unpalatable establishment. And so it was that the Bingham's Funeral home in Corvallis had been providing the service to almost everyone in Tidewater Falls for more than five generations. Scott Bingham, the great, great grandson of the business founder, had delivered EJ Trask to the Gymnasium which bore his name. There was a town full of tears as Nova sang and spoke about her brother. Everyone else played their part. A line reaching for three blocks could not fit into the Gymnasium, but each and every one of them had the chance to walk by his open casket and say good-bye. AJ's only task was to acknowledge them all, shaking the hands and receiving hugs until only the pallbearers and funeral director remained. The coffin was closed and they carried him out to the hearse for the short ride to the cemetery on the hill above the Church of Christ.
AJ looked carefully around the parking lot, and then smiled as he began the two mile walk to the Church of Christ. He truly had escaped.
He saw Nova's Buick Electra pull up to the sidewalk in front of the Junior High School. The passenger window buzzed down, and she just waited.
"Get in John Henry," she said into the rear view mirror as he approached her car. She was still gently patting her nose and cheeks with a compact as he pulled the door open and slid in. Finally she put the compact away in her purse and started the car, never looking over at him.
"I need you back now, Honey," she said.
"Huh?" he replied.
She glanced again in the rear view mirror, this time checking for traffic, and then pulled slowly back out onto Main Street. She still did not look at him.
"I know there's pain and hurt and tears out here in the real world right now...and I know it's safe where you go sometimes. God knows I would just as soon be there with you right now too...but we have to do what needs to be done...and I need you to help me to get through it."
"I'm here Sis," he replied quietly.
"Don't try to bullshit Aunt Sis."
AJ turned and stared at her with wide eyes. Sis would not say 'shit' if she had a handful of it. She glanced at him and a forced smile puffed her cheeks. Emotions descended on him like a cold sneaker wave. The measure of his confidence receded on the skim as it smoothly glided and returned to the ocean.
"There you go," she said, " that's better."
"No it's not," he replied.
"No...I'm sure it's not. You know that your mother will be sitting with the family up at the cemetery."
He felt his face flush. "I gave her a hug as she came through the line...that's enough for me"
"There will be a flag on EJ's coffin up on the hill...a bagpipe player and honor guard from the five eleventh. It's a really big deal for them...medal of honor stuff and all that...they'll fold the flag and give it to you...then you'll give it to her...and kiss her on the cheek."
"Maybe you should let Roystoop do that too?"
Nova allowed a long slow sigh as she eased to a stop at the four-way light. "Wow...I didn't see that coming." She put the car in park and turned to him with glassy eyes. "Is the tree really that important to you?"
"New family tradition? Husband of a double cousin...or third cousin twice removed...whoever can kiss ass best?" He was sorry the instant he allowed the words to escape.
"Jesus fucking Christ Honey," she whispered, her face wrinkled as she fumbled in her purse for a handkerchief. "What's this really about? I know it's not the damned tree? Do you want everyone to kiss your butt because you're forced to act like a man for the first time in your life? EJ Trask meant everything to this town. He means everything to this family...and that's not just people named Trask."
He was embarrassed...and shocked. He could not look her in the eyes. Who was she? Nova would never talk like that; not to him, not to anyone. Who was he? What was he supposed to think? What was he going to say? This was exactly why he escaped. He closed his eyes and somehow summoned the long practiced image of EJ Trask's son.
"I'm sorry Sis...God knows that I don't need to make this harder on you than it already is...you know I'll do whatever needs doing." It sounded like someone else's voice in his ears.
She managed to gather herself quickly. A number of deliberate touches of makeup and she was again in control.
"Thank You John Henry," she said as she pulled the car into drive and sped away from the light without bothering to look anywhere but straight ahead.
It took several blocks before the shock of the conversation faded enough that AJ felt like himself again.
"That's my whole family in that fancy maple box," he muttered.
"That's not true," she answered quickly.
"Well, maybe not for you Sis...I'm the last Trask...and that means I'm not really part of the family."
He let it go. She would not understand. Would anyone?
The wail of 'Going Home' on the bagpipe reached out to every bend of the river down the valley. It was heart wrenching. Roy planted the Hemlock tree on the hillside. 'Amazing Grace' followed, wetting the eyes of every member of the family who had walked the long walk up to the cemetery on the hill above the Church of Christ. Some of them hid behind sunglasses. Family funerals were so often in the rain here, but this day was with but a few clouds in the warmth of summer. It would have been lovely. Smart uniforms...maroon berets...rifle fire that snapped and startled...snapping the flag out flat and folding it with solemn pride. AJ received the flag, then turned and handed it to Angela then found a place beside and behind Dan Hawkins. The Church of Christ preacher did not try to preach EJ into heaven. He closed with a prayer of thanks for remembering the favorite child. The family slowly receded away and down the hill to the church.
AJ remained and watched as the Bingham crew removed the awning and lowered the casket. When they also lowered the vault into place, he removed his jacket, tie, and dress shirt, and carefully laid them across Oliver Trask's headstone. He trudged to the tool shed for a shovel then returned and silently began to fill the hole. He would have just as soon been left alone to do the job, but there was small chance of that. Soon Roy and two Bingham workers were silently laboring along side him. Within minutes the other Schtupp brothers also joined them, the rhythm and meter of a half dozen spades digging away sounded faintly like of a busy filing room.
"Sounds like a room full of swedgers goin at it." Richard finally broke the silence. AJ could not help but smile that he had heard and thought the very same thing, but he said nothing.
"I'm sure Eva's asking about you down there Ansel," Bart said eventually offered.
"Yah...we don't want Nova and Martha to have to come stompin up here looking for you," Roy said.
The brothers laughed together, but AJ never looked up. The laughter faded and the work continued until there was really nothing left to do. They formed a line as each returned his tool to the shed. AJ followed at a distance.
Still without a look or a word, he picked up his clothes and marched down the trail to the church. The brothers just watched him as he walked away, muttering to themselves so quietly that he could not hear what they were saying.
Not that he really cared.
In the vestibule bathroom he washed his hands and face, then used his undershirt to wash his underarms and chest before putting his dress shirt back on. He still felt sweaty and uncomfortable as he replaced his tie and put his coat on, but he knew what was expected.
He simply eased down along side the pews on the near side and then slipped through the double doors into the dining room as though he had been there all along. He quickly began thanking everyone he talked to for honoring his father by coming and telling each how good it was to see them. He received hugs and kisses from heavy old women, relatives and not, that he saw only at weddings and funerals. He shook the hands of dozens of men who had shaken his hand only an hour earlier, reminded each time of how his father would be missed. He kept moving, never allowing any conversation to land more than a dozen words on him, always on the edge of escaping and hiding. He danced a well practiced dance. Keep moving and be seen, much easier to do when the weather was nice because so many people were outside. He would mingle for as long as possible before he went near the courtyard garden, where Eva and Edith would be the center of attention, among the gardens and benches and so many of the attentive Church of Christ flock.
The kitchen tables were overflowing with food; three filled of desserts alone. He knew from experience who brought what, and he made a point of thanking and bragging on each of the women as he spoke to them, even though he never touched a plate. Three times through the dining room and twice through the kitchen before Nova made squinting eye contact, but he was able to maintain a safe distance. He poured himself a cup of coffee and strolled outside, knowing it would be hard for her to follow because she and Martha would be on about the task of making sure everything about the serving line was perfect. He did not let the guilt nag him for long. A group of cousins all near his age were milling around behind the pump-house, and he sauntered that way to join them.
John Boy Trask held out a brown paper bag that was pressed into the shape of a round squat bottle. AJ poured part of his coffee out and watched as his cousin filled it back up.
"Sorry bout your Dad Cuz," he said, then took a sip from his paper cup. "Damned shame...he was a good ole boy."
There was a chorus of agreement from the others who also raised their paper cups. AJ took a large drink of whiskey and coffee and shivered, then nodded to each of them in turn as they all nodded back in silence. There was really nothing else to say.
"Thanks JB...I appreciate it...you guys be sure and get something to eat."
Again the chorus agreed and AJ turned to take his leave. He understood. Just like with the brothers...it was easier for everyone to talk when he was not there.
He sipped his coffee as he slowly strolled down toward the river, making an appearance at each of the picnic tables along the way. For many of the younger families it was more like a family reunion than a funeral, and that realization appealed to AJ. He was able to put a name to almost all of the children.
He found a seat on the wooden plank walkway that reached out several feet into the river. The worn old rope with a treble knot in the end of it hung from the giant Alder tree that was the anchor for the makeshift dock. No children were swinging from the rope today, no screeching and laughing and running. No joy. He sipped his coffee and watched the shimmering image of Grass Mountain in the slow surface of the river. He could escape here for a while. He did not hear or notice his uncle Eathan behind him.
"Eva is asking for you," Eathan said as he squatted on the wooden plank next to him.
"She figures you'd get faster action than Sis or Mart?"
His chuckled was a soft rasp. "I think she has no faith in me at all...after all these years...but Nova and Mart are both busy catering as usual...and..."
"You weren't fast enough."
"No...I wasn't...but how did get so quick? "
"Learned from the best. Give and go...fake and drive...pick and roll...never stop moving." AJ finished his cold coffee Royal in a quick gulp and turned to his uncle. "Until they stick you in the ground."
Eathan breathed in abruptly, almost a gasp, and shuddered. "Damn," he muttered.
"Sorry Unc," AJ said after a long pause.
"You just sound so much like him that...I don't know how I'm going to...damn."
AJ glanced over his shoulder, but could not think of any more to say. Eathan sighed deeply, was silent a moment, then sighed deeply again.
"Did your Dad ever talk about his will?" he asked.
"Huh...No...No, he didn't. I guess I hadn't thought of that. I guess I figured that you would have that."
"I see. So he didn't say anything about it...that night? "
AJ felt lightheaded, whether from the alcohol or the conversation or both, he was not completely sure.
"No. Just how important going to college was...watch out for Sis...help you at the mill however I can...stuff like that. Do you suppose he didn't have one?"
"Damned unlikely...he was far too smart for that. So you never talked about the will...not even before?"
"We talked one time about the buy-sell agreement...right of survivorship and how all of shares of the mill are owned...but that's not really the same thing, is it?"
"Well. The buy-sell agreement details how the shares have been distributed, and who is entitled to buy what...and the life insurance policies are set up to fund those sales. That's just about the business, though. There are a whole lot of other assets involved that aren't part of the business, even though they are critical to the business."
Now that made some sense. Trask Lumber had private timberland, but EJ Trask also owned thousands of acres of timber of his own. The company relied on that supply of old growth timber when they could not afford to buy Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management timber sales. The question of ownership and management of those resources could be critical to the company, and they could be worth millions.
He had to admit that the fleeting thought of inheriting some of the timberland appealed to him, but not for reason many might expect. EJ had taught him to respect and cherish those old forests for all of the values they could provide, and a sustainable supply of the most valuable timber in the world was perhaps the most important one for a small mill town like Tidewater Falls. His father had made it clear to him that he would have to make his own way, however. AJ could expect a hand up, but not to expect a hand out. EJ had built the school and the gymnasium, and the library, and of course the small football stadium, but he had not mentioned any other projects. What else was there?
"So who gets everything Unc?"
Eathan sighed again. "That's what I want to know...that's why I need to see that will."
"Do you think he would have left it all to my mother? "
Eathan slowly stood back up. "I probably don't think that would be a very good thing if he did." He seemed to talking to the sky as he turned to stroll away, then glanced past his shoulder once more. "Eva was asking for you."
AJ remained sitting on the plank, considering his uncle's words. Who had his father left the money to? His parents had divorced when he was a baby, and AJ had very little to do with his mother. They hardly ever saw each other, but he had long suspected that she still received a handsome allowance from him. What would she do with those forests?
He sauntered up the slope from the river toward the church, folding a stick of Wrigley's in his mouth. He paused to set his coffee cup on one of the picnic tables, and went to Eva's side on one of the rot iron lounges of the patio. Marble tones with the names of his grandfather, great uncle, and great-grandparents surrounded them. There would be a stone for Emort Jonathon there soon, and someday also one for his son.
"Thank you for sitting with me Ansel," Eva said reaching to pull his head over so she could kiss him on the forehead.
"Of course," he said, "how are you holding up?"
"A sad day...a mother should not outlive her children...and I have outlived two...but today my son is with his Lord and Master."
AJ did not answer. It was not the time to answer. There would never be a time to answer what she was going to say at a time like this. But someone was going to say it, so he just decided to say it first.
"All things work for good for those who love the Lord."
He said it forcefully, and immediately worried that his voice and expression displayed the bitterness and resentfulness he was feeling. Had it sounded like he meant it? No good thing could come from embarrassing Eva at a moment like this as so many stood closely to witness.
She sat up a little straighter, and turned in her seat. He tensed as she looked hard and long in his eyes, and then put a gloved hand on either side of his face.
"Amen, Ansel Jon Henry," she said quietly.
He felt himself relax inside.
She reached up and pulled his head down so she could kiss him on the forehead again, then took his hand and straightened out her posture. They sat for many minutes like that, as members of the congregation walked by to pay respects before they left. This was why he was here, a grand show for her flock.
The sun had nestled behind the hills to the West, with a cooling breeze sweeping up the valley, as the family members finally began to gather in the gravel parking lot. The Church wives had gathered the food and distributed to those who needed or wanted it. The brothers and their children would be having much of the remains for lunch for most of the next week. Nova and AJ were near the last to leave, delivering Eva and Edith home.
AJ walked into his father's den and poured a tall glass of Cuddy Sark. He closed and locked the door. He sat in his father's chair, staring at the pictures on the wall.
EJ in his Shriner's Fez at Mary's Peak Trek.
Pictures taken with each of the crews from the mill.