The Long WaitbySW_MO_Hermit©
Young Terrill (Mac) McLaren pulled his old truck to the side of the new interstate highway and looked over the dry dusty valley. There was a small town nestling beside a small stream in its center. He saw the exit ahead that he would take to wend his way down into the town. He was returning to his childhood home after an absence of nearly five years. He had mixed emotions about his return. When he had left he had no intention of ever returning except for a visit now and then with his parents. He had last been home almost four years ago. Since that time the old road had been replaced by this new interstate.
Prineville became even more forlorn when the traffic from the old highway began passing it by on the new road. Life and prosperity passed Prineville by at 70 miles per hour how on the interstate instead of slowly as it had in his youth when the road ran through the middle of town. In the distance Mac could barely see the band of trees at the edge of town. A small stream ran along the edge of town where the trees were. It separated the town from his parent's, now his property. He could see the roof of his house and some of the outbuildings from his vantage point.
The small Ozark Mountain town of Prineville was dying. Even during his last visit he had seen several boarded up businesses and empty houses. He expected it to be worse now. Prineville had been a small, sleepy little town for years. Even from its settling in 1836 Prineville had not been a large settlement. Its population had never exceeded 500. With the advent of the automobile and manufacturing plants in the larger nearby towns its population began declining.
Prineville was one more example of the automobile, large factories and mega malls killing smaller settlements. With the advent of the automobile the population became mobile. Naturally factories and businesses built in larger areas where the workers were and where road networks made transportation easier and cheaper. People in smaller towns went to the jobs and stores where they could purchase items they needed or wanted the cheapest. This happened to be in the larger towns. At first people drove from Prineville to the larger towns for work, then they began going for their shopping and entertainment. Goods and services were more plentiful and cheaper in the larger stores possible in the larger towns. Finally it was just easier to move away so families could live the good life in the larger towns. After all that was where they worked, shopped and played. Why live miles away from everything they did and needed?
The people who had been born, lived their life and planned to die in Prineville were of an earlier generation. Now the only people who lived there were those who truly loved the little town and it's (to some) boring slower pace of life. Of course some who still lived in the town had a business that forced them to remain. Many of those who still lived in town took off for the big city for entertainment, dining out or when they retired. There was a glint of light at the end of the tunnel however because the rapid growth in Northwest Arkansas was pushing people north into Missouri. As Wal-Mart and its associated business grew the population of Bentonville and surrounding area became larger. People were moving north looking for more space or cheaper land on which to build. Prineville was beginning to see a small amount of growth because of the exodus from Arkansas.
The lights and comforts, the excitement of the nearer 'big cities' drew many of Prineville's residents, its children, like moths to a flame. It was especially sad to see the young leave the fold, to leave home and never or rarely return. Many of the young people who grew up in or near these small southwest Missouri towns left the moment they graduated from high school. Some left for jobs, some for further education then better jobs. Many returned for the rare vacation, some even returned to visit family for the major holidays but many chose to leave forever hoping their family would come to them in their new homes so they did not ever have to return to dull old Prineville and the surrounding area.
Of course with the exodus of the young and the inevitable death of the older residents many homes were left vacant never to see the smiles, never to hear the happy screams and laughter of playing children again. It was sad to drive through town or the nearby countryside and see old buildings drooping in decay because their once proud owners had either died or moved off. Many absentee owners allowed once fertile highly productive ground to return to nature. Many times once green pastures were allowed to grow up in brush and second growth timber. Many places were actually sold for back taxes because the older owners could no longer pay and their selfish children only gave lip service to loving and caring for their parents or older relatives.
With sadness, perhaps even a touch of defeat in his heart Mac started his old truck once more and began driving down the hill toward his past and, perhaps a tolerable future. Mac tapped the accelerator and the old truck surged forward as if the small trailer he was pulling was not even there. He kept his speed down as his old F350 Super Crew 4X4 Dually came slowly into town. All his worldly goods were with him. He glanced in the mirror and thought it didn't look like much for a man nearly 26 years old.
For such an old vehicle the truck was still in nearly pristine shape. It had been the last vehicle its young owner's father had purchased and did not see much use before he retired. Mac had lovingly repaired its few problems when he was given the truck. He still enjoyed listening to its old but still powerful Diesel engine chuckle at idle or roar its defiance as he drove down the road. The commercial welding unit in the bed did little to lug down the engine. Even now when he was pulling his trailer he could not discern a lessening of acceleration from the powerful old truck.
Mac looked around curiously when he pulled up and stopped in front of The Mustang. The Mustang had been the old hang out for residents of the small town as long as he could remember. He sat and watched as the dust he stirred up from the unpaved parking lot blew past his truck and slowly dissipated. Ever since he had entered the area his head had been swiveling back and forth as he saw once again the hometown he had thought he would never return to live in. He felt nostalgia, sorrow and perhaps a little fear. He was scared what he had decided to do was beyond his ability to accomplish. If he failed he would lose it all. This was perhaps his last chance to find what he was searching for, what his heart yearned for. Unlike many young people he had not dreamed of higher education and a high powered job making a huge salary. He did not desire fame or notoriety or even fortune. Instead his dreams were simpler. He wanted a wonderful woman who supported him in every way. She had to be honest and sincere, uncomplicated and loving. He wanted a modest job working with machines and engines where he could make enough money to support his loving family.
Mac had been a very good student graduating in the top ten percent of his high school class. He could have attended almost any college he wished with his grades. He was offered a scholarship to University of Missouri, Rolla. He turned it down. His sister had gone to college and taken a degree in nursing. He had opted for a two year college degree with a major in Automotive and Diesel Engine Technology. He also took several welding courses so he could be certified as a welder. Mac had worked for an implement dealer until it had been sold. He had been the junior employee and was in the first group of people laid off when its operation had been consolidated with that of the purchasing business.
Mac was returning to his roots. Some would say he was trying to find himself. Others would say he was running from the modern world. For whatever reason he returned he hoped it would be forever. He had enough of the hustle and bustle of the city. He was tired of all the games men and especially women played to get one up on one another. Though he had departed this small town the moment he could he found living in the city was no better, just busier, noisier and more impersonal. In many aspects it was a worse existence than he had expected. He found women more high maintenance, more prone to tease and promise the moon then when they found out he could not provide expensive meals, shows and experiences they would dump him and scorn him. He had never known his neighbors in the city and when he tried to speak to them normally they grunted and walked on or worse, just ignored him.
Now Mac believed he had made many incorrect decisions earlier in his life. When their parents became too frail to live alone he and his sister had been too busy to care for them. They had placed them in a nursing home. Neither parent lasted long after that. Both had worked themselves so hard in their life making ends meet on their small farm that their bodies were worn out. Now Mac missed them terribly and resented the fact his sister did not seem to feel the same way. She seemed relieved they no longer had to even give lip service to caring for their parents.
Almost three years after his Mother's death and seventeen months after his father's death Terrill McLaren lost his job. With no income and no prospects of work he did the only thing he could do. He went to his sister and her husband Neil to see if he could live with them 'until he got his feet under him'. That lasted for less than six weeks. The two siblings had never been close and now they were almost like strangers. The only thing that held them together at all was the blood tie and perhaps the interest in their parent's estate. Mac didn't like Neil and the dislike was returned in spades. Neil was an arrogant young man who felt he was better than his 'uneducated' blue collar worker brother in law. After all, he had a business degree from the local college and was used car manager at a large dealership. He had been a jock in high school and had the typical jock attitude. He was infuriated because Mac didn't bow and scrape before his magnificence.
One evening after supper it all came to a head. They had spent the whole day in the attorney's office attempting to settle their parent's estate. Mac had suspected for weeks, hell, he had suspected almost every since Neil married Susan that they were interested in getting all they could from his parents as soon as they could. Until his parents went into the nursing home every time Susan went to visit she hauled something else of theirs off. Almost all the furniture and many of the kitchen utensils disappeared shortly after his parents left home for good. Supposedly Susan took things they wanted her to have as part of her inheritance, things that supposedly meant something to the family. Terry as his family called him, also was given some things but not as many as Susan. Terry kept his 'gifts'. Susan never took anything she didn't think she could sell. She routinely had a rummage sale shortly after hauling more items home from the farm. Money, money, money was Neil's and Susan's mantra. After they obtained the money they spent it. When the cash was gone they borrowed and spent more. They took cruises, long weekends in resorts, vacations in Hawaii or other popular places and always they made sure everyone knew about their latest extravagance.
In a way Mac was lucky he lost his job just as the estate was settling instead of earlier. At least he had some chance of getting a little money to help him over the period he would be out of work. What angered him was the fact his sister had wanted him to take the farm and she wanted to keep the money. There was about $211,000.00 in stocks, bonds and cash. The farm had been appraised at $160,000.00. Susan and Neil wanted Mac to take the farm as his share and they wanted to keep all the cash. They argued they had family and many large debts that needed to be paid off so they needed the cash. Susan and Neil complained often and loudly that they didn't have time to wait for their share of the value of the land if and when it sold. They further argued since they had the larger family and they had spent more time helping the parents they should not have to split the amount over the value of the land with Mac.
Mac had wanted to split everything 50/50 so each had cash now and would get a share of the land value when it sold. The Executor of the Estate had threatened that day to delay distribution until the farm sold if the two arguing siblings didn't agree on a different distribution. The Probate court would not make the distribution until such time as the Executor informed it things were ready to settle. The evening the siblings were informed of that decision was when Neil kicked Mac out of his house. Mac lived in his truck for three days but was finally told by the local police he could not do that in the city limits. There were no good places near the city to park and camp so Mac finally gave in and agreed to take the land and $25,000.00 as his share of the estate. It angered Neil and Susan to have to split the money in excess of the farm value but they finally did so in order to get their hands on the remainder.
Mac mentally shook himself and grimaced at the memories that had been surging through his head as he sat in the heat. He sighed and looked around once more at the run down drive in then got out of his truck and headed for the door. When he entered he stopped in surprise. The building had been divided in half and now half of the room was a bar. The other half still served food and soft drinks where minors were welcome. He had seen the signs for beer along the road at the parking lot entrance but had not thought they were advertising for The Mustang. When he was last home this had been a family place and only served food. He headed for the café side and found a chair where he could look out the window at his old home town.
Mac could just barely make out the roof of his parent's, now his, home through the trees and brush about a quarter mile farther down the road. He knew the line of trees and brush obscuring the old two story house was along a small stream running along the city limits of Prineville.
He was looking out the window and remembering other August days when he was younger and happier. It was a typical August—hot and dry, very dry. It had already been six weeks since there had been any significant rainfall and would probably be three or four more. Temperatures hovered around 100 degrees Fahrenheit or better during the cloudless days. The sun beat down unmercifully cooking the vegetation that had been so green and inviting in the spring. Evening temperatures never got below mid 70's and the humidity was horrible. Mac was still used to these conditions because he worked in a un air conditioned shop until he was laid off. When he welded it was usually outside too.
Mac dreaded what he would find when he worked up the courage to drive the last quarter mile and laid his eyes on his childhood home. It was after noon so he had talked himself into stopping for a burger before he saw what he had gotten himself into. He used to love the burgers at The Mustang. They were even better than homemade.
Emily had heard the bell ring when Mac entered the building. She was busy in the kitchen cleaning up after the lunch rush—ha. She had served a total of 13 people today. If it wasn't for the little bar she would be out of business. Even with beer sales and the snacks the drunks bought she barely made ends meet.
Emily tossed the wet rag she had been using to wash the counters back into the sink. Normally at this time of afternoon she would not see anyone until evening unless it was one of the chronically unemployed locals coming in for a six pack to take to the river. She walked into the bar first and was surprised it was empty. She then turned and entered the dining area. She glanced at the clock before looking for whoever entered. There was a young man sitting at a window booth staring out the window at the dry grass and dusty parking lot. He was tall, well built but looked run down. His clothes were clean but well worn. The soles of his boots were worn, the heels rounded and the uppers were scuffed and oil stained. His hair was just to the point of being shaggy, unkempt under his well worn straw cowboy hat. He looked slightly familiar but she couldn't say she knew him.
Emily walked to the ice machine, filled a glass with ice water and moved to the table to greet her late customer. She looked like her café—worn, tired, faded. Her movements were slow as if she was carrying a heavy weight. Her once beautiful blond hair was in a pony tail and dull looking as were her blue eyes. If you had looked at her closely you could see the vibrant young girl she used to be. Her breasts were firm and filled her top to perfection. She had a beautiful womanly butt and narrow waist. She stood about 5'8" and weighed in the neighborhood of 125 pounds.
Emily placed a menu and the water on the table in front of the young man. She said, "Know what ya want or do ya needa minnit?" She then stood with her pen poised over the little green order pad.
Mac glanced up at her then back at the menu. He pushed it aside without reading it and said, "Burger, Onion Rings and a Pepsi."
Emily turned and was halfway back to the kitchen when Mac said, "Hey!" When Emily turned back Mac continued, "I see ya serve beer now. Could I get a Busch instead of the Pepsi?"
"OK." Emily turned and walked on. As she walked she kept thinking she should know who the man was. He looked so familiar it was eerie. Emily quickly mashed together a hamburger patty and put an order of onion rings into the fryer. She was proud of the fact she still made her own hamburger patties, fries and onion rings. They were better than factory produced ready to cook items and everyone knew it.
After the meal was cooking Emily hurried into the bar area and grabbed a beer. She almost trotted to Mac's table and placed it on the table in front of him a little too robustly. The jar of it landing on the table caused it to fizz up and some foam to escape from the bottle top. Mac stared as Emily rushed off without a word heading for the kitchen and the cooking food. He shook his head once and wondered what was wrong with her. He hoped she didn't treat all her customers like that. He decided she was probably just another bitch who thought poorly of men in general and resented having to work for a living.
When she brought Mac's late lunch to him Emily decided to visit for a moment. Like in many small towns a stranger was news and she had to satisfy her curiosity. "I haven't seen ya around here before. You just passin' through or what?"
Mac looked up at Emily while he was chewing his first bite of probably the best hamburger he had eaten since he had left home. "NO. I live here or at least I do from now on." Mac pointed out the window at the roof of his house and continued, "I grew up in that house right over there. I left years ago for a better life. All I got is a bunch of crap. Lost my girlfriend, my parents died, lost my job and now I'm back to start over."
"Terry? Is it really you? Are you Terry McLaren?"
Mac smiled and nodded his head as he took another bite of his burger. He pushed a bite of onion ring into his mouth with the bite of burger he had just taken. Emily smiled and said, "Oh my God. You've changed. I would have never recognized you in a million years. I was sure sorry to hear about your folks. Now you've moved back home huh? You've got your work cut out for you. I'm afraid the old house is really run down. Bunch of the local kids have been tearing things up around here too. Probably have some broken windows and stuff too."