Karin Ames 35 Meadow Lane South Hero, Vermont 05486 firstname.lastname@example.org Senior English Hoosick Falls High School Leaving P.A. 1955 Earl walked right by me into the house without a word. I sat on the steps after walking thirty miles from Albany to get to my sister’s house. ‘He doesn’t want me here,’ I thought, but when I tried to put my loafers back on, my swollen feet wouldn’t fit. I walked into the kitchen where my brother-in-law, predictably, was opening a bottle of beer. “Earl, I don’t think you recognize me,” I said. Earl squinted a bit into my face before his own smoothed into a grin. “Chuck! Hell, I’d hardly know you, you’re all grown up!” He slapped me on the back as he offered me a beer. “Sure,” I said, “a beer sounds great after that walk from Albany.” “Albany! Jesus, that must be over thirty miles! What’d you do that for?” “It’s a long story.” “Well, I got time. Jerri won’t be home from work for a coupla hours. How’d you end up in Albany? Weren’t you stayin’ at some farm in Pennsylvania?” “With a guy called Sivers this last year. You know, I never was one for talkin’ back, but this guy was somethin’ else. The bull did it.” I paused a moment, not sure if Earl’d be truly interested. “Go on,” he said. Tilting his head back, he drained his beer, reached into the fridge for another, then looked at me expectantly. I told him like it was. “C’mon, we need to go castrate that bull,” Sivers muttered to me when I got off the bus that day. He didn’t meet my eyes. He never looked me in the eyes. He also never used my name or asked how I was, or how school was that day. Nine months of living in his house, working on his farm every single day, and not once did he say anything but bark an order. Otherwise, silence, a thin rod of silence. He flicked his cigarette away as he turned his back and strode off to the barn. After shedding my school clothes for overalls and boots, I met him in the barn, picked up the cattle prod along with a bucket of grain. You know Holsteins, big beasts, useful for milk production. Less useful for bull handling. This one was mostly black, with just a few white patches and perfectly symmetrical, curved horns. I could see those horns were going to make it tricky to get his head into the stanchion. He waited in a nearby paddock, a big beast already at well over a thousand pounds, ornery and hard to handle at this point. Sivers had let him get more than a year old, late for castration. Shaking the grain, I enticed him close to the gate leading in to the box stall where Sivers stood ready, then prodded him until he passed through the gate, radiating waves of pungent male heat the whole way. The gate clanged behind him. His black withers bristled straight up in protest, another few inches of height. He was warning me, alright. He faced Sivers, right hoof kicking up dirt, swaying side to side, as if uncertain of his intent, but certain he had one, looking for a sign, a signal, grunting and blowing, droplets spewing left and right. The horns, silken smooth, carved figure eights in the air. As Sivers moved in, the bull lashed out with hind leg, a slice to the knee. Sivers’ fall was swift. With a loud snort, the bull dropped his head and charged forward. Sivers lay on his back, helpless. I lunged, two strides at the most, made a leaping grab for the nose ring. The momentum of my move helped pull his head around. Thwarted, he hesitated in confusion. Yanking on his nose ring with all my hundred thirty pounds, I muscled his head around toward the gate. The bull shook his head back and forth, me moving with him, hanging on for all I was worth. At last, I got him back through the gate. I’m dead certain I saved that guy’s life, and do you know what he said? "Look what you’ve done to that bull – his nose is bleeding!” He was still lying on the ground. I said nothing. Until a few months later, the day before the last day of school, my junior year. “You’ll have to do chores tonight. I’m all done,” I said to Missus Sivers as I entered the kitchen. She sat at the worn pine trestle shelling peas with her daughter Mazie. “When I leave for school tomorrow, I’m not comin’ back.” Her mouth formed a silent “o”, maybe at my words, but more probably at the blood spurting out of my nose. I had a handkerchief over it but it was a bad one. It had been the last straw, as they say. We’d been getting in the corn, Sivers and I, when my nose started to gush blood. It happened sometimes. I was one of those kids prone to nose bleeds. I told Sivers, “I got a nose bleed, I gotta stop for a bit ‘til it lets up.” He was having none of it, told me “You can’t stop, you stay right on, we’re here ‘til this gets done.” That just didn’t make sense to me. I’d get blood all over the place. I threw down my fork and walked off. First time I’d ever done anything like that. Leaving Missus Sivers and Mazie speechless, I went upstairs to get cleaned up and pack my things. My brothers had managed on their own from the time they were fourteen or younger. I figured I was overdue. From under the bed in the room I’d used the last year I pulled out the dusty suitcase someone had given me during one of the moves over the years. I laid it open on the thin mattress, pausing a moment to look outside. The room lay partly under the eaves, the narrow nine pane in line with the slope of the roof. From my slanted view, farm fields rose and fell in bright June light, broken only by one neighboring white clapboard farmhouse like this one, the curve of the dirt road and the far tree line. I admit I felt a pang of homesickness for the land already. The feeling reminded me of another room, when I was maybe ten. I sat on the bed for hours, a cardboard box with all my belongings in my lap, waiting for the farmer to come up and tell me I was headed out. I was sure he’d be mad because I had screwed up the feeding of the calves. I gave them all too much grain, and had gotten yelled at. I was an insecure little kid. Mazie knocked on the door, opening it to offer me my shirt and pants off the clothesline, freshly pressed. She had also shined my loafers. “You’ll want to look smart if you’re going places,” she said, a tinge of awe in her voice. At twelve, she might have harbored dreams of wandering the world herself one day. I set about packing my few belongings. Last to go in was my revolver. That would be my ticket fare, I hoped. I had no cash and couldn’t afford gas to take my car. The next morning Missus Sivers sat alone in the kitchen, lit by the clear morning sun streaming in through the open door. Her hands curled tightly around a mug of coffee. “Good luck,” she said. “If I didn’t have two kids I’d go with you.” Those words stuck with me. I wonder if she knew what she was saying. Her voice stayed with me as I walked out to the road, lifted me up. I hauled my suitcase to the back of the bus where a couple of guys I knew well, but not my main pals, sat. “What’s with the suitcase, Chuck? You goin’ someplace?” one guy said. I brought out the revolver. “Yes, I am,” I said. “Either of you want to buy this? I need some cash for the trip.” “Well, how much are you lookin’ to get for it?” he asked. “How much do you have?” The two took out their wallets and found seventeen dollars between them. “Sold,” I said. “Wait a minute - how do we know it works?” “Try it out,” I offered, then loaded the barrel and handed it over. One of them took aim out the open window of the bus and fired out into a hay field. “Put that gun away or I’ll take it!” the driver bellowed from up front. Satisfied, the shooter tucked the revolver into the back of his jeans under his shirttails. “Where are you headed, anyway?” he asked. “Wherever seventeen dollars will take me.” I saw the looks of respect on their faces. They didn’t know that was the most specific answer I had to offer. All my buddies huddled around after history class to help me work out a plan. None of us had been farther than a thirty mile radius of Bradford County in our lives. And we weren’t the best geography students. “What about Boys Town?” Wally threw out. “Remember seein’ that movie with Spencer Tracy?” “That movie’s old,” Carl cautioned. “Is it still around?” “Yes, yes, it’s still there. And they take any boy that comes, I’m sure of it. Omaha Nebraska. Out west somewhere.” Wally went over to the U.S map on the wall to find Nebraska. “See, here it is!” “That’s a long way off. Chuck’s not gonna get there on seventeen dollars,” Ray threw in. “Okay. What about New York City?” “New York City! What am I going to do in a city?” I protested, laughing at the idea. “Why, I wouldn’t even know how to get around, never mind find a place to live or a job!” “Well, you said you were done with farming,” Carl looked put out. “I have it. You need work, right? What about going up to the Saint Lawrence Seaway? That’s only up here, see, on the border between New York and Canada. I heard they need men up there for work. They house you up there, near the construction site, and I bet the pay is good too.” “Sure, that’s it, Chuck! Ray’s right!” Wally grinned, eyes crinkling. “That’d be exciting!” Wally’s enthusiasm was just what I needed. “Well, that does sound more likely than Nebraska. And my sister and brothers are living in Pownal, Vermont, just over here, not too far from Albany. Maybe I could stop in and say ‘hi’ on the way.” “Wish we could give you a send-off, Chuck.” I looked hard at Carl’s serious, sincere regard. I knew if I came back in ten years, twenty, Carl would still be here, maybe farming his father’s land with his brother, or at a stretch, commuting to Endicott. Many good times, Carl and I had shared. I willed away the unease in my gut and the tightening in my chest. I gave him a good natured slap on the back and grinned. “I’ll miss you guys and I’ll write,” I said. “Tell you all about it so you’ll want to come up there with me! But I’ve done it now, no turning back.” “That’s right,” Wally said. “Decision’s made. Good luck to you, Chuck.” We all shook hands, I turned my back, picked up my case and got out of there. I looked back once, the building not really worth remembering, a plain old two story, white clapboard affair, constructed by someone with no imagination fifty or a hundred years ago. I caught my first ride just a mile out of town with a guy headed north, up to the Endicott area. Within a few hundred yards we picked up two girls I knew on their way swimming. They must have bugged out of school early too. “C’mon with us, Chuck,” one invited. “It’ll be fun.” “No, no,” I said, “I’m heading out of town.” “Aw, c’mon Chuck, you can take time for us, can’t you?” The other squeezed my shoulder, letting her fingers trail along the back of my neck. “Last day of school and all. Let’s go celebrate!” “Thanks anyway, but no, not this time,” I kept looking forward. The driver glanced over at me, nervous seeming. The girls cajoled and pleaded, but I didn’t relent. When they got out, the driver turned to me. “You queer or somethin’?” he demanded. “No, no, I ain’t queer!” I replied. “Geesh, I just want to get out of here. I don’t dare stop!” Mollified, he drove on, not talking much. An hour later he dropped me off in Endicott, New York, right back where I was born. I didn’t expect to come this way again, so I walked over to Riverside Cemetery, on the edge of town alongside the Susquehanna River, a peaceful spot, quiet beneath shade trees, flowers or flags dotting most graves. I stared down at the marker set just over a year before: Clare R. Ames. My father. He took me to a baseball game once, in Endicott when I was small, five or six maybe. At the house in Pennsylvania he took us out in the boat on the lake. Otherwise, I don’t remember him much. Yet all this time, he lived up here in Endicott, drinking away, while the state farmed us out, the youngest of us anyway. Can you imagine? Eight kids, brilliant machinist for IBM, all neglected, for what? Dead at 56, choked on a piece of steak while out to dinner with my mother. Neither of them showed up for the hearing all those years ago. Eight kids. I wandered over to the war memorial nearby to find my oldest brother’s marker. PFC. Lloyd I. Ames, killed in action in Germany, March 21, 1945. He received the Silver Star for gallantry in action. He wrote me letters while he was overseas. I still have one. “You know why he went into the army, don’t you?” Earl said, eyeing me closely. “I figured he signed up.” “Somethin’ like that. He ran into a woman, really bashing her up. They gave him a choice, jail or the army. He was killed in Europe three years later, two months before the end of the war.” “I didn’t know that.” “Well, hell, I didn’t mean to bust up your memory of Lloyd. Go on, how did you get to Albany?” I took a bus. I had no idea how to find a hotel or room for the night, or even who to ask. But I met this young upright looking guy on the bus and we got to talking. He had just enlisted in the Army. We hit it off so he offered me a ticket to sleep in the barracks that night. The military does that, you know, they put up guys for the night before they’re shipped off to training. Guys going into the Army, Navy, Air Force, all in there together. I just had to pretend like I had enlisted. I slipped in with this guy, using his ticket. Well, that night was fun, I can tell you! We went out drinking, then played cards most of the night. An argument broke out among the guys over which branch was better. I argued for Army. “Why you want to be a bullet sponge?” a Navy guy started. “Yeah, you ground pounders take off at the first sign of trouble,” an Airman added, “and leave behind all your shit. At least this Jarhead over here ain’t goin’ to leave valuable gear for the enemies, eh?” “Nossir,” the Marine saluted. “We Devil Dogs got discipline. Sir.” I could see where this was heading. “You should talk,” I turned to the Airman. “You Flyboys play it safe, don’t you, drop your eggs and take off home, safe in your beds while real men see real action.” “Maybe when you ain’t turnin’ tail!” The Navy guy laughed so I set after him too. “You swabbies are no different, shoot your fish and cruise on by. No balls at all!” “Oh, don’t snap your cap!” he responded. Pretty soon it was “blow it out your barracks bag”, “roll up your flaps”, and “that’s shit for the birds”, a real contest. The next morning as I walked away from the group of guys, they stopped me. “Hey, where’re you going?” they asked. “Oh, to hell with the Army!” I said. I waved at their astonished faces and laughed to myself halfway here. “Well, I gotta hand it to you, Chuck. That’s a good story. Jerri’ll be some glad to see you, and you know Clare and Lucy live upstairs, right? You better plan on staying a while to visit with your sister and brother, you know.” Clare ended up talking me into staying with him the year to finish high school and found a job for me at the wire works where he worked. Later that summer, after I’d saved up some money, he drove me back down to Pennsylvania to pick up my car. Sivers was real friendly in his greeting, offered us a beer. We chatted a while. Beers done, Sivers offered me his hand. I looked him in the eye, dark brown I noticed, shook and turned to gather my things. I stopped. Next to a cardboard box stood my barn boots, cleaned up by Mazie or Missus Sivers. Behind me, Sivers said, “There’s still good wear in those.” Gathering the lot, I headed to my car. At the end of the drive where the dirt track meets blacktop, I slid the shift over to Park, reached down for the boots. In my rear view mirror, I watched the boots, standing neatly by the side of the road. Sivers was right. They did have good wear left in them.