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Will had always had an overactive imagination. As he hopped off the back of his third hitchhiked truck, he wondered what his half-brother, the great General, would have done with the old family house. Going on nothing but history classes and movies, Spud was expecting a throne made of sun-bleached skeletons of those who dared oppose Roger. The man himself was clad in a rich robe of mink, one hand on a massive sword buckled to his waist. With two comely servant girls (no doubt captured wenches from the enemy side) holding a steaming mutton joint and a flagon of wine respectively, Will imagined his half-brother supping heartily, roaring with glee and delight as two other captured slaves fought to the death. He had managed to create a staggering mythos in the two mile trek from the old Amoco station to the house, and was heartily disappointed when he finally arrived at his old home.
There were a few lean-tos added onto the garage, but nothing special. No bone throne, no comely wenches, not even a pig roasting on a spit. All that said, it was still home. It was also still July, which meant that the one-and-a-half-footed rambler was rather rank as he made his way up the lawn, noting a few things as he did so.
“The spruces have gotten big.”
“They cut down the other big pine.”
“When was the last time they mowed the lawn?”
“It must be garbage day.”
And so on. What little security there was stationed there was taking time to enjoy the peak of a Wisconsin summer, and that, of course, means they were safely out of the sun, sipping grape Kool-Aid in aluminum tumblers. Spud recognized both immediately.
“Mom’s feedin’ the soldiers. Typical.”
Roger was never one for military regulation, and Spud was able to walk directly into the house and enter the kitchen. Familiarity was all around him, making his heart soar, but what put the smile on his face was the short figure of his mother bustling about near the stove.
Now, the kitchen in this house was not made for a culinary dynamo such as Mrs. Russell: very little counter space, too-tall cabinets, and an antiquated electric stove meant this wasn’t on the cutting edge, but every meal that came out of that kitchen was the stuff of dreams. Though both the late Mr. Stockton and the present Mr. Russell were Englishman, none of that country’s dubious “cuisine” had found its way onto the menu. Mrs. Russell, maiden name Freibose, had made sure to infuse each dish, be it spaghetti or tacos, with a bit of German hospitality and quantity. Spud remembered how those dishes had once made his waistline a robust forty inches, rather than the haggard thirty-two that long days of little food and loads of manual labor had given him. Still, a stomach was a stomach, no matter how shrunken, and it’s been said the memory of a stomach is keener than that of the mind.
“Stroganoff,” Spud said in a clear voice. “One of my favorites.”
Mrs. Russell had been too busy fiddling and fixing with her down-home, never-the-same-amounts-twice recipies that she hadn’t even noticed. However, for mothers, the memory of an ear trumps both stomach and mind. She recognized the tenor of her third born son.
“Willy?” her head shot up, tears already welling in the corners, “is it really you?”
“Smuggled in from Boston, Ma.”
The food forgotten, the mother rushed to meet the son, wrapping his artificially thin frame with powerful arms, arms that had thrown hay, pushed stubborn cows, and yet still held the gentleness of a thousand tucked-in sheets.
Unfortunately, the former Ms. Freibose’s grip was a little too strong, and in her son’s condition of reduced balance, it sent him stumbling against the antique kitchen table upon release. Always a kind one, the mother offered her quickest apology.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Willy…I guess I just got carried away, it’s so nice to see you! I always forget about the, erm, you know…thing…”
“I’m missing half my foot, Ma,” Will grimaced as he rebalanced on his cane, “and you don’t have to tiptoe around it, I kinda already know.”
“I know you know, and I know why you did it, it’s just…you used to be the nicest dancer for such a big fella.”
“Well, now I’m neither,” Will smiled wryly, patting where his paunch used to be, “but I still remember your stroganoff. What’s the deal? You couldn’t have known I was coming.”
“Well, no, but…” she looked embarrassed, “you know your birthday was a few days ago and, well…I always like to cook your favorite things around then, makes me think of you…”
“Mom,” Will droned, rolling his eyes.
“Oh, I know, I know! It’s just,” she wiped away an errant tear and headed back to the stove. Will knew it must have been close to one hundred degrees over there, but there was no persuading her away. His foot hurt like hell from all the walking, but he still managed to stump over by the stove to show a modicum of support. Mom appreciated it, and after wiping away a few more tears, she struck up a bit of a conversation.
“So, do you always use that stick?”
Spud suppressed a chuckle at the use of the word “stick.”
“Only when I’ve been really mobile or something,” he shifted his weight and held up the well-worn cane, “Got this from an old farmer I did a little bit of work for in the Dakotas. In the morning, the cane walks with me; in the evening…I walk with the cane.”
“But it’s not even dinnertime, honey, what have you been up to?”
Spud knew saying this was a bad idea, but she could smell lies.
“I walked out here from the old Amoco.”
“You did what?” Mom blustered, “you walked all that way with your bad foot? Oh, you’re probably bleeding! Get into the bathroom, I’ll–”
“Ma,” Spud held up a restraining hand, “I’ll look after it.”
“Okay, but you’d better go sit down in the living room when you’re done! Honestly, boy, you’ll lose the whole leg at this rate!”
Shaking his head, Spud headed through the cozy Americana decor from the kitchen to the living room to the bathroom. She was right, it was a little rare and there was some blood. He’d become so used to it that it didn’t phase him much…but that’s Ma. Ridiculous, overzealous, but kind, and he wouldn’t change her for the world.
Overzealous soon became an understatement. By the time dinner was ready (for all ten: Ma, Pa, Susan home from college in Iowa, Roger, Roger’s wife Toryn, her two kids, Spud, and the two soldiers stationed) Spud found himself propped up in Dad’s best chair, local brew in hand, his favorite movie on the tube, and his mother constantly tossing bits and pieces onto his lap.
“I tried making peanut brittle, it didn’t turn out quite right…here, try some!”
“Muffins from Sunday breakfast”
“Cookies from last night.”
“Toryn made these, aren’t they to die for?”
And so on. By the time Roger finally came in, Will had to brush a veritable subcontinent of home-made goodies off his lap to stand and meet his half-brother.
“Hey, Spud! Sorry, didn’t hear about you were in, was in a school board meeting. I think they agree with me because I’m packing heat, eh?”
The years had been kind to Roger. His hair and goatee was beginning to gray, his manner had subdued, but there was still a bit of the anti-establishment punk rock fire in his ice blue eyes. Spud laughed with a little bit of derision.
“Or maybe it’s because you’re the genius and the hero.”
“I’m just a stupid kid who had his organs in the right place in relation to the bullets, Spud,” he said, bidding them both to sit down, “you’re the hero round here.”
“Fuckin’ true, man,” Spud never got used to his older brothers swearing casually, it was like he was hearing privileged information, “I was a brat kid who had ideas that were way too big for my head. Other people shot at me so I could keep my freedom, you shot at yourself. That takes guts.”
“Tell that to the draft board, or the thousands of posters labeling me a ‘coward’ between New York and LA.”
Roger opened his own beer. “Well, you’re in good hands now. You’re on Free State Soil.”
“Thank God I’m a Country Boy?”
“Thank God we’re both Country Boys.”

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