Friday, March 21, 2008

Dying with Honor
(This is a short story I did for GarageChoppers back in 2004. The charactors are based on real people that I have known and the towns are ones I used to haunt. Enjoy.)

( or is it ? )

The old rotary dial phone sprung to life. It’s annoying bell echoing loudly across the room.
Bud rolled off of the couch and stumbled across the dark room to answer it. Glancing at the clock he thought "why the hell is someone calling at 1 am" as he picked up the receiver.
"WHAT" he asked. Bud just stood there listening. "Yes.........yes, ok" he replied with a sigh.
Hanging up he stared out the window into the yard. He could hear the voice of his father clearly in his head. Something that he had told Bud a long time ago. "Boy, I fought for this country in the big one. Dying with honor is one thing but its another when you don’t know the cause".

The old shovelhead lumbered down the dirt driveway to the hard pavement.
The rigid frame bumped onto the surface and headed south towards Georgia, the sound of the fishtail’s disappearing into the cool night. Bud could only hear the sound of the air rushing past his helmet as he reached sixty five.

His mothers words began to creep into his head as he rode. "Your father, she said." He passed away tonight. He woke up in a sweat and made it into the bathroom but that was it, he was gone. Your fathers Doctor said he had been to see him several times for tests however there was nothing they could do. He never even mentioned it to me".

Bud rode for hours never stopping except to buy gas. Winding through the back roads as he reached the mountains of Georgia his shovel began to spit and pop. It would run well again for a few miles then begin to cough and miss. Bud pulled his rigid onto the grassy shoulder of the road just north of Toccoa. The traffic was beginning to get busy with people on their way to work. Bud damn sure didn’t want to be fighting rush hour with his engine missing on all the mountain curves.
He was standing there shaking the cobwebs out of his head while looking at his engine trying to figure out what was going on. Out of the corner of his eye he could see an old pickup pulling up behind. Bud was expecting the usual stupid question "are you broken down?" To which he generally replied "No, I always park on the side of the road to admire my ride!".
Instead he heard a female voice ask " can I offer you some help?"
Bud turned to find a pretty blonde haired lady with her head out the window looking at him. He was taken aback by her beauty and her question.
She smiled and said "well I know a place that can take a look at it for you. Very good mechanics over there and reasonably priced too."
Bud just said " Yeah. Thanks that would be great."
She pulled the truck in front of Buds bike and threw down the tailgate. Bud pulled out the ramp as she hooked a cable to his forks. The cable began to pull the bike up the ramp as Bud guided his ride into the bed.
"It’s not very far." she said as she pulled the truck out into the traffic.
"Are you here on vacation ? We get a lot of bikes up here this time of year to see the mountains." she said
"No" he answered, " I have family business down in Mount Airy."

After a short ride they pulled up at an old service station. The sign painted on the plate glass window read " Doves custom cycle and repair".
A couple of mechanics with military tattoos came out to help unload the bike. After Bud relayed the problem to them it was pushed inside.

Stepping through the front door into the small office, Bud could smell the inviting aroma of fresh coffee being brewed. He poured some into a couple of cups then stepped out into the shop area, handing the cup marked "Tammy" to the blonde.
"Thanks." she said taking a sip from the cup and handing it back.
Tammy took off her fringed jacket and hung it on a peg then took back the cup. Bud could not help but notice a small tattoo of a Dove on her slender hand as she bent over to pick up the controls for the bike lift.
He asked if he could use the phone.
"Yeah sure. Its just inside on the wall." she replied.
As he dialed the number Tammy went to work methodically checking out the wiring on his shovel.
Looking at the framed newspaper and magazine articles he found out that Tammy wasn’t just a mechanic. Hell, she was the owner and customizing guru of the place.

Bud walked down the street to a little diner nestled between a car lot and the town bank. He ordered up some breakfast and picked up a newspaper someone had left folded in the booth. After the waitress brought him his food he watched the traffic going by as he ate , taking his time.
Nobody seemed to pay him much mind as they came and went. A few of the patrons would give a nod as they passed by , but none of the usual stares that were common in the sixties and seventies.
"People had seemed to mellow for the most part" Bud thought to himself as more and more business types had started riding Harley’s. The kids on their pissed off nest of hornets sounding rice rockets where the pet peeve of the day. He heard more and more talk of these riders weaving in and out of traffic and splitting lanes . "Those kids have no regard for anyone’s safety, let alone their own." was often said in the conversations.
Bud finished his meal and left a five dollar tip for the three dollar meal on the table.

When he returned to the shop he found Tammy at her counter filling out a receipt for a couple of plug wires. She was wiping her hands on a shop rag when he handed her the money. Tammy handed him back his change along with her business card.
"How did you get into this line of work"? Bud asked her.
"I’ve been around bikes ever since I can remember. An old war buddy of my Grandfathers gave him a tip about a job at the old Lockheed aircraft plant years ago. That’s how I wound up here in Georgia." she replied Then after a moment continued.
"My Grandfather rode old Harley’s for years . I couldn’t wait for the weekends when he would take me riding. Part of the deal was though, that I had to help him clean and work on it. That’s kinda how it all started I guess.... yep bitten by the bug at an early age." she remarked.

"It seems that he taught you well. Judging from all the business you seem to be doing." Said Bud pointing at the bikes in her shop.

"Still learning. Learning all the time." She told him nodding her head.
She turned to wait on another customer who had been waiting patiently.

Bud straddled his rigid as he put on his helmet.

"Hey? Are you planning on staying in mount airy long? Tammy hollered from the door of the shop. "Or are you just here for the weekend?" she questioned.
"I have a few things that I have to take care of. Then I’ll probably head back to North Carolina in a week." Was Buds reply.

"Well I hope you stop back by before you leave". She exclaimed smiling.

Bud gave a short wave before firing up his rigid and heading on to Mount Airy. He spent the week taking care of the funeral arrangements and going over his fathers personal business. It seemed to Bud that his father had already taken care of most everything. Just as if he had known.

So many people stopped by the house the day of the funeral that his mother had only brief moments of rest. Bud tried to turn some away, however his mother over heard him and whispered in his ear. "They’re here to pay their respects to your father, Let it be." She told him , clutching a red poppy in her now frail hands. Bud shook his head in acknowledgment and putting his arm around her and bending , kissed her on top of her head.

Many of the men stepped up to offer condolences to Bud and his mother as they each held his mothers hand gently in theirs.
When they reached Bud , they would reach out and hold his hand while placing the other on top. One man in his eighties , who was walking with a cane held in his only hand , spoke to Bud for a minute.
"Your father." the man started while a tear ran down his battle scarred cheek. "Your father mended many a soul on the Navy’s hospital ship during the war.
Did you know that ?" he asked
Bud said "No sir .We never spoke much of the war".
"Never seemed to tire as he attended to the everlasting stream of soldiers" said the man shaking his head slowly side to side.
" Hundreds wounded in battle on those bloody beaches."
The man continued "He had kept track of many of them you know ,through the Veterans Administration all these years. When the word came of their failing health in later years , your father Bud , was at many of their sides. Just as he had done on the hospital ships long ago."
" We want you to know " said the old soldier "The worst off who died son , well...... , he helped those with dying with honor."

The old man then gave Buds hand a firm squeeze and gentle shake before turning and walking over to where his fathers casket sat. Bud lost count as man after man walked single file past he and his mother. Each one placing something inside and whispering something into his fathers ear. The last of the group walked up with help from Tammy , pausing for just a moment. Bud noticed a small Dove tattoo on the top of the mans hand.

"My god Bud thought to himself " the same tattoo his father had on his hand. "The Doves carry the spirit to the heavens .They take away the earthly pain." his father had once told him.

The man looked over at Tammy , a slight smile on his face and his eyes wet , he pulled something from his pocket and leaned over Buds father. It looked to Bud as if the man was straightening his fathers tie.The old man then stood up as erect as his old frame would allow him to.
He snapped to attention "Officer on deck!" he barked
His salute was as sharp as a nineteen year old kid. He turned briskly, his head held high as he looked at all of the old men standing in a row at attention. Taking Tammy’s hand again he walked purposely out of the parlor.
Bud was overwhelmed with the site of each of the men falling silently in behind Tammy and her grandfather.

When the time came to close the lid , Bud walked over slowly with his mother for one final goodbye. Looking inside, Bud could see the many old and worn military patches that now adorned the inside of the silk lined casket. A pair of old captains bars gleaming in the dim light pinned to his fathers collars. Moving his eyes to the face that had always carried a smile and remembering the sparkle in his voice.
"So long soldier" as his father always said to him "Your doing just fine and remember me , like I remember you."

Buds mother placed the red Poppy she had been holding all day inside of her mans pocket with an old wrinkled wedding photograph.
"Rest now my love. Your work is done, go home." was all she said. To Bud, those few words said it all as she was the woman that comforted and knew this man; held him on those long nights when he would awake in cold sweats from memories to deep to ever bury. She understood it when he would just sit alone by the pond with his fishing pole and his motorcycle rides when he was able. His was a restless soul trying to find peace and now he had. This woman had married a war torn soldier and all that came with it... she'd not had it any other way.

Bud and Tammy were married a year later. She continues to run her business and Bud with his small tattoo of a Dove, .............. he carries on his fathers.

We cherish too , the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led,
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heros never dies
Moina Michael (1915 )

In remembrance and thanks to those who GAVE THEIR ALL.


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