June 6, 1994. It’s almost 10:00 a.m. I’m having my morning coffee in La Patisserie, a little French and Vietnamese bakery-restaurant about four blocks from home. I’m the only customer, typical for this time on Monday morning.
It is quiet at the intersection of Lynn and Northwest. One or two cars pass through every other light change. Three are wandering around the boats in front of Yeager’s Sporting Goods across the street, waiting for the doors to open.
Although the street is dry, I drove my ’76 Chevy pickup instead of riding my bicycle. Those storm clouds boiling up in the southwest are threatening.
Phan, always polite, always ready to smile, just handed me a freshly baked raspberry cream cheese Danish. As is her habit, she waited for her first customer before turning on the coffeemaker. We exchange a few remarks about the weather and this being Monday morning. I hand her two dollars. She gives me thirty cents change and continues spraying the glass tabletops with Windex© and wiping them with crumpled pages from yesterday’s newspaper.
I place my Danish on Table #6, “my spot” near the window, and go to the service counter for a spoon, fork, napkin, and a couple creamers. By now, the coffee is ready. I pour a cup.
There’s nothing visible on the street noting the significance of this day, a pensive one for me.
My thoughts have skipped between this day, fifty years ago, and the televised commemorations held on the Normandy beaches in France, 4800 miles away. My reverie is deepened by the subdued and plaintive background music coming over the speakers: “I’ll Walk Alone,” “Till Then,” “When the Boys Come Home,” interspersed with Glen Miller and Duke Ellington renditions.
I flash back to that morning on June 6, 1944. I’m ten years old. School had been out less than a week. I’m sitting in the cab of Dad’s 1927 Chevy flatbed truck on the ferry, crossing the Skagit River. We are on our way to Grant Nelles’ blacksmith shop, west of Concrete.
I didn’t expect to cross the river until the middle of the month. Normally, I’d be in a hayfield walking along the newly mown swathes, shaking loose the heavy bunches of green hay with a three-tine pitch fork so they could dry more quickly. The mower broke down before Dad could start cutting.
Dad said he’d take us to the Strawberry Festival and to see Grandma Harris in Burlington, if the hay is shocked, if he can get our 1930 Reo Flying Cloud to run, if he has any leftover gasoline ration stamps, and if the river isn’t flooding. He’d have to draw some money from the Mitchell Brothers, the “gypo” loggers for whom he was working. That is, if they’d been paid for their latest shipment of logs. (Smalltime loggers were probably called “gypos” because they moved from site to site, frequently logging areas too small to be worthwhile for larger companies.)
When I asked Dad if I could go, I was surprised that he said, “Get in.” Loretta and Jim knew better than to ask. They’re too young and Dad would be busy helping the blacksmith and swapping stories with others waiting to repair busted-down equipment. Besides, Mom didn’t want them running around the hot forges with their flying sparks and getting in the way.
Dad always repaired our farm equipment himself. He would rummage through the pile of parts and pieces in “the old milk house” or scavenger from some derelict machine rusting in the blackberry vines and nettles in the back of one the neighbors’ fields until he found what he needed. If the part were wooden, he would carve a new one from a vine maple sapling he’d cut from the brush growing behind the barn. This time, he couldn’t find a part to fit the old relic of a mower that had been around since it was freighted up the river in a canoe in the 1880’s when the place was homesteaded. His only remedy was to weld the part back together. This meant a trip to the only blacksmith shop upriver.Seldom did the sun shine long enough this early in June to dry the fields enough so Dad can cut, rake, and shock the hay before the next storm soaks it and rot begins.
Not only does he lose haying weather with these breakdowns, he loses a valuable day of unpaid vacation time. Also, each repair usually takes the last money in the house, and burns up precious gasoline.
Frank Tom, the operator, had just dropped the ferry apron at the edge of the river where the road sloped down to the landing on the Rockport side, and Dad is starting the truck engine, when a neighbor literally skipped through the shallow water and onto the ferry. He sticks his head though the hole in the door on Dad’s side where the window used to be. “Did ya’ hear?” he blurts out. “They landed in France!”
“They did?” Dad responds, as much in surprise as disbelief.
“Yaah! They got those krauts on the run.” (Kraut is a derogatory term that everyone I knew called Germans, especially German soldiers.)
“Well, it’ll soon be over,” Dad says, as he steps on the clutch and slowly shifts into first gear. It is good news, but his mind is on the broken mower and the time he is losing.
I didn’t say anything. After all, I was just going into the sixth grade. And, I’m not so sure that the Germans will be quickly defeated. I’d been following war as closely as I could until the battery packs on our radio ran out, a couple weeks ago. Mrs. Baughman, our teacher at Rockport School, had let a couple of us read her newspaper when our lessons were done. Even if the Germans are defeated, the war with the Japanese in the Pacific had to be won.
The engine whines as the old truck creeps off the ferry and inches up the incline, over the railroad tracks, and onto State Route 20 near the Rockport Hotel. It is an hour’s drive over Rockport Hill and winding down the valley to the blacksmith shop.
My second cup of coffee is gone. It’s time to leave a tip, climb into my old Chevy pickup, and go home. Maybe the rain will hold off long enough to mow some lawn.
(Here’s a couple pages from Upriver Images, my mixed genre memoir. Let me know if the POV works, or has inconsitencies. Please, no ‘junk’ or pseudo-messages designed to link your website advertising your product. I WILL NOT APPROVE!)