I realize this is a long chapter but it fits into the Carter stories rather well. Someone just donated a nice sum of money to get started on the book, so busy I must get.
The autumn weather nipped the air about the Edward's homestead. Carter became more restless than the squirrels hustling acorns about the unkept yard. Granny had been laid to rest long enough now that the conversations about her sudden death diminished around the diner table, so now everyone more-or-less sat about and grunted their way through the meal. Mearl, the youngest of the twelve, recently dropped out of the eight grade and found great delight spending his newly acquired free time agitating Carter.
Mearl's name should have been spelled Merle but the boy before him was named Earl. So Ma Edwards just put an M before the name to make it simple. After all, finding a new name was more than she wanted to do the day he arrived. This new name also functioned well for his sister Pearl.
"That's exactly why the others never come by the house anymore," Carter yelled as he slammed the front door, salvaged from a nearby house that lost the entranceway during a tornado. He just concluded another argument about whose turn it was to go into Berford and make the final payment on Granny's headstone. As usual, he lost. Carter felt it only fair his brother should now shoulder some of the responsibilities once performed by one of many older siblings who seemed to just disappear into the woods.
Pa told Carter there weren't no need for Mearl to be doin' work that hard if most of the family ain't there. If'n they were, then likely there would be ten times more people to feed, clean up behind and what ever it were that the kids did in the first place. That thought sort of eluded him at the time as he sat down at the table, put a wad of Beechnut in his mouth and commenced to ramble on about something else.
Nobody really knew what happened to the older children. Like Gramps, they just left without notice. It is as if the highway running by the Edwards place held a magical one way ticket for those choosing to escape. Except for Carter. The road never took him much passed the county seat.
Carter grabbed the $15 hidden under the steps of the shed in an old toolbox. The Edwards never believed in hiding money in the house as the shed never seemed to burn down nor blow up like their house. More and more often the old house would suffer severe damage in what appeared to be stupid mistakes by overlooking several flaws.
So one more time Carter headed up the driveway to catch a ride on the two-lane. As he walked by the old Dodge Lancer, disabled with a blown radiator hose, he perched himself on the trunk covered with wet oak leaves and once more envisioned what life beyond the county seat must be like. He knew the $15 would buy a new radiator hose and a little gas, but that is about all.
"No," he mulled, "gotta pay for Granny's stone.
He slid off the trunk and kicked an old gas cap up the driveway and stood by the road waiting for a ride. Carter pulled his hood over his sandy hair to keep the chill off when Melvin Housser happened by and offered him a ride to town.
"Getting nippy son. Winter will be here before you know it," Melvin said, as he pulled the pickup back onto the road.
"You got that right and all I can do is think about bustin' loose and going somewhere. There is a whole world out there and I ain't never been past Ridge City and as soon as I can figure out a good reason to go, I'm history," Carter said. For the next few miles Carter stared down the highway while he rubbed his hands briskly to fight off the chill.
Melvin tipped his DeKalb Corn hat back a little, scratched the bald spot underneath, looked at Carter and asked why he doesn't take up hunting.
"Hunting," Carter asked. "Just what am I going huntin" for. The only gun we got is for shootin varmints out of the garden patch. Heck, it wouldn't even put a dent in a soda can."
"Why you need to go hunt up your grandpa, what else. Granny Lizzie been dead for sometime now. Donchya think he should oughta know his wife up and died."
"No way, he gets word I killed her with that stupid computer virus he'd likely wallop me until I saw stars. Forget that buddy," Carter replied.
Melvin took a deep breath and started in again.
"Son, you can't be afraid of your shadow all your life. Look at it this way–your poor old gramps is wantin' to come home but his pride is in the way. Ever since he told the sheriff that story about the spacecraft and then gettin' laughed outta Buck's Tavern, why he ain't never showed his face in McComb County since. It's your duty as the oldest one left home ta go and git him and bring him back."
"Well maybe so, but tarnation, I hadn't the slightest idea of where to find him or how to get anywhere–my radiator hose is busted and that'll cost $13.47," Carter said as they pulled into town. "Here drop me off at the cemetery."
Melvin pulled the truck over to the curb and grabbed a twenty out of his coat pocket. "Your grandpa and I had a many good times down at Buck's and I sure miss the ol' goat. Get yourself a radiator hose, find some money and go bring him home. Do it boy."
Carter eased out of the pickup somewhat stunned. Nobody ever gave him a twenty for no reason, nor had anyone ever offered him a job to do. True, it wasn't really a job, but as close to one as he ever had.. He looked at the cemetery office, then again at the $15 for the last payment.
"This money just might find grandpa," he thought. "But the old coot would just beat me for not using it to pay off the headstone. No, gotta take care of granny first."
The deed completed and the receipt, as proud as any medal a soldier could earn, found a place in the pocket right next to his heart. On the way home he passed Gus's Gas and Guts where a free hot dog a small coke went with any new or used car part. He picked up the hose and felt lucky because Gus had the only upper radiator hose in the area that fit a slant six Dodge Lancer. He also found a slightly used, tattered Rand McNally Cities Service state map for seventy five cents. With the treasure, along with a 50 cent cup of coffee, he headed home with a mission.
There are only two roads leading out of Bruford that take you any place important. Most of the dirt roads went into the country, past old gravel pits, trailer houses and an occasional pasture or swamp that surround the small town. According to those whose jobs it is to compile statistics there are more gravel roads in McComb County than in all other areas of the state.
If someone wanted to leave Bruford they either went into the woods and stayed there until whatever it was that made them go there didn't make sense anymore or headed east or south on State Highway 97. If you headed east, most likely you were going to the lumber mill outside of town or perhaps as far as Pongers Creek where the drive-in movie once stood. Now that it is gone folks don't go there as much.
The same road makes a bend in Bruford then continues south past the town square with the statue of The Known Soldier, at least the town elders think they know who it is.. Although the East and South Highway is one-in-the same folks often refer to it as the South Highway, or the South Blacktop, depending on who you ask.. Most of the traffic flows south as it the county had been tipped downward by some unexplainable force making the return trip to Bruford the feeling of an uphill battle. Pa figured that had to be the road most of the children took, since uphill battles was not something the Edwards very often undertook. Likely gramps took the South Road--as for the kids who returned home, apparently they were hiding out in the woods.
The turkey plant down by Jeronsville took away half the population when it opened in ‘72. Of course the plant was south of Bruford. The county seat--south, and most everything folks talked about, you guessed it, south.
After supper Carter spread the state map out on his bed and found himself mesmerized with the abundance of squiggly lines in and around Bruford. All the towns and highways beyond his miserable existence lay on that simple folded sheet of paper. The map captivated him. The state was full of highways in red, some in black and a splattering of cities with bold black ink with little airplanes next to them. This treasure drew him into an imaginary world of the likes he never felt before.
"Imagine having an airport, then where could you go," he thought. He took a red felt pen and placed a star right over Bruford, then took the butt of the marker and placed it next to the star. The tip if the marker came to rest on a town about 125 miles south, near a river town named Clayton Falls, named after General Clayton who thought he discovered the starting point of a famous river, but instead just found a rather poetic little waterfall. Carter drew a circle around the spot on the map and thought to himself what a wonderful destination. And who knew what he would find there.
Over the next week Carter busied himself repairing certain precarious faults in the old powder blue Dodge. His imaginative vision of Clayton Falls kept his youthful energy pointed in the right direction. By scrapping out useless articles in the shed he fashioned a small bunk where the back seat once sat. In the corner he placed an old shelf Grannie had in her room and placed a Coleman lantern firmly atop it. In the trunk he built small bins for potatoes, matches, canned goods, a few rusty tools, clothing and flashlights. He spent endless hours walking about nervously looking for unexpected problems that could occur on such a lengthy trip, though in reality he had little idea what to look for.
Mearl spent most of his newly acquired spare time pestering Carter, trying to figure out what his older brother had in mind but Carter payed little attention. Nobody but Melvin knew about the trip and what little Melvin knew would never put his family on the trail of the trip to Clayton Falls. Finally after numerous days of bolting here and hammering there, the old 62 Lancer had been transformed to a miniature camper–uniquely simple, but amazingly brilliant for Carter.
With time running short Carter now had to think harder than he ever had to think before. He needed cash and he needed it quick, since the days were turning colder. Though it had not happened yet, pa may start asking questions. Instead he just sat on the porch rocker and with a somewhat puzzled look on his face he just took aim at the windshield with his Beechnut.
A lead pencil sharpened with his jackknife became the calculator for figuring out his needs, and best he could figure, a dollar a mile would get him to the falls unless he encountered gramps, then he would have to return home to drop him off. He also had to have a bit of spending money for stopping at cafes, bars and roadside attractions to ask if anyone seen gramps. Now he felt more and more like a detective setting out to find a dangerous criminal.
"Two hundred and fifty stupid dollars is all I need and there ain't a durn thing around here worth more than 50 cents," Carter mumbled as he chewed down his supper.
"Are you still carryin' on about your brother doin' his fair share here ‘bouts,"pa asked. "Cuz if yourn still is, I'll fix him up to clean out the shed, might be gramps died thar. Ya never know now do ya."
"No pa, I need some money to go somewhere."
"Leavin' home are ye," pa inquired while fighting with a tough pork chop. "Well that'll stop all this fussin' with you and your brother and who knows but what some of the kids may come back out of the woods and take your room. Be right fine to see um agin."
Carter pushed his chair back against the wall and laid into Pa. "Ya durn fool I'm going away to find Gramps and ya best leave my room be and that's final. If I could come up with $250 all you would see is my back end going out that ratty screen door."
Mearl sat at the table laughing while tearing away at the pork chop with his dirty hands. "Why don't ya'll go sell some of them turkeys like last year. Ya still smell like a dead turkey anyhow."
Carter picked up a piece of hickory stove wood and hurled at his brat of a brother who only stood a little over five foot but could throw out insults like Gramps, only Gramps could wallop any bystander with his cane.
While mulling over his perplexities, Carter figured out two ways to secure much needed capital, robbing a bank or selling Gramp's much beloved Studebaker truck. Robbing a bank would be the less painful way. That old truck meant more to Gramps than anyone or anything, except for his hounds. Carter knew all to well to mess with the truck.
As he walked back to the Dodge he pulled open the door, sat on the ragged seat and turned on the radio to a station that seemed a million miles away. The song made him want to turn the ignition key right away and follow the radio waves. He soon turned off the radio and thought so hard about the money he developed a headache. He got up from the Lancer and walked past the Studebaker on the way back to the house. Suddenly he acquired a Carter Edwards inspiration.
"Tomorrow," he bellowed out loud out loud, "I'll hock this old junker down at Honest Abe's. He'll give me 60 days to repay ‘em and by that time I will have me a fine job at the Falls and when I find Gramps, well he will have to settle up with old Abe to get his stupid old truck back."
Carter ran into the house yellin like a crazed fool. "Tomorrow buddy, we is goin' travelin".
He crawled into bed with his road map and pictured in his sleep of what life must be like beyond Jeronsville, the home of the Turkey Plant and the one-time-school pa burned to the ground by mistake, which by the way, is the furthest he had ever driven. The sight of a three story house, drive-up banks, car dealerships with brand spankin' new cars and drifted in and out of his over taxed mind. Of course, a few citified girls danced about just for good measure.
"Yes sir, " he mumbled as sleep quieted his soul, "Carter is goin' to be the talk of Bruford,, you just wait and se........."
The next morning Mearl ran into the house laughing like a half-crazed animal. Carter leaped from the bed, his eyes bulging with rage because the morning caught him by surprise. He had hoped to be up and long gone by now.
"Carter boy, your junky Winnebago is gone," Mearl hounded. "It up and gone, by George."
"What are you talkin' about, you nuthead."
"It's gone, gone, gone, I tell ya. Here read what says this letter. I know its got your name on it for sure. The rest I can't read."
Carter slumped down in the half upholstered chair by the kitchen stove and with a cup of coffee in his hand he read the letter of death. Though the scrawling was only half legible he knew who wrote it.
"deer granson Carter," the letter started. "Thank ye fer builden me that camper. I always dreemed of havin' one i cood sleep in and put a few belongins in. I twere a feared that you would not git it runnin be fer winter set in. So now I reckon on to be headin' bout as fer south as one kould think ‘bout. Melvin told me about you buldin this fer me at our card game last week. Nice boy y'ar, better en some of you siblins. I always sed you were the best of the litter thats why I gave the twenty fer Melvin ta give ya.. I'd be thankin' ya in purson but i don't wreckon i could beat off that comp, er comput or heck what ever that virus was ya brout home. Thanks fer payin off grannies stone. See ya next spring if'n my heart holds out that long
Oh by the way feel free to use the studebaker but i had to sell some parts off'n it fer gas money.
Carter sat in the old chair for the next three hours staring out the back door, gazing at where the Dodge set a short hours ago. There sat Gramps treasured Studebaker with no battery, no gas and the worse part–no seat. All the dreams of what one desired to see, the world south of Bruford, now gone.
Guess it really doesn't matter, because in Carter's world nobody is going nowhere, nohow.
Settle in, grab a cup of coffee and enjoy your stay here at Shelly's. The pie is great, the coffee pot is always on and soon you will find this to be the best place in town. SOON TO BE AMERICA'S MOST READ BLOG