"Tomorry," said Uncle Jep, "I want you should take the V-8 'n drive your Aunt Grace over to Liberal, so's she kin visit her Aunt Laura. Sam 'n I have too much to do over to his place fer me to take off, 'n I won't much miss you around here for a couple days, leastways, no more'n I miss the woman."
"What? Where's tonight's tale?"
"Nah, you need get on ta bed 'n get some rest. An' I doubt not thet your Aunt Grace will more than fill your want of tales afore you get home."
The sun jumped above the horizon as we passed Coolidge. As the day brightened, so did Aunt Grace, and soon enough she was rolling along as fast and as smoothly as the pickup was running.
"Did your Uncle Jeptha ever tell you," she asked, "about the time he went off to war? No? I thought not. He'll talk about most anything, but that is a part of his life he'd rather forget. You see, it was in February of '98, I think, when the Maine was sunk in Havana harbor. You know about that, don't you? Of course you do. You have been to high school, after all. Well, by late Spring the people across the country were getting quite worked up about Spain and her involvement in Cuba and in other parts of the world. Must have been pretty general, otherwise how would the people in that little corner our world where we lived get incensed about something so far away? So, Jep, he decide it was his fittin' and patriotic duty to join up. The President was pleading for more troops. Now we were living in Tennessee, but Jep still owned twenty acres in Scott County, so in order to be with his buddies from his boyhood, he joined up with the Second Virginia Volunteer Infantry. They send him off to Camp Cuba Libre in Jacksonville, Florida."
Aunt Grace went on, filling me in on Jeptha's military training, the crowded conditions in camp, the miserable summer heat, and the mosquitoes. Always the mosquitoes. Presently we are in Garden, and Aunt Grace need to stop for a rest break, not to mention that I need that, too. After a few minutes at a Phillips 66, we drove over to the city park where we stretched our legs and ate the sack lunch Auntie had prepared. Then we were on the road southward toward Liberal.
"Well, wouldn't you know it? But another week of training, then they would ship Jep off to Cuba. Then it happened, not on the training grounds, but as he was walking along toward his quarters when he steps in a hole, breaks his left leg, shin-bone between the knee and the ankle. Then, what, ho! His buddies are shipping out to the war, and he is stuck in Jacksonville, set and plastered, but it would take time to heal.
"So it is that Jeptha is put on "desk duty." The sergeant tells him, "Rejoice, you are now a clerk." They set him down in front of one of them type writing machines, which he's never seen in his life, and tell him, "Write up this stack of orders." Well, Jep is always conscientious, and he's a fair to middling quick learner. Tells me in his letters to me before his stint as clerk is over that the tips of both his index fingers have calluses on them. But the worst part was the heat. He thought it had been hot in July, but come August, he thinks "hell has come."
"So then in the middle of August, the war comes to an end. Of course the military is still needed to enforce the peace now that Spain has agreed to pull out and grant independence to Cuba. Well, Jep might have been assigned to a unit and shipped over, but the army decided that they would muster him out, as they had no longer need of so much infantry. They take his rifle, give him thirty dollars and tell him he is on his own. On his own, six hundred miles from home.
"Of course he did make it home, as you well know, and for which I am ever grateful. But it would be in your best interest if you avoid asking your uncle about his military service."
© 2014 David W. Lacy 43