Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Good Shepherd 2

What say we start at the beginning of the story? This excerpt nearly leads to yesterday's posted piece.

* * * * *

You belong to me, Harold Tripp, and you are beautiful.

On the day Harold's plane went down, Lady howled all night long. Made sense. Animal sense, you know, like when all the beasts ran for the hills hours before the Indian Ocean tsunami crashed ashore.

Lady was Harold's dog more than mine. He picked her out from a litter of four pups. He named her, and from her puppy years to full-grown, she followed him everywhere. Lady and I got along fine, too, until Harold joined the Air Force and shipped out to Korea. During Harold's tour of duty, Lady had very little to do with me. Kept her distance. Staked herself out a spot in our yard thirty feet from the house where a barbed wire fence bordered our west pasture. At feeding time, she'd stand by the fence watching me while I filled her bowl on the back porch. Calling her did no good. Only after I'd gone back inside would she approach the house and eat.

The dog shelter Harold and I built for her sat near our house, but she never used it after Harold left, and so as winter approached I loaded the damned thing into the pickup's bed and moved it out to her spot. Couldn't bear the thought of her shivering in the Illinois cold, and my gesture worked. She slept in her dog house. Crawled inside when she needed to warm herself or get in from the rain, but otherwise most of her time was spent sitting by the fence and looking west, toward Korea and Harold. Understanding her need, feeling it myself, I turned her house so her doorway faced west.

Through the winter of 1950, I rarely saw Lady. It was almost as though she thought I'd done something to Harold. Taken him away so she could never see him again. I sympathized, because in actuality Harold had taken himself away from me and from her.

After we both returned safely from Europe and our service during World War II, Harold and I enjoyed five years together. Five glorious years, no doubt, but when news broke that the communist north had invaded the south of Korea, I knew he'd be joining in the new fight. Nothing could keep Harold grounded. Not Lady. Not our southern Illinois farm and home. Not me.

Harold Tripp grew up on a farm but was born to soar. After eighty-two missions of piloting B-17's over Nazi-occupied territory, all successful save one, Harold itched to be back in the air for a worthy cause. I needed him to be happy. How could I possibly hold him back and expect our love to be the same as before? Doesn't work. Misery of one partner infects the other until hatred consumes both. Besides, Harold and I had both seen our share of misery.

I like to say Harold was my Christmas gift, delivered to me December 15, 1944.

When the Germans dragged Harold into our seventeen-man Stalag barracks, I took notice like never before. In my three-plus months as a prisoner of the Nazis, I'd seen several downed airmen brought in to join us, but Harold affected me differently. Could have been pity more than infatuation. He'd been roughed up pretty good. Lacerations marred his face, hands and arms. Purple bruises colored his left eye socket.

After his two-man-German-guard escort unceremoniously pushed him through the door and slammed it shut, several airmen rushed to his aid. Guided him to his bed, a two-feet-wide plank of wood with a two-inch-thick mattress recently vacated by a man dead from dysentery. They removed his prison-issued shoes. Laid him down. Tucked him under a thin grey blanket of wool, and then the entire gang, all Americans from downed B-17's, surrounded him.

end excerpt from The Good Shepherd by Jardonn Smith. My MLR Press holiday story is scheduled for release this coming Sunday, December 18.

No comments: