The Missing Years.
I suppose that it was inevitable that Thurman and Burney would split up after what happened. Her daddy knew that them boys of his were worthless pieces of shit, but it had been our family problems that had forced him to face up to that. He made Burney's life so miserable over that she went back to Missouri to live with some of her mom's folks. Thurman was broken hearted, but he tried not to show it.
I was broken hearted too. Jeannie was 'bout driving me crazy. The day after she had I had taken her home and met her mother, I went up to the cafe and she walked in holding hands with Sammie Ames. I took my cue from my older brother, and though I was hurting bad, you couldn't have told it by the way I walked out of the cafe and acted like I never knew that she was there.
We had even bigger problems. America was finally at war. Some Japanese leaders had decided to bomb one of our naval bases and President Roosevelt got on the radio and gave a big speech saying something to the effect that us Americans needed to get organized and go kick the shit out of some people.
I think it was Burney's leaving that caused Thurman to go enlist without waiting for the draft to take him. I heeded some words that Mr. Jenks had said before he died and decided to wait a bit. I figured the war would still be there by the time I got things sorted all out with Jeannie.
One time before the war, Thurman was going on about much he hated them German people who were causing all the problems over in Europe. Jenks got real mad over it and said, "Saying you hate a German, ain't much different in that Hitler guy saying he hates Jews, or another man telling you that he hates Okies. Them people are just like us. They got their fair share of idiots, maybe more than most, but they just people trying to get by."
For once though Thurman wasn't inclined to listen. He was angry when he spoke, and that was the only time I ever seen him get mad over something Jenks had said. "There comes a time when a man's got to be a man. When we stand by and watch evil being done, it makes us evil too."
Jenks didn't back off it though, "If we going spend all our time fighting evil, we won't ever have time for doing nothing else. There's more going on over there that meets the eye. Them people leading Russia are doing bad things too. I ain't saying we ain't going to have to do something, but I don't believe that we should just go running off killing people willy nilly."
Thurman rose to his feet, and this disturbed me something fierce because I loved my brother with all my heart, but there was something to what Mr. Jenks was saying too. Thurman spoke, "Well, them Germans put that man in power, and he's doing evil, that makes them evil in my book." He then left the room in a huff. Mr. Jenks sat there staring at nothing for awhile. Then he snapped out of the trance and ordered me to eat the last biscuit.
Later, when I was fixing to go to work, he was waiting outside and came across the path to say something. He was wearing a green sweater and behind his glasses his eyes looked as troubled as a stormy sky, He put his hand on one of the fence palings and said, "In the tragedies there are no reconciliations. The Greeks believed that you look at two sides warring with each other and never came up with the conclusion that you had to solve anything. They felt it was enough for the individual to take notice of war and to deliberate on how to navigate his life accordingly."
He looked at me, and I mean, he was as serious as I ever saw him, and Mr. Jenks was a generally serious man. Then he spoke again, "Billy John, I might be wrong on this one. There are two great evils in this world at this moment, and I don't see how fighting one, won't help the other."
I walked off the porch and went over and shook his hand. "Mr. Jenks, don't fret none about Thurman. He'll get over it, the words anyway, and he generally got a good nose for picking the right side of a fight."
Thurman went over to Europe as an infantry man. He got lost for a while in the Battle of the Bulge. I was with my Aunt Lou when a big, long brown car with a star on the side pulled up in front of her house. Me and Uncle Billy was fixing their fence and she had just come out to bring us some tea.
She was wearing a blue dress and a white apron. A man in uniform got out of the car, walked past the open gate and handed her a letter. She looked at me and Uncle Billy before she opened it. Then she tore the envelope open and read the letters. Her knees buckled and the man reached out and caught her.
Uncle Billy ran to his wife's side while I went for the letter.
It said that Thurman was lost behind enemy lines. I couldn't breathe for the longest time.
He showed up on the other side of it though and had a couple of medals to show for it. I finally joined up too. I was sent to Georgia for training and became an artilleryman and was sent across the Pacific to the Philippines where I spent most of the war painting my feet with iodine, chasing native girls, digging latrines, and betting on rat races.
The ride across the ocean was the greatest discomfort I felt during the whole war. I shit beans over the side of that boat for what seemed like days on end. When the war ended, they offered us an immediate furlough home, but only if we would sign up to finish mopping up things in Europe. I jumped at it.
When I got home, Thurman was already there. He had just come back from fetching Burney out of Missouri. Turns out that she had been briefly married to someone else.
I had only been home a day when Uncle Billy and Aunt Lou were killed in a tragic car accident. They were coming home from a trip to Bel Vista when a drunk farmhand thinking that his wife was in the truck with another man, pushed the truck onto the path of an oncoming train. It was a very emotional time as Aunt Lou, my mom's sister, had been the only living link that Thurman and me still had to the past in Oklahoma. Now those days were completely gone.
Colton came to the funeral with his pregnant wife. He had served his country in Italy. I watched him as walked over to Thurman at the side of the graves in order to shake his hand.
I talked to him briefly myself and he told me what had happened that night when he shot Oogie. "Billy John, I don't rightly know why, but when Thurman told me the truth about who I was, it made me think of all the times your Aunt Lou had tried to show me love. I thought about this one time where I had stolen a toy and got caught in store in Bakersfield. The clerk was really giving me hell about it, and Lou got mad and lit into that woman something fierce. I know that it's a damn strange thing to think about in that situation, but it broke something loose in me. I'm sorry for the trouble I caused you. I don't know if you still want to be cousins with me not being blood and all."
I walked over and embraced him, "Hell Colt, we just like two vines crawling up on a tree branch. You couldn't separate us out without both of us dying."
Handling Jeannie was another thing completely. Thurman got on me about it one night at a bar where we had gone to have a couple beers. "Damn Junior, I think if I was you, I might want to rest a bit before I headed back overseas. All you done so far is help me move into a house, bury Uncle Billy and Aunt Lou, and chase Jeannie all over town."
I laughed, "I don't rightly know what I'd do if I caught her. I just know, she's the one I want to settle down with, and if I don't do it with her, I probably won't settle down at all."
"Well, good luck with taming that 'un. I don't see how she'll ever be ready to ride."
"Well Thurm, that's the thing about riding bucking horses. After you rode one, them saddle horses don't seem fun at all. I ain't wanting to marry a horse, just a woman. Sides, she might to tame me down some to." "
"Yeah, but you don't have to get none of your bones set or swallow the blood out of a broken tooth if you settle on ones that's done been broke."
After I dropped Thurman night, I went over and parked across the street from Jeannie's house. Her mama was outside and saw me pull up. She didn't so much as wave. It was a little after one o'clock when car lights came around a corner and a car came down the street and pulled into the driveway.
Jeannie got out of the car laughing and walked around to the driver's side window. She was laughing and talking to the fellow when I came across the street.
"What are you doing here?" she asked looking very surprised.
I got straight to the point, "Jeannie, I'm tired of chasing you around this fucking town, and I can't be up all night waiting for you get home, so I can ask you to be my wife."
I thought that she was going to play it off by laughing, but she stopped before she got started, "Billy John Wilson, are you asking me to marry you?"
I didn't say anything. I just looked over to the porch to where her mama was sitting. Then her mama called out to her, "Well answer the damn fool, Jeannie. So we can all get some sleep."
Jeannie didn't say anything either, she just jumped up into my arms, We were passionately kissing when the guy in the car started his engine and drove off.
We were still kissing when Jeannie's mama went inside and turned the porch light off.