Kids; The Last Summer (Michael & Bruce)
I was eleven when we moved to Lock’s Corner, halfway between Fredericksburg and Bowling Green, a few miles east of Guinea Station, where Stonewall Jackson died. The previous year, we left our Wilderness farm, where that same Stonewall lost his arm. It was Virginia in 1961 and the War Between the States still reckoned into every description of place. The Lost Cause scratching at the door for a hundred years.
My father had his own war inside, and was plotting another new strategy, another new start. He was the son of a blacksmith, and never found his place in this world. There were many new starts, new dreams, but this was one of his last, before the dreams were lost to drink. In Lock’s Corner, there were only six small homes, but, right on the corner, my father rented a house with an old general store on the first floor. He named it Community Grocery and painted it bright white with a red “Drink Coca-Cola” sign on the side, offering Pure Oil at the pump for twenty cents a gallon during the gas wars of ’61. He would sell everything, from penny candy to pickled eggs, and life would be a dream. Every customer had good credit, even if they rarely paid their bill. Between the gas wars and the unpaid tabs, it was inevitable that the store, the dream, would fail, and we would move on to the next battlefield.
The time came, as it always did, that my father got into a fight with the other local drunks; this time he was outnumbered as they stomped him on the ground. My mother grabbed the rifle to run the men off, but my father was beaten enough to stay bedridden for awhile. That summer, my twelve-year-old brother and I worked the store, while my mother took care of our father and two younger brothers upstairs. I can’t say that I was very good at being a shopkeeper; when I pumped gas, the driver would likely pull off, calling from his car, “Tell your father, I’ll pay for that later.” I would likely never see that driver again.
I rarely think about it anymore, that war before this war, and never called it a job, because there wasn't money to be paid.
“I bet I can drink mine down in four seconds.”
My pay for the day was an orange Tru-Ade and a Hostess cupcake, and in four seconds, half of my pay was gone. Tru-Ade was a non-carbonated soda, so we could drink a whole bottle in no time. I should have savored that soda, they weren't an everyday deal, but I had to beat my brother in some silly sibling rivalry. For awhile, at day’s end, we would be kids; our father was upstairs, but we knew he wasn't coming down to stop our silliness. That was the last summer that we weren't blamed for his failures; that was the last summer that we could be kids.
The store, the war, continued for another year before he gave up and moved north to another dream, but the dreams became smaller, as the wars became larger, until his final surrender.
There's a 2010 photograph of the store on Google maps and it still stands on street view: http://goo.gl/yk7hr
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