Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Last Summer

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:

Part of the Scintilla Project. Learn more at and on twitter @ScintillaHQ.


  1. there are no unneeded words here. they all belong, are necessary. another piece of fine storytelling and truth and heartbreak. god, why does heartbreak gave to start so young?

  2. I have waited all day to come here and see what you had to say today. Never wondered if I'd like it, or if the words would fill the expectations I've come to have when I do make my way to your words. Our stories always seem interchangeable with one difference, you have children and your war rests in making them never have to tear loose stories like this one. For that I commend you. Not sure if i am over stepping my bounds, but I thought you should know that them never having to feel the way you did makes you a hero in my book. Your words are wonderful as always.

  3. There is something a little Steinbeck, a little Haruf, a little Sandlot about this post. Dusty sepia images in bittersweet.

    Gah. Always a pleasure to visit your writing.

  4. There is always so much history in your words.... Your own, but also the history of all of us, in this human experience. You offer the wisdom of experience without the bitterness of loss. I so admire this in you. My heart goes out to the boys in this story, fighting their own small war. Short pay for a tall job.

  5. Such a responsibility placed on young ones, yet you've carried it gracefully. Adult wars become children's battles that grow up again. Insight, captured. Thank you.

  6. Beautiful. Thank you for writing this story.

  7. The weight that children carry far too soon seems so cruel, when seen through our older, sadder, wiser eyes. This was so touching and painful; but, so beautiful, at the same time.

    I have stayed in Bowling Green, Virginia in the very recent past. I didn't quite understand, until spending time there, that it is very definitely "The South." It was quite enlightening. It's beautiful country, and the people that I met there were, to a one, kind and generous to a stranger...much as you are to those that wander by.

  8. I love my visits here. Your words are always heartfelt and deep. Having lived in Virginia for a while I know about Stonewall Jackson. Looking forward to your other scintilla posts.

  9. This was so well written...Thanks!

  10. Oh, my goodness. Thank you, thank you, thank you.


Your comments are a gift beyond measure.