“Pa?” the pilot questioned. The man had just paid a half months wage for use of the phone. And the shopkeeper who owned it, stood hovering over his shoulder, glaring at him. Static audibly crackled along the line and was so fierce that the man worried he wouldn’t be heard. Not to mention the traffic and people which swirled in movement outside the little store. Kicking up dust clouds and an almost intolerable noise.
“Ja-ames? Ji-jimmy?” the weight of his father’s voice sounded both shrill and joyous while somehow wrapped in disbelieving hope.
“Yeah Dad, it’s me!” James yelled into the receiver. Plugging his open ear with a finger in order to block out the hustle and speed of the people and cars around him.
“Well how are you boy?!? Hold on, your Ma is in the barn-” he could hear his father’s breath start to hold as his dad began to pull the phone away.
“Nah, we don’t have that kind of time.” James took a deep breath. He listened as the phone was brought back up to his Dad’s mouth. Then James’ father spoke directly.
“Ok son, ok. So how are you? No, where are you? State side?”
“I wish I was Pa, I wish I was. But no I’m still over here. The Japs are pushing into Burma, hitting the Chinese pretty hard. So we are makin’ a push back.”
James felt his father’s smile, as it stretched his Dad’s bearded cheek. The bristles scraped against the cut microphone holes on the handset of the old black rotary.
“Well, alright then.” Was all that was said. James could hear the pride that was in his father’s statement. It was a small thing, only a few words. But the respect they housed threatened to surround and overwhelm the solider, as he stood there in the dripping humid heat.
“You getting the money I’m sending back?” James inquired. Flying as a “volunteer” for the AVG, he earned ruffly seven hundred dollars a month. That was more than some men earned in an entire year. And he sent most every cent back to his folks.
“Yup, me and your ma are gettin’ the money. The farm is almost paid for thanks to you son. Lets see those bastards at the bank try to take her away from us now”. His Dad chuckled as he spoke and rightly so. It had only been a few years back when it looked liked they would lose their farm. The Depression hit every one pretty hard. But some how, they held on. And now, if the family was diligent, they would not only keep the land, but actually own it.
“Listen Dad, I don’t think this call will hold for too long” the popping was growing ever constant causing James to speak even louder. “I wanted to let you know that I volunteered for something-” his voice echoed down the halls of the communication line. And James suddenly realized that he could very well be jailed just by saying this much. So he cautiously looked around, making sure that no one important was about. “I wish I didn’t have to, but no one else raised their hand-”
With sudden worry and fear his father interrupted. “What do you mean volunteered for something? I thought Roosevelt ok’d you to quit the Navy, and you volunteered for the Tigers. How can you volunteer for something twice?
“No Pa, this is a different!” James hollered. Trying as hard as possible to route the conversation towards the topic that needed to be shared.
“Well are you in trouble? You need me to come over and kick Chennault’s ass?” Having flown with Commander Chennault in the first world war, James’ Father was only half joking while issuing this threat. His Father’s friendship was the primary reason that James’ had got the job in the first place. And it was exactly these same connections that now put James’ life in a very tumultuous place.
“Woud-ya just listen to me?” James practically screamed. “This is important!” The tone of his voice summoned his father to silence. “I was sitting there with the other fellas, getting briefed, when the Commander up and asked for a volunteer.” James could still see the map clearly as Commander Chennault used his pointing apparatus to outline the route of the perilous mission. Then indicating where all the potential enemy units were likely to be. Even going on to say, that despite the fact success would mean the lives of many innocent people, he wouldn’t fault a single one of them for not stepping forward.
“After hearing what he had to say, I thought to myself ‘What would my old man do?’” James continued.
Subconsciously subverting where this trail of words was headed, James’ Father said. “Now hold on a minute. You and I both know that we ain’t always of the same mind.”
Frustration building, James’ voice drew to an edge. “Yeah, thats probably true. But not now, not this time. And seeing as how you raised me an all, I think that I might just have a God-damn good idea about what you’d be thinkin’.” He could feel his father’s jaw slam shut. His profanity some how reaching out and acoustically slapping the older man. It wasn’t what James intended, it never was. But the history was deep, and they both had a tempestuous streak. So these sorts of things always seemed to happen.
“Listen to me Pa, you just gotta trust me. Cause I know you would do this. And do you know how I’m sure?” Not really waiting for an answer, James continued. “Well because you wouldn’t be able to live with yourself if you didn’t.“
There was an eternity in those words, floating on weighted seconds. Silence covered them both as they recognized the magnitude of the conversation. The type of exchange that moved oceans and eroded mountains. So father and son clutched their respective phones, each waiting for the other to speak.
“I hear you boy” his father finally said in a whisper. Weak from being unable to protect. James sensed that somehow his Dad had just imparted a fraction of his farmed out soul. A soul that belonged back there amidst the Nebraska clay. Free to blow in the wind with the grass covered hillside that carried and swayed like the waves of the sea.
Then something was said and James knew that his Pa understood.
“You do what you have to-” began his Father , whose drawl slowed with sincerity and purpose “-and just remember, your mother and I lo-”
But a click suddenly occurred, separating and cutting. The conversation ended, yet the meaning would hopefully remain. James wanted it to be so, for his parent’s sake.