“The Righteous Stuff” – Chapter 2September 9, 2009
The Righteous Stuff
by Jeffrey D. Waggoner
based on characters and situations in the
“Domination of the Draka” novels written by S.M. Stirling
NORTHFIELD FAMILY FARM
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
“Dad! Dad! I’ve got to talk to you, now!” Fifteen-year-old Allan Northfield burst through the kitchen door, banging the screen door for the hundredth time that summer. “DAD!”
“In here, son.” Duane Northfield was lounging in the living room of their big white farmhouse, in his “favorite chair,” with a bottle of beer and the radio on. The Detroit Tigers were in first place again, and those good-for-nothing Cleveland Indians were in the cellar, where they belonged. The Tigers were up 7–2 over Baltimore, in the seventh. “Calm down a bit, son, and come in here quietly. The Tigers will probably win today anyway, but let’s not spook them.”
Allan folded his body into the old, worn-out couch. It never got replaced, once the War began and everything was rationed. Right now you couldn’t even get enough gas to bring a new one home from the store, if you could find one and could afford it.
Allan was still as full of energy as he was when he was young, but seemed to bubble even more since he was only five feet six inches tall. All his friends were taller, and his mother kept warning him of his upcoming “growth spurt,” but he hadn’t seen any difference in two years, and puberty was long past.
“Dad–Larry Martin joined the Army yesterday! He’s gone already, shipped out today! Andandand…” Allan gulped for breath, tried again. “And Uncle Myron–Larry’s the second pilot he lost to the Army this year, and he says…he says…when I’m sixteen next month I can get my license and fly for him, if I want!” With all his information finally out, he collapsed back into the cushions.
“Allan. Slow. Down.” His father leaned forward, and turned the radio off. “I know you want to get your license next month. I don’t object to that. But flying commercially, for Myron, is another thing!” Harshmann was an outstanding pilot, but never flew with a copilot unless the Post Office inspectors came to town. His trips to the Islands were down to three a day, once a day in the winter, and the war had severely cut back the vacation trade that had driven South Bass Island’s booming economy. His airline mainly survived because of the Post Office contract, and the fact that he was the only lifeline in the winter for the Island’s two hundred full-time residents.
“Dad, it would only be once a day for the summer, and weekends in the winter. And he would always be copilot, until I was eighteen! He promised, and so did you!”
“The promise was rendered null and void by the war, son, and you know it. No teenager should be a commercial pilot, and Myron knows it too. He’s hedging his bets, knowing that when you graduate he can suck you into the business full time. You know we want you to go to college, son. We always have, and we’ve scrimped and saved so you could go. Now, with the price of everything except tomatoes going up with the war…I don’t know any more. We may have to dip into the college fund temporarily.” Duane shifted in his seat. “Still, you can’t lock your life to that crazy man!”
Allan spoke more slowly, eyes downcast. “There’s one more thing…to work for him, I’d need to move to DeLery’s Landing and go to school there for my junior and senior years. Uncle Myron and Aunt Judy said it’s okay with them and they can talk to the principal at the high school. You know I couldn’t drive back and forth, with the gas rationing. But DeLery High is a better school than mine anyway, with the Erie Army Training Base so close. There must be over a thousand kids there, and better teachers!” He paused, and looked his father in the eye. “And Dad, my grades are good. Uncle Myron said there might be a chance for an aviation ROTC scholarship, or even maybe a military academy appointment.”
Duane got up from the worn leather chair, shoved his hands in the pockets of his worn blue jeans, and looked out the window. He spoke to Allan without turning from the window. “You know your mom and I want the best for you. We always thought we could make it, enough anyway, to give you a leg up in the world. If this damn war hadn’t come along…you’re right about DL High. I’ve talked to a few people, including Mr. Roberts and Mr. Meyers in town. They’re both on the school board, and the DL school district is the one to beat, with the government money and help getting teachers. Meyers said over a quarter of his faculty has left to enlist or because their husbands enlisted. He doesn’t know where he’s going to find the people to replace them. But flying, especially winter flying, is risky business.”
He turned to face Allan, his face grim. “I don’t know about this academy business. In wartime there are no guarantees. We can probably at least get you started at Bowling Green State, or maybe Kent State. That’s if the price of beans and tomatoes rises with inflation and we can keep out of the college fund. But, son, to go to college, you have to be alive.” He paused, looked down. “I have to think about this. A lot.”
Excerpt from On Eagles’ Wings: An Autobiography, by Allan Scott Northfield
I still look back on the last two years of high school as the happiest years of my life. I missed my parents, of course, even though they were only a little over an hour’s drive away–if I could get the time to go, the steamer from Uncle Myron, and the gas for it. But the flying! You could feel every bit of motion in that plane, every gust of wind, every flex of wingtip, right through your body as you flew. Most of the time, you flew with the windows open because it was so damn hot, and you could tell more about the engines by sound than by gauges, in those days.
School was OK. I mean, I had to go, and Uncle Myron told me I’d be back to Woodville in a minute if I didn’t study. My friends in Woodville said they were in classes of over seventy-five kids, on account of the teacher shortage. We never had that problem in DeLery. Sure, a lot of the teachers were older–had been retired, and came back to help out. Even more were women, and that’s something we never saw in high school before. I even had a senior math teacher who was a woman! Knew her stuff, she did. Got me started on calculus once I started talking about the Academy. “You’ll need this, Allan, if you plan a military career. Not like this bunch of farmers and fishermen I deal with every day. Now get home and work these solutions for me!” I though of Miss Silvers as old…I think she must have been, maybe, thirty-five or so. But that lady did for sure know calculus.
The kids at DeLery weren’t all going to be fishermen or farmers, but a lot of them were from families that had lived in the area for generations. They were having a tough time with the increasing number of Army brats that were coming to town. And a lot of them didn’t have fathers at home. A whole tank company had volunteered and shipped out to the Pacific, just made up of kids’ dads from the DeLery area. They were captured and became part of the Bataan Death March, and most of them didn’t come back. I’ll bet a third of those high school boys were the oldest males in their homes, and they tried to be “the man of the house” like their fathers’ asked them to. My dad had asthma and a punctured eardrum, enough that the military didn’t take him. That made it easier for Mom, but not having me on the farm to help was probably hard on him. He never said a word about it, and I was so wound up in flying that I never asked him. He wasn’t a talkative man, not about the things that mattered. Come to think of it, most of the time I’m not, either.