CHAPTER Forty: BIRTHDAYS AND SURPRISES


 Greg took the old highway home, and stopped for a burger and visit with Cora and Jackson. He arrived about 3 o’clock. The parking lot was empty.

   “Many hunters this weekend?” he asked, after he was seated.

   “A few both days,” said Jackson. “Fair skies meant only fair success. Most everybody was out by noon both days, I think. The Fish and Game boys were here by about 1:30 today, already closed up. You been to Pocatello, again?”

   “Yeah, saw Vic, and watched the Idaho team get beat by Weber State. It was actually a pretty good game. All the sports announcers had picked the Bengals to win, and at half-time, they looked like they would. They were up 17 to 7, but Weber State just overpowered them in the second half. The Bengal fans were sad, but – as a non-partisan – I liked it just fine.”

   “A feeling you kept to yourself, I imagine?” asked Cora.

   “Definitely. No sense causing friction, but I guess I just like college football, no matter what the outcome.”

   “How’s Vic doing?” asked Cora.

   “Pretty well. She’s keeping busy – and keeping interested, which isn’t always easy in the first two years of college. All the general education courses you have to take, sometimes it feels like you’re  re-doing high school.”

   They visited a little longer, then Greg took his leave. As he’d been told, the hunt area was closed up for the night, and no one was left around. He continued on through the refuge, driving slowly and taking note of the wildlife along the way. Even though hunting had only ceased a few hours before, ducks had already settled back in the open area for the night. There was a good variety. The golden eagle scavenging party had increased to four individuals. There must have been quite a few crippled birds, or unretrieved kills. Greg wondered how common that was. The birds weren’t going to waste, but…

   Back at headquarters, he brought the mail into the office. Nothing of real note, just a bundle of old narrative reports from other refuges, part of the “Narrative Club” circulation. Most refuges prepared an extra copy of their narrative report, and sent it to the next refuge on the club list. That refuge eventually passed it on to the next refuge, until finally it made it back to home base, with comments from the various reviewers. The reports obviously sat in some offices for a long time, and were finally sent on as a bundle. He noticed some of these were almost two years old! It didn’t really matter. The idea was just to learn a little bit about other refuges where you might one day find yourself. Greg found them as boring to read as his own products, but interesting because he knew so little about the refuge system, and what other refuges were like.

   He discovered he was pretty tired after his busy weekend and, after a quick meal and a little clean up, he went to bed.

 

    Monday morning, Greg and Chuck discussed the hunt program. Greg brought up the apparent large numbers of unretrieved ducks. “Is that usual?”

   “I think the crippling loss can be pretty high, particularly when the weather is as bright and clear as it’s been here all season. Not all hunters are crack shots, and even the pros get tempted to try ‘sky busting’ shots when the birds are all flying so high. Probably not very good sportsmanship, but the birds probably don’t go to waste, what with the eagles and other scavengers around.

   “On another subject, it seems we are wanted in town on Wednesday night for a birthday party for you. I guess Alice and the sisters have had this in the works for quite a while. You’re available, I hope?”

   “Sure. This is the first I’ve heard of it.”

   “Me, too. I was thinking – if you wanted to – we could drive in to town together, you could bunk with us overnight, and then we’d come back together Thursday morning. It would mean we only had to take one vehicle.”

   “I guess that would work. Are you sure that wouldn’t be an imposition on you folks?”

   “We have lots of room, so no problem, at all.”

   “Okay, then.”

   Neither had anything pressing to do, so Greg went through the pile of narrative reports – and a similar pile that had come in the previous week, that he hadn’t yet had time to look at. Most of the refuges he reviewed were in flat, open country – sometimes in sagebrush, sometimes in grassland – but all fairly similar in looks to his current location. Most looked “okay,” and what  he thought duck refuges usually looked like, but he was most interested in the areas that had a little topography and a little taller vegetation. Turnbull Refuge, near Spokane, Washington, had big pine trees, and lots of little ponds and marshes nestled in lava rock basins. Red Rock Lakes – on the divide between Idaho and Montana, and only a couple hours north of Pocatello – had tall mountains and coniferous trees, and was one of the few refuges he reviewed that he thought could be called “pretty.” It had an added appeal to. him in that it wasn’t just another duck refuge; it was managed especially for one of the last nesting areas on the rare trumpeter swans. At college, Greg remembered seeing (and reading a little of) Winston Banko’s monograph on the swans. Banko was the biologist at Red Rock for a long time.

   Greg put aside that batch of narratives, and looked through the others. Some of the Southern refuges had lots of birds that he’d never seen – some he’d barely heard of – and he could picture himself with binoculars and field guide wandering through the swamps, adding bird after bird to his “life list.”  His enthusiasm was a little tempered when he also found that most of those refuges listed rattlesnakes, copperheads, cottonmouths, and even coral snakes as among their resident fauna. Their mosquito populations also seemed daunting.

   One refuge he did find interesting was Cape Romain, in South Carolina. It included a vast area of coastal salt marsh, but with islands that were forested. The photos of giant bald cypress with dangling “old man” moss looked like he thought the South should look. Sandy beaches on the Atlantic shore had terns, gulls, skimmers, and other birds that – so far – he could only dream of.

   He finished thumbing through the last few narratives, and offered them to Chuck. “No, I think I’ve seen enough over the years that I don’t need to take the time, now. Alice and I know what we’re looking for. Why don’t you bundle those up, and get them ready to send on to the next recipient?”

   He did. By then it was lunch time. He made a quick sandwich, and took it out on the refuge. He figured the hunt was probably over for the day, but he might yet catch the Fish and Game guys still there. They were just loading up their truck when he pulled up to the check station.

   “How’d it go, Todd?”

   Todd came back over to the gate. “Pretty slow. We only had about five parties, and all but one had given up by about 10 o’clock.  Too much “bluebird weather,” but Cal said it can be pretty dead, mid-week, any time. It’s nice to give the hunters the opportunity, but, no matter how we work it, it’s an expenditure of three full man-days for a couple hours’ hunt.”

   “I’ve heard that some states only shoot a few days each week – Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday in California, I think. It would seem that would give the birds some time to settle down between hunts, and might actually improve the shooting.”

   “Sounds good to me, but I don’t know how the bosses would feel. As you know, we are a very hunter-friendly state, and not being open every day might not seem friendly enough. On the other hand, we wouldn’t have to do it for all our areas. We could leave the popular ones as they are now, and just cut back on ones like this one, that are mainly open just for the convenience of the locals. It’s certainly worth talking about. They won’t fire me until after hunting season, anyway. In the meantime, here we’ll be until freeze-up.”

   “You don’t all work every day, do you?”

   “No. We have a fourth man, Jeff – you probably met him when we were setting up. He’s off today and tomorrow. When he comes back, Tom gets two days, then Paul, then me. It’s different days each week, but at least we all eventually get two consecutive days to just go home, and take care of the rest of our lives.”

   The Fish and Game truck left, and Greg idled his way back through the refuge. It was hard to make any kind of bird count, with the disruptions from hunting, but -  as he’d seen the previous afternoon – there were obviously a lot of ducks around, quite a few Canada geese, and a few small groups of swans.  Greg assumed they were whistling swans, but then questioned his assumption. Might trumpeters migrate through here, also? He didn’t know. He didn’t think there was an easy way to tell them by plumage, but he knew their voices were quite different – ergo, whistler and trumpeter. He should come out some time, and listen for a while.

   That evening, he and Chuck played several games of checkers, with the inevitable result. He liked playing and chatting, but he really couldn’t get his mind fully into the game. It was pleasant, and passed the time. Back at home, he looked up the swan descriptions in his field guide. He had been correct that, other than their calls, there was no good way to identify the two species at a distance. He did find that the whistling swan usually had some yellow on its bill, and the trumpeter didn’t.

   Tuesday and Wednesday passed similarly, with some field time and some office time. After work on Wednesday, Greg took a little time to freshen up, then he and Chuck drove to town. Greg got hugs from both Alice and Mandy, then he and Chuck took beers out in the living room.

   “Several unread newspapers here. Want one?”

   “Sure.” Chuck took Tuesday’s Burley paper, and gave Greg the newer one. Both had a story on an airliner that crashed trying to land in the fog at London. “Thirty-nine people dead – everybody on board. Compared with worldwide transportation disasters, that doesn’t seem like many, but it says it’s the first air disaster in London in 14 years, and the fourth worst in London history. I guess the pilot was on his third or fourth try landing, but still didn’t make it.”

   “Tough. Anything there on the spaceship coupling? That was supposed to be today, wasn’t it?”

   “Yeah, here it is. It never happened. NASA fired the first spaceship – unmanned – without any apparent trouble. Then they were supposed to launch a Gemini, with Wally Schirra and Thomas Stafford aboard. The two spacecraft were supposed to enter orbit together, and then link up – the first time that’s ever been done. However, the first craft disappeared before entering orbit – apparently went down in the Atlantic, or burned up on entry. Anyway, the Gemini never even got launched. Now, I guess they can’t try again for another year.”

  “Too bad. That was supposed to be NASA’s next big space success. They don’t know what happened?”

   “Apparently not – or not when the story got in the paper, anyway.”

   There was the usual story of  some big confrontation in Viet Nam. The Viet Cong had launched an assault on some new base north of Saigon. The U. S. had bombed heavily, and over 1,000 enemies were said to have been killed. Two U. S. jets were lost; the Viet Cong said they shot them down, the official U. S. report was that they crashed in the mountainous terrain.

   Alongside the Viet Nam story in Greg’s paper, there was a little note that U. S. troops had quelled a rebellion in the Dominican Republic, without bloodshed. “I heard something about this on the radio a few days ago. What is the U. S. Army doing quelling riots in the Caribbean?”

   Chucked looked up from his paper. “I’ve heard a little about that. Apparently, there was an uprising there, and an attempt at a government takeover. The Communists were allegedly behind it, and we don’t want them in our hemisphere.

   “Now, in local news, here’s a hunter who has been lost in the mountains for three days.”

   “Yeah, that story’s here. They found him, soaking his feet in a creek! It sounds like he has been wandering around pretty much in the vicinity of his camp, but he was mostly traveling at night, and sleeping during the day, so he didn’t have many landmarks to orient by. It looks like he is tired and hungry, but okay.”

   “I wonder what the traveling at night was about. It’s not hot during the daytime, and it sounds like he always had plenty of water.”

   “Here’s an interesting one: a swan found in a field near here by a farmer. He turned it over to Fish and Game. No apparent injuries, but it won’t fly. There’s a picture. You know this game warden?”

   Chuck looked. “I’ve seen him, and I know the name. I don’t think he works our area much.”

   “He’s quoted as saying he doesn’t know if it’s a trumpeter swan, or a whistling swan. He says you’d have to autopsy it, and check its vocal cords to know, for sure. Well, it’s not quite that hard. Trumpeters are quite a bit larger than whistlers – of course, you’d have to be able to compare it with some other swan – but, also, I think all whistlers have some yellow on their beaks. It can vary quite a bit, but if it has any yellow, it’s likely a whistler.

   “It’s interesting. I saw some swans on the refuge the other day, and was wondering if there could be any trumpeters. With live ones, the calls are very different. I was thinking about going out some day, and spending some time just listening.”

   “Well, I wouldn’t be surprised if Fish and Game made us a present of this swan. If there’s nothing obviously wrong with it, they’ll want to release it, somewhere. Maybe you can get it to sing for you.”

   “That sounds funny but, actually, you can get tape recorded calls of almost all American birds – from Cornell, I think. If we had a taped call, we might get it to answer us.”

   Check kept skimming. “Here’s one: a girl suspended from school in Twin Falls for having a short skirt.”

   “Yeah, I’ve got the follow-up story, here.”

   “We should get Mandy in here to discuss this. Mandy!” he yelled.

   She appeared. “Yes, Daddy?”

   “Did you hear about this girl sent home from a Twin Falls school for wearing a short skirt?”

      She came in, and sat down on the couch next to Greg. “Oh, yes. It’s been talked about all day. Somebody complained that her skirt was above her knees – nobody seems to know how far above it was, which seems like it ought to make a difference - and that her long hair was down over her face. We don’t even know what that means. Was she looking out through her hair, like one of those shaggy dogs, or did she just have it pulled down in front of her ears? It seems like that would make a difference, too. Anyway, the school board thought it was such a terrible crime, that they immediately put out a notice that said that any appearance that affects the academic atmosphere will lead to a suspension.”

   Alice had come to the doorway. “What do you think, Mandy?”

   “Well, in general, it is a known fact that high school boys like high school girls, and that high school girls like them right back. I don’t think it matters if the girls are in uniform – which, thankfully, we don’t have – or in dresses, long skirts, short skirts, jeans, or gym shorts, there is going to be a certain amount of disruption of the academic atmosphere. The only solution is to – what? – put the girls in a nunnery – get thee to a nunnery! I’m not sure I know exactly what a nunnery is, but get the girls away from the boys, somehow.

   “That leaves the question of what is too much disruption. Occasionally, we get a girl – or a guy – who is doing something to obviously attract attention. For some reason, short skirts seem to work better than gym shorts – even though more of the girl is exposed in the latter case. If the  skirt shortness approaches gym short coverage, I think that could probably be termed disruptive. In that case, I think a school official should have a private conversation with the student. If that doesn’t correct the problem – and, in fairness to this particular situation, it sounds like the girl was pretty disrespectful – then a private talk with the parents would be next. If that doesn’t work, then suspension might be in order.

   “The hair situation – I don’t know about that. If she had her hair over her eyes, and she had on a very short skirt, and she tripped because she couldn’t see where she was going – now, that might cause a disruption! But, really, three-quarters of the girls in school have long hair, including me. If I pull my hair forward over my ears…” She did. “… so that only my eyes and lips are showing, does that make me especially provocative, and potentially disrupting?” She gave Greg what was meant to be a sexy look.

   “No sane male would answer that question,” Greg responded. “No matter what answer he gives, he’s probably in trouble.”

   Mandy laughed. “Okay, one last point. Dress length or hair length are one thing – well, two things – but what about tightness? Now, I’m not particularly well endowed yet – not in a way that would attract a lot of attention – but what if I wore a sweater two sizes too small for me?”

   “Point taken,” muttered Chuck.

   “Daddy!”

   He looked puzzled, then, “Yeah, I guess that was an unfortunate use of words.”

   “It certainly was,” said Alice. “Stop your silliness now, and come eat.

 

   Alice had prepared a pot roast with potatoes and carrots, followed by a chocolate birthday cake. “Vic didn’t know what kind of cake you preferred, but she thought chocolate would satisfy.”

   “Good choice. You know, I don’t think I’ve had cake since I arrived here, so we haven’t had reason to discuss it. I was thinking we had cake in Salt Lake, Mandy, but we didn’t, did we?”

   “No. We were going to get dessert after the show, but decided we were too tired.”

   Greg took a huge bite. “Well, this is excellent. Thanks, Alice.”

  
“I have a present for you,” said Mandy, as she offered him a thin gift-wrapped package. He opened it.

   “A tie.”

   “A very nice tie and, yes, I know you already have a tie, but I predict you will have a use soon for this lovely new one.”

   “I agree it is a lovely one and, if your prognostication is correct, I will wear it with pride.”

   “What’s a prognostication?”

   “A prediction.”

   “I already said that! Why did you have to use a bigger word than mine?”

   “Because your word was your word, and I didn’t want to take it. Besides, I like big words.”

   “You and my sister!”

   “Children,” interrupted Alice. “If. You can stop your bickering for a moment, we have another present for Greg.” The present was a high-powered flashlight.

   “For the next six months,’ explained Chuck, “It’s dark here as much as it is light. I see you stumbling around with your current flashlight. This one should be much more useful, and safer.”

   “Definitely! I have another one I keep in the car, but it’s a twin for the one you’ve seen. This one will make a real difference. Thanks.”

   Alice started to clear the table. Mandy leaned over to him, and whispered, “I have something else for you, from Vic. Meet me in the living room.”

   Greg helped take dishes to the sink, then went to meet Mandy. She handed him an envelope.     “This is certain to have mushy stuff in it, so I thought you should get it without my parents asking about it.”

   “I certainly hope it has some mushy stuff. Thanks.”

   “Do you want to have a quick dance lesson?”

   “Shouldn’t a 17-year old be in bed by now?”

   She looked at him with an air of innocence. “Is that what you say to your 19-year old?”

   “Mandy!”

   She giggled. “You’re right. I’m embarrassing myself. I’ll be good.”

   “You should. Now, to change the subject considerably, do you like football?”

   That stopped her for a moment. “Football? You mean, the game where guys run up and down the field, crash into each other, and try to catch the funny-shaped ball? I’ve watched in on TV with my dad, and last week, I got to go to my first high school game. We couldn’t go before, because they’re on Friday nights. And yes, I liked it a lot – all the noise and excitement! Why?”

   “I wondered if you’d like to go with me to Pocatello on Saturday, to see a game and see your sweet sister. I know she’d love to see you.”

   “You’d take me with you? I’d love to go!.” She paused. “But wouldn’t that interfere with your lovey-dovey stuff?”

   “Not much lovey-dovey goes on, when I’m there for just the day. So, I would love to have you go with me, if it’s okay with your folks.”

   “Dad! Mom!” she yelled. “Can I go with Greg to see Vic on Saturday?”

   They came to the doorway. “You’re going up there this weekend?” queried Chuck.

   “Yeah, one of the last home football games, Portland State against the Bengals. We’d leave here about 9 o’clock, get to Vic in time to have lunch, then go to the game. Visit a while afterward, then get back here by 9 o’clock, or so.”

   Chuck glanced at Alice, who nodded, then back at Greg. “After putting up with her for a couple hours tonight, you want to subject yourself to a whole day of it?”

   Greg  winked at Mandy. “It’s a daunting thought, all right, but Vic will take the brunt of it, so I think we’ll do okay.”

   “All right, then. It sounds like fun.”

   “I know Vic doesn’t like most surprises, but she’ll like this one. So, if any of you happen to talk to her before then, don’t say a word.”

   Mandy gave him a quick kiss on the cheek. “Thank you, Greg, you won’t regret it. Well, maybe you will, but I won’t. Now, I will go to bed, like an almost 18 year old should do on a school night.”

   After Mandy had gone, they chatted for a little while, then all retired. Greg had Vic’s bed and, even though she hadn’t lived in the town rental all that long, her presence was strong for him. He sat on the edge of her bed, and read Vic’s birthday letter.

   “You already got your birthday present from me – well, two, actually, the second of which you lovingly (and convincingly!) shared with me. I just wanted to tell you again how much I love you, how glad I am that you’re able to spend some time with my family, and how much I’m looking forward to seeing you Saturday. Sleep well, my love.”

   The house had been quiet for a while, and he was just getting ready to get into bed when he heard a slight tapping on his door. He went to open it, and found Mandy standing there. She reached up, and put her arms around his neck.

   “I couldn’t say in front of my parents how happy I am to have you as my future brother-in-law, and how good you are to both Vic and me. We are very, very lucky.” She gave him another quick kiss on the cheek, and then she was gone.

   “I’m the one who is lucky,” he said quietly, to her closing door.

***

   Vic’s week was pretty average, with classes and homework predominating. Thursday afternoon was a little slack, so – still intrigued by the “peace march” that may or may not have occurred – she went in search of Dr. Obermayr, the art teacher.

   His office door was open, and she knocked gently to attract his attention. He looked up from what he had been reading. “Dr. Obermayr?”

   “Yes. Can I help you?”

   “I hope so. I don’t have an appointment, but I’d like to make one to talk to you.”

   “About art?”

   “No. Actually, about peace marches and civil rights. One of the librarians said you might be the best one to talk to.”

   That aroused his interest. “And you are… Oh, please, come in and sit.”

   She did. “I’m Victoria – Vic Anderson. I’m a freshman here – not an art major. My boyfriend graduated from a college in California, where they were always having marches and protests and rallies. We were intrigued by how little of that seems to go on here. Another woman told me that she thought there had been a protest march here last spring, about Viet Nam . I’ve been trying to find out more about it, but can’t find anything.

   “Oh, that all came blurting out, didn’t it? I’m sorry, I’ve been thinking about it a lot.”

   “That’s all right. Well, I can answer your one question immediately: there was no peace march or any other Viet Nam protest here this year.”

   “You’re sure?”

   “Very sure. This is not a very friendly school – or community – toward any kind of protest, or controversy. You won’t see many of the professors here take a stand about anything, particularly if it doesn’t gibe with national policy. Eli Obeler over at the library is one exception – and I guess, me, in some circumstances.”

   Vic was quiet a moment. “Well, I don’t know if I’m glad or sad about the alleged march. I’ve been spending quite a bit of time, searching for information.”

   “Why is it so important to you?”

   She smiled. “I don’t know that it is, really. It’s just something I got into because, as I said, my boyfriend and I were just kind of comparing his college experience with how mine might be. Well, there is kind of a personal note. He is very draft-eligible – the right age, finished school with no deferments, unmarried…”

   “Why don’t you get married?” She must have gasped noticeably. “I’m sorry. That was a little blunt, wasn’t it, considering I don’t even know you?”

   She laughed. “No, that’s okay. The truth is, I asked him to marry me, and he said no. Well, he said when we get married, it will be because we’re ready, not just to solve some problem.”

   “Honorable young man. Maybe not smart in that case, but honorable.”

   “No, he was right! We hardly knew each other at that point, and I was just making a spontaneous gesture – sincere, for sure – I would have married him that instant! -  but I certainly hadn’t thought it through. As it turned out, only a couple weeks later, LBJ changed the rules so that recently married men have the same draft status as unmarried men of the same age.”

   “Oh, I hadn’t heard that. He cut off one of the main escapes from the draft, pretty handily.”

   Dr. Obermayr seemed to be considering something. “Say, there is a little more to the Viet Nam story here, if you’re interested. Do you have time for a soda, or something? I’m ready for a break.”

   “Sure, if you really have the time.”

   There was a teachers’ lounge just a few doors away. Obermayr got two Cokes out of the refrigerator, and they sat at one of the tables. No one else was in the room.

   “There was supposed to be some other Viet Nam business this year. In early April, Joe Hearst, from the Poly Sci department, was supposed to be on a panel, along with the editor of the ‘Journal’ and a local businessman. It was cancelled at the last minute – don’t know why, and none of the expected participants ever said anything about it, at least not in print.

   “In late April, at our annual Institute of Government, Hearst and three Army guys from the ROTC talked about Viet Nam. It wasn’t really a discussion. The ROTC guys just talked about how hard it was to fight a war when you weren’t’ fighting against a conventional army, the bad guys don’t wear uniforms, they look just like the good guys, and speak the same language. As one of them put it, the only way you can tell the enemy is  when they start shooting at you. Joe Hearst suggested maybe we should pull our troops out of Viet Nam, and station them in Thailand until the Vietnamese showed more interest in fighting for their freedom. The Army guys shut down that discussion quickly, and that was the end of the session.

   “I heard that Dr. Hearst was supposed to give a Viet Nam talk to some outside group a little later, but it go cancelled, too. Maybe for good reason, but I thought it was suspicious, following the other incidents. I never asked him.”

   He sipped on his Coke. “Jump ahead a month, and the school hosted an all-night ‘talkathon’ on Viet Nam. About 250 people showed up – students, faculty, and some politicians.  Republican congressman George Hanson said he fully supported President Johnson on Viet Nam. I wasn’t sure where our Bannock County Senator stood; he mostly just said that it wasn’t helpful for the U. S. and Russia to call each other ‘wicked.’ Glen Tyler, head of the History Department, was probably the most outspoken of the faculty. He called the bombings ‘barbaric,’ and claimed they were losing us friends all around the world. Several other professors and instructors spoke up – I don’t remember exactly who, but they were all anti-war for one reason or another. I think most just didn’t see the point. ‘Fighting Communism’ was pretty nebulous, and our actions looked pretty much like the imperialism we were supposedly fighting. Some students talked, too – anti-war, but I don’t remember specifics.

   “Oh, Eli Oboler spoke out, too. He admonished everybody to speak out about foreign policy, even if it was in disagreement with the Administration’s position. II was interesting because, right after the ‘talkathon,’ there were letters to the editor and other complaints about us using public property to disagree with the President. Somebody said that, if you had to be anti-Administration, you ought to ‘hire a hall,’ not use a school. The editor of our local paper disagreed; he said the college was exactly where such discussions should occur.”

   He seemed to have come to the end. Vic prodded a little. “And then there was a meeting with Senator Church?”

   “Right. I almost forgot that one. Our school chapter of Young Democrats invited him, and probably around 100 students and faculty attended. It was a pretty peaceful meeting. He was pretty straightforward about us not being able to win a war in Viet Nam.”

   “But didn’t he also say that he supported the massive bombing we are doing there -  that we have to do it to eventually bring them to the peace table? That seemed really odd to me.”

   Obermayr laughed. “You caught that? I don’t think there are lines waiting to get to the peace table yet. So, yes, it was a pretty awkward, unsupportable stance. It must have been mainly to please the Administration. They’re all trying hard to present a united front.”

   Dr. Obermayr glanced at his watch. “Sorry,” said Vic. “I know I’ve taken up a lot of your time – and unannounced, too. I really appreciated talking to you. I had one other thing I hoped we could discuss. I saw the letter you wrote about peace marches.”

   Dr. Obermayr chuckled. “Oh, that. Well, that wasn’t really about protests or war. Did you see the letter I was responding to?”

   “Yes.”

   “Well, you know that the writer started out just being upset about vandals who had driven their cars all over the city park, and torn up the lawns pretty badly. Legitimate complaint, and something to be frustrated about. But then the writer drifted off into a diatribe on the breakdown of society and the loss of morality – which was evident in ‘so-called’ peace marches and the recent riots in Los Angeles. It was no different than the natives rioting in the Congo, he said (or she said; the writer just used initials). And all of it was either the direct work of Communists, or the Communists were taking advantage to tear down our society. I was just trying to put the discussion back on some kind of even keel. So, did you see the letter in response to my letter?”

   “No, I didn’t find that.”

   “Well, this writer – he did sign his name – said that I had either been duped by Communist propaganda, or I was in fact a Communist agent, myself! I guess you just can’t fight stupidity.”

   They cleared their table, and started back to his office. “Would you say you were anti-war, or anti-Viet Nam war?” asked Vic.

      They stopped at his office door. “I guess I am anti-war, but with caveats. I’m 42 now, and probably will never be called to fight again, and I will probably be glad. But if it was a war like World War II, I might not be completely opposed.  I was a teenager when I enlisted in the Army to fight in the Big War. I landed on the beach at Normandy, and later I was at the Battle of the Bulge. I was wounded twice. I’m very proud to have been part of beating the Nazis, and if we ever had a cause that clear again, I would think about the options carefully.

   “But as justifiable as I think it was, it was a horrible event. Hundreds of thousands of people died – combatants and civilians. We accomplished a good thing, but at a terrible price. These wars we get into now – Korea, and now Viet Nam – don’t have any clear purpose. We say we’re ‘fighting Communism,’ but what does that even mean? And do we fight it by destroying a whole country with millions of bombs dropped indiscriminately? I’m afraid that those who say these wars are more about us gaining something than actually helping somebody else are probably nearer to the truth. They don’t feel like honest wars.”

   He shook Vic’s hand. “I enjoyed talking to you. I’m glad you stopped by.”

   “Could I impose on you again, sometime? I have one other thing I’d like to talk to you about, but it will probably take some time.”

   “What’s that?”

   “The librarian said you were involved in some civil rights business some years ago. I’d be interested to hear about that.”

   “That’s pretty old news, but I’ll talk about it if you like. Is this personal, again, or just general interest?”

   “I guess a little of both. We had a civil rights incident at the wildlife refuge this summer, and it got me interested.”

   “Wildlife refuge?”

   “Oh, I guess I never said. I live on the national wildlife refuge down near Burley. My dad is the manager, and Greg – my boyfriend – works with him. They hired a Negro woman – a college graduate – but it didn’t work out very well.

   “Interesting. We can trade stories. This is usually a pretty good time for me. Shall we tentatively say next Thursday?”

   “That would be great. Thanks.”

***

   Greg arrived in town right at 9 o’clock Saturday morning. Clearly, Mandy was ready to go.

   “Do you have a good warm coat, and a hat you can pull over your ears?” Greg asked. “It’s not supposed to get over about 50 degrees today, so it could be chilly in the stands.”

   “Yep. Dad gave me advice on what to wear, so I think I’m set in the best of football fashion.”

   Alice handed her a package. “I packed a little lunch food, just in case you need it.”

  “Good idea,” said Greg. “We’ll be in good shape getting lunch with Vic before the game, but it’ll probably be too early for a real meal before we start home. Having a little something with Vic after the game should be just right.”

   Mandy was excited, and chattered most of the way. Greg responded when obviously necessary, but mostly he just relaxed and enjoyed her presence. It was going to be a good day! As they approached the Raft River rest stop, he asked if she wanted a break.

   “That would probably be a good idea.”

   After they’d used the facilities, they walked back to the car together. Mandy checked the lunch bag, and found some brownies, which they shared.

   “This was where we had the big meltdown on the way to school, where Vic and I talked it through, and where I presented her with the rings. It was quite an hour!.”

   “Well, this was kind of a nice spot, wasn’t it? Up here on top of the hill, with nice views in all directions. You both must have been really excited when you started out, again.”

   “We were. Now, a history lesson for you. Did you know that the Oregon Trail passed right by here? Down at the foot of the hill, the trails split, and those going to California went south up Raft River, eventually into Nevada. If you were Oregon-bound, you followed right on down the Interstate to Boise, and then into Oregon.”

   “That’s fascinating,” replied Mandy. “I bet after all those weeks on the dusty trail, they were really glad to find these clean restrooms.”

   “Time to go,” he said.

 

   Greg stopped at the visitors’ parking, and they walked to the dorm. Vic was in the lobby, talking to Mrs. McPherson. She turned and saw Greg, and gave him an automatic smile, then noticed his companion.

   “Mandy! What are you doing here?” They were hugging before Vic even got the words out.

   “Greg said we needed a little ‘sister time.’ I agreed.”

   “Oh, me too! I’ve missed you so much!” They were still hugging. Vic turned back to Mrs. McPherson. “This is my sister, Amanda – Mandy. I didn’t know she was coming!” She suddenly seemed to realize someone else was there. “And this is…”

   “The mysterious chauffeur,” finished Mrs. McPherson.

   Something had obviously changed. Greg decided to play along – hoping it was playing in the right direction. “And this is the evil dragon who tries to keep damsels locked in her dormitory dungeon.”

   “Greg, I never said that!” Vic protested.

   Mrs. McPherson laughed, and held out her hand. “Nice to meet you at last, Greg. I’ve been hearing a lot about you, and every bit of it is good.”

   Greg sighed, inwardly. He’d guessed right.  “I haven’t heard a lot about you, but none of it was like I just said. Vic really likes the care you give her and the other women.” He turned back to Vic.    “So, I guess this means that we have been found out?”

   “Yes. Sorry I hadn’t had a chance to tell you. She guessed, and I confessed. We had a nice talk, afterward.”

   “Well, I’m relieved. We’re not really the type for subterfuge. So, having that settled, let’s go find us some lunch before the noon crowd gathers.”

   Outside, he suggested either the pizza place they’d found last trip, or hamburgers. Both women voted for burgers. With fries and sodas, they settled in a booth.

   “I’m so glad to see you, sis,” Vic said, again.

   “Well, I almost didn’t come, because I didn’t want to interfere with your lovey-dovey time.”

   “But,” said Greg, “I explained to her that we had passed beyond that stage of our relationship, and alone-time wasn’t necessary.”

   “I’m glad to know you feel that way,” rejoined Vic. “I had felt it, but I wasn’t sure you had, yet.”

   “Sure,” said Mandy. “And if you had a motel room right now, you’d be on the bed in twenty seconds!.”

   “Mandy!” exclaimed Vic.

   “Ten seconds,” corrected Greg.

   They all laughed. “So,” Greg picked up the conversation, again, “The charades are over. I don’t have to play chauffeur, anymore?”

   “No…” Vic paused. “But one of the clues Mrs. McPherson had that made her think you weren’t really my chauffeur was that, when you helped me into the car, you kept your hand firmly on my bottom for quite a while. I wouldn’t mind keeping that in play.”

   “Vic, you’re embarrassing me!” exclaimed Mandy.

   “You don’t embarrass, sister dear – at least, not in the way that a seventeen… check that: almost eighteen-year old woman should be embarrassed.”

   From there, the conversation flowed on nonstop, and the sisters got out a month and a half of stored things they needed to share. Greg seemed forgotten. He didn’t mind. He sat back, and watched them and listened to them. They weren’t loquacious people, he thought, but they are probably what the poet had in mind who talked about loquacious birds, chattering away. He liked it, and found that he was already thinking of this as an extra special day.

   At the stadium, Greg was buying Mandy a ticket when Nancy and some of the other dorm women showed up. “Mandy! I didn’t expect to see you here!” They hugged.

   “I’m riding shotgun for Greg, today.”

   “Well, talk to your sister a lot while you’re here, and maybe she’ll quit telling me all about how cool you are – like, I don’t know that, because you haven’t been living with me for several years!” She noticed Greg for the first time. “Oh, hi, Greg.”

   “Hi, Nancy. Don’t mind me, I’m just the transportation.”

   Vic hugged his arm impulsively. “Well, not just the transportation. I like you for other reasons, too.”

   One of the other women suggested they find some seats before the bleachers filled up. They did. It wasn’t really cold, but it was definitely chilly enough for heavy coats and hats. The game was one-sided, with the Bengals winning over Portland State 27-7. That made the school fans happy, but had enough excitement for it to be considered a “pretty good” game by anybody’s standards. Two Viking fumbles helped the Bengals to two of their scores. They also had a 65-yard drive for another, and finally a long pass reception in the fourth quarter. The Vikings finally got on the scoreboard late in the last quarter, with a long touchdown pass. The win brought the Bengals season record to 3 wins, 3 losses, and 1 tie; the Vikings stood at two wins and four losses.

   Back at the dorm, they ate some of the lunch that Alice had sent, then Vic whisked Mandy away to show her the dorm, and to talk some more. Greg settled down on a sofa in the lounge. Mrs. McPherson came over, and sat in an arm chair near him.

   “Good game?”

   “Yes. It was exciting enough for any college football lover – like me - and the Bengal  fans were especially happy to watch their team beat the Portland State Vikings pretty handily.”

   “It was nice of you to bring Mandy with you. That seemed to make both of their days.”

   Greg laughed. “They’ve been best friends all their lives, and they share everything. It’s been pretty rough on both of them the last two months - by far, the longest they’ve ever been apart. At lunch, I just sat back as they talked a mile a minute, and just let the happy sounds kind of wash over me. It’s been a great day.”

   Mrs. McPherson took a minute to think about that. “Vic was telling me about some of your favorite books.”

   “She probably told you that I was finding dusty old tomes for her to read, written long before we were born.”

   “She did, and apparently she likes your choices very much. We were talking about ‘John McNab’ and ‘No Highway,’ which, by the way, are two favorites of mine, also.”

   “Well, that’s interesting. Before Vic, I couldn’t find anybody who seemed to appreciate my taste in literature. I’ve derived a lot of pleasure out of just having her to talk to me about them.”

   “Do you have other favorites by Buchan or Shute?”

   “Not as favorite as those, but I like a lot of them. For Buchan, I guess it would be the Dickson McCunn trilogy, although – for a really different one – I’ve always loved ‘Mountain Meadow.’ For Shute, I guess I would say ‘The Pied Piper’ and ‘The Checkerboard.’ Last month, I read ‘Round the Bend’ for the third or fourth time. I read somewhere that it was Nevil Shute’s favorite of his books. I like it, but it isn’t anywhere near the top of my list.

   “I think I have copies of every Shute book, and most of the Buchan fiction, although there are a few obscure early ones I may not have. I even have a copy of Shute’s ‘Vinland, the Good,’ which I didn’t know was hard to find when I found mine.”

   “Vinland, the Good. I’ve heard about it, but never read it.”

   “It’s interesting. Not near the top of my list, but certainly worth reading. I’d be glad to loan you my copy sometime. It’s probably with most of my stuff at my parents’ house in Oakland, but I’m planning to visit in the next couple months.” He laughed. “I have a selection of some of my favorite books with me, but everything I have would more than fill up my car. I’ve had to leave a lot in Oakland, for the time being.”

   “I’d love to read ‘Vinland.’ Thanks. How did you acquire so many books?”

   “Growing up in the Bay Area. Sometimes, I think there must be more used book stores there than in the rest of the world combined. In high school, and in college whenever I was home, my favorite pastime was  to take the bus – or walk – to downtown Oakland, and just prowl the side streets for a few hours. I could cover almost a dozen book stores on a lot of days.” He thought for a moment. “I suppose that will have to change. The rents in those areas must be getting really high, and I can’t believe any used book store actually makes a profit. Whatever, I’ve certainly lived in the best of times for that particular interest.”

   “How did you find ‘John McNab?’"

   “I’m not sure. I think I just stumbled on it while finding various Buchan books. I think the first one I read was ‘Prester John,’ the African adventure. I think Buchan planned that to be more of a children’s book, but it’s a pretty good yarn for any age.”

   “I agree.” She was quiet for a moment. “Have you read any Jeffery Farnol?”

   He laughed. “I certainly have. I have a whole collection of them – more romance and less adventure than Buchan, but lots of vintage fun. I think I found ‘The Broad Highway’ first, but not because I was looking for them in any order. I didn’t know who Farnol was; he just looked interesting."    

   They talked for a little longer, then Vic and Mandy reappeared. “I guess we better get on the road, ladies,” Greg advised. “Nice to meet you, Mrs. McPherson, and I will get you that book when I can.”

     “Thank you, Greg. I’d like that. Mandy, it was lovely to meet you. Maybe we’ll have you here next fall.”

   “You might. We’ve talked about it, but there’s a lot going on with the family, so I probably won’t make any real decisions until after winter.”

   Outside, Mandy asked Greg for the car keys. “I’m going to walk down there and wait for you while you have your moment of passion.” She and Vic hugged vigorously, then she walked toward the car.

   “Well, probably not much of a moment of passion this week. Maybe next?” Greg asked.

   “I have a lot to thank you for. That should take up quite a bit of time next weekend.”

   “That sounds interesting. I’ll look forward to it.”

   “I’m sorry we didn’t have any alone-time today, but you gave me and Mandy a wonderful gift. I have a number of interesting things to talk to you about, but nothing that can’t wait until next weekend.”

   “Do you think there’ll be time after you finish thanking me?”

   “I think so. If not, you won’t be worrying about what you might have missed.”

   “So, this entire conversation suggests that maybe we are not really over our lovey-dovey period.”

   “I think that is a safe conclusion.”

   They shared one long kiss, and then he headed for the car. “So,” he said to Mandy, “Home we go. Anything good left in that lunch box?”

   “I just ate half a ham and cheese sandwich. Do you want the other half?”

   “Gladly.”

   Mandy made a valiant effort to stay awake and talk to him, but sleep overcame her quickly. She slept all the way home, only groggily waking enough for him to lead her into the house. She put her arms around his neck, whispered “I love you, brother-in-law,” then Alice directed her to her bed.

   “Everything go okay?” asked Chuck.

   “Great day!” he replied. “The girls were thrilled to be with one another, and the game was good. The Bengals beat Portland State pretty handily, but still some good action on both sides.”

   Alice came back out. “She’s out like a light. I couldn’t even get her undressed.”

   “She had a busy day but, as I was just telling Chuck, I think both girls were really pleased.”

   “Well, thank you so much for taking her along.”

   “My pleasure. Now, I better get on my way out that god-awful road.”

   It was a very dark night, and he didn’t see another vehicle on his drive to the refuge. He did share the road with several jackrabbits, a slow-moving porcupine, and what was probably a coyote, just disappearing into the brush ahead of his headlights.

   He didn’t take the time to check the mail, just went home, and very shortly after, crawled into bed. He slept until well after sunrise.

   

   

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