Tuesday, July 31, 2018
TED LEE WRIGHT, 17 FEBRUARY 1999
“Hey Plowboy, what’s up?”
“I’m going home tonight, Doug.” said Tommy. ”I’m gettin’ all my gear together & gettin’ ready to check out. Yep, goin’ home tonight. I can hardly wait.”
“You sure you want to leave the Corp? It can be a great career, Plowboy. Why not re-enlist, I’m going to.”
Tommy Wilson got the nickname “Plowboy” because he lived on a large farm in Nebraska. Almost everyone in the Marine Corp had a nickname of some kind. Tomorrow was special day for Tommy, after 3 years & 5 days, he was leaving the Marines. He had made it through Vietnam with several wounds but still hadn’t received his Purple Heart.
“No, don’t think I will. I like the Marines but I have to get back & help mom with the farm. She’s kinda countin’ on me to keep it running. Besides, I like farming even better. Another thing, I can’t wait to get home & see ol’ Tige.”
“Ol’ Tige? Who’s that, your girl?” laughed Doug.
“Very funny. Ol’ Tige is my dog. We’ve had him almost 10 years. He’s 70 years old in dog years.”
“You sure that’s not your girl?” said Doug, picking at Tommy. ”That sure sounds like one of those country names. Hee, Hee, Hee, Hee...”
Tommy glared at Doug. They had been friends since bootcamp. They had a great relationship & would constantly joke on each other.
“We got Tige when I was 8 years old. When I was 10, Tige saved me from an enraged bull that gored my dad to death. After it trampled dad, it turned on me. Tige jumped in & got that bulls’ attention, giving me enough time to escape. Tige wound up with a few bumps & bruises but he was OK. After my dads’ funeral, mom depended on me to keep the farm going. We were doing OK until the Army was going to draft me. I didn’t want to join the Army, so I enlisted in the Marine Corp.”
“Yeah, you made a good decision there.” said Doug, ”Hey Plowboy, I have to get back in the field. If I don’t see you any more, good luck with your farm. I really mean that, Tommy. And tell ol’ Tige that Doug says hi, OK?” said Doug, extending his hand to Tommy.
Tommys’ eyes were beginning to tear up. This was one of the few times that Doug had called him by his given name. They had been through bootcamp & infantry training together. Leaving infantry training, they were sent to California for more serious training. From there, it was a short hop to Nam. They were split up but were reunited once they reached the states. Both had made sergeant while in Nam.
“Doug,” said Tommy, ”I’m afraid a handshake just won’t do it.”
Both men grabbed each other, hugged & patted each other on the back. When they parted, there were tears in their eyes.
Doug took out a handkerchief & wiped his eyes. ”I better get my gear & let
you finish packing. No telling what the Gunny would say if he came in here & saw
us blubbering like babies. You take care of yourself & look after your mom, the farm, & ol’ Tige, you hear?”
“I will, Doug. And good luck to you in your Marine Corp career.”
“Tell you what, I’ve got your address. How ‘bout around Christmas, if I come & visit you for a few days? I’m sure my folks wouldn’t mind.”
“What about your girl?” asked Tommy.
“Oh, I can see her anytime. Besides, we won’t be getting together that often. With the Corp keeping me busy & the farm keeping you busy, when are we going to find time, right? So, Christmas will be our last time getting together.”
“You’re right, there.” replied Tommy. ”But you’re welcome to visit any time you get the chance.” Tommy winked at Doug & smiled, ”We’ll keep a light on fer ya.”
“Yeah, you do that.” replied Doug, smiling. ”You just wait. In about 4 or 5 years, I’ll be an officer. Hey listen, plowboy, you keep your nose clean & take real good care of everyone.”
“No problem, I will.” replied Tommy, waving to Doug, as he left the barracks. Tommy looked around. The barracks was empty. Morning muster had been made & everyone scattered to their jobs. Tommy was left alone to pack his gear. The First Sergeant & Gunny had come in earlier to wish him good luck. All his barrack mates talked him before they had to leave. Tommy had finished packing & got his signout papers. By 4 PM, he had made his various rounds & got the needed signatures. The recruiting officer tried to get him to re-enlist, promising him 30 days leave & staff sergeants stripes. Tommy turned him down.
Here he was at the bus station waiting for the Greyhound. It was 6 PM & the bus wasn’t due until 7. Between waiting & changing buses, it would be between
2 AM & 3 AM before he got home. Once he got off the bus, Tommy had several miles to walk before reaching home. He didn’t mind that at all. He’d walked all his life.
When Tommy was younger, he & Tige would take long walks in the woods. They would lie on one of the many flat boulders & look at the stars. Out in the country you could see the stars more clearly. In the city, all the lights prevented this. When it got deep into the country, it got dark. The cities were lit 24 hours a day. Tommy preferred the farm, his mom, & especially Tige, his faithful dog.
At each bus stop, if Tommy wasn’t reading a book, he’d be talking about Tige with anyone who’d listen. Finally at 12:30 AM, he caught the final bus. He’d be home in just a few hours. Tommy sat back in his seat & closed his eyes. He hadn’t slept for 2 days. He was excited that had gotten his final orders:
As Tommy slept, he dreamed that he was back on the farm. He was surrounded by bears & mountain lions. They were ready to pounce when Tige came bounding in & fought them off. Tommy kneeled & rubbed Tige. He was glad that he had Tige...he was Tommy’s best friend.
“Son....Son....” Tommy felt someone gently shaking him. He opened his eyes & saw the bus driver standing beside him. “I think this is your stop, son. I’ve put your baggage on the platform. You be careful on the way home, it’s pitch dark out there. You can hardly see your hand in front of your face.”
“OK, thanks.” said Tommy wiping his face & combing his hair. At this time
of night, Tommy knew that his mom wouldn’t be here. Actually he never wrote to tell her he was coming home. He wanted to surprise her. Tommy stood for a few minutes, trying to get his bearings. This was the darkest that he’d ever seen it. It was like being in a room with the lights out & no window. Tommy bent down to get his bag & felt something wet touching his hand. In the darkness, he could barely make out what it was....it was Tige! Tommy wondered if his faithful dog had met the bus every day. He reached over to pet Tige & he bounded out of Tommys’s reach. He picked up his bag & looked towards Tige.
“OK fella, you go ahead & I’ll follow. You can find the way better than me. Now, don’t you get too far ahead of me. It’s kinda dark out here & you sure blend in with it.”
Tige would stay just within seeing distance of Tommy. At one point, Tommy heard water lapping at the edges below. If it hadn’t been for Tige, Tommy would have fallen into the deep water. He searched his mind & remembered reading that they were suppose to build a dam where the old road was. Tommy was really lucky to have Tige with him. They inched this way & that, when finally they came to a straight road. In the distance, Tommy saw the outline against they sky. He was home! From here he could see the porch light. They always left it on in case of emergencies. Tommy watched as Tige bounded away & waited for him on the porch. He could see Tige laying on the porch, waiting for him.
Tommy knocked several times before his mom came to the door. After opening the screen door, he gave his mom a great big hug & kiss.
“Honey, why didn’t you tell me you were coming home? I would’ve stayed up & waited for you. Your girlfriend, Sharon, is really going to be surprised when she comes over tomorrow. We usually talk about you & those letters you send us. Tommy, I’m really glad you’re home. You must’ve got my letter about the dam being built because I see you made it here safely.”
“No mom, I didn’t get your letter. You really didn’t have to worry about me though, because ol’ Tige met the bus. If it hadn’t been for him, I’d be as good as dead. He stayed right beside me as we wandered along that trail. He really saved my life tonight.”
Tommy reached down to pet Tige but he wasn’t there. He looked towards the screen door & saw it was still open. Tommy smiled and turned his attention back to his mom. There was a strange look on her face.
“What is it mom? What’s the matter?” he asked.
“I hadn’t planned on telling you until tomorrow, but now you have to know. When you left, it broke his heart. Tige died.......3 years ago.”
“Tige, you were faithful, faithful to the end,
Tige, how I loved you, you were my best friend.”
Based on a song sung by Jim Reeves
Story Written by Ted Lee Wright