George Henson in France

by Ed Nichols
            After lunch George Henson’s daughter got him situated in his rocker on the front porch.  “If’n it gets too chilly out here, Papa, just holler and I’ll move you back in the den.”
            “Okay,” he answered, then started to say something but stopped himself before the words reached his lips.  He turned and stared across the yard, worked his eyes around the tree line and over his forty acres of Georgia pasture.  He missed watching his cows.  Mattie Sue and her husband Frank had insisted he sell them last year when they moved in with him.
            He turned his head and studied his walker.  He hated using it, but he had to admit it was good support, especially for his bad left leg.  Then he closed his eyes and thought of France.  He had to persuade them.  It was on his mind constantly.  He had to go back, one way or another.
            It always seemed like what he wanted was the opposite of what they wanted.  When they first moved in he would bow up and argue his point, but he soon learned to give up and fall in with what they wanted.  I shouldn’t complain, he thought.  They are being pretty good: cooking, washing his clothes and all.  Mattie Sue was a good cook—almost as good as her mother—she would fix nearly anything George wanted to eat.  They kept the place up good, too.  Frank even mowed the pasture twice during the summer with George’s tractor and bush hog.  They should keep the place up, he figured, as they were going to inherit it someday.
            Recently, George couldn’t think on anything for long before his mind seemed to jerk back to France.  Before any subject he was trying to think about was even fully thought out, he would 
suddenly hear the tanks coming, shells exploding, wounded and dying men screaming.  Snow
everywhere.  Cold.  Real bad cold.  Fingers and toes stinging, hurting….couldn‘t hardly hold his rifle. 
            George caught an aroma of the wisteria vine that was now halfway up the oak tree in front of the porch.  He smiled, remembering the vines that hung in several trees on the other side of his pasture where his granddaddy’s old house once stood.  He had a hankering to walk over there so he could see and think about his granddaddy and grandmother, once more.
            Just like he wanted to go back to France, once more.  To see and think about what happened there.  Every time he mentioned it to Mattie Sue she wouldn’t listen.  Her and Frank wouldn’t even go over the details.  Things like they needed to get passports, and so on, and that he had plenty of money in the bank and that he had a right to spend it however he wanted.  But they wouldn’t go along with his idea.  They’d say stuff like, “It’s too expensive, Papa.  You’re not healthy enough, your bad leg and all.”
            As the days flew by and late fall came and the air was too cold for George to sit on the porch, he contented himself in the den, mostly staring at the TV.  Some days he would ease back to his bedroom and sit in a chair beside the window and try to read.  The macular degeneration was progressing faster now. The eye doctor said he would be mostly blind in less than a year.  This is what pained him the most.  He so wanted to see Omaha beach and his buddy’s graves in the American Cemetery on the cliffs above the beach.  He’d read all about the cemetery.  Nearly half his company was buried there.  And six months later, nearly the other half was killed in the Battle of the Bulge.  George had seen things that Mattie Sue and Frank—and most other folks that knew him—would never believe.  Mostly horrible happenings, but a few good things that had occurred in France, then in Germany.  The good and the bad so deeply imbedded in his brain that they overshadowed everything that had happened to him in the nearly seventy years since he was there.
            One night in early December, George and Mattie Sue and Frank sat by the fireplace after
supper and talked.  Mostly about Frank’s job at the mill.  He’d recently been promoted to foreman and had gotten a nice raise.  Mattie Sue was proud for him, then she mentioned that she had put in for a substitute teacher’s job at the high school, and she wanted to do it occasionally if her daddy didn’t mind staying by himself for a few hours.
            “It won’t be but maybe four or five days a month, Papa,” she said.
            George smiled and nodded.  “No problem.  I…I think it’s a good idea.”
            “I can fix your lunch ahead of time.  And you can call me at the school if you need to.”
            George smiled again.  “What with that job and Frank’s raise, y’all going to have to figure out where to store all that money,” he said, laughing.  And thinking right quick about France and how this turn of events might afford him just the opportunity he’d been looking for.
            The first day Mattie Sue substituted, George removed his old uniform from his trunk and hung it on hangers in his closet.  Then he found the scrapbook and newspapers his wife had saved while he had been in the service.  He read all of them again.  Then he took a nap on his bed and dreamed of France.  He woke when he heard Mattie Sue shut the back door.
            He eased through the den and into the kitchen without his walker.  Mattie Sue looked at him and said, “No walker?”
            “I been moving round pretty good without it today.”
            Mattie Sue put her arm on his and said, “That’s fine.  I’m glad you’re moving around good, but you should still use it.  Just for insurance, you know.”
            “But, it’s nice not to have…and besides, I’ll not need….” He let the sentence die.
            “Well,” Mattie Sue said, ignoring him and turning to the refrigerator.  “Just be extra careful when I’m not here.  Okay?”
            “Okay,” he answered.
            The week before Christmas, George Henson sat beside his bedroom window and watched
snow falling in his front yard.  It was the same kind of snow they had had in France.  Coming
down so hard a man couldn’t see anyone ten feet in front of him.  It snowed all day.  “Five inches,” Mattie Sue told him when she came in from school.  “They’re going to scrape the roads again tonight, so they’ll have school tomorrow, and Mrs. Thurmond wants me to work for her a couple of days.”
            “That’s good.” George told her before his mind flipped back to France.
            The next morning as soon as Frank and his daughter left the house, George went to his bedroom and put on his uniform.  Looking in the mirror, he decided to put a white tee shirt over his uniform.  Then he got out his 30/30 rifle and loaded six shells.  He put on his best boots, and slipped his gloves in his pants pocket.  George left the house, closing the front door tight, and walked across the yard toward the pasture.  The snow was a good six inches deep, still blowing a little.  The temperature was a degree or two below freezing, he thought.
            George Henson made it all the way across the yard and the road in front of his house.  He crossed the ditch beside the road, crawled under the barbed wire fence, and entered France.  The hill in front of him reminded him of his granddaddy’s farm back in Georgia.  He made his way slowly up the hill, scanning to his right and left.  Fifty yards from the top of the ridge he knew he couldn’t go on much farther.  He found a small scooped out place and lay down in it facing uphill.  It would do as a foxhole, until Captain Wilson comes by to check on things, George thought.  Wilson might want him to move somewhere else—but he might be happy with George’s location.  He usually trusted George to make the right decisions.  George knew that putting on the white tee shirt had been an excellent idea.  The Germans would all be wearing white uniforms, too.
            George glanced to his left and saw Billy Sawyer lying in his foxhole, fifty yards away.
Then turning to the right, he could see the top of Dwayne Jones’s head.  Dwayne was obliviously
in a much deeper spot, and that was good.  George had both gloves on and he held his rifle just above the snow, pointed toward the top of the ridge.  The bitter cold was seeping into every part
of his body now, and he yearned for a fire.  Later in the day, he and Billy and Dwayne might be
able to move into the tree line and build a small one.
            George forgot all about a fire as soon as he heard the clatter and clank of a tank approaching from the other side of the ridge.  He knew it was a German Panzer from the sound.  He glanced to Billy and Dwayne and they both gave him a thumbs-up sign.  The tank crested the hill, paused for a minute, then turned right and started moving slowly along the ridge.  Dwayne was on his knees.  He fired a perfect shot with his bazooka hitting the tank’s tracks.  It stopped moving.  Billy then ran as fast as he could across the snow and climbed up on the rear of the tank.  As soon as the hatch opened Billy dropped a grenade inside.  He jumped from the tank as it went off and fire erupted from the hatch.  For just a few seconds, they could hear the five men inside screaming.  Billy ran back to his foxhole, and they waited.
            It wasn’t long before they heard another Panzer coming.  Before it topped the ridge, some twenty German infantry marched over the hill toward them.  George shot first, and watched the German soldier’s white chest turn red with blood.  Then George, Billy and Dwayne let loose with everything they had.  All twenty German’s were wounded or dead within two minutes.  George had used all of his bullets.  Hopefully Captain Wilson would be back soon with more ammunition.    


ED NICHOLS lives outside Clarkesville, Georgia.  He is a journalism graduate from the University of Georgia.  He is a short story award winner from Southeastern Writer’s Association.  He has had short stories published, and/or scheduled for publication in: Every Writer’s Resource, Fiction On The WebShort-Stories.meVending Machine Press, Floyd County Moonshine Review, Beorh Quarterly and Page and Spine.


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