From Chicken Soup for the Veteran's Soul

Luther’s Lumber

Fred Hill had not been in the service because when the war started in 1941, his parents had been in very poor health—his father with a bad heart and his mother with cancer. He was needed at home to care for them and operate the farm. It had been impossible to leave.

Yet when Luther, Fred’s best friend since childhood, had flown over town in the B-17, and when the bodies of the Hobbs boys and Billy Martin had been shipped home, and when another local boy came home with hooks where his hands should have been, Fred had felt guilty. He felt he had not done his part for the war effort, and in his own eyes, he was diminished.

Luther had been home from the war four months now and worked at the Carnation milk plant in Mt. Vernon, where his wife, Jenny, also worked. Fred’s parents had since died, and the farm was now his—his and his wife Maggie’s. Fred proved to be a good farmer, and they prospered. They even had a nice car. Fred’s father had bought a new 1941 Ford just before his first heart attack, and the car was now Fred’s. To keep it looking new, Fred had recently built a garage.

This morning, Luther was in the little café next door to the post office waiting for the mail to be “put up.” Fred was sitting across from him in the booth. They were discussing the war, which was still going on in the Pacific theater. Recruitment posters still lined the walls of the little café.

Today, Luther seemed depressed, and Fred asked him what was bothering him. “You seem down in the dumps, today, Luther,” he said. “I can’t see what could be bother-in’ you. You came through the war without a scratch. You got a beautiful wife and a baby on the way. You got a good job. What’s the problem?”

“Jenny’s mother is in bad shape,” said Luther. “We’re going to have to take her in, and with the baby coming, we don’t have the room.”

“Can’t build a room on?” asked Fred.

“No lumber available,” said Luther. “I’ve tried here, Mt. Vernon, Springfield, Joplin, and there won’t be any more shipments for the duration. Who knows how long that will be?”

“Tried Will’s sawmill?”

“Yeah, but he just saws oak, and it’s green. The baby’ll be here in August, and we can’t wait for the lumber to dry. Besides, you can’t build a whole room out of oak, anyway.”

“Wouldn’t want to,” said Fred. “Reckon the mail’s up?”

“Probably.” The two young men left the café and went into the post office next door. The postmaster had raised the door to the service window, signaling that the mail was in the boxes. Luther and Fred retrieved their mail and left—Luther to work at Mt. Vernon and Fred back to the farm.

That evening, Fred finished the milking and sat on the front porch with Maggie. “Days are gettin’ longer,” he said. “Man could get half a day’s work done after five o’clock.” They sat together on the porch until darkness fell, watching the heat lightning in the west.

When the wind started to rise, Maggie said, “Better put your pa’s car up. Radio says rain tonight.” Fred drove the car into the new garage and latched the door. He stood looking at the horizon, but not seeing it, for a long time. Then he went in the house to listen to the news of the war on the radio and shortly went to bed.

The next morning, Fred again drove his pickup into town for the mail. When he reached the café, Luther was there ahead of him.

“Still haven’t found any lumber, I guess.”

“No, I asked everybody at work, and nobody knows of any. I don’t know what we’ll do.”

“I found the lumber for you,” he said.

“You did? Where?” Luther was delighted.

“Fella I know. He’ll let you have it free, you bein’ a veteran and all. He doesn’t seem to want you to know who he is, so I’ll have to haul it in for you. It’s good lumber, fir and pine, cut different lengths and got nails in it, but that’s no problem. Tell you what—you get your foundation poured, and I’ll bring you a pickup load every day and help you build it. We’ll have it done before the baby gets here.”

That’s a friend for you, Luther said to himself as he drove to Mt. Vernon. That evening, he came home with sacks of cement in his pickup. He dug and poured the foundation, and when it was ready for the footings, he told Fred.

“Fine,” said Fred, “I’ll bring the first load over and be there when you get home from work.”

Fred appeared every evening with a load of lumber, and the two men worked until it was too dark to see. Sometimes Maggie came, too, and the women sat in the house listening to the radio or talking about babies or Jenny’s ailing mother, their sentences punctuated by the sound of the hammers outside.

Over the next few weeks, the new room took shape and was finished and roofed. “Where did you get the shingles?” asked Luther.

“Same fella,” answered Fred. “He’s got all kinds of stuff.” Luther didn’t push. Lots of older folks liked to help out the young veterans anonymously. It was common.

It was done! The women fixed the room up inside and moved Jenny’s mother in. The men went back about their business.

At supper one evening, Luther told Jenny he would like to do something nice for Fred and Maggie, since they had been so helpful with the new room. “I know,” said Jenny brightly. “Maggie likes those big wooden lawn chairs like Aunt Birdie has in her lawn. Why not get them a couple of those?”

“Good idea,” agreed Luther, and the next Saturday, he bought a couple at Callison’s hardware store and loaded them into his pickup.

When he got out to Fred’s farm, there was no one home, Fred and Maggie having gone into Springfield, shopping. That’s okay, Luther thought. I’ll just put them in the garage in case it rains.

He drove around the house and into the driveway that led to Fred’s new garage.

The garage was gone. Only the foundation remained to show where it had been.

Luther put the chairs on the front porch and drove home, tears in his eyes. The two men are now in their mid-seventies, still the best of friends.

They never spoke of the incident. How could they? There was nothing to say.

Joe Edwards

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