The Summer of '62; Episode 23
Chet relaxed against the seat of the truck and breathed deep. “It was four years after the war. I bought a farm. I’d been to France during the war. I thought I was really something. It was 1922 and I was a young single farmer. I had my pick of the young ladies, but I had my eye on a seventeen year old girl named Lilly Jorgenson. She loved me and I loved her. I proposed to her, but her step-father objected. She eventually told me she was pregnant.”
Chet paused, “Those things didn’t happen in those days. Well they happened, but people only whispered about them. This is Brethren country. We decided to marry earlier than what we had originally thought. A few days after that news it was in the evening and I wanted to check my traps by the creek that runs under the railroad. Lilly was walking along the tracks on the night of December 12th. She was leaving home in shame.”
Chet wiped a tear from his cheek. “That’s what they did in those days. The train slows at a bend north of here and she was going to hop it. Crazy wasn't it?
“Who am I to judge?” Rich said.
“I told her we could go away together. It was snowing and freezing rain that night. I talked her into going back to the house. She was insistent on going to Toledo to a home for unwed mothers. I had a truck and I said, ‘I will take you.’ I thought that on the way I could talk her out of it. I slid off the side of the road at the bridge just east of my house. In those days there wasn’t that much to keep you in the truck. She must have been thrown out of the truck and into the creek. I was out for probably only moment. I thought she got out and walked for help. I looked around and saw her face down in the creek.”
Chet looked down as if he were looking at her in the creek. “She was dead.” He continued. “I took her to this barn that I was finishing up and built a coffin out of left over lumber and buried her there.” Chet rubbed his calloused hands over his mouth. “I loved her so much and ultimately was the cause for her death.”
“That wasn’t your fault,” Rich said to console him. “It was an accident. She could have been killed trying to hop the train if you let her go or she might have frozen to death.”
Chet went on as if Rich said nothing. “She came to my farm one day and we went to the barn. It happened all so fast. We were laughing and wrestling playfully. She told me a month later she was pregnant. I said without hesitation let’s get married and she agreed. The night she died she said her step-father would not hear of us two getting married. She decided to go away. I was scared. There was no way I could explain the events. The story was that she ran away from home and that was it.”
Chet turned his head toward Rich. “You should have seen her. She was so fresh and fair. She worked as hard as any man. Her step-father made her – he was cruel. She was scared to death of him, as was every man all around Slabtown. He was a big man with a violent temper. I wasn’t a small man, but he scared me. I was at Carpenter’s Market one day about a month later, it was the Slabtown General Store in those days . He was talking badly about Lilly. Said she was a loose girl and was pregnant by some hobo from the railroad. I got a shovel from my truck and came up behind him. I got him to turn around. I plastered him with the shovel across his face. I held the shovel to his throat. Only God kept me from putting my foot to the shovel and running it through his neck. And not one man lifted a finger to help him. I told him to never speak ill of Lilly again. That was the end of the matter until two weeks ago. I found out that my son sold the land where Lily was buried. They’re going to tear down the barn and dig up the earth and use it for an overpass for the interstate. I couldn’t take the chance of anybody finding the body in my barn. You see, there are two bodies in that coffin – her body and one unborn and a letter buried with her. She said she was going to send it to me when she got to Toledo. She didn’t want me to read it. I put it in the jar and buried it with her.” Chet paused. “Will you read that letter to me now. I know I can’t read it myself.”
Chet pressed hard and opened the mason jar and carefully removed the letter. He trembled as he handed it to Rich. Chet turned on the dome light to the cab of the truck.
It was addressed to Chester Winters, Slabtown, Ohio.
Rich slowly opened the envelope and unfolded the paper inside. He cleared his throat. “Are you sure you want me to read this?”
“Yes, Rich,” Chet said. “Read it to yourself before you read it to me, so that way you can read it good.”
Rich looked curiously at Chet and Chet nodded toward the letter. Rich read it to himself. His lips moved as he did. When he cam to the end he said to Chet, “Are you ready?”
“Sure,” Chet said, “Read it good.”