Travelling back and forth to the Ages of Devokan got my mind going in all sorts of directions.
When I arrived back at my Winterfell office, there was a letter from my cousin Robbie. He was away on farming business in the 26th century and was sending his congratulations on my appointment to head Whitfield Farms.
His letter also mentioned some progress on a personal matter he was looking into for me in that time, involving my late father.
Robbie suggested learning a bit about farming would be a good idea on my part both for the job of leading the farm corporation but also in the matter regarding my father.
He didn’t mean I should learn about the business of farming – which I also have to do though at least I’ve had some exposure to it conferring with Uncle Manuel over the years – but rather, Robbie was referring to agriculture itself.
That got the mind going.
In a bit of a daydream, it hit me that the best way for me to have learned about farming would have been to have worked alongside Uncle Manuel when he was a young man, learning it from his father, my grandfather.
I could do that now if I wanted to. I am a time traveller, after all.
I went through the rest of the mail and checked the newspapers and radio and caught up on the Winterfell news and made my way over to the Storytellers Pub for lunch.
I mulled over the idea from the daydream.
That afternoon, I tended to some ambassador’s business and then some personal matters, clearing my desk so I could be away for a few days.
That evening, after supper, I began packing for 1960, mid-America.
As you know, dear reader, I have never revealed my method of travelling through time. I have confirmed that I have used some methods that others rely upon but this was more in the line of research on my part. Normally, I use a method that has been in my family for five generations. I have no desire to reveal that method.
But I will say, it’s not the magic act some people think it is. It is science.
Now, myself, I am not a scientist, merely a time traveller. I know the technique to carry out the operation. Don’t ask me to explain how it works. My father was the scientist.
However, time travel is not an exact science. Not even for a veteran traveller like me.
In the morning, I was in the Greyhound bus terminal in Kansas City, standing in line, staring at a placard advertisement on the side of the bus proclaiming “Nixon Now!” my suitcase in one hand, a ticket to Dankoville in the other.
I hate buses. I would have much preferred the train. Well, what I would REALLY prefer is direct delivery to the chosen point but, as I say, time travel is not an exact science. My back and legs are still stiff from that damn bus so pardon me for venting, I’m a bit grumpy.
The trip took a couple of days. One afternoon the bus pulled in to Dankoville. I walked into the park in the center of town and stood there for a few minutes, stretching the muscles a bit.
You might be wondering about the name of the town. That’s a very long story. I don’t even know all of it yet. The thing that Robbie is looking into for me in the 26th century? That may fill in some of the blanks. When I have it all, I will share it with you, I promise.
For now, let me just tell you that the first time I was in this town was in 1863. I was four years old and was accompanying my father on a trip through time.
In those days, the town was called, Turner. The Turner family had owned the town and everybody in it. They were a mining company that was working the mountains to the north.
The area had been “Indian territory” until only a few years before when the Native tribes were pushed further west by the growing white population. The ongoing Civil War had slowed this attack on the Native people for the moment.
The Turner Mining Company drew people from the big western cities: Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago, Toronto and Detroit who were looking for work and others from either side of the Mason-Dixon who wanted to escape the war.
But the Turners owned everything and they treated their workers poorly for the most part, the only exceptions being friends of the family or the few others who became their pawns to keep the town under control.
Anyone who fell from the grace of the Turners had no choice but to leave town. There was no work for them. The thing about that, it wasn’t easy to get here in those times but it was easier than getting back. So some people were stuck here with few ways to make a buck.
A few people who lost their jobs with the Turner company took to farming the areas outside of town that had been recently abandoned by the Natives. These were squatters, just trying to get by on land that no one claimed ownership of and in a place where there was no one to file that claim with anyway. The land was dry, no one cared about it, no one of consequence that is.
My father, Hudson Whitfield III, arrived here in the late 1850s and began working with the farmers. He was an organizer, a child of the 1930s. What he saw around him in that decade framed his view of life. As an adult, he went back to the 1930s and became enamored with and involved with the union movement of the time.
It was with that background that my father came here on a time travel job to Turner. I don’t know the details of the job but it was likely a simple delivery. He stayed in town for a few days, possibly waiting for a meeting with his client or whomever his client sent him to see.
While he was here, he somehow came in contact with one of the former Turner employees who was now farming a plot a few miles from town.
Those farms out there were not doing well. The people who owned them were poor, their crops were small and their tools were simple. Their knowledge of the land and growing a crop and raising animals was limited. They were city people, working by trial and error. Under these conditions, errors were costly…in human terms. The people out there were hungry, illness was everywhere. These folks needed some help to make their farms thrive and grow.
I don’t know what happened after that. All I know is that about five years after he first came here, my father was now returning – with me in tow –– and he was being welcomed back as a hero!
As the stagecoach pulled in to the little town, people were running alongside, shouting greetings at my father.
“Welcome back Professor Whitfield!” It came from men and boys running with us and ladies and girls standing outside the shops.
When we pulled up, a man dressed in his Sunday best opened the door of the carriage and welcomed my father as he stepped out. They shook hands, then my father turned around and grabbed me up and put me down on the street in front of him. The well-dressed man bent over, shook my little hand and said, “Welcome to our town, Master Whitfield. I am Mr. Davis.”
“Good afternoon, Mr. Davis,” I said and then tipped my cap and bowed, just as my father had taught me. “Oh, what a fine young gentleman we have here,” Mr. Davis said to my father, who smiled at Mr. Davis and then at me.
We went inside to Mr. Davis’ office and there I was given a comfy seat and a picture book to look through and Mr. Davis’ assistant, Sally, brought me some lemonade and sat with me. My father and Mr. Davis went off to the local saloon where the rest of the town was waiting to toast my father.
Looking back, I’d guess that Mr. Davis was the mayor or the president of the Chamber of Commerce or the leader of a citizens group or the like.
That’s all I can actually remember, I was just four years old. Well…I do remember that Sally was a real fox but that is neither here nor there. As I say, I was only four.
All I know, is that by the time we left town a couple of days later, the sign that said “Turner” had been knocked down and burned ceremoniously and a brand new sign put up that said “Dankoville” and my father and me and Mr. Davis had our photograph made standing under that sign by a man with a contraption that he said was a camera.
I’d give anything to know what transpired in those few days…as well as in the few years leading up to that trip.
But here I am, stretching in a park in that same town, 97 years later. And 40 years older. Hmmm. Yes, I know that’s confusing. But I just told you one story I can’t fully explain so don’t get me going on that one now.
I walked across the street into the Town Tavern, the place I had just bought 53 years from now and renamed The Evergreen Pub.
Wow, looks different, that’s for sure.
“Sit anywhere, hon,” said the waitress as I wiped my feet on the doormat. It was early spring and a bit muddy.
I took a seat by the window and put down my bag.
The waitress approached with a menu, a napkin, silverware and a glass of water. “You here for plantin’ season?” she asked in a friendly manner.
“Uhhh…yes, I am, matter of fact, Miss,” I said in what my research showed was the style of the time.
She smiled. “Specials are on the back. Breakfast all day. My name is Sally, holler when you’re ready.”
Sally?!! She was very cute too. Is this a coincidence or am I in one of those time warp thingies?
The place was quiet. It was a weekday, late afternoon. A couple of men sat at the bar, locals for sure. A man sat alone, a couple tables away from me, I took him to be from out of town. Like me, I suppose, but this town had my name on it.
I had a BLT with potato chips and a Coke. Typical American lunch of this time. The man at the other table was going for supper, meatloaf.
Sally walked toward my table as I finished my sandwich and asked, “Can I get ya something a little stronger than Coke?” Hmmm. “Yes, how about a beer?” “Draft?” she asked. “Yes, that would be just fine.” “And you, sir?” she looked to the man at the other table. “Yes. Draft,” he said.
I stared out the window at the main drag. It was quiet. A car would pass from time to time, a pedestrian or two. There were people in the ice cream shop across the way.
“When’s the next bus to Whitfield Crossing?” I asked Sally as she brought the beer to my table. “You want the number 7 bus, hon. Runs every half hour. Marty, do we have a bus schedule?” she hollered at the man tending bar.
Sally brought the beer to the other table and went up to the bar to get the bus schedule and delivered it to my table. “Here ya go, hon.”
“You going down to the farm?” Sally asked as I took the pamphlet with the bus timetable.
“Yes, I am.” “Are you one of the Whitfields?” she asked quietly. “Yes, I am,” I said again and smiled.
She looked at me, inquisitively. I knew the question that was coming so I answered first. “Mitchell,” I said.
“Mitchell Whitfield?” she asked. “Yes,” I confirmed.
“Oh I’ve heard of you,” Sally smiled. “Don’t believe everything you hear,” I said with a laugh. “Oh, only good things, Mr. Whitfield, only good things,” She laughed. I did too.
Sally went to the other table. The man ordered another meatloaf to go and Sally headed back to the kitchen.
I walked over to a table near the door where the newspapers were laid out and picked up the Strange County Times. Back at my seat, I worked on my beer slowly, paged through the newspaper and watched the sun sinking slowly toward the end of its workday.
Mitchell Whitfield was the name my Uncle Chester came up with, to use whenever he had to admit to being a Whitfield in these parts but when he didn’t want to reveal his true identity or was simply trying to avoid a lengthy conversation. It worked too. No surprise that Crazy Chester would come up with something like that. The fact that Sally said she’d heard the name here in 1960, made me realize Uncle Chester had been using that trick for a long time.
I wasn’t trying to avoid a lengthy conversation but I did want to hide my true identity…though just for the moment. If I gave my real first name and word got around that the fellow this town was named after was in town for the first time in nearly 100 years, the news would be all over town before I could even get myself to the family farm. I wanted to avoid that, mainly because no one in the family was expecting me to show up like this and I didn’t want to be made of in the bar and treated like a celebrity. I just wanted to finish my beer in peace and catch the next bus out of town.
The Strange County Times was the type of paper that carried just the local news. The county legislature and town council business, the police blotter, the volunteer fire department log, Chamber of Commerce press releases, the lost and found and social announcements. I came across a short item from the local chapter of the Time Travellers Guild. Manuel Whitfield, the man I was here to see, my uncle who at this time was in his twenties, had been accepted as the chapter’s newest member.
I folded the newspaper and walked over and returned it to the table by the door just as Sally was bringing the other man his meatloaf to go and one of the two local men at the bar burst into laughter as they continued to drink and talk. I walked up to the bar and handed my bill to the bartender, paid and went back to the table to leave a tip and get my suitcase. I said, “Thank you!” as I stepped toward the front door. The bartender nodded and Sally shouted, “Come back again, soon, hon,” as she again disappeared into the kitchen.
Outside, I walked down the street a bit. Still had about 10 minutes to kill before the next bus. I turned and walked back toward the bar. I saw the other customer from the nearby table come out the side door and walk over to a pickup truck that had a camper attached to it.
I stopped. “Nice day,” I ventured. “Yes it is,” said the man, who looked to be about sixty or so. “Pretty good meatloaf in there, huh?” I offered as I thought about asking this man which way he was headed and maybe hitch a ride.
“Yeah…Oh it’s not for me,” said the man as he motioned to the meatloaf, wrapped in aluminum foil in his other hand.
He opened the door of the camper, looked inside and said, “Okay, boy,” and a French poodle jumped out. The dog looked around for a moment and trotted toward a clump of bushes and some trees behind the tavern. The man half-leaned, half-sat in the back doorway of the truck, waiting for the dog. He reached into the pocket of his well-worn jacket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes.
“Headed south by any chance?” I asked. “No. Sorry. Headed west,” he said. “Ahhh,” I nodded and looked down the road in the direction the bus would be coming from.
“Homecoming?” the man asked. “Sort of,” I replied, then added, “It’s been a long trip.” The man nodded and lit a cigarette.
“How far west, you headed?” I asked, just making small talk. “All the way,” he answered. “Homecoming?” I asked. “Oh…maybe. In a way,” the man replied with a slight smile.
“What do you do?” the man asked me as he looked toward the bushes the dog had disappeared behind.
“I’m a writer,” I said.
“Really,” the man looked me over and let out some smoke. “What do you write about?” he asked.
“My travels, mostly.”
He puffed on his cigarette, “Me too,” he said softly. He was staring at the ground and after a moment he blew out the smoke.
I looked at him. Was he also saying he is a writer and that he writes about his travels? I wasn’t sure whether to inquire further so I kept quiet to see if he would offer anything else.
But he just kept working that cigarette…puffing, inhaling, exhaling, looking at the cigarette and turning it between his fingers and puffing again.
Finally, the dog returned, stepping from out of the bushes and sitting, waiting for his master to speak.
“Good boy,” said the man as he balanced the meatloaf and cigarette in one hand while using the other to pull back the aluminum foil. He placed it on the ground.
“Here you go, Charley boy,” he said.
Could this be…?
The dog went straight for the feast of meatloaf. I shuffled my feet a bit…not sure what to say or whether to say anything.
Just then, I heard the bus approaching.
“Good luck with your book, sir,” I said as I leaned over to pick up my bag. When I straightened up, I saw the man was staring at me. “I mean, your trip, sir. Good luck with your trip.” I turned and walked toward the bus stop.
I didn’t look back but I heard the man say, “Attaboy, Charley. Let’s go boy, let’s go now.”
The bus pulled up, stopping just past the tavern. Two other people were waiting for it as well and I stood by as they boarded. I looked back and saw the camper pull out of the parking lot. I waved at it. The man didn’t see me.
As his truck passed around the bus, and headed west down the road, I noticed it had New York plates.
“What are the chances?” I asked myself as I got on the bus.
The next day, as I was beginning to settle in at the family farm, I thumbed through my grandfather’s bookshelves. I pulled down a copy of one of my favorites and turned to the back to see the author’s biography and his photo.
Well, I’ll be damned!