Boy Howdy Says Goodbye To Maria
By Garland Davis
Boy Jenkins and Sam walked into the Southern Ozarks bar. He took his seat at the same table he had sat at every Friday night for the last two years. Sam turned in a circle twice as dogs do and lay down beside him. Jeanette, the waitress, said, “Howdy Boy Howdy,” as she brought his usual draft beer and a double of Kentucky Bourbon. He tasted the bourbon and followed it with a sip of the beer.
He said, “Sam, I don’t know if you are a lucky Sumbitch you don’t drink or if you are an unlucky Sumbitch you don’t drink, either way, here’s looking’ at you shipmate.” Sam’s tail swatted the floor twice in acknowledgment. He had found Sam as a puppy cowering in the cold rain at a truck stop near Vicksburg, Mississippi. Sam became his driving partner for three years until he retired and then became his housemate at a cabin in the Ozarks.
Boy and his twin sister had been born in one of the Southern states with only A’s for vowels. His mother had died shortly after their birth. A clerk preparing the birth certificates had entered their names as “Boy” and “Girl” Jenkins. Girl had been adopted by a family from Memphis and Boy had been taken by an uncle to raise who beat him and used him as slave labor on his farm. When he turned seventeen, Boy confronted him and forced the ‘uncle’ to sign the permission for him to join the Navy at seventeen.
His sister had learned that she had a twin brother while trying to find her birth parents and had tracked him down while they were still on active duty. He was proud of her. She had retired as a Commander in the CNO’s Public Information Office. She lives with her husband near her two daughters and their families in Charleston. Boy and Sam travel there for Thanksgiving each year,
Boy took another pull from the whiskey and pulled a worn photo from his pocket and propped it against the saltshaker. It was a black and white image of a smiling young Filipino girl. It was the only picture he had of Little Sister Maria. She was the sister of an old girlfriend with whom he had fallen in love with and planned to marry until the ship’s captain had arranged a transfer back to the states to prevent another of his sailors from marrying a Filipino. Fortunately, or unfortunately, Boy was able to get his detailer to modify the orders to the Riverine forces in Vietnam.
Boy gave Maria all the money he had and all he could borrow from the Credit Union. He would be back on R&R in six months and without interference, he could push the marriage request and they would be married within a year. He arranged with his old Chief who was stationed at Subic to receive and cash money orders and provide the money to Maria.
The Riverine forces were more of an advisor/trainer function during the last year of the war. The American sailors were observers instead of active participants in operations, though there was little difference between getting shot at as driver or passenger.
All Boy’s plans for his life with Maria ended the night a Vietnamese coxswain panicked under fire and accidentally rammed another boat. Boy’s right arm was fractured in four places and he was unconscious, in a coma, when he was evacuated from the war. He progressed from a hospital ship off the coast of Nam to the hospital at Clark AFB and finally to Tripler Army Hospital in Hawaii.
After regaining consciousness in Hawaii, Boy’s earliest memory was walking down the steps of the Admin building in Charleston and saluting a pretty female Ensign. Over the next few months, he slowly regained memories of San Diego and USS Chicago until one morning he awakened knowing everything.
Over the next few years Boy searched for Maria. He took three thirty day leave periods and walked the streets of Olongapo hoping to see her lovely face coming his way. He hired Filipino Private Detectives to find her. All to no avail.
The years passed. Boy became a Chief Petty Officer and eventually retired from the Navy. He lived in Olongapo for two years in one last hope that he would find Maria. He finally gave that up and moved to San Diego where he spent a few years working at a marina taking care of rich men’s boats.
Laughing at an old joke about a grizzled retired Chief who placed a boat anchor over his shoulder and started walking inland, Boy decided to metaphorically do the same.
Someone asked the Chief, “What are you going to do with that anchor Chief?”
“I’m gonna walk until someone asks me where you are going that funny-looking pick and that is where I am going to live for the rest of my life.”
The Southern Ozarks became that place for Boy. He became a nomad trucker, working for a small company and going where the loads carried him. He did that for a number of years and decided one morning to retire from working and catch up on the books he wanted to read. Besides, he suspected that Sam was getting a little tired of holding down the right seat of that Peterbilt. He had never spent a lot of money on himself and it had accumulated in the bank and credit union. He had more of the stuff than he would ever need, and his pension and Social Security provided more each month. He bought a cabin and five acres backed up to what passes for a mountain in Southern Missouri and he and Sam settled down to live out their lives.
Boy sipped his beer and bourbon and looked sadly at Maria’s picture. He said softly, “Honey, it is forty years ago today we said goodbye. I loved you then and I love you as much now. Sometimes a smell or whiff in the air takes my mind back to many years ago and you are with me there. I can almost hear you talking or laughing in my heart. That’s when I long for our days together. I sit here on this date each year contemplating what should have been our life.”
A single tear slowly trailed down his cheek as he drank down the bourbon and signaled for another.
As Boy sat staring at the photo, a tall slender woman came through the door and walked to the bar. She talked for a minute with Jeanette and then walked to his table. “May, I sit and talk with you for a few minutes Mister Jenkins?”
Yes, if you make that Chief. Mister never seemed to fit me too well.”
As she pulled the chair out and sat, she noticed the picture leaning against the saltshaker and with an intake of her breath she said, “Maria.”
Shocked, Boy asked, “How do you know Maria? Where is she? Tell me.”
“Maria died of cancer many years ago in North Carolina where she lived with her sister Lila. She thought you were killed in the war at first but when she couldn’t find your name on the wall she became convinced that you were alive. Here is a letter that she wrote to you. It was returned as undeliverable. She thought you had been killed in the war.” She said as she passed an unopened envelope to him. It was addressed to him in Vietnam. Someone had written across the front, “KIA!”
“With trembling hands, he opened the letter. It was short, a profession of her love and to tell him that she was pregnant, and they would have a child in the spring.”
He said, “A baby. Maria’s baby! Do you know where the child is today? he said as the tears dripped off his chin.
She placed her hands over his clenched fists and said the word for the first time in her life.