When I was fifteen years old a tomboy by nature, summer was high in the quaint town of Howell in Southern Indiana. My parents had found us a home near the Lincoln -Nebraska Freight yards and the coupling and uncoupling of the trains as they came to rest in the yard would serenade us nightly. Because this time in my life reflected a time of great turmoil in the world and the United States was enmeshed in a war with Vietnam or as they called it later a police action, we would occasionally see passenger trains bringing home our wounded veterans. On very rare occasions would they stop in the freight yard to wait track switching. It was also during this time that a very well and famous show caught the attention of young American teens actually it was two shows. One featured a governess taking care of a very difficult young boy in a house high on a hill in Maine, the other was a future look of what we could achieve if we did not destroy ourselves in that time. Of course I am speaking of Dark Shadows and Star Trek. To that I will now say that I loved Dark Shadows and of course only dreamed of living long enough to experience the wonders offered in Star Trek.
It was during this time that I was growing into adult womanhood but still felt I had the right to wrestle with my two brothers and the teen male friends that were my classmates. One day in the hot July summer I was playing on the T pole used to string the wire that mother hung cloths on to dry. My younger brother and his friend George and the boy from across the ally named Billy were in the field that sat next to the freight yards. We had been playing tag team wrestling killing time until Dark Shadows would come on our color console TV. I had gone to the T pole and was swinging from it when I noticed a passenger train coming in on the first track of the yards and to my amazement it was filled with wounded war vets from Nam. Much more to my astonishment as I played on the pole and wore my ruffled midi top and my cut off Daisy Dukes (only at that time little did I realize that is what they would be called for to me they were cut offs), the male contingent on the train began to shift from one side of the passenger car to move to open windows and shout out! "American Girl!."
This of course caught my friends and brother's attention as for me I was kind of oblivious to the fact I was the excitement that was being generated by the trains occupants. The shift of the excited wounded males was to such an extent that the engineer was forced to stop the train so the men could be guided back to their seats. It was during this time that a MP (Military Police Man left the train and came to us and smiled his boyishly handsome smile and said. "Ma'am it seems you have created quiet a stir, would you be so kind as to come and meet some of our nations chosen wounded soldiery?" Well how was I to know what kind of honor this was going to be for me? So, I went to the side of the tracks and looked kind of confused back at my brother and my friends and with the MP by my side, we walked along the outside of the tracks and I shook hands, smiled at the hopeful young men faces and answered questions of "How old are you, what is your name, and thank you for letting us see the first American girl in a while."
I found out they were being transported to Bethesda to finish out their healing treatment before being discharged and that I was the first American Girl they had seen in their long tour of duty. They all had received wounds and were being discharged. Some were missing limbs, some were still shell shocked and others were just happy to finally be home. I shook a lot of hands, had my hand kissed, my face caressed and was told they all loved me. I even received several marriage proposals. They were all so gallant and brave and it put a smile on all our faces. The lay over for the passenger train was an hour and in that hour I walked a half mile of cars shaking hands and feeling like a Movie Star as they all wanted to touch me and thank me for talking to them. I felt special that day and was grateful for the little I could do to ease their transition back into American culture. I do remember I was led to one car where the boys could not move from their cots and with the escort of the Military Policeman was lead down the aisle and I felt as special as any Movie Star that was given a chance to perform for our nations solider.
One man an older gentleman of some culture was sitting on a bunk and watched my approach. He was obviously a man of great learning and had seen a lot of battle from the way his eyes peered past me to look almost into my soul. He gave me a sad smile and stood to bow at the waist and with his cultured voice he said, "My dear girl you have no idea what a great service you do for your country and their wounded. I thank you." I of course was truly ignorant of his rank did not realize he was a Colonel and had saw too many of his men die and was now going home on the train with the wounded. I being somewhat shy smiled an innocent smile and felt his hand cup my face. He looked into my soul and smiled then softly said, "You my dear are the most beautiful girl in the world, never forget that."
The word came out that the train was ready to leave and the MP escorted me off the train and to my friends and my brother. My two male friends were a bit jealous over the attention I had received and immediately began to challenge and tackle me in a wrestling match. I was not interested so I had promptly pinned them and stood to wave by to the sad men on the train and watched as they pulled out. With a sad soft sigh of something anticlimactic having occurred I waved to them and then lost interest in most of the outside activities to rush headlong into the house because it was time for Dark Shadows and I was not about to miss my favorite show.
Strangely enough I was soon to join in that strange world of military and actually became a military wife and began to form my own career in our nations chosen soldiery. I never forgot that time so long ago and never will.
It was while I was going through my fathers papers to find his DD214 discharge papers so we could have an American Flag to drape over his casket that I was reminded of that time so very long ago and that kindly man who said I was the most beautiful girl in the world. I now know what he meant. I brushed away my tears and looked at my father's picture in his uniform, and those of my Grandfather, and my Uncles and my Sissy military pictures and I was proud that for a while my fifteen minutes of fame had been an hour spent with young men that needed to have something American back in their lives.
That is why if you have made it this far in my diatribe that I now explain what this short one shot is about. I got to thinking what if that Colonel had been Elliott Stokes and his first glimpse at the woman that would haunt his memories and eventually by either chance, karma, or contrived by forces unknown that he found his most beautiful girl in the world in the form of Julia Hoffman. I now give you my version of this life's experience passed on to Elliott and Julia.
The Most Beautiful Girl in the World
Hallie sat at her Uncle Elliott's Desk, the ledger held so cherished to her chest as she looked with unseeing eyes to the now setting sun. The room had grown cold and soon would be in darkness. With a soft sigh she stood dragging the ledger to her chest and walked out of the room to the front parlor and paused. Vicki looked over at the tragic figure and offered her a soft sad smile. "I know its hard Hallie but they are both together and I am sure they are with us in spirit." Hallie glanced at the aging beauty before her and nodded slowly. "I know. I just miss them with all my heart and wonder if Julia knew how much Uncle Elliott really loved her." Vicki being curious moved to stand next to her and put a comforting arm around her shoulders. "You know Hallie, Julia knew how much Elliott loved her. I know she thought she loved Barnabas but knew that was a dead end. Now more than ever I am convinced she knew how much love Elliott held for her."
Hallie looked down at the ledger in her arms. "I think you need to read this Vicki, then you tell me what you think." Vicki began to guide the young lady to the door. "I would be honored to read something your Uncle wrote. Now come along dear, Mother and Father will be expecting us for dinner tonight. I know David is already at Collinwood and he called to see where we were." Hallie nodded, button up her coat and followed Vicki out of the door, pausing to peer inside one last time then securing the door. The drive to Collinwood had been in silence, Vicki allowing her to have her private thoughts. It was probably just as well since the roadway had become almost obscured by the heavy fog that was now coming in from the Atlantic seaboard to make driving less than desirable.
Soon enough they made their way to the entry gate to Collinwood and Vicki navigated the town car through the gate and up the curving driveway to the Porte conchere . Putting the car into park and shutting off the engine, she turned to Hallie. "Here we are." Hallie hugged the ledger one last time, turned to Vicki and smiled. "Here, read this and tell me what you think." She laid the ledger on the bench seat between them and slid from the car. Vicki glanced at the ledger and noted in golden embossed lettering 'T.E. Stokes'. Vicki with loving fingertips gently touched the lettering and was struck with a sadness of knowing this was probably his personal diary with his private thoughts and felt as if she were prying. However, she reasoned Hallie had asked her to read it and she would. It was hard for her to think that Elliott and Julia were no longer around and she would not have their wisdom to draw from as she faced countless new problems that seemed to be popping up all the time.
Locked away in her office Vicki with a bit of trepidation reached for the ledger and laid it in front of her. Again the feeling of being a voyeur filled her but knowing she had promised Hallie she would read it she lifted the cover and read the first written dedication. 'To Julia, you are the love of my life. Now you will know how much you affected my life and why.' Vicki felt a quick prick of tears sting her eyes as she moved past the page and began to read.
War is hell, and I know more than most what kind of hell it is. Today I wrote out fifty more letters to mothers, wives, fathers, brothers, sisters, children that a loved one would not be coming home. The most horrible part is that there is nothing to send home. The other twenty letters were to love one saying their brave brother, son, uncle; father is missing in action and has been termed as MIA. How do you tell someone they may never even get to morn their lost one to put closure to the hell that is war and this war is the war to end all wars." Feeling her lids grow heavy, Vicki leaned back and drew the book to her lap, only saying she would rest her eyes for a moment, she closed her eyes and fell into a deep sleep. There she found in her dream like world a time she knew Elliott had lived through and she in a shadow form began to watch his life unfold before her .
Elliott stood removing his monocle and walked to the opening of his tent. "Colonel, the wounded are being loaded onto the transport plane, you will be joining them?" Elliott turned and nodded. "I am almost done Smitty, thank you kindly."
World War II was over or so they said from Washington, now they were sending their beleaguered and wounded home. Elliott had chosen to go with the wounded it seemed fitting he should go with these men that had fought so bravely and were no longer whole. It was an obligation he felt he should see through. Packing his ledger into his valise he reached for his hat and slid it into place. For a moment his mind almost seemed to be haunted by the spirits of those departed men that had plagued his dreams since his letters were sent. It was almost like whispers turning to the buzzing of the thousands that had died to stop Hitler's move through the world. Pausing he was reminded of the very vivid dream he had the night before. The dream had been real; almost as if he were there spectral form as he watched dispassionately as the rat faced man with a smudge of a mustache put the Rueger to the head of his lover and pulled the trigger. Then without preamble put the barrel of the same gun to him self to pull the trigger. 'Coward.' Had been Elliott's thoughts somehow he wished he had been the one to pull the trigger and send this miserable human being to hells fiery pits.
Turning to the tents interior one last time he without little regret or preamble moved towards the rear of the cargo plane that now awaited his arrival. Saluting them lesser rank as he moved along, Elliott was focused on two things in his life, the return of these men to their homes and a return for him to College to obtain his Doctorial degree. This degree had been his dream and the pursuit of that dream was unfortunately put on hold when World War 2 had broken out. Now he was set to go home and began anew this dream of his. He knew he wanted to specialize in the area of the occult and the fascination that a lot had held for it. One of the main reasons he had been sent to this place he now vacated was intelligence had uncovered the information that Hitler was practicing and gathering all occult artifacts in a hope of channeling that power to finally reign supreme over the world and crush his enemies.
Elliott's job had been to be present when those artifacts had been retrieved and catalogue them then package them off home to a base that was referred to as Area 51 located in Nevada. A place he had every intention of visiting before he was discharged from the service. He knew that if he did not go then he would never be allowed on the base. Stoically and lost in his own thoughts he moved up the ramp to find a seat mid way through the planes cargo area. The area was filled with the smell of antiseptic and soft moans of the men that lay in pain. Elliott looked around, removed his hat and leaned his head back against the wall. The flight crew, nurses and captain of the plane moved among those in their charge speaking words of comfort and encouragement. A set of soft hands gently touched Elliott's shoulder and the soft smell of perfume filled his senses. Opening his eyes he peered up at a kind faced nurse that smiled and said softly, "Sir, they are ready for take off, you need to secure yourself in your seat."
Elliott smiled at the young lady and pushed his arms through the jump seats straps. He could feel the rough runways bumps as the wheels began to move along the make shift runway and then the pressure of lifting off. Dispassionately he glanced over the tight confines of the planes interior noting the men as they waited and possibly prayed they would not be shot out of the sky by the Nazi troops. As they gained the altitude that was needed, Elliott reached for his valise and pulled out his ledger. He began to record his thoughts and hopes as the flight was to be more than fourteen hours where they would then make landing on a naval aircraft carrier. Elliott wanted to make sure he recorded his dream about Hitler and his demise so he could compare it to what history would record. This more so to compare his dream and to prove his was clairvoyant that he had in fact been a witness to his death. Another area the military had been experimenting with for sometime.
The time was relevant to him due to the fact he had been practicing various forms of the occult. His thoughts had always been to try and transcend time and to see if what history had been recorded was the true history or the glamorized history. Now more than ever the world seemed to be exploding into new areas of enlightenment and he wanted to make his mark on history they best way he could and to see if the occult could be more than what many believed it could be which was something of darkness and evil intent. Colonel Stoke wanted to bring a new slant to this belief and see if this was something that could be utilized to a more productive and health filled topic.
The landing on the ship was interesting and one he would not long forget. He felt a hint of trepidation as the plane made the approach and began to drop to the ocean and for a moment, Elliott thought they would belly up on the ocean and then there it was the short, incredibly short runway to the USS Lexington and they were down. The ships crew scrambled to help off load the precious cargo of this particular ship and secure the injured men in sickbay. Elliott was escorted to the ships captain and invited for dinner with him in his cabin. The evening was dealt in polite social niceties. The ships progress to the Pensacola was done in relative slow progress and afforded Elliott enough time to enjoy his personal time for research and noting taking as he perused the ships available reading material.
After arriving in Florida, Elliott once again found himself in the company of the wounded that would be shipped to Bethesda and once again he felt the need to travel by railway to the Hospital with the men that had so valiantly fought for the freedom of many of their fellow citizens. The cross-country trek he was sure would be tedious but soon enough he would be back in Washington DC and have to do his debrief and then he could set his sights on his degree. If nothing else, this thought afforded him a sense of excitement he had so many thoughts on what he would write is doctorial dissertation.
The clackity clack of the trains wheels on the metal rail and the soft sway did not much afford him good writing conditions so he chose to nap and occasionally look out the window of the trains windows to enjoy the feel of home town America. It was early afternoon as they neared a small town and the train slowed going into the yards, he knew they would more than likely have to switch the tracks to get them on the right rail to their destination. It was during this slowing down period that Elliott became aware of some excitement from the wounded males as the subtle and no so subtle shouts of "American Girl!" Came through the cars hallways. The train began to wobble and the engineer was afraid that with the sudden shift of weight they might derail so he slowed the train to a stop and again there was a hub of excited male voices. "God she is beautiful! Its an American Girl! All American Girl!"
The assigned military police came to Elliott and spoke softly to him. "Um sir, there is a young teen girl with a couple of teen boys outside the train that seems to be causing the men to get excited what do you suggest?" Elliott had to chuckle. Of course these men had not seen a true American girl for some time and this would no doubt cause a stir. How could one young lady create such a morale booster? Elliott sighed, "Why not go and get the young lady and escort her to the men so she can speak with them and let them speak with her. I am sure the engineer would appreciate us stopping the shift of weight from the onrush of men trying to get a glimpse of something they gave up a part of them selves." Corporal Lane nodded and smiled at the Colonel. "You are right they are excited and maybe this is what they need before going back to rehab."
Julia Hoffman stood lean and unaffected in her t-shirt and cut off blue jeans. Her beginning to bud body was displayed at its discretely best. She stood displaying her long legs, tanned from the summer of running wild with her friends and playing in the back yard with the neighborhood boys and brothers. Her long red hair pulled back in a single plat fell rakishly over her shoulder. Her wide dark eyes peered at the train of men that seemed to think she was important. Her brother moved to tackle her and she deftly sidestepped him only to be sacked by her next best friend George. Lifting her hips up she hooked her legs around his neck and flipped him over and stood. This only caused the men on the train to shout! "Wow! Kick their butts!" She smiled shyly at the boys and moved towards the service road of the train tracks.
"What is your name?" "How old are you?" "Are you married?" "Did you know you are beautiful?" These were questions being bombarded down on her and she tried in vain to answer them all. It was not until she saw two sterned faced uniformed men marching shoulder to shoulder towards her that Julia felt fear. She wondered what was going to happen until they stopped before her and saluted. "Ma'am?" Julia glanced up from a fall of heavy lush lashes and looked pensively at them. "Yes?" The taller of the two MP's smiled seeing she was scared. "Would you do us the honor of walking along the track to meet some of the men that gave up their time and health to protect this great country?" Julia was immediately touched and nodded slowly. "Of course." The men then escorted her along the track walking for nearly a half mile while she shook hands and answered questions and smiled to the men that were retuning from war.
As they neared the last car, the MP smiled, "The men in here cannot stand would you mind to join me so they can meet an American Girl? You see its been a while since they were home and it will cheer them greatly to see you and talk to you." Julia was grateful that the one thing she had done before leaving the house was put a dab of white shoulders perfume on before going outside. As she entered the antiseptic smelling car she was immediately aware of the female nurses that sat and watched her somewhat amused. The soft scent of her perfume wafted down the aisle way and she moved among the wounded smiling and shaking hands with them and answering their questions. As she neared the end of the car her vision was arrested by the intense look of a handsome man in a uniform that did not appear to be injured. He stood and immediately Julia became aware of the others growing respectful in his presence. "My dear young lady you have no idea how beautiful you are to these men that have given so much for their country so that you can run free."
Julia was touched and turned to look around at the shattered bodies those house intelligent men that were desperate to drink in the American way of life and at that moment to them in their fragile state is what she represented to them. As she watched them she became resolved to make sure that she would choose a profession to give back to these men that fought so bravely for her rights. The man with soul piercing grey eyes studied the lovely features of the budding young lady in front of him. To him she was the most beautiful girl in the world and he was resolved that he would spend his life to discover who she was and what path her life would lead her. Politely, he took her slender hand with long fingers into his hand and kissed it in a gentlemanly fashion. "Thank you my dear for brining a breath of fresh air and joy into our worn torn lives."
From the front of the train the conductor moved into the car. "The engineer is ready to move on sir, would you please inform the others to take their seats so we may be on our way." Julia smiled at the gentleman with the kind grey eyes and followed the MP's off the train to be escorted back to her brother and friends. As the train pulled out Julia waved, smiled and blew kisses to the young American soldiers that put her on a pedestal and made her feel special for a while. Elliott felt thunder struck he had found his emotions were wrapped up in something more pleasant than the memories of the horrors of war as the train pulled from the small mid-western town and made its headway to the eastern seaboard.
After being released from his tour of duty and service to the United States Army, Elliott had done what he wanted, made a trip to Nevada and toured the area known as 51. He was allowed to see the location of the artifacts he had come to call his secured 21 stories beneath the earth's surface in an airtight room. He knew these artifacts would never see the light of day again. He had been allowed to take pictures of them as long as he kept them confidential. His time was consumed with recording and cataloging as much as he could about these artifacts. He had maintained a book with his notes and then had his notes transcribed to turn over to the Central Intelligence Agency.
Soon enough another conflict had taken up American's time and once again he found himself enmeshed in helping out on a consultant basis while the troops were deployed to Korea. His time with service was soon over with the Korean conflict and he returned to the States to finish his doctorial degree and was hired by the University of Maine to teach on the Occult and History. However, on nights that found his mind wanting to wander he would recreate the image of the beautiful girl he had met briefly so long ago. He wondered what had become of her, this young sweet girl whose name he recalled was Julia. How could he forget that fiery red hair, those dark thoughtful eyes and that budding slender body? He had he recalled tried to find out her last name and what had happened to her but his own life had taken turns and twists he had not expected.
Now he was carefully entrenched in his position and growing to an emeritus position and soon to retirement he could not help but wonder about that girl he had called the most beautiful girl in the world. Now he was focused on tracing his family heritage he had managed to trace his family line back to the 1700's. Ben Stokes had lived in Collinsport Maine and lived a rather intriguing life. So intrigue he had made it his life's ambition to collect memorabilia from that time. It was at this juncture of his life he had met two people that caught his attention. They were Barnabas Collins and Victoria Winters. Both held an aura to them one the lovely Miss Winters who gave the impression she had actually lived through the time he was researching and Barnabas who knew more than he allowed to be known.
He had pursued his interest and was astounded to find that a very pre-eminent female doctor was now a part of the lives of those that lived in the great house of Collinwood. The appearance of one Julia Hoffman, a blood specialist and psychiatrist caught him by storm. Imagine his shock when he discovered that Julia was his Julia, a woman he had long formed a romanticized image of the most beautiful girl in the world. She had by providence fallen back into his life at a time when he needed a woman to anchor him and give him worth and fulfillment. There she was older, wiser and now an equal to him and a man of his status. He knew then as he knew those many years ago this was the woman he wanted to bare his children, carry his name and love him as he loved her.
Many a night he anguished over whether to tell her of his feelings then discovering that she had manifested an obsession for Barnabas Collins he chose to not interfere in her life and let it take its course. He always believed in fate and if it was to be then he would be happy with what life had dealt him. Until then he only watched as an interested spectator as she fought her feelings and then her longing for Barnabas. After finding a short-term marriage with Barnabas was not exactly what she wanted from life she had turned her extremely brilliant brain and interests towards the same field of endeavor that he had been involved for many years.
It was not until such time that Barnabas had finally proclaimed his love to Vicki that Elliott felt safe and secure enough to pursue his interests in Julia. That is when he proposed to her and held his breath hoping she would accept his proclamation of love. It was then after their wedding and on their honeymoon Elliott confessed to Julia where they originally met and how he had loved her from that moment when she had stepped onto that train and stood before him. Julia had laughed and hugged him close and confessed she knew who he was from the moment she met him at Collinwood. She was just too confused to allow him this knowledge and embraced the fact that she had always thought of him fondly and thought of him often and had never forgotten him either.
Vicki felt a light touch on her cheek and startled awake. Looking up into the loving gaze of her husband as he gently withdrew the ledger from her lap. "My darling is it not time to put up your reading and come to bed?" Vicki smiled a bittersweet smile and looked around the room. "Yes, my love it is that I wanted to read this so I could give it back to Hallie." Barnabas looked down at the ledger with Elliott's name embossed on the front. "You know he is always with us and now they are together as it should be." Vicki stood and hugged her husband. "I know and that is why I am not so sad now and I know that Elliott is now with his most beautiful girl in the world. And that they are happy."
Barnabas kissed his wife's forehead and sighed, "I know but to me Vicki you will be my most beautiful girl in the world. Now come to bed we have big day tomorrow." Enfolding his wife in his arms he gently led her from the room. As he closed the door, the translucent figures of Julia and Elliott appeared in the room. Julia lovingly touched the ledger and smiled through eyes of love into the face of the man at her side. "You wrote it down?" He nodded and kissed the tip of her nose. "How could I not, you inspired me my dearest Julia. You will always be to me the most beautiful girl in the world."
Fading out of view they walked hand in hand towards the path that would take them to widows hill where they stood and admired the sight. "This is what we fought for and you are my inspiration for coming back my dearest Julia."