John remembers 1968. Remembers it well, in fact. His mother was giving him 'that' look and found excuses to throw the word "Canada" casually into conversation whenever possible. It didn't help that he was seventeen and would be old enough to be drafted before he graduated high school. It boggled John's mind how casually she could do it. It was some gift, like seeing what he was doing when she had her back turned, or knowing exactly how many cookies were in the jar at any given time. Old Sam just watches the news when he's home, and nods, thinking back to World War II, while cleaning the rifle he uses for deer hunting. If he's got an opinion about his son going to war, Old Sam didn't share it with anyone. He'd just offer John a wink of sympathy over his wife's shoulder, calmly interjecting some observation about other news to distract her.
"Canada's national colors are red and white, too, Johnny." Mom smoothed the front of his football jersey, filthy from the hit he took in the second quarter, new grass stains on the knees from the touchdown he made in the fourth quarter right before the game timed out. His father, Samuel, stood in the bleachers, watching the crowds celebrating the big victory. John often thought about asking what his father's road trips were about, but the old man didn't talk much. A check from Pullman Brothers Farm Equipment, Inc. came every week, whether Dad was home or not. Mom said that was all John needed to know. If the conversation turned to what Old Sam's week had been like, the t.v. would go on and the beer would get opened. One thing John knew for certain, selling tractors and plows was tiring.
"I'll bet they can get creamed corn in Canada." This comment was made after a trip to the grocery store, canned beets and wax beans thrust into John's hands after he asked about creamed corn with dinner. John suspected that Mr. Fredricks at the grocery store had plenty of creamed corn on the shelves, and there in fact might be a bag in the trunk of the station wagon with cans of the 'rare' vegetable inside. The Ross Cannery in Smallville turned the stuff out fast enough, but John didn't bother to correct her. The message was clear enough, and John was not a slow learner. College pamphlets mysteriously appeared when Dad came home this time. The college conversation didn't happen though, because the Tet Offensive happened instead. Mom cried in the kitchen while she cleaned up the dishes, scraping creamed corn into the trash, muttering about Canada and cousins that might live in Ontario, while John watched the news with his father in stunned silence.
The next day, John went to the Marine Recruiting Center. Sitting in the cold metal chair while "Born To Be Wild" played in the background, John cursed the Marine Corps choice of real estate. Smack across the street from the beauty salon where his mother got her hair done every week. It would make a public scandal like never before seen in the small town of Lawrence, when Louanne caught him coming out of here, her hair still wet and half in rollers. But, then again, being a Marine was about putting one's life on the line for your country. Defending yourself from your five foot, three inch tall mother was as good a place as any to start.
"Can't take you." The recruiting officer pushed John's birth certificate, Social Security card and driver's license back across the desk. "Even though you're a big 'un. Get your parents to sign the forms, and come back." The officer looked at John's birth certificate again. "Or wait until you're eighteen. Have some fun, meantime." John didn't miss the recruiter pointedly looking at the wild looking group hanging around the recruiting office door. "Life is too short for bullshit."
So, he brought the papers home, smuggled into the house in his jacket pocket. The enlistment papers were in his dresser now, hidden under his socks, like other guys hid dirty pictures. John was pretty sure that the enlistment papers would be met with more violence and dismay than any picture of some naked girl. John wondered how much longer things like touchdowns and feeling up Allison Parker near the locker rooms were going to matter like they did right now.
"They had eighteen inches of snow in Canada today." She pointed this out as John slid into his jacket, on his way to school on a comparatively temperate Kansas morning. It was accompanied by a rough hand tossed through his thick, dark hair that he'd skipped cutting because that new cheerleader mentioned that he'd be cute with longer hair. Two of the guys on the varsity football team received their draft notices, and the coach was getting nervous. Dad didn't make it home that week, but when he did, he slept for the first day, and then did nothing but eat. A star shaped burn on the old man's shoulder made it plain that whatever it was he did, it had very little to do with selling farm equipment, no matter what Mom said. Regardless, there was venison for dinner, and Old Sam managed to once again avoid answering any questions John put his way. But, John has a secret of his own now, too. He replies to his father's inquiries about school, football practice and discusses the merits of driving to school during a Kansas winter instead of walking. Somehow, enlisting in the Marines just doesn't come up.
"Did you know that auto mechanics in Canada make 20 more than auto mechanics in the U.S.?" This particular fact had no basis in reality, but Louanne Winchester was not above making up details when it came to saving her boy. It was also made for the benefit of Bobby Singer, who was slouching against the clean counter, waiting for John. Bobby's eighteenth birthday is coming up, and Mr. Singer has been pretty plain that he thinks some time spent in Vietnam will do his son some good. Mrs. Winchester sees it differently, and thinks John and Bobby would be right at home in Montreal, sipping bitter coffee and using their miserable high school French to get by. Her husband's snort of amusement only makes her more determined to be right about this, and John kisses her on the top of her head before he goes out. His mind is pretty much made up, but he needs to talk to the old man about it first. Canada is the last thing on his mind anymore. Hearing himself called Jean twice a week by Madamoiselle Smith is quite enough. He and Bobby go out to the River Road bridge and talk about enlisting in the Marines. Bobby's papers are signed and ready to go. They talk about what they will do when they come home – Bobby wants to open a garage, wants John to be his business partner. At least it's a plan. John hadn't given his future a thought past getting his parents to sign the enlistment papers.
"They don't build 'em like this in Canada, Son." Dad slapped the black hood of the '67 Chevy Impala, nodding with unconcealed approval, winking at Mom for honing in on her little scheme. John barely noticed the screen door slamming behind his mother, too taken in by the magnificent piece of machinery in front of him. The chrome was ridiculously shiny, and John could tell that Bobby was just itching to pop the hood and get to work customizing the motor. Later, when he and Bobby are poking around in the Impala's engine, John sees his father sitting on the porch, watching them with his Indian black eyes. It's a look John will remember for the rest of his life, as if his father had something important to say and then stopped, content to let John just be happy. Mom stays inside, claiming that she wants to watch tv in peace, but the living room is dark, no familiar cathode ray blue glow to illuminate her. That night, when John went up to his room, he finds the enlistment papers signed with his father's bold signature. It's six months until his eighteenth birthday, and he's on his way to Vietnam.
When he lands in Saigon, John hears the familiar opening chords of "Born To Be Wild" and wonders if Lawrence, Kansas will remember him when he comes home.
John remembered 1986. Remembered it pretty clearly considering the three years before had passed in a grief induced haze that was only broken by hunts. It doesn't come as vividly as other years, but he can recall what was important. Life continues whether John really wants it to or not; he hangs on by his fingernails for the sake of the kids. The kids tether him to the real world, keeping John from disappearing into the shadowy existence of a solo hunter. Having the boys out on the trail like this with him is a blessing and a curse. It gives him a chance to be close to them, and at the same time, exposes them to a hunter's life. If he stopped to consider just how ordinary his own childhood had been, how miraculously unremarkable, John might have felt sorry for the boys. It's not the kind of life he planned for them, but it's as good a one as he could give them without giving them up. The moving around didn't seem to hurt much; Dean managed to grow five inches in 1985 alone, his hair constantly hanging in his guarded hazel eyes. Sam, too, grew from a chubby baby to a preschooler whose pants never quite fit right, big in the waist, short at the cuff. Otherwise, they seemed to be pretty normal kids. John has pictures of the boys taken, just like Mary would have wanted, so he's got a photographic record of the past three years. Dean starts school in Nebraska, Sam cuts his foot open on a broken bottle in Oklahoma. Somewhere in the Impala's huge trunk was a box with the boys medical records, birth certificates and such. John keeps all those papers, including his discharge papers, but the pictures of Dean and Sammy from 1986 vanished. Probably in some hotel someplace, but John doesn't have the first clue which one. After awhile, the rooms all started to look the same. Towns are associated with the hunts, not their names or landmarks. The days of Old Sam coming home and not talking about where he'd been made a whole lot more sense to John now. Taking out vampires outside of Baton Rouge wasn't exactly family dinner conversation, was it? There is no surburban life for him now. Making macaroni and cheese in an efficiency kitchen for the boys, watching them make faces at themselves in the door of a laundromat dryer or listening to Dean read out loud from a library book while they drove between hunts, Sam mouthing every word Dean read, looking over his brother's shoulder to see the words. This was his life, his family. Sometimes, John reads the photocopied notices at the laudromats, tacked up hopefully on library community news boards – support groups for single parents, sees the mothers with their children in the park. Their lives have been flipped upside down but part of John envies them, just the same. They haven't had their life turned inside out, too. Divorce has nothing on seeing the love of your life pinned to the ceiling, dripping blood and in flames, and John figures he's got no place at a single parents group meeting anyway.
He remembered 1986 because that was the year he went to Florida to check out the remnants of the space shuttle that had exploded earlier that year. Some low level NASA employees reported sightings of the ghosts of the shuttle crew that died in the ship. The boys play on the beach near Cape Canaveral, no, Cape Kennedy, while John does his job and set the ghosts to rest. Part of the job was setting nice people to rest sometimes and John regretted seeing the crew go, especially the pretty teacher with dark blonde hair that smiles like Mary. It was too late, but he would have given her messages to take back to wherever the dead go, for Mary, for his mother. Dean gains too many new freckles to count, and Sam learns to swim in the hotel pool. John mostly remembered that trip because it was the first and last Winchester family vacation they ever took. Those pictures John tucks away, someplace safe. One picture in particular, one of Dean and Sammy, wearing mouse ears and eating ice cream, is hidden inside the lining of his journal. It's a talisman, along with the lock of Mary's golden hair, twined with Dean and Sammy's first curls. More than holy water, salt or blessed oil, those items have power. They keep John's soul from breaking away from him, dissolving into pieces and slipping down the drain when he showers.
He remembered 1986 because it was the year his father died, safe in his bed, a rosary wrapped around his good hand. They weren't Catholic, but a good hunter learns to cover his ass pretty fast. It's spring in Lawrence, everything is new, green and fresh. The stop in Lawrence was only a detour on the way somewhere else, on the trail of something John didn't even remember what anymore. Sam counts the horses and the cows as they drive past farm after farm until they get into town. John avoids the block where he and Mary lived. Sam won't remember, but Dean will. The kid handles the life they lead pretty well, but no sense stirring up nightmares either. They are set free to run the property, and they take off from the Impala's back seat like birds. The boys don't come inside, never see their father's childhood bedroom, or meet their grandfather. John thumps up the porch steps and goes in the house to talk to his father. Since Mary died, they'd talked more. Since Mary died, John found out what else Dad had been doing – his real job – not what had kept him in Keds, comic books and Ovaltine all those years. Old Sam Winchester's mind is still as sharp as ever and John finds himself envying his father, for reasons he can't even quantify right now. Hunters made enemies. Family members made good targets for those enemies. The two littlest targets, Sam and Dean are playing outside, and Old Sam watches from his window, his eyes on young Sammy, his dark eyes calculating and his mouth grim.
"You hear this good, Johnny." The old man says
finally, his voice sounding sharper than he had in a long time. "I
can't leave you money, and I sure as shit can't leave you
nothing, either. Take this," It's a leather bound journal, old
fashioned and well worn. Old Sam taps it and nods solemnly. "Lots
of good advice in there. Shit, son, I feel like I should have taken
you out younger, taught you what I knew, but your mother wanted…" "I
know what Mom wanted." John pats his father's hand and smiles the
only way he can anymore, a half broken thing, but Old Sam understands
that smile better than anyone because it's the way he smiles too.
"Canada." "Damn straight." Old Sam nods, coughing
instead of laughing. "I wish I could go with you. Catch the
sumbitch that took Mary from you."
"I know what Mom wanted." John pats his father's hand and smiles the only way he can anymore, a half broken thing, but Old Sam understands that smile better than anyone because it's the way he smiles too. "Canada."
"Damn straight." Old Sam nods, coughing instead of laughing. "I wish I could go with you. Catch the sumbitch that took Mary from you."John leaves with the journal and his father dies two days later. The Impala doesn't turn around and head back to Lawrence. It keeps moving west, the next generation of Winchester men hunting their latest prey, a werewolf that they catch near a scout camp in a small town in Missouri, a vengeful water sprite in Michigan. There was a lot John never said, a lot that Old Sam never said, but it really didn't matter. They understood. That was enough and John hoped someday his sons would understand too.
Bobby Singer is a hunter too, now. Coming back from 'Nam really didn't give them much training for anything else, did it? Field dressing an automatic rifle isn't a career skill teachers, banker and lawyers use in their daily life. They were good at picking scary things out of dark places, whether they shot salt or bullets was immaterial. What did matter is that once again, they were doing work that no one really wanted to know about. So, something good did come out of his time in the Marines. God Bless America. The dream of running a garage together sort of fell by the wayside. Bobby took over his father's salvage yard, which was damn helpful when some nasty piece of work tried to take a bite out of the Impala. Hunting didn't pay, that's what made the mechanic work so important. Keeping his sons in food was a challenge in and of itself, plus hunting supplies weren't cheap either. Bobby had offered John a 'job' at the yard, as an on site mechanic. It would be a home base, a place for the boys to call home, even if it is a single wide on the salvage yard property, sharing the electricity and water with Bobby's ramshackle bungalow. A crack forms in their friendship when John refuses. It's not that John doesn't think it's a good idea, because it is. It's that nowhere is home without Mary, and no place can be home until that demon pays for her death.
Eighteen years and millions of miles have been racked up and slipped by since 1986. Some people use pictures or scrapbooks to remember. Hunters don't have that luxury. His memories keep him company on the road, hide in towns that all look the same, get him through the bad hunts. John wonders sometimes, when he's alone on a hunt, where it was his life changed. When it was he stopped being the guy who made touchdowns and chased cheerleaders on a Saturday night? When it was the sweet hum of a perfectly tuned engine stopped being music? The Impala is Dean's now, and it's Dean who chases the girls, fusses over the car and is probably the best hunter John has ever seen. It's in his blood. Sam took a different road, the road John himself tried and ended up hunting anyway. His sons are men, and John doesn't regret leaving them clues, making them look for him. John's given them everything he has, everything he thinks has been worth giving. That's got to be enough. What he has given them will keep them alive until they faced the demon that took Mary from them. John drives in silence, turning the radio off and letting the sound of the truck's engine fill the cab, it's rumbling hum enough to clear his thoughts, bring him back to the present. He's heading west through Kansas, and through the corner of his eye he sees the sign for the turn to Lawrence. John hasn't been back there since Old Sam was dying, but he knows that Lawrence remembers him, now. And, he can't go back. The house has been rebuilt and the roses planted at Mary's grave bloom twice a year. Life has moved on in Lawrence and in Stanford, where Sam is and wherever Dean finds himself tonight. John can't go back to Lawrence because he remembers, too. And, there is no home to go to.