Copyright and Author's Rambling

                Here is another chapter.  I decided to start Children of the Swamp when the children are old enough to narrate their own stories.  I may or may not do revisions to this chapter; be forewarned.

                I'm not sure where Hail, Hail, the Gang's All Here is from.  It's not mine though.  I'll have to look it up and give credit where credit is due.

Chapter Five: Hail, Hail, the Gang's All Here

Railroad Station

Hannibal, Missouri

Tuesday, July 1, 1958

            Andrew Blake grabbed his little brother's arm and pulled him away from the edge of the station platform.  "C'mon, kid," he said, leading Eddie to a bench where their sisters were sitting with the luggage.  Andrew took a seat; Eddie paced in front of the bench.

            "Where'd Mom go?" the seven-year-old asked.

            Janie glanced up from her book.  "She's waiting for the cab," she answered and resumed her reading.

            "By the time the cab gets here, it'll be Christmas," Molly complained.

            "Oh, stop your bellyaching," Andrew scolded the ten-year-old.  I've gotta think of something to keep these runts quiet.  "Who's up for a game of 'Twenty Questions'?"

            "Me!  Me!  Me!" Eddie shouted, jumping up and down.

            "Only if you sit," Andrew told him.  The boy plopped down, sandwiching Andrew between Molly and Eddie.  "Got someone, kid?"

            "The Lone Ranger," Eddie piped up.

            Molly shook her head.  "You're not supposed to say who it is, dummy."

            "Hey!  I ain't a dummy," he retorted.  "You are!"  He pinched his sister, resulting in a high-pitched yelp.

            "Would you cut that out, you two?" Andrew shouted.  He felt someone jab him in the ribs.  "Molly …" he scolded the guilty party.  He pointed to an empty, adjacent bench.  "Go sit over there," he ordered.  She complied, but the two siblings continued to make faces at each other.  He took a quick peek at Janie's book.  "You're reading Anne of Green Gables again?"  She nodded.  "How many times are you gonna read that stupid book?"

Janie yanked the book away from her brother.  "It's not 'stupid'," she said. 

Although only a year apart, the brother and sister could not be more different.  While Janie was quiet and reserved, Andrew was the class clown.  She occupied her time with her books; he loved nothing more than a good prank.  At the moment, he was wondering what the girl would say if she found a Nudist Monthly centerfold glued to some of the pages.  She'd probably rat on me and I'd have to give Mom the magazine, he realized.  I don't want to owe Jack's brother money.  He nixed the idea and tried to conjure up something else.

A family of five approached the benches.  "Mind if we sit down?" a man in an Irish-Bostonian accent asked.

"Fine by me," Andrew said.  He, Janie, and Eddie scooted over to make room for the man and – they presumed – his wife.  Their three children, two girls and a boy, took seats on the bench behind them.  The man took a notebook out of his briefcase and opened it to a diagram of what appeared to be a chest.

"Are you a doctor?" Andrew inquired.

"Yes, I am," the man replied.  "The name's McIntyre.  Dr. John McIntyre."

"My dad was a doctor," Andrew told Dr. McIntyre.  "He served in Korea."

"No kidding," Dr. McIntyre said.  "Me, too.  How long was he there for?"

Andrew suddenly realized he had an interest in his loafers.  "He never made it home," he informed the doctor.  "His plane crashed and everybody onboard died."  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw McIntyre scrutinizing him.

"I'm sorry to hear that," the doctor said.  "I lost my C.O. the same way."  He rubbed his arm over his light brown curls.  "We spent three days celebrating cause Henry was finally going home."  He turned to the boy.  "What was your dad's name?"

"Blake," Andrew answered.  "Henry Blake."

McIntyre's mouth dropped open.  "You're Henry's son?  Andrew, right?"  Andrew nodded in response to both questions.

 "I served under your dad.   I tell you, he was one helluva guy."  Noticing the boy's discomfort, he changed the subject.  "How old are you, Andrew?"

"Thirteen, sir," he answered.

"My girls are fourteen and twelve," McIntyre said.  "Becky's the oldest.  And my son's six."

"I'm twelve," Janie piped in.

"Then you're the same age as Kathy.  How old is your kid brother?"  Janie told him.  "Hey, Sean, that boy over there is about your age," he said to his young son.  "Why don't you go over there and sit with him."

"Are you going to the 4077th reunion?" Mrs. McIntyre asked.

"Yeah," Andrew replied.  "We took the train down.  Mom doesn't like planes," he added, even though the McIntyres could figure out why.  Lorraine Blake had never been too keen on flying; her husband's death only maximized that fear.  "But I don't think we're gonna make it if the cab don't come soon."

"Why don't we travel to the ranch together," the doctor suggested.  "It'll save gas and money."

"Sure," he answered.  "I'll go tell my mom.  It was real nice meeting you, Dr. McIntyre."

"Call me Trapper," the doctor corrected and clasped Andrew's hand in a firm handshake.

* * *

Potter Ranch

Hannibal, Missouri

Tuesday, July 1, 1958

            Walter O'Reilly stepped out of the automobile and opened the door for his wife.  "When did you want to visit your Aunt Millie?" he asked her.  Patty had mentioned to her aunt that they would be in Hannibal for Walter's M.A.S.H. reunion.  Her aunt and uncle were holding a M.A.S.H. reunion of their own at the same time and invited the family to drop in any time.  Patty barely remembered her uncle; the regular Army doctor was stationed elsewhere during the sporadic visits Patty and her aunt shared over the years.  When they first got engaged, Walter had met and been endeared to his wife's beloved aunt.  Now he could finally meet the warmhearted woman's "better half."

            "Maybe tomorrow," Patty answered.  "I have to call her to get directions." 

            "Can I have a piggy back ride, Pa?" a chubby boy of four asked.  Walter knelt down and hoisted the boy up. 

            "Only until we get to the house," Patty said.

            Sherman Potter greeted the O'Reillys at the door.

            "Radar!"  Potter greeted his former company clerk.  "Good to see you, son."

            Walter tightened his grip on his son's legs.  "Good to see you too, Colonel, sir."

            "How many times do I have to tell you folks?" Potter asked, exasperated.  "It's just plain 'Doc Potter' now."

            "Sorry, Doc Potter, sir."

            The old man shook his head and decided to give up the lost cause.  He turned to the boy on Radar's shoulders.  "And who might you be, young fella?"

            "This is Ben," Patty told her husband's former boss.  She patted the boy's leg.  "Ben, this is the man Daddy worked for in Korea.  His name's Sherman Potter."

            "And you must be Patty.  We sure heard plenty about you at the four-oh-double-natural."  Patty blushed.  "Why don't you folks come inside."  He opened the door and ushered the O'Reillys into the house.

            Walter set Ben onto the floor.  "All right, big guy," he said.  "Piggy back ride's over."

            Ben walked over to Sherman.  "Can I ride Sophie?" he asked.

            The adults tried to hide their smiles.  The old man knelt down in front of the child.  "Sophie's in Korea," he told him.  "You told him about Sophie?" he asked Ben's father.

            "He's crazy about horses," Walter explained.  "You should see his room.  He's got practically every breed memorized."  Thank god he didn't tell Ben the truth, he thought.  The kid's too young to know about death.  Images of Korean children came into his mind just then.  So many young kids saw their families die … children shouldn't know about death or war.

            "Well, Zippeedeedoo!" Potter yelled ecstatically.  "I'm an old cowboy myself.  You ever ride a horse?" 

            "I rode a pony once," Ben answered.

            The three adults sat down on folding chairs that had been left out.

            "He's helped me groom the horses, feed the horses, and wash the horses," Walter said.  "But he can't ride the horses until he's taller."

            "And if he inherited your genes, he'll never get to ride a horse," a familiar voice ribbed.

            "Hawkeye!" Walter grinned at the sight of the former captain.  Hawkeye Pierce had been a hero and a big brother to Walter during his time at the M.A.S.H. 4077th.  A falling out between the two men threatened to ruin the friendship; in the end, the fight only made their friendship stronger.  Hawkeye stood ramrod straight and saluted his short friend.  Walter returned the salute.  "Anybody here besides you?"

            Hawkeye slapped his hand to his chest, feigning hurt.  "What do you mean, 'besides me?'  I'm insulted."

            "Just the Hunnicutts, Kellye, the Padre, and the Sister," Potter replied.  "The Winchesters and the Burns should be here sometime this afternoon …" Collective groans came from Hawkeye and Walter.  "Can it, you two.  Klinger, Soon-Lee, and their brood have a 1:15 p.m. arrival time at the airport tomorrow.  The Blakes and the McIntyres should be here any minute now."

            A woman entered from the kitchen, a little girl with pigtail-braids in tow.  The girl immediately ran to Hawkeye, who lifted her up in the air.

            "Radar, Patty, I'd like you to meet my wife Mildred," Potter said to his former company clerk and the man's wife.  "Mildred, this here's Radar, one of the most efficient company clerks I've ever had the privilege of working with."   He stopped, suddenly aware of the fact that the three parties were gaping open-mouthed at each other.

            "The flies should arrive soon," Hawkeye quipped.  He and Potter shared puzzled glances.         

            "Aunt Millie!" Patty finally gasped.  "What are you doing here?"

            The old woman drew her niece into a tight hug.  "I could ask you the same question."  She turned to Walter.  "It's good to see you, Walter."

            The short, bespectacled man gave his wife's aunt a quick peck on the cheek.  "Same to you, Aunt Millie."

            Now it was Potter and Hawkeye's turn to be in shock.  "You know my wife?" the surprised ex-colonel inquired.

            "Well, you know Radar," Hawkeye commented.  "Known and loved by every good-looking girl around."

            "He'd better not be," Patty warned, giving her husband a mock glare.

            Mildred Potter took the opportunity to explain the situation to the others.  "Remember when I wrote to tell you that my niece Patty was getting married?" she asked her husband.  He nodded.  "This is her husband Walter."

            "Why in fanny's sweet adams didn't you say anything?" the old man wanted to know.

            "I quit being called 'Radar' when I got home," Walter told him.  "So Aunt Millie's never known me as nothing but 'Walter'."  A sudden look of recognition crossed his face.  "She was that lady in the picture," he said, more to himself than to his old friends.  "No wonder you looked so familiar."

            "We never really talked about Korea," Mildred continued the tale.  "All we really knew was that my husband and Walter both served in M.A.S.H. units there."

            The little girl wrapped her arms around Hawkeye's neck.  "What?  You never heard the names 'Sherman,' 'Mildred,' or 'Potter' before?" he asked his friend as he rumpled the child's hair.

            "I never knew about no 'Sherman Potter'," the young man explained.  He turned to his former C.O.  "I've known you as 'Colonel Potter,' I've known you as 'sir' … heck, I've even heard you called 'that old bird.'"  He grinned mischievously at the others.  "But I've never known you as 'Shermie' or 'Puddin' Head' or 'Tootsie.'"  He felt his face redden as he became aware of the strange looks he was receiving.

            "Pierce, it always worried me that you'd be a bad influence on the boy," Potter deadpanned.  "Now I've been proven right."

            "Who's this sweet young thing?" Patty asked, breaking the mock tension.

            The child in question buried her face in Hawkeye's shirt.  "Her name's Diana," he announced with pride.  "She's kind of shy around strangers," he explained. 

            "Gosh, she looks an awful lot like Major Houlihan," Walter commented.  As an "enlisted slob," he had never had the opportunity to become close to the unit's head nurse.  But it had been a sad day indeed when he received word of her passing.

            "She's a regular 'mini-Margaret'," Potter informed him.  "Just this morning she scolded Mildred for not folding the napkins properly."

            "How old are you, Diana?" Patty asked.  The little girl held up four fingers.  "Why, you're the same age as Ben."  The two children peered at each other from behind their fathers' protection.

            "'Ben?'" Hawkeye echoed in disbelief. 

            "Benjamin Walter O'Reilly," Patty responded.  "I wanted to name our son after a man I admired – his daddy."  She pointed to her husband.  "Walter here wanted to name him after one of his favorite people …" Hawkeye smiled, touched by the young man's gesture of friendship.  "… So we decided to compromise."

            Mildred addressed the children.  "I'm sure in the mood for some oatmeal cookies," she hinted.  "How'd you like to help me bake them?"  Diana nearly leaped from her father's arms and followed Mildred and Ben into the kitchen.

* * *

            "Ooh, she's so precious," Kealani Kellye gushed.  She brushed a finger over the infant's nose.  "What's her name?"

            "Stella Rutherford Winchester," Charles answered, fatherly pride evident in his voice.  He had done his "duty" to the continuity of the Winchester name with the birth of Charles Emerson Winchester IV; secretly, he had always wanted a daughter.  Kellye, Peg Hunnicutt, and Louise Burns were "oohing" and "aahing" over his little girl.

            "How old is she, Charles?" Peg asked.

            "She'll be four months next week."  He wiped the sweat – compliments of the Missouri summer heat – trickling down his neck.

            "That's a mongoloid baby," an annoying voice stated.  Charles looked up and glared at the lipless cretin.

            "Frank, I'd like you to meet Stella," Louise said before Charles could let his short temper get the best of him.  "And this is her father, Dr. Charles Winchester."

            "Winchester …" Frank squealed.

            "The infamous Frank Burns, I presume," Charles said coolly.  "Your comrades were right about you … you are the 'lipless wonder'."  He usually didn't insult men in front of their own wives; this cretin's wife couldn't seem to care less.  He wondered why such a well-mannered woman such as Louise Burns would marry an inept jerk like Frank.  From the stories he'd heard, it was obvious everybody else did, too.

            The dense man didn't seem to be able to take a hint.  "If I ever had an idiot baby, I'd send it to an institution for cuckoos and forget all about it."

            Charles could feel his face turning red.  He glared at the obnoxious cretin.  "And they still let you practice medicine?  Where's your compassion?  God sakes, man, she is a child!"  He emphasized the word "child."

This was almost like déjà vu.  He'd almost gotten himself expelled from the hospital when Stella was born; the obstetrician, "Ferret Face", and all other "well-meaning" cretins were lucky they didn't have broken necks for suggesting he erase his daughter from his life.  Charles had vowed never to let other people's opinions cloud his judgment; he had learned that with Camille.  He had finally broken down one night and confessed to Camille his reason for shunning music.  Opening up hadn't magically solved all of their problems; it just made things easier to deal with.  He wasn't sure what had possessed him to propose marriage to her.  The action was partly family pressure to carry on the Winchester name with a wife from an elite family and partly because he cared about Camille (he could learn to love her eventually).

            "Frank, why don't you see if Doreen needs help with her hair," Louise instructed.  After the cretin left, she turned to the Bostonian surgeon.  "I'm sorry about my husband," she apologized.  She lowered her voice.  "He's got a lack of brains sometimes.  You'll have to excuse him."

            "I'm going to see if Potter needs any assistance," he told the ladies, gracious for an excuse to catch up with his comrades.  I'm sure Pierce will be thrilled to know I've decided to join Hunnicutt and him in their practical jokes against Burns.  He cradled Stella in his arms and headed for the last place the men had congregated – the stable.  He could see Hunnicutt's tall silhouette leaning against the side.  Pierce was waving his arms in his typical manic motion.  Another man, nearly the height of Hunnicutt, was guffawing at the Maine doctor's antics.  This unknown doctor seemed familiar, but he couldn't place him quite yet.

            Hunnicutt waved Charles over to the gathering.  "Better hurry, Charles.  Wouldn't want to miss having fun with us ruffians," he teased.  "Charles, I'd like you to meet the 'Infamous Trapper John."

            Charles heart nearly stopped when he recognized the curly redheaded surgeon.  "McIntyre?" he sputtered.

            McIntyre's jaw dropped open.  "Winchester?"