Mark Hitchcock was starting out the door of the supply hut when he heard his name called.
"Hey, Hitchcock, mail for you!"
Hitch set down the crates he was carrying and reached over the counter, took the proffered envelope and tucked it inside his shirt.
"Any for the others?" he asked hopefully. It had been months since any of them had letters from home.
"Nah, sorry, just you and yours it a bit tore up it looks like. Let us know if you're missing something from it."
"Like a dozen chocolate chip cookies?" Hitch teased.
"If it had cookies in it, you're out of luck, they will have been eaten." the mail clerk grinned.
"Thanks, I'll see you next go round." He gathered up the supplies and headed out to the jeeps.
They were busy for the rest of the day, getting the jeeps serviced and meeting with the brass, so busy that Hitch forgot about the letter until they camped out that evening.
Sitting by the small campfire with his friend Tully, Hitch finally remembered it and pulled the letter from his shirt.
The envelope was water stained; the address just barely legible and one end had been torn completely off and then taped back on.
"Whatcha got?" Tully asked.
"A letter from my mom."
"Looks kinda bedraggled."
"Yeah." He pulled out his penknife and slit the flap open, then shook the pages out. The ink had run in some places leaving blurred gaps in the narrative. He held the note closer and squinted at it.
"Too messy to read?" asked Tully.
"Some of it. The weird thing is, I don't think this is mine. It doesn't look like my mom's handwriting."
"Is it addressed to you?"
Hitch picked up the envelope, "Yes." then looked at the salutation on the letter. "The letter just says To my dearest son but there's no name."
"Huh." Tully shifted, getting more comfortable so he could fall asleep. "Why don't you read it, see if it sounds like something your mother wrote."
Hitch tilted the letter toward the dying firelight and began to read out loud.
My dearest son,
We pray each day for your continued safety and thank the Lord for watching so carefully over you this last year.
We received your last letter; it's wonderful to know that you have made such good friends with the other men and that you watch out for each other. I know you can't say too much about what you are doing or where you are going but it's a comfort to know that you are well.
The weather here has been troublesome of late. It's been raining pretty heavy for the last two months and the creeks are always over their banks. Your grandfather said he hasn't seen it flood like this since he was a boy.
It rained so hard up on Mount Shira that the east side of the hill slid right down. Isaiah Henshaw's house there by the road has nearly eight feet of rocks and mud built up against the kitchen wall. It's a wonder the whole thing didn't just slide off into the road.
Your father has only just this past week been able to cut hay and get it put up, it's been too wet before.
The corn we planted in the south field…
"Well this certainly doesn't sound like something my Mom wrote," Hitch pushed his glasses up on his nose, "My dad doesn't cut hay or plant corn."
Tully opened an eye and glanced at Mark. "Keep reading, maybe we can figure out who it belongs to an' get it to them."
The corn we planted in the south field has been washed away in the lower part because of the creek rising but the rest is looking just fine. I've got my garden up by the house again this year so I can keep the deer out of it.
Tully chuckled, "That sounds like my ma."
I planted asparagus, rhubarb, strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans and bell peppers. Your father built me a little arbor for the cucumbers so they grow over it. I have enclosed a picture for you to see it, it's so pretty.
Hitchcock laid the letter on chest and picked up the envelope and shook it. There was nothing else in it. "No picture. Maybe whoever got my letter, got the photo."
The garden is growing beautifully; I think my rhubarb will take first prize at the county fair again this year.
Your little sister is still in Four-H, she got a calf from the Tilley's up the road and is raising it to show in the county fair.
"My sister doesn't go near cows unless they're cut into steaks." Hitchcock laughed.
She and Bobby Abercrombie got into the other night about her still being friends with Joe Whitefeather. Annie said she changed her mind about marrying Bobby when she grows up if was going to try to tell her how to live her life. She's quite the liberated ten-year old, don't you think?
"That little sister sounds like a handful." he looked over at his dozing friend, "How old is your little sister now, Tully?"
"She'll be fifteen in June." Tully smiled, "I think she'd get along just fine with Annie."
Your brother Steven and his wife Ellen are now the proud parents of twins! Franklin and Steven Jr. were born on May 22 during the worst storm of the year so far.
"Twins, how about that." Hitch laughed.
Tully sounded wistful, "What else does it say?"
As I mentioned before the weather has been just awful. It rained every day for two straight weeks, the rivers were so high we couldn't get across and we were trapped in the valley. That seems like a terrible thing until you realize that the valley has also kept us safe from all the tornadoes that have been hitting the flats around us.
Peter's Prairie over by Butler was hit hard, it's luck that it's just farms out there so there were just some minor injures and livestock deaths.
Your father took the team out there to help rebuild some of the houses and barns and he said that when he topped the rise there by the church it was like being dropped into a foreign country – nothing looked the same. The big old oaks and walnuts for miles around had been snapped like toothpicks.
The worst tornado hit up north by your Aunt Millie's place. It killed 22 people in the city and destroyed most of the buildings. Millie, John and all the little ones are just fine though, praise the Lord.
"Twenty-two people, that's terrible." said Tully.
"Yeah." Hitch agreed, and then began to read again.
On a much happier note, Miss Idabel Davidson is going to be celebrating her 97th birthday next week. You remember her, don't you? She's the spinster who lives on Main Street, just this side of the bank. The Ladies Club is throwing her a dinner party at the church. I'm going to bake my blue ribbon strawberry-rhubarb pie. Clara said she'll fix some of her honey fried chicken.
"My mom has a sister named Clara." Hitch said. "I've never heard her talk about honey fried chicken."
Yesterday afternoon, Justin Peake caught the biggest catfish you ever saw! He was fishing down by the spillway, next to the mill with that terrible smelling bait you taught him to make and pulled in a catfish almost as long as he is tall. The county paper came clear over from Bakersfield to take his picture so they can put it in the next edition.
"Boy, some fried catfish sure would be tasty right now." Tully said, "Right better than D Rations."
"Uh huh," Mark agreed.
I'll try to send you a clipping of it with my next letter.
I must close for now; your father will be home soon for his supper.
We love you dear boy, miss you something terrible and pray fiercely that you will come home safe and soon.
Your loving mother
Hitchcock sighed. "Well, not much there to go on. I don't suppose we'll figure out who it should have gone to."
"Still, it was nice to have news from home, even if it weren't our home." Tully mused sleepily.
"Yeah." Mark folded the letter up and tucked back into the envelope. "I guess I'll give it back to the mail camp when we get back into town, whenever that will be."
Hitchcock lay down with a sigh. He pulled his glasses off and tucked them safely in his kepi. Folding his hands over his chest he said a silent prayer, thanking God for his parents, for their safety and sending along a little prayer that whoever had gotten his letter had gotten as much comfort from it as he had from the one he'd received.