It was a beautiful summer evening. The sunset casting long shadows across the lush green fields. Hot and humid, but not unpleasantly so. A slight breeze aiding the retreating sun in cooling the couple sitting in the porch swing. This was a quiet time, before the dark brought the cacophony of sound from the night creatures that hated the heat of the day as much as the farmer. This was the best time of day, as any rural South Carolina native will attest.
Something disturbed the silence. It was a car, still a couple of miles away but definitely heading their way. That was obvious because theirs was the only house the dusty road led to. They loved the fact that they could not hear highway traffic from their porch. It was rare that anyone came out here without calling. It was a long way to come to find out they were not home. But they always welcomed visitors with a smile and a glass of sweet tea.
Jack Francis immediately had a thought that struck him like a blow to the stomach. It was a flashback to an evening very similar to this in 1968, when down this very road came a visitor that he would never forget. Though forty years ago, he could recall every detail. It was a navy blue sedan with an eagle on the front of it. Jack’s dad had told him later that they always sent a colonel to give the family the condolences of the President of the United States. His older brother had been killed in Vietnam, in something called the Tet offensive. He remembered how composed his father had been when he shook hands with the Colonel and accepted the letter from President Johnson. Dad was not one to show emotion or weakness, but Jack knew in his heart that his dad had died that evening. He drew breath for nearly three more years, but he was never the same man. That evening did what 40 hard years of working a farm could never do. It broke him. His dad once confided in him over a too-large glass of Kentucky Bourbon that he was glad Jack’s mom had died two years before. "I am glad she was spared this. No one should have to bury their children,” he added with eyes misting. "They say God never gives you more than you can handle. They are liars."
Jack wanted to follow the path of all the men in his family and serve in the military but by the time he was old enough his dad had passed away and someone had to run the farm. He married his childhood sweetheart and though they would never be wealthy, they had a good life. They raised three wonderful children, who they were extremely proud of. All grown and gone, they now had only each other and these pleasant summer evenings together.
Their daughter, Charlotte (who they called Charley), was now a doctor in Charleston. Their youngest son, Taylor, was an architect in Raleigh. Their oldest son, Carey, was a marine. It was hard to keep up with where he was. They received tapes and letters but he didn't talk much about what he was doing. He didn't like to worry them.
Jack's thoughts were disturbed as the car came into view out of the dust. They had walked down the steps towards the road. He recognized the car immediately, though his wife, Dianne did not. He knew that because she was still smiling, ready to greet their visitors. No one else but the government bought a car like that, not these days. A late-model navy blue Crown Victoria. Nothing good ever comes out of such a car.
Even before the dying sunlight reflected on the silver eagle placard on the front of the government issue car, he knew. He knew what his dad knew 40 years ago. As he embraced Dianne, he only hoped he could be as composed.