Twice Born A Vagabond
A Novel [Copr. 2008]
By D. DeWitt Thomas
R. Zach, Rawley's dad, had just finalized all of the arrangements to have Rawley enrolled at Culver Military Academy in Indiana, 800 miles from home, so they traveled together as far as Chicago for the first part of the trip. At this point, R. Zach goes a separate way to tend to other business. What other business he had in Chicago is a mystery; however, Rawley's mother believes that the other "business" is a mistress. Before departing, he and his father anxiously waited for the bus to arrive at Union Station to take Rawley to South Bend. It was a cold day, especially for Rawley because he had never felt the chill from Lake Michigan in the winter. The bus arrived.
Rawley put his knapsack in the overhead cubby above his seat and sat next to the window so that he could wave good-by to his father. He rested his head on the small glass opening pressing it tightly so that his father would be sure to see him as he waved. The bus pulled out onto State Street and Rawley held his portable transistor radio to this ear. Rawley listened to Little Stevie Wonder play his harmonica and somehow found solice in the music.
Upon his arrival at Logansport Gate, Rawley saw the institution where he would spend the next three years of his life. All of the boys crowded off of the bus and after unpacking in the barracks were mustered to march to the barbershop. With what soldier stubble remained on his scalp he was marched to the tailor shop to be fitted for a uniform and transformed into a cadet who resembled a participant in the War Between the States.
Rawley's first few months at military school were busy and passed fairly quickly. He learned all of the fundamentals of military philosophy such as shining shoes, polishing brass, standing at attention, and calling everyone sir. His father, R. Zach, had written him to tell him that he would be in Chicago on a "business meeting" in the Spring and asked Rawley to meet him there for a visit. Rawley requested permission to leave for the week-end but the permission was denied because of a delinquent homework assignment. All of the appropriate signature authorizations were obtained except for his Chemistry professor's which Rawley saw no problem with forging and promptly did so. So having gotten all of the paperwork approved, Rawley made plans with two other cadets to hide in the trunk of a visitor's car and to escape undiscovered which they did. After breaching the campus grounds, they hitch hiked the remaining one-hundred miles to Chicago.
On arriving in Chicago, Rawley found R.Zach where he was staying at the Chicago Athletic Club. His father was attending an American Hospital Association convention there. They hugged and were so happy to see each other as they strolled down State Street toward Berghoff's for a corned beef on rye and ginger ale. It began to rain, so Rawley and his Dad sought cover in a small turret enclosure at the end of a bridge crossing over the brown-green Chicago River. It was the same as it always was with R.Zach performing his father-son act to perfection, laughing and gay. They remain companions for the rest of the day until it was time to catch the train back to Culver. So another separation and departure ensued. R. Zach had done his good deed and Rawley was on his way back to the institution.
On the train, he took his gym bag containing his uniform into the Men's room. Changing into his uniform, he felt uneasy as he unbuttoned his shirt. He was tense when he saw his reflection in the mirror. He thought of Margo back in Carolina and wondered when she would get to see him again. He remembered when she made him put the uniform on in front of her for the first time one day last summer. She made him stand there for a long time while she just stared at him as her face got flush with excitement. "Rawley, I'm going to miss you. Please promise you will be back soon because I don't know how long I can wait. I've got to get a job and who knows what might happen if I..." she paused. Rawley became consicous of the train's rattle and roll as he stared at himself half dressed. He pulled his belt through the buckle and grabbed his hat. After brushing the brass eagle on his sleeve, he levelled his visor low across his eyes and returned to his window seat. Soon the conductor shouted out the next stops, "South Bend, Plymouth, and Indianapolis." Rawley prepared to climb down to the platform when the train came to a full stop.
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