Thanksgiving Day in the South of France, 1917
“That was the Thanksgiving Day I almost died.” The old man went silent, sat back in his chair across from his chronicler, and waited for him to reload the typewriter. The boy’s fingertips were blackened from handling carbon foil sandwiched between two fresh sheets of typing paper. It was a clumsy, dirty business, but it was the only way to get a copy while typing. They needed two copies; one would go North to his daughter’s home the Dakotas; the other would stay here, in Arcadia.
The old man watched as the boy, his grandson, reloaded the typewriter. He fed the papers into the roller, aligned them, and typed ‘19’ in the upper right-hand corner of the blank page. Then he advanced the drum a couple of lines and finished sentence from the previous page. They’d been at this all day and were on page nineteen. It grew quiet again. The boy waited, his fingers poised above the keys, for his grandfather to continue telling his war story.
The old soldier had been working up to this point all day. He’d recounted the day he’d enlisted into the army, and the boy typed. He’d talked about basic training and the long voyage across the Atlantic, dodging U-boats, and the boy typed. He kid was tireless. The laborious process of filling pages and changing papers was routine by now. Finally, they arrived at the hardest part of the story to tell and the old man wondered if he could really tell the truth of that Thanksgiving Day so long ago on the fields of France. It was both his worst day and his best day. There was nothing for it but to soldier on.
As if starting a new, unrelated story, the old man said “Time travel isn’t so hard, although I’ve only done it once.” He paused and waited for the surprised boy to start typing again. Their eyes met briefly. The boy looked at him with an expression of wonder and disbelief. He looked at the boy with whatever he had on his face at the time. Slowly, the boy restarted, banging on the keys with extra force so an impression would be made through the paper and the carbon onto the second sheet. His grandfather continued with his strange tangent. “I traveled a hundred years or so into the future, visiting my as yet unborn daughter, your mother, when she was just about the same age as I am now.” There was a bit of a pause as they both puzzled at the dizzying timeline.
“By then it was November 27, 1917, Thanksgiving Day, sixty years ago. We were charging across no man’s land somewhere in the South of France.” He paused to let the boy catch up. The bell chimed as the typewriter came close to the end of the line. Without missing a beat, the boy slid the carriage back to home place and continued to type. The typewriter operated with a now familiar rhythm neither of them hardly heard anymore. “We charged the enemy line” he continued, “and there was gunfire everywhere but I’m sure I heard the report of the shot that took me off my feet.” The bell chimed, the carriage returned, the boy continued to type as the old man spoke. “I tumbled to the muddy ground wondering at how I’d come all this way only to get shot, not making much difference in the war effort. What difference would all this fighting make a hundred years from now, I wondered to myself, as I lost consciousness.” The boy just took it all in and continued typing. “That’s when I traveled to the future: a hundred and two years into the future, but I don’t know how I knew that.” The sounds of the typewriter strangely imposed itself: ding, slide, clickety clack, clickety clack.
“I found myself passing through a home in a strangely frozen land. The aromas of a thanksgiving feast filled the house. I saw my as yet unborn daughter. She looked to me how I must look to you now.” He smiled at the memory. “She was talking to her grandson, my great grandson and your nephew. Disembodied, I floated past them. I could hear her say proudly ‘… I once sang for the King of Siam. …’ before I floated off. I smiled and wondered that a daughter of mine would be such an important singer.” If the boy had any feelings on the matter, he kept them to himself and continued typing.
“As I moved through the house, I passed in and out of other conversations.” He spoke more slowly, as if it took extra strength to recall those memories. “I could hear another great grandson intone somberly, ‘you don’t go into the realm of the robots’ before I drifted again. What’s a robot, I wondered? I moved into the sun room hearing my grandson say to anyone who’d listen, ‘it’s not just my favorite movie, it’s the best movie ever made …’ I wondered if he was referring to the new Charlie Chaplin movie, but then realized that would be in his distant past. Finally, I heard someone say “I don’t believe all that natural or whole food crap. Sometime, you just gotta open a can of whoopass” before I drifted up and out of the house.” The boy dutifully chronicled the whole out of body experience. He was there to get his grandpa’s story, so what if it was a little fantastical. It might make a good movie, he thought to himself, as he typed.
They passed page nineteen to twenty, and his grandfather continued telling his story. The boy pulled the now full sheet of paper out of the typewriter and placed the original in one stack and the copy in another. The thin carbon filament was just about spent. He pulled a fresh one from the waxen envelope and put it between another two fresh sheets of typing paper. The roller made a familiar click, click, click sound as he twisted the knob at the end of the carriage with one hand and fed the paper from the top with the other. Carefully, he aligned the sheets, locked the roller in place, and continued to type. Grandpa was getting to the part where he spent time in a French aid station recovering from his wound, before he was sent back home to the US.
At the top of page twenty-one, he finished the thought from the previous page with “I woke to the smile of a beautiful French nurse” before his grandpa went silent again. Silence stretched much longer than the previous pauses. The boy looked up to see the old man staring intently at the finished sheets in twin stacks beside the typewriter. He wore a scowl on his face, as if he regarded a bug was crawling on the pages. Maybe he was getting tired, the boy thought. His grandfather slowly reached out and picked up the last two pages. Was he proofreading, the boy wondered? He hadn’t done this before.
“Tell you what, Trey” he said, in a curiously casual voice, “why don’t you let me hold onto these pages for a bit while we finish the story.” He reached across the desk and picked up the twinned pages for nineteen and twenty, put the four sheets together, and gently tapped them on the desk to align the pages. Before Trey could protest, Weston began again, “French girls are so much more beautiful than American girls.” Distracted from the purloined pages, Trey turned to the typewriter and stated into the part of the story that really interested him.
Those pages have never been recovered.