Second Half of Life
CDR Jeremiah Fielding wandered around the Officer's Club shaking hands and slapping backs. This was the base's monthly 'Hale and Farewell' party—a party to welcome incoming Officer's and say good bye to those leaving. He felt sorrow, nostalgia and yes, even a little fear at the future he was facing. He had been in the Navy for just over 24 years. Tomorrow he would be a civilian again for the first time since he was 18 years old and he left home for the Naval Academy. He knew it was time to return home but he was not sure what he wanted to return to. Oh, he well remembered the hills and valleys, that special river and the quiet his family had cherished for generations. He knew he wanted to return to that. He just did not know what, if anything, he wanted to do for the remainder of his life. For the first time in his adult life he did not have a task or career facing him. He had never married and now he would face the loneliness being single in a strange place would be like. Always before he had his friends and his duty, his job, to keep him occupied. Oh, there had been women in his life. There had been a lot of women over the years and even one or two special ones but the one time he had thought of marrying she had demanded he get out of the Navy. He just could not do that so the relationship broke up.
Late in the evening Jeremiah was visiting with some of his fellow Seabees when the base commander cornered him. "Jer," he said. "I can still stop those retirement orders if you would let me. You're just too good a man to see drive off. You'll be on the next Captain's List for sure and then who knows? I can find you a job in my office if you would like. Hell, I can almost promise you a position anywhere else in the Navy if that's not what you want."
Jeremiah smiled at his friend and said, "Thanks Admiral but it's time for me to go. I miss the hills back home. I want to see the sun come up over the hills and watch the fog rise over the river for a change. I won't miss all the BS this administration is laying on us but I will miss many of the people I have worked with. I want to go back home and relax, maybe even find a woman to settle down with."
The Hale and Farewell was scheduled to end at 2200 hours but because this was also CDR Fielding's retirement party most of his friends and acquaintances kept on partying until the club closed. Being the responsible senior officer he was Jeremiah called a cab for the ride to his now nearly empty quarters for his final night on base and in the Navy.
The first day of his retirement, a Saturday, it was nearly noon when Jer struggled from his bed. He made his coffee and drank a couple cups while he packed his overnight bag and small suitcase with the remainder of his possessions still in the building. He filled his thermos, rinsed the coffee pot and walked out the door and into the second half of his adult life. He was halfway down the stairs walking toward his parking spot when he stopped in surprise. His truck was not in his reserved space. His first reaction was anger. He thought it had been stolen then he thought some of his men had, perhaps, taken it as a joke. He was in the process of calling security when he remembered he had taken a cab from the party because he was so drunk.
Jeremiah felt a swift surge of embarrassment and felt his face redden. He remembered how drunk he had become and feared he had acted like a newly commissioned Ensign at his first Officer's party instead of like a Senior Officer. He was ashamed he had allowed his friends...No, let's be honest, he had allowed himself to imbibe way too much alcohol.
Jeremiah set off walking toward the club. It was only a half mile and the exercise would do him good. Perhaps he would get his lunch there and he would not have to stop for several hours. He was walking into the parking lot when he heard a horn honk behind him. He jumped and turned to see his Master Chief smiling at him. He stood aside and the Master Chief pulled into the lot and stopped beside him. The young looking Master Chief jumped from the car and gave CDR Fielding a snappy salute even though he was in civilian clothes. Master Chief smiled and reached to shake Jeremiah's hand before saying, "I thought you would be long gone this morning Commander. I went by your quarters just before 0800 and your truck wasn't there. I was hoping to see you once more and wish you well before you got off."
The Master Chief looked around and spotted the large F250 Super Crew that belonged to Jeremiah sitting in front of the club. After seeing the dry space under the truck it became obvious it had sat there overnight. It had rained in the early morning hours and the underneath would have been wet if the truck hadn't been there for several hours. "If I didn't know better I would think you partied a little too much last night sir. It looks like your truck has been here a while."
Jeremiah gave a sickly grin and said, "Well, I may have had just a little too much to drink last night. Those Bastards plied me with way too much good Glenlivet for me to chance driving.
Master Chief smiled and said, "Yes Sir. I know just what you mean. Those nasty old sailors just led you down the path to intemperance didn't they Sir?" The comrades stood uncomfortably together for a moment then the Master Chief said, "I dream of retiring but when I think about actually doing it I get scared. I mean all I have ever known is the Navy. I'm like you. I never found anyone to share my life with except my buds here in the Navy. You have any plans for after? Did you ever worry about what you would do, how alone you would be when you hung it up? I mean Sir, what does a man do with himself when this is all gone?"
Jeremiah looked around him at the part of the base he could see. In the distance he could see masts of ships at the piers. He felt an emptiness gnawing at his middle and sighed. "Yeah, there's a lot I'll miss for the rest of my life I expect. There's other things like the BS I won't miss at all. Most of all I think I'll miss the people and the work we did. I haven't given much thought to what I'll do when I get home. I want a small place in the country where I can relax. I would like to find a good woman to finish my life with. I don't know what else I want to do. All I've ever known since I grew up is the Navy and building things. I just don't know right now."
The two friends looked at each other another short moment and Jeremiah smiled. He reached out and shook the Master Chief's hand once again then said, "Guess I better get on down the road. Take care Master Chief. If you or any of the other men are ever around southwest Missouri drop in. There's always a rack there for you. I will be happy to put you up for a day or even longer."
Jeremiah forgot about his plans to have lunch before he left. The first few miles he was thinking about the conversation he just had with the Master Chief. There had been a lot of loneliness and longing in that conversation. He was almost an hour down the road before he felt the first hunger pains. He drank his coffee and kept going, ignoring his body. He was in a world of serenity. For the moment nothing existed except the steady drone of his tires on the pavement and the deep throaty roar of his powerful turbo diesel. The miles flew past and before he knew it dusk had fallen. By now his hunger was intruding on his consciousness and he was feeling tired. At the next town he pulled off, filled his tanks and ate his supper before finding a motel for the night.
Jeremiah went to the hotel's cocktail lounge after he checked in. He sat in the dim light alone at his small table sipping his Glenlivet. He listened to the low drone of other conversations and the somewhat louder sounds of the TV's while he contemplated his future. He saw several men his age or older making plays for the younger women in the bar. He smiled and remembered how he had been in years past. It was Saturday night and the hunt was on.
Jeremiah leaned back and remembered the conversation he had with his Master Chief before he left the base. It had seemed like there was a yearning in the Master Chief's voice, a desire for something more than the Navy. In any event the conversation haunted him. All either of them had known since leaving home had been the Navy. Over the years they had been stationed together several times and they had built a solid friendship. They had been there for each other during times of personal sorrow and during the tough times brought on by the Navy or life in general. They were as close as Officer and Enlisted could be and not cross the line of fraternization. They had discussed his retirement several times over the last year of his career. Master Chief had enough time in to retire also and had made it plain that soon a decision to do so would be forthcoming. For some reason though there seemed to be a hesitation, something else was needed for the decision to be made. Jeremiah had tried to give advice, to help with the decision but nothing he had said seemed to be of great help.
Finally the alcohol and exhaustion worked together to force Jeremiah from his chair in the bar and to his bed. He didn't even shower before collapsing onto the soft bed. Jer just stripped and rolled into his bed. The next morning he showered, hit the free breakfast in the lobby and filled his thermos with coffee. Once again he droned down the road stopping only to relieve himself and stretch his legs in the rest areas until evening when hunger and the need for fuel and sleep once again forced him to stop. This evening was a repeat of his first on the road.
About noon Monday, his third day of retirement, Jeremiah drove through his home town of Steelville. He noted several changes and many things that had not changed. He felt strange driving down the main street past relatives' businesses and houses he knew used to belong to parents of his few school friends. He almost stopped at the Farm and Feed Store owned by Jim Fielding, his Grandfather. He could see his uncle's Veterinary Truck parked beside the clinic. Jeremiah slowly passed by the business and drove on out of town. He slowly made his way to the family enclave about seven miles from town. He knew most of the family would be at work but they would gather that evening to renew their bonds and catch up on family and neighborhood events when it became known he had finally arrived.
Over the next week Jeremiah took up residence in one of the Fielding Resorts cabins. He drove around the area, stopped in the local café's and renewed old acquaintances. Some days he spent on the stream fishing and evenings laying around the resort relaxing. The first weekend he was home was spent as were many summer weekends at a family gathering. His cousins Charlie and Jeffery Fielding were helping him drain his bottle of Glenlivet beside the river while their wives and some other family members cleaned up after a BBQ.
Charlie looked over at Jeff then turned to Jeremiah and asked, "So Jer. Have you decided where you're going from here? You going to stay around here or go to the city to find work?"
"I've had enough of the big city life I think. At least for a while. I guess I need to find someplace to live so Grandpa can rent his cabin again but at present I have no real plans. I would like a nice quiet place around here maybe on the river. Not really sure what kind of work I want to do but I will need to do something to keep from being bored."
Charlie glanced once more at Jeff then said, "I know of a little place downstream a ways that you might be able to buy. It's pretty hilly and only has about fifteen acres of cropland but there's several nice places a guy could build a house and barn. If I remember right it's about 50 or 60 acres total. There's a nice bluff overlooking the river and a couple of nice deep holes to swim and fish in if you were interested. It's what's left of the old Hendren Orchard. I don't know how many acres are still in fruit trees but I would guess more than half of it could be put into some kind of production if you wanted. If you didn't, at least it would be a nice place to build and live on. If you're interested Sally down at the real estate office in Steelville handles it."
"Dunno. Sounds like it at least deserves a look see."
Jeremiah thought about the land the rest of the weekend. It sounded interesting but he could not remember how it lay. He drove past the plot of ground on Sunday but the gates were locked and he didn't go onto the property. Monday he drove into town for coffee at the café. When he finished visiting he drove over to the real estate office and stopped. A very beautiful woman looked up when he entered the building and smiled at him. "Hello Jer," she said. Charlie told me you might stop by to talk about the Hendren place. Is that what I can help you with?"
Jeremiah was surprised to be called by name. He looked once more at the woman behind the desk and was confused. She appeared to be about 26 or 28 and had a wedding ring on her finger. When she saw his confusion she laughed, a melodic laugh that seemed to lighten up the room with her smile.
"You don't remember me do you?" Jeremiah looked embarrassed and shook his head no. The woman grinned larger and said, "I'm Sally Stewart. Dad works for your Grandfather in the Farm and Feed store. My maiden name was Johnson?"
Recognition dawned and Jeremiah's face broke out in a huge grin. "Damn Woman. You sure grew up didn't you? Heck, you weren't even walking when I went to the Academy. I don't suppose I saw you more than a time or two when I came back on leave. I can't believe you remembered me."
Sally laughed and said, "Well, it wasn't too hard. Every time I went to the store to see Dad your latest picture was right there on the wall with the rest of your family's military members. They always had a list of your most important exploits and accomplishments under it. Everyone in town calls that wall the Wall of Honor."
Jeremiah actually blushed and said, "Oh. I forgot about that. Do you mean they still post things on that wall? It must be full by now as many family members as are in the service or reserves."
"Yeah, pictures are starting to bend around the corner in front now but we all take time to look when anything new is posted. They even have another wall set aside for local kids that are in the military but not members of the family. It's almost a shrine to our hero's now. I know one of the young farmers that moved in made a disparaging comment about the wall of war mongers one time and he was invited to take his business elsewhere. Poor man has never been welcome back in the café in town either."
"Well, I'll have to go by and see this monument sometime. In the meantime, can we go look at the Hendren place? What can you tell me about it?"
Sally only had her car with her. She offered to go home and pick up her husband's truck because the land was too rough for her car. Jeremiah offered to drive his truck so off they went. Jeremiah spent nearly three hours looking over the land, trees and potential building sites. When he returned to the office he and Sally discussed prices and options. The family was asking $150000.00 for the 60 acre farm.
After the negotiations were completed Jeremiah purchased the farm for $120000 cash. Jeremiah had nothing better to do so he decided to do all the construction work himself. He still had the majority of his life's savings to draw on and could have afforded to hire the work done but he enjoyed doing it so decided to indulge himself.
The first order of business was to improve the road back to the home site and to get rural water and electricity ran back. Those tasks took three weeks to accomplish then Jeremiah began building. He had chosen a site overlooking the river at the edge of the bluff. It was protected from north winds by the bluff and was surrounded by large oak trees and a few ash, maple and walnut. The natural clearing he chose for the house was only about 100 by 90 feet but he didn't need a large house and garage so it would work perfectly.
Jeremiah began working on his new home in early May. He designed the building himself. It was set on a concrete pad and was 40 feet by 30 feet. He put a barn style roof on his building so he could put two bedrooms and a small bath and living area upstairs if the need ever arose. There was a large covered porch extending southeast supported on pilings overlooking the river. Downstairs he had a nice kitchen separated from a dining area by a breakfast bar. He had a large master suite with ensuite bath in the southeast corner of the downstairs and a living area on the other side. There was a 40 X 30 three car garage off the northwest corner of the house with three garage bays. The protected L shape allowed for a covered patio.
Primary heat would be a wood furnace. Jeremiah had licenses in all facets of construction so he did the wiring, plumbing and all carpentry himself. He did hire some of the heating and air conditioning done because he did not own the tools to crimp metal and do the ductwork.
The new home was completed just before thanksgiving and Jeremiah turned his attention to cutting wood and planning for the next year. He was taking some online courses and some seminars in preparation for operating the orchard once more. He also had plans to obtain some honey bees to pollinate his trees. He would sell excess honey. During the winter he planned to build the hives he would put the bees in. All in all Jer was happy. He was lonesome, missing the companionship he had while in the service. He found himself going to visit family frequently and he spent many mornings at the café and feed store visiting with the farmers.
Several weekends Jeremiah had gone to one of the larger nearby towns to get laid but he had not found anyone he wanted more than a one night stand with. Most of the women he had during his Navy career had been longer term relationships and he missed the companionship and just sleeping with a woman. He felt he was much too young at 44 to go to the local Senior Center dances even though he had been invited several times. He had gone one time and just could not get into that type socialization especially with women who averaged fifteen to twenty years older than he was.
His first winter did not go badly. Some of the nicer days he spent building a larger storage barn just outside the trees protecting his house and yard. He stored his larger equipment there and his completed bee hives and woodworking tools. One end of the building had been closed in with concrete floors to process and sell his honey and fruit. He had run water and electricity to it and was ready to go. Spraying equipment, a 40 horsepower tractor and trailer was stored inside as were his chemicals for spraying.
During the time the trees were dormant he pruned dead wood from them and tried to prune them so they would bear better. He did not get the entire 40 acres of trees pruned and cleaned up but he had made a good start by the time they started to bloom. He was happy with his preparations for his first year's crop and with his home.
Jeremiah had plowed a large space of about two acres for a garden. He planned to sell excess produce as well. In the early spring he ordered his bee colonies and got them in the hives ready to work. By June he had accomplished all his important tasks and was able to work shorter days and take some days completely off to relax. He was more fit than he had been in years and was enjoying his solitude. Jeremiah had taken to going nude around his home after his days work was completed. He was in the middle of trees and could not even see his neighbors home so felt comfortable in doing so. He was well tanned all over and enjoyed the feeling of the breeze blowing over his body as he relaxed. He even skinny dipped in the river if no canoes were in view.