Archive for May 13th, 2011

13th May
2011
written by amber

Funny and True

We were in Brule when it was a prisoner of war camp.  My father ran the general store and he took supplies up to the camp every month.   My sister and I were always begging to be allowed to come along and he finally agreed, which horrified my mother.

“They’re nice boys. Everyone up there is very kind. You don’t have to worry,” he told her.

The German prisoners were working in a logging camp a few miles out of town, up on the side of the mountain. Gas was expensive during those years, so we took the supplies up with a horse and wagon – crates of food, cigarettes and other stuff.

When we arrived at the camp, things were very quiet.  A man in a uniform met the wagon. He had a scowl on his face and to us he did not seem ‘very kind’ at all.

“Where’s the box of shirts and pants?” he demanded.  My father dug that particular crate out from the bottom of the wagon and the man grabbed it, then rushed over to a bunkhouse.

My dad drove the wagon over to the cookhouse and we helped him unload the supplies, as no one else had appeared to do this.  But soon, many young men appeared out of the bunkhouse, buttoning on their new clothing, looking very happy.  They hurried over to help.

But the man in the uniform still wore his scowl.  He barked at my father, “We’re not paying for those pants and shirts!”

“Why ever not?” my father asked.

“Reinhold here did the laundry last week,” the man said, shoving a man toward us.  The man blushed and stared at his feet.  “And when he finished stirring the dirty clothes around in the wash water and went to lift them out, they were gone.  We dumped out the water.  Nothing was left but the buttons.  The men have been working in their underwear for five days.”

The rest of the men laughed, all but red-faced Reinhold and the scowling officer.

“Why is this my fault?” my father asked.

“Obviously, the soap you gave us was too strong.”

“Impossible.  It’s the same lye soap I sold you last year.  He can’t have followed the directions.  I’ll show you on the box.”

The officer said something to Reinhold in an odd throaty speech.  “I told him to bring me a box,” he informed my father.  But Reinhold didn’t move.  The officer commanded him again, this time more forcefully, and the young man mumbled something in response.

“He says there are no more boxes left.”

“He used them all?” My father was incredulous.  “That was a six month supply.  He’s lucky he didn’t dissolve his own hands.”

There was nothing anyone could do then but laugh.  The officer ordered new soap and speculated on why the previous laundryman hadn’t given better instructions to his replacement – was it a practical joke or a hope that men without clothing would be given free time?  The young prisoners prepared us a good lunch with their new foodstuffs and some of them showed us small woodcarvings they had made and the garden they had fenced off against the deer.

But I sure wish I’d been there to see that laundry tub dumped out with nothing left in it besides buttons.

The Story 365 project is a year-long marathon of short story writing, with a new story posted every day on this website from May 1, 2011 – April 30, 2012.  Stories must be a minimum of 200 words.  Please help me by adding first line suggestions in the Comment section.

Thanks to Mary Salzsauler for suggesting the theme and first line of this story.

This story brings us to the question, “What is a story?”  At the writing workshop last Sunday, we talked about the idea of a story involving change, usually a change to one or more characters in the story, or – in the case of a slice of life story – to the reader who learns something new.  Ultimately, we decided, a story is something you make up.

But today’s story, although I’ve taken many liberties with historical fact, is based on a true story I was told by a grandson of one of the prisoners. Writers frequently retell good stories, and frequently they place themselves into the tale, even if they weren’t actually there.  My grandfather, Frank Bond, used to complain that Andy Russell did this.

So here’s a new definition – a story is something you tell.  How’s that?