Funny thing about the service, you enlist, either voluntarily or compulsorily, you meet guys in basic and then in the additional training schools and then maybe in combat. Some of us are kindred spirits and some are not. A platoon has a sixty men, give or take a few. Aside from the Lieutenant and half a dozen noncoms and a dozen corporals, the rest of us were grunts, privates or maybe PFCs, as if it really mattered. Now you might be thinking who cares and you’d be right. The lieutenant has nothing to do with us and most of the sergeants don’t socialize with us. The corporals, well, we are ambivalent about them. I mean, their not noncoms yet but some want to be and thus can’t be trusted. But this organization is so screwed up. I mean if you get along with four of five guys they immediately splint you up into separate squads. Then next thing you know maybe you got to sack down with some fruit cake. You know the type, the one who didn’t play sports in high school or who the girls always turned down for dates. You know, losers. I mean, thank god your enlistment is only three years and you never have to see these yoyos again in your life. Every squad has got one or two and they always hang on you.
Of course every platoon always has some kind of nonconformist. In my platoon that was Eddie Ringo. I swear to god, that was his name. Personnel put him into my squad. Not like we had a choice, But the word was he was kind of a wild man. I tell you, we did not know what to make of him at first. We all thought he was the loner type, you know, unsociable and don’t want to talk to you type. I guess he was what Emily Post would call reserved. I just knew that he kept his own council. He and I got along well enough, not buddies like, but friendly like. We would talk if we had something to say. And he was real good at keeping our squad loser at bay. Vernon Waltrip was a poor excuse for a soldier and couldn’t keep his mouth shut. You can always tell when a man’s a loser cause he tries to bullshit his way into your company. He always knows a lot about nothing. Eddie just gave him a look and told him to shut up. Even corporals didn’t challenge Eddies look.
Sometimes eddie would talk about motorcycles. “Bill, when I get back to the states and out of this monkey cage I’m gonna buy me a Harley and see places. I don’t want to be tied down none, just want to ride like the wind and see this country of ours. ”
“Eddie, what you gonna do for money? A man got to eat and buy gas, maybe a room for the night. Besides, I’d think it would get boring after a while.”
“Oh I got me some money, been saving through high school when I worked in the motorcycle shop. Repairing and building Harleys and Nortons is easy for me. I can always get work for a couple of weeks. Funny thing is, I can always get a woman to take me in for a few weeks. No, Bill, I just got to go and ride, unfettered and as free as the wind.”
Well, we made it through our year in hell, not hits, no runs, no medals. Funny thing was that he got out a private and some captain made me a corporal. Typical re up for the bennies play. He needed to make his quota of reenlistments and he was falling short. So a couple of us got promotions we didn’t really want. One guy he made sergeant. I had no wish to be a lifer hanging out at the NCO club telling war stories. But the base where we were to eventually muster out was near to a community college and I took some courses in wood working and metal shop. Just the basic stuff like carpentry and welding and plumbing and electrical basics. I already had plans of my own.
And Eddie, true to his word, had bought his Harley and took some time to make a few modifications to that bike. Lucky dog somehow got an early out and roared out of camp early in the morning after waking me up. “I’ll be back bout the time you get out. Why don’t you come with me for a while then, so much to explore and do. Think about it.” True to his word Eddie came back the week I got out of the Army. Said he knew of a good bike for sale cheap. “I’ve already looked it over, nice bike, very good condition. What do you say, come ride with me.”
“No, Eddie. I mean it would be great but I got my mind made up. I’m headed for Bend up Oregon way. Already go a deposit on some land and want to start building my house. But I wish you the best of luck. Come and see me sometime, we’ll sit on the porch and sip some Jack Daniels.” I could see that Eddie was a little disappointed but we both knew it’d never work out. He had that look in his eyes you saw in feral dogs and cats, the ones that just can’t be caught.
So I kept my appointment up in Oregon, signed the papers on some land, small farm back off the road. Then I found some work down the road in a small town where I rented a room during the week. Mostly I was a jack of all trades. Did some welding, a bit of construction, a little roofing, whatever I could to make some money. And on the weekends I started to build my house and barn and work shed. Fifteen years later I was debt free and self sufficient and running a repair shop in town. Of course it helped that the bosses daughter fell in love with me and that the boss approved. Yeah, life was good. I never expected to see Eddie Ringo again except maybe by chance and since we’re off the main roads and nothing to attract tourists here, well it seemed pretty remote. But there he is at the shop one day looking like twenty miles of bad road. Eddie was looking like he was fifty if not older. He had a bad limp and an older black hair woman sitting in his car. I almost didn’t recognize him at first. I knew those eyes, toned down but still wild and blazing. “Eddie, it’s been a while. Quit riding?”
“So you noticed, Bill. Yeah, last accident really busted me up some. Totaled my bike, even the engine. Kind of grounded these days. You got some work you could toss my way? I need stake, need to get back into life again.”
“Yeah, as a mater of fact we are a little stretched thin at the moment. Got about two months backlog even with the overtime my guys put in. What can you do?”
“You know me, engine work, welding, some machining. I don’t do iron work but you are building skyscrapers here either. Busted my hip real good doing that in Spokane two years ago. Maybe you heard about it?”
“Naw, we’re a backwater town here. Tallest thing we ever erect is silos on farms within sixty miles. Know anything about irrigation pipe? We got six jobs that have to be put in before the end of March. And the mill has a couple weeks worth of fabrication work. As I said, we’re a little short of help. Got a place to stay? Marge over at Butterfields may have an empty cottage. Tell her I sent you.
“Thanks, Bill. Now you’re sure this ain’t no hand out. I won’t take charity.”
“Eddie, we’ve always been straight with each other. My shop needs the help right now. I just can’t promise anything more than three months, tops. That’s all. Besides I don’t think you would stay any longer than that. So get settled and come back. You and your friend can come to dinner.”
Sue was a bit startled when I called and said an old friend and his girl would be coming for dinner. “Don’t worry about cooking anything fancy, just keep it plain and simple, Eddie’s not one for fancy.” Eddie followed in his car as I led the way. Me and Sue lived almost twenty miles out, twelve miles of it gravel and dirt roads. The house is perched on top of a small hill overlooking the river valley below and a box canyon behind. It took me a while to build it. A lot of river rock, some timber, and cedar shakes. A large place, really, three levels if you count the walkout basement and garage. I’m still working on it. After a dinner of fried chicken Eddie and I sat on the porch with a couple of shots of Jack Daniels in our glasses while the his companion, a woman named Raven, and Sue sat in the living room talking about what women always talk about. “What made you take me up on my invitation.”
Eddie took a sip or two then answered. “I would have come sooner but never found the way until now. I’m headed down the coast to Grant’s Pass. Raven has family down there and I expect to pick up another bike there anyway, maybe. She’s took care of me after the last accident and I guess I owe her some. This is the first time I’ve had a woman along. It’s okay but she’s a drag if you know what I mean. Crimps my freedom.” Eddie took the scenery in with knowing eyes, appraising its beauty. After another sip of whiskey he spoke. “You know, if I ever settle down this would be the place. The place still feels wild.”
“Yeah, that was my intention. Takes too much energy to tame a place into civilization and then what do you have? Sidewalks and parking meters. I get enough of that in town. A man’s got to respect his land. Sue’s been after me to finish the barn so we can raise a few horses. I’ve got about twenty acres of pastorage for them. That old Fergerson over there has got a rear mower attachment and I just bought a rake off my neighbor down the road. He’ll lend me his baler when I need it. Yeah, in a few years we’ll be free of debt and taxes and unwanted civilization.”
“You’ll still be tied down to the land and a woman, Bill. My freedom is to ride like the wind. Nothing to hold me back. No ties that bind me down to things and people. Raven is a nice woman, but lordy, she is troublesome. She keeps talking about having a home and such. Too needy for the respectable life of being tied down to house and job and kids and family. No, just don’t need that kind of life. It would kill me.”
About six week later Eddie was down the road. Off to Grant’s Pass and points unknown. Almost a year letter I received a letter form a Sheriff’s office in New Mexico. My name and address were handwritten on the official envelop. Sue as astonished to see it on the table. “Aren’t you going to open it?”
“Don’t have too, already know what it says.” She grabbed the letter and tore it open. Then she started to read the words. “Don’t bother, I already know what it says. Eddie’s still running like the wind.”