Usual stipulations apply. All my stories can be found in the NIFTY Prolific Net Authors section. I also maintain a notification list. If you'd like to be added to it, let me know at the e-mail address below.
As always, many thanks to Andrew for proofing.
When you're eighteen and you've never
been away from home, life in the woods is a great adventure. Marvin had
grown up in town, not a city, but a good sized town. He'd been the oldest
of three kids. His sister, May, was two years younger. Teddy, his little
brother came along five years after May, a great surprise, his folks always
Marvin's folks had run a dry goods store and they lived in a little house behind it, facing the next street. The back porch of their house was just across the alley from the back entry to the store. As a kid, the house and store had been his world.
Then, in 1940, just after he'd finished high school, he joined the CCC, the Civilian Conservation Corps.
The CCC was one of the programs begun by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the early days of the Great Depression. It functioned from the early 1930's until the American entry into World War II. During that span of ten years or so, over a quarter of million young men served with teams in every state, planting new forests, building roads and trails and helping with the construction of lodges and cabins in state and national parks.
The program was intended to not only address real conservation issues, but also to get young, unemployed men to work, off city streets and out of small towns were there were few opportunities. The CCC is still regarded as one of the most successful components of the New Deal. It has also left a lasting legacy in the form of parks and forests which successive generations have enjoyed.
Marvin's folks had been skeptical at first with his decision to join the CCC, but the boy loved it. He was sent to a camp near Thorn, where a new state park was being built. He and the other boys in his group, over twenty in all, had worked under the direction of a group of older men.
When Marvin joined the team, they
were working on a large, handsome stone and log building which would
become the park's central lodge. But it first served as the crew's housing,
allowing them to move out of the tents they'd been in most of that first
In the fall they began clearing trails, cutting the fallen trees into usable lengths, with which they'd build cabins the following summer. The weather began to turn cold and they spent more and more time indoors, working on the interior of the lodge. They had six weeks off during December and January and Marvin had spent them with his family. Then, in the dead of winter, he and the rest of his group had returned to Thorn to continue work on their various projects.
The camp was run by three men, aided by a staff of five others who drove the trucks and an old school bus used to convey the boys to remote work sites. Two additional men, Pete and Stan, did the cooking for them all.
The food served in the mess hall was nourishing and plentiful, even though it was a constant source of complaint from the boys. The cooks were on a strict budget, of course, but they seemed to understand the dietary demands of growing teenagers and they prepared meals which contributed to their growth and development as they worked hard and burned huge amounts of energy.
Those few older men made up the staff
and, needless to say, there were no women at the camp.
The senior camp manager was a man named Pat Collins. He was in his early fifties and on loan from the state forestry service. He was a thin, rangy man who had a wife and nearly grown kids in Marble Falls, and he went home most weekends. Mr. Collins was remote, but fair, and the boys all liked him, even though they saw little of him.
Two younger men, both in their thirties, worked under Collins, and really managed the day to day work of the teams. They were Clyde Owens and Seymour Hall. Like Collins, they were both married. Each weekend one of them went home, while the other stayed to oversee the camp.
While none of the top three bosses, Collins, Owens and Hall, had military backgrounds, they saw their jobs in almost military terms. The most severe disciplinary action at their disposal was dismissal, and over the nearly two years Marvin was at the CCC camp at Thorn a few especially troublesome boys were dismissed. No fuss was ever made about it. They were just there one day and gone the next.
Dismissal from the CCC was no light punishment in the hard days of the Depression. The boys worked hard, but they were well fed and had comfortable housing. Left to their own devices, they could have well become part of the growing throngs of homeless migrants and ill paid farm workers.
The other young men in Marvin's group had come from diverse backgrounds, some from cities, some from small towns, and a few from farms and ranches. The one thing they all had in common was the lack of prospects. All of them were in their late teens, most high school graduates, and a few had received minimal vocational training before joining the CCC.
By the late 1930s and early 1940s
the economy had definitely improved. Things weren't as desperate as they
had been in the early years of the Great Depression, but for young men
from modest backgrounds the CCC was a door of opportunity.
From time to time members of the Thorn CCC crew were transferred to other camps. From time to time, new members arrived.
- 0 -
In March, 1941, Sam Boboli joined
Marvin's team. He was Marvin's age, almost nineteen, and had grown up in
St. Louis, in the center of the city. For Sam the area around Thorn was
a wonderland, a bucolic arcadia.
Sam never stopped exclaiming about the beauties of the woods and the river, and Marvin never tired of hearing Sam's expressions of joy. Even though Marvin had grown up in a small town, close to nature, he quickly realized that the joy Sam found in the world around them caused all the other boys to see things with fresh, new eyes.
Marvin and Sam were about the same height, around six feet. Marvin, at that point in his life, weighed between one-fifty-five and one-sixty. Sam weighed a good fifteen or twenty pounds more. There was no fat on either of them. A year or so later, when he'd decided he'd reached his full height, Marvin had a sudden, late growing spurt and added a couple of extra inches. Both boys were lean and muscular from hard work and their young bodies were smooth. But apart from those general similarities, they couldn't have been more different.
Marvin had sandy hair and gray-blue eyes, and skin which was very sensitive to the summer sun. With care and luck he could escape burning and would eventually take on a healthy, rosy tan.
Sam had dark hair and piercing black eyes. He never seemed to be bothered by the sun, even at its harshest.
As the winter ended and spring came
on, the boys worked more and more outside. As the weather became warmer
they first shed jackets, then shirts. Within a few weeks, they were working
all day in only boots and shorts and their bodies toughened as they became
ruddy and tan.
Marvin managed to develop a better tan than he'd ever had before but, with no effort at all, Sam was soon as dark as the one native American in their group.
The hard work and nourishing food were also contributing to their developing physiques. A year earlier they'd both been in reasonably good shape for high school seniors but, by the early summer of 1941, they and the other boys on their team had developed hard, muscular bodies. They were no longer boys, but men.
By the end of June nine cabins had
been finished, in addition to the central lodge. The cabins were arranged
in clusters of three cabins each, and separated by some distance in the
woods near the lodge.
One cluster was reserved for staff use. Mr. Collins had a cabin of his own, while Clyde Owens and Seymour Hall shared one and the cooks, Pete Washburn and Stan Conner, shared the other.
The remaining six cabins were
for use by the general public, but they rented for $5.00 per night, a sum
not too many people could afford, or were willing to pay.
There was also a public camping area which saw much more use. On weekends and over summer holidays it was filled with tents and became a little city of temporary guests.
The park itself was still being developed but most of the tourists who came to Thorn were there for the fishing. The trail system was still being developed and there was as yet no restaurant because the lodge was used to house the CCC teams.
The world elsewhere was falling apart, but at the CCC camp life was as pleasant, in a rather regulated way, as it had ever been. They heard about Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain, about the fighting between China and Japan, but they were safe in Island America and such things were of little concern.
- 0 -
The summer of 1941 was a peaceful one at Thorn and looking back Marvin could never remember exactly when he and Sam had become friends. It seemed, at least in retrospect, as if they'd formed some sort of bond the first day they met.
The other fellows in their group recognized their special relationship as quickly, if not more quickly, than Marvin and Sam had recognized it. The others accepted it as the sort of pairing which was fairly common among the boys.
Marvin also had trouble remembering
when he and Sam became more than friends. A great deal more time went by
before anything physical happened between them, but eventually it did.
One day, while they were working in trail, Sam came up behind Marvin and
touched him lightly on his bare shoulder.
Marvin turned and saw Sam, also wearing only shorts and boots, realized that it had been Sam's hand, and blushed. He knew he blushed, but he couldn't control it and he couldn't understand why he blushed. Had Sam and he touched before? He couldn't remember, but it seemed as if they had. They must have touched in the simple actions of their work, or passing food in the dining room, or even in the showers. It had never seemed important before, but now it was.
They were more than friends and the simple act of touching held great significance, great joy, but great danger, too. Marvin wanted to touch Sam. He thought about it in his bunk at night. He thought about it as they ate with the other boys, and when the played ball during the Hartley summer evenings.
Touching Sam became an obsession with Marvin. He conspired to touch him while they worked, coming upon him as Sam had come upon Marvin that first time on the trail. He'd wait for his chance, plan the situation, conspire to reach by him at dinner for the mashed potatoes, just so his hand could graze Sam's arm.
Once, standing naked by Sam in the showers, Marvin worked up his courage and reached for the soap in such a way that his hand grazed Sam's wet arm. He felt guilty and later, lying in his bunk, in the dark of night, Marvin remembered and became aroused.
The sight of Sam's bare body was soon enough to make Marvin's own body tremble. He knew he had to act on his feelings or he'd lose his mind. The thought of it was driving him mad, really mad!
How could he be having such feelings toward another guy? He'd always assumed he'd get married and have a family, just the way his father had done, the way all the men he knew had done. Now here he was, totally obsessed over another guy and it scared him to death.
Marvin had no idea what to do. He suspected that any overt admission of affection would offend his friend. He had no reason to think Sam harbored feelings and thoughts about Marvin which were so debased, so queer. Yet, despite the danger, the danger of being labeled abnormal or sick, the danger of being discharged from the CCC and sent home in shame, despite the fear which made his stomach churn, Marvin knew he had to find a way to let Sam know.
He had to say something to Sam, or give him some signal which would make his feelings clear. Then it would be up to Sam to respond. Sam would probably do nothing. He'd most likely just ignore Marvin's words or actions, marking them off as an anomaly, or a silly boyhood display, but if he did ignore his approach, Marvin would at least know that his friend had no interest in anything more serious between them, and Marvin, while he would be broken-hearted, would at least know his fate. He'd have to live with it, but at least he'd know.
To be continued