By John Yager
Copyright © 2004

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.

Part Six

"Martha," Marvin said on Tuesday morning when his older daughter's answering machine clicked on. "I'll call your sister with the details but I'm going to be out of town for a few days. I'll check in and let you know I'm okay. Love you," he ended and hung up.

"Hi, Dad," his younger daughter, Katherine, said when he called. Caller-ID, he hated it. A caller should be allowed to identify himself, not be heralded by some god-awful device.

"Hi, Kitten," he responded, laying aside his slight irritation with a chuckle.

"What do you have planned for today."

"That's why I'm calling. I left your sister a message and told her I'd give you the details."

"Sounds important."

"Well, not that big a deal," he said, playing down the whole thing, knowing she and her sister would object. "I'm going over to Carr to look for an old friend."

"You're driving to Carr, Dad? That's over a hundred miles."

"Well, yeah, but I'll stop at Thorn for lunch, so not too far at one time."

"Shouldn't you let us take you over a weekend?"

"No, sweetheart, I need to do this and I don't know how long I'll be. It may take two or three days."

Katherine was silent for a moment and he knew she was weighing her options. Should she try to talk him out of it, or just let him enjoy himself and try not to worry herself sick.

"Well, you know Marty and I don't like you driving so much anyway, but if you promise to be careful, I guess you have every right to go."

"Thanks, sweetheart. I'll call your sister tonight and let her know where I am. If I'm going to be out more than a couple of days I'll call one or the other of you each evening."

"Thanks, Dad, we'd really appreciate it if you would. I just wish we'd gone ahead and gotten you that cell phone."

"Leash, you mean," he laughed. "I doubt if I'd get any reception over in the hill country anyway."

"Well, probably not, but we're going to do it when you get home."

"Okay, sweetie," he agreed, figuring it was a small price to pay for his freedom. In some ways he was pleased they were so concerned, but he hated to give up his autonomy until he really had to.

Marvin had been up early and the car was already packed. He'd waited till the last minute to call his girls, and as soon as he hung up, he locked the house and pulled out.

At was just after eight o'clock and as he passed Mildred Long's house he saw her in her garden, doing a little work before it got too hot, he supposed.

He pulled over the curb, stopped and got out.

"Well, hi, Marvin," she smiled as he came up her front walk.

"'Morning, Millie," he said, lifting a hand in a little wave.

"You doing all right? I came down the other evening but you were out."

"Yes, doing fine. I just wanted to tell you I'd be away for a few days, so if you didn't see me around you'd not worry."

"Well, thanks, Marvin, I guess us old folks have to look out for each other."

"Yeah, seems so," he said. He did feel protective of her, knowing that she had no family close by.

"Want me to take in your mail and newspapers?"

"Would you? I know my girls will come by to check on them, but if you could do it, I'd know it got done every day."

"You're not going off with your family?" she asked.

"No, just me, and a lot of memories."

"Well, drive safely and take care of yourself."

He assured her that he would and was on his way again, making a mental note to tell Martha that Mildred would be getting his mail while he was gone.

- 0 -

The drive to Thorn hadn't changed in fifty years, at least if you stayed off the Interstate, which Marvin had done. The old road bounded over rolling hills and down into wide river valleys. He stopped in Burnsville for a coke and a stretch and then drove through the village of Thorn just before noon. He didn't stop, though, driving on west a few miles and then south to the Thorn State Park.

He'd been back there many times over the years, showing his family the wonderful old lodge and taking them on hikes along the trails he'd help build.

They had a room, as he'd assumed they would. The first rush of trout season was over and it was the middle of the week, so there weren't too many people around. The place was as pleasant as he remembered with its central lobby with high timber ceilings and huge stone fireplace. He'd have to come back in the fall, he told himself, when there would be a roaring fire.

The room he was taken to by a young porter was small by modern standards, but, like the rest of the lodge, just as he remembered. Two sets of double bunks had been replaced by a double bed and a small bathroom had been carved from one corner of the space, a luxury he and the other CCC guys had not dreamed of in the early 1940's when they all used the big central baths and showers at the center of each floor.

The young man put Marvin's bag on a folding stand and pointed out the bathroom and TV. It was a way of waiting a minute for guests to dig in their pockets for a tip, he knew, but smiled at the obvious and handed the boy a couple of dollars and he left smiling.

Marvin got himself organized, unpacked the few things he'd need for his one-night stay, and went down to lunch which was served in the same big dining room where he and the other CCC crews had eaten.

It was a pleasant room, much as Marvin remembered it, but a big porch had been added since Marvin's earlier days there. The porch overlooked the river and seemed to be the primary serving area, at least at lunchtime.

But before wandering out to find a table, Marvin's eyes were caught by a series of black and white photos which adorned the main dining room walls. He walked over for a closer look and confirmed his first impression that they were blow-ups of pictures taken during the CCC days, of the boys and staff, and the development of the park.

To his amazement he found three in which he could identify himself, one of which showing Marvin and Sam standing side by side, holding their picks and shovels, as they'd been working on a trail. They were bare chested and muscular; two happy, good looking young men. His breath caught as he looked at the image, remembering precisely the day Seymour Hall had taken it.

He proceeded slowly around the dinning room, looking at each of the framed images. While he could remember many of the faces, some were strange to him. Some he knew, but could no longer recall names.

"We're serving lunch on the porch, sir," a young man said as he came up to Marvin. "Can I show you to a table."

"Yes, thank you," Marvin replied, his voice a little shaky. He was shown to a table for two, next to the railing. The sun was warm above in a cloudless sky, but here on the porch of the old lodge, with the river below, it was as cool as if he'd been in the air conditioned dining room.

"We have a trout special today, sir," the young waiter said, handing Marvin a menu. "And fresh apple pie for dessert."

"How is the trout prepared?" Marvin asked.

"It's filleted and charcoal grilled. It's served with a baked potato or a green salad."

"That sounds fine, and save me a piece of that pie you mentioned."

"A beverage, Sir?"

"Just water now, but coffee with the pie."

The young man nodded and left Marvin alone to enjoy the peaceful view.

After lunch Marvin made his way back into the lobby where he found a schedule of events. One caught his eye:

Guided walk along the South Fork Trail. Bus transportation to and from the trailhead. An easy three mile hike over well tended trails. Excellent for those who prefer a pleasant walk over relatively level terrain. The bus leaves from in front of the lodge at three o'clock.

Marvin went to the desk and signed up for the walk, then went off to his room for a short rest and to change into more appropriate walking shoes. He hadn't brought real hiking boots, but as he remembered the trail a pair of steady brogues would do nicely.

The trail was very much as Marvin had remembered it. He was even glad for the frequent stops while the young man serving as guide to the group of twenty or so mostly middle-aged and older walkers explained various features of the flora and fauna.

One stop was especially poignant. They paused for several minutes at a point where the path overlooked the rushing stream below. Marvin was glad the young guide had nothing to say, instead remaining silent while his charges stood quietly looking down at the sparkling water rushing over a succession of large stones.

That night Marvin remembered to call his daughter before dinner, getting the scolding he expected, but teasing her out of it by telling her he'd been on a long hike through the woods. He didn't bother to add that it hadn't really been that long and he'd been well seen to.

After a light meal, he went off to bed and slept soundly, more soundly than he had for months.

On Wednesday morning Marvin woke early, packed his bag and went off to the dining room for a big breakfast. The standard fare seemed to be two eggs, bacon, fresh baked biscuits and juice. Accompanied by a generous supply of hot coffee, Marvin felt as if he'd gotten the day off to an excellent start.

By eight-thirty he'd checked out, put his bag in his car, and headed on west.

- 0 -

It was fifty-three miles to Carr, a sign told him as he pulled back onto the main road. Even with a stop for gas, he was there by ten.

He'd studied the map and knew the state park was east of the town of Carr. He saw the sign for it as he descended a steep hill and took the side road to the right. Like the park at Thad, Carr State Park was about five miles off the highway in a beautiful wooded valley. As he pulled into a central parking area he realized he'd never been there before. This was the place Sam had spent his last days and it had taken Marvin over fifty years to see it.

The lodge was larger than the one at Thad but like it, built entirely of log and stone, and similar in style, though with its own character. He remembered reading that no two lodges built by the CCC during the 1930's and early 40's were exactly alike.

He got a room and settled in, then headed back to the main road and proceeded on west another five miles to the little town of Thad. It was smaller than Carr and it didn't take him long to find the cemetery. Once there, however, it didn't look at all as he remembered it and he soon discovered that he had no idea where to look for the section where Sam and the other CCC boys were buried.

He'd remembered the cemetery being shaded by a large number of fine old trees, but the place where he now stood seemed barren. There was an alley of young trees along the central drive and a good many others scattered around the grounds, but they were all young and spindly and looked as if they needed a good watering.

He returned to the gate in frustration but managed to find a sign with a telephone number and name.

"This is Carl," the deep male voice answered when Marvin called from a gas station a few blocks from the cemetery.

"Mr. Lewis," Marvin began, introducing himself and then saying, "I saw the placard at the cemetery, saying you were in charge."

"Yes, that's me," Carl responded with a little chuckle in his voice. "Somebody's got to do it."

"So would you have records of burial plots?"

"Yes, they're here at the house."

"Could you help me find a specific grave?"

"Sure, come on around." He gave Marvin directions to a place just across the road from the cemetery itself and within half an hour, the two elderly men were pouring over the old PLAT book and the more recent card files.

"That's really odd," Carl said after they'd been through all the indexes. "Boboli isn't a name I ever heard around here. It should stand out."

"He was a member of the CCC contingency up at the state park. Is there any way that could help," Marvin suddenly thought to ask.

"Hum, it might," Carl said thoughtfully. "We could look in the list of owners of burial plots."

Within another ten minutes they'd found it.

"Plot Sixty-one, Row six," Carl read. "That's got to be it, although there are no names recorded. It's back in the north part of the cemetery, right against the fence."

"Who is listed as the owner?" Marvin asked.

"The State Forestry Service," Carl said. "When you said your friend was in the CCC, that was the first thing that came to mind. They ran the CCC camp here back before the war. I wonder if they even know they own that plot?"

They walked back across the road to the cemetery. "I remember this place being filled with huge trees," Marvin commented as they walked along the central drive.

"Yep, quite a grove, probably dating back a hundred years, then we got a big storm about five years ago and they all came down, every last one of them. I guess they were too old and too brittle to withstand a hard blow."

"Well, that explains it," Marvin said. "Too bad."

"Yeah, and then the cemetery board decided to plant all these new maples. It will take them another fifty years to reach any kind of height, but they'll be beautiful when they are mature. I tried to convince them to plant a mixture of trees, including some faster growing varieties, but they only wanted maples, for the fall colors, you know."

"Yes, in time, it will be a beautiful place again," Marvin agreed.

"But in our lifetime it will look like a veritable desert."

They walked on back to the very last row of graves. In almost the very center of the row was an open area, properly mown, but with no visible stones or markers.

"This has to be it," Carl said, scratching his head. "I wonder if there might have been flat stones and they've just settled into the soil and been overgrown?"

The two men walked around poking at the thick sod and within a few minutes found what looked like an old and crumbling concrete slab, completely covered by the thick, but well mown grass.

"I'll be right back," Carl said, heading back to his house. By the time he returned carrying a spade and a couple of garden trawls, Marvin had pulled the grass away to reveal a cast concrete slab about two feet long and a foot and a half wide. It was cracked into three rough pieces held together by the roots of the thick sod.

On it, in recessed letters was written Turner G.

Carl stood looking at the slab and then moved a few paces to his left. "If there are three graves here and they are equally spaced, I'd guess that one is the center of the three going by the placement of the adjacent plots. If I'm right, one of them should be on each side, probably about here and just beyond where you're standing.

Using the spade to gently prod the sod, Carl soon hit what sounded like a stone or more concrete. Marvin knelt down and, using one of Carl's trawls, stripped the grass away to reveal another slab, this one reading Boboli S.

While Marvin looked at the humble concrete marker, Carl strode over to the other side of the plot and continued his explorations. Within a few minutes he'd dug away the dirt from the third of the three markers, this one reading Grey R.

The two men stood there silently for a few minutes looking at the three markers, each of which represented a person, who'd lived and loved and been loved, but were now all but forgotten, lying at the back of a remote cemetery.

After a few minutes Marvin roused himself and turned to Carl. "Can you tell me where the district Forestry office is located?"

- 0 -

Two hours later Marvin was sitting in the office of the district superintendent for the State Forestry Service, a mile or so east of the village of Carr. He'd gone right by the building, he realized, when he'd driven from the park to the village earlier, but hadn't even noticed it, set back as it was, in a grove of fine old trees.

"Yes, I see you were stationed at Thorn, Mr. Hartley," the young district superintendent, Calvin Stanford, according to the placard on his desk, was saying as he looked up from an old bound volume, a history of the CCC.

"Yes, and Sam Boboli was assigned to the Thorn camp as well, before being transferred here to Carr."

"I assume he was a good friend of yours."

"My best friend."

"But you didn't know the others?"

"No, just Sam, but I and a few others from Thorn were over here for the graveside service when they were buried."

"You know, Mr. Hartley, I never saw that file on the cemetery plot before, not until you came in here asking about it and my secretary found it. I had no idea we even owned the plot, or that those deaths and burials had occurred."

"Of course not," Marvin said understanding the man's embarrassment. "You weren't even born when all that occurred."

"Well, how is it we can help you?"

"The grave markers for Sam and the other boys were made of cast concrete and have so completely deteriorated that we could hardly find them. In fact, they'd sunk in to the soil and been overgrown with sod. The gentleman in charge of the cemetery and I had to scrape away the grass and soil to find them, and at least one of them is badly broken up. I think they will be completely gone in a few years."

"And you think something should be done to replace them."

"Yes, and I'd be willing to pay for the new gravestones."

"Hum," the man said, rolling his chair back from his government-issue desk and looking out the window at the dark woods. "That's very generous of you, but I wonder if we couldn't do something more than that."

"What are you thinking," Marvin asked.

"Would you give me a few days, Mr. Hartley, maybe a week. It seems to me I saw something recently in a forestry journal about efforts to erect monuments to the CCC. I'd like to make a few enquiries. If you'd give me your address and phone number, I'd be glad to contact you as soon as I've talked to my superiors."

"Certainly," Marvin agreed. The graves had gone untended for years, he reasoned, and a few more weeks could hardly matter.

- 0 -

"Well, Dad, we're just relieved you're home," his older daughter said the next afternoon when he called to say he was back.

There was a renewed lightness in Marvin's step when he joined his family for church the following Sunday. He felt as if he'd accomplished something, or at least gotten something started. Even though he didn't mention it to anyone else, he felt a certain sense of pride.

Sam and the other boys who'd died while serving in the CCC should be remembered and perhaps his offer to pay for new gravestones would encourage others to do something as well.

- 0 -

"Mr. Hartley?" the man said when Marvin answered the phone one morning a week later. "This is Cal Stanford, the superintendent at Carr."

"Yes, Mr. Stanford?"

"We're forming a committee to work on that project you suggested. We'd like for you to serve as its honorary chair."

Marvin was silent for a moment, wondering what sort of Pandora's Box he might have opened. From his long years in business, he had little faith in committees.

"That's kind of you, but I'd not imagined all this would be so complicated. I was just offering to pay for new gravestones."

"I think you'll like what we have in mind, Sir," the younger man said. "Would you be willing to just come to an organizational meeting here next Wednesday?"

"Well, I suppose I could do that."

"Great, Sir. We'll put you up at the Carr State Park lodge, as our guest. In fact, we're planning to have the meeting there."

To be continued