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Fiction #299
(published October 12, 2006)
Lester Gans
by Charles Langley
Lester Gans was five foot six and weighed 135 pounds. His compact frame concealed power that fooled several larger men who decided to "rough up the runt" just for the fun of it. He had worked on a shaper in a furniture factory until he lost the tips of three fingers. Then the foreman decided that he was either accident prone or was using the sharp blade of the shaper and the workmen's compensation law to meet unexpected expenses. He was moved to shipping.

Lester was a patriotic man. He loved "these here United States" although he couldn't have told you how many there were.

When the country went to war, he was among the first in line at the recruiting station. He was greatly disappointed when they turned him down."They could just widen the trigger a little and I could shoot with the best of them", he said.

Lester liked a neat house and at least two hot meals a day. He got them from his wife, Ethyl.

Ethyl was three inches taller than Lester and outweighed him by twenty pounds. In education, they were about equal. As to the states, Ethyl knew there was South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Texas and maybe a few more. She recalled one called Confedercy, that had come unseeded in the War with the Yankees.

Neither of these country people was stupid. It was just that more important things than formal education had taken up their lives. Ethyl cooked mouth watering meals with never a recipe and put up shelf after shelf of canned vegetables, canned fruit, pickles, preserves, and jellies.Lester, without a blueprint, had been able to remember the intricate cuts necessary for pieces of fine furniture.

Like all good hard-shell Baptists, Ethyl's hobby was work. She rose at four each morning, made a fire in the kitchen stove, baked hot biscuits, and fried up ham, bacon, sausage, or brains with eggs. After washing the dishes, she took her place beside the highway to wait for her ride to High Point, where she sewed buttons on overalls at the Blue Bell plant. She always filled her piecework quota and usually went a little over to help those not as fast as she. When she got home she cooked supper, washed the dishes, and scrubbed the bare wood floors until they gleamed.

It was evident that these two people, in their own strange way, loved each other. Though no one ever heard either discuss the matter.

Lester was a man of strong opinions, and when the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps was formed, he was outspoken.

"There's no need for the government to furnish whores for them there soldiers," he explained. "They should just give them more money and let them find their own."

Lester wasn't the only patriot in the family. When an overanxious recruiting sergeant fixed his attention on Ethyl, fully aware that she could never meet minimum educational requirements, she jumped at the chance to serve her country. He felt that upper level scrutiny would sort her out and that he would still get credit for one recruit. There was little upper level scrutiny and she was accepted.

Lester was devastated. He stopped talking to Ethyl and his conversation, previously in long supply, was limited to few words when he talked to others.

But Lester loved his wife, and on the day of departure he went with her to the bus station and stood, wet eyed, waving until the bus rolled out of view.

Then he went home, shaved, and put on his Sunday go-to-meeting overalls and a clean shirt. He removed his shoes and socks, put the barrel of his shotgun in his mouth and pushed the trigger with his toe.

He loved his wife too much to live and see her with that bunch of unrepentent women.


Let me say that, although many people shared the same low opinion of the Corps that Lester had, the WAACS were usually patriotic young women who were anxious to serve country or else wanted to excape the confines of their quiet life. True, a few were promiscuous. But no more than in any other collection of young women. They did a damned good job for the army and I respect them and lift my hand in salute.

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