It’s so easy to get caught up in your surroundings during the fall living on the west coast. The air continuously smells of coffee and aroma spices that add to the ambiance of the leaves and changing colors. Every experience in Ashland, Oregon during this time feels romanticized based on your surroundings as the sun sets and rises on endless fields and mountains around our humble communities.
Of course there’s always the chance that you’ve grown accustomed to the beauty of your hometown as so many of us have. That perhaps you smell pumpkin spice and groan at the idea of instagram posts made by white girls in beanies,or you find yourself wrapped in the daily task of life that has kept you occupied during the summer months, and the winter months before that.
No matter which category you fall into, I think of the same story and share it at this time every year as the summer dwindles to fall faster than we can tell. There is a chance that I tell it, and after reading it once, you never think of it again. However it could very well change your life.
Our story takes place in the glamorous 1940’s, portrayed through music with singers such as Frankie Vallie and hit songs such as “Tears on my pillow” that causes you to picture dancing with someone you love dearly to the sound of it.
Though I also wish to remind you the 40’s was also a time known as “the war years” with soldiers falling right and left for a cause everyone was unclear on. It was a time for endless love, as much as it was a time to get accustomed to saying goodbye.
Picture if you can a red barn standing at the edge of unattended farm land, all of the able bodied men enlisted, or in this case getting ready to enlist as a woman stands in front of the paint chipped doors that stand taller than anything she’s ever seen, having never been to a large city. Enter a man in uniform that walks towards her as if her life was a Hollywood spectacle, his movements smooth as he picks her up as a hushed “I missed you” is exchanged. She says a silent prayer in this very case that this was not a product of Hollywood, knowing all too well how an ending filled with loss was the only thing selling out the box office. She was not to be the beautiful woman dreaming of more, and he was not the man she’d spend her life trying to forget.
She finally had broken the silence, memorizing the feeling of Eddie’s eyes on her as she asked a question she was scared to know the answer to.
“Eddie, with so much to focus on during the war, do you think laying in bed at night you’ll think of me?” Her question lingered as the symphony of crickets began, the instruments getting tuned as if waiting for the signal to orchestrate the night of conversation lying ahead.
“Joyce, I know I’ll think only of you. Whether a bullet is leaving my gun and ending another man’s life, or I’m waiting for my next meal...This is the only thing I’ll think of.” He had whispered back as they watched her house lights turn out in the distance, both of them breathing easier at the idea of not getting caught on their last night together.
For a while neither of them said anything as Joyce reflected on her life and where it would go from that moment, her fingers moving up and down the gentleman’s arm before he spoke again with accuracy having her believe he had somehow listened in to her thoughts.
“I’ve spent the past 2 years of my life trying to convince you to be happy right where you are, and now I’m the one who’s leaving.” He had laughed, placing a kiss on her forehead as they lay on the hay of the old barn, a blanket placed earlier in the day being pulled over the both of them by Eddie as if to give his hands a safe place to hold her closer.
“I’m still not convinced on stayin.” She had laughed as they look through the cracks in the ceiling at the bright stars. The very stars being seen by the soldiers already deployed, and those already injured and sent home, sitting silently observing the state of the world, wondering perhaps if they could help.
“There’s nothing remarkable about this old barn.” She sighed leaning her head on Eddie’s shoulder before being shaken off as he took to his feet and rounded to the outside corner of the barn as she quietly followed, willing to follow his every whim for the rest of her life.
Slowly catching up to find him at the old tree, she saw it for the first time. A reason to stay right where she was.
She refused to voice it but instead slowed her pace to watch Eddie lean against the tree, waiting for her as leaves showered him with her unsaid thoughts that caused her mouth to go dry. The smell of the pumpkin spice that her mother had been making earlier in the day wafting towards them. Eddie’s blonde curly hair recently cut to look clean under his hat still peaking out the edges, having already grown to a length she could run her fingers through.
Eddie meeing her half way between where they had just been, and all that could be in next moment by interlocking their fingers and pulling her underneath the tree.
She had leaned her back against the bark as he had placed both hands on either side of her, his blue eyes and the blue of the moon combining into one as she had tried to memorize every scratch on his face. Her heart jolting forward as he smirked and slowly leaned in to kiss her, her mind begging her to never loose how it felt to kiss him.
After pulling away she trained her eyes away from his and let them sit on her pink dress, lined with woven flowers in the bottom as Eddie’s fingers curled singular strands of her hair, messing up the work he didn’t know she put into her appearance just for him, only for him.
“Now Joyce…” he had started clearing his throat before throwing his hands in his pockets. “I didn’t know that I’d get to know you so well.” he had said, his voice shaking, something that Joyce had rarely heard it do as she braced herself for what might be a goodbye.
For what might be the opposite of what she had wanted so badly to hear, a simple “wait for me.”
“We met through a friend that had no idea what they were about to set in motion, and from that moment… I knew I never wanted to leave you. The fact that I have to seems unfair.” He had paused, clearing his throat.
Joyce had busied herself looking outward on the field that seemed somehow different when Eddie was around, though she felt as if everything seemed different when Eddie was around. She had moved her blue eyes from the distance back to his face, their eyes asking each other unspoken questions as she awaited his next move as he rocked back and forth on his heels before lowering to the ground, and removed a small sliver band from his pocket.
“So, would it be ok...if I never did?” He asked with uncertainty, painting his smile that showed a hint of excitement in the moment. Joyce had lowered to her knees making sure to never let her eyes leave his, as her worries faded and she felt her head nodding as she crashed forward into the arms she felt so safe in.
She knew he would be leaving her, and his words were meant as more figurative than anything, as he had put the ring on her finger to crown the day as the best of her life. A small yellow leaf falling from the tree and landing on her hand as she held her hand out to admire the ring causing the both of them to laugh as she secretly stuffed it in her pocket.
There had been no place to post a picture, and no way to capture the moment other than to breathe in every inch of the way he smelled,to feel every amount of hurt in the loss of someone she got to say was truly hers, but also in the joy of telling her parents and siblings in the morning.
The leaf had crumpled in her pocket as they embraced, and stiffened as they made their way back into the bar hollering into the open field shouts of excitement not caring if it awoke the entire world. Before they had quickly made their way into the barn unsteady and unable to keep their hands off of one another, making quick work of removing buttons that had anticipated a night of not being touched. Both of them mentally checking boxes of what they had seen in movies or rather had expected to happen as they stumbled through movements that caused hay to get in their hair, and hair to get in their mouth. Finding the unexpected joy in the laughter and awkwardness that meant they were sharing a new experience together.
Sending him off the next morning had been the hardest thing Joyce had ever done, second only to losing him within the year as so many people had.
She had left quickly after the funeral to finally live her dreams of living in the new city, sending his family a christmas card every year, making sure to select one with a red barn on the front despite his family knowing or not knowing the significance of it. Not thinking of ever returning until walking past a coffee shop and smelling pumpkin spice through the streets of New York that had caused her heart to long for the smell of fresh spice hung from barn doors.
So she had returned much to her family's surprise, but overall excitement as she moved into the old cottage as her parents moved elsewhere to settle down and retire somewhere always sunny. The air being stolen from her lungs everytime she stepped foot in the barn to see the hay needles seemingly in the same position as the night her and Eddie had shared a moment together.
The creaking of the wood was the same as all the summer nights she had spent there as a child before bringing the barn down and building a new one to sustain the farm she now was in charge of.
It wasn’t until the barn came down during a wind storm,and crops began growing in the soil had she realized the 20 years she had spent in New York blaming her grief for her unhappiness she had accidentally slipped into auto pilot. Shifting the need to find happiness, to the need to get by overnight, not living in Eddie’s honor.
The idea of experiencing joy, just as freighting as the idea of meeting someone new, though the last words Eddie had scribbled out to her saying “If I am lost, don’t lose yourself without me.”
I write this story putting together tidbits from Joyce’s mouth as the owner of the coffee shop I’m a regular at. The tables are rumored to be made out of an old barn having stood during world war two, with their main menu item being a pumpkin spice latte named “Eddie’s.”
Joyce tells me he did more living in his 19 years than most could ever hope to do.
But my favorite touch to the coffee shop is a yellow leaf in an airtight frame above the counter with a gold plaque sitting under it reading “never to leave you, my darling.”