The Great Budweiser Bottle of 1937

Tommy Crabtree, guest writer

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“……..”

“My name? J-Jean Edwards Patterson.”

“……..”

“Last I checked, I’m seventy-six.”

“……..”

“No, I’m not visiting Louisville, I live pretty close.”

“……..”

“Yeah, I survived, I’m fine. Please excuse me, I need to go and make sure        my friend can say the same thing.”

* * *

Slam! I hit the ground with a thud. Groaning as I tried to stand up, I attempted to figure out why I was on the floor. Looking around, I saw a familiar mess. Miscellaneous items littered the ground, creating a junk-filled jungle with only a narrow path cleared to traverse the musty wilderness. In the corner closest to me was a bed, my bed; sweat pooled where a body had been just moments before. I’d had the dream again.

The dreams had started almost two decades ago. My son, my whole world, was drafted into the U.S. Marine Corp during the Great War. Not even a year later, a soldier arrived at my door to give me the news that Leo wouldn’t be coming home. Though I was told no details, a thousand different deaths played through my mind. Each one worsened my condition increasingly until I forced myself to forget. Unfortunately, my subconscious didn’t agree with my decision, and ever since I’d been having the horrific visions once or twice a month.

Like clockwork, I thought, laughing sorrowfully. Pain shot across my chest as I laughed, reminding me of my recent fall.  I knew just the fix.  I navigated my jungle and entered the kitchen. On my desk lay an unopened Look magazine I received in the mail. Beside it lay yesterday’s newspaper, praising President Roosevelt’s second Inaugural speech.  Since the beginning he had big plans to bring us out of our hard times. “People of the United States had high hopes that President Roosevelt would be able to solve all their woes” (Rosenberg 26). I really admired the man, and this one had been just as good as his State of the Union speech. The president had announced his plans to cease support of Spain during its civil war, and America had loved it. I stopped at the fridge for my favorite alcoholic solution, then dropped on the couch. When I was religious, a Seventh-Day Adventist, drinking wasn’t a part of my lifestyle.  But after the death and the troubling dreams — it all faded away. I snapped off the cap of my first Budweiser and prepared for a long day of nothing.

* * *

Ding-dong. I rolled off the couch in a daze, hitting the ground in a fashion I was growing tired of. The sun had arched further into the sky; I guessed around three hours had gone by. As I got up, I tried to find the source of the noise. Diiiiiiiiing-dong. The doorbell? I didn’t know that even worked anymore. I looked myself over: beer-stained clothes and a sock on my right foot with more holes than a Florida golf club. Good enough. On my porch stood a young man who looked to be around twenty-five, dressed in black trousers and a partially-unbuttoned white shirt. In his hand was a simple black Bible, the edges visibly worn.

“Good morning, mister! I’ve got some good news for ya!” the man’s already massive smile seemed to swell slightly with every word he uttered.

“I don’t know what you mean, kid,” I tried to intimidate him, but his smile only grew.

“Oh, sir, it’s wonderful news! You’ve been saved, and —,”

“Oh, good heavens,” I closed the door.

“Precisely!” the man grunted, wiggling his toes to make sure that the foot he shot out between the door and the frame hadn’t been desperately harmed, “You have the wonderful chance to see your Lord and Savior, your Father, in His good heaven!”

“Listen kid, that’s nice and all, but I don’t need whatever you’re selling,” I felt bad about his foot, but I didn’t want to waste any money on some silly pamphlet or book.

“Why, mister, I’m not selling anything! I just wanted to invite you to head down to our church next Friday, it’ll be January 22nd. We’re going to be sorting out food packages to spread to the needy here in Louisville. God knows we need all the helpful hands we can get.”

The enthusiastic man had a point. Ever since the economy had crashed, more and more people had been losing jobs, homes, possessions, you name it. I supposed it would be wrong to turn down the opportunity to help those who needed me. People like my son.

* * *

Thud thud thud. I jumped up. Relieved to find that the noise hadn’t been my falling out of bed again. I glanced around the room. Same old jungle, same old smell, but this time a freshly washed outfit had been laid across my dresser. Thud thud. The door! As my memory returned to me, I rushed to put on the clean clothes. As I hurried, I shouted out an awkward, “Give me a minute!” Today was Friday; it had been almost a week since I had last seen my new friend with the big smile, but no other man could put such an eagerness behind a simple knock. I tripped towards the door, pulling on my second boot as I went.

“Don’t you think a rain jacket would be helpful? You know, on Monday, “the Weather Bureau predicted that the Ohio River … would crest at about 36 or 37 feet” (Casto 88)” the man commented. Though clean, my outfit consisted of a simple white sleeveless shirt and a pair of faded overalls. I realized just how hard it was raining.  Water dropped from the sky by the bucket load, pooling in the streets and sidewalks. It had been raining nonstop for around a week; the storm was one of the largest downpours I had ever seen. It reminded me of the flood last year which had done a lot of damage, and I hoped that the storm wouldn’t amount to anything problematic. I nodded and returned inside to find my coat.  Absentmindedly, I began to hum the Marine Corp hymn, catching myself after I realized what I was doing. Returning outside, I began to walk with my odd new friend.

He introduced himself as Ronald, a zealous member of a nearby church. As he tried to shout over the wind and rain, I learned quite a bit about my new friend. Ironically, or maybe not, I soon learned that the man that walked beside me was a pastor ordained in the same church I had left so many years ago. We both shared a laugh over the novelty and grew closer as we walked down towards our destination, a lot near the Ohio River.

The sight that first reached my eyes was a bit anticlimactic. Instead of a large group preparing the necessary boxes for delivery, we came upon a small, mostly empty lot. A few boxes laid strewn across the ground, covered by a feeble canopy which sagged under the constant bombardment of the rain. The beating against the canopy reminded me of the marching of a thousand troops, and I had to remove my hood to talk to my friend over the roar.

“Where is everyone?” I was confused, as I remembered him telling me that around twenty people were supposed to show up.

“I don’t know!” He shouted in reply, “Everyone was here when I left to get you; we were waiting on the shipment!”

At that moment, a scream tore through the downpour from the direction of the river. Glancing at each other, we bolted towards the sound. As we drew closer, the screams became more panicked. I noticed water sloshing around my boots and realized that I was not merely running through a puddle. The closer we got to the river, the higher the water rose; my stomach began to do somersaults. The water lapping at my knees, we arrived at an old Victorian-style home. A woman was leaning out of the second-floor window, and relief flooded her face when she saw us.

“The door won’t open!” She shouted down desperately, “We can’t get out!”

Avoiding the door altogether, Ron and I leapt into action. Tearing off his jacket, Ron wrapped it around his fist. Then he walked to the closest window and smashed it in, making sure to clear the glass from the frame. Three children began climbing out of the window with their mother behind them. The current was strengthening as the water rose, so Ron and I each took a child in our arms, and the mother scooped up the youngest. The child and I locked eyes, and he seemed to trust me. I couldn’t protect my son, but this boy would be different.

We began to pull ourselves back the way we came, fighting against the murky currents. After a long, tedious journey, dry land came into sight, at the crest of a hill down a street to our left. Seeing this, Ron and I shared a warm smile.

Smack! A log knocked into Ron from behind, collapsing his legs. He fell back into the water and the current swept him down the street. He caught onto a rail on the porch of a house and swung himself up onto the patio. When Ron tried to stand up, he winced and fell back to the ground. I guessed he had a broken leg. Looking at me, he gave me a look that told me too much. I can’t make it. I wanted to argue, but the water still rose. I gathered the second child with the first, and we traveled on.

* * *

As I set down the children and turned to run back into the flood, a man called out and stopped me.

“Excuse me sir! Can I ask you a few questions?”

“Fine, but make it fast.” I wanted to get back to Ron as soon as I could.

* * *

“What is your name?”

“My name? J-Jean Edwards Patterson.”

“And how old are you, sir?”

“Last I checked, I’m seventy-six.”

“Are you visiting this area?”

“No, I’m not visiting Louisville, I live pretty close.”

“Are you alright, sir?”

“Yeah, I survived, I’m fine. Please excuse me, I need to go and make sure        my friend can say the same thing.”

I pushed past the reporter, desperate to find my friend before it was too late.

***

“Ron!” I called out. I had to rely on handholds to keep me stable; the water had risen as high as my shoulders and was pushing hard. I could see him kneeling on the patio, but I knew his ground wouldn’t be dry for much longer. He looked up at me, and I realized he had been praying the entire time I had been gone. After a few minutes, I was able to make it to his spot. Working together, we were able to pry the door of the home off its hinges, and I laid him on it as gingerly as I could. As I began to push him across the water, he lost consciousness which wasn’t too helpful. I heard a boat, and relief filled me as I saw a familiar interviewer reaching out towards us. After his crew pulled Ron up, he reached out for me. My arm stretched, but before he could pull me in a surge in the current knocked me off my feet, flipping me upside-down violently. I hit my head hard against the road beneath the water and was thrown mercilessly. Surprisingly, I was filled with a sense of peace. My lungs began to spasm from the lack of oxygen, and as the world slowly faded, I thanked God, grateful for my opportunity. After all my pain, all my sorrow, I was going to die a hero,

just like my son.

Works Cited

Rosenberg, Jennifer. “The Great Depression.” Thoughtco.com. n.d. Web. February 11, 2018.

Casto, James. The Great Ohio River Flood of 1937. Arcadia Publishing Inc., Sept 14, 2012.

Print.

Bibliography

Casto, James. The Great Ohio River Flood of 1937. Arcadia Publishing Inc., Sept 14, 2012.

Print.

“Ohio River Flood of 1937.” Wikipedia.org. n.d. Web. January 28, 2018.

“The Great Flood of 1937.” Weather.gov. n.d. Web. February 2, 2018.

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2 Comments

2 Responses to “The Great Budweiser Bottle of 1937”

  1. Sarah Liriano on March 15th, 2018 6:24 pm

    I love how you thoroughly explained how much his son meant to him, and how this effected his life/lifestyle. This vividly explained how much The Great War damaged people’s lives— and Jeans dreams. The adjectives and scenarios you used to describe how he was feeling were capturing and historical at times. Even though this sounds so sad, I love how he died at the end— he was in peace and knew he had died a hero. Very clever and well put together story.

  2. Nicholas Merchant on March 15th, 2018 7:02 pm

    I think you did a great job of describing the atmosphere of the Great Depression and the time after WW1. The descriptions really brings you into the time period and let’s you relate with the character more. I liked how the story shifted from the everyday life of an older man to a high stakes situation. I thought your story was very compelling and had an interesting tone.

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The Great Budweiser Bottle of 1937