Dave Bailey got off Interstate-81 at the Tom’s Brook exit and continued south on Route 11, the Old Valley Pike. He often did this when traveling to his home in Mt. Jackson, for the trucks on the interstate went too fast. On Route 11, he not only avoided the trucks, but also could take in more of the scenery. It was a gorgeous evening on this first Friday of October. The sun was already behind North Mountain to his right, but the newly colored leaves were still quite visible. Some folks even had pumpkins and corn stalks on their porches.
Traffic was fairly light. Everyone in the Valley who had to get anywhere had already arrived for the most part. Just north of Woodstock, however, an old car heading in the opposite direction passed him. Dave didn’t know much about cars, but he always enjoyed seeing old things that were still around and still functioning. Maybe that was because he was now 52 and increasingly grateful that he was still around and still functioning. The car was yellow, and huge by today’s standards, with lots of chrome. Definitely from the late ’30s or early ’40s, he knew that much. A Packard, perhaps?
It was probably headed to Strasburg as part of the World War II re-enactors’ camp held in conjunction with the town’s Harvest Day Celebration. Dave was really looking forward to seeing that camp. He had been to it last year and enjoyed it thoroughly, and this year he was taking his neighbor Ed with him. Some of the re-enactors even had their own Jeeps with .50 caliber machine guns mounted on them, but Dave was just as attracted to the labels on old cans and the artwork on old cigarette packs just as much. The re-enactors enjoyed talking to people such as Dave, and were happy to put M-1s and trenching shovels in Dave’s hands. They could see the gleam in Dave’s eyes, and they thought perhaps they might entice him to join them in their re-enactments. Without even reading that much about the equipment, Dave could tell the originals from the reproductions just by holding whatever piece he was handed. More than one re-enactor had been impressed by Dave’s ability in this regard.
Dave made his way through Woodstock, past the Massanutten Military Academy and the brightly lit and ever-busy Sheetz convenience store. He passed the Valley View Motel, which had closed long ago. It wasn’t a motel in the modern sense of the word; it was one of those really old motels with tiny individual cabins. Whoever had bought it most recently used the cabins and the grounds as storage, and there was junk piled up past the windows inside the cabins and junk scattered across the grounds. This night, however, as Dave slid by at 50 miles per hour in the gathering darkness, the grounds appeared to have been cleaned up. There was even a light on inside one of the cabins.
“Hmmph,” Dave said to himself aloud, and he wondered if this owner was cleaning up in order to sell it. Maybe it had been cleaned up to make room for a big yard sale. They were very popular in the Valley, and many people would be passing by these next few weekends on their way to fall festivals and corn mazes, and on drives to see the changing leaves.
Later that night as they were getting ready for bed, Dave asked his wife Elizabeth whether she had heard if the Valley View Motel was being sold.
“Not that I know of. Why?” she asked.
Dave explained what he had seen.
“Beats me,” replied Elizabeth.
The next morning Dave cut the grass. It took him a little longer than other people in his neighborhood because he used an old hand-pushed reel mower for all his trimming, rather than a power mower. That old-fashioned click-click-click sound that the mower made as he pushed it around the yard was soothing like an Irving Berlin song compared to the rock and roll racket of the power mowers. Finally, at around 1:00, his neighbor Ed came over as they had planned, and the two of them hopped into Dave’s car and took off for Strasburg. It was a beautiful day, and they rode with the windows down and the radio on. Both were big baseball fans, and Ed started fiddling with the radio in an attempt to pick up the Los Angeles–Colorado playoff game. As Ed pressed the Tune button, the AM radio crackled. At 790 on the dial, they heard the murmur of a crowd.
“That’s a baseball crowd,” said Dave, “not a football one. This must be the game.”
“Ruffing winds and delivers . . . and Slaughter sends one deep to right field! Cullenbine looks up and that ball is gone! Oh my, the Cardinals have tied it up here in the 4th.”
Dave looked at Ed. “That’s Mel Allen’s voice!” he exclaimed.
“Yeah it is!” replied Ed excitedly, “Slaughter? Ruffing? This is the Cardinals versus the Yankees in . . . ’42? ’43? 1942, I think. They must be rebroadcasting an old World Series game!”
“This is so cool!” Dave said. Much to their delight, the rebroadcast even contained old commercials for Lucky Strike cigarettes and Gunther beer.
They arrived in Strasburg with the Cardinals and Yankees tied at 2-2 in the 8th. They hated to get out of the car and stop listening, but at the same time, they were anxious to see the WWII camp. They did, indeed, get out of the car, and they walked a couple of blocks to the Strasburg Museum, which was the old train station. There, they spent the next 2 hours looking at equipment and talking to the re-enactors and snapping photos with their digital cameras.
They even spied an old baseball bat and glove strapped to one Jeep. A sergeant came over and showed them that the glove was stamped “U.S. Army.” Neither Dave nor Ed had seen an Army-issue glove before, and the sergeant, bemused by these 50‑something kids, unstrapped the glove and the bat, handing the glove to Ed and the bat to Dave, who held them not like historic relics, but like holy relics. Each took a little half-swing with the bat.
“Boy, they used war clubs back in those days!” remarked Ed.
“Wonder if Enos Slaughter hit his home run using something like this,” replied Dave.
“Enos Slaughter?” said the sergeant, and the two men explained that they had been listening to a rebroadcast of the 1942 World Series.
“Really?” said the sergeant, “I’d love to hear that. I wonder if it’s still on?”
The three of them ventured over to a sleek and shiny pickup truck that one of the re-enactors used. Hollering to his buddy for the keys, which were tossed his way, the sergeant stuck them in the ignition and switched the stereo system from CD to AM radio.
“Try 790,” said Ed.
The sergeant did, but all they got was an announcer talking about “Events in the Valley” followed by a Colbie Caillat song.
“Hmmph,” said Dave. “Game must be over. It was in the 8th when we got out of the car.”
“I wonder who won?” said the sergeant.
Ed laughed. “Well, the Cardinals won the Series, but I don’t know what game that was. We’ll have to go home and look it up on the Internet.”
They wandered over to a hospital tent that was set up near the rusty tracks behind the museum. An old caboose marked “Norfolk & Western” rested there amid the weeds, its red paint seemingly fading before Dave’s eyes in the autumn sun. They talked to a man portraying an Army surgeon for quite a while.
Finally, having had their fill of canteens and bayonets and canvas tents, Ed and Dave headed back to their car. They passed the front of the museum where sat a re‑enactor in a vintage sailor’s uniform. The scene, with him in his Navy blues in front of the old station was like a living photograph. Ed got into the spirit of the moment.
“Waiting for the train?” Ed joked, but the re-enactor never broke character.
“Yes, sir. Catching the 3 o’clock to Norfolk,” was the reply.
“Then where?” said Ed, playing along.
“Pearl. I’ve been assigned to the Yorktown,” replied the sailor.
“Good luck,” said Dave.
“Thank you, sir.
“Wow,” Ed remarked when they were out of the re-enactor’s sight, “That guy was really good.”
“Yeah, he was,” said Dave. “Really good.”
On the way back down Route 11, Dave noticed that there was indeed junk strewn about the grounds of the old Valley View Motel.
“That’s funny,” he said, “Last night when I came by, there wasn’t any junk in that yard at all; like someone had cleaned up. Now it looks just like it did before.”
“What time did you drive by here last night?” asked Ed.
“About 7:15, why?”
“It was probably the lighting. This time of year, the shadows get long; it’s hard to see stuff.”
“I guess you’re right,” replied Dave.
At dinner that night, Dave told Elizabeth and his two daughters, Leigh and Samantha, about the World War II re-enactors.
“The best part was the guy who was the sailor in front of the museum,” he told them.
“Better than handling the baseball equipment or hearing that rebroadcast?” asked Elizabeth, somewhat surprised, since she well knew her husband’s love of baseball.
“Yeah, there was something about that guy that just made the whole thing seem so . . . real,” replied Dave.
Later that night he sat in front of the TV clicking through the channels. He wasn’t really watching anything. He was really just watching the channels go by. The sailor kept appearing in his mind’s eye. Then a thought hit him, and he went upstairs to get the photo album of his relatives that his father had put together before he died. He found it and turned to his parents’ wedding photo showing his father standing there in his Navy blues. That was it. That guy reminded him of his father.
Dave started toward Leigh’s room to show her the photo, but it was empty; he forgot that she was out with her fiancé. He paused at her doorway and gazed at a trophy she had won for making the Minor League All-Star team when she was 12. He walked over to the bookcase on which sat the trophy and touched it gently. He had the strongest sense that if he turned quickly, that he could see—not in his mind’s eye, but could really see—12-year-old Leigh proudly placing the trophy right where it rested now. He smiled to himself.
Leaving, he ventured next door to Samantha’s room and poked his head in, but saw that she had her iPod headphones in her ears, and she was texting away on her cell phone.
He shook his head and took the album downstairs into the den, where his wife was busy posting comments on her Facebook page.
“That sailor,” said Dave, showing her the wedding photo, “reminded me of my dad.”
“Maybe he’s a relative,” replied Elizabeth. “We’re always meeting one or two new cousins a year that you didn’t know you had.”
Maybe that was it. His family had lived in the Valley for several generations, and maybe this was a relative.
Dave set the album down and returned to the TV, but he could think of nothing except the sailor. It wasn’t just that the sailor was familiar to him, it was his demeanor. Although the sailor’s uniform was perfect in every detail, even down to his shoes, Dave had seen such historical accuracy before. It was the sailor’s demeanor that was so authentic. He truly seemed apprehensive, the same way that someone who was really leaving the comfort of his home town for the chaos of war might feel.
Suddenly, Dave burst out of his chair.
“I’m going back to Strasburg to look up that sailor,” he told Elizabeth.
“At this hour?” she replied, “It’s 11:30! Besides, that Fall Festival was today only. Everyone will be gone.”
“Maybe some of the re-enactors camped out at the museum,” replied Dave, who grabbed his jacket and left quickly before his wife could present any more logical reasons why his return to Strasburg was, well, illogical.
He heard Elizabeth yell, “What for?” as he closed the back door behind him, but he kept on going without answering, mainly because he didn’t have an answer, at least not now. He just wanted to talk to that guy again. Here was a young man who understood how things were; how they used to be, Dave could tell. There weren’t many around like that anymore, and Dave felt the strongest need to find him and talk to him.
Dave turned out of his neighborhood and onto Route 11, passing a yellow Packard, which he did not notice in his haste. He passed the Valley View Motel, where the lights shone brightly from several cabins. Arriving in Strasburg, he drove directly to the old train station and parked out front. A few olive-green tents remained, but no one was stirring. He put his face to the window of the museum and peered in, but no one was about. He saw a poster on the bulletin board, one that he had missed this afternoon. It showed a line of troops marching with a train in the background and it read, “In Step With National Defense.”
Then, to his surprise, in the distance, he heard a train.
“How cool is this!” he thought, figuring that the train was part of the re‑enactment. It had to be, since trains hadn’t run through Strasburg at this time of night since the late ’50s. He listened as it drew closer, and then he could see it rumbling slowly through town. It sighed as it stopped outside the empty station. Lights inside the passenger cars illuminated several people sitting or stretching or generally milling about the cars. Many appeared to be in military uniforms, but the windows were hard to see through, covered as they were with coal dust and dirt, and Dave couldn’t tell for sure. The door opened.
No one got off the train, and no one emerged from the museum; thus, there was no one around to see Dave Bailey disappear from the station platform and into the steam and smoke of Time.