Finding Henry

(If you’d care to follow my musings, I’ve decided to use this space, for the time being, to workshop a character I’ve been thinking about lately, an ancestor, named Henry Fall. Little is known of his life, per se, but I believe once can surmise a lot and I explore that here.)

When the ship docked at the port of NJ, Pfc Henry Fall was almost home. The sunlight danced on the waves as the ship docked, and a US Army Major John Smith stood dockside, ready to meet him. The major was an honor guard, of sorts, having been sent to accompany Henry on this final leg of his journey to Red Oak, Iowa where his mother, father and sister were impatiently awaiting his arrival. It had been a long time since Henry had left them.

In many ways, Henry’s hometown of Red Oak was a quintessential middle American town, a picturesque hamlet replete with a town square that boasted a drug store counter where Henry met his friends for sodas during his growing up yeasr. There was the haberdasher where Henry bought his first boater; a new-fangled “auto garage” (that had literally replaced the old buggy shop) where he used to take his father’s Model T for service; a city hall where the townsfolk had gathered to send him off with a sea of waving flags; the music store that where he and his sister, Maybelle, used to by sheet music every Saturday morning; and of course, a silent movie theater where he had laughed at the antics of Charlie Chaplin all through his teen years.

Henry’s parents had settled in Red Oak with a group of fellow Swedes and, as since he was educated as an engineer, his father had quickly lent his skill to building bridges in the area. But the Germans, the Irish, and Poles had also moved here, and each group brought their own skill to the community. Many opened shops, others farmed, and for the most part, everyone got along, even though they attended their own churches, most of which preached in their native tongues. It was the perfect American melting pot and here, Henry had been reared and grown to manhood before he enlisted for the Great War.

The train lumbered across country, passing through railroads and cornfield until Henry finally transferred at Kansas City. After a three day rail journey, Henry and the Major arrived at the little Red Oak Train Depot where the major was greeted warmly by Henry’s parents. Some of the men from Henry’s old outfit, Company M, were there, too, and had donned their old uniforms just for this occasion. They were to be part of the procession to Henry’s home, the large two-story Victorian that awaited him on Front Street.

When they pulled up out front, the soldiers solemnly unloaded Henry’s flag-draped coffin from the hearse and carried him gingerly up the front stairs, through the doorway, and into the dining room which had been prepared for his arrival.

They set the casket gently on the bare wooden dining table. Nearby, were Henry’s portrait and flowers from family, friends and church members, all of which would stand like decorous, silent sentinels for the next three days. The soldiers saluted their fallen comrade and withdrew, and once alone, the family gathered round the casket and cried.

Henry had finally come home.