The Sprit of Whiskey River

Bob “Bogey” Bartholomew trusted Cheri Smith immensely. It was either that or he would have to come back to the bar each night and close it himself. Cheri wiped down the last of Bogey’s tables, thinking about high school and the upcoming weekend. Just over five years ago, twenty-five out of the twenty-eight Tigers who had left Whiskey River for greener pastures, made the trip back for their ten-year reunion. Five years had now passed since then, and once again they would be returning for a reunion—gathering at Bogey’s—comparing their lives to Cheri’s.

Of the thirty-five people who had graduated from the class of ’89, only five decided to remain in the area. Except for two, the others were scattered around the country. Of those two, one died in a car crash the night before he was to get married. The other never made it back from Kuwait. It was a tragic spring and an even more tragic summer. To make matters worse, they were brothers. The Smith twins, people said, always seemed to do things together.

When she was growing up, Cheri Smith never envisioned she’d be a widow to a war hero. The marriage came and went in less than six months. But now, looking back, it seemed more like an instant. They had known each other since childhood and became high-school sweethearts.

Cheri couldn’t help think that if this time was like the last one, her classmates would be uncovering more bad memories for her than good ones. They seemed to be genuinely sensitive about Danny, but little else. By Sunday afternoon Cheri was hoping things could get back to normal.

It was hard to believe that so much time had passed since they all had last been there. It was her first year bartending for Bogey. Oh, how she couldn’t wait for the fun to begin. Oh, how naïve she was back then. The more they drank, the more sobering it became for her. It was the questions they kept asking as she served them.

“Cheri, when are you going to get out of here? Did I show you pictures of my kids? Are you in between jobs? Then the inevitable, ‘have you found another Danny’?”

Five years ago she thought she had, at least for a few weekends. But long distance relationships are hard to keep going. Shane Ashby had returned from Montgomery for the reunion bringing back hopes and dreams, and promises of commitment. It was everything she needed, especially after listening to the boasts from her other classmates. In the beginning she considered it the highlight of the reunion. But as it turned out, all of the promises and commitments were one-sided. She knew he’d be back again and wanting to start over, but this time she was determined not to fall for it.

She locked the door to Bogey’s, then turned toward the parking lot. Under the lights waiting for her was the same car that she owned the time they had all gathered previously. She knew it wouldn’t take long for someone to make note of it. But time had passed and despite her car, much had changed. Sure the car was old, but she had a new home, and waiting inside was her new companion. Time could solve a lot of problems, she was thinking.

She started to pace across the parking lot. It was a routine, something she did without even thinking about it. As she approached her car she noticed a flurry of heat-lightning arc through the sky. She paused briefly to admire the kinetic branches as they clawed at the canopy of night. Seeing them suddenly rekindled memories of Danny. Of summers long past, when they had shared their evenings looking at the heavens, laughing, dreaming, and falling in love. She missed him. She wanted that feeling again, and slowly she began realizing that maybe what she really wanted was ‘another Danny’. The lightning stopped and she pushed her keys into her ’90 Ford Taurus. With a minimum of resistance, she unlocked it. Oh, how she was looking forward to the end of the weekend.

It took less than ten minutes for Cheri to make the drive from Bogey’s to 5530 Whiskey River Road. That was the address it was referred to by the locals, and had been for years, until the U.S. Postal service decided it should be called 5530 Alabama 11. Long before either distinction was made, it was simply known as the Chahw farmhouse.

She remembered as a child standing at the edge of the highway at the foot of the dirt road that led to the old homestead. Her father told her that the home had one time belonged to her great-great grandfather. When she was older she remembered standing there with Danny, who promised that one day, she would live in it. Although Danny had died, the dream lived on. When the home went up for sale just over a month ago, it was Danny’s parents who helped her come up with a down payment.

The home had a past that belonged to her family, but the land had a history that belonged to her people. It started long before the coming of the Lewis and Clarks, or the Smith and Wesson’s. When Cheri’s feet landed on the grass for the first time with her as an owner, she at once felt overcome with reverence.

Cheri drove down the sandy drive that led to the farmhouse. She parked and stepped out into a warm and starry evening. Just like each time that she had taken a moment to reflect on it, standing there left her feeling peaceful. Slowly she walked up the steps connecting with the landing in front of her entrance. Suddenly it didn’t matter what her classmates might say to her—she knew that there were some things simply more important. And that was something they could never take away from her.

She stepped inside, kneeling to greet her buddy. Tundra was born in the fall of 2000, and spent his first few years living in Fairfield. Until one day when he was out looking for love, and managed to get lost. A couple of weeks later he found a home in Whiskey River. Cheri spotted him rummaging through the trash in the back of Bogey’s Restaurant. After a bath and a week of unanswered classifieds, she finally decided to give him a name and fell in love with him. The AKC, she thought, was right. Pyrenees were great.

After an hour of watching TV with Tundra warming her feet, they both got up and shuffled off to her bedroom. At three in the morning it started to rain and at three-thirty she was looking for some buckets. Her ‘new’ place, she discovered, had some old leaks, but she was determined to not let them discourage her. Nothing was going to interfere with her love for the old homestead. She owed it to her ancestors.

Later, as she lay under the covers trying to fall back to sleep, her thoughts drifted to the reunion, and the singular question that she didn’t want to answer: “So, have you found another Danny?”