Alice the nomad
My name is Alice and I don’t own or want a restaurant. Maybe an auto repair shop or even a lawn mower shop someday.
Right now all I want is a little time to recover from the sandbox, getting away from people in my face all the time and sand everywhere. I want green growing things all around me and the sound of running water, birds flying overhead and singing in the bushes. I don’t want to have to put up with people and their noises and smells anymore for a long time.
Getting home and it is just as good as I hoped it would be and just as bad as I feared it would be. Everyone is happy to see me and want to hear about everything that happened. My father is complaining that women shouldn’t be in combat. Mother is crying about my scars, at least she can’t see the worse of the physical or any of the mental. My sisters want to know everything, but mainly about my love life and is there anyone serious. They think the scars are cool and I am still the prettiest one in the family. It doesn’t take long for that to start getting on my nerves and I have to get away.
I was able to last three days before packing up to head out, three times as long as my last leave home. I look up to see mom standing in the door.
“You lasted longer than I expected, must have been a lot worse than you let on.”
“It was, and I still won’t talk about it. Some things still hurt to much to relive by talking about them.”
“Your Uncle said it would be that way that you would need to find answers. Answers for questions that you are still searching for, he said that some questions don’t have questions and some answers don’t have questions. Sounds like his usual BS.”
Uncle, I have several uncles that have names, Uncle Pete, Uncle Willie, and a half dozen more. But, I have only one Uncle, no name just Uncle. I don’t know if he even has a name, I never have heard anyone use it if he does. Question without an answer or answer without a question?
“He called the day before you got home and said he wanted you to house sit for him for a couple of weeks while he is away for training. Asked for us to drive you down to the airport to meet him and say hello/goodbye. He has an early flight so we will have to leave about 3 to meet him. He is driving up and wants you to take his truck back. He said he will have all the information you need written out. He really wants to talk with you about your life.”
“OK mom, I will be ready to go early in the morning.”
Uncle wants to talk with me about my life! Knowing him he won’t ask any questions about what happened to me, he will ask about what I am going to do with the rest of my life and is giving me two weeks away from the rest of the family to think about it.
He won’t talk about his military time, doesn’t even say what branch he was in or how long he served. It is just a blank spot to the rest of the family. Mom says he was a Marine, Uncle Pete says he was Army; no one has said Air Force or Navy yet. When he found out I had enlisted he spent all of our free time teaching me what he thought I needed to know and after I was in basic he wrote letters full of more information that I should know that wasn’t being taught. He even signed and addressed his letters Uncle, lot of kidding from the others in the platoon when they found out. Until I started teaching them what he had taught me and was continuing to teach in his letters.
The end of basic came and we were getting our first weekend pass, a whole weekend to get away for all of this, I can’t think of the words to say how I felt and I could see that the other girls felt the same way. Most were talking about their boyfriends coming to meet them or some cute guy they had meet on base or some cute guy they hoped to meet. For a few substitute girl for guy, but the same hopes for the weekend. There were even a few others like me that just planned on getting a room with a comfortable bed and sleep the weekend away.
That evening I was called to the HQ hut and told to report to the Duty Officer. Lt. Sims was on duty that night, no one wanted to be called before her, she was the coldest, meanest, least forgiving person I ever knew. You did not want to do anything that would annoy her because she would get revenge.
I reported in, expecting a death in the family or worse. She acknowledged with a distracted “At Ease”. She said that my pass had been cancelled and I was to escort the lady. What lady? I had been in such a hurry that I hadn’t noticed anyone else in the room. The LT motioned me to turn around and there was the most perfect woman I had ever seen. She looked as perfect as a statue out of cold hard steel and just as warm, giving, and human. The LT said that the orders had been passed down through the base commander.
OK I am thoroughly confused; of course I was still a naïve teenager at the time. Compared to her I think that description still applies. No time for questions, she took my elbow and guided me outside to her limo, complete with chauffeur and body guard. More living steel statues.
Once in the car and on the move she smiled and said “OK boys relax” and the statues were gone, replaced by real people. Continuing she said, “Your uncle asked me to check in on you, but those twits running the place kept throwing up roadblocks. I tired of playing their games and let them try a round in my game.”
“Your uncle asked me to look you up and make sure you had a good time on your time off. As I recall when I was in your shoes what I wanted on my free time was a good bed, good food, and if I was in the mood a good man. My company has a suite in one of the better local hotels reserved in our name full-time. The hotel has an excellent restaurant. You will be my guest at my expense any time you want a place to crash. You are going to be a mechanic? I have checked the schools that you might go to and here is a list of the hotels near them where I have suites. Not a word of objection, I owe your uncle a lot. Is he still afraid of fires? Of course he is that is not something you get over.”
“He saved my life from a fire, he could have got out on his own and no one would have said a word. But, he didn’t, we hated each others guts before the fire. But, he risked his life to save mine. He claimed his pants were so wet that there was never any danger. I never forgave him for putting me in his debt, this is only paying off a little, a very little of the interest. Now, get out here is the hotel and they are expecting you, the concierge has instruction to take care of you. Everything except companions, for that you are on your own. But, that shouldn’t be a problem for you.”
When I got out the concierge was waiting right by the limo. The doorman was holding the door the concierge gave a little bow/nod of the head, and said “let me show you to your suite”. That bed was beyond anything I had ever dreamed of, and the bath did more things than I could imagine, I still don’t know what some functions were for. Just for the record, a bidet is a wonderful invention and I love the French for inventing it.
What can I say about mechanic training? It was wonderful, OK so I’m a tomboy. The actual training, not so much. But, being around some of the people there and learning the ins and outs of how things work and what happens when they don’t. Building things with my own hands and making them work. That is a real rush. I managed to get recognized as a maker and not just a mechanic. I worried for awhile that my Uncle was involved, but realized that even if he was I was the one who was actually doing. Others had helped teach and guide me, but in the end it was me doing.
First assignment, bleah. They kept trying to make me a secretary; I kept getting my hands dirty. Contacted some of people I had met at school asking if they knew any assignments that would be interesting. Nothing at first, realize now they were seeing how I would act in the real world.
Finally found out about a posting that was exciting, turns out a little too exciting toward the end. None of the work I can talk about and what I can talk about I won’t. Learned some interesting things, including what plastic surgery is like, picked up some interesting scars, found out that the interesting guys don’t mind scars and like the way I look in a bikini.
Out with a disability pension; don’t really feel that disabled but the pain and nightmares surely deserve it.
Civilian (?) contractor offered me a ridiculous salary to keep doing the same thing and be based out of Rome. I must have still been a little naive, I took it. Out of Rome is right, saw it four times as I flew in and out. Most of the time was in Europe, along the borders. Last location was back in the sandbox, nice safe area with all the comforts of home. That is if your neighbors are trying to kill each other and the water looks and smells like it has been through a horse at least once. One year and out and home, with a nice grubstake.
Anyway, drifting off a bit. Back to the airport.
We met my Uncle in the parking lot. He was standing by the curb with a roll-a-round and a young black girl. Neither of my parents looked pleased to see her, my father said he was surprised there wasn’t a couple of babies around.
Uncle gave me his usual greeting, picked me up and gave me a hug. Somehow I hadn’t thought he would do that he is old, big but old. And I am big, big enough that most guys have to look up and strong enough to change the tires on a deuce with hand tools.
He set me down gently and said “one of these days I am going to be too old to do that” and smiled.
He pulled the girl forward and said “this is Sonya, my housekeeper”. Then he gave a hard look at my father and said “she takes care of the house, not me”.
“Alice I need some work done that fit your skills better than anyone else in the state. I need some work done on a van I have been working on, I call him Floyd.” And then he grinned, everyone around that noticed that grin couldn’t help by return it. “Let’s go look at it while I explain what needs to be done”
We walked over to a bright pink van, an old bright pink van, an old Ford bright pink van. Getting closed I saw there was a strip of red poppies painted around the beltline. It struck me, no shiny chrome anywhere to be seen. Anything that wasn’t pink was poppy red; even the tires seemed to be red surrounded by all of that pink.
I looked at my Uncle and asked him if he had mugged Mary Kay? No, he said, just working on a plan. He said he would tell me about it later. First he wanted to tell me about the van and see if I could work out the bugs.
First of all he says, “it is a 1964 Ford Falcon van converted to a cargo van by removing the windows and filling the holes with sheet metal. The engine has been replaced with a 250 six and upgraded with Australian Ford six parts. Megasquirt fuel injections to get the fuel in. It has been set up to run on E85; compression has been bumped up to get more power out of the ethanol. “
‘Automatic transmission with add-on overdrive, fully independent four wheel drive pulled from a ford Explorer. Body laminated on the inside to make it bullet resistant.”
“The problems are that it will knock if not fed E85, there is a knock sensor but it doesn’t seem to be effective. The handling is not where I think it should be. The transmission needs to be upgraded or replaced to handle the additional power.”
“Can you fix it?”
“Yes, but it will take more than two weeks and it will take time and money to get the parts I need”
“Not a problem, you can stay in my guest house as long as you want. If you can source the parts we can get them.”
“Deal, I can use the downtime to decompress some more. And there will be downtime finding the parts and waiting for them to come in. Why the armor? Expecting a war?”
“Part of my plan and a precaution. Someone might think this is a pink elephant and shoot it.”
“Oh, I almost forgot. I also want it set up to live in the back. Enough for one person and the occasional friend. I will go into that in more detail when I get back, have to catch my plane.”
“Here are the keys; Sonya will help you get setup at home”
We walked him into the terminal and good-bys were said all around. His good-bye to Sonya was like he was saying good-bye to a daughter. Like my dad said good-bye to me after being home on leave. Hers to him was different somehow.
Driving to his home she was quiet at first, watching me and listening as I talked to myself about the van and how I would fix it.
First thing she pops out with was. “you are very pretty”
“Thank you. So are you”
“Thank you. Is the Old Man really your uncle? I have never seen you around before.”
“Yes he is my Uncle, I have been away in the Army and working overseas for the last few years. The last time I was home was for the funeral of his wife, my aunt.”
“Oh, that explains it; I have only been living with him for three years. My mom and dad asked him to take me in. Some men had taken me and some other girls away for a week and they were afraid they would again”
“Didn’t the police do anything?”
“One of them was the county judge and the other the sheriff, plus they had some deputies as well as some big shots from the city.”
“What happened to them? Did they get arrested? Are they in jail?”
“The Old Man and his friend happened to them. I heard he fed them to the pigs”.
It sounds like there is more to my Uncle than I thought. And, I am not sure I want to know it all.
“Why aren’t you living with your parents now? It is safe to go home isn’t it?”
“I want to stay with him. Home is safe now, the Old Man saw to that. He got a new judge and sheriff and they don’t hurt good people. I gotta ask you, does the Old Man like girls? I’ve tried to make love to him and he just says I’m too young. Others around my home have tried to be with him and he just turn them down, nice and gentle, but still no. He even turns down the girls at Miss Sally’s, our brothel. They want to thank him too.”
“As far as I know he likes women, after all he was married for almost 40 years to one. I never heard any different from my mom or dad.”
“Oh, maybe he likes someone close to his age, but I am still going to keep trying. He needs some relief, don’t all men?”
“Maybe he has outgrown it?”
“Maybe, but I am gonna keep trying.”
We spent the rest of the trip with her telling me about school, the teachers, and the boys there. What life is like in her home town, gossip about anything and everything. Getting close to Uncle’s home she turned to me and said that she had bad nightmares sometimes and needed someone to hold her, would if be alright if she came to my bed when she did? I said sure, but give me a little notice, I sleep naked. She said that was alright so did she. That gave me a little pause, this very pretty girl crawling around on my Uncle trying to turn him on and he keeps saying no. I need to get that image out of my head.
Uncle’s guest house is about the size of a large efficiency apartment, but it is detached from the main house. There is a breezeway separating them that is big enough to drive a full size car through. I had forgotten how big his shop is. The people he bought the place from had a truck repair business and the shop is big enough to drive a semi through and tall enough to raise a dump bed. He has added some overhead storage along the side walls and enclosed space for an office and toilet with shower since I was here last.
His blacksmith shop is the same as I recall, against the side of the shop, concrete block, concrete siding, metal studs, and sheet metal roof, chain link on the side toward the street. He said if people can see what you are doing they ignore you. He claimed to have worked part of one summer wearing only a leather apron and sandals before anyone noticed.
The handling problem turned out to be pretty straight forward. It was set for the Explorer that the parts had come from. The wheelbase on the van was about 2 foot shorter than the Explorer. Adjust the front and rear to account for the difference and it was like a different vehicle.
Setting up the Megasquirt was simple (?). Hookup a laptop, drive and tweak until it works the way I think it should. I set it up for economy at cruise and idle, with performance under throttle.
One of the many surprises was the Zena under-hood welder. Inside the van looked like something you would take on a short trip; bed, sink, stove, fridge, porta potty, etc. Storage was build-in everywhere. Some obvious and others less so. Sonya had to show me some of them. He had enough tools in there to repair almost anything and to make parts when they couldn’t be found.
One thing that I was embarrassed not to have noticed was a pull-out storage bin. I was the floor of the van from the back doors to just behind the front seats. Pull it out and the top provided a work table with 4 inch deep compartments inside to store spare parts and tools. Even with all the tools and spares for the van, half of it was empty.
I asked Sonya if this was more of Uncle’s plan. She said it was, part of business partnership he was going to offer me. And not another clue could I get out of her, no matter how I threatened or tickled her.
Speaking of Sonya, she did have nightmares. The first time it happened while I was there was the first night. She woke me up banging on my door; I threw on a robe and looked out the door. When I saw here I threw it open and bundled her up into my arms. She was a pale as she could be and frightened worse than anyone I had seen in a long time, even worse than me after one of my nightmares.
She told be that she had been having a nightmare and went to find Uncle, half asleep and not finding him she was frightened that the men would find her and hurt her like before. She remembered me, but didn’t know what was nightmare and what was real. She was frightened that no one would be there to protect her.
After that we slept in the same bed, she had a few mild nightmares. She was comforted by someone next to her. Her being there helped comfort me during my nightmares. We talked about our nightmares and their cause. That helped bring them out in the open where we could deal with them better and reduce their impact, just like my psych said it would. It was the first time either one of us had really been able to talk about them to anyone. She had told other about what happened to her, but it was like telling a story that happened to someone else she said. Not her story, so she didn’t get away from them. My experience was much the same, not being able to really tell what happened as it happened to me, I always talked about it like it happened to someone else.
Uncle got back after the two weeks; we picked him up at the airport. Naturally I was full of questions about what sort of partnership he had in mind and what my part would be. His response, all would be explained when we got home.
My plan was to keep peppering him with question on the way home. Foiled! I got in the drivers seat, Sonya started to get in the back but he waved her toward the front, said he wanted to lie down. He gets in the back lies down in the bed, buckles in and is snoring before we get out of the parking lot. I fume for a moment, but can’t stay upset, long plane trips have the same effect on me.
We get home, unpack, and put away everything he had with him before he will answer any questions about the business. At least he didn’t want a bath.
“Alice here is what I have in mind. The areas further away for the main traffic corridors are having trouble getting some of the luxuries of life and when they do they are outrageously expensive. Also equipment is breaking down and there is no one to repair it and most of the time no parts even if there was someone.”
“You have the skills to repair almost anything; I’ve seen that in you since you were a little girl and fixed your Barbie Jeep. And, later when you took apart the Jeep to power your bicycle. There are clinics that can’t help people because their equipment is broken. Markets that have broken freezers. Farmers that have a thousand small things that they could fix, but the parts are not to be found. “
“I have sources for the luxuries and some parts. You have the skill to make more parts on the road and still more can be made here or at shops I know.”
“Also, there are medical supplies that are not to be found, at least not for areas outside the cities. I can source those also.”
“It sound like a lot and it is, but someone has to do something. I think you are the someone that can do the most good here at this time.”
“How about it? Do you want to be the traveling Mary Kay mechanic/drug smuggler?”
Uncle had read me right. I wanted to help people to help theirselves. Some people would want a handout; I would give a hand up. If that wasn’t enough, tough.
Some people said I was mad to be doing what I was doing, some joked and some serious. I painted NoMad along both sides of the van in poppy red to give both something to laugh about. Soon everyone was calling me Alice the Nomad because of my wandering ways.
Enough for now. I need to get down the true story behind myself, cousin Lavon, and Hairy Larry our local Sasquatch (?).
Alice is a composite of various girls and women I have known over the years. Nieces, cousins, and unrelated. I have worked with several women that were much better techs than I am.
I debated between four different vans for the story. A Dodge with the 225 six, a Chevy with a 262 V6 Olds diesel, a Volkswagen 4 wheel drive Vanagon with water-cooled engine and the Ford I used. I don’t like the headlights on the Dodge, not to my taste. I wanted to go with a gas engine this time, used diesels twice already, might work it in later. Volkswagen I ruled out because the engine is more vulnerable. The American vans would all have a doghouse for the engine inside the passenger cabin.
More to come on Alice in this thread, hit a wall writing about her. Working on more for my story "After the Fall"
More in this world with some of the same people.