Clean as a Whistle

“Clean as a whistle,’ the slim, dapper senior in the aisle seat touched the top of my baby’s head. “Taking the tyke to see his grandparents?”

“No,” I said. “My husband was in Afghanistan but he’s coming home for a visit to Camp David.”

“Isn’t that where presidents hide out when the going gets tough?”

I surprised my baby and myself by laughing. “David was injured. Walter Reed is his destination. I guess I mixed them up.”

“Someone picking you up?”

“His mother and father.”

“Yours busy?” I hesitated to say how heartbroken I was because they hadn’t come along. He patted my knee. “Never mind. I’ll go with you.”

“I’ll be fine, really.”

“I never served my country and I’m coming.”

“But you must have plans.”

“They can wait,” he said. “Are you staying anywhere before you see him?”

“His folks live in Virginia.”

“Tell them your Uncle Denzle on your mother’s side will meet you at the hospital.”


“Absolutely. Here’s my cell phone number. When you get settled, call me and I’ll be there. Now I know there’s a difference between leading a horse to water and having him drink.” He squeezed my hand. “But you can count on a southern gentleman. Where are you from?”

“Santa Cruz.”

“People in North Carolina talk less southern than I do. That’s ‘cause I’m an Illinois hillbilly. Had to leave school to farm before I finished eighth grade. Never went to war. Too many kids by then. My brother, Orlando, died; not while he was in the army. He became a line man, you know, for the electric company. Reached out his hand when a line fell and that was it. Beautiful man, handsome.”

“You’re as handsome, I’m sure.”

“No. My face is too lean, but you are a kewpie doll. What’s the baby’s name?”

“Katrina. I’m Josie, Josephine Kerner.”

“Her skin is just as smooth as a flower petal.”

“Thank you”

“I’m a widower now. Know a pretty woman when I see one, too.” I smiled. “Do you have any uncles?”

“Mother was an only child and Daddy has sisters.”

“Times like these, a family member should be doing for you. Did you want to talk about how David was injured?”

“Head injury. Can’t speak yet. They say he’s going to be fine. I am a little scared.”

Uncle Denzle shook his head. “I can see you take your marriage vows seriously: ‘in sickness and in health.’”

“I did,” I said, asking for further strength.

David’s parents met the plane and I introduced my Uncle Denzle. He excused himself and told me to call as soon as I knew what time I was going to see David. I thought about not calling my fictitious uncle, but during breakfast David’s parents served up negative comments about my parents’ absence, so I called him.

Sunday at eleven o’clock we drove up to the red brick monstrosity of a hospital. Uncle Denzle was waiting on the wide concrete steps. I checked my watch. We were early. My uncle held my hand the whole time I was with David. I hardly recognized my husband’s face. He had been such a happy fellow, but now thick eye brows hid his sad eyes. He didn’t even look at Katrina. A nurse came in and took David away for dinner and we left. David’s father invited Uncle Denzle to eat with us, but he declined and told me good-bye.

In the restaurant David’s mother said David told her to tell me to divorce him.

“No,” I said, holding my head up. “My marriage vow to David included the words, ‘in sickness and in health.’”

David’s mother broke down and his father rushed around the restaurant table to hug me. “Make your home with us now, okay?”

Of course, I stayed.

4 Replies to “Clean as a Whistle

Comments are closed.