“Do you want to go to lunch with us, Artie?”
“Us? What do you mean by us?”
“Rose is a girl I met. I’m taking Rose and her family to May’s for lunch.”
“This will give May something new to talk about,” said Artie, adding, “thanks, but I just ate. I’ll stay here and run the booth for you while you’re gone.”
Soon he spotted Rose in the crowd headed his way. He waited for them and then the four of them walked to May’s which was also located on the square
“So what do you do when you aren’t at the Lord’s Acre Day Celebration?” her father asked after they were seated at a table..
“I run Henry’s Automotive.”
“Henry died a couple years back. I used to take my pickup there. Did you buy the place?” her father asked.
“Henry was my father. I worked in the shop through high school and until I was drafted.”
“Yes. Signal Corps.”
“So are you’re not a combat veteran?” her father asked.
“Nope, I was not a combat veteran. No decoration here. I never saw any action. I was a radio operator.”
“Oh?” her father said, a judgmental tone creeping into his voice.
“Virgil, how rude,” Rose’s mother scolded.
“You could say that, I guess. I heard the war from afar.”
“How so?” he asked, placing his elbows on the table and leaning forward.
“I was a radio operator in Iceland. We, my fellow compatriots and I, relayed weather reports to aircraft that were being ferried to the European theater. Much of the radio traffic was probably coded messages. But we didn’t try to decipher them, even if we could have. But you are right. I never saw any action.”
“Virgil is my name. This is my wife, Anne. And of course you already know Rose,” her father said
Charlie was relieved to see Virgil loose some of his edge. The stern appearance seemed embedded in his face, but part of that was because of his bushy eyebrows and his handlebar mustache.
“Was it cold in Iceland?” asked Rose after a lengthy pause in the conversation.
“Very, and windy. And it was not uncommon to experience winds exceeding one-hundred miles per hour. But our quarters and our workplace were both comfortable, heated by natural steam coming from the ground.”
“Really? But when you were outside, how could you walk in wind like that?” asked Rose.
“We couldn’t. We had ropes along the pathway that we used when the snow or sleet was too severe to see. Sometimes had to get down on all fours and crawl,” Charlie explained.
May had been busy with other customers, but now she was approaching with menus and four glasses of water.
“Charlie. How is the message sending going?”
“Good. Better than I’d hoped for,” he replied, then made the introductions around the table, Virgil, Anne, and Rose.
May knew them, of course.
“So how long have you been out of the army?” Anne asked.
“Three weeks tomorrow. It’s been a busy time with getting my dad’s shop going and preparing for this celebration.”
“So you are you getting customers at the shop?” asked Anne.
“Oh yes. I learned the mechanic trade from my dad while I was still in high school. We worked in the shop together. So I had my own following.”
“I’m curious, about this radio thing. Evidently you had the radio before you were drafted, yet radio and auto mechanics seem so far apart from each other,” said Anne.
“They are. After Mom died Dad didn’t have a lot of time to spend with me. So he helped me join the Cub Scouts. One thing led to another. Eventually there was an opportunity to earn a merit badge by learning Morse code. My friend, Artie, and I – when we were ten years old – learned the code together. The Cub Scouts used code oscillators that produced a tone. Of course, the two of us, a couple of kids, we didn’t have oscillators. I’d read how the navy used lights to signal other ships during radio silence. So we used pieces of a broken mirror, and played war games, flashing coded messages to each other. It was all just for fun until Artie flashed a message from three blocks away about an old lady who had fallen in the street. I was able to call for help on the phone.
I guess Pete, the fellow at the radio repair shop, heard about our good deed. He invited us to his ham station in the back room of his shop. It wasn’t long before both Artie and I earned our Class B license. The rest of it is history, as the saying goes.”
He could see by the way Rose’s eyes were glazed over that she was not interested in radio talk.
“Are you out of school?” Charlie asked her.
“I graduate next spring.”
“Then off to college?”
“I think so. I’d like to be a teacher.”
“What would you like to teach?” he asked between bites.
She finished chewing her last bite before she responded. “High school,” she began, “I’m most interested in geography.”
“Ah, geography. I suppose the geography ties closely with geopolitics. That should be very interesting. In my radio experience, not in the army, but in ham radio, I’ve talked to dozens of countries. I can show you cards, QSL cards confirming my contacts from most of these countries. Some of them are pretty interesting.”
“Talked?” asked Rose.
“Well, in Morse code, of course. My fist does the talking, so to speak, no pun intended.”
“So they all spoke English?”
“No, not all of them. But with Morse we hams have a means of working around the language barrier with Q-signals. Most radio operators the world over know enough of them to hold a brief conversation. QTH followed by the name of his city and country tells me where he lives and the same for him. If I sent QTH Butler Missouri USA he knows where I lived.
“Oh my,” he said, interrupting himself. I need to get back to the radio booth.”