Everyone likes to rib me about immigrating to Canada after my time serving in the American military. What they don’t know (or maybe they do) is that there’s not much love lost between me and the Army. Trapper, Radar, BJ, and even Charles just like to tease me about not living out my days in Crabapple Cove, like I always said I would. I always respond that a tiny island off of Nova Scotia isn’t exactly a far cry from a small fishing town in Maine.
But really, of course, it’s because of a woman.
I met Katherine at a medical conference in Boston about a year after the war ended. Any lingering silly attitudes about women as doctors went away pretty quickly. I’d been looking for a breath of fresh air ever since coming back from Korea. She was my breath and she was Canadian, so I found myself changing my citizenship.
But that’s not the story that you came to hear. You want me to tell you about Wilby, and I’m happy to do it, because Wilby Island is as much a part of my story as Crabapple Cove, the 4077th, and Katherine Pierce.
Sandra Anderson, Buddy French, Walter “Duck” MacDonald. They were all delivered by either Katherine or me, right here on Wilby Island, and we attended to more than one broken bone before they grew up, left Wilby, and came back.
Broken bones are easy. Broken hearts are a different matter entirely.
Buddy was the only one of the three I didn’t worry about. I should’ve known better, but it seemed to me like the kid was born into a charmed life; good-looking, popular, good grades and the right family. I should’ve seen it first when he married a non-islander. Beautiful woman, that Carol, and whip smart, but she learned, like we all eventually do, that it’s hard for an outsider to crack his or her way into a small town. Buddy apparently didn’t know how to make it more accessible to her, and for a while they both looked lost, like people who come back from war and can’t figure out where or what home is supposed to be anymore.
Sandra was the one I kept my fingers crossed over all the time. It always seemed to me that she could end up on a good path if only someone would point her toward one. Maybe it was crazy to think; she was always going to go her own way no matter what. I think I underestimated her anyway; Emily has a good head on her shoulders, and while Sandra would probably say that she can’t take credit for that, I’d venture to guess differently.
It’s Walter who used to keep me up at night. Sometimes-too much of the time-you know things aren’t quite right, but there’s nothing you can do about them. When he was growing up, Duck didn’t look people in the eye much, and it got worse when the kid entered high school. I couldn’t have predicted how relieved I would feel when he returned to Wilby in one piece. It was unnerving, I think, for some people, because he started looking people in the eye, and it was hard to look back sometimes, because while Duck MacDonald may be a man of few words, his eyes betray a lot. And it’s not as if he’s trying to intimidate anyone; it’s just who he is. Sidney would have a field day.
I was proud of them, after that whole business with the Watch. Katherine and I never had children of our own, but I imagine that this is what it feels like, to watch them finally grow into the people they’re going to be and breathe a sigh of relief when they make the right choices. I’m not going to sugarcoat anything here; I’ll admit that I come from an era when certain things weren’t considered acceptable, and once I was as bad as anyone else. But one thing that war will teach you real fast is the difference between what’s important and what isn’t.
Katherine and I have been retired for a few years now, and we winter with all the other old-timers southward, but we come back to Wilby every spring. This is home. Across the street I see that Dan Jarvis has moved in with Duck. A year ago I worried about Dan. That fog that I’ve seen hanging over so many people seemed like it would swallow him, but now I see that he’s breaking through that. He walks taller, he looks people in the eye, and there’s peace, the one thing that everyone on this planet deserves.
“Where are you?” It’s Katherine’s way of asking me what I’m thinking about. She’s come to sit beside me and watch the sun go behind the clouds for the evening. Usually I tell her, and she listens to every word before she says anything. Tonight I just tell her the simplest truth. “Right where I’m supposed to be,” I say, and she reaches for my hand.