(So this is a snippet of the developing Luna City #8 – a long look back into the past, when Doc Wyler, Miss Letty and her brother, as well as the Vaughn boys were children, and more or less friends. Engaged in purely kid-interests, in Depression-era Texas, which included kid-pursuits such as all day out of the house, war-games and makeshift forts, and perhaps more… this was the early 1930ies, of course.)

“Where are you going today, Letty?” Mama asked, on one Monday mid-morning after breakfast. It was the second week of the summer vacation. “You and Douglas?” Sunlight poured golden into the covered back porch of the McAllister house. The bees danced among the hollyhocks and delphiniums in the flower borders which curved around the grand old stone house. Around the side, beyond the carefully tended sweep of lawn, the dust settled silently back in the wake of a Ford truck, which had rattled past the McAllister house, heavily laden with a load of vegetables for a market in San Antonio.

“Out to play,” Letty answered. “At our fort, with Stephen.”

“Just be back by suppertime,” Mama replied, looking up from sorting the household laundry from several baskets.  Monday was washing-day; not such a chore as it had been once, since the McAllister’s boasted a patent washing machine, complete with a mechanical wringer which Letty was absolutely forbidden to touch because it was dangerous. It could mash your fingers to splinters in moments. “Did you finish your chores, then?”

“Yes, Mama,” Letty had. She was conscientious about chores, even at the age of eight. Eggs gathered from the flock of hens kept in back, scraps and cracked corn put out for them and the garden weeded. In the house, her bed was made tidily, the breakfast dishes cleared from the table. Douglas – her eleven-year-old brother – Douglas had finished his own daily chore, of splitting wood for the kitchen stove and hauling water from the well to water the garden. Douglas was very strong for his age – almost twelve and handled a small splitting maul and wedges with skill, slivering quarters of wood into smaller portions for the stove. “Can we make sandwiches to take for our lunch?”

“A day of it?” Mama smiled. “Of course – there’s some ham in the icebox, but don’t take it all. Your father will want his lunch as well. And there is some lemon cake from Sunday supper; you may have two small slices of that – oh, take a piece for Stephen as well. Just leave enough for your father.”

“Yes, Mama!” Letty wrapped her arms around her mothers’ comfortable middle for an exuberant and brief embrace. She ran up to her room on the second floor of the old stone McAllister house to change into her play clothes – a worn middy-blouse and a pair of her brothers’ outgrown knee-britches, her feet thrust into canvas tennis shoes – also outgrown by Douglas and boasting holes by Letty’s littlest toes. She didn’t mind that – after all, when they played around the fort, she would kick off the shoes and go barefoot. It was summer, after all. Summer was for bare feet, although Mama would sigh and say that being barefoot all summer was a sign of being poor and trashy. McAllisters were proper. They always had shoes, even if times were hard in Luna City. She and Douglas would have new shoes when school started, in August. For now, they went barefoot. When Letty absolutely had to wear shoes in summer, she wore her brothers’ old pair or crammed her feet into the Sunday shoes that she had new for Easter … and now which pinched dreadfully, but would have to last until Spring, when Mama and Papa bought them all new Sunday best and good shoes.

That done, she raced downstairs again, and into the kitchen. Outside on the back porch, she heard the regular thump-thump-thump of the mechanical washing machine. Letty know that having electricity in the McAllister house, and most of the better homes in Luna City was a sign of advance and prosperity. In the old days, doing laundry by hand took all the day and all the time and labor on the part of the women in the household … that is, if they did not sent it out, and who knows where it really went and what was done to it?

Letty quickly assembled sandwiches; she was deft with slicing bread and carving off thin slivers of ham in order to leave enough for Papa. Mama let her handle the biggest kitchen knife, at least. She wrapped the sandwiches in brown paper and cut three portions of cake – alike wrapping that in paper – just as her brother Douglas thundered down the staircase and erupted into the kitchen like a small and erratic storm. He had his .22 rifle slung, soldier-like over his shoulder, and a metal water canteen on a sling over his other. The canteen was a metal Army-surplus one; practically Douglas’ proudest possession.

“Ready, Letty?” he demanded, bouncing from one foot to another. “We gotta go to town first.”

“What for?” Letty wrapped the sandwiches and cake in a large calico handkerchief and tied the opposite corners in knots.

Douglas puffed out his chest with pride. “I eared two dollars in tips at the Tip-Top last week – helping people clean their windows and top up their radiators. I’m keeping out fifteen cents for ice cream … an’ some candy, but the rest I’m gonna put in my savings account.”

“A whole two dollars – and people just gave it to you, like that?”

“’cause I was helpful, Letty,” Douglas explained.

“I wish people would give me money for being helpful,” Letty ventured, somewhat wistfully. Their father had taken them into the Luna City Savings and Loan the previous year, and ceremoniously presented them to the Chief Teller, saying that they were old enough to open bank accounts of their own. To save for their education, their father said, although Douglas had confessed that he would rather save up for a fancy wind-up phonograph. Much, much later, Letty would realize that their father had – most sensibly – chosen to demonstrate his own faith in the solidity of the Luna City Savings and Loan in this fashion. After all, the McAllisters were one Luna City’s leading families; Grandfather Arthur Wells McAllister was one of the founders.

“You have your Christmas and birthday present money,” Douglas consoled her. “When you are ten, maybe you can run errands and help at the Tip-Top.”

This was true – but Letty still wished that she had as much as fifteen cents to spend on ice cream and penny-candy. But she and Douglas were fortunate in having bicycles of their own. Times might be hard for many people, even in Luna City – and Letty knew very well that the McAllisters were fortunate indeed, even if her bicycle was an old boys’ bicycle and slightly rusted along the frame. She followed her brother, crossing the dusty main road which ran between San Antonio – the big city, far to the north, and Aransas Pass, down on the Gulf Coast, baking in the mid-morning sun. Beyond the shabby weathered Tip-Top Ice House with the range of gasoline pumps out in front, the road into Luna City wandered past a meadows and stands of trees, eventually past houses with smaller and smaller gardens as they approached Town Square, marked at one end with the gleaming façade of the grand Cattleman Hotel, and the white columns and pediment of the Luna City Public School at the other. This was a familiar passage for Letty: during the school term, she and Douglas went this way twice daily and back – to school, home for lunch, back to school and finally home again.

Town Square basked in the mid-summer sunshine, although the massive stands of oak trees cast pools of cool shade under their branches. Some of the oaks were so large that three children holding hands could not reach all the way around them. By the old Fire Station, she and Douglas drew abreast of a friend – or perhaps more accurately, a sort of friend. One who was determined on his part to be their friend, or at least be in association with them.

“’Lo, Artie,” Douglas rested his feet on the ground, and Letty followed suit. Artie Vaughn was yet a year and a half younger than Letty; a skinny boy with a nose way too big for his narrow face and dark hair which grew every which way, like an untidy haystack. He was tall for his age. “Got stuck with minding the baby again?”

Artie – barefoot under the faded denim overalls which were his only garment – nodded in agreement. He had his toddler brother Harry in a battered wooden wagon. Harry was three, but likewise big for his age. He had the same beak of a nose and unkempt black hair; like his brother, shorn by an inexpert hand armed with a bowl and a pair of shears. Artie and Harry’s father was one of Luna City’s small force of police officers. This was out of desperate necessity, as his small carpentry business in Karnesville had gone bust for lack of paying customers. The fifteen dollars a month paid by the city was what kept the Vaughn family from abject poverty – that and the kindness of neighbors and the extensive vegetable garden in back of the Vaughn’s tidy frame bungalow on Oak Street.

“Until Mama gets done with the shopping. Harry is too big an’ ornery to take with her. You going out to the Fort with Stephen?” Artie’s countenance reflected eagerness and a pathetic longing to be included in the afternoon. Letty sighed. Now they would have to invite him. Artie was like a burr that couldn’t be shaken off.

“Yeah,” Douglas replied. “Look – if you wanna come out to the Fort, you gotta know the password. For today, the challenge is ‘Montcalm’ and the password is ‘Wolfe.’ Otherwise you’re an enemy spy and we won’t let you in.”

“’Montcalm’ and ‘Wolfe’!” Artie exclaimed, beaming with happiness. “It’s the bees’ knees, Douglas! I won’t forget!”

“See you,” Douglas didn’t sound enthused, to any degree. Artie was a trial to Douglas, Stephen and Letty, only slightly alleviated by his free access to father’s collection of tattered True Detective Magazines (Vaughn, Senior purchased them for the professional articles, so he claimed), and Artie’s own imagination, which tended in the direction of flamboyantly creative. Artie was burdened by the damp and dampening presence of his baby brother, for he was frequently tasked with looking after the younger Vaughn. (“It’s not really fair,” Douglas confessed to his sister. “Artie’s a good egg – but really … having to play with a kid who isn’t even out of diapers? It’s just not fair, Letty! He’s not our baby brother!”  “At least we can pretend that he is a Comanche sentry,” Letty consoled her brother. “Or set him down and say that he is first base.”)

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