Author's Note: Please enjoy my thoughts on Hawkeye's family and their home in Crabapple Cove!
News from the Warfront
It was autumn in Maine, but you wouldn't have needed a calendar to tell you that. It seemed that every tree, bush, and shrub had shed its usual lively green color in favor of the vibrant hues of red, orange, and yellow.
Daniel Pierce couldn't help but admire these same lovely hues on his daily walk around the family apple grove. He tried to take these walks, no matter how brief, as often as possible to keep his legs from stiffening and allow his mind to wander along with his body. But as his mind was ought to do with every passing day that his only son was away, he could only ever think of Ben. What was he doing? What was he eating? Was he staying healthy? Was he happy, even in the slightest?
In reality, Daniel needn't have wondered such things because opening any one of his son's past letters would tell him these things: He was working hard, the war kept him busy, but his free time he spent with B.J. Hunnicutt, the best friend he'd ever had. As for the food, it was nowhere near the quality of their Sunday brunches of homemade French toast and rich coffee. Ben was likely healthy enough but seemed to spend a fair bit of time in the camp officers' club, drinking as Daniel could only presume. But could he really blame Ben? If their roles were reversed, Daniel would surely not be averse to drinking away his woes.
As for happiness, that was another matter entirely. Though he knew Ben better than anyone, his highs and lows and every scrape or broken bone he'd ever had, he also knew that Ben would want to spare him from knowing his personal hardship. Though he was always one to point out wrongs and not be shy about it, he had always gone out of his way to protect his father from any further pain after the loss of his wife, Ben's mother.
Daniel sighed. It was just about time for Crabapple Cove's annual Apple Butter Festival and this was Hawkeye's favorite time of year. As a boy, Hawk would galivant around, dolling out apple butter to all the young girls with that trademark, and likely inherited, grin of his. He ran their family stand and never shied away from talking off the ear of every one of their patrons. Even when he was older and home on holiday from medical school, Ben would be sure to make time for the festival, checking up on neighbors and offering snide remarks that went over the heads of some and made others bend over in laughter.
Daniel could almost picture him now, all lankiness and good natured, plucking ripe apples from the trees and plopping them into a wicker basket, waiting in his sister Sarah's arms. Suddenly, he felt an unwelcome tear come to his eye thinking of how Ben must have changed, aged even. It was clear in his letters that the war and his role in it caused Hawk a great deal of pain and stress. He was likely a bit older now, in more ways than in age. He had always taken after his mother in good nature and his dark hair, but with a good dash of his father's wit and sense of justice.
Thinking of them all together brought a welcome smile to Daniel's face as he began to near the house. All of a sudden, his daughter Sarah burst from the house, a letter clutched in her hand and her face dashed with flour.
"Dad! I've just got the mail. There's a new letter from Hawkeye, it's addressed to you!"
Daniel rushed forward, always of two minds about receiving a letter from his son. On one hand, it could be good news but on the other…
Daniel snatched the letter from Sarah's waiting hand and began to rip it open as Sarah waited expectantly mere inches away. Daniel knew he couldn't keep her in suspense.
"I'll just go ahead and read it out loud, how about that? Let's have a seat," Daniel suggested, the usual wit gone from his voice. The two knelt down on the steps of their wooden porch as Daniel unfolded the parchment.
"Here it goes," Daniel began.
I hope this letter finds you and Sarah well. If my timing is right, and the army doesn't fail me again, this letter should reach you all around the time of the Apple Butter Festival. I wish I were there to celebrate with you. You can't imagine how much I've dreamed of tasting Mrs. Kazinsky's famous apple pie in these past few days as I trudge through another round of Igor's finest creamed beef with a side of creamed corn and, you guessed it, creamed apples. Maybe with your compassion and Sarah's ingenuity, you could find a way to send me some, by carrier pigeon even if you must!
"Oh Hawkeye, always such a glutton for good food!" Daniel chuckled.
But I didn't write to you to talk about apple butter or pies. It's something much more serious. Now, don't worry Dad. Sarah, I'm sure you're listening to this, so I'm counting on you to make sure Dad doesn't worry more than he already does.
Sarah smiled knowingly at her father. "He's right you know, Dad." Daniel harrumphed before continuing.
Everything here is fine and dandy except for all the usual suspects of the deaths of those too young to die, homesickness, and war. But, for once I am writing you with some good news and also a request for advice. Yours and Sarah's too.
There's someone I want to talk to you about. I'm sure you'll remember her from my previous letters and you've even met her parents at the M*A*S*H family reunion. Major Margaret Houlihan. I don't know if you've guessed it from any of my previous letters, but Margaret is a very special lady. She's intelligent, determined, beautiful, and a damned good head nurse. So good, I think she'd make a fine doctor one day.
Margaret and I haven't always been bosom friends, if you'll remember the countless pranks at her expense, I have regaled you with in the past. But don't worry, she's since gotten her revenge. But more recently, we've moved past our many differences and diverging points of view (Margaret is a reformed Republican, you see) and become friends.
At least, that's what she would say if you asked her. Friends with a capital F. Now there's a bit of back story here so bear with me; I'll get to my point one of these days.
"I get the distinct feeling he'd like to be more than friends," Sarah winked, and Daniel chuckled.
"As do I!"
If you remember a while back, I sent you a letter detailing my ill-fated medical mission off camp with a nurse who is, as of yet, unnamed. Well, surprise! As you may have guessed by my less than subtle build up, that nurse was none other than Margaret Houlihan!
"I knew it!" Whispered Sarah.
Something I also forgot to mention in my previous letters: when we were stuck alone out there in the wilderness, never knowing if we would live to see morning, Margaret and I… well a gentleman might say… we sustained each other and gave each other comfort in a time of need. I'll leave out the rest…
Afterwards, Margaret acted as if we would naturally get together and she would have to tell Donald, her husband, something. I freaked out, Dad. I don't know what came over me. I saw my life as I knew it flash before my eyes and thought that Margaret and I could never make each other truly happy. We're just too different in every way. Needless to say, I reacted badly and was vocal about it, like I usually am. I really hurt Margaret but we've since come to be friends, as I mentioned.
But the thing is Dad, almost as soon as those words were out of my mouth, I regretted it. Margaret stirred something in me. We connected that night and, more recently in our friendship, on a deep, even emotional level. I haven't felt this way since… well since never frankly. It seems like all those strong feelings I thought I had in the past for this or that woman has all just been one school yard crush or another compared to the way I feel about Margaret. So I'm sure you get the point by now: the way I feel for Margaret is strong, although I don't entirely understand it myself.
I'm afraid that in all of my "success" with women I'm still not the open-yourself-up-and-be-vulnerable type. I don't know what to do. I don't want to hurt Margaret again, I couldn't do that to her. And until recently, I thought she wanted nothing more to do with me beyond friendship.
But last night, I overheard a conversation while I was sitting beside one of my patients in the Post-Op ward. I wasn't on duty that night, so really, I wasn't meant to be there. But this kid, Dad you should see him, he's no older than the McLevenly boy. I was worried about him and couldn't sleep so I thought it couldn't hurt to sit by his bedside for a while. B.J. was on duty anyway, so he didn't mind my being there.
Anyway, Margaret was on duty that night too but when I snuck into the Post-Op ward and went about checking up on this kid, I couldn't help but overhear some voices from the other side of the door. It was Margaret and Nurse Finkle outside, taking in a breath of fresh air.
Now Dad, before you even think about it, yes, I am aware that you raised me to be a decent and non-eavesdropping type of guy but… what can I say! Life in the army has changed me no matter how much I've resisted it. I think it's safe to say that I'm now a full-fledged eavesdropper, second class. Entertainment here is so scarce you really have to take it however you can get it.
My bad manners aside, I'm sure you'd really like to know the whole point of this letter which I have yet to reveal. What I overheard between Margaret and Nurse Finkle concerns me, actually.
To sum it up, Nurse Finkle and Margaret were talking about what they'd like to do after the war and of course they talked about all the usuals: sleep in a bed that's not a cot, eat real eggs (not the powdered kind), and see family and friends. But Margaret mentioned something else that really surprised me, shocked me even.
She said she'd really like to see Maine. She said she'd heard a lot of really swell things about it and she'd like to see its rugged coastlines and try the apple butter, which she'd heard from a reliable source was really terrific.
Now the only "reliable source" I can think of who might have told her these things is yours truly! I've been yammering my mouth off to anyone that would listen about our hometown apple butter, coastlines, and much much more.
Daniel paused as he noticed Sarah's raised eyebrows over the edge of the letter.
"Do you think we should be preparing for Hawkeye plus one when the war is over?"
Daniel just chuckled, "Well hold your horses, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Let's just finish the rest of this letter and go from there…" Daniel cleared his throat, barely concealing a grin behind the paper, and continued on.
Nurse Finkle, who seemed to easily catch on to who Margaret was alluding to, then said, "Ah yeah, so you and Hawkeye huh? I've heard talk amongst the girls…but I never knew if I should take it seriously or if it was just gossip."
Now get a load of this! Margaret responds: "Oh it's true. On my end, at least. But I'm convinced Pierce doesn't see me that way. You know how he is; he flirts with any girl with a pulse. I don't think he sees me as more than a really good friend…one of the guys even… I sure would still like to visit Maine though, one day maybe."
One of the guys! Just friends! Visit Maine one day, maybe she says! Dad, I mean what do I make of this? Am I to assume that Margaret wants to be…more than friends? For all my ease with women, it seems I'm still a little bit out of practice with the serious conversations that sometimes come with them.
I don't know what to do. Should I go to her, tell her I accidently, kind of, sort of overheard what she said outside of Post-Op? Should I make some sort of romantic undertones, or overtones for that matter? Is it even right to get involved, like seriously involved? We live in a war zone after all, and I'm not usually the commitment type as you know.
And even if we did get together, by some act of the universe, would it last the way I really hope it would? We're so different, there's really no avoiding that. Would we want the same things, and if we didn't could we make it work together…somehow?
I haven't decided exactly what the future holds for me after this damn war, but Dad there is one thing I know for sure, if Margaret wasn't a part of that "after" somehow, some way it just wouldn't feel right.
What should I do? Dad, Sarah… I'm really counting on you for this one because for once I find myself without a quick, witty retort or a clear-cut path forward.
Your son and brother,
Daniel laid the letter gently in his lap. "Well, that's all he wrote. What d'ya say Sarah-bee?" he asked, using her old childhood nickname.
"Well, from what I remember of this Margaret in Hawk's past letters, they bicker enough to already be an old married couple. But… I've never heard Hawkeye write, or much less speak like that. Usually with him it's all vulgar quips or passionate moral arguments. In this letter he sounded… really serious, if not a little lost."
"You're right, honeybee, you're absolutely right? So, what do you think he should do, before I spoil your ideas with my expert fatherly advice?"
Sarah snorted but offered up her opinion anyway, "Well since you're asking me for my sage younger sister advice here's what I think: she sounds like just the woman for Hawkeye. He needs someone who's dynamic, challenging, and pigheaded just like him. They actually don't sound all that different to me! And really Dad let's face it, could you really see Ben settling down and marrying some boring Cove girl? I mean come on! Half the girls hear think Augusta is a big city! Besides… Hawkeye… we'll I think when he finally comes home, he may not be the same Hawkeye we saw off at the airport."
Daniel nodded as Sarah continued her monologue, "I mean, how many people in Crabapple Cove have been to war and back, and as a surgeon too? He'll need someone who knows what he's been through and try as we might, that can't be us. Hawk needs to gather up his courage, and I know he has plenty of it even if he claims to be a coward, and invite her back to Maine after the war! And he should ask her out, with romantic overtones might I add!"
Daniel smiled at Sarah's directness, keeping the thought to himself that she was so much like her mother in that way. "Well we're agreed then. It appears I don't have to swoop in with my sage father advice after all, you've got it all figured out. Afterall, the more the merrier up here in Crabapple Cove. And romantic undertones will get him nowhere, besides they're what got him into this whole "one of the boys" mess to begin with! What do you say we write him back, Sarah-bee?"
Sarah smiled at the offer but responded, "I think I need to sit this one out Dad. This is the kind of advice that sounds better coming from a Dad than an annoying little sister. Just mention that I agree and give him my best and all my love, will ya?"
"Of course, I will, Sarah-bee." Daniel grinned, raising himself off the steps and heading into the house. He climbed straight up the old wooden staircase that led to the second floor. Sarah headed back into the washroom and set about getting her dress ready for her evening date all the while thinking to herself that she certainly wouldn't mind a sister in law, especially one she never thought she'd get!
Up in his study, Daniel pushed messy stacks of paper just far enough towards the wall to create enough space to write. Taking out his favorite parchment, the set Hawkeye had sent him from Tokyo, he got to work.
Did I ever tell you that your mother and I were once so opposite that we spent more time arguing than we did actually talking? I won't bore you with the details, but I will remind you that two opposites don't necessarily attract or repel as some would have you believe. It's all about what you put into the relationship that matters. If you don't put in a little faith and a lot of work, it's sure to be destined to fail from the start. But you'd really be amazed at what you can achieve, and enjoy, in a partnership of equals, no matter how different the two partners are, just like your mother and myself…
Daniel continued his letter, making sure to give Sarah the credit for the really direct bits all the while smiling to himself. If only Laura could see them all now… She'd be proud of her son and probably giddy at the thought of potentially expanding the family.