I think it would be best if we broke off our engagement, for now.
There were other words in the letter, but these were the ones that kept repeating in John’s head. It wasn’t bad enough that he had been away from home a long time and about to see combat action. Now this. He was feeling very depressed as he left the darkness of the pub into the afternoon sunshine.
A missile shot over John’s head of blond hair, cut short in military style. The American airman ducked and saw the missile end up in a tree, stuck between the branches.
John looked down and there stood a rather sullen looking boy, about eight years old, with black unruly hair covering his forehead and sad dark eyes.
“What’s your name, son?”
The boy looked blankly at John and whispered, “Ian.”
“Well Ian, I’m John. I’ll get your ball out of the tree.”
John climbed up the tree and retrieved the ball. Ian took the ball and started to walk away, without even looking at John. The airman stood there looking at the boy walking away. He had sadness in his blue eyes very similar to the sadness in Ian’s dark eyes.
“Hey buddy, would you like to learn some American baseball?”
Ian turned around, and showed a faint smile. The sadness left his eyes for a moment. He took a long look at the blond giant in the blue uniform. Was he worth his trust?
The smile from the boy lightened John’s heart and took his mind off the war and his depressed feelings.
Ian told John he was evacuated from London. He had seen some terrible bombings and he missed his parents. He had been from home to home as an evacuee. Apparently, he was quite a mischievous handful. The people that took him in said he was too much to control, when they gave him back to the evacuation officials. John told Ian that you shouldn’t take things that happened to you out on others.
During John’s explanation of baseball, man and boy were oblivious to their wartime situations. John told Ian about his hometown baseball team, the Chicago Cubs. The boy was spellbound.
In the weeks that followed, when John could get away from his base, he and Ian met at the field next to the pub. John would bring some baseball equipment from the base. They would pitch and bat the baseball or play catch wearing the big baseball gloves. They were becoming good buddies, as John often said.
Ian would say, “John, you’re my good mate.”
John would reply, “And you’re my good buddy.”
Ian was coming out of his shell, thanks to John. The people that he was living with said he was a changed lad, and they didn’t talk about giving him up anymore. John was seeing through Ian’s eyes that life was still worth living even in wartime.
Then one day, John was told that he was to be transferred out of the country for combat duty. Where? He wouldn’t know until the last minute, it was part of the secrecy of war. How would he tell Ian? How would Ian take the news? How would it affect their relationship?
These thoughts kept racing through John’s head as he walked to the field to meet Ian. He thought he would give him a gift to ease the shock of separation. They may never see each other again.
They played catch, both wearing baseball gloves. Ian trying to pitch fast balls to John. The day was full of happiness.
But finally, the moment came when John had to tell Ian the bad news.
“Hey buddy, come here for a minute,” said John, walking over to a park bench, “Sit with me, I’ve got something to tell you and something to give you.”
Ian looked up at John with happy eyes.
“What’s up, buddy?” said Ian, imitating John’s American way of saying things.
“Well buddy, I’m going to be leaving in a few days and this will probably be the last time we will see each other for a while.”
Ian’s expression abruptly changed and he looked almost as sad as he did the first time they met.
Suddenly, Ian jumped up and ran into the woods shouting, “You never really cared about me, we’re not buddies anymore!”
John called after Ian, but he was gone. He ran into the woods to search for him. After a few minutes, he came across and old abandoned shack. John spotted the baseball glove Ian had, it was on the ground near an old well hole.
The airman dropped to his knees at the edge of the hole.
“Hey buddy, are you down there? Are you okay?”
No response, only dark silence.
John’s thoughts raced through his mind. Ian had become a happy boy and John had lost his depression over his situation. Life seemed to have meaning again. What the two buddies had accomplished can’t be all reversed now!
Tears were running down John’s cheeks.
“Hey buddy, I’m over here.”
John turned around and there was Ian, trying to look brave.
“Why did you run away?” said John, greatly relieved.
“I’m afraid I’ll never see you again and we had so much fun,” stammered Ian.
Putting his arm around Ian’s shoulder, John said, “Look buddy, what I’ve got here.”
John pulled an old worn baseball out of his pocket. Ian’s eyes widened in amazement, as he admired the ball.
“I got it when one of the Cubs hit a home run into the stands. This ball is signed by some of the Chicago Cub players. It is my most treasured possession and I want you to keep it for me, because I will be back for it.”
“Oh, I’ll keep it safe for you, John,” said Ian, fondling the ball like it was gold.
“We will always be buddies, Ian,” said John, “And I’ll write to tell you of my experiences.”
Man and boy walked out of the woods side by side.
They were real buddies. They had a bond that couldn’t be broken by any distance between them. John had faith that the war would come to a successful end for the Allies and that there would be a brighter future for the two buddies.