Tom and Jimmy had been best friends since the second grade. Tom tripped on the broken pavement on the sidewalk, fell, and his books, lunch, and art project scattered everywhere. The sidewalk, the neighbor's lawn, and onto the street.
This caused Tom to burst into tears, something boys were never supposed to do in the 1930s. Several older boys laughed as Tom struggled to get up. Jimmy raced to the rescue, and everything was saved except for Tom's small glass bottle of milk.
After Tom was back on his feet, tears drying, and the sandwich in his lunch sack was saved, Jimmy said, "Wow, they really should fix this sidewalk. Are you okay?"
Tom nodded and said, 'The tree did it. It's okay."
"What?" Jimmy asked.
"That big elm tree," Tom pointed to an ancient elm, "See, the roots are so strong they lifted the cement!"
"Oh," Jimmy never considered trees or plants important until he met Tom, who loved them."
Tom and Jimmy were inseparable from that day on. They spent most of their free time in the woods behind Jimmy's house. It was a large area, 20 acres, according to Tom, who knew such things. They'd climb trees, the highest ones they found. Picked wild berries and edible herbs for Tom's Mom. Rumor had it that Tom's mom was a witch, but Jimmy never saw anything which-like going on at Tom's house. She did use a lot of dried plants, mushrooms, and roots from the forest. The thirties were the great depression years, so anything free was golden.
Jimmy's dad gave him a rifle for his thirteenth birthday. It was a practical gift back then because now Jimmy could hunt wild game and help feed the family. The boys took turns practicing but had to use the shells sparingly.
One day the boys found an old WWI army helmet while exploring the forest.
"Wow," Jimmy said, "I wonder how this got here?"
Tom shrugged and continued examining a plant that he said was edible. "It's called Lamb's Quarters and really good for you," he said.
"I wonder if these really stop bullets?" Jimmy asked.
He put on the helmet, struck a pose with his rifle, and saluted Tom. Then he said, I'll keep this on, and you shoot at me. I'm sure it's strong enough.
"No!" Tom said, "are you nuts?" He leaned over and picked up a nearly head-sized rock. "Put it on the rock and shoot it."
They did; Jimmy took aim and pulled the trigger, "BLAM! " The bullet slammed clean through the helmet and shattered a chunk out of the rock.
"Geez! You saved my life, Ton!" Jimmy said,
"Yeah, again, he answered and laughed.
They graduated high school together. Jimmy barely, and Tom with honors.
One day they were eating lunch in Tom's kitchen, and the radio was playing music. Then a man's voice broke into the music, which was being performed live, so interrupting them was very unusual. Tom's mother was trying dishes and stopped to turn the radio up.
It was the day the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. And so WWII began for the Americans. Both boys signed up together but were sent to different trains. The trains were crowded with new recruits, standing room only. It was the first time in their lives that Tom and Jimmy would be separated for more than a few days.
Jimmy's unit went to England. Then to the forests surrounding Germany. Without water or food, he and his fellow soldiers were pinned down for ten days. Jimmy remembered all the edible foods in the forest and helped keep him and his mates from starvation. They ate Lambs Quarters, Dandelion greens, wild onions, hazelnuts, and even choked-down grubs. It rained, so they caught water in leaves and metal cups. Finally, Reinforcements came, and Jimmy was awarded a medal for saving his unit from starvation.
Jimmy tried to get in touch with Tom but could never find where he was stationed.
Jimmy came home on furlough and quickly walked the two blocks to Tom's house. I was saddened to see that it was empty and the windows were boarded up. He went to old Grandma Pierson; that's what everyone called her. She told Tom that she didn't know where Jimmy had gone. Tom's father had enlisted, and his mother couldn't keep up the rent on the house, so she went out west to live with her sister. She left no forwarding address.
Jimmy got a job in an automobile plant in Detroit. He married a girl he met in a diner, and they had four boys. The boys grew up and moved away. Tom never did find Jimmy, he tried, but back then, it was very difficult without computers.
Jimmy drove back to Pittsburgh when he was 70 years old to visit his remaining family. He and two of his old high school buddies, Chet and Bill, went to a local bar for a few beers. After a bit of catching up and war stories, Tom asked, "Do you guys know where Tom fought in the war? Did he come back? I'd really like to see him again."
The two men looked at each other and started to laugh, then one of them said, "Jimmy never made it to the war."
"What? Yes, he did. We signed up together! What happened?"
Chet answered, "Well, from what I heard, he was walking to the train station and noticed some kind of weed or plant he'd ever seen, so he stopped to examine it. He got so caught up in that dumb weed that he was late and ran to the train station. He tripped and fell while racing up the cement steps and broke his arm and leg!" He was so mortified about not fighting for his country that he moved to California once he was able.
Eventually, Jimmy's son helped him search for Tom online. To their surprise, Tom had moved back to his family home to care for his mother after his father died. Tom earned a Ph.D. in Botony and worked for a nearby university. They renewed their friendship via the internet and even used video communication.