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Buttered Side Down Edna Ferber

Where The Car Turns At 18th

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But when Eddie's mother brought out the letters that had come after our postal cards had ceased, we understood. And when they brought him home, and we saw him for the last time, all those of us who had gone to school with him, and to dances, and sleigh rides, and hayrack parties, and picnics, and when we saw the look on his face--the look of one who, walking in a sunny path has stumbled upon something horrible and unclean--we forgave him his neglect of us, we forgave him desertion, forgave him the taking of his own life, forgave him the look that he had brought into his mother's eyes.

There had never been anything extraordinary about Eddie Houghton. He had had his faults and virtues, and good and bad sides just like other boys of his age. He--oh, I am using too many words, when one slang phrase will express it. Eddie had been just a nice young kid. I think the worst thing he had ever said was "Damn!" perhaps. If he had sworn, it was with clean oaths, calculated to relieve the mind and feelings.

But the men that he shipped with during that year or more--I am sure that he had never dreamed that such men were. He had never stood on the curbing outside a recruiting office on South State Street, in the old levee district, and watched that tragic panorama move by--those nightmare faces, drink-marred, vice-scarred, ruined.

I know that he had never seen such faces in all his clean, hard-working young boy's life, spent in our prosperous little country town. I am certain that he had never heard such words as came from the lips of his fellow seamen--great mouth-filling, soul-searing words--words unclean, nauseating, unspeakable, and yet spoken.

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I don't say that Eddie Houghton had not taken his drink now and then. There were certain dark rumors in our town to the effect that favored ones who dropped into Kunz's more often than seemed needful were privileged to have a thimbleful of something choice in the prescription room, back of the partition at the rear of the drug store. But that was the most devilish thing that Eddie had ever done.

I don't say that all crews are like that one. Perhaps he was unfortunate in falling in with that one. But it was an Eastern trip, and every port was a Port Said. Eddie Houghton's thoughts were not these men's thoughts; his actions were not their actions, his practices were not their practices. To Eddie Houghton, a Chinese woman in a sampan on the water front at Shanghai was something picturesque; something about which to write home to his mother and to Josie. To those other men she was possible prey.

Those other men saw that he was different, and they pestered him. They ill-treated him when they could, and made his life a hellish thing. Men do those things, and people do not speak of it.

I don't know all the things that he suffered. But in his mind, day by day, grew the great, overwhelming desire to get away from it all--from this horrible life that was such a dreadful mistake. I think that during the long night watches his mind was filled with thoughts of our decent little town--of his mother's kitchen, with its Wednesday and Saturday scent of new-made bread--of the shady front porch, with its purple clematis--of the smooth front yard which it was his Saturday duty to mow that it might be trim and sightly for Sunday--of the boys and girls who used to drop in at the drug store--those clear-eyed, innocently coquettish, giggling, blushing girls in their middy blouses and white skirts, their slender arms and throats browned from tennis and boating, their eyes smiling into his as they sat perched at the fountain after a hot set of tennis--those slim, clean young boys, sun-browned, laughing, their talk all of swimming, and boating, and tennis, and girls.

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Buttered Side Down
Edna Ferber

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