The train rumbles the ties that hold the rails on the bed of stones. It moves sound up from the earth into the chairs at the long, green-topped tables where the veterans sit in the conference room of the newly decorated restaurant. A round-faced old man touches his gold-rimmed glasses as he listens to the conversation above the rumble that holds his chest at his throat.
Tables are pushed against each other across the length of the room to form two rows. Veterans are seated along one of the rows and friends and family at the other. A splash of food graces the tables in color on dozens of plates. Little rolled fingers of chicken are set by taco shell salads and French soups. Ham dinners are ladled upon mounds of potatoes. Potato soup steams above the rich napkins, and the silverware is long and heavy enough to accommodate the biggest hands.
The banquet honors the passing of an old soldier.
A speaker places his hands on the table. He's talking to several of those acquainted with the departed. He wears a tie striped in red, white and blue that moves diagonally up the knotted cloth. The tie is held to the white shirt by a gold clip. He looks down the length of green and turns to his left where a bounty of food covers thirty feet of tables. On his right is a window that gives up a view to the flashing, red railroad crossing lights.
He shifts his weight from his hands and as he stares down this last supper the lights from the window extract a gleam from his eyeglasses.
Some of the people are red-eyed.
One of the men seated with the veterans shifts in his seat and his suspenders shift on his shirt while the train rumbles past in the yard next door.
The words of an earlier service today still hang in the air. The talk is about the old days of Dubuque and service to country. Many of the attendees remember the man they've come to celebrate. The veterans have spoken about sacrifice and commitment at the final passing of the flag. The salutes are gone and the rifles are silent.
The old gentleman at the table's edge wears an American flag on his right shoulder. One of the women comments that it appears backwards. "Shouldn't it be turned the other way?" she asks. "The blue field of stars is leading," she says.
In the quiet of the moment a veteran says, "The blue leads because it symbolizes peace."
One of the old men wearing blue trousers with gold stripes trailing down the sides, the man who clicked his black boot heels upon transferring the flag at the casket, is bustling, preparing to leave. A shaded light covers the tables and makes shadows on the plants that hang at all four corners of the ceiling.
One of the people at the table of friends says that the flag was probably made in China. At this a silence, like death, like the funeral procession, like the smoke of the guns before taps, fills the room. Heads turn, one to the other.
Each of these last to pay respects to an old friend is left with their thoughts of him and of America.
Echoes of the lonesome train roll out beyond the bluffs.
About Iowa Writes
Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.
In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.
Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.
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Tim Trenkle is a resident of Dubuque, Iowa, where he writes a column for the Telegraph Herald. "My people have all been farmers and meatpackers," he says. "I write human interest pieces about Iowa and the values of our world, seen from the banks of the Mississippi."
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