Hannibal, Missouri

"Why don't we have dessert on the porch tonight? It's so nice out now that it's cooled off a bit." Mildred Potter made the suggestion to her husband.

"Well now, that's a jim dandy idea! It'd be a shame to waste this evening sitting inside. What are we having?" Sherman Potter pushed his chair back and set his napkin on the table.

"I made a jello mold this afternoon and it's been chilling in the fridge. Got fresh peaches in it too."

"Hot dog! You really stick to that old theory that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach." He chuckled, although something in his tone sounded a little forced. "And I'm living proof that it really works."

"Oh, you always were a flatterer, Sherm. I guess I should count myself lucky since anything I make tastes good to you after all those years on army gruel." She stood up, gathering the plates to carry into the kitchen. "Why don't you take the kids outside while I clear the table. And don't worry, I'll save the dishes until later so you can help me."

"Fair enough." Potter turned to two children still sitting at the table. In order to give their son and daughter-in-law a night off, the Potters were babysitting their grandkids for a while. "Sherrie, Nate, let's get out of your grandma's way."

"We don't hafta help?" Sheryl Pershing Potter was six years old with her hair in pigtails and freckles sprayed across her nose.

"Not this time, Honey. You just run outside and try not to get too dirty before I bring out dessert." Mildred reassured her granddaughter.

"Oh, goody!" She jumped down from the chair and dashed toward the backyard.

"Me too!" Nathan Potter was two, and his lower lip began to tremble as he watched his sister run off without him.

"Don't worry, Nate. We men'll catch up with that little lady." Potter lifted his grandson off of the phonebooks stacked on top of his chair. "And in just a few years you'll be bigger than she is." Carrying the toddler, he headed outside in pursuit of the girl.

Sherrie had dashed immediately to the swing hanging from a branch of the ancient oak tree in the middle of the yard. "Grandpa! Come push me!"

"I'm coming, Sherrie!" He addressed the tot in his arms in a lower voice. "Hard to believe I ever had as much energy as you younguns have got." Potter set Nate down on the lawn a safe distance away with some toys to occupy him and headed towards his granddaughter.

"I wanna go really high, Grandpa!"

"Oh, you asked for it now! You better hold on tight, cause I'm gonna to push you so hard you'll wrap right around that tree branch up there." He gave the swing a firm push, his voice teasing.

"Wheee!" The little girl shrieked with delight as she flew up in the air and back down again. Her giggles mingled with the laughter of the old man and floated about the yard.

Ten minutes later Mildred emerged from the house balancing four bowls, spoons, and a covered dish. "Come and get it!"

"Jello!" Sherrie dragged her feet through the dirt to slow the swing and jumped off, dashing towards her grandmother. Seeing her, Nate got to his feet and began toddling after his older sister. Potter scooped him up and covered the distance much quicker with his longer legs.

"That looks delicious, Mildred."

"I thought it might be a good recipe to have perfected for a few years down the line when we get old and have to gum all our food." She grinned at him as she dished up a bowl for Sherrie and then a slightly smaller one for Nate. "You kids stay here until you're done eating."

The grandparents watched amusedly as Sherrie carefully showed her brother where to sit on the steps, making certain he didn't spill. Potter accepted a bowl of his own from his wife, settling himself in the deckchair as she served herself and then took the other chair.

Sherrie inhaled her dessert, with Nate following her example. "May I go play again now?"

"Of course, honey. Help Nate down the steps so he doesn't hurt himself." Mildred gave permission.

"Will you come too, Grandpa?"

"In a few minutes, Sherrie. I have to give my old bones a rest, so I'm gonna stay here and talk with your grandma."

Once the kids were out of immediate earshot, Mildred remarked slyly, "That's one way to make your old wife feel wanted. Stay with her only because you're too tired to go off with a younger woman."

"Uh-huh…will you look at them running around out there? I think I could watch them for hours."

She glanced at him, a little surprised he hadn't risen to take the bait. "You okay, Sherm?"

"Oh, I suppose." He fell silent for a long moment, lost in his thoughts. When he spoke again, his tone was pensive. "I was out fishing for quite a few hours this afternoon. Had some time to think."

"Oh?" Mildred wasn't sure exactly what her husband was getting at.

"Yeah. And I think I owe you an apology."

"Uh-oh. You didn't bring home a mess of stinky fish and leave them in my kitchen again, did you?"

"I'm serious, Mildred." He ignored her attempt to make the conversation more lighthearted. "Today is the five year anniversary of the end of the Korean War. Which means it's pretty much the five year anniversary of when I handed in my brass bird and became Ole Doc Potter, retired."

"Were you thinking about all your friends from the service?" Realizing he really was upset about something she reached over to place her hand on top of his.

"That's part of it. I wish you could have met them all, Mildred. I was in the army a long time, and I made a lot of friends all over the world, but I was never closer to a group of people than at the 4077. They were all young enough to be my kids, but they were the finest staff I ever had the honor of working with, all the same, not to mention being damn good friends."

"It's a shame you haven't kept in touch with any of them."

"Well, we've got the yearly Christmas card thing going with Klinger and Radar, so that's something. But they've both got families and busy lives. Margaret is still in the army, stationed who knows where, and Pierce and Hunnicutt have disappeared to wherever they are. It's a funny thing though. No one knows better than me that it's damn difficult to stay in touch with army buddies through the years, but for some reason I'm still disappointed I've lost contact with these folks." Potter exhaled in a whoosh, almost a sigh.

"Is that what's got you upset then? Missing your friends from Korea?"

He let a few seconds tick by before replying. "Well, when I started to think about all of them, I sorta took a little trip down memory lane as I was standing there in the river with my pole. Got started thinking about all the good times we had at the 4077. There were a lot of bad times and no one wanted to be there doing the terrible work we were doing, but there…there I had a purpose. I guess I started missing the army and the old days."

"Oh, Sherm. There's no shame in that! You spent your whole life in the army and as a surgeon – it stands to reason that you'd miss it occasionally. Especially on a day like today when it would be more in the front of your mind." She squeezed his hand reassuringly. "What did you think you had to apologize to me for?"

"I spent so many years away from you," Potter explained. "And then today I was feeling kinda sorry for myself, my usefulness outlived, nothing to do but putter about the house and go fishing. For a while I almost wanted those old times back again."

"For a while? What made you change your mind?"

"Watching those two grandkids of ours. I was pushing Sherrie on the swing out there, and you know what I realized?" He answered his own question before she could. "That there wasn't any place in the whole world I'd rather be than right where I was. If I were out there somewhere being ‘useful' there wouldn't be anybody to play with my grandkids. Watching them grow up and growing old with you is what I want to do."

"I still don't understand why you're apologizing."

"Because you deserve a less ornery husband than me, Mildred. After so many years when my job kept us apart or only let us be together for a little bit at a time, I shouldn't even be thinking about wanting to be anywhere else."

Mildred shook her head in mild exasperation at Sherman's funny way of going at things. "You sure are making a mountain out of a molehill. I knew when I married you what type of life I was in for. You proposed to me in combat boots! And it hasn't always been easy, but I wouldn't trade my life for anyone in the world's. You wouldn't be normal if you didn't miss your army days sometimes. Every once in a while I even miss the days when I had the house to myself and I could do what I pleased without having to consider anyone else. But I'd a million times rather compromise with you than have an empty bed at night."

Potter digested this tidbit of information, finally beginning to chuckle. "I guess maybe I am being a little dramatic about this."

"I think you are," she agreed. "As long as you don't get any crazy ideas about coming out of retirement and going back into the army, I think we're okay."

"Go back? Woman, I think you're the crazy one! I was talking about missing the old days, not wanting to have any new ones like that." They both laughed together now, glad the issue had been cleared up so easily.

"You know, Sherm, Jeanine'll be here to pick up the kids before too long, and if you're still feeling bad, you just might have a chance later to show me how sorry you are."

"Oh, well I think that can be arranged without too much trouble." His eyes gleaming a little brighter, he patted her knee fondly. "In the meantime, let's go join those grandkids of ours in the yard."

"Not a bad idea. It looks like Sherrie's teaching Nate how to make mud casserole, but I'm sure she wouldn't mind another two students." Descending the stairs, they crossed the grass to where the two children were playing.

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