Colonel Gwynn didn't have a son, Alenna Gwynn didn't have a mother. When Alenna was nine, her mother went out, as so many fathers have, for a quart of milk and never came back. The Colonel was left with an active and sporty older daughter, and a younger daughter with Fragile X syndrome whom he sometimes perhaps raised with a sensitivity of a father accustomed to orders being followed.
1 in every 8000 females suffer from Fragile X, 1 in 3 of those suffer from autistic symptoms and Susanna Gwynn did not speak a word until she was nine herself. Even now that she was twelve, the only person in the world to whom she spoke with elementary freedom was Alenna, whom to Susanna was kind, and patient, and understanding and saintly, the mother to her sister which the Colonel always pined for Linda to have been.
Linda Gwynn did not simply leave her family, or rather, she did not simply leave. One day, Linda was waiting for him in their Moabit home, the Colonel wondering as he often did why she was answering questions so monosyllabically, the next she was missing, and the day after that, and the day after and all the days that followed. The Colonel, stationed at Checkpoint Charlie, consulted the Berliner Polizei, who showed him every dead body in the West Berlin morgues for a year, he consulted the Bundespolizei who checked the records of flights and car rentals. And when a detective in the morgue told him that for a price, he could consult a few members of the Stazi in the East, he simply asked how much and had no worry of how it might effect his career were he caught. He worked with three different Stazi officers, and when the wall came down the next year and a panic attack on the job costed him an order home, three Stazi detectives in person became six overtrained intelligence experts by phone, who had a lot less to do and technically came a lot cheaper. The Colonel spent three hours every day on the phone checking every possible lead for five years. It was only three months ago that the Colonel finally heeded the advice Detective Schiff gave him on their first meeting in an abandoned warehouse in Kreuzberg which is now a Michelin-starred restaurant. On that below-zero early February morning of 1989, Detective Schiff, then Oberstlutnant Schiff, seemed as direct as he could possibly be, and therefore earned the Colonel's trust immediately. The search was unlikely to find anything at all. Linda, regardless of how or why she disappeared, could long since have been anywhere in the world. However, a search that encompassed the world would at least raise the possibility of discovering Linda.
"Then we're gonna search the world,"
Linda Gwynn was both and neither alive and/nor dead. If she was alive, perhaps he could, after all make her listen to reason and compel her to be the mother she always should have been. If she was dead, well, it was at least a bit of certainty. And for five years and change, the Colonel had sent his detectives everywhere on cheap Eastern European airlines to chase any possible lead they found, each of which came with an expense account for the detectives of the most possible to be afforded by a career soldier who enlisted while living on the Gwynn homestead on a Montana dirt road.
The Colonel was a man whose worth, like all men's men, is derived from the extent of his responsibilities. Behind every responsible man is a negative model - a father, a grandfather, an uncle, a brother - a drunk or an addict, a spendsthrift or an abandoner - who let their world go to seed. All the feminine instinct shown to this relative for compassion and sympathy only pulled us still further into his black hole. Our only release from his suffering was death, his cruelty made us be cruel to him, and we hated this person we loved still more for how he made us be cruel.
Alenna never met Grandpa Bob, the town drunk of Ismay Montana who let the Gwynn homestead become bank property, not because of the Great Depression, but a 1928 poker game. Five years later, the Gwynns made the same unintentional journey to the Utility Supply Camps of California made by the Joads and millions of other Dust Bowl refugees, in which Colonel Gwynn's three older brothers, Tommy the Fourth, Joey, and Bobby Gwynn, would be born.
In 1842, Osian and Tomos Gwynn of the Aberfan mining town in Wales, arrived on the Montana property of which they had a 140 acre deed given to them on their first day in New York for a literal song along with the promise of a rich and arable land, an arable land they knew instantly upon arrival was nowhere within 400 miles in any direction. Out of nothing they created a colony of bees and a honeyed empire. And thanks to Thomas Gwynn the Third, Hen Tom's great grandson, from their honeyed empire came dust, and then the Great Depression came, and the Colonel's three older brothers were born in a California Utility Supply Camp.
Families are always moving up and down in America. Bobby the Fourth got their bee colony back, and the honey began again to flow, but life was never as sweet again as once alleged. The Gwynn empire came from dust, and to dust it returned. And what in the Gilded Age was pure succor was cloying and beestings in the 50's and 60's, a barely lower-middle class living for the Gwynns as a local supplier for Basic Honey Inc. on the now 16 acre property which 26 Gwynns and another fourteen employees had to share.
The Colonel's clothes were handed down for two generations, and any friendships were from football recess after lunch, while home life as the youngest Gwynn was not exactly pleasant. Four boys who had nothing to do but work needed entertainment and scapegoats - and there can only be one youngest brother. One not so fine day in 1963, Bobby put the queen bee on the Colonel's shoulder. Joey and Bobby laughed their asses off as the Colonel had to sprint all sixteen acres and then some to outrun the swarm. They got an earful from Tommy the Fourth for that, but the Colonel mailed his West Point application the next week.
In 1967, Joey was lost to the Mekong River in a patrol boat explosion. In '69, Bobby lost his left leg and arm to a landmine on Hamburger Hill. But the Colonel was a Second Lieutenant at Khe Sanh, and was awarded a Medal of Honor for running a mile away from the border while carrying two of his men, determined to compel his men to avoid the oblivion of Joey.
Every Christmas thereafter was a variation on a theme of Bobby's recriminations on how the Colonel abandoned their family to work for the organization that destroyed the Gwynn boys, and how much the Colonel must enjoy this revenge on older brothers who used to torture him so. The Colonel would, as ever, take Bobby's abuse without protest. Nobody even knew if he was angry, nobody knew if he cared or not, he simply knew it was his responsibility to come home and be polite, to make sure that Linda and Alenna helped Mama Gwynn in the kitchen, and then return to his post.