Randy Ford Author- WAGER

WAGER

by Randy Ford

Headline gave Salas a scare. This news sounded bleak to this staunch Democrat. This news sounded bleak to this lifelong Democrat, bleak, very bleak, and Salas hadn’t told Helen how worried he was. He knew he wouldn’t get away with not telling her, with not telling his wife, but Salas hadn’t told his wife yet, hadn’t told her what he did

Every evening, the old man listened to news on his Phil co Console Radio. Since REA reached them, he hadn’t use wet cell batteries or his old wind charger. Wet cell batteries and his old wind charger gathered dust in their storm cellar. Since REA reached them, he left his radio plugged in in front of his easy chair. Throughout the 1948 presidential campaign, his hope for Truman ran high, and he went to Democratic rallies whenever he could. His loyalty to the Democratic party was unshakable.

Salas donated money to Truman’s campaign. Salas gave what he could to Truman’s campaign and spoke at Truman rallies. And prominently pinned to his overalls was a campaign button for a man, a plain-spoken man from Kansas, Independence Kansas, which Salas considered a neighbor … a plain-spoken man Salas considered a neighbor from a neighboring state. And as long as election results came in, Salas sat in front of his Phil co Console Radio, nervously listening to what appeared more and more like a disaster. As the evening progressed, news got worse, worse, worse, much worse, and by the time Salas went to bed it looked as if Truman lost the election. All evening Salas refused to move until he gave up and went to bed

His chair was off-limits to anyone else, which didn’t mean no one else in the house listened to news. Listening to the radio every evening became a family ritual. Along with news, they never missed an episode of “Life with Luigi.”  “Your lovin-a son a, Luigi Basco, the il’l immigrant.And on Saturday nights, “The Louisiana Hayride” came to them from Shreveport. (A 50, 000 watt-signal made it possible.) Salas dreaded the outcome of this election that Dewey was expected to win, but worse yet, if a Republican won, Salas stood to lose his shirt, his farm. Yes, his farm.

Salas believed in the Democratic Party. He believed in Roosevelt, who he thought stood for the working man and, as far as he was concerned, had rescued the country from the Depression. Now he believed Truman was doing a good job, doing a great job as president, made a great president and should be reelected. He admired Truman rather than liked him, and he even thought Truman was a crook and a liar. “Because you can’t get rich in politics unless you’re a crook,” Truman had to be crooked. Though Salas thought Truman was a crock and a liar, he thought Truman should be elected president. Salas thought the country would be better off under Truman than Dewey.
Thomas Dewey, governor of New York, and Southern Dixiecrats splintered Salas’ party; still as uncomfortable as Salas was with Truman, he not only voted for him but also bet on his election. He admired Truman and didn’t like him, but he still bet his farm on him retaining the presidency. This included the best river-bottom land in the county.

Whatever he thought, Salas now regretted it, and of Helen who was his wife, Salas hadn’t considered her and didn’t want to think about what her reaction would be when she found out. Helen was aware of Salas’ drinking, which would be what he blamed his stupidity on. And there was Uncle Ned, a staunch Republican, and Uncle Ned’s Republican buddies. And Salas knew them all. And by then everyone knew about Salas’ wager, everyone knew except Helen, and all over town people talked about it. “What? He did what? No! Yes. And Helen doesn’t know? And no one could tell her, so she was spared. Poor Helen! Sympathy intended for her but not for Salas. Fool! But what about Uncle Ned? Scoundrel! Scoundrel! Sentiment shared by everyone was expressed openly and had Helen gone to town she would have heard it. Then too, if she’d gone to town and voted maybe she could have stopped Salas. Helen should have voted

At midnight, Salas went to bed thinking he knew, like rest of the country, outcome of the election. (Salas usually went to bed much earlier.) At midnight, Salas went to bed thinking he knew Dewey won this election, thinking he knew Dewey would be the next president of the United States. Radio stations across the country had gone off the air. Newspaper presses across the country had begun to roll with tomorrow’s banner headline set in type: DEWEY WINS. So he forced himself out of his chair and went to bed knowing that he wouldn’t be able to sleep.

And would it help, if he told Helen? Should he, or shouldn’t he? Tell her, or … tell her what? Tell his wife about a wager he made, a wager he made with uncle Ned. Wagered their farm on the outcome of this election. He did what? Tell his wife he lost their farm? He bet Uncle Ned that Truman would win. Salas slipped into bed without waking Helen. He slipped into bed with his wife. He slipped into bed with Helen without waking her, without waking his wife and telling her he wagered their farm that Truman would win when he thought DEWEY WON. DEWEY WINS. Dewey wins. Dewey wins.

Salas, fool, had salvaged his farm during dust bowl days by planting poplar trees as windbreaks. Hard work, all that backbreaking work, for God’s sake, now for nothing. Jesus! Salas cursed when he thought about it. Just possibly, Uncle Ned would have mercy on them, but did he dare approach his uncle on his knees? Maybe.

Salas tossed and turned, and couldn’t sleep … couldn’t sleep through a long night … thought he knew what his uncle would say. There was a precedent for his uncle rejecting this idea (hadn’t he refused to hire Salas when he was desperate and needed a job?), but how could his uncle take his farm? What could Salas do to appease his uncle? And what a predicament it was to be in! “It’s my own damn fault,” Salas said to himself. “I shouldn’t have been drinking, when it’s against the law to drink on Election Day.” Blame it on raw-gut.

With Uncle Ned, you could never be sure. After all, he’s family.” Salas cried, “Damn! How could I have done such a thing? How could I be so stupid. After Helen and I worked so hard to save the farm, it will kill her to have to move again. After all the backbreaking work … ”

Helen lay beside him. “We’ll make it, Helen, just as we made it through hard times before. We’ll just have to work harder, that’s all.”

What are you talking about, Salas?”

If Dewey wins, it won’t be the end of the world, Helen. DEWEY WON.” Helen stared at him.

What was he talking about? DEWEY WON.”

Now that Salas thought Dewey won, his eyes were sad, and it alarmed Helen. It was strange to see Salas act so worried, and it worried her too.

Salas said: “Regardless what happens I love you, and I wouldn’t intentionally do anything to hurt you. We’ll have to see what happens. As far as we know, Truman hasn’t conceded yet. And he won’t … not just yet.”

Then she said: “Try to sleep.”

As early as three o’clock that morning, Salas was still brooding over election results. He saw Dewey winning and their farm going to Uncle Ned.

This is for the books,” Truman said.

November 2, 1948 was a big day. That morning Salas planned to go to town first thing and knew he’ would vote for Truman. Salas always voted Democrat. Salas was a stanch Democrat. He was as Roosevelt man. Helen told him to stay away from the Republican crowd (which was hard to do. It was a Republican town). Salas shrugged. Helen would’ve gone with him if he hadn’t insisted on going to town early. Someone had to do chores. Salas usually helped with chores and had his things to do and would’ve helped her had she insisted.

I’ll come back for you. I want to catch Uncle Ned.” Salas could be excused for how he felt about Uncle Ned: there had always been bad blood between them.

Helen knew she couldn’t change her husband’s mind. And about voting? She didn’t care for either candidate. She considered Truman a crook but voted for him. Helen would not vote for Dewey. Anyway, anyway, anyway DEWEY WON, won the White House. It was clear. Salas asked her a few days before the election who she planned to vote for, and she jokingly declared, “Why of course Dewey.” Why, of course Dewey, when she knew Salas counted on her voting for Truman; yet she teased him by saying that she was voting for Dewey.

Driving down Main Street, looking to see who was already in town, Salas saw three or four men already gathered in front of the billiard hall, men he knew. As he parked his car, he looked in the direction of the post office, where he wasn’t surprised to see another group of men. Republicans! Republicans! Damn Republicans. They were chatting, as they would be on any other day.

So far weather was cooperating. It was fascinating how people who were friends and had known each other all their lives were divided into camps, and actively opposed each other, and had gathered on opposite ends, opposite ends of Main Street. Salas looked to see if he could see Uncle Ned.
Yes, he talked to Uncle Ned before then. Yes, he talked to Uncle Ned about this election before then. No, no, they hadn’t bet on the election … hadn’t bet yet.

Election Day started out orderly. Except for how Salas drank, and maybe he didn’t drink as much as people thought, since the bar was close and there wasn’t any place in town that sold alcohol on Election Day. Beer couldn’t be sold on Election Day. Maybe, maybe. maybe he only had a beer or two. What are you saying? He found beer somewhere. There was much milling about, mingling before and after people voted. There was much chatter before and after people voted. Flapping bunting, bright patriotic shirts, distinctive Panama hats, and campaign buttons of both parties gave Election Day its festive feeling. Though there wasn’t suppose to be political trickery, electioneers and politicians still worked crowds now, with Salas in middle of it. As long as they stayed outside polling station boundaries, they could approach each other. Here Salas knew he would run into Uncle Ned. They could greet each other, here. What a party! Each party had a party. It was like New Years Eve, except stakes were higher.

And where was Helen? He knew Helen was rushing around, and after feeding chickens, milking cows, and separating cream from the milk, would she want to vote? Would she want to come to town? Salas didn’t want to pick his wife up, so they arranged for a neighbor to drive her to town.

Uncle Ned asked about her. “He’s wealthy, you know. He owns a big white house on the south edge of town!” Salas managed to remind everyone this. He was quite drunk already; however he didn’t act intoxicated. He seemed sober except for his face, which was redder than normal. His friends should have noticed, yet you can’t blame them: they couldn’t stop him anyway. Salas was his own worse enemy. His uncle knew Salas’ weaknesses, and hence could be blamed. This was what everyone thought when they heard about this wager. It was a ridiculous wager, and everyone blamed Uncle Ned.
One of Helen recurring nightmares had them losing the farm through Salas’ stupidity, yet this possibility thankfully didn’t seem possible to her, while his vulnerability was increased tenfold by his drinking.

Salas refused to believe Dewey would win. Instead of being somber and unsmiling, he held up his head and did all he could for his candidate. Poll Dewey to Get 30 States. Poll Dewey Given 27 States. Poll Electoral Votes Dewey 333, Truman 82, Wallace 0. Poll Dewey to carry Virginia. Poll All Over but shouting. Salas ignored polls. Salas didn’t believe polls and didn’t believe newspapers, or else he wouldn’t have approached Uncle Ned.

Salas wore his best overalls, washed and pressed for the occasion. He never wore a suit, so wearing one would’ve been out of character, and a necktie would’ve looked odd on him. He shined his shoes, something he always did before he went to town. So that was how he looked when he and Uncle Ned awkwardly stood together on the courthouse steps, in front of everyone, where people often conducted business, particularly when they wanted to solidify a deal. It was strange to see two of them standing together, when there was so much bad blood between them. Yet some people found confront in it because here was a staunch Democrat approaching an equally loyal Republican. But people’s mouths hung open as they watched the two men shake hands. While Helen missed all this (many people wondered where she was), there were those in the crowd who knew she would be suspicious. “Why, Helen, wouldn’t stand for it. Don’t you see he’s drunk?” Sarah never approved of Salas’ drinking. Uncle Ned saw that he was drunk. If Helen had seen how her husband was acting, she would’ve reined him in.
Salas was a known alcoholic. More than once drinking cost him a job. More than once drinking cost him a home. More than once Salas and his family moved because of drinking. It was Helen who held their family together. Unfortunately, this time she wasn’t around to intervene. Unfortunately, she didn’t go to town until it was too late. Unfortunately, no one told her. Unfortunately, no one intervene. Unfortunately, no one cared.

They were there to vote. They went to town to vote, and while they were in town to vote they used time to do other things. They checked mail, they shopped, shopped for hardware and supplies, and shopped for groceries when they were in town to vote. While in town, they did their errands and socialized. On election day, this town was divided into two camps. Still, if they didn’t speak to friends, they were considered snobs.

Most everyone didn’t pay attention to Salas. Most everyone didn’t pay attention to uncle Ned. Most everyone didn’t pay attention to Salas or uncle Ned and those that did soon forgot about it.

Wager. Wager, on outcome of an election. A stanch Democrat verses a stanch Republican. Dewey verses Truman. Imagine! Best river-bottom land in the county verses a farm sealed with a handshake! Salas bet Truman would win. Wager. Wager. A farm for best river-bottom land in county. A wager. They shook hands. Uncle Ned bet Dewey would win. Wager. A farm for best river-bottom land in county. People sighed and shook their heads. Sealed with a handshake.

Then too with town band playing “I Swung the Election,” Republicans may have felt overconfident. Democrats certainly worked harder. Truman was an underdog. But farmers who favored Dewey certainly outnumber those who favored Truman (which was unusual). It was possible that no one precisely knew how many people changed their minds once they got into a voting booth, even when political junkies thought they knew. Up until Election Day, Truman drew huge crowds. “Give ‘em hell, Harry!” There was a good turnout. If any prediction had been right and Dewey won, Salas would lose his farm. Already Dewey had taken the lead. More booze was used. More booze when bars were closed on Election Day. Children from families of all political persuasions played together. “Stay out of the street!” mothers warned. “Stay out of the street,” mother’s yelled. Salas voted as soon as polls opened. Uncle Ned had less to lose than Salas, so the rest of day was tenser for Salas.

For Salas, this day, Election Day, would pass at a snail’s pace, for after the wager he sobered up and had nothing to do but wait. All his energy was sapped from him. The crowd thinned out around noon. It was then one o’clock and then two o’clock. Even after the band stopped playing, and after the majority of the early risers started heading home, there was Salas sitting alone on the steps of a gazebo, waiting for God knows what. There was no sign of Uncle Ned, for there was no reason for him to hang around. (He would turn up when the outcome was clear.) Anyone who saw Salas sitting there would’ve seen him sweating it out. Had the farm slip through his fingers? He was probably wondering that, as he stared off into space. He continued to sit there until four in the afternoon.

There was Helen back at the farm, worrying because by then Salas should’ve been home. A dirt lane connected their place to a section road and rest of the world. With help of their garden, they eked out a living by selling butter, cream, and eggs. Just beyond their south pasture grew a grove of wild plum tress, from which Helen put up pints of jam every year, and she canned from their garden. When times got really hard and price of butter, cream, and eggs dropped so low that it hardly paid cost of feed, Helen would set up a roadside stand and sell her wild plum jam, cling peaches, and everything else she put up. Trees on the farm had been there forever, only that wasn’t true because they were planted during Dust Bowl Days as windbreaks. Between a house in front and chicken coop and barn out back there was a storm cellar where they stored peaches and jam and vegetables for each winter. So painstakingly they built what they had, fences and a number of structures (constructed from scrap lumber), excluding a house and a barn. They also assembled a mail-ordered windmill and dug wells and, when they had money enough, they bought hand pumps. After all this hard work, Helen definitely didn’t want to move again, and she thought Salas agreed. They agreed on most things, such as where and when to plant their garden.

So year after year they rose each morning before dawn, the old man each day dressed in same plaid shirt and overalls and his wife in same sack dress, with her hair wrapped in a tight bun. Living on a farm, they never considered themselves poor though they were poor. But they knew they wouldn’t starve. And looking around at other people, they knew that they had it pretty good, and theirs was a choice piece of property … their property sat on a choice piece of property on south bank of Wolf Creek … and Uncle Ned had his eye on it for a long time. So Uncle Ned was willing to risk a large section of his pasture for Salas’ creek-bottom land. And there was bad blood between them, old scores to settle, and Salas would never turn down a sure bet. He didn’t acknowledge at first that Truman was behind in polls. At first, Salas didn’t takes polls seriously. His eye instead was on Uncle Ned’s land … best river-bottom land in the county. Salas thought he knew his uncle, knew him well enough to outsmart him, so both men exchanged friendly greetings, inquired after their respective wives, and shook hands after they made their bets.

Without Helen there, Salas followed an impulse that he later regretted. And there were friends who warned him too. But he didn’t hesitate.

Salas didn’t think of Helen or work they put into their farm … projects that went on at the same time. Over the years, children they raised, fences they built, wells they dug, a windmill they assembled and a front porch Helen insisted he screen. True accomplishments, and Salas was willing to throw it away. “What do you mean he wagered his farm? He was drunk. Surely he was drunk. Poor Helen.” And throughout September he hadn’t touched a drop. Whenever an urge to drink became strong and intolerable…whenever thirst after a long hot workday made him think of capitulating, Helen did something special for him. Added pork to a pot of beans or baked peach cobbler or stopped iceman to make ice cream. Loving, kind, loving kindness. Felt as if she were conquering a demon, yet knew it would be a long struggle. Whenever Salas came in from a long, hard day, perhaps discouraged over something, she smiled and invited him to sit down to something special. Something she baked or cooked. Loving kindness. Something she did special for him. Loving kindness. Helen knew what pleased him. Salas wasn’t a man without a woman who loved him. And whenever his sense of failure and inadequacy overwhelmed him, he had someone to lean on. He depended on Helen and found comfort from their collie. Then how could he betray her? Think people didn’t know it? Didn’t know it, and hadn’t heard of his drinking problem?

Color in his face drained. Helen knew something was wrong. She tried to confront him. She tried to confront him. She tried to confront him, but he pushed her away. He wouldn’t talk to her. He wouldn’t talk to her when he came home. He didn’t talk to her because he knew he made a mistake. A man of his word, a proud man of his word, he knew he made a mistake. All evening Salas refused to talk to Helen and refused to tell her what was wrong. Helen knew, knew something was wrong, but Salas refused to tell her what it was.

While he spent this night tossing and turning, this night tossing and turning in a bed next to Helen, he never told her what he did. Sweating in November. Shaking, no, not from the booze. He had to go to the bathroom almost on the hour, and he tripped on something because he didn’t use a flashlight. And he didn’t use a flashlight because he didn’t want to wake Helen. Furious at himself, he said, “What if Truman loses?

He told himself, “I don’t let “what ifs” ruin my day. Now go to sleep. Fool! Fool! Fool.”

Salas then held still and stared at the ceiling wondering … in the dark he stared at the ceiling wondering, wondering if he could live through another round of ridicule.

I need your help, Lord,” he prayed.

Always when Salas got a chance, he embellished past exploits. His life did not always go smoothly. But he was always able to talk his way out of trouble. Sometimes Helen was afraid to ask him what was going on. Sometimes she didn’t ask him what was going on. Sometimes he didn’t her tell what was going on, and she didn’t ask him about it. She learned to be patient and let him tell her what he needed to tell her when he could tell her … when he eventually told her. If there was something that he needed to tell her, he eventually told her, eventually, eventually got around to telling her, or she thought he eventually would tell her. And she knew that she wouldn’t get anywhere, if she asked him directly.

They both knew first hand about hard times. They started from scratch before.

Thinking: “Where once we had a farm; now we don’t have one.” Thinking: “I hate Uncle Ned. To hell with Uncle Ned.”

Where he used to feel confident and enthusiastic and could shrug off hardships, now he wanted to disappear. Now he wanted to crawl into a hole. Instead of facing Helen, he could die. He used to smile when he talked about toughing it, talked about the Depression, talked about living on rabbits and cooking what he killed over an open fire and sharing a huge pot with other boys who rode rails too. He never forgot those experiences. He never forgot where he came from. Born poor, raised poor, he never forgot where he came from. Because the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe train track ran right along the creek that ran along his northern property line, Salas was never far away from sounds of trains and memory of those days. Seeing him look at trains, one would think, he still rode rails.

Sometimes Salas sat on a fence, where he snagged his pants, and watched trains go by. As long as he got his work done, there was no problem with it, but when it came to Helen … she … well, he knew she would never go with him again. Still it appealed to him, didn’t it? Tempting? Tempting but Salas knew that he couldn’t run away from problems.

Those years were hardest of his life, yet most memorable. Riding rails, luckless with luckless boys, Depression years. Hopping a train required skill, required skill because one had to wait until a train was moving. Salas remembered, recalling near mishaps … recalled getting injured … recalled nearly losing a leg. But of course, he was lucky; how could he not have been lucky? And how he’d always been lucky. Well, not always but over time more often than not.

Salas tried to make peace with a part of himself that yearned for the road. And Helen was a stabilizing force. She was solid, practical, down to earth, and generally optimistic. Often Salas told people that he owed her everything. He told people he owed Helen everything and in a real sense SAVED him, but now he probable lost everything they worked so hard for … lost a farm they worked so hard for. And worrying about it kept him awake, kept him awake all night. “This is how I repay Helen, my beautiful Helen. Oh, God!”

Salas would soon know, know for sure whether they would have to move or not. Talk about his failure, his stupidity. He couldn’t tell Helen. He couldn’t face her. He couldn’t face her, though his mind was working how he would break it to her, and this kept him awake all night. He decided to wait until morning, wait, wait, and wait until he knew for sure.

Helen was a forgiving person, amazingly forgiving, over the years she forgave Salas many times. He complimented her whenever he could and was sincere about it. “Maybe I should go see an attorney,” he thought. Town only had one attorney, and he happened to be a Democrat. And he was Salas’ friend. So much admired, but unfortunately he represented Uncle Ned. But maybe a solution to the problem lay in Uncle Ned and not in an attorney. After all Salas and he were related. But a bet was a bet. And Salas knew he that couldn’t back out of a bet. Then there wasn’t an option for him.

Both of them were glued to the radio. They had broken a rule by having the radio on during dinner. DEWEY WON!

God help us. We need your help now.” DEWEY WON!

A family Bible lay on the mantel. It was passed down from generation to generation. It was something they both cherished, but they generally didn’t open it except to record a move, a birth or a death. Now to Helen a move and a death amounted to almost the same thing. DEWEY WON!

After hearing Dewey had a substantial lead, Helen removed their Bible from the mantel and read from Lamentations: “Remember my affliction and my bitterness …” That was as far as she got before she slammed this big book shut. DEWEY WON! Goddamn!

The couple lay under a colorful quilt while a prospect of losing the farm hung over Salas’ head. Memories of the Depression were still fresh and real enough to cause people to worry; especially since a Republican (Hoover) was blamed for it. To Democrats Dewey victory meant loss of jobs, more soup lines, and explosion of foreclosures. And Helen and Salas would be first to feel the effects.

Next morning Helen stuck to her routine. Look she didn’t know. Why even if she did she wouldn’t have changed her routine. Knowing trouble Salas had sleeping during the night, she decided to let him sleep while he could. Then she took her time. Never turned on radio. Milked cows. Separated milk. Churned butter. The chickens were so busy. The roosters guarded hens, as they scratched for worms. There was smell of chicken feed, which Helen scattered for chickens. Particles of it got up her nose and stuck to her hands. Sun was just coming up. Helen seemed happy and forgot her troubles. Then she caught sight of Salas at a water pump on their back porch and waved to him.

She had excessive energy that she needed to burn, more than she needed for her chores, so she took a short walk. She wasn’t hungry. Salas would have to wait for breakfast or cook it himself! What an invigorating morning! How she loved mornings. It was her favorite time of day, and how everything seemed right.

Inside their house, Salas turned on the radio. He didn’t wait as he generally did until after he took care of personal business. He didn’t wait for Helen either. He couldn’t wait … breakfast, everything could wait. News soon would be on. Would it be bad? Bad news? News he didn’t want to hear?

It was too early for mail, but Helen took off in that direction anyway. Helen who was normally optimistic now was discouraged, or could easily get that way. What a shame, Truman lost, she thought. Everyone thought Truman lost. Salas thought Truman lost. Uncle Ned would be happy; she knew he would be.

She recalled the first time she and Salas saw their farm, first time they saw their farm and decided to buy it, decided to buy it, and started planning to build a bigger house. It was pretty run down then. She unsuccessfully tried to focus on positive,things, on how they fixed their farm up. DEWEY WON! It wasn’t end of the world.

Slowly Helen headed back to the house. It was easy to see why she was down in the dumps. Salas had been watching for her. He now knew surprising results of the election and felt like running to her with this news. TRUMAN WON!

Randy Ford

Leave a comment

Filed under Wager

Randy Ford Author- HEADHUNTING

HEADHUNTING

by Randy Ford

It was one of the most isolated places on earth. It was one of the least known places on earth. It was an island, a speck, a speck in a shallow sea, a calm sea, part of a chain of islands. It was so isolated that symbols of modern and primitive worlds merged in the sound of a single machine, in a practical sense sound of a single machine: an unreliable six-horse-power generator. An unreliable six-horse-power generator competed with sounds of cicadas, crashing monkeys, and whooping gibbons, and for people of this upland region put-put of a one-cylinder engine implied civilization and, falsely, existence of a medical doctor.

Only Europeans had generators. Generators were foreign to the island just as Europeans were foreign, and most natives expected white people to have generators and medicine. Most natives believed white people were doctors and carried medicine, or else white people were invaders. Now, there was no black and white about this. White people were either missionary doctors or invading smugglers. You were either-or, either white doctors or white smugglers, and there was no ambivalence about this. Most natives knew this and never questioned it.

Years had changed nothing, nothing on this tiny island, and except at an out-station no one expected to find amenities here, amenities found elsewhere, western comforts and luxuries, found at larger settlements on larger islands, amenities such as tennis courts, sewerage systems, and water systems designed to raise level of hygiene. It may also in no way seem strange to find white women living at larger settlements.

Mr. Flint measured himself by how much influence he had and wasn’t afraid to be himself. Mr. Flint took pride on how well he managed his life and accepted privileges he thought he earned. He knew how to take charge. He knew how to manage his business. He knew how to manage his people. His business extended well beyond this small island. He was the only white man on this island and enjoyed power it gave him; He often acted like lord, judge, ruler, but back home he would be considered a two-bit thug. Mr. Flint knew this, knew his limitations, and knew he couldn’t control what happened outside his domain. Mr. Flint was astute. He was clever. He was ruthless. He knew when to assert authority and when to pass. He knew that passing was often better than conflict, and knew he had to be on guard. It was true that the Kelabit were peaceful and genial, and he learned to capitalize on it. In comparison to him, his wife became querulous over having to live so far away from civilization, when she would’ve been better off were she accustomed to it or lived some place else.

There were no other white women in the district, and she never allowed Mr. Flint to forget it. She also hammered him, often hammed him, often as she could with: she was an educated woman, who enjoyed music, dancing, and spoke two or three European languages, while he was not cultured. She liked to play on his guilt by claiming that he tricked her into coming to this tiny speck off Borneo. According to her, he lied about conditions she would face, lied, lied, lied about everything, something he couldn’t do and get away with because she was highly intelligent. She surely knew, surely knew what she was in for, yet nothing irritated her more than heat and more heat and claustrophobia she only escaped when she was sleeping. There remained tropical fruits … only tropical fruits … mangoes, mangosteens, and a fruit called soursop … to enjoy. She enjoyed tropical fruits. She enjoyed mangoes, mangosteens, and soursop. She enjoyed these fruits and bragged about them when she went home.

She would’ve preferred living in Aden, Ceylon, Penang, or Singapore, places where people didn’t bathe in rivers or wouldn’t spy on her so much. She enjoyed a toilet whereas other people on this island didn’t. She enjoyed a hand-pump for water whereas other people on this island didn’t. She enjoyed mosquito netting whereas it didn’t matter to her husband as much. Now she lived away from a world she knew and loved as a child (also away from royal gardens, peacocks, flowers and perfumes of her imagination) and was forced to live under primitive conditions. She found it hard to smile. She found it hard to shrug things off. She found it hard to remain positive. She felt depressed most days. She suffered from colitis. She would’ve changed places with anyone except her husband. It irritated her that her husband never complained. It infuriated her. She stood behind him and beside him but only reluctantly.

The Kelabit, however, weren’t totally primitive. Mrs. Flint had never expected to hear them sing and play with mandolins. Yes, mandolins, sing and play with mandolins. When she heard them the first time sing and play with mandolins she knew it was unique. There wasn’t another tribe in this district that loved Spanish music so much. Spanish music? No, it wasn’t exactly Spanish, but it was not primitive. People there preferred to play and sing with mandolins outside, outside their nipa huts. And they sang all the time, sang and told stories, stories about themselves, their lives and loves. It was beauty, but Mrs. Flint wasn’t touched by it.

Mrs Flynn never like attention given to her on this island. She didn’t like being touched. She never got used to her hair being stroked. She didn’t like women stroking her face or her hair, touching her even if it were out of curiosity. She didn’t like people standing close to her. She never got used to men gaping at her whenever she went somewhere else in the district. She always attract a crowd. She always felt as if she were living in a fishbowl. She felt as if natives were trying to take a piece of her. She disliked it. No one could show so much disdain and at the same time have so many admirers. While appearing helpless, strangely enough she hated being helped. Born an aristocrat, she got angry with her husband over not recognizing it.

How could she be faulted for missing a family in Moscow or friends in England where she met Mr. Flynn ? Or why she couldn’t reconcile living so far away from civilization? How could she reconcile living so far away from civilization when she gave up so much? Or she missed Christmas and Easter, Russian springs and painted eggshells. And she couldn’t forget a seaside dacha she lived in as a child. She yearned for London and wanted to return to Paris. So, after loving London and Paris, she made a big mistake … the biggest one of her life: she married Mr. Flint.

Obviously she didn’t consider it a mistake at the time. Obviously she didn’t consider it a mistake when she married him. There was romance involved. There was a courtship. There was kissing, hugging, and yes, lust, yes lust involved, but she had reservations even then. Love isn’t something you can explain. Love may not be blind, but it’s intoxicating, and nothing is without its difficulties. Some mistakes seem right at the time, but with hindsight are obviously mistakes. She soon wished that she never met Mr. Flint. With all her heart she wished she stood her ground, told him no, rejected him, and especially after he talked about going into government service.

As a British government officer on a tiny island, Mr. Flint had to be a jack-of-all trades: a policeman, Chief of Public Works, Land Revenue Officer, magistrate, accountant, treasurer, and sometimes coroner; but prestige of this job hardly matched magnitude of sacrifices he made. Not to mention toll it took on his wife. But this brave man thrived on change and loved adventure, so he jumped at a chance to join Foreign Service.

Back in England, as a young man, he thrived on competition and excelled in sports such as cricket and polo. He seemed more interested in playing than having a career. But though he seemed to lack ambition, he had qualities that would make him a good administrator. He was always sober, enthusiastic, and full of energy. Once he got started on something, nothing stopped him … heat was less a factor than he expected. He didn’t mind monsoon. He loved uncertainty, uncertainty of monsoon. He liked watching clouds roll in, and lightning excited him. Once he was assigned to this part of the world … which he asked for …he could count on being shifted to almost every station except Brunei and Sandakan. Consequently he trekked through much of Borneo, through jungle interior where head hunting had not been curtailed. He never expected to be assigned to a tiny island.

Thus adapting to an illogical and tortuous landscape, to snakes, leeches, and parasites, to a jungle, cliffs, and crevasses, he felt at home where few white men rarely went. At home in small and remote villages, he was always honored with the best floor space. And he expected Mrs. Flint to adapt.

Mr. Flint couldn’t imagine living in England. Twice he gave it a try, and twice he gave up. He loved wilds, and life away from them seemed too tame. And everywhere he went he was treated like royalty and talked of nothing else. He loved it. Mr. Flint loved it.

Everyone was welcomed into his home (his home was his office). He maintained an open door policy. Day and night they came and brought him business. They came to him with their problems. Sometimes in the middle of the night they brought problems and expected him to solve them. He always helped them. He settled disputes. He negotiated treaties. He represented law and order. He represented Britain. And you know what this meant. He signed on for the duration and would be buried on an island in a small cemetery set aside for British civil servants. Mr. Flint was a great gentleman, a dedicated public servant, a loyal subject of the Crown, and a credit to the human race. He was one of many Englishmen overseas … united by regulations and policy … who helped the Crown maintain its valued empire.

 

They found themselves in a world that defied description, including never faltering spirits of falcons, otters, and rhinoceros. For Westerners these spirits didn’t exist. Westerners had no time for them. Westerners dismissed them; yet these spirits were everywhere. Whether fortunate or unfortunate, Mr. Flint wasn’t a believer, but he was around long enough that it didn’t seem improbable. To the Kelabit everything was a sign, such as a cry of a horn-bill or a sound of a falling rock. Then was it necessary to understand it? “ Wild waters tremble lest rivers turn to stone.” Was it necessary to understand this? Was it necessary to know for sure? There had to be something to it because the Kelabit rarely worried about anything, or so it seemed. They gain strength from an unspecific number of spirits, and they believed that as long as they were generous, spirits wouldn’t disturb peace.

Before the war the Kelabit considered Mr. Flint a generous man, and they were pleased with him, just as he was pleased with them. And he was able to keep peace.

There wasn’t much trouble because he was a generous man. From a small monthly allowance he purchased salt, tobacco, beads, and so on that he gave them. They also gave him gifts. That was how he managed. Anyway, he felt obligated to accept their gifts of chickens, rice, and eggs (and perhaps a sword, a battle headdress, a sun hat, or maybe a mat). To refuse anything would insult them. He had to anticipate what they would like. A mistake would’ve been disastrous. Of course he didn’t get it always right, but close enough usually worked. Nothing in England prepared him for this, but he soon found out that even people who weren’t advanced liked hair-lotion and scented-soap.

Hoping that men in big planes didn’t care about them, the Kelabit often waved at Japanese as they flew overhead, while the Flints considered it unsafe to wave. They hid. They moved around. They were constantly on the move. For safety, they relied on the Kelabit. Throughout the war, they relied on the Kelabit. From the air a jungle canopy gave only the faintest hint of human activity. Japs believed that this green hell was the last place they’d find Europeans. Given this assumption, they didn’t search jungles very much, and the Japanese couldn’t afford to waste men and time subjugating a few backward tribes, when they needed to concentrate on a growing headache. This meant the Flints felt relatively safe.

For the first time during occupation, Japanese faced American air attacks. Also, around this time, tempo of life around the long houses quickened because a “Z” Special Unit, made up of Australians, dropped into the island’s interior. This would be rightfully noted, rightfully noted, along with Japanese errors, as to what changed the course of the war. The Japanese showed utter contempt toward people living in the interior, but were the first to appreciate this mistake.

Had she been in her native Russia and part of the great Soviet experiment, Natasha would have run a greater risk (we know how Russia suffered during the war); yet she would’ve had her baby in a clean maternity ward. Mr. Flint didn’t know how to treat women. If he had, he would’ve sent her to a hospital to have their child. He would insist on it. Regardless what she said, he would insist on it. Before he brought her to Southeast Asia, he should’ve made contingency plans. He knew she wanted children, and he was foolish not to plan for it. It was obvious that he didn’t know much about her. It was obvious he didn’t know much about women. And she wasn’t sure that he loved her. And he was gone from their bungalow too much. He was away on business too much and rarely touched her. She would’ve been trouble if they never had sex. His excuse was that he was too busy, too busy for sex. She couldn’t understand it. She thought that there was something wrong with her.

Regardless where she lived in the Soviet Union, she would’ve given her son a proper name, a proper name by naming her son after one of her papa’s relatives. And for all of her effort, she would’ve won a Motherhood Glory medal.

Had she stayed in Moscow, as part of the Great Patriotic War effort, she would have worked in a factory and having a baby would’ve earned her a grant and a monthly bonus. She now knew nothing about working in a factory but felt she would’ve been treated better back home. The Soviet Union had a great interest in woman having babies. It was a matter of Soviet pride, so if she had been back in the Soviet Union everything would’ve been different. And she would be happy living there, had she been given a chance. Had she stayed in Moscow, she would not have had to hide. Had she stayed in Moscow, she would not have met Mr. Flint and married him. Had she stayed in Moscow, she would not live in Southeast Asia during the war.

By 1944, the Greater Co-prosperity regime of the Japanese had gone back on its word. Maybe they didn’t have resources to fulfill their promises. Maybe they promised too much. But it wasn’t a bad thing for the Flints (or the “Z” Special Unit). It allowed them to go unnoticed for three years, and after the Flints gave birth to their only son, they hoped it would continue for the duration of the war.

But whenever they heard and saw a wave of Zeros overhead, they knew they had to hide and leave the few comforts they had. Thus a bathroom, a study, and a sitting room were stolen from them. She was then suckling a child and became depressed. She wanted children; yet she was depressed. She wanted children; yet she tried to abort her second pregnancy. It was during the war and didn’t want to bring a child into a war-torn world. Even though she wanted children but not under those circumstances. She blamed her husband for the war, blamed him for everything that went wrong, and most of all for her a second pregnancy. But the Kalabit knew what to do and helped her. Without the Kalabit, she would not have made it, while courage, pluck, and a Scottish sense of resourcefulness sustained her husband.

Besides a few things she could carry, she took with her a desire to somehow get back to civilization. If her husband wouldn’t save her life, she would find someone who would. She looked for someone. She planned. She tried once or twice to leave him but never found an opportunity. To simply take off was too risky. The jungle seemed too hostile and was too risky for a pregnant woman with a child. Even when they lived in Sandakan … even with distractions, distractions of cards, dancing, and reading … she never liked living on Borneo, or near Borneo, or on an island. She felt isolation more than her husband did. She hated isolation. She hated living in isolation but was it really isolation? She saw few other white women, Western women, women of rank and fashion. There were a few adventurous women, and they sided with her husband. They also liked listening to the Kelabit sing “we have his head! We are so happy,” while Mrs. Flint hated it.

This Russian lady took delight in her anger. She would explode. Bang! Like that. She would explode. She survived by being combative and loudmouth. She didn’t try to control herself, and Mr. Flint was the brunt of her abuse. She may not have been so abusive had she been some place else. After they moved to Borneo, for safety sake, why couldn’t she appreciate the wild splendor of the Tamabo range and overridden all hardships with heroic notions? What happened to her adventurous side? If she had married adventure, maybe she wouldn’t have felt so betrayed. She hadn’t signed on for it. Maybe with the right attitude, though stuck in the middle of a jungle, she wouldn’t have complained so much.

Her original ideas about Borneo came from old pictures of old days when English officials dressed in white uniforms and spiked helmets. From diaries of the period, she read about music and dancing and bungalows the English built with true shingles, true gables, and true blinds. With rustle of silk and silken draperies, bright rooms were highlighted by colors of flowers of gardens. In that world, white women, except for servants, only associated with datus’ wives, other whites, and hosted garden parties.

She saw herself retaining a butler, dressed in a white jacket and a yellow and black sarong. She saw Mr. Flint wearing a white civil uniform and a Wolseley pattern helmet with a gilt royal arms, topped by a red and white swan-feather plume. If they could afford a butler, they could afford a maid to do cleaning, washing, and ironing. A maid also would give her company. She needed company. She needed another woman, another woman to talk to and with an idea of having a maid came an idea of throwing parties, parties, and going to parties, and having women friends, and it would be possible had her husband been assigned Hong Kong, Panang, or Singapore. Parties she envisioned would be large and given in a proper manner, with meals and table arrangements that would be prettier than those in England. Where right remarks given at the right moment lightened the heart or thawed the ice. “Makan! La … Minum! La … Janga malu! (Eat … Drink … Don’t be ashamed!) ” Never mind incorrect pronunciation. Etiquette was required. Knowing when to leave rooms and husbands to their claret and cigars was essential. No wonder she felt betrayed.

But what she found on Borneo and adjacent islands, even when she had her own home with a cookhouse and a boy to cook, was nothing as she imagined. Irritations, such as lack of privacy (since natives saw nothing wrong with peeping into windows) got to her. This meant that they had to keep their shutters shut all the time, which made her seem unfriendly. As for friends, she left them behind. And when they ended up in a jungle village, it became impossible for her. She had no one to relate to. She was lonely and homesick, and her loneliness intensified as time went by. If only there were other white women around. There were white women only in major towns along the coast but socializing with them meant a long journey (mostly by riverboat) and became impossible after Japan invaded. (After Japan invaded she never heard from white women in the coastal towns again. They were taken away to prison camps, and those who survived weren’t rescued until near the end of the war. She seemed to forget this.) And she and her husband had little in common. She didn’t like hunting or hiking and never joined her husband on hunting trips. She enjoyed looking at photographs of birds, which meant she became upset when her husband shot green pigeons and snipe.

Natasha left a home in a land of neatness and order and exchanged it for a land without proper seasons. There, there were only two seasons, wet and dry, for Natasha wet meant that she never got dry. Heat meant she was never dry. And she never felt secure in houses with nipa roofs and that swayed in wind. This meant she never felt secure anywhere.

She complained a lot to receive attention and complained a lot to receive sympathy, but the Kelabit never understood why she complained. What did she have to complain about? From the way she walked down the gangplank you could tell that she felt superior. From when she first stepped off a ship, years ago in Sandakan, carrying a parasol and wearing sunglasses, she looked too fair for the tropics where the temptation was to avoid sun completely. There were too many things that she had to get use to: bathing in a river made her feel violated and lack of privacy made her angry.

Who was she? Who was she really? She didn’t want to be defined by her husband. She never walked contently beside him. She never wanted to follow him. She didn’t liked walking behind him. She didn’t like walking in his footsteps. He didn’t like being mobbed. She didn’t like crowds she attracted. She didn’t like them. She thought they didn’t like her, though they mobbed her. Yes, it could be that, but there were other things that bothered her more, nor could she remember stupid little things that often got in her way.

Because of monsoon, rivers were flooding and trails were impassable. Without sympathy from her mate, she endured sticky skin and water that made her sick. She had runny stools, dysentery, and chills and sweats that made her worry about malaria. They both were tortured by bitters and were greeted by mangy dogs, but it didn’t bother her husband because he was always in motion, whereas getting from place to place was futile for Natasha. But what discouraged her most was isolation, which overshadowed beauty of the place. She spent much of her time staring into space. You could see by looking at her that she was unhappy. She wondered if she had ever loved her husband.

Natives thought Natasha came from a mouse deer, a stupid animal; and silly things she did amused them. Mimicry was a favorite pastime, and it drove her crazy. Men laughed and cried, while women often laughed so hard that they fell to the floor. Then, lying on their backs, they kicked the floor, while Natasha was expected to mask her revulsion. This famous female mouse deer had infected feet and had to ask for help. Then she had scars from infected feet, scars that never went away.

And at last the male mouse deer came carrying his wife on his back,
A sad man with a heavy burden, a burden which he wished he could throw off.”

Crockett’s old man masked his feelings. He always gave a measured response or retired behind a curtain of silence. Rather than fight, his father, Mr. Flint, fled. And as Natasha’s discontentment grew, she became more certain that she didn’t love him. For a while she pretended that she did. It annoyed her, and she felt sad and grew accustomed to sadness. One thing she could rely on was sadness. Yes, stupid mouse deer felt sad.

It all came from his coldness. He wouldn’t touch her. He seemed indifferent. She hated his correctness. He never said he was sorry, and when she asked him what was his problem, he wouldn’t answer her. But she still tried. Inexplicably, he wouldn’t answer her. Then, too, his correctness in how he dealt with other people irritated her. Though his duties as related to her were clearly spelled out by the church, it always came down to the church, whichever creed they followed: Church of England or Russian Orthodox. What? Maybe they should’ve concentrated on similarities rather than differences.

Sitting in a Kelabit long house with no privacy on her due date, her depression grew more acute. Around her were people who thought they lived in paradise. And her poor husband hardly slept and because of constant chatter never heard her say she wanted to kill herself. Wouldn’t it baffle him had he heard it? He had no idea what she was going through. Tired, nervous, and in an angry mood, he couldn’t have taken much more. He could never stand hysterical women, and now his wife was having a baby and was hysterical, their baby, and she was in pain and was hysterical. In any event, out of necessity he didn’t show his true feelings.

Though she regretted marrying Mr. Flint, Natasha wouldn’t want to return the Soviet Union. One ought never wish for something unless they have some idea of what they really want. With absence of phonograph records, she yearned to hear old Russians folk songs. She remembered in winter she could jump in snow and in summer dip in a pond without fear of slime, but Natasha would’ve been surprised to learn that a Russia she knew or dreamed of no longer existed. She forgot that friends she left behind were in prisons or in graves, after she fled purges of Stalin and married an Englishman.

On Sunday, June 22, 1941, Germans attacked Russia and Timur and His Gang inspired them to hold on. From pages of a little book meant for children, for the sake of those fighting at the front, they learned to “live honestly, modestly, to study well, and work stubbornly” and, even during the fiercest battle, to stay “happy, proud, and calm.” Therefore, due to effort of her children, Russia rose from ashes. Boys and girls described in the book arrived with their tools and rushed off to work. They cheerfully worked gardens, minded babies, and gathered scrap. Not that Crockett ever knew industriousness of his forgotten cousins; but a connection was there. He inherited many of those traits from his mother.

Birth of a son gave Natasha something to live for. It gave her hope, hope, and she felt it at the moment of conception. She and Mr. Flint made love infrequently, so she knew exactly when it happened. Natives believed pregnancy came from discharge of hot blood during orgasms: they were partially right for father in this case was hot and sweaty after he did his part. Then look at it from Natasha’s perspective: she almost died and for a while wished she had. Her husband’s lack of participation … he left the house … didn’t help. It caused her additional pain, as the Kelabit celebrated.

Everyone excepted the mother drank rice wine and celebrate that her womb had been right and the couple’s blood were properly mixed. Adam Flint felt proud. A SON! And while drinking as much wine as he could as all men did, he expressed his happiness. The Kelabit followed his example and got drunk. They also teased him about sex, about unsticking the womb, which distinguished it from being stuck to the backbone. They chanted “ bloods getting hotter and hotter until it boils and turns to steam.” And he felt really, really embarrassed.

Natasha didn’t know why they were laughing. It would’ve disgusted her. You need to remember that many things they did disgusted her. How they went to the bathroom in the river was one example. Why her husband hadn’t done anything about this, she never knew. Now they were laughing. And she just had a baby, and she heard them laughing, and if she knew why she would be disgusted. She would never know why they were laughing.

There hadn’t been time to send for a doctor, while during dry season there would’ve been plenty time. It was a silly mistake, since she knew her due date. It was easy for Natasha to blame her husband and accuse him of not caring, not care much, not caring enough, and blame him for impassible trails and blame him for monsoon. There were no telephones, and it was highly unlikely that they would have any service soon. Mr. Flint had a short wave radio. Why hadn’t he used this radio?

To assure future prosperity, Adam bought a buffalo, bought a water buffalo, which they slaughtered and ate. It was a special meal, It was a celebration, a special meal, but it didn’t involve Natasha. In Russia, she wouldn’t have been ignored. Her family would have focused on her. Her family would’ve fussed over her. They would wait on her and brought her caviar, an omelet, black bread, and tea. If she’d tried to get up, they would stop her. Now any acknowledgment would’ve meant the world to her.

First sounds Crockett heard were soft songs sung by a midwife. Songs calmed the baby and got him accustomed to his new home. This midwife took dried leaves, which dropped from jungle trees and applied them to Crockett’s forehead. She threatened evil spirits. She yelled at evil spirits, and when they didn’t withdraw from the house, the child was subjected to another ritual and on it went. On and on it went. This midwife began to speak to him as if he were an adult. “He will be tempered like this iron in my hand! He’ll grow strong because posts of his body will be made of iron!” Sacred rituals also involved chasing away spirits that could kill him. This amused Natasha. Yes, something amused her. She laughed and laughed for the first time in a long while. While she didn’t believe in “such nonsense,” Christianity didn’t help her either.

Meanwhile, while celebrating, Adam had no patience for superstition. After celebrations, he was faced with the same realities that he faced before birth of his son. To Natasha, he seemed more concerned about his position as a representative of the Crown than concerned about her or their son. Something else, that was she still felt as if she lived in a fish bowl.

From birth, Crockett was treated like a Rajah. As a child, Crockett was treated as a Rajah. As a child, he was pampered, cuddled, and treated like royalty. The whole tribe adopted him. A Rajah, a white Rajah, he was placed on a pedestal. And he had many attributes to support this idea. There was no denying that it was because of his fair skin and length. He was longest baby they ever saw. His midwife treated him like a Rajah. His midwife treated him like royalty. His midwife predicted that he would become a powerful man and cited length of his cord as a reason for it. She cut it long to make sure. She cut his cord as long as she could, dried it, and placed it on display. She took pride in length of his cord. It was the longest one she ever saw. And there was every reason to believe that he would be healthy and strong. He not only grew strong but also was always treated differently because of his extreme height. Over six-feet tall, he was always treated differently because of it. Publicly honored, privately scorned, and always spoiled, and tall, very tall, he couldn’t have gone unnoticed. The slightest sneeze brought a tidal wave of attention.

As Natasha’s resentment grew, she retreated and paid less attention to Mr. Flint and her son. Crockett didn’t understand. Crockett didn’t understand why he never saw his mother. He didn’t understand why his mother retreated and ignored him. He grew to suspect she didn’t love him. He missed his mother, but he had friends, native friends, and was cared for by the tribe.

As war continued, Aussies came. One day out of the blue they dropped out of the sky. Perhaps if they hadn’t come war wouldn’t have come to the interior. And Aussies, who wore khaki shorts and ran around with their shirts off, won it for the allies. Accordingly, as a British official, Adam helped out as much as he could, but still Australians snubbed him. What else could he do then but wait for them to come to him? What else could he do until they left Borneo? What else could he do until they went home? He knew the local dialect while most Aussies didn’t, and that proved useful when it came to negotiating. Natasha, then however, succeeded with them when her husband couldn’t. Natasha succeeded with them when her husband wasn’t around.

Her existence delighted them. They delighted in her existence. They hadn’t expected to find a pretty white woman living in the jungle. They hadn’t expected to find a pretty white woman living in interior of Borneo, a white woman who they could communicate with. And a beautiful woman. They thought she was beautiful. What a delightful! What a surprise! What a delightful surprise! They felt lucky, but she was married, married! But hell, what did it matter? Sometimes temptation is too great. Sometimes temptation was too great. But it wasn’t something that was easy nor something that happened overnight. No, no, no! Because most of these Australians were also married.

Here was attention she sought. Lonely people and lonely hearts were closely allied. To Natasha, British Civil Servants were so ridiculously stuffy, while Aussies seemed so much more alive. (And Aussies ran around with their shirts off.) Since she sometimes wondered why she stuck with her husband, she was tempted now in ways she wasn’t tempted before. Perhaps she only hesitated because there was no place for her to escape. Jungle certainly didn’t offer her a sanctuary. Jungle certainly didn’t offer her privacy.

After Aussies came, she had to deal with something inside herself that she didn’t like. She had to compromise when she didn’t like compromising. She compromised because she couldn’t hide. But she couldn’t remember the last time she had so much fun. “They like what they see,” she said and didn’t want to be put back on a shelf. Then for some reason she gained confidence, and one thing led to another.

She didn’t care anymore … didn’t care if she upset her husband when she picked out one of them. The shortest one, with a protruding chin: his name was Roger.

Roger. It was Roger. And he was married. And she wasn’t sure why she picked him except he was married. And she picked him because he was the shortest one. And she considered herself lucky because he was a fine person. Her husband didn’t think so. They were both married, but neither one of them considered marriage irrevocable.

Aussies were more forward than the British. Aussies ran around without shirts. They survived tropics without shirts. Natasha enjoyed their humor, their flippancy, and their flattery. She believed Roger when he told her that he loved her. Natasha needed love. Mr. Flint never told her he loved her. In what ways were the British restrained, too restrained for Natasha’s taste? Was it simply in Aussies’ manner or lack of manners or their appearance? Yes, British people still talked about keeping a stiff upper lip, but as for Natasha, Roger, with his bare chest and perturbing chin, had them beat. It was simple though: he was also handsome … without his shirt on.

Adam couldn’t control her. He wanted to control her, but he never tried. And never talked about it. They never talked about it. Yet Natasha talked and needled him as much as she could. She also took great risks and laughed and sang with men from down-under. You could say that she was no good. Aussies would’ve said the opposite. Her tastes were indeed opposite of Adam’s. His strictness sapped her energy. All buttoned up, he gained his authority by being trim and proper. He kept a stiff upper lip while his rivals boasted and ran around with their shirts off. Hair on Aussies’ chests delighted Natasha, and she talked about it until she died “Those Australians were a wild bunch. They were certainly appreciative of me and, when I needed salvation, they saved my life,” she said. Such was the situation when Natasha felt trapped the most.

Natasha neglected Crockett. Without thinking about it, she gave her son’s care over to her neighbors. Carried in a sling, he was cared for by three-to-six-year-old nurses, who lived and played in a three-to-six-year-old world. While carrying him in a sling, his three-six-year-nurses jumped up and down to time of rice sifting, or threw stones by pushing them forward with a shot put-like motion. Play kept his nurses occupied, while they babysat a white infant with a full head of hair.

It was May of 1945. Jungle had grown over charred ruins of Sandakan, and you could see where American ships shelled and torpedoed harbor and town. Nor was it hard to forget a May Day massacre and jungles were now dangerous because of fleeing Japanese. Now came task of staying alive, staying alive, and staying alive until Japs capitulated.

Natasha waited with resignation. Natasha and Mr. Flint hid with resignation. By then Natasha decided to leave her husband and join Roger in Australia. Uncertainty that came from hiding from a brutal enemy and being a white woman trapped in an unmapped, untamed jungle that had taken its toll. She was giddy about hooking up with Roger again. She was giddy about living in Australia with Roger and hadn’t thought about complications involved. It would give her, as she put it, freedom, but there were complications. She didn’t intend to take Crockett with her. Crockett? She rightly associated Crockett with savages, who until recently had been headhunters. Crockett? He was a little savage. Crockett had become a little savage. She did however recognize him as her son. Crockett? Sometimes her son frightened her. Sometimes she didn’t recognize her son. She loved him; yet she didn’t recognize him. So Natasha … a strong woman who appeared fragile … was persuaded to let go of her son … decided to leave her son and husband, which she immediately regretted.

By this time Adam carried Crockett on his shoulders. It was always a tribute to Adam that he cared so much for his son and that theywere bonded. Together they went exploring. Together they explored jungles. Together they hunted boar. Together they hunted nuisance cats. Together they fished. Together they sailed the Sulu Sea. That was how the boy was exposed to jungles and the Sulu Sea, islands of the Sulu Sea, Sitangia, Tawi Tawi, Turtle Island, and even Jolo. And it was always to his father that he attributed his love for Borneo. And it was always to his father that he attributed his respect of Islam. During his boyhood it was his father who influenced him most, though there was a wild side to him that was never tamed. Then, too, when he thought of his mother and missed her, of course he missed her, he never thought of her failings. Yes, he missed his mother and planned to someday see her. All right, all right, he hated his stepfather and Aussies who didn’t wear shirts. Who influenced Crockett more, a mother who sometimes protected him, or a father who exposed him to innumerable risks?

Under both the Chartered Borneo Company and later Administering Government, Adam Flint was a loyal civil servant, and a very good one. Only once was he derelict in his duties. But he could have been more influential. He stayed in Borneo too long to be more influential. He became an old man too early and in later years lost vision.

Growing up in the interior of Borneo, usually naked and barefoot, Crockett learned to love jungles his father loved. From an early age, Crockett explored on his own. Barefoot and naked, he carried a spear. Jungles became his home. The Sulu Sea became his home, and he was never afraid because he knew he could meet any emergency.

Little Rajah never backed down. His father taught to never back down. His father said “Crockett will someday carve an important niche for himself” and indeed he had many of his father’s traits. Thus there was a difference between him and other boys that gave him an edge, and his skin color also gave him an advantage. Little White Rajah … some said that he could be the next heir of James Brooke of Sarawak, though there were already heirs in line. Crockett retained his title not so much because he was a deserving boy but because of valor he showed in mock combat.

He would pick up a stick and hit his enemies with great delight. To earn respect, a Rajah had to be willing to die and defend himself with all of his might. He pulled his friends hair knots. He hit his friends with a stick. Imagine what he did to his enemies! He ran up behind his victim’s jackfruit head, and before he got caught he pulled hard. He always fought to win.

In birthday suits, boys slid down hills on bamboo sleds. Then as the biggest, Crockett would start it and end it, end it victorious. Insults and jibes flew and teasing produced a desired effect. This always amused adults. And Crockett always stood out, but his most salient quality was his empathy for victims.

Crockett looked up to his father. He saw his father at work, and his values, as prescribed by duty, came from his dad. Sometimes Crockett wondered how his mother was managing. He knew his father missed her, or suspected he did. He watched his father assert his authority, enforce British laws, and do all he could to prevent head hunting.

For years British government tried to abolish headhunting. It had been a full-time job, and even as late as 1951, this ritual survived in scattered pockets of Borneo; however as far as Adam knew, killing had stopped in his area. Then while they had put a stop to human sacrifices, ceremonial parts with dancing and drinking lived on. But had British officials suspected participants still sometimes coated spear tips with poison, there would’ve been hell to pay. But far worse for Mr. Flint and more threatening was what happened with his son.

On occasion Crockett participated in these martial rites. Crockett wanted to be a warrior. Crockett wanted to be a great warrior. Dressed in a loin strap, a war-coat, and a helmet, he looked like a warrior. Then as darkness fell he and a small war party left a village and spent a night beside a river. They stayed up all night, spent all night getting ready for a mock battle. There was a ritual they followed. Everyone knew it. Everyone knew this ritual., and normally it wouldn’t have amounted to much, and except for one reckless moment that was how it would be … and if he had been his father, Crockett thought, he would have stopped it.

All evidence was in tact: fresh blood, a severed head, a grim collection. And added to this a bloody knife and spear and rest of a corpse with puncture wounds to the heart. It had been a brutal murder.

Bloody and brutal and the whole war party participated. It was forbidden and against colonial law, and yet they didn’t try to cover it up. Instead they celebrated. Pretty terrible, and they celebrated, and Crockett participated. He got his hands bloody. He got his loincloth bloody. Crockett joined in as they shouted and stomped their feet and jumped an unarmed neighbor from a neighboring, rival village. He hated things that were messy, yet he participated in something that was messy, very messy, and he couldn’t explain why he did. Crockett wasn’t intoxicated. Crockett wasn’t in a trance. He knew what he was doing, yet couldn’t explain it. He couldn’t help himself. Crockett became violent when other boys had, and he took his turn with knife and spear, and he couldn’t help himself He couldn’t explain it and wanted to forget it, and it became a refrain he repeated rest of his life. Crockett saw another boy pick up the head. He was thinking, you see, it would’ve been better if it only had been his head. He knew what position this put his father in … his father was a police officer, and he was a jailer and a judge. He knew at once that he would have to face his father: a police officer, a jailer, and a judge.

Crockett knew his father would kill him. Not that he would literally kill him because that would require more from his father than his father had. Murder was murder and required justice even if murderers were boys … even if your son was a murderer. Murder was murder and required justice even if one of the murderers was your son. What unfolded in a matter of minutes hurt Crockett forever. Horrified, Crockett stood there. Whole party saw his face. Then he panicked. It went without saying that he would panic, didn’t it?

A refrain he was beginning to live with went like this: “I have killed a man. I am murderer. So then I should be sent to prison and perhaps hanged. Hanged! Justice requires it. Justice requires hanging. ” He became vulnerable just as he became violent. He would confess and pay a price, but it wasn’t up to him. And while quickest and most honorable way out was a bullet. If he had access to a gun he knew what he would do.

We have here a collision of cultures, old and new, primitive and civilized. Oh, he understood what consequences should be, but he couldn’t understand why his father did what he did. He was disappointed. He was disappointed with his father. His father disappointed him. Could Crockett believe his father wouldn’t do anything? Of course, he would have to make a report. His father would have to write a report.

Murder is murder, and murder was a capital crime. Was that the refrain? Yes, of course, it was. Grizzly. Grizzly … Crizzly, yes. A grizzly murder. It would be a long time before any of them would forget it.

While Crockett was alone with his feelings of guilt other boys were engrossed in business at hand. For a quarter of an hour this war party whooped and danced and paid little attention to Crockett. They made an offering to Brahming kites and Spider Hunter and looked for religious meaning in what they did. But a head as a trophy held no significance for Crockett. Instead he felt sick while his friends felt the reverse. As Crockett later recalled, “they sprung into the air, shouted, clapped, and laughed, as I tried to let it out.” He was not crying for himself but for a person killed.

In times past a whole tribe celebrated arrival of omen birds. Attended then were kites instead of a bastard form: instead of chicken flesh or goat meat: this time human flesh! Even small children participated.

They sprinkled themselves with blood to increase their strength as fighters. But now instead of blood of a chicken or a goat blood of an enemy, blood of a human! And martial rites and offerings continued with clanging of gongs.

Circling birds attracted unwanted attention. Adam, poor chap, went to scene of the crime Adam went to scene of crime with reluctance. It wasn’t that he dreaded what he’d find. It was that he knew that it wouldn’t be pretty. He knew what he would find. He read a report and knew what he would find, but he never expected to find that his son was involved. In his official report he wouldn’t mention Crockett, though when he arrived on the scene he saw that his only son was not only there but had blood on his hands. From this moment on, this civil servant only thought of one thing. He abandoned principals and covered up a crime in order to save his son.

Water removed blood, and Mr. Flint soon sent Crockett to Darwin to be with his mom. And he wouldn’t have gotten away with it elsewhere. Had he lived in a major town, such a crime would require a more thorough investigation. Instead he had to think up something and put together something that satisfied everyone. He had to concoct a story to satisfy everyone. No one wanted to admit that headhunting hadn’t been eradicated, hadn’t been eradicated, and because of it people were reluctant to talk. They were ashamed, and shame was a powerful thing. Ever see a grown man cry? This was one time Adam Flint cried.

As direct result of this incident, a cat fight between two villages intensified. More blood flowed. More blood flowed. More blood. Once killing began, it was hard to stop. It spoke well of British officials that they were able to stop this violence before it spread to other villages. The Chartered Company regained control by executing leaders of the feud in Jesselton. With regard to head hunting, a connection between it and feuding villages was never made. It was never officially made. Then after a hearing, Adam gratefully accepted reassignment. Such gifts bunglers received when they were members of the same club. Though in this case, motives of Adam’s superiors were unknown.

Meanwhile, in Darwin, Crockett attended a Catholic school, and it was only a matter of time before he screwed up. He was bullied as he walked through halls, and it was only a matter of time before he exploded. That was when this redhead English boy learned what it meant to be a foreigner. Crockett discovered that his English, British English, wasn’t good enough. No longer a rajah, he paid a price for being different. Not only did his peers pick on him, but also sadly his teachers allowed it.

It was difficult and damn shitty. It was a shitty feeling. And his mother couldn’t control him, so it was only a matter of time before he ran away. Perhaps he was listening to a refrain in his head. Or perhaps he simply wanted to be with his father. If he’d stayed in Darwin it would’ve been only a matter of time before he shot someone.

After the war, having to totally rebuild a mutilated land, people’s attitudes changed. There was a widespread distaste for traditional, old fashion Asian ideas, while the Colonial Administration didn’t radically alter the Chartered Company’s legacy. Then as rebuilding continued into the 1950′s, Crockett moved into exporting (now illegally) everything from breakfast grains to trucks … shoes, refrigerators, furniture, tractors, cars, bicycles, etc. As far as he was concerned, he owned this territory, he knew this territory and own it and earned ownership, and it came with arrangements he made. And he was a gentleman among smugglers and a lifeline to the whole Sulu archipelago, with some of his goods attracting customers in Manila.

By the late 50’s, Crockett slipped back into Malaysia but hadn’t bothered to look up his dad. No. But remember trouble he was in. He changed his name. And hoped people wouldn’t remember him. And somehow he managed to curry favor with politicians, politicians in charge and who were determined to make a new nation work.

Tausug, and not Gypsies, still lived in bamboo houses reached by a maze of shaky walkways built over the sea. Crockett descended on these people with his small army of boats. He was determined to raise their standard of living and make a profit from it. With pox Americana, tausug, by and large, accepted American rule, but with Philippine independence that was about to change?

America introduced paper money proving how ready people of Sulu were for Crockett and his bargains. With a variety of goods, goods to sale he always departed a richer man than when he came, and his ability to move around safely proved that he had right connections. He started with one boat filled with chintz, chinaware, tea, drugs, and many other things; next a bigger boat and then many boats; and finally he established a monopoly. Poor chap made a lot of money from selling petrol, blue jeans and t-shirts, Guinness Stout and cheap parangs and upped ante when he added Cornflakes, Tide, and Coca-Cola and before long was living a life of a white Rajah. From money he made he constructed a house made of white coral, and with hardwood floors and imported furniture, this house would impress the real White Rajah.

And as for his father, poor Mr. Flint, he was still on Borneo somewhere, but God knows where. It was a difficult situation for him because he lost his job when Malaysia gained independence. If there had been some definite news from him … Crockett would’ve felt responsible … and would’ve surely taken him in. You could be sure of it. It was the least he could do. Though a bit improbable, or impossible for them both. Perhaps. You were saying? If he were still alive ….

Randy Ford

Leave a comment

Filed under Headhunting

Barney Rosset Author- MY LIFE IN PUBLISHING HOW I FOUGHT CENSORSHIP

VIVID AND INFORMATIVE
… a must for anyone
interested in 20th-century American publishing and culture.
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

This “candid self-portrait” (Publishers Weekly) of “the one-in-a-million Barney Rosset, America’s bravest publisher” (Paul Auster) tells “a colorful and rollicking history” (Publishers Weekly) of the one person of whom it could be said he “represents the literary world of the latter half of the 20th century” (Kenzaburō Ōe).

NOW SHIPPING: ONLY DIRECT FROM OR BOOKS. NOT AVAILABLE ON AMAZON OR IN STORES UNTIL JANUARY.

FIND OUT MORE



www.orbooks.com

forward to a friend
unsubscribe from this list
view email in browser

Leave a comment

Filed under Books to Read

The Society of Southwestern Authors- Jul7, 2016 Writers Forum Hosts David Robrock

The Society of Southwestern Authors
 Forum
July 17th,2016
At the Hotel Tucson (Inn Suites)
From 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Hotel Tucson
475 N. Granada, Tucson, AZ 85701
Coming from the north or south on I-10, take the St. Marys/Speedway exit. Go East to Granada St. traffic light. Turn right on Granada. Second driveway is the Hotel Tucson. OR traveling west on Speedway, cross Stone Ave.  Next left is Main St. Turn left, cross RR tracks. Go straight. Main becomes Granada at traffic light, and second right driveway is The Hotel Tucson.
The Literary Apprenticeship
of Mark Twain
as presented by David Robrock
How did Twain get so Good?
**Please save March 4th, 2017 for our soon to be revealed NEW SSA Conference**
(details soon )
Reservations:
Email: ssabrunches@gmail.com or Telephone: 546-9382
by Wednesday July 13th,2016
Cost: $25.00 w/ RSVP $30.00 at the door

Leave a comment

Filed under Workshops & Conferences

Randy Ford Author- SELECTIVE SERVICE

SELECTIVE SERVICE

by Randy Ford

Along the Avenue late afternoon there were only a few people who paid attention to him. Those who recognized him didn’t see him. Those people who saw him wanted to ignore him, so everyone ignored him. Day after day people ignored him. Day after day he was ignored. Day after day people saw him picking through garbage cams amd ignored him.

People didn’t know his name. People didn’t know where he came from. People didn’t know his story. People didn’t take time to learn his story.

Among those who recognized him none remembered seeing him, remembered seeing him after they saw him picking through garbage cans. Some of these people saw him day in and day out, three or four times a day, picking through garbage and trash and wished he’d go away. Some saw him eat out of garbage cans and wished he would go away. As a homeless man he surely hurt business along the Avenue. And there was a stigma to being filthy, smelly, and a wasted human being, a wasted man who spent his time ravaging through garbage cans looking for something of value and something to eat.

What was his story? Who was he? Surely he had a story. Surely he had a family. Where was his family? Where did he come from? Were people looking for him? Was he considered a missing person? Was he on a list somewhere? Surely people were looking for him. Surely he had a family. Surely he was on list somewhere? Where were his parents? Were his parents alive? Did he have a family: brothers, sisters, ex- wives, sons or daughters? Was anyone looking for him? Did anyone care? Was he human?

How many people assumed he was dead? How many people assumed he was dead since no one seemed to care, or no one saw him? A family, a sister or a brother-in-law, surely. Surely, someone. Surely, someone remembered him. A father, a mother, a son, a daughter, surely? How long ago had someone stopped looking for him? How long ago had people assumed he was dead? How long ago had people stopped asking about him?

And where did he did sleep? And where did he sleep last night or night before? Did he sleep? No one knew.

Didn’t his ex-wives say he was dead? Didn’t his sons and daughters say he was missing? Missing? Missing? Missing? Missing from what? Missing in action! They said he was missing in action and made a big deal of Memorial Day. They made a big deal of Memorial Day because they hadn’t heard from him and assumed he was missing in action or wanted to believe he was MIA in Nam, MIA in Nan. They knew he was drafted and sent to Nam. Drafted after high school and sent to Nam where he became a grunt. Yes, a grunt, a grunt, grunt, always a grunt. So he was on a list somewhere.

So let’s give him a name. On a list somewhere, so let’s give him a name. Chuck. Chuck, Chuck, not Chpmunk or Chunky. No, far from chunky. Starving. Eating out of garbage cans. Chuck was the only person who could fill in blanks, but a mortar that was aimed at someone else scrambled his brain.

Though most people didn’t pay attention to him, Chuck always began by cursing war. War! War! Whose war? Who gave a damn? Who gives a damn? Many of his buddies were gone. Many were dead and buried. Some were buried along side other soldiers, and a few were still missing. MIA. MIA! That’s not to say that there weren’t many success stories, and some of those vets ate and shopped on the Avenue. Many weren’t missing.

Action Chuck saw and tried to put behind him haunted him. It haunted him just as a nickname war buddies gave him. He still lived war, war in Nam, only battlefields changed, and it affected him more than people imagined. He relived action, battles, murder, murder of women and children, and death, death, killing, people he killed, people he was expected to kill. That was why he swore, cursed and laughed, and talked to himself as he ate out of garbage cans. He was relatively young then, in his mid-fifties, but he looked old.

Obviously the system … THE SYSTEM … what system … failed him. His teeth were rotten and half-missing; he shuffled, and he had a diagnosis. He suffered from untreated diabetics. He was lucky he hadn’t lost a leg. He had old battle wounds. He was lucky he hadn’t lost his life. When people saw him, he was ridiculed and what you heard about him was mean. Of course I thought about buying him a meal and would’ve given him money if I thought he would buy food with it. (I never gave him anything. When he asked, I never gave him anything. When he held out his hand out, I never gave him anything. I saw his deteriorating condition, and it broke my heart; yet I never gave him anything.) I knew giving him money wouldn’t help him. I didn’t see what I could do. My father fought in World War II, and he didn’t end up homeless. I wanted to clean him up, take him home, but I never did. I never did because I was always on my way somewhere.

The next one to disturb me was an African American, who almost ran me over with his bicycle. I was standing on the Avenue, and he almost ran me over with his bicycle. He rode down the sidewalk, when it was against the law, and he was in his late fifties, in his late fifties and a vet and had never been to the VA. He’d never been to the VA for anything or so he said before he added, “Nobody cares over there.” Though I knew better, I nodded my head.

His voice was filled with emotion when he said, “They don’t help. Nobody does. Nobody helps. No they don’t.” Well, he looked me in the eyes, which made me feel uncomfortable, and then he said, “You better get out of my way before I explode, and I don’t think you want to see me, me, me explode!”

He never exploded (or did he?), so I never knew what could have happened. But from tone of his voice I knew he intended to do something. Then he said, “I was a hero in Nam, you know, but here at home, they treat me like a nigger.” He then saluted me and said, “You’re in my way.”

After that we spoke whenever we ran into each other. I never learned his name. For a time the Avenue must’ve been on his route and he continued, with his bicycle, to act as if he owned every sidewalk, of course. And after Nam, I suspect he felt we owed it to him, owed him every sidewalk. I saw him all over town riding his bicycle and sleeping on sidewalks. And after the war, we all… we all who came home were disappointed with how we were treated when we came home. Along with that we can say he was a damn hazard, but he didn’t care, a damn hazard and didn’t care. He shouldn’t have acted as if he owned the whole sidewalk or should’ve gone back to where he came from. Here, I have to be careful about what I say. People could take it the wrong way for when I was growing up, we sometimes called African Americans niggers when we knew better … we called them niggers when we knew better. Then we fought together, and our lives depended on each other. We loved to call them niggers, but during the war they became our buddies. Then Nam came and the shoe was on the other foot because some of us were grunts and former niggers were in charge of us. Now I can’t help but think about it whenever I see Sam (I finally learned his name) barreling toward me on his bicycle and riding it where he’s not suppose to. I think when I look into those coal black eyes … well, I know what I think. I think I owe my life to a black man or an African American who used to be a nigger to me, and I never knew whether to hug him or push him off his bike. Then he has the gall to say that we’re treating him like a goddamn nigger … a goddamn nigger saved my life goddamn it! I don’t know how he can say that we don’t care. He saved my life goddamn it. Our platoon accepted African Americans, in fact the whole army did, and we fought side by side, joked, laughed, ate mess together. We depended on them, and they depended on us. We depended on each other, and they became our brothers. But now he has the gall to say that we’re treating him like a nigger. During Christmas season, I even invited him into my home. Now does that seem like I’m …? Well, I’m not!

We saw each other whenever we could, though it brought back memories that were painful. From time I came back from Nam I knew that she would be part of my life, and after we met, which only happened after considerable effort on my part- after we talked we knew our bond was solid. I can say of her what I have doubtless said of myself: she shouldn’t blame herself. No, she shouldn’t. And I shouldn’t blame myself. Here we should pause and pay our respects to Guy. When I came back from Vietnam and had Shannon waiting for me, I returned to a job that I had before I got drafted. I loved people and selling and promoting so I was naturally drawn to the Avenue. Working there gave me enormous pleasure. I dreamed of someday owning my own bar and opening it on the Avenue, but that’s another story. I think looking at faces of other veterans on the Avenue is something that helped foster my desire to find Guy’s widow. A part of me resisted it; then I felt relieved when I began searching, and of course, I had Shannon’s support. We were in the same platoon. I was alive because of Guy, and he didn’t get a chance to resume life as a civilian. His son would never know him. Birthdays and holidays were particularly hard on Guy’s widow. “Reported Guy to his draft board!” His ex-wife reported Guy to his draft board. All blame that she assumed for it … now that it was too late … was something that I knew nothing about. We were on the move as part of a search and destroy mission. That was when we engaged the enemy. An immediate exchange of small arms fire occurred, two Americans were dead, but that was only the beginning of a firefight that lasted until dark. I can’t forget it and would always remember two troopers who were initially killed. I always think of them at odd times. A sniper in a tree shot one of them. And sniper who shot him was also shot. As I remember … generally, we didn’t celebrate anyone’s death, but this time we did. Still, it was horrible. Guy always covered my butt and I covered his, in our late teens, fresh out of high school, covering each other’s butt. Nice Christian boys, kind of rowdy, scruffy boys, Protestant, both of us had women back home. Guy told us he was married. When asked about it, he shrugged and lower his head. I carried a picture of Shannon and showed it to everyone. We could never get a straight answer from Guy, but we didn’t have courage to make an issue of it. He gave me Melvina’s name and asked me to contact her if anything happened to him. I said I would and he said he’d do the same thing for me since we’d do anything for each other. Not only did we cover each other’s butt but we were like family. We ate together, we slept together, laughed and cried together: we had a bond that couldn’t be broken. And he made the ultimate sacrifice for me, so I wasn’t about to go back on my word. Since he did that for me, the least I could do for him was to go see Melvina. Over the years, I’ve gotten to know her, and their boy Ted, and I’ve sort of adopted him. Melvina, a beautiful person, would sit in her living room whenever I went to see her and she wouldn’t mention Guy, though I could feel his presence in the room. After I gave them a small box with Guy’s things in it, I never knew what they did with the box or his things. They never said, and I never asked. That there wasn’t a picture of him in the house seemed strange to me … at first. Melvina told me that she sold her wedding ring and even sold it while Guy was alive. That proved to me that they were indeed married. Half time we sat there and didn’t say anything. We didn’t have to. Women like Melvina … she made me feel comfortable and she understood how close Guy and I were, and she kept her emotions out of our conversations, so we could really talk to each other … first about our families and then about other things. There was Vietnam, “Nam” to us who have been there; there were members of our platoon, our extended family; there were the trips to San Jose to see Melvina, and I considered her family too. Once a year I tried to make this trip. There were expenses that I didn’t mind, and this became a part of a routine that I followed for many years. Eventually Melvina’s side of the story came out. “And now what?” I asked. “I don’t think it would matter to Guy. There’s no need for you to beat yourself up over it. Remembering he was a hero. Why not remember the positive, when the negative was so horrible? Before he died, Guy asked me to look in on you. But I’m still curious? Did he know that he had a son? To me it’s unbelievable that he didn’t, but he never mentioned or showed me a picture of Ted.”

See. I had our marriage annulled. It was a very acceptable way for me to get out of our marriage, since I didn’t believe in divorce. To me,” she said, “we shouldn’t have gotten married. We eloped, as I remember. We shouldn’t have gotten married, but, but we couldn’t help … stop, stop when we should’ve stopped. Had to lie about our age in those days. Guy had a way with girls. You knew Guy. He had a way of talking. He was cool, and he knew it, and when I say I made a mistake I have to own up to it, it was just as much my fault as his. First time we did it, I couldn’t stopped him. He didn’t rape me, and when I turned up pregnant, I came up with the idea of eloping. At first I couldn’t have been happier. He could’ve taken me anywhere, and I wouldn’t have complained. There was a Justice of the Peace who knew we were lying about our ages: with a ring on my finger, I woke up next morning, questioning what I had done. The beautiful moment was over for me, and all I was left with was shame. At the same time I hoped my parents wouldn’t kick me out, so we went to live with them. I remember my dad telling me, “Guy is no good.” But what could I do then? That’s how young we were. We didn’t know what to do except move in with my parents. Rightly or wrongly, we had to depend on them. Because they weren’t about to let us … then there was Vietnam.” While she was telling the story about what she did to Guy, she took her time and it proved hard for her … except she said it felt good to talk to someone, especially to me. Living with her parents didn’t work out. She said the marriage wouldn’t have worked out anyway. Before Guy moved out, Melvina’s father arranged for an annulment. Then she notified Guy’s draft board, and they immediately drafted him. In the afternoon, after she finished her story, Melvina showed me that she’d kept a Purple Heart Guy received posthumously.

Then there was his son, a young man in his late twenties and good looking with blond hair and blue eyes and fair skin, and he was the spitting image of Guy. A handsome young man who was already balding and very much like his dead father, Guy, shot and killed thousands of miles from there and a quarter of a century before then. But Ted didn’t have to face the draft like his father did and once he came of age it looked as if he’d forgotten sacrifices his father made. For some reason he turned antagonistic towards both his mother and me, and I didn’t know why. Whenever I was around and he opened his mouth, he lashed out at his mother and me in an unkind way, and there was no need for it. He was nasty to me and yes his mother, forcing me to come to her rescue. It happened countless times, and I felt sorry for both them. And it got worse. I talked to his mother about it, but her response surprised me for she didn’t show any anger or frustration.

Like I said, her reaction surprised me. Yet she was a battler and no stranger to conflict. After having raised a son alone and having overcome adversity that often arose, she didn’t let her son bother her. Clearly this was someone she had given everything to and she wouldn’t stop giving to.

This was the prelude to us all going to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. Of the four of us (Shannon also went), I was the least prepared. Yes, Ted went, and of course Melvina wept. We all grieved in our own way. Up and down the Wall that day, there had to have been hundreds like us, looking for names, and often etching them after they found them.

PFC Guy Wilson
1 January 1969
DAK To, Vietnam
Listed as KIA February 8, 1969

We had only been in Nam a short time.

And with me reliving Nam and Ted with his unexplainable rage and Melvina with tears and with Shannon supporting us, our experiences were no more or no less intense than it was for others there that day. More importantly it brought us together, and closeness we felt stayed with us.

Though I grew accustomed to scorn we received when we returned from Vietnam (I for one had half expected it), I was caught of guard by Ted’s hostility. It made me feel uncomfortable, and I think he could see it. Ted and I were sitting in the living room. Melvina and Shannon were off somewhere else. He wanted an opportunity to speak to me, I guess. Now it had been twenty-five years, and Ted and I hadn’t talked about his father. He was twenty-six then, more or less on his own and a father (though he didn’t live with mother of his child), and while he had never knew his father, he had by then become a successful man and unassailable in many respects.

For many years I remembered every word of our conversation. Usually when someone brought up Vietnam, I wouldn’t say much. But on that day there was only two of us, and Ted and I started talking. I said what I said with apprehension because I could see that he was agitated, but he insisted that we continue. He carried a small photograph of his dad in his wallet, which he showed me. It looked like Guy I knew and was taken when he was in high school, but remember we were just kids. Guy, oh Guy, which Guy? Now I wasn’t expecting this.
Guy saved my life, and his son wanted to know details. He pressed me for answers and wouldn’t give up until I told him everything. About a sharpshooter in a tree: just how many shots did he get off before he was shot? Hill 737 stood alone, and we didn’t have much of a chance. We found that the North Vietnamese had constructed an elaborate system of bunkers and trenches, and we were in for a fight for our lives. That was the day Guy was killed.
After eleven days, the enemy retreated to sanctuaries in Laos. Quickly we then assessed our gains, and a week later we abandoned the hill. It all took place with astonishing speed, and Ted’s father … person who saved my life … lay dying in a field hospital, died in a field hospital after he told me that he was going to be fine.

His surgeon was said to be one of Army’s best. Like Guy, he was drafted.
In next bed to his right was a boy who had shrapnel removed from his stomach and would recover, only to be shot again. Guy wasn’t so lucky. (Guy was lucky yet unlucky). Though he was wounded, as it turned out mortally wounded, and a snipper got him, he somehow managed to drag me to safety. To this day I don’t how he found strength when he was so seriously wounded, mortally wounded yet found strength to drag me to safety. He received a Purple Heart but he should’ve received more than that … for his “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action” that went beyond call of duty. There were very few Congressional Medal of Honor Recipients to come out Nam and even fewer winners. If I sound bitter … and what Vietnam veteran hasn’t been from time to time … I think I have good reason to be, but I’ve tried to overcome it.

He wore a Paisley shirt, velvet trousers, and a high collard Regency Jacket, which seemed out of place to me. I still went to see my old high school play basketball and bumped into people I knew: old classmates, former teachers, and other friends. Of all people there that night I happened to sit next to a guy wearing a Paisley shirt, velvet trousers, and a high collard Regency Jacket and we once were friends. When this guy arrived with his wife well before the game started, I felt friendly and struck up a conversation with him. He had let his hair grow out, which hadn’t surprised me. He, however, hadn’t adopted a Hippie look and at first everything about our conversation was pleasant, and along with chatter we both had two big tubs of popcorn. Then, as we continued to eat and talk, it came out that I’d just come back from Vietnam. It seemed to take him a while to digest … that I just came back from Nam. I don’t know why, but it did. It was also worth noting that my battle wounds had healed, and scars weren’t noticeable. But when he came back to his seat after going to the restroom, which took more time than I thought it should, I noticed that his attitude toward me changed. He seemed sullen and unhappy. At which point I decided to concentrate on the game.

During the second half … after I went to the restroom and bought a coke … he turned to me and gave me a dirty look.

What’s wrong with this guy?” I asked myself. He would no longer talk to me. To hell with him! If he was going to be like that he could have his Paisley shirt, velvet trousers, and high collard Regency Jacket.

So this was the situation,” I told my wife later. “Here was a guy I knew in high school sitting there in his Paisley shirt, velvet trousers, and a high collard Regency Jacket, who was obviously pissed about something. What was I to do?” I ask.

Screw him.”

Okay. But then what? I had to know what was going on with him. Whether I ticked him off, or not. When all was said and done I wanted to get a good night’s sleep.”

And I’d want to sleep too.”

It then came out of the blue, and it was if he’d struck me in the head. And he spoke quietly so I could barely hear him over noise of crowd. Yet I didn’t have any trouble understanding him.

On the other side of him sat a woman who I understood was his wife. Mother of his children only spoke now and then. She wore a mini skirt, leather boots, and fake eyelashes. I wouldn’t have expected her to come to my defense.

When we began Operation Apache Snow we intended to clear People’s Army of Vietnam out of the A Shau Valley. Parents of boys who died there would never have heard of the place. I think Guy should’ve at least been nominated for Congressional Medal of Honor, but he wasn’t. Just thinking about it causes my eyes to tear.

Then the guy in the Paisley shirt, velvet trousers, and a high collard Regency Jacket had gall to tell me that I represented everything he hated. “You can serve your country, and they’ll hate you for it. You can fight a battle, several battles, take a hill, and lose a bunch of brothers, and they’ll still hate you for it. You can die out there, yet they still hate you. Whatever it is, they hate you for it. I still cry when I think about my brothers. Always, we watched out for each other. And we carried our load, before we could legally vote, and some of us still die every day. You treat us as if we’re a piece of junk. Well, if you can do the job, do it better and win a war, I say go do it. Carry your weight, do your job, and come home safe. I represent everything you hate! Right! You have a terrific wife!”

Then they got up and left me sitting there alone because I didn’t want to do battle with the crowd, and since I’d already done my share of fighting.

Randy Ford

Leave a comment

Filed under Selective Service

Randy Ford Author- SAVED!

SAVED!

by Randy Ford

We rarely missed a Sunday. We rarely missed church. We went to church on Wednesday night and twice on Sunday. And we read our Bible everyday. And if I memorized a Bible verse my mother gave me a quarter. Then I can truthfully say I know my Bible.

Then if for some reason we couldn’t go to church, we kept the Sabbath holy at home. My parents made me go to church in order for me to be saved. They said, I was lost. I was born a sinner. I was taught we’re born sinners. Born sinners? I not sure I bought it. But how could I contradict them? They were my parents.

How many times had I heard them repeat these things to me? To me directly and indirectly. Particularly after I disappointed them by doing something disruptive and disorderly, they told me that I would get it when we got home. That was where I would be punished and lectured to. Through my parents I learned about penitence and salvation.

I was lost. I was lost, lost, though I didn’t feel lost. Lost … it was something that I didn’t like to think about. I thought I knew where I was. But I couldn’t be certain. If I were lost, how could I be certain about anything.

How many times have I sinned, really sinned, done something really bad that I was ashamed of? More than I could count. More than I’ve been caught. But if I were lost how could I ever be caught. Caught … more times than I could remember. Then how could I be lost? Oh, yes! Me! Lost. A sinner.

Mama always prayed, prayed for me, prayed for my salvation and prayed that I would dedicate my life to Christ. She instructed me on how Christ died, died for me on a Cross-, yes for me whereas without Christ she thought that I couldn’t resist impulses that would cause me grief (she meant caused her grief). And, if truth were known, she was more concerned than I was for I continued to do things that disappointed her.

So in my mom’s mind there was a direct relationship between good behavior, clean clothes, and God. I’m not sure however that God was picky.
I got into trouble the previous night. For fun I stole hubcaps off a car. So I felt I had to answer an altar call if I didn’t want to go to hell. I didn’t want to go to hell. So I looked forward to Sunday.

I never listened to Rev. Brown, never before. I always sat in the balcony so that I could sleep through his sermons. And I didn’t know it until then that there was substance to his sermons. “Why do we need to be saved? Because we were born sinners and sin’s ultimate punishment is hell.” Rev. Brown’s voice was so sharp then, and specifically seemed pointed at me. “Salvation is your ticket to heaven. But that’s not all the Bible says.”
I didn’t publicly profess my faith in Jesus that Sunday. By time Sunday rolled around I thought and thought long and hard about what I did, and had come to the conclusion that what I did wasn’t a mortal sin. Of course, I prayed about it. And I was diligent, even obsessive about my praying. (It was my mama who taught me what to say to God.) That week I also tried to be good and eagerly helped my mother, did my chores without complaining, and acted as if everything was okay. For after all stealing hubcaps wasn’t a mortal sin, and I promised myself that I would never do it again.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. It is a gift from God.”

Sunday was designated as a day of rest. After what I did night before I needed Sunday. After crime I committed … theft of four spinners from a Corvette and after tossing them into a ditch and me too scared to keep them as trophies, I sneaked back into the house. A crime and I thought I got away with it.

Sunday was a day of rest after sinning all week.

I couldn’t tell anyone about my crime, though it wasn’t such a big deal to me, but it stayed with me as I lay in bed. Lying there a sense of relief came over me after I realized that I hadn’t completely gotten away with it. Still a crime, a petty crime as far as crimes go, got in way of sleep.

Lord Jesus Christ! one who was crucified for my sins and died on a cross at Calvary. I am not lost. I am here Lord.

For my dad might’ve beaten me, after all. He might’ve taken me to woodshed, had we one. Wouldn’t it disappoint mom? Hadn’t I been taught difference between right and wrong?

I hid my crime. I kept it a secret. Dared not confess to anyone (so upset and angry with myself that I thought I wouldn’t get over it) but I thought going to church might help (where we went every Sunday with our marked Bibles, sang old hymns, and listened to Rev. Brown sermons: “This great judge, who’s coming to judge the world, died on a cross at Calvary for you.”)Knowing of course what I did, pitying myself as I sat in my pew. Through a long sermon in the balcony. I dozed, of course. I hadn’t slept much the night before…yet even though I dozed, I heard God speak to me.

You Jake. You think you’re hot stuff. With voice I have, people always told me that I sounded like God. Like God, imagine.

Only a few of times had Rev. Brown got through to me. Though I went to church every Sunday. Though I sat through his sermons. Nothing sunk in. A. J. who was my archrival, since I don’t know when, kept me entertained when I was sleepy. Hell, yes…we were rivals. We would egg each other on, but he could get away with it more often than I could. And everyone assumed that I was the guilty one…falsely. As if A. J. could do no wrong. A. J. was the preacher’s kid. Often A. J. would sit there quietly and egg me on. Then after a while I had to respond. Then everyone would assume that I started it. “A. J. involved? Preacher’s kid?” As preacher’s kid, he had to set an example and wouldn’t have started it. “He’s completely innocent.”

So I couldn’t win, and by degrees accepted it. Rivalry and ill feelings existed, or were beneath surface. A so-called truce had been brokered long ago by our parents, or so they thought. So whenever A.J. started something, he would choose a time when he wouldn’t get caught and I looked bad.

I accepted Jesus as my Savior. I was to blame, so I accepted Jesus as my Savior. Then why would I have to do it again?

One Sunday, as we sang the old hymn “Just as I Am” with the declaration “O Lamb of God, I come! I come!” I heard Rev. Brown plead “Come! Come! Come!” I didn’t need to be told that he was singling out me. Lost, I was found; a criminal and yes a thief because I’d stolen a set of spinners. Mom’s eyes filled with tears as I made a public profession of faith, but I’m not sure she would’ve been crying had she recognized the truth. I cried too, while big boys weren’t supposed to cry.

A typical Sunday morning at First Baptist Church. It would be my Sunday; I seemed to know it. I could never stay home unless I was too sick to get out of bed. Our record of perfect attendance hadn’t been broken that year, or the previous year, in years, because we were amazingly healthy. Though I generally skipped Sunday school, no one said anything about it as long as I was sitting in my pew when worship service began.

Not that I much liked being there …”forced into it” as I would later say… with my underlined Bible in hand.

Bored. Bored. Bored. I couldn’t be more bored. I couldn’t keep my eyes open. Balcony only place we could get away with stuff. It was the only place we could be ourselves. The balcony was the ony place we could cut up. But how much did we really get away with? Presumably, Rev. Brown saw us. Presumably Rev. Brown didn’t miss anything. If he did, why then diidn’t he talk to my parents, for if he had they would’ve exploded? Or lectured me. God would’ve known, since God knew everything.

I agreed to behave in church, at my parents’ urging. Looking back on it I didn’t have a choice but to agree, agree to behave in church just as I didn’t have a choice about attending. But Jesus, Jesus, it was hard, but I wasn’t given a choice. Jesus didn’t help me either. After sitting for almost an hour with nothing to do. I dozed more often than not … better than acting out. A tough situation … but I never asked for help.

There was A. J.: preacher’s kid. Tried to avoid A. J..

After he got me in trouble. And in front of girls. Embarrassment it caused my parents! I was mad, my heart wasn’t in the right place. So I vowed to get even, with Jesus’ help. But there was nothing that I could immediately do to A.J.. I couldn’t think of anything. I couldn’t break my promise to my parents, or at least not right away. It was as if I had switched places with A. J. and had become goody-two-shoe or what everyone wanted him to be while he was nothing but a little devil. Nor could I get away with it like he did. When? Where? On Sundays and in church because he was preacher’s kid.

Help me, help me, oh Lord. It wasn’t my fault.

And so Sundays were torture. Instead a day of rest Sundays were torture. No wonder I skipped Sunday School, turned Rev. Brown off and slept when I could get away with it and missed what he had said about Jeremiah, prophet of doom and usually only caught the altar call. “Come! Come! Just as you are.”

There was a discovery, a discovery discovering that he was actually speaking to me, never heard Rev. Brown until then. For always it went over my head, or I missed it. Like I said, I generally slept through his sermons. (though I couldn’t swear that I missed everything he said.) Hearing him then perhaps for the first time, Mom, yet Rev. Brown, when he pointed a finger directly at me was when I knew he was talking to me. For I squirmed in my pew when he pleaded with me to “come.” If I hadn’t been sure that he was singling me out I would’ve just sat there. Closed my eyes so that I wouldn’t have to look at him.

It seemed like an eternity. Opened my eyes, stared and there he was…yes, Rev. Brown had asked the congregation to sing one more verse of old hymn “Just as I Am.” His hands then up as if he were reaching for heaven.

God I’m sorry.

God, forgive me.

God, I’ll never do it again.

I didn’t want anyone to hear me but God. Certainly not, since A.J. was sitting next to me. And there was Dad’s voice, which he never raised in anger. (As incredible as it may seem, he only raised his voice at me once, and that was when I threw a pencil at my mother.) And my mother’s voice chiding me. As if my quarrel was with them instead of with God. And suddenly A. J., who was preacher’s kid, nudged me not giving a damn what was going on inside of me, out of my seat and down the balcony stairs, and not a minute too soon because hymn was almost over. A few seconds later and I would’ve missed an opportunity, and mom and dad would’ve missed their moment.

Come!”

Tears: I would try to avoid them. Tears: if I didn’t appear strong and cried. I wouldn’t allow myself to cry in front of whole congregation. Hurried and hurried before I cried. (If truth were known, I wasn’t in control of emotions when I found myself pulled down a long aisle with a bowed head. I couldn’t see, which was a blessing.) And the rest was a blur.

Amazingly: how good it felt; it was immediate, and I’ve never felt like that since.

That day when I accepted Jesus as my Savior (to my mom’s relief), and after church, in the reception line, welcoming handshakes and smiles. And to Rev. Brown one less soul to worry about and most members of congregation understood significance of my decision, and most rejoiced.

There were a few who didn’t, like A.J., who didn’t congratulate me. What was the matter with him? He acted as if he lost his best friend. I was lost and was found and he lost his best friend.

Though we were never close friends.

Always got on each other’s nerves, even when we didn’t mean to.

Sometimes not really meaning to we stole each other’s thunder, or say something nasty to each other, or pull a prank, or intentionally embarrass the other person, in particular A.J.’s habit of just being a pain in the ass. Just wouldn’t give each other an inch. “Why you! It’s you again! Why don’t you crawl into a hole?” Automatically there was friction, which more often than not would turn into aggression.

Yes and sparks would fly and ruin a perfect day, or we’d be punished for something the other did, but A.J. never as often as I was. His inside connection helped him, but not always.

Some Sunday mornings, you hardly guessed he was a preacher’s kid. Some Sundays he was an ordinary kid, an ordinary boy.

Rev. Brown would remind us that we were all sinners. He knew how I was. I needed to be reminded each week.

And about A.J..

Can’t say. Because I can’t. If I could, I would.

Playing with me. His idea of fun. So predictable. That he, A.J., more conniving than I was, had power over me. Set traps. Knew I’d lose my temper. He set me up. Set up by a mean asshole.

Strutted down the aisle like a big shot at beginning of altar call. His big round mug, jubilant smile and slicked-back hair. It was last thing that I expected, particularly from A.J. but then … he could hear the call just as I had. In front of whole congregation and strutting like a big shot. Rededicating his life to Christ, A.J. even I was impressed but skeptical too, I thought I knew him having been a victim of his pranks and seen how wild he could get. My impression wasn’t exactly unbiased because I saw him showoff. He was drinking and was ready to party. And I could swear he was drunk. It wasn’t on a Sunday, and I swear he came to the party drunk. He hadn’t been exactly invited, so I guess he had to prove himself by getting drunk. Drinking beer and straight vodka, A.J. had a reputation to keep, so he tried to prove himself by drinking more than anyone else did. And then shortly after that to have him rededicate his life to Christ. I guess he needed it. Who am I to judge?

Yet almost everyone except me believed him sincere. How could he be? I know we’re not suppose to judge other people, but sometimes it’s impossible not to.
Urging him to drink just so they could make a fool of him, more he drank bigger fool he became, and his face turned bright red from all the drinking, he was so drunk and so happy! (But wait: could this be reason he rededicated his life to Christ? Who knows! Who am I to judge?) A.J. knew that he’d get in trouble if he wasn’t home by midnight, which was his curfew, knew his father would be waiting up for him (he had a dilemma: whether to break curfew or go home drunk) and kept hovering over toilet and throwing up where it would’ve been fine if he had only drank a beer or two. One of the boys at the party volunteered to drive him home, and A.J. stammered for a while. He said he didn’t want to go home but would have to. If you saw him right then you thought that you were looking at someone who was about to face a firing squad. I actually felt sorry for him. At the party A.J. drank beer and straight vodka, and he became stinking drunk. He was sweating by then. His breath smelled of alcohol, like any drunk’s would, and it would’ve been hard to cover it up. I spent most of the time talking to my friends, as A.J. drank and made a fool of himself. And of course I couldn’t see him going home until he sobered up and didn’t think he could get away with staying out all night, though breaking curfew seemed like a better option to me than going home drunk.

A. J. strayed. God, help him.

Reaching front of the sanctuary, he had his father standing waiting for him, ready to forgive him, ready with a Bible. Will he give his testimony? Is that what he’ll do next? Would he confess? Would A.J. confess in front of congrgation? No, A.J. didn’t. Not that Sunday. Perhaps he knew better. Perhaps. His father put an arm around him, A.J.’s face now solemn, his father looking down at his son speaking quietly, earnestly and A.J. stood transfixed staring at whole congregation with a smile on his face. To me it was as if he got away with something.

Forgiven! But only one, only one who could forgive him was God.

Sometime during the next week Mom said something about how wonderful it was that A.J. rededicated his life to Christ. Did she know about A.J.’s escapade? Then if she knew, she knew I was there and that I particapated. But how could she know? I then made the mistake of responding when I should’ve kept my mouth shut. Jealousy jealousy hurt like a thorn in my heart. We were at home where my mother felt free to say what she thought and what she said about A.J. stuck in my craw. She said I should be more like A.J., A.J., A.J., though she couldn’t know that he got stinking drunk at a party, one of many sinful things he did that I knew about because I was there. It was time she stopped, time we both moved on. I didn’t want to hear any more about A.J., especially from her. On and on she went, on and on about A.J. while I was steaming, boiling inside and muttering to myself “fucking asshole!” and when after she heard me curse she scolded me about my unchristian attitude. Hey A.J.: Christian asshole! That was when Mother urged me to turn to God for answers.

The first question that came to me, Oh God, as A.J. walked past me after he rededicated his life to Christ, and I cursed under my breath. Caught with a curse on my lips while not seeming to care about where I was, I almost choked on envy. Why Lord had you made me so weak? Something hit me then, and I knew I had to do something to clip A.J.’s wings. You think you’re something, don’t you?

Yes, he did.

Always, you watch your back.

Every Sunday morning we went to church and me more determined than ever. A few weeks passed without an incident, so it seemed as if A.J. and I called a truce, which wasn’t true. All of my envy was still there. I just wasn’t showing it as much nor was I talking about A.J. (like Mom said to do: I appeared to be concentrating on myself), but my brain I was still plotting. No, but was waiting for an opportunity.

Out of the corner of my eye, I kept track of my rival…yes, whenever I was at church I looked for him. Envy flourished in my heart, even though Mom had warned me about what it could do to me.

(Of course, there were reasons why I envied A.J., why he bugged me more than anyone else did. Considered a lady’s man … didn’t he always have girls running up to him? It was his flirting and how girls flirted back, prettiest girls too, nice girls, at church at course, Dixie Kee with the cutest smile, and my heartthrob Judy Hicks.
“I’ll get to him. He’ll be sorry”- I muttered under my breath and realized, as soon as I did that someone heard me, and that was God.

I opened my heart to Jesus; yet had I changed? But I didn’t want to think about it. It was all A.J.’s fault. If he hadn’t been so popular with girls it would’ve been different.

Kept awake at night. It was two in the morning, and I still couldn’t sleep. Only one person knew what I was thinking. God knew and wouldn’t let me alone. Wouldn’t let me sleep. Now there was only me and God and beating of my heart in my ear. Yet it didn’t deter me. Beating in my ear kept me awake.

From when he was first introduced to the congregation by his father, that first Sunday, I somehow knew that A.J. and I wouldn’t get along. Isn’t that how it often is, how we often know such things … as certain as we know God is listening? Going to church on Sunday may have been mandatory, but why couldn’t I be free rest of the week?

It was true that I acted like an ass. At church. Next Sunday. It happened to be when opportunity came. First A.J. would have to be caught off guard. Not suspect anything, that is. There would have to be other people around to witness my handiwork, see it come down and talk about it later. And preferably girls our age…something despicable. Of course I knew both our parents … Rev. Brown of course would get involved and discuss matters afterwards. I knew I would get in trouble, but it didn’t matter to me as long as I embarrassed A.J..

There was also the congregation of the First Baptist Church, the largest church in town. “Congregation …there wasn’t one person in it who didn’t recognize A.J., which meant he had a hard time getting away with anything …wasn’t too large to be a friendly church, with a time set aside for fellowship after each service. So everyone knew everyone, and many of the relationships went far deeper than handshakes and smiles that one would expect at a friendly church. Social hall at rear of the church had recently been repainted a bright, cheery purple and hanging on walls were several Christian banners, giving the hall more life than ever. Fellowship time also gave the congregation time to gossip and talk and would be when they heard about what I did. I certainly didn’t think ahead or think about repercussions or buzz I would cause. I simply didn’t think. For my part in it, I took responsibility. I was having fun. I’m not ashamed of myself. I expected A.J. to react. I expected, like someone said, that he’d let the congregation down. The congregation had their own way of responding, of course. For that was how they were, Baptist: at first utterly disappointed in A.J. and me. Then felt relieved that it wasn’t more serious.

If he weren’t a preacher’s kid, it would’ve been totally different. Because he was a preacher’s kid, it surprised people when he got into big trouble.

He was coming out of the men’s restroom just as some girls were coming out theirs. It was between Sunday school and the 11 o’clock service, a little before it. People were rushing to get there on time. As A.J. came out of the restroom, I was taking my time at the water fountain. Cool water made it worth while. A.J. wasn’t paying attention to me, but I could see him out of the corner of my eye. Saw an opportunity! Raised my hand. “Peace, brother!” If I hadn’t had the opportunity, there wouldn’t have been a war.

A.J.” I yelled. “Your fly, you forgot to zip your fly. It’s unzipped.”

He fugitively looked down, as the girls looked in his direction. In front of Dixie Kee, Judy Hicks and Jean Bridges. Before it was over, I embarrassed him in front of girls we both liked.

There was the fact that we were in church and the fact that he hadn’t merely left his fly unzipped, but also had been utterly careless when he pissed. He hadn’t noticed it at all until he looked down. And standing there when he did was Dixie Kee, Judy Hicks, and Jean Bridges, three of the prettiest girls around. I’d been watching the girls all along: what an opportunity. And now I watched the whole scene unfold in an unperturbed way, and as if I had nothing to do with it. I watched as A.J,’s face turned a crimsoned red.

You. You’ll pay. You’ll pay for this.”

He wouldn’t have been embarrassed, yes of course, if there hadn’t been girls around, even if other people were rushing to the 11 o’clock service (there was evidence on his trousers that he could hide if I hadn’t yelled “your fly is unzipped”), there in a crowded hall between sanctuary and social hall. “Come, come, come.” He approached me slowly; I stepped aside. He now stood in front of the water fountain.

But I had more in store for him, something more sinister, another opportunity once A.J. stepped in front of the water fountain.

I knew what I was doing as I turned the fountain on full force and deflected some water onto his crotch, which drenched his trousers. “Look,” I yelled. “Look, look, look!” That was when I ran, and he chased after me.

A.J. wouldn’t have a chance to change his wet trousers before 11 o’clock service. He had on a good pair of trousers, and now they may have been stained, or at least it would take them a while to dry. I don’t know how he really felt, but I could see that he was angry when he chased me.
Didn’t we know that we weren’t supposed to run through halls or make a lot of noise? We knew how to behave in church, we were told, scolded, taught; boys were boys, but we were Christian boys, and were expected to behave as such and were held to higher standard than most boys. If we then misbehaved we knew that we’d have to face the congregation, accept our punishment, and knew we’d get it again when we got home. Even for something minor, even for a prank that really didn’t hurt anyone, and especially for running through halls and when we nearly ran over several people on their way to 11 o’clock service. Yelling, yelling. A frenzy of accusations that weren’t very complimentary. People disturbed by loud noise. We both knew that we’d hear about it, but we didn’t care at that point. We were old enough to know better, but we had a savage need nevertheless to run and chase each other. Why? Because we were boys.

Still it shouldn’t have been a big deal, not a big deal for me or A.J., at most embarrassing for A.J., but everything deteriorated from there.

My parents were pleased when I sat down beside them instead of sitting in my usual place, my usual place in the balcony. They hadn’t heard what I did yet. They didn’t have an opportunity to question me. They couldn’t ask what was up? Or if they did, they didn’t say aren’t you ashamed of yourself? It just felt strange, strange to sit next to them in church.

Another indication of a problem came when Rev. Brown asked my parents and me to stay after fellowship. A.J. was there too, of course. “A.J. what’s this I hear about you chasing Jake through the halls after Sunday school?” I also had some explaining to do, but I acted as if I wasn’t interest. My father, as head of the household, normally would’ve taken charge; instead my mother did. There was no way to gage her annoyance, as if she wanted to defend me but couldn’t. She had her family to think about, however, difficult. Had she seen the incident herself she would’ve been more certain about what her response should’ve been.

After some hesitation, she believed enough of the story to ground me for a week, a punishment that I felt was unfair. She however didn’t consider it too harsh. A point of contention that was never resolved, and I saw that rivalry between A.J. and me was far from over. He wouldn’t give up, and I wouldn’t either. He’d get even. I couldn’t let my guard down.

Nothing happened for next few Sundays, giving me a false sense of relief, something I soon learn meant nothing. This time, thank goodness, I was clearly the victim.

Thank God for small miracles.

No one would be able to blame me for what happened, or could accuse me of anything since A.J. jumped me in the bathroom.

What were words I used to provoke him? None, I swear. None … I don’t remember saying anything, anything, anything to provoke him into hitting me and bloodying my nose. I remember him hitting me at least three times. There were words exchanged, or he was the one who yelled at me, though there wasn’t anyone else in there to hear him (that is there was only God and me, God and us, as we often spoke of God in that way).

Perpetrator, who was A.J. Brown, preacher’s kid, was then horrified by what I did next. Unless he thought I’d fight back, and he’d go down swinging. The bastard. The son of a bitch. I beat him to the punch. I collapsed and started screaming, I mean, screaming. Other times I would have taken it.

Eventually, of course, the whole congregation would come to know a version of what happened, or at least what could’ve happened. At the time, however, all anyone knew was that I was screaming really loud. Beyond that, people, who saw me decked out on the floor, didn’t exactly know. They saw blood, a lot of blood, and heard my screams. Ask ten different people, and you got ten different stories, and when they asked A.J. he told them he didn’t know. (This was A.J. lying to get out of it.) When I stopped screaming, I said, “I want to know who’s going to help me?” A.J. was the first to move to get me a paper towel for my nose; by now blood had gotten all over my shirt. I expected then to hear A.J. say he did it. I said nothing. I expected someone to figure it out. No one did, or no one wanted to, orI don’t know if anyone did. It didn’t make sense to me. Okay, now.

Something happened, right?

This was just so surprising to me, that no one put it together. With me decked out on the floor, with a bloody nose, and me screaming my head off.

A.J. was in there … standing over me … surely they could’ve made something of it, or got him to say something.

He knew what he did: he must’ve expected me to say something; or at least when I was home, I would tell my parents when they questioned me about blood on my shirt. He thought he would get in trouble after that, but I decided not to snitch. “Oh, no! I had a nosebleed and stomach cramps. You know nosebleeds run in the family.” Mother felt my forehead. “I got sick so fast, and I got well even faster. I can go to school tomorrow. It just scared me, that’s all.”

A.J. never said. I didn’t care to bring it up either. It established a bond between us. We sinned. We were sinners. Everyone sinned. Everyone was a sinner. Big deal. We were saved.

But mama was a little suspicious. I’m not sure my dad wanted to get involved. And Rev. Brown? I don’t know what he thought. And God? It was between A.J., God, and me.

Randy Ford

Leave a comment

Filed under Saved

Randy Ford Author- LONG LONG RIDE

       LONG LONG RIDE

            by Randy Ford

To reassure herself on a hot day Pat told Sid to pack energy bars and extra water. As she watched her husband get ready for a bicycle ride, she thought he looked healthy and strong. Even though he had been involved in a few silly falls, she didn’t worry about him
“Why don’t you come along?” he asked. “I’ll let you lead.”

No thanks, you go ahead,” she answered. There was a time she would’ve joined him. Many times she enjoyed riding with him.

Looking back on it, she remembered thinking something wasn’t quite right. She remembered thinking that there was something not quite right with him, and when he didn’t return within an hour he set, she began worrying. Indeed, had she known of chest pains, she would’ve prevented him from going. She kept coming back to this. But she also knew she couldn’t have kept him from going.
And now what? Sid’s heart attack and death hit her hard. It happened when she wasn’t there, during a bicycle ride that she refused to go on. It struck without warning, or so she thought, because she never knew about chest pains. Now she had to live alone.

He died within sight of a summit and without anyone around. She knew view from there, a view that extended for miles and miles. Why did he have to spoil this view for her? She didn’t feel ready to go there to lay a wreath, build a shrine, nor do something else. To even go to her husband’s funeral was a struggle.

Well, around the house unable to stop crying she puttered and moped and avoided opening his side of their closet. She didn’t know yet what she would do with his clothing. She tried not to think about it because it hurt too much. She tried to gather all things around the house that reminded her of him and place them in his study. She didn’t know if she could give any of it away. She threw away a few things, which caused her great pain. All she could see ahead of her was a long dreary road. She didn’t know what she would do next, nor if she could get on a bicycle again. It was funny how she couldn’t follow her own advice and adopt a cat. It was way too soon, too soon for many things, too soon to get on a bike and go on a ride.

Feeling puny and putrid she didn’t feel like eating, and she listened for Sid’s voice…wanted to hear Sid’s voice. Ached and missed him more than anything. Yearned to feel his arms encircling her again and then cried. Broke down in shower, broke down in car, and when she cried it embarrassed her. Broke down when she suddenly found herself in middle of an intersection too. She couldn’t help herself. And felt like she’d never be happy again. So she cleaned, cleaned windows, clear and cleaned both porches, kept bathroom sparkling, and pulled all weeds in yard. And as she worked herself to death, she kept recalling this and that about Sid. Oh, memories. They were so painful. Memories were painful.

There were days when she couldn’t get out of bed. Sometimes she couldn’t answer door even for friends. She resented unsolicited advice or help. No one understood when everyone thought they did. Their assumptions were bull. It got where it didn’t make any difference who was around and who came and went. She just wanted to crawl in a hole and die. Die and be with Sid.

Be brave. Don’t cry. Jesus wept. According to Bible, God saves our tears in a bottle. According to Bible, Jesus. Talking to her son helped. And as he came around more, accepting help became easier for her.

It was harder and lonelier at night. That was when she would listen for Sid’s voice. Barking dogs would irritate her. If only she could hear his voice and know he was there. Damn him! When she wasn’t paying attention, she burned herself on the stove. It hurt, and she laughed. Horrors! She laughed about it.

Yet may she not still have a life, even after what she’s faced? Why did she need such a big house? What if she sold it? Each room held memories. Ah, sure, she loved house, but why did she need so much room? But she didn’t move right away. Too soon for it too move.

So now what? From a catatonic, shattered state she began to emerge and began a search for a new beginning. As fog began to lift, she began to see that she might have a future. Maybe she could get closer to her son and spend more time with grandchildren and friends.

Sid should’ve told her about his chest pains, so that they could’ve done something about them. But Pat knew that she couldn’t go back. That last morning they read books while they ate their breakfast, all absorbed, him about God and universe and her about crime and mystery. When they spoke, it was about news of the day. “But see!” She exclaimed, thinking about him. “See what happened to you!”

Now go in peace. It was all private. Funny how she didn’t go riding with him! Peace! She knew that she needed to move down the road. Get on a bicycle again. Peace. Peace. Only she wished that there were a way to soften blow.
But she knew that her life would be tougher and rougher without Sid. She would have to find her confront zone.

Randy Ford

 

Leave a comment

Filed under LONG LONG RIDE