Friday, September 16, 2022

BRAVERY

 

   


                                                                  

 My son rode the yellow school bus in grade school. He was 5th or 6th grade when we got a call to come to the school. There had been an altercation on the bus. A girl 10- 15 pounds heavier than him had gotten mad and attacked him.

 I’m rather old school. I figure if someone attacks you it’s game on so I’m thinking he’s at least been suspended.

“Where do we pick him up then?” I ask.

No Mr. Hicks, he’s in class. There’s no reason at all for us to reprimand or punish him,” the principal says. “that’s not why we called you here at all. The girl has been suspended for attacking him, but you see he refused to fight back.”

Stunned I mutter, “What the hell?”

“We asked him why not and he said his Mom told him to never hit a guwell.” Him and his twin brother pronounced girl this way. Must say I kind of hated it when it faded.

“We asked you to come in, so we could tell you in person what a fine young boy you have.”

I was born in the fifties. Bottom line, someone attacks you, especially someone bigger, you go to it. I was also taught not to hit girls though. I left confused.

His Mom admonished me for my rant about defending yourself.

When I got home from work, he was in his room. I went in. He was sprawled on the bed reading a schoolbook. I sat down beside him. He gazed up with those big chocolate eyes like his Mom’s. 

“Hey Dad! How’s it going?”

He’s got a scratch on his forehead and a budding bruise on his cheekbone. My blood rises as I tousle his hair.

“Understand you had a bit of a tough day, Sport.”

“Ah, it wasn’t so bad. She was probably mad at something else. We usually get along fine. Actually, I get along with her better than most.”

Seeing he’s ok, I go to take a shower. Looking in the mirror I see a guy that has spent a lifetime scrapping one way or another and for the first time ever I’m thinking maybe something’s off. I was in a few scrapes on the school bus back in the day. Granted it was never with a girl but 10-15 pounds is a lot.

Then it hits me. I always figured it took courage to fight. In that moment I thought of all those kids watching as she pummeled him. He’s no sissy and had his share of scuffles but he just took it in front of everybody.

Then I hear the guy in the mirror say, “I’m thinking that’s about as courageous as it gets.”

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

The Everly Brothers

 


I was resting and reading on a Sunday and there it was, “Don Everly of the Everly Brothers duo has died.”Most know Don was the black-haired brother. I was a grade school kid when I first heard them.My feet stood in the country music roots of my father but branched out with the times through and past Elvis into the new world of rock.

I always felt like the Everly Brothers bridged that transition with an almost ethereal presence of chromosomal harmonies.I first watched them on a tv show called “Shindig” standing there in the spotlight on a darkened stage.

 Their practically gaunt faces, slicked back hair, high cheek bones and flashing eyes,  voices like angels, singing “All I Have to Do “ felt to me like a running stream.Don seemed to harbor deep pain as his brother watched cautiously while holding the harmony.

When a song ended, I always wanted more.I realize as I reflect now I never talked about it much with anyone, but it seemed like Don Everly was wise with pain.

Maybe when you have a moment, google “The Everly Brothers”.  It’ll be best if it’s an early video and then we’ll know something together.Straddling two worlds is a heavy load for anybody.Add drugs and tumultuous, seismological shifts in youth culture and society an you’ve got a heady mix

.Goodbye, Don. Tell Phil we all said hello and thanks to you both for the courage of showing us your souls.

Monday, August 16, 2021

Mrs. C

 

I am a used car dealer. In the scope of that entrepreneurial endeavor there are many

 interactions with the public.

We named our business “Journey” in part.

“Life’s a journey” is the idea. On that journey, I have changed, I feel for the better. (on a good day, anyway.)

This story is about Mrs. C.

She’s a proud black lady with a penchant for asserting herself. She was helping her now compliant daughter buy a car.

They had many problems with a previous dealer purchase. Mrs. C. brought her to me having bought a car from Journey years past.

We made a deal and, in the process, as is so often the case, re-established our bond of mutual respect.

The next week I was out of town and during that time I received a report there had been an engine light after the sale that was resolved with a new gas cap.

After returning to work, I was told, “there’s a lady here. I tried to talk to her while you were gone, and she would not listen. All she did was yell and now she’s here saying she’s returning the car.”  

My first utterance was to remind her of our contractual agreement at which her volume elevated and she began once again to describe all the problems and inconvenience she and her daughter had experienced with a  previous purchase elsewhere and how she “was not going to go through that again.”

I made a conscious decision to hear her out.

When she seemed to slow down I heard myself say, “Mrs. C, might we invite God into our conversation?”

“Yes,” Mrs. C said much softer.

“First Mrs. I want you to know that the most important thing here in this moment is you and your daughter. “

I’m thinking, who the hell is this talking? I’ve been a Scots Irish scrapper all my life, but a teacher has entered said life and this other guy has come to dwell within.

From there I reviewed and empathized. I offered some mechanical and economic experience and as I was speaking her dark eyes filled until a tear broke free traveling her cheek into her surgical covid mask.

I was touched as we stood in the bright day, like in a capsule as the phones rang and people skirted all around us.

Since then we have had other exchanges. Some also testy yet in the end we met on common ground. I don’t expect smooth sailing through the term of contract.

I do expect a reasonable exchange of ideas and perspective grounded in spirit. Sometimes that’s not all warm and fuzzy. Sometimes its messy and folks get upset.

What matters is that in the end we are all working toward the same goal. What is that goal? I would contend that it is to live in positive relationship.

Not long ago I was reading and there it was, “God gives us family to teach us how to live in the world with others.”

I can disagree, but I cannot attack. I can argue but I need not yell. I can live but must let others live too.

Sometimes the best that can happen is we just agree to disagree. When I find myself with my guard up in ready position I know one thing. Until I alter my “posture” there’s only going to be a fight.

Relationship is not a gift. It’s something I must work on.

I suppose it’s just a matter of whether we care about relationship or not.

I had a thought and looked for scripture. This is what was there;

Philippians 2:5

“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus,”

Funny … seems like I always find what I am looking for when I can search with an open heart. 

 

 

 

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

CUSSIN'

 

Henry was ten- or eleven-years old living in a working-class neighborhood with his Mother. His “old man" was supposedly working for a company out in Texas.

Life was better without his Fathers overbearing presence. He seemed to make Henry’s Mom alternately sad and angry.

Henry was “latch key” because she worked downtown. Somewhat bookish yet prone to mischief he did a bit of after school roaming before her daily check in phone call. There would be hell to pay if he missed that call or the ever-present list of chores was not done (mostly yelling and disappointment which was punishment a plenty) but she’d also threaten to send him to Jackson Training school if he didn’t straighten up. He suspected she didn’t REALLY mean it, but it alarmed him nonetheless.

Billy was a tall lanky 16-year-old who lived down the alley. Henry being a freckled  adolescent was fascinated by Billy’s tanned and remarkably hairy legs. Henry would sneak over the back fence to Billy’s bedroom window and tap on it. Billy was almost always lounging on his bed talking on the phone. He’d grin that lazy grin and waive Henry in.

It made him felt special. No other kids were allowed. For some reason Billy liked Henry and took it upon himself to teach him the ways of the world.

Billy would steal bicycles and mix up the parts and paint the frame to disguise them for sale. It confused Henry because of the do not steal commandment in the Bible but his curiosity and admiration for Billy got the best of him.  Billy's  Mom was around but seemed oblivious to Billy’s comings and goings. It’s like she was sweet nature dumb and blind with love for her dark and handsome son.

Billy liked girls and they liked him. That impressed a 11 (and ½ ) year-old. Billy spoke a soft drawl laced with colorful language that Henry had heard all his life from his Father and his uncles  but coming from Billy it took on a movie star quality. Henry began to test the waters.

Hanging around with guys his age he’d try it out. They seemed impressed with a good “Kiss my ass” or “Damn that’s cool”, so the colorful language thing became like an old pair of sneakers you wore all the time.

He had to be careful though. His Mom was straight laced. She’ d have one of those mouth foaming fits if she knew Henry was cussing. He was also trying to smokie cigarettes behind the garage with Gary Gunthenfaler who lived a couple houses closer to Henry than Billy. All Gary’s parents did was watch soap opera sitting  in two recliners, smoke cigarettes and drink beer. “They’re older” Gary said “but they’re cool.”

Gary cussed as good as Henry did, and he’d steal cigarettes from his Dad. They would smoke them behind a sagging garage that nobody ever parked in behind a neighbor’s house.

It was mostly coughing, and gagging interspersed with “Damn that’s strong” and “” That’s making me dizzy as hell.”

It was Sunday and Henry’s Mom insisted they go to church with his Aunt Mabel and Henry’s three cousins. They were walking out the front door on a cold and icy day. The front stoop was eight or nine brick steps configured sort of like a bay window.

She had on the ever-present high heels. Henry was concerned she’d fall and was paying more attention to her as he held her hand being a big man and protector. Next thing he knew he was looking up at his loafered feet and sky while wind milling his left arm as she tugged back on his right. When his tailbone hit the steps he hollered, “Damn!’ and skidded a couple more steps, his Mother gasping. No sooner than he hit she pulled him upright looked him in the eye and said, “WHAT did you say, young man?”

“DOWN Momma … I said DOWN, cuz that’s where I was headed.”

Who knows where kid stuff like that comes from, but it was there as convenient a lie as finding a lucky penny, even though he knew it was lame as hell.  He waited for the slap on the back of the head or his hand as she pursed her lips. Then like a miracle she smiled that big Mary Tyler Moore smile, bent over and started that sort of quiet, shoulder shake laughing she did. still holding on to his hand trapped against her dark wool coat.

After it passed she stood  looking him in the eye  and said, “Ok. But if I ever hear language like that from you again I promise you I will wash your mouth out with soap.”

He could tell she was struggling not to smile. It gave him a warm feeling behind all that fear of trouble he carried around behind his ever-present mischief.

Henry went on to live a "colorful life". Now he’s pretty much a family man. Some might say he's even a little religious so are a bit surprised sometimes because he can be a rather “salty” fellow.

He tries to watch it, especially around church folks and his now 86-year-old Mom but every now and then   something will slip. Henry will turn beet red and look down at the floor or his plate. Usually little will be said but it’s funny how it makes him feel … kind of like an eleven-year-old that needs his mouth washed out with soap.


Saturday, January 16, 2021

The Attic



 Adolescence was painful enough for a skinny redhead with freckles. Charlie was 13. His kid bother was in kindergarten. Charlie didn’t know then, but his Dad had been abused as a child in rural South Carolina.

He had escaped into the army air corps at the age of 16 with forged papers and a little help from his Mother. He’d become a binge alcoholic, like his father before him. He would stay gone for weeks at a time. You could sense the storm brewing inside.

Sometimes it would reach gale force and devastate his family.

His place at the supper table would sit empty and they would know, the storm was coming. Charlie, his Mom and little brother would eat in nervous silence.

They would find refuge at times in the home of an in-law. She was a  diminutive, auburn haired widow. His Mom called her Gerlene. The children called her Mrs. Cobb. She lived alone in a small white house by the railroad tracks.

Mrs. Cobb was a hoarder. One of the many things she liked to hold on to were books. They were everywhere. volume upon volume of Funk and Wagnall encyclopedias, history books, biographies, travel, politics, science and nature.

Charlie was bored to death by all the ladies’ talk but this was a dusty, musty wonderland.

It was a sunny spring morning as he sat at the battered antique dining room table engrossed in a tome about U.S. presidents. The phone jangled and he could tell by the breathy change in their voices that the ever-looming storm had found them.

Panicking, they prepared to run out the back door until they heard a car door slam. Mrs. Cobb, frail hands quivering, peeked through the cheap plastic blinds. When she turned, the color had drained from her face.

“It’s him. Quick, HIDE!”

BOOM, BOOM, BOOM he banged on the front door roaring like some primeval beast.

“Gerlene, let me in dammit! I know they’re here! He slurred.

“They’re not here Clint. You’re drunk. Go away!”

That only made him madder. He began to attack the door with fury trying to kick it in. They could hear the casing begin to crack.  Mrs. Cobb ran on tiptoes and pulled down the attic steps and motioned for them to go up then lifted and shut the trap like door behind them.

They huddled together in the dark. Slivers of daylight seeped through the cracks enough they could barely make out their surroundings; more books, old trunks, magazines and  musty furniture. Dust danced in thin shafts of light.

The commotion below was muffled but they could make out Mrs. Cobb trying to reason with him. He wasn’t buying it though until she threatened to call the cops. He seemed to drop it down a notch. The thing was if you locked him up he’d get drunk when he got out and things would be even worse when he found them.

Charlie could hear the click of the deadbolt and his heavy shoes on the hardwood floors. He began to curse and threaten again. She had always had a way of calming him down, but this time  he was escalating.

“Tell me where they are or I’m gonna blow your brains out, you old bag!”

Charlie’s heart was racing. His Dad always carried a gun and the story was that when Charlie had been little his father had done a couple years in prison for manslaughter with a gun.

Charlie saw his Mom move toward the attic door and grabbed her pale arm. It was pasty and cold. He knew that the sight of his Mom was like pouring gasoline on a fire to his Dad when he was raging.

Mrs. Cobb screamed,

“CLINT, I’ve had enough. I’ve always treated you with respect and I’ll not have you coming into my home and threatening me! You should be ashamed of yourself threatening an old woman. I told you they are not here. Leave now or you WILL GO TO JAIL!

The knot in Charlie’s throat was so big he felt like he was choking. He was horrified that his little brother was going to sneeze in the dusty attic and give them away. His Mom had frozen in place, Charlie still holding on to her arm for dear life to keep her from revealing them. He could see his brother’s huge eyes even in the dark pleading for Charlie to save them.

Silence … there was only silence, like at the supper table. Charlie could hear their own breathing. It sounded so loud in his pounding ears he couldn’t believe his old man couldn’t hear it too.

Clint mumbled something. Then, like a miracle, the heavy shoes were stomping out the door. He heard the deadbolt click and realized he was holding his breath and soaked in sweat. It was running down his back and sides. He had wrapped his free arm around his brother, his head buried deep in Charlie’s bony chest.

It seemed an eternity before the attic door creaked open and the rickety steps telescoped downward into the light. Mrs. Cobb peered up at them.

“He’s gone. You can come down. I don’t think he’ll come back anytime soon. “

Charlie knew something had changed that day in that musty attic. When he crawled out, a fire had begun to smolder. He vowed that no one would ever make him feel that way again. He’d gone into the attic an idealistic, bookworm. He’d come out something else.

He’d moved into adult life seeming to seek a violent world with a chip on his shoulder. He’d survived by making those around him think that it was not worth the hassle to confront or attack him. He made them think that he was just crazy enough, just mean enough to make them pay. Maybe he was. Maybe he wasn’t. In the end the only thing that mattered was that they believed he could.

One day the pain and misery of living like that brought Charlie to the end of his rope. His life had become unmanageable and he came to believe that the only way he could survive was to surrender to God’s will as he understood him.

He could have come out of the attic abhorring violence. Intellectually he did feel that way but if threatened, the rage at his father would come over him.

Married and with kids, Charlie tried to work with adolescents and let them know as best he could that he cared for them. He had become a grizzled old cuss. Sometimes little babies would cry and he’d know they could feel the smoldering at his core but he learned that a hug or kiss or a reassuring hand on a shoulder might make the difference in a kid’s life.

If he could just listen … really listen … maybe, he could touch them somehow. Maybe he could pull them back from the secret fire of violence before it was too late.

 



On Violence

 


                                                                       On Violence

 

I suppose like many boys I first recognized violence in my father. He’d spank you once in a while. He and his brothers boxed and played football.

He left for a while. Our school yard was sort of dirt and rock. Guys would test you. I never really understood why. Seemed like it would be easier to leave folks alone but I had a scrappy Irish temper so if they wanted to test, I had an answer.

We called it “Junior High”. We moved up in neighborhood, so I didn’t wear the exact right clothes. Tony down the street decided I’d be a good target. First contact, I was walking to the store to get some stuff for Mom.  A group of guys were being loud as I went to passTony’s driveway.

I spotted the boxing gloves. No surprise … Tony starts hollering at “HEY, NEW GUY”.

“Let’s see how tough New Guy is!”

I never understood bullies but I was taught to fight back and they’d leave you alone after. I knew it worked so I put on the gloves and squared off with Tony.

He had me by a few pounds and was an early bloomer to my late. Like a dummy I went toe to toe with him because of my temper but it worked out ok. I gave as good as I got so when it was over got a couple of back slaps and grins so continued on my way. When I came back by they were gone.

It all stuck in Tony’s craw though. I suspect he took some razzing for not being able to finish the skinny new guy. So he called me out at school and we met behind the gym. I hated that … waiting.

The result was the same. I went toe to toe in anger so it was pretty much a draw. That was the end of it.  Guess I should thank Tony. I didn’t have much trouble with anybody after that.

Bars and clubs and the US Navy with two overseas deployments were riddled with violence of all kinds. There’s a picture of me coming home on leave getting my seabag out of Dad’s trunk.

The sweet, fun loving guy is gone.

Cigarette hanging from my mouth, mirror shades and a sly grin tell the story.

Mom said the Navy “ruined me.”

She’d lost her kind, conscientious peace maker and now in his place was a child of violence.

 

BLEED

 

There’s somethin I been tryn’ to say

All my life and again today.

Springsteen’s thunder road,

Neil young and the damage done

 

All that spit when I wanted to quit,

But the vinegar made bile

And the vomit made wild.

So I swallowed it back

And continued to hack away

At the misery.

 

There’s something I been tryin’

To say

That’s stuck in my craw

And so I just bleed

 for the lonely, bleed for the dead.

That old life

So full of dread

Til the headlights shined

And I could see home

At the end of the road.

Yearning to lie down

And pray …  for another day

Another way to bleed.