Troubling News Of Constantine

Taken from the novel, Killing Of An Old Man, by John Wilson Bach

My Dear Grandson,

How are you, my boy? I call you a boy, though I don’t remember rightly when a toddler becomes a boy. I guess you ain’t even a toddler yet. Still a baby, maybe.

I try to picture you. Roose, your great uncle Roose, will be visiting me soon, and he will surely give me a full description. I wish I could hold you. As any grandfather wishes he could hold his grandchild, I wish I could hold you. It ain’t right I’m stuck up here in this hospital, and it ain’t right your Mama don’t send me no pictures of you.

Like I said, I don’t know when you become a boy, but I do know when a boy becomes a man. Least I think I do. I think it’s when you notice a girl for the first time.

This takes me back to the subject of the last letter, the lovely singer who so enthralled our tiny church.

My infatuation with the young croonette, Miss Constantine Fellows, only grew in her absence. I heard a rumor a few weeks after her song that she would be performing in the Lost Falls Baptist Church, and I pleaded with my mother to take me there for the performance. I was refused. Perhaps her performance was just a rumor, and I hoped that it was, for I couldn’t bear the thought of her being so close and me not being able to see or hear her.

There was a young man in school by the name of Balfour Hipps who regularly attended Lost Falls. He attested nothing of hearing her. I eventually reckoned the performance to be only a rumor, else he would’ve surely been smitten as I had been.

I remember not wanting to come right out and ask Balfour if Constantine had visited his church. First of all, I didn’t know him that well. He was one of those kids you can go all the way through grade school with, and though he’s always around, and you’re always in the school pictures with him and your friends, you never really know him. He could be some bank robber now for all I know.  Second of all, I didn’t want to mention her name to anyone who hadn’t heard her sing.

It seems a funny thing, but her name took on a strange and wonderful reverence to me. To say it to Balfour, to ask about “Constantine” as if the name could be for just any girl, and to ask so randomly of a boy who may never have heard her, all seemed to cheapen her name. I found myself resenting Bud a little for having written his last name behind hers on the day we heard her in our church. That was about the only thing I ever had against Bud.

One day lightning hit my life, hit me directly. In church one Sunday, after quite awhile, the service was getting on, kinda lazy like. It was one of those instances where you hear the voices of people talking around you, but you don’t really hear what is being said.

So the service was getting on, and it came to prayer request time. Usually, when he was feeling up to it, Parker Thimson would do the praying. He would amble up to the podium with his little notebook, faithfully record the outspoken requests of the congregation, and then lead the group in corporate prayer, naming each specific request. I usually didn’t listen too hard, ’cause mostly it was old folks stuff. Say, Joe

Kinsley had knee replacement last week and would appreciate your prayers, especially considering his wife has come down with the gout. Things like that. A couple of old spinster sisters seemed to make it onto the list ’bout every Sunday. One of ‘em would be home for some ailment, another week the other one would home fighting the shingles, or vertigo, or some such. Seemed like it was a team effort of troubles for them two.

One week it was a boil one of ‘em needed draining. Now if I had a boil that was so important I needed prayer over it… I don’t know. Just seems like some things can work themselves out without troublin’ everybody else.

I remember the requests that drove me crazy was when someone would say, “Please pray for so-and-so… it’s an unspoken request.” That just drove me batty, and I imagine a few others too. It might as well have been, “Hey everybody, I have a secret about so-and-so, but I ain’t saying what it is.”

Back to that Sunday. Mr. Thimson gets up there and opens his book and starts to record various items needed for prayer. I wasn’t listening too good, as I mentioned before, until the lightning hit. Boom! Seems like one of the choir ladies, I can picture her, but I don’t recall her name rightly… yes, I do. Her name was Mrs. Dinkins, though everybody called her Lady Dinkins for some reason. Bud said she was kin to the Queen, but I don’t know. Anyway, she says something or another, and then she said the name Constantine! Constantiine Fellows! Oh my, how my ears perked up then!

Fortunately, it was the habit of Mr. Thimson to repeat each particular request from the pulpit for those who didn’t hear the first time. We had a lot of them kind with all the old folks in attendance. So I scooted up on my seat and turned my good ear toward him to hear better.

“So it seems young Constantine Fellows, guest singer a few months back, I think we all remember, has gotten herself into a bit of sin. Let’s do remember her in prayer, Thank you Mrs. Dinkins for bringing her to our attention.”

I couldn’t cipher any more than that. It’s all I thought about that afternoon. Bud wanted to go up in the woods and hunt squirrels that afternoon, but it held little interest for me. I went though, as the thought of sitting around the house held no appeal either. We went to our usual spot, up in the hills to the west of town and a little north. I wonder if that area is still woods even? Back then, we could get lost in them woods. Not really lost, but it felt like we was a million miles from town when we got up in the heart of ‘em. And squirrels everywhere. We’d usually get a few and then get home and skin ‘em over at Bud’s.

So we was up there and I just didn’t have no fight in me. I’d take a shot or two, but I was so down. Bud finally sits down by this big old tree and asks me what’s wrong. I can lay it out for you even now, same as it was.

“You sick, BoDean?”

“No. Why?”

“’Cause you ain’t yourself.”

“I ain’t no one else.”

“Well, what’s wrong?”

I remember looking at him. I was still standing at the time, so I sat down too. But I looked at him the whole time. I wanted to know I could trust him. I knew if I couldn’t trust Bud, there weren’t no one I could trust, so I had to let it out.

“Bud…”

“Huh?”

“I can’t stop thinking about that girl that sang in our church.”

I remember at that point Bud looked down at the ground and got a little bit fidgety. I knew then that it was eating him up too. I realized that people had different ways to be bothered. I wore it all out on my sleeve, so to speak, but Bud, he kept it all in.

“Me too,” he says.

Now we was best friends, you know, but I can’t say it didn’t bother me a bit that he was tore up same as I was. I wanted the thought of her all to myself. Knowing he was thinking of her too felt like she wasn’t mine alone.

“What you reckon she did?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Must have been bad.”

“How we gonna find out?”

“I don’t know if I wanna know.”

When he said that, that he might not want to know, I didn’t understand at first. How could he not want to know, when for me it was all I wanted to know?

“How come?”

“I don’t know.’

“I wanna know.”

“I don’t think I wanna know ‘cause I wanna think of her like she was in our church that day.”

I remember tossing a couple of sticks I’d been holding onto at a little tree by the way. My hand was all clammy, I remember that.

“She cure could sing,” I said.

“Yeah…”

And that was it. That was all we said that day. We didn’t talk about her for a long time after that. Even when I found out a couple of days later what she done, I didn’t tell Bud. One thing, I wanted it all to myself, even though we was best friends. Another thing, and maybe I was rationing this out in my mind, but he said he didn’t want to know anyway.

Here’s how I found out. You remember my Uncle Jimmy from over in Haynor that come by from time to time on his selling trips.? Well, one evening he was at our house for a night over, and my mama had made him his favorite as I recall, chicken fried steak. That served to lighten him up a bit, which had him talking pretty good, which was  a rarity with him.

So he’s eating and talking about stuff over in Haynor, and then after awhile he gets to talking about happenings in other little towns in the surrounding counties. After awhile he all of a sudden says, “Oh! I almost forgot! I heard your pastor was over candidating in Higgins, for Pastor Fellows’ old job. Did you know that?”

Of course, my ears picked up when I heard the name, Fellows. I wanted to know everything. Not so much about our pastor trying for another job, but Pastor Fellows leaving his. My mama, she takes it slow and easy. I think she just says, “Oh? When was that?” I can still see her standing there in the kitchen holding her apron in her two hands, drying them and saying, “Oh?” like Uncle Jimmy had just

been talking about the weather or something.

I just couldn’t hold it in. I says, “Mama, that’s Constantine’s daddy!” She nods her head and says, “So it is.” I turned to Uncle Jimmy, who I probably hadn’t said ten words to in my whole life, and I ask, “What happened to Pastor Fellows? Did they move?”

My uncle just sits there and looks at me and chews his bite, like a cow standing in a field chewing his cud might look at you. He shakes his head a little, finally, and says, “I’ll say. To the state pen.”

That’s when I heard my mama draw in her breath and say, “My word, Jimmy, whatever did he do?” Uncle Jimmy, he finishes one more little bite, wipes his mouth with his napkin and proceeds to push his chair back and lean back in it. Finally he gets to talking. My, the things he did say.

I’ll make it brief. I don’t even know why I’m recounting this, tell the truth, ‘cause by the time you read this, everybody in it might be long gone.  It seems a bit of a catharsis for me in the telling. I hope it don’t weigh you down none though. Just know it was important in the life of your old granddaddy.

What happened was, Pastor Fellows got into trouble for going out after a young man who was trying to court young Constantine. It about broke my heart right there at the kitchen table to hear there was a young man in Constantine’s life.

Seem like sometime after she visited our church, she sang over at a church in Cobb County. Some church I never heard of. When my uncle said the name of it, I remember my mama rolling her eyes and saying, “If you call that a church.” I didn’t know rightly what that meant, but whatever those folks held onto, didn’t seem much count in my mama’s way of thinking.

So Uncle Jimmy then tells how this young man wooed young Miss Constantine after the service, which he said was kinda scandalous the way he done it. He didn’t take after her to her daddy’s liking, and evidently he was a little older than she was, so Pastor Fellows ended up forbidding her to court with him. That right there should have taken care of it, if she had just listened to her daddy, but she didn’t. She ended up sneaking around with that boy somehow. I don’t know rightly how because they didn’t live that close to each other.

Anyway, Uncle Jimmy gets real quiet after a bit and leans in to the table. By this time my mama had sat down beside him, across from me. He leans in toward her while looking at me with a quick glance, and he says, “Her daddy done caught them one evening. Out in the back seat of a car parked in the alley behind Taylor Drug, right there in downtown Higgins! Least that’s what I heard.”

Well, that just completed the rending of my poor heart right there. I had pictured her many a time cuddling up to me out on our front porch, or strolling with me out by my mama’s garden, me filling her in on all the plantings and which parts I had helped with. Her holding my arm and looking up at me like I was some kind of something.

All of that came to naught in the back seat of an old car behind Taylor Drug. I would never stroll with Miss Constantine or swing with her on our porch. I would never have her for my own.

“So when he caught them,” Uncle Jimmy goes on, “he proceeded to beat the tar out of that young man. Evidently put him in the hospital for a spell. The police are getting to the bottom of it.”

My mama just sits there. Just sits there. Don’t neither one of us know what to say.

Uncle Jimmy grabs a toothpick and leans back in his chair. “That ain’t all. Come to find out he was an abusive daddy to Constantine, or so she claimed when they was questioning her. That’s a tough one for me to fathom. But they also found out he was skimming money out of the collections at his church. Had been for some time.”

I just couldn’t believe it. The stealing’s what put him in jail, and rightfully so. I didn’t think that much of him beating on the young man, ‘cause in my mind the young man deserved it, taking her from me and all.

It’s funny. I was mad at her for being in that car with him, but somehow I didn’t blame her for it. Seems like blaming a woman for impropriety comes harder than blaming a man. I figured he had deceived her. I figured she didn’t really want to be in that car with him at all.

Now, it took awhile to come around to that figuring, but I think it provided me some measure of comfort to figure it. After all of it, I just wanted her to never have done it.

Nothing ever came of our pastor trying for Pastor Fellows’ job. He stayed around a good many years after that. I don’t know if anyone besides us even knew he tried out for it. I never heard no more about the whereabouts of Constantine, or her daddy, or the young man he put in the hospital.

It got me thinking, though, who had more culpability? I think that’s the word I want. It’s a fancy word for guilt. Can’t hardly find a dictionary here in this hospital. I asked the nurse for one once, but she said we couldn’t have none because we didn’t take care of them. I told her I didn’t know exactly who “we” were, but I could certainly take care of one. Come to nothing, though. I never got the dictionary, so I’ll just stick with culpability as the word I want.

Pastor Fellows should have never taken that money.  That boy should have never talked Constantine into that car. I don’t see nothing wrong with our pastor looking around at other pastoring jobs. And Constantine should have never allowed herself to be deceived. So I guess three out of the four have culpability.

So it all got me to wondering. You might wonder these types of things by the time you’re my age, and by then I suppose I’ll have the answers. I’ll be in the hereafter by then, and I won’t have no way of telling you what I find out. Just like my own Grandaddy can’t tell me now that he knows. We find out, each one of us, on our own.

When God goes to evaluating our lives, which part of it does He look at the hardest? What if I’m a good boy my whole life till I get to be a grown man, and then I do something awful, and then I never do good to make up for it? Is it all the same? Is all the good I done at first to no count because of the bad I followed up with?

What about Constantine? When she sang in our church that day, it was a gift from heaven. I believe that. But God knew right then when she was so enrapturing us, what she would do just a little while later with that boy. He knew it right then! Does that mean her song come to nothing? Was God pleased at all with that beautiful song from the heart of an innocent?

What about the young man? Say he straightened up and flew right from then on out. Does he still have to pay for what he done, or is it just wiped clean from his slate? And Pastor Fellows… does all the preaching he done prior to that come to no count?

Which part of my life counts against me and which part goes for me? Does Constanting get to go to heaven? I sure hope so. Deep down in my heart, I find myself still holding out for some strolling with her, even if it’s somewhere in the beyond.  As for me, if I was to die right here in this hospital, I feel my chances to be pretty good. But I’m staying on the narrow way now just in case. I suggest you do the same. Once you fall off, it’s hard to get back on.

I am going to close for now. It troubles me to ponder on the ways of people sometimes. The older I get, the more I realize how slippery life can be. I don’t mean to end on a depressing note. I am tempted to tear this letter up and not tell you about these things, but it took me awhile to write it, so I’ll just include it.

Maybe later I will take it out, but then you won’t know it was ever there in the first place.

Maybe that is better. Never to know things in the first place.

I hope to see you soon, or rather to hear tell of you at any rate. I love you little one.

Grandaddy

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Names Can Hurt Me…

I would like to take a moment or two and agree with some people I usually disagree with. Not that many folks care what I think about this, and not that it’s even in the news lately… but something about it being the pro football playoffs, combined with the fact that I have no radio to listen to in my car during my morning commute (I have too much time to think)…  these things lead me to think that The Washington Redskins should change their nickname.

They should. Even in light of faux white guilt and the current collective pseudo-sensitivity to all things racial – even with all of this – the Redkskins should be called something other than the Redskins. It is a derogatory and offensive term for a group of people, and it shouldn’t be used.

We would never call a sports team the Washington Honkys or Washington N– or Washington Yellowman. We wouldn’t. There would be a hue and cry amonsgt us. However, with the Redskins its seems that the only ones offended are certain Native Americans (don’t like the term but utilizing it here for clarity) and certain gamma males and hip, young, naive white people. Problem is, there aren’t enough of them to make a big enough stink to change it.

Point is, I wouldn’t care if there was a Washington Honkys or Washington Crackers or Washington Pasty-Faced, Can’t Jump, Don’t Have Rhythm White Boys. I really wouldn’t, even though I fit all of those descriptors.

Well, I do have a little bit of rhythm. Mama Bach likes it when a soul song comes on and Big Daddy Bach turns up the volume and then sends that sultry look at her and opens his arms and starts dipping his shoulders and swinging his hips and… well, anyway. Ahem. Where was I?

Oh yes, I really wouldn’t mind those nicknames for a sports team.

However, I can understand why people of Native American heritage DO take offense at the name, Redskins. Not Braves, not Indians, or Chiefs. Just something about Redskins doesn’t seem very nice.

Soooo… I have one issue here about which I agree with many liberals and progressives.

We soon part ways, though. Very soon. You see, while I find the name offensive, and I think it should be discontinued, I think the government has no place in MAKING anyone change it. It’s free speech. If enough people are offended, market forces will force the issue.

Imagine this…. a sports team owner starts up a pro football franchise in, say, Memphis. He owns the team, so he gets to name it. Let’s say he comes up with the name, Memphis Cotton Pickers. I imagine that is offensive enough for many, but he insists on it. Enough people raise their voices in protest, refuse to buy tickets, or watch on TV, etc. Soon, he’ll change the name all right to something more palatable to all.

Because he learned the error of his ways? No. Because he wants to sell tickets and make money.

So do the Redskins. If enough people complain, refuse to purchase tickets, buy merchandise, or otherwise spend money on the product, then the name will change.

But they won’t do that. Or at least they haven’t yet. Bottom line, not enough people care.

Yet here’s my complaint in this tiny forum. It’s offensive to me.

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Some Republicans Make Me Want To Vomit.

As I sit here in the early evening on a cold winter’s night, it is comforting to take pleasure in some good economic news. Gas prices are down, significantly. $4.00 a gallon gas is a distant memory. Today, I paid $1.95 at the pump. A minimum wage job can now support buying over 4 gallons of gas for every hour worked. Woo hoo, good news. Of course, if the local, state, and feds would tax less, it could pay for even more.

Surely, things are looking up in America. Who gets the credit…

“Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has a message for Americans reveling in a spate of encouraging news on jobs, gas prices, economic growth, and insurance coverage: You’re welcome.”

This is when I head to the bathroom to visit Uncle Ralph in his Buick.

Are you serious, Senator McConnell? You took office in January of 1985. 30 years ago. The national debt at that time was 1.82 trillion. It is currently 17.82 trillion. That’s in excess of $500 billion added, per year, for every year you have been in office. Now, I wasn’t paying real close attention in Civics class, but I do remember something about Congress having some sort of authority regarding spending. I don’t really know. I’m just a regular schmoe out here in flyover country, but 17 trillion dollars seems like a whole lot to me.

So why would I thank you, Republicans, for the items you listed?

  1. Job growth? Too busy working to decide whether you did that or not. Cut taxes on wages.
  2. Gas prices? Seems like I read that OPEC didn’t cut production and that the oil price drop, while enjoyable (except for those frackers out in North Dakota losing their jobs… see number 1 above), will be temporary. Gas will go up. Cut the fuel taxes.
  3. Economic growth? Did GDP go up recently? Is the quantitative easing really equivalent to growth? Cut taxes.
  4. Insurance coverage? You are taking credit for, I assume, the passage of Obamacare? Do you really want to claim that? Cut taxes.

Cut taxes, Senator. You and your ilk, cut taxes.

Cut taxes.

Next time you’re feeling good about your work in Washington, Republicans, take a look at this…

http://www.usdebtclock.org/

Pretty to look at, in a quixotic way, but sobering.

The Democratic response is typically humorous, of course.

“Democratic National Committee spokesman Mo Elleithee told reporters in a statement, ‘The fact is, under President Obama we’ve had 57 straight months of private sector job growth leading to nearly 11 million jobs added. All Republicans have given us is a government shutdown that cost the economy $24 billion. I get why he (McConnell) wants to take credit for the economic recovery. But maybe he should first do something to help contribute to it.’”

Here’s the deal. Democrats are children. Those Kentuckians who sent you to Washington, Senator McConnell, need you and the other Republicans to be adults. Not to be RINO’s or to cater to special interests, but to cater to your Constitutionally-limited role as a federal government.

Cut taxes. Quit spending money. Then take credit.

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S*itting Bull

As further evidence of the continued decline of our great republic, it is noted that a certain Native American, whose Indian name is Elizabeth Warren, is being considered by some as a POTUS candidate.

Now, Ms. Warren elicits none of the physical characteristics of a First Nations person, save her high and exotic cheekbones (note sarcasm). She looks to me to be a public school elementary principal (pity the children), or perhaps a bank teller, or DMV employee. No, this fine woman actually wields influence in the vaunted halls of our Congress.

Mostly, Senator Warren complains… about Wall Street, big business, successful people, those kind of folks. She decries individualism and capitalism. She complains about successful people, and has ironically used her shrill voice to become successful herself. Kind of like a Michael Moore of the political class, without the flabby paunch, or goofy hat. But with, as noted, those fabulous cheekbones.

Of course, no one in the media holds her responsible for her claim to be part Indian. Said claim helped secure her seat at Harvard, some say.

According to the Washington Post, “Warren first listed herself as a minority in the Association of American Law Schools Directory of Faculty in 1986, the year before she joined the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania Law School. She continued to list herself as a minority until 1995, the year she accepted a tenured position at Harvard Law School.” Furthermore, “The New England genealogical society clarified in a statement that it has found no proof of Warren’s self-proclaimed Native American lineage. The group also told The Globe that the candidate’s family is not listed in an early-20th century census of major tribes, known as the Dawes Rolls.”  Interestingly, when she applied to the University of Texas in 1981, she listed her ethnicity as “white.”

Elizabeth Warren, Senator from Massachusetts, will be running for POTUS in 2016. She says that she currently is not a candidate, and currently she isn’t. But power corrupts, and the clamor of the masses can be heady. I believe it is telling that she is being considered at all, proving further that the mass media-fed stupor of the liberal electorate is unfettered by sanity.

As noted elsewhere, “Sitting Bull (Tatanka Iyotake) was a fierce enemy of Anglo-Americans from a young age.” So it is with Ms. Warren. It is a worthy comparison of these two First Nations people. He, a fierce warrior and respected tribal elder. She, a shrieking squaw falsely grasping at greatness, while the liberal lemmings cheer her on.

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To A Dying Outlaw

“It seems to me,” the old man said,

As he looked away out west.

“To die out here beside my horse…

It seems that would be best.”

 

“For many years I’ve spent upon

My faithful stallion true,

And I can swear upon his grave

It’s better me than you.”

 

“For sins I’ve done, I’ll pay the price,

The desert high it calls…

Right now the sunset beckons me,

And soon the curtain falls.”

 

I saw the old man slump a bit.

The blood was pooling fast.

“So, mark my words here, stranger, please,

For these will be my last.”

 

“The desert high will kill a man,

And take his years away.

So slowly do the sands collect.

That’s all I have to say.”

 

“But did you rob the bank down there

Down in the valley yon?”

He gazed at me and curled his lip,

“I’ve said my peace, be gone.”

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Letter Number Eleven, From… the Hospital

My Dear Grandson,

It seems as if my most recent missives to you are so heavy and dark. I apologize for that. It reminds me of one of my mother’s favorite sayings, “A life is not all roses or thorns.” I’ve been poking you with thorns now for awhile so let me show you some roses. Another saying she had was, “Fish and company both stink after three days.” Now that one might take you a little living to truly understand, but suffice it to say it relates to my stay here in this hospital.

You see, I ain’t in the part where people are who are hurt or sick temporarily, or who need surgery and that type of thing. No, I’m up here in the part for the long term patients. That’s what I am, a long term patient. I even got to wear the clothes they give me. Say one day you was to go on a trip down to the Gulf, and when you’re there you see a shirt you might want to buy for me. That’s all fine and good. But you could bring it to me, assuming I ain’t out by then and you even want to come visit me… and if you was to give me that shirt you bought as a present I couldn’t even wear it. Nurses would tan my hide if I even put it on. They’d rather me have no shirt at all than to have one a loved one give me.

Lots of folks up in here ain’t got no loved ones. I’m so happy I got you, and Roose. Without the two of you I might go crazy. Roose is coming to visit with me next week and he’ll give me all the lowdown on what’s going on with you, so it will be like I had two visitors and not just the one.

The thing about the fish statement is that some of the fellows up in here get on each other’s nerves, so they got to keep us separated. We just get tired of being around each other, every day, in such cramped quarters. Aint’ no one of us can ever just get up and go nowhere. Sometimes there’s even fights that break out. Now you wouldn’t think a bunch of hospital patients could work up much of a fight more than a bunch of Girl Scouts, but you’d be surprised. The staff can’t be all places at all times and sometimes the tempers they flare. Aint nobody wanting to be here, so sometimes some one might say something to make another someone mad, or even just look at him wrong. Before you know it they’ll be down on the floor, one atop the other with fists flailing. Takes more than a nurse when that happens.

I just realized I’m getting into the thorns again. Seems like sometimes they start to overcrowd the roses. They sure do stick out and it’s hard not to run up against them. But let me balance all this out a little with some lighthearted fare. Then next week I’ll visit with your great uncle Roose and then you and I can talk about that in the next letter

There’s this one patient up in here by the name of Clyde. Clyde ain’t too bright, and some of the other fellows like to go and make fun of him. Sometimes it gets out of hand, but most the time it’s just them being mean. One day there was a bunch of us down in this room watching a TV show about outer space. It was one of them documentaries about the stars and how far away they are and what they’re made of and such as that.

Well, some of us was getting a little restless and wanting to turn the channel to something else. That’s when Clyde pipes up and says, “We aint’ never been to the moon.” Now he didn’t mean that we, our particular group hadn’t never been to the moon. He meant that no one, not one person, had ever been there. So some of the fellows get to laughing at him and he starts out on this trail saying why there ain’t no real proof about it that can’t be proved otherwise.

It went on a little till this nurse comes over and just turns the TV off. Don’t let us watch it no more that whole day. That just simmers some of them right down, and they go out to find something else to do, not that there’s that much. Clyde, he just sits there kinda smug like he done proved his point. I don’t believe it sometimes neither, tell the truth, but then when I get to thinking on it, I do believe it.

Anyway, the whole affair got me to thinking on outer space and man’s place in it. Didn’t have much else to do, so I might as well sit there and think. They say the universe is really big, BoDean, and I believe it is really big. Not too sure it’s quite as big as they say, but I know it stretches out quite a ways. Wonder what’s on the other side of it? If there is something else out there, then what is it and why ain’t it considered part of the universe? If nothing, then… well, what’s nothing? I can feel the limits of my thinking knocking right up against the inside of my head when I get to going on about this subject.

My friend J. Dean used to say there weren’t really no stars out there. That the black night was just a blanket that had some holes in it, thrown over the whole thing. Just some pinpricks the angels put in it. Course he couldn’t say with his little theory how the moon moved around. He’d just say cause it did. Course he said thunder was the angels bowling and lightning was them looking for stuff with flashlights. Sure seemed like them angels was awful busy sometimes.

Makes me wonder where heaven is. Everyone seems to think it’s up and the other place is down. I got to thinking ‘bout that, too. Guess there ain’t no way to know till we get there. There was this preacher used to come around Hooker County every spring when I was a kid, went by the name Tibbs. Pastor Tibbs. I remember one time he said he didn’t rightly know, but there was evidence that the bad place might be way down below us in the middle of the earth. If the earth is a big ball, and I got no reason to expect it ain’t, then the bad place being down don’t make much sense anyway, cause what’s down when the whole world’s just a ball floatin’ around out yonder in space? So maybe down could mean in the middle of the earth.

He said if you was to dig a hole clear down, eventually you might hear the very groanings of the departed wicked. That thought scared me to no end. There used to be this real deep pit over by the Champs Mansion. They said they had used the dirt from that pit to build up some dam somewhere way back when. It was set up in this hill so it would drain all right when it rained, but it was real deep. Course our folks all told us to not go near it. Well, after that sermon, us kids went over there and climbed down in it, and we laid ourselves down on the ground with our ears planted in the dirt to find out if we could hear anybody groaning. After a few minutes, all of us trying not to squirm around too much, Tom he lets out a yell that he thought he could hear someone way down below. Sounded like a whimper, he said. We all tried laying where he was, one after the other, but I didn’t hear nothing. J. Dean said he wasn’t sure but he might have heard something. But he was the agreeing kind, it seems.

So I wonder, on my way out, stepping through the veil as they call it, will the last thing I see with these old eyes be the attic or the basement? Sure hope I’m going up.

I can’t wait to see my own Granddaddy again. Mom and Dad, too, of course, and my brother Jim I told you about, the one that went and got killed in the war. I guess I’ll see my wife again. Now don’t get me wrong. I know she was headed up. It’s just if I get there, up that is, she might still steer clear of me like she done down here. Your mama says I’m going down, but please don’t you believe that. I want you to believe what your mama says on other things, all right, but not that. She takes no count of me, but I think if we meet up there – and I’m sure she’ll be there – all will be fixed up again. Leastways I hope so.

I want to tell you about your mama, things she won’t tell you, but I don’t want to just come right out and spill all the details all over the place. Makes it seem messy. She’s a good woman, an excellent woman, and she would have made an excellent wife, just like the Proverb says. Her truck drivin’ “friend,” your daddy, didn’t know who he had found. Now I don’t want to make you think you’re made up half-bad and half-good, so I’ll just leave it at this… your daddy didn’t recognize what was right in front of him. He had himself a real prize. She loved him, she did. But he couldn’t stay still, I guess. Couldn’t focus, maybe.

So you got his part in you and your mama’s, and the way I see it, if you can just stay focused on the good things, you’ll turn out all right. Don’t never run off on a good woman. But, anyway, I wanna tell you all about her different somehow. Maybe it’ll all come out while I’m talking about other things and people. If you got questions, you can write me back when you get old enough.

In the last letter he sent me, Uncle Roose told me you sleep a lot, just like a baby should. I can’t wait to see him next week. Ill get to asking him if you are still sleeping a lot. It’s been so long since I even seen a baby. Can’t remember the last time I held one. It would probably do my condition good to hold a baby. I’d sure like to hold you.

Roose tells me your mama calls you an active baby, that is, when you are awake. I never seen any other kind of baby but an active baby. You come from a long line of active babies, I know that. I asked Roose to try and sneak a picture of you in the mail up to me, but he said your mama saw right through that. Said he took his camera with him to visit you and told her he wanted to get a picture. She kinda looked at him and said, “No.” Just like that. Just, “No.” He asked well could he take a picture of you with him that had already been taken. Said she just sighed and then stayed quiet for a few minutes and finally said, “Uncle Roose, I done told you I don’t want him having nothing to do with my baby or with me. I ain’t never gonna change that.” Of course, the “him” she was talking about was me. Sure wish I could see you.

I also sleep a lot, up here in this hospital room. More than I should, I guess, but I don’t have that much to do, really. The staff, the nurses, they hardly ever come in here. They feed me all right, but not like I’m used to eating. Everybody gets the same thing. What I want don’t never matter.

They do let me get outside up here, get some fresh air. I see a lot of other patients out when I do that. I ain’t friends with none of them, though some of them I guess can be cordial enough if I tried to approach them. I guess I don’t see the point, since I’m getting out of here sometime. Some of them have what I have, and some have other things. It’s a terrible thing to just sit up here waiting.

The other day I was outside in my favorite spot. I didn’t have that long to be out there. After I walked around a bit to stretch my legs. I leaned up against this wall where it’s all warm. The sun hits it and just warms it right up and it feels good to lean against it and soak in some of that warmth. Seems like I get cold a lot easier than I used to. Must be from getting old.

So I was standing there and looking out at the blue sky over the trees out yonder. Can’t see too far, but there’s some wispy little clouds hanging up there out to the south, little whispers of white breath hanging there like they ain’t got nowhere to go, and I realized there wasn’t nothing between you and me, that is if your mama had you outside right then. Yeah, there was buildings and such, but if I could aim my words just right, and not take account of no breeze cause words ain’t moved by the wind I reckoned, if I could send them up toward them clouds they might just shoot out and spread out and land right on you. So I did. I looked out and I said, “I love you, BoDean’” and something else I can’t say right now.

I breathed in that sweet fresh air after sending you those words, and I hoped you would breathe the same air someday, that something good from me might make it to you, that I might just then be breathing some of the air, just a little portion of it, that my own daddy and granddaddy breathed years before. Maybe someday we will all be together and there won’t be no throwing words to the wind but saying them right to you. Right now, throwing them will have to suffice. That, and this letter. Which, I hate to say, it seems I must end.

Know that I love you,

Grandaddy

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My Argument For Gun Control

I have come to believe in gun control. That’s right. Me, stolid conservative that I am, strict constitutionalist with a thin glaze of libertarianism. I believe in gun control.

I believe it is vitally important that one learns and practices how to safely control a gun.

It happened a few years ago, by my recollection of years… probably close to 25 years. Of course, the days, the week, the years, they go slowly as they are happening to you. But looking back they went by in a wink. Wouldn’t you say?

Flora Hendricks was alone in her home that night. It was the same home she had shared with her husband for many years. Alfred. Al, she called him. “What a wonderful man, “ she recollected to me when I met her. He had been dead at that time for close to 30 years. Hard to pinpoint times for me. I bet it wouldn’t be hard for Flora to pinpoint the time. Probably the exact time.

It was late when it happened. The middle of the night. As I said, she lived alone in her home. There had been no children born to the union of Alfred and Flora; I never asked why. Suffice it to say that at her advanced age that night, there were no close family members to call upon in her hour of need. Only the cold law enforcement officers. Police. Doctors. Ambulance. None of whom knew her. Alfred certainly wasn’t around. No children, as I mentioned.

Sometime in the night, while Flora slept, a young man kicked her back door in. He entered the house directly into the kitchen. In that neighborhood the houses were all old enough to have their kitchens in the back. No large and spacious open kitchens back then. No, just a small room with a door to the outside – now kicked in- and a second door into the remainder of the house. He headed straight through it.

Flora awoke at the sound of the door. Was it a dream? she wondered. She listened. The footsteps were heavy in the hall, and coming toward her. She heard them clearly. This was no dream. She whispered, “Oh, Jesus.”

Now Jesus could have come in personally and stopped the man, or sent an angel to do the job, or thousands upon thousands of angels. There is no counsel against the Lord. In the Garden of Gethsemane, when the betrayers came with Judas to fetch Him as a criminal, He responded with, “I am He.” That simple statement was enough to make them draw back and fall to the ground. (It is never a question of the power of the Lord to accomplish His purposes. No one there in person with Him during His ministry ever questioned the miracles). No, it was their response that was telling. The same guards who fell to the ground got back up and arrested Him. The same folks who watched as He hung on the cross, later exclaimed after His physical death and the subsequent shaking of the ground, “Surely He was the Son of God.”

Back to that night in Mississippi. Jesus never left the side of Flora. In His sovereign wisdom, He let her go through it. She sat up in bed. The man entered her room. He stood for a few moments in the doorway, looking around, looking at her, a helpless old bent over woman in her eighties, now utterly awakened by the beast that he was. His outline was dark against the night. She could not make out his face. She called out shakily, “Please…”

Somehow she had the strength to make it to her feet beside her bed. Perhaps it is instinctual to stand against a physical attack.

Flora was – thankfully – (only) shoved to the ground and her purse snatched from the dresser beside her. The man went back out as quickly and noisily as he had come in.

Had Alfred been there with her, and had he been a younger man, I am sure he would have stood between this intruder and his Flora. It is indeed natural for a man to protect a woman, even a Gloria Steinem. I have read that in the theater shooting in Colorado, the dead victims were found atop their women. It is not something thought of or strategized. Men are wired to protect. But Alfred was not there and would have proposed little obstacle to the criminal had he been. He had been somewhat older than Flora, and she was 86 years old. Perhaps he could have been the one pushed to the floor.

To my point of controlling guns. There is only one useful equalizer in the matters of violent men. The mere sight of a high caliber pistol could have stopped the man. A steadily held shotgun pointed at his chest could have also done the job. Had these plans not worked, a simple squeezing of even an 86 year old forefinger against the trigger would have. No one would have cared about the purse.

When I met Flora, she had divided the home into two sides. A kind of modified duplex. We rented the one half and she stayed on her side. She was a wonderful lady. She would sit out on her front porch in the evenings and watch our young son play. She would talk to us of her years growing up in the country 20 miles south of there. She would ask me sometimes, “John Wilson, do you think you might want to reduce?” Her term for losing weight.

Late at night, every night, I would see under the connecting door that her lights would remain on. She would stay up through the night, until the new day came. Fear does not remove easily. I would have gladly pointed a gun at any intruder for her. No one, including myself, knows how he will react in a true situation, of course. Having said that, in my mind if a man is willing to break into another person’s home, he is willing to risk his life.

That night with the intruder could have ended far worse. A couple of years ago, here in Omaha, a similarly aged woman left her door unlocked one night. A young illegal alien, drunk, broke in and raped her, beating her to death in the process. They found him passed out atop of her. Things surely could have gone worse for Flora so many years ago.

I’m sure she felt some measure of relief that we lived right through that connecting door. I wish she hadn’t felt the need to stay up every night in fear. I think she knew I would have come running had she needed me. I hope she knew.

So ask the politicians calling for “sensible gun laws” – we already have them – to have their bodyguards lay down their arms. They won’t. For they know better. The depravity of man sometimes calls for cold steel.

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