by CM Sackett
Where do people learn to do amazing things? Sometimes by learning from their UNamazingness
A Cadillac Escalade… back in these hills. Why don’t spoiled, rich people just stay in their safe, comfortable, clueless cities where they belong? Oh well, if I was going to have to take time out from my Christmas Eve, it might as well be for the type of haul I’d make sure this one was.
As I pulled ahead and positioned my wrecker for the grab (this fella’s sissy-truck was in the ditch on Slokam’s Curve… nice and steep), I saw an L.L. Bean ad step out of the vehicle. It was good stuff, and well thought out… I had to admit. No stupid stuff on him. But I couldn’t have afforded the green wool “Cruiser” he had on, let alone the rest of his hotsy-totsy attire… damned high-brow weenies!
“Good evening fine sir! Thank you for coming out on such a night.” He said it with genuine-enough enthusiasm. But then again, all these college-soft prudes were fully trained in schmoozing when it suited them. I let him know I wasn’t impressed.
“Where’s the drop off?”
His manner changed not at all.
“1226 Anderson Cove, sir. And a MERRY CHRISTMAS to you. Would you like a hot cup of coffee before we get started?”
I have to admit, this one was surprising me, just a little. But I wasn’t about to let him know it. “First off, ‘we’ aren’t starting anything. I’m going to pull you out of this mess you got into… take you to your destination… AND (have to admit, this part gave me great pleasure to say… at the moment) you’ll pay my ‘Christmas Eve’ rates”
He just smiled and nodded, like we were old friends agreeing on our favorite old movie to watch. “Sounds mighty fair to me!” he quipped as he reached into the back seat of his rig for a thermos. As he poured what turned out to be mighty fine smelling brew into the lid/cup, he added, “You sure you don’t want me to climb under this beast and put the cinch lines around the frame rails? The snow’s pretty deep and I rutted and muddied it up a good bit more trying to extricate myself.”
I let my contempt show in full glory as I said, “I wouldn’t want you to ‘sully your attire’ (well, I HAD read books, you know!), or ruin your manicure.” I said it slowly, and with much malice. I’ll be damned if he didn’t just lift that thermos lid like it was a gold chalice and say, “Fair enough. You’re the expert.”
Nossir, I did not know what to make of this one. But I was figuring him for one of those defense lawyers, since nothing seemed to bother him. Oh yeah, he was going to pay!
And that was the last word between us for quite a while. At least this Christmas eve would finally be a silent night.
It was all of thirty miles and close to an hour on these roads back into town, and we were almost to the city limits when my curiosity got the better of me.
“So, what’s a fancy man like yourself doing out on Slokam’s Curve on Christmas Eve, hugging a tree?”
I rolled my eyes and then looked over at him. “Gun season’s over. ‘Course, I figure you’d know how to get out of the fine, probably having Christmas dinner with the mayor and judge, huh?”
He was looking out the windshield at the snow, and his gaze never shifted. “Nah, the judge doesn’t even like wild game. Besides, I was bowhunting.”
I loved bowhunting… had caught the bug from my ex’s brother a couple years back. I hadn’t done much of it recently, what with work and the economy and all. But I loved it. This fella didn’t look anything like a bowhunter, least not one I’d want to be around. He probably had the latest, most expensive rig, too. I’d checked prices over at C&J’s last week… that’s why I was still shooting my ’91 BROWNING Mirage with a cheap release from Wally world.
“So, I guess you got one of the new Mathews, or Diamonds, huh?”
“No? Well, what do you shoot… a crossbow?”
This man did not fluster at all. “No. Got nothing against any of them, but I get out amongst them with an old GROVES Spitfire I rescued from some man’s ex-wife’s yard sale years ago. How about you, what do you shoot?”
“Me? Oh well, I have an old BEAR Grizzly that my father used back in the 60s…” My voice trailed off. Don’t know why I didn’t just tell him the truth about the BROWNING. Don’t know why that old relic came to mind. My father and I hadn’t spoken in years; even though he still lived on the family home place, just a few miles past Slokam Hill, where I picked this dude up. And I hadn’t thought of that old bow in a few more… don’t know why I mentioned it now.
It was time to change the subject, so I asked Mr. ‘Bean’, “what’s that address again?”
“1226 Anderson Cove. Do you know where that is?”
“Well, yeah. But there ain’t no shops there. There ain’t no houses there.”
“Yes, I know. But there’s the turn…” he pointed with a smile.
“Oh, you must be a doctor. There ain’t nothing out here but the nursing home.”
“Yes, yes I know. And you can pull right up under the awning of the main entrance. That will be perfect, and thank you!”
He didn’t even wait for my rig to come to a full stop before he jumped out and headed for the front door.
“HEY!” I yelled. “I ain’t no taxi service. You’re going to pay for every minute I sit here.”
He turned at the door, gave me a thumbs up, and said, “Fair enough!” and then disappeared into the sterile, yellow light of that house of the walking dead.
…gave me the creeps, just being this close to the place.
It was about five minutes and 3 levels of rising anger later when Mr. ‘Bean’ came back into view. But what happened next erased my vigilance on watching the clock… and the anger.
He made his way out the door, and went directly to the back of my wrecker… followed by three tottering old geezers in house shoes and overcoats. I felt the weight of him climbing onto the slide bed. I got out to give him a piece of my mind about “liability” and “idiots”, and was just about to turn loose on him when I heard, “Well boys, there he is… what do you think?”
“Oh, he’s a dandy!”
“Say, he’s bigger than he looked in those trail camera pictures!”
“Hmph! He’s not as big as that brute I got in ’63…”
“Harvey! Nothing is EVER as big as that brute you got in ’63!”
Then they all laughed.
“What’s going on here?” I asked. I felt like I had to do something to show who was in control here. I mean, this was MY wrecker.
Mr. ‘Bean’ chuckled. “Oh just showing some of the boys a bit of what was out there, this Christmas Eve.” And before I could say anything in return, ‘Harvey’ turned, grabbed my hand with both of his gnarled old paws and said, “And we want to thank you for picking him up and bringing him on in for us. We’s gettin’ a little worried… he’s never been this late before!”
His buddies nodded in hearty agreement. Behind them, a steady trickle of wrinkled old rememberers came out the doors in everything from muck boots and mackinaws to slippers and shawls. Within just a few minutes there must have been twenty men standing around my wrecker, ooh-ing and aw-ing over the buck… slapping Mr. ‘Bean’ on the back… and thanking me for going out on ‘such a night’ and helping their good friend share his “Christmas Hunt” with them.
I just stood there, more and more flabbergasted, and feeling more and more foolish and humbled at what I was learning about… and from this ‘dude’.
It was Mr. ‘Bean’ who finally broke things up. “Alright gentlemen, it’s time for all of you to head for warmer ground, and for me to let this poor man get home to his family. And I still have to have this old boy cut up and in the freezer by midnight.”
“You are coming back tomorrow for dinner?” Harvey said with a naked pleading in his voice. Every other head under that red aluminum’d heaven bobbed up and down in agreed wonder.
“Of course I will. And there will be roasts and cutlets with gravy… and that tom from last month’s adventure, all done up golden brown, just like Chester there taught me three years ago.”
Chester, who proved to be the shy, lanky old man with the dribble on his coat, and who had saddled up next to the buck and said nothing at all the whole time shrugged and looked around in grinning embarrassment… and pride.
Several old hands clapped their approval as every old eye shone with the rekindled Fire of Life burning bright… just like another uncommon Star… that had glowed as a sign at another holy happening.
One of the original three old wise men turned to me and said, “Mr. we’d sure be proud to have you come and join us for dinner tomorrow. Kevin here always puts on quite a wild game feast. And you aren’t likely to hear lies like we can tell about the ones that got away!” Harvey grinned and added, “And I can tell you all about the one that didn’t, back in 1963. Bring your wife and kids… we don’t bite… very often.”
I laughed out loud… hadn’t done that in over a year.
“Well, gentlemen, I appreciate that. And I might just surprise you. It sounds like a wonderful time.”
I noted how Kevin (felt good to have a name for him other than Mr. ‘Bean’…) made time for each old soul… one last handshake, shoulder tap and smile before they left the magic of this moment and re-entered the Pine-Sol’d monotony of their existence here at Bayview Retirement Villa. I also noticed how the glow of the evening’s events seemed to warm the man to his very core, as he stood there under that awning for another minute, just reliving it all.
He was, I realized, a very rich man. Not because of what he drove, told time with, or wore. It was a sort of warming revelation to my own bitter, cold heart. But there was more to come…
I did need to get on back to the house, but I was curious about what I’d just witnessed. So, I asked him, “Kevin?”
“One of those old guys your grandpa or something?”
I was getting a bit flustered. “Well, did you grow up with them, or something?”
Kevin smiled and nodded toward my rig. “I’ll give you the short version on the way to my place.”
We had gone almost two miles before he started. “I grew up in Oklahoma, in the oilfields and gyp hills of the southwest. My father was a hard working man that never made much money… never had much to give me. At least that’s what I thought when I was a young fool, thinking the city held all the real treasure in this world.” I turned to look at him, then. I’d never heard a man be that honest about himself. Hell, I’d never been that honest with myself. It was a little uncomfortable to hear, but Kevin quietly continued.
“He did this sort of thing the whole time I was growing up. Of course there weren’t many nursing homes in that part of the country back then. But every season, while some other men would tie their buck to the hood of their Bel Air or Pontiac and make the rounds of Kinder’s Hardware, the Galaxy Café and then the Times Herald to get their picture in the Wednesday ADVERTISER… my dad would cover whatever ‘trophy’ him and the bow had grassed with an Army surplus tarp, grinning like a Cheshire cat… and drive the old section roads. He’d make a circuit of the old Sooners who had homesteaded that ground with his father… and who would, too soon, be adding their own dust to its richness.
“He never had a bad word to say about those who chose the other path, said he enjoyed seeing their pictures, himself. But I remember we were sitting on top of Saddleback Hill one evening, after having visited with four or five old souls in the country, and showing and sharing the tale of an old, long-nose doe and scrubby 6-point Dad had bested within minutes of each other in a thicket just outside of Cement. We were listening to the music of the oil wells. Each well’s single-piston engine had its own unique rhythm and voice. Couldn’t stand them when we moved there… missed them like crazy when me and Mom left. Anyway, I remember we were sitting there, and I asked him why he did this, why he spent time with all these ‘old codgers’. I remember he smiled at me and said, “Careful son, your old man’s close to being one of those ‘old codgers’ his self”. And then he pointed out across the hills and leases and black jack thickets muted and hidden in the dark blanket of that night.
“Son, you see those R.E.C. lights dottin’ the horizon… them ones that are so far from any other light that they seem to shine a little brighter?”
“That’s where those old codgers live… out away from other folk. Kevin, it ain’t true of all of them… I’ll grant you that, but most of those old souls are diamonds. They’re precious, rich in experiences and memories and wisdom, brimming over the top of the bucket of their hearts with good things to share and love to give. They live where they were thrown, Kevin… cast out and tossed aside by sons and daughters and spouses who didn’t see enough dollar signs or other ‘shiny’ stuff to merit keepin’ ‘em around.”
I remember his voice trailed off and faltered just a bit. But he quickly retightened the cinch on the private knowings and thoughts behind the conversation… smiled warmly at me, and thrust out his noble chin. “I’m a greedy man, son. And I want all the good things those old jewels have to offer.” Then he settled his gaze on me, took my own chin in a work-cracked hand, and gently lifted my face as he said, “And I want you to be as rich as I am.”
As the whirring light bar flashed and flickered its amber beacon into the tumbling veil, I found myself envious of such a lucky life (for the second time in one night). Not bitter toward this good man, just jealous that I hadn’t been so blessed. It came out this way, “Wow… you and your dad must have been real close.”
That was the first thing all night that seemed to take him by surprise. Kevin looked at me with a blank look. “Sorry?”
“Your dad, your dad and you must have been close.”
Kevin chuckled slightly as he said, “No.”
“Oh, it wasn’t Dad’s doing. No, it wasn’t him. My mom packed me up just a few days after that December evening on Saddleback and headed us across country to make what she called ‘a better life’. She married money the second time. And as I got older, I made good money… for the first time. I never saw my father alive again.”
“My father died where we’d left him, where I had cast him aside. He died underneath one of those farthest… and brightest R.E.C. lights, surrounded by the Treasure he had found laying right out in plain sight. He died on a Christmas Eve, just like this one, nine years ago.”
I locked both hands on the steering wheel and focused real hard on the road. I was back to not knowing what to think.
Kevin went on like he was sharing good news with an old friend.
“My mother didn’t tell me of his death until Christmas night, after she made sure all the ‘celebrations’ of that Eve, and day had gone as planned. He had been treated as an inconvenient interruption into our ‘happiness’ for so long, I wasn’t even all that angry at her timing… even though I was that shocked at the news. I had always thought that I would go back. I always thought that there was time.”
“Anyway, I went straight to my apartment, for a change of clothes… and the GROVES (my mom had taken it out of spite… it was her yardsale I bought it from. I mowed the neighbor’s yard for two months to pay its price… mom knew the price of everything).”
Kevin turned his head and measured my countenance for a bit. I was still locked on the wheel and staring hard at the road. He gave a quick sigh, and I could sense that he was about to say something directly to me. But instead, he pursed his lips together and turned his head slightly, as though some unheard voice of thought had whispered in his ear. He looked at me again, and then continued.
“I hadn’t touched that bow in years. I kept it around for reference-sake, I suppose. No, no, that’s not quite the honest truth. I think that SpitFire served as a sort of secret portal for me, a window back into that time of innocence, when dads are still the smartest men in the world… and us kids are still their favorite pupil. And I know it may sound funny, I mean, I knew he was gone. I knew that he wouldn’t be there to see. But I had to take it. I had to show him that I had hung on, a little bit. Somehow, I had to tell my dad that I hadn’t forgotten, and that all the time he had invested into teaching me what really mattered wasn’t a waste. Although I had wasted all the time he would ever see.”
Kevin looked at me again. “Does any of this make sense?”
All I could manage was a quick nod. I didn’t dare try to answer, I had no confidence that I could control the sound I’d make. Oh yeah, it was ‘making sense’!
The snow was flowing at a whiteout pace now, but we only had a couple more miles to go. The feelings and images inside of me were blowing through my mind with a blinding, gale force as well. It would have been hard for me to honestly declare whether it was the snow without, or the storm within that made seeing anything clearly nearly impossible at the moment. My passenger, on the other hand, finished his story in the same clear, matter-of-fact manner he seemed to do everything in.
“ I had no idea what to expect on the other side of that peeled-paint door when I knocked. But I never could have expected what did happen. I was greeted warmly and affectionately by a few old souls I only faintly remembered, and by several more that I had never met. They treated me as though I was their own long, lost son, as though I had never been as shallow or useless, as sons go, as I had been. Old Mr. Stewart was the one that brought it all home and set me free with it. As he handed me a yellowed, ragged edged envelope with familiar, shaky script addressing its contents to “My Beloved Son”, he said, “Yeah, yore ol’ man was right. You are a fine lookin’ boy. And you did come… and you do seem to have the right look in yore eye.” He broke our gaze just long enough to turn his ancient, sharp features slightly to the right and hit the mark with a bit of Days Work juice. Then his eyes softened, ever so slightly as he added, “This here letter had been next to yore daddy’s heart, in his left shirt pocket since a week after yore mamma done what she did. You’ll notice, at the bottom right corner of it, thar’s a date and his best work at signing it agin, day afore yesterday. He wanted you to know, Kevin. He wanted you to know that nothin’ in that there work of his heart had changed… not one stroke of the pen.”
The room went silent as men who had loved my father better than I had, and who loved me… because he had, waited in reverence for me to discover just how much. My eyes fought to stay clear and focused as they swam through the tears, but I was able to read:
“My Treasure’d Son,
You were taken from here, long ago, by circumstances beyond your control, or mine. If you are reading this, then you have been brought back by circumstances that are, once again, beyond being corralled by either of us. But my dear, dear son, it is my joyous pleasure to inform you, that you will also leave here this second time, just as you did the first… loved, cherished and treasured. I have no ground nor goods to leave you. As you know, such things never seemed to stay close or long in my company. But I do not leave you bereft or destitute.
Around you at this very moment are diamonds and jewels of inestimable value, now more than ever.
To me… though gone.
And to you… though broken and unsure.
Take what they offer. Feast on the bounty they provide. And as you return to your current living, remember how easy these Treasures are to find… and seek them out. Do this, and you will never be poor… and we will never again be parted.
All My Love… All I Have,