Each day changes as the season changes and my dreams change each night as I remember the days past and left only to my imperfect memories. Each year my remembrances fade a little more until I am left with more imagination than past reality. My youth has faded into muted pastels and fuzzy grey lines. The house where I was born has almost disappeared, the lane turned to dust and decayed leaves. There was a meadow behind the house where as a child I thought in my solemn duty to explore and try to walk up to the horses. Oh how I wanted the pet them, stroke their manes and faces and yet they never took me into their confidence. I dream of reaching out to them, reaching out forever and watching them run farther away until they became smaller than my fingertips. I had given them all names but they no longer remember each foolish sound I called to them.
My father worked for the county road commissioner doing pick and shovel work. I remember we did not have an auto for many years and he often had to walk an hour to the service depot. His boot soles would wear out every couple of months and my mother would buy some rough tanned leather and cut it to fit the soles. It took her about a week to resole the spare pair of boots and her fingers would be almost purple with sores from the big heavy needles. If my father was lucky he might find cast off boots and shoes for his family so that we could repair them in some way and make them serviceable. My brothers and I often walked barefoot just to avoid putting too much wear on our shoes. My father’s face has long since disappeared from my memory, I was eleven when my mother buried him in the back of acre where his parents and one brother had preceded him. The county said they was sorry about his death, he was a good worker, never missed a day’s work. It was unfortunate that the old oak up on Clemson Grade came uprooted in the rains of April and crushed him against that bit of gravel road just where it turns out before crossing Crooked Neck Stream.
John was the oldest of my brothers and he quit school just after our father’s death so he could enlist in the Army. He was barely seventeen at the time but he figured that with the allowance he could send home every month mon and us other three kids would do all right. Joe, at almost sixteen, assumed the head of the family, with mom’s approval, of course. Joe took to working after school at the garage pumping gas and doing a little work on old cars when the owner was too busy or didn’t want to deal with those who couldn’t pay all at once. Frank and me, he was fourteen and a year older, hired out to do whatever chores we could find. Mostly with winter coming on we cut and split firewood on other peoples woodlots, took out wage in firewood cause we needed it more than the few dollars we might earn. We had us a good system for splitting rounds. He was stronger and could use a ten pound hammer and wedge better than I could. So I’d use the double bladed axe to split up the smaller pieces and split some into kindling size.
Mom got regular letters from John each month and a government check from the Army. She said he was in Germany now and could you imagine that? I tried real hard but I never could, just never had a picture of the place and didn’t know what it looked like. John talked about some kind of celebration them Germans had every October and how it lasted a whole month. Frank said he wouldn’t mind having a whole month off to celebrate October and did then have Halloween there too. Joe mussed Frank’s hair and then pretended to poke him with his fists. The first frost came and the church had a dance social for the teens. I’d never been to one before and followed behind Frank and Joe as we walked the few miles to the meeting hall. Girls were they trying to look their prettiest and keep their close clean while a lot of the boys, including myself, just stood around looking self conscious and pretending to talk about important stuff. Now Joe walked up to a thin and sort of tall girl, her hair was combed strait down and tied with a large blue ribbon in the back. Joe had never told us he was set on any girl but it was obvious that he likes this one a lot. They married just after Joe finished high school and started working full time at the garage. Funny, I can’t recall her face at the moment. Maybe it’s just my eyes.
We never figured Frank to turn wild on us. Me and Frank would talk and he would say all kinds of crazy things. Talked about going to Hollywood and being a movie actor one minute and talk about going to sea on a freighter the next. I never thought much about it but he was starting to hang around with the Martin crowd. First it was just sitting in the bleachers on the football field and smoking them Chesterfields as if the principal couldn’t notice them. Little by little he was changing and constantly set my mother to worrying. Sometimes I could hear her sobbing in her bedroom. Joe came over several times and tried to talk to Frank and each time he left angrier than before. I can’t recall seeing his face so red, veins bulging from his neck, his body so stiff with tension. Finally Frank packed up a few clothes and stuff and left sometime before dawn. We heard about his arrest and conviction in Ohio, he and Bill Martin had robbed a bank, got all of four hundred dollars or so and ten years in the pen. I never heard from him again. The dance socials we attended together where we’d try to make time with some of the prettier girls and then have fight their boyfriends out behind the kitchen, god, sometimes we won and sometimes we got our asses kicked. Then mom or Joe would try to set us straight and maybe want us to attend church more often.
Finally my day came and I was a high school graduate, just by the skin of my teeth. Never cared much for book learning then, had little use for it. But I remember that summer with Bobbie Jo. The tall pines and oaks in the valleys and bay trees in the hollows, sweat smell of dog wood and honeysuckle vines running along the ground. Just memories now, old and tattered. She was the first woman I thought I loved. Well, what did I know of a woman’s love? I learned how it was tied to a job and prospects, things I didn’t have then and don’t have now. Maybe if her father had left us alone those feelings we had might have burned out, I can’t say. Sometimes I’d go hunting with Joe and talk about things but he didn’t talk much about women. I figured it was because he was married and wasn’t suppose to tell about all those marriage secrets. But we’d take the twelve gauge and the old 410 and go look for duck or grouse, maybe some hog if any were stirring locally. The beauty of the woods and fields always left an impression each time I ventured beyond my every day existence. Sometimes just siting in the woods by yourself and watching all the critters carry on as if you weren’t there. I can’t imagine there is anything like Carolina. Haven’t been there is a long long time. No, not since Ricky Lee hunted me down that day in September. The leaves were wet with rain and mud was starting to form under our boots. I don’t think I would have minded much if he and Bobbi Jo had just up and got married. I wasn’t that glued to her side. Course she was going to have my child and not everyone knew that and Ricky Lee was her self appointed defender of her honor. I tried to tell him to mind his own business but he thought he knew better. Maybe if he had minded his own business then the two of them would have been married and I’d be somewhere else.
So much time and so many forgotten memories. But the one thing I don’t forget, I can’t forget, it the look on another man’s face when he’s got a knife in his heart. And I still feel the fear of death in my bones since that time. Can’t even count the years now. I just know that when I lay my head on my pillow I’m leaving tonight. I’m going to Carolina in my mind.