Dust was being swept upward and round and round by what some people call a Dust Devil. I grew up knowing them as whirlwinds. The distant end of the red iron ore country road was totally obscured and seemed to point in no particular direction. This fit perfectly within the scheme of my plans. I wasn’t going in any direction either. I might as well go on a little adventure. I really didn’t need to see where the road went, I had been up and down it a million times riding in Daddy’s old 1946 GMC pulpwood truck. The original color, as best as I could tell, was either black or some real close shade of black. At least it was before Daddy took an old can of red wagon paint and customized the color scheme just a bit. He used a brush to apply what paint he had. That you should use the term brush loosely was an understatement. It had seen its better days. There was enough paint for maybe four or five square feet coverage. He covered the front grill and both, pretty much still intact, front fenders, then he ran out of paint. Without taking out my slide rule, I can figure that this surface area was about fifteen or twenty square feet. Thinly applied? Well that would be another understatement. I remember that later on someone asked Daddy if he had tried to stretch his paint a little too far. With his dry humor and frequent sly grin, he answered.
“Naw’uh, I just wanted to see what effect I could get by putting the paint on with a pine sapling.”
I laughed out load to myself and spit at a moon shaped rock that was about two paces in front of me. I kicked the rock into the ditch and kept walking. What a day for daydreaming. Somebody ought to write a song with that.
For a worldly seventeen-year-old boy, the paintbrush episode seemed like a long time ago. Just going into the senior year of high school, something that happened ten years earlier would seem like a long time ago. Differentiating time frames and the surroundings was proving to be kind of tricky. Specific past events that were cataloged in the back of my mind would jump forward at unannounced times. They would leap to the present and they would be a vivid as if they had happened a day or so earlier.
The early June sun was not the old East Texas white-hot days of mid to late summer. The sky was cloudless and the sun was directly overhead. I knew as I was leaving the gravel road and cutting down along the old highline right of way, that it was just a short hike through the sweetgum bushes and the young pines over to the first neighbor’s house. This was Aunt Pearl’s house. She really wasn’t my aunt but I called her that anyway. She could make some of the best skillet cornbread that I could ever remember. Maybe she and Uncle Ben would be home today. The thought of that crisp bottom part and flakey center might have been the determining factor in choosing the direction of my journey.
The trail led across a shallow spring fed creek that wound down into the woods. They crossed at a pretty good-sized washout about the size of a big bathtub. It looked pretty much as it had always looked. Ten years had left the red clay sides eroded a little, but not much. As I gauged its size, I realized that I would still be able to take a bath in the very same spot and I had the day, as a five year old. I remembered making, what I suppose, a profound comical statement. Appreciation will enter from many doorways and usually you never know when it will appear. I think that if a term is more universally used, I can’t think of what it would be…”Neckked as a jaybird”. Why would a jaybird be more neckked than any other bird? It is as much a mystery to me now as it was then as a five
The water was cool, but not too cold. I had already had my soaping and scrubbing so I figured on play up under some pine tree where there were old truck tires stacked.
“Boy, you better get over here and let me dry you off. You’re neckked as a jaybird.”
Whatever the heck that meant, but the dry towel did feel good as it soaked up what clear spring water that had not already dried off on its own.
“I don’t want you to catch cold. I got to take good care of you.”
Not feeling that this was anything new to what had been going on as far as I could remember, my first thought came out.
“Yea’uh, and when I get big and you get little, I’ll take care of you.”
To me, at the time, it seemed like plain and simple logic and appreciation. Life was a circle. I only realized the humor when Daddy slapped both his knees and broke out into laughter.
“Boy, you are one more sight. Geton up to the house.”
I can’t seem to get my brain in gear but I can definitely make out my youngest (not younger) sister’s grouchy voice.
“Wake your ass up and help with Daddy. I think it is about time for the nurse to give him his medication.”
I knew this routine would go on throughout the night. He had been in the hospital for four weeks and would still be there awhile. This was not his first surgery. The routine was always the same. He was a handfull in the hospital. We laughed our butts off, him included, when we weren’t worried over some issue. He would NOT wear one of those split tail gowns. All the nurses knew how he was. He WOULD lie on the bed, BUT he WOULD have on his kakis and long sleeve western, pearl button button down pockets shirt and his baseball cap. The nurses would always “fish” his IV’s and EKG leads and such through his sleeves. It could, at times, be a circus.
Trying to get my eyes to focus on my grouchy sister, I mumbled.
“I guess he is part lizard. As many surgeries that he has had, the doctors said they think if they cut his tail off if would grow back.”
We all three chuckled but I didn’t feel the optimism as she and I moved the pillows around to his liking. He would slip in and out of being aware of what was going on.
“No Daddy you are not at the washeteria, you are in the hospital.” That was not the first time I had had that conversation with him.
“Daddy you need to settle down. I’m gonna throw your ass out this window.” That wasn’t me who said that. Guess who.
With that sly grin from the painting episode. “Aww nowwww… How ya’ll feeling.” Another grin.
My allotted rest time had not expired. I picked up my pillow from the floor and settled back down on the park bench type cot. Through a whirlwind dust cloud of ghostly thoughts, a resounding voice in my head.
"And when I get big….”
Well, you know how the rest goes.