Tag Archive: learning


Tank


“Bring up Tank!  Come on, hurry up there!”

I hurried at a run, my two guys behind me, ignoring the flames running up and down my legs.  The squad leader, a youth of about fifteen, stood silhouetted in the darkness of the woods beyond which lay a street light on a road.

I was dressed in shorts – not a wise choice for this kind of mission, but it was what I had been given: shorts and a tee shirt.  My half torn old tennis shoes flopped, one sole half torn lose.  I was steaming hot yet soaked to the bone.

“Tank!  Hurry up!  We need you!”  The squad leader didn’t bother to hide his impatience to get going.

I redoubled my efforts, my girth hampering me some.  I had grown during my years here – mostly around.  The briars and nettles raked me – it was impossible to see them, except when we’d cross the occasional field under a spotlight moon half hidden most of the time by darting clouds.  It felt like it would storm again at any time.

“Where’ve you been?”, he asked, crouching as I came nearer.  A few other guys – kids my age – were crouched down around him.

“I had to pee – and we had to finish setting up the deadfall.  Remember?” I told him with a bit of anger in my voice.  We had set the latrine up as a trap – a pit someone might fall into if they came scrambling over a certain log, and if they missed that there was the deadfall to get them.  Or so we hoped.  Everyone was certain our camp would be raided again tonight; they always did, those raiders like us: other kids who were being trained in the guerrilla art-form of warfare.  But we wouldn’t be there – instead, we would be out raiding them, at their camp.  Or so we hoped.

Our fearless Leader had come up with this: the idea of an early offense, striking earlier than was anticipated, and thereby hopefully taking out their camp while they were there – beating up a few kids (maybe), striking many with the sticks we held in our hands.  Nobody was allowed to actually do anything – the use of knives or guns of any kind was strictly prohibited.  Injuries were to be kept to a minimum.  However, our boobytraps – some of those could be quite deadly, if you were foolish enough to get caught in them.

This was while we were overseas, at a camp – I don’t know, some military camp around there, over in the Eastern part of Bavaria.  We were always moving around, and this was a larger camp I’d found myself – there were plenty of amenities and plenty of woods for the G.I.’s – and us – to ‘play’ in.

“You, Tank – you take the lead,” the squad leader said, pointing his finger at me.  The other boys smiled and nodded vigorously while my heart sunk.  I hated going first sometime.  First was always a precarious position – and they were using me as their ‘Tank’ – someone to take the lead, pushing through all the nettles, briars, and bushes – busting a trail while running, not knowing when someone (or something) might take offense to your actions.  But that was what I was known for: my toughness, ability to stand pain.  I could pick a path out through the dark before I was ten and I never got lost.  If I knew where the target was (or home was) I could keep on going (albeit in a straight line) until I got there.

They depended a lot on this unfailing quality about me.  I could guide them to our campsite in the dark – and I could take them through the brush to the enemy.  (This quality was to come in quite handy – and profitably! – when I entered the Corps – escorting Marines through the brush to the theatres.)

We crept slowly up the hill – me sensing more than seeing the paths ahead.  I had been practicing my Indian walking for a long time – about two years, ever since I’d studied it at about age eleven.  My tennis shoes, worn as they were, offered a hope of feeling a branch before I crunched down on it.  I could ‘see’ in the dark rather well compared to some of my peers (a quality I regret to say has been going with age).  I was a good leader.

And I made a good tank in the woods.

Bursting forth with a run, I ran screaming and waving my club through the last dozen feet of woods.  There, in front of us (my legs still burning from the nettles) sat our startled enemy – sitting down, cans out, food half eaten by a small fire who’s light I’d seen.  Behind me, through the hole I’d carved – I’d intentionally went through the thickest set of bushes, figuring they wouldn’t set any boobytraps in there – poured the rest of my squad, the leader behind them, taking up the tail.  With a bunch of Indian screams we ran around, punching in the tents and snapping some of the poles with our clubs.  The kids, startled, jumped up screaming and ran helter-skelter through the woods – I watched as one of them got caught up in his own trap – a net that swung up from the ground and bore him aloft – all the while raising my club and screaming and shouting . . .

It was great, and it was fun

but I’ll never forget how my bare legs would burn and burn for hours to come . . . the deflation after victory, the long march back home . . .

marching through the nettles, to the place we called home
for now.

Nightmares CAN Come True


Nightmares CAN Come True

As a kid I was used to having nightmares. I had nightmares all the time. I never even knew what a ‘wish fulfillment’ dream was until I was about fourteen and read up on them – part of the psychology training that my dad was giving me.

Every dream I’ve ever had was a nightmare in some way, up until I was about forty-eight or so. Every last one featured the same old things: death, wars, loss. Loss of one’s loved ones, mostly – after I’d gotten to where I loved them. “The Boy” comes from a dream like that – and in a way you can say it really happened. A ‘life long’ dream that finally came true. I can finally love my inner child, my ‘selves’, that ‘stuff’.

But one in particular stands out. It was the first major reoccurring dream I had. I’ve had several reoccurring dreams – one three nights in a row! You know what that means: it’s supposed to come true. But it didn’t, fortunately. It was one in which I was trapped . . . in an underground stone maze with a friend, and we kept getting killed by these Spaniards dressed in ancient armor. And we’d ‘sit’ and watch our bodies decompose . . . completely down to bone – and then we’d build it back again – and the chase was one. Over and over again, on through the night . . .

I almost felt comfortable with it in the end, feeling myself die at pike’s end – sinking to the mouldering floor, my friend perhaps besides me, or sometimes fighting on . . .

We’d wander those halls, looking for a way out. And there was never one. But it was beautiful in some ways – those old mossy stones – round cutouts above to let the golden white light in, until we’d stumble across the Spaniards, or they would come pursuing us. And then the race was on.

We always lost in the end.

Three times running we had that dream – it was when I was about sixteen. Weird thing it was.

But sometimes dreams – and even nightmares – come true. I’ve had several of them.

The very first one was when I was a kid living over in Germany. We’d been there a total of two years, with another year of running from base to base – meeting kids, abandoning them – or them abandoning us as the Army orders came in; mixing with various societies and cultures . . .

It led to a lot of . . . I don’t know.

Things, I call them.

And one of them was this dream.

In it we had come back to the ‘hood – the object of my hidden desire: to be once again where my true friends did not change, where the neighborhood and everything in it would remain the same. The same dirt road with the same people living up and down it, pretty much as I had left it . . .

But I guess inside my mind ‘someone’ knew . . .

We are standing on the dirt road, looking uphill towards the horizon. It is jagged and pointed with the tops of pine trees, their individual forms hidden in darkness. Our friend comes riding down the road – and lo and behold, it’s our very best friend from when we were a child!

We open our arms to him (feeling somewhat confused now; he’s bigger and his face is broader, and he’s riding a motorcycle, not a bicycle). He stops and looks at me.

He knows who I am – but does not care. He is not the same kid anymore. He doesn’t even live here (and he won’t; they moved soon after us due to a death in their family). He stares. I say “Hey.” He says “Hey,” back.

We are two total strangers.

Same dream, different time: the houses have all changed. Some of them have been built up into huger houses. The road is paved. Everything and everyone I know is gone. Everything seems busy, the yards are all fenced. You can’t walk on the road for the traffic. Crime is high.

In every one I feel that overwhelming sense of loss. “Here” keeps on changing – and I’m sure it will (‘here’ being Germany when I was thirteen), and yet there seems so unstable in my mind . . .

Could it really be true? I started wondering. (This is “13” here.) I could feel my inner child; the inner one: Little Michael & Little Mikie – moving in me, wondering, too, at the dreams I was having.

I went and asked my dad.

He said don’t worry about them. And I didn’t. Or at least I tried not to.

A few days later – or it might have been a few weeks later – I asked my mom.

“Sure,” she said. She was in the kitchen looking around for something, I think it was lunchtime or so. “Everything changes.” She turned around looking at me directly. There was a firmness in her mouth; the lines.

“You mean it won’t all be the same?” I could hear my inner child asking me and so I asked.

“No, of course not,” she replied, turning back to the counter messing with something. There was a large transformer on the counter. It powered the skillet from the German electricity voltage, which was set too high for our appliances. It started to give a big hum. I knew if you lifted it and dropped it a bit – not much! -it would stop humming. Usually. I ignored it and turned back to my mom and my ‘stuff’.

“You know the next door neighbors have left,” she pointed out. “Their momma got remarried not long after we left. And the Smiths are here in Germany.” They were the ‘other’ military family in the hood. There were just the two of us: us and them. The rest had regular dads that came home lots of times; ours didn’t. Sometimes he’d be gone for a loonngg time and we’d have to write letters to him. Sometimes those letters took six weeks to arrive, and just as long to get back. It was the same thing ‘overseas’ – all those letters we’d written took six weeks to ‘get there’ – and get sorted out – and then another six weeks for them to be sent ‘slow ship’ back. Even airmail was slow back then. And phone home? Just forget it. One phone for thousands of people – you had to schedule that stuff.

I wondered about it, what it would be like back home – if we did come back and find it all changed. I wondered a lot as the time grew closer – as November moved in and we were in our last year and ‘stuff’. Having just lost our best friend . . .

In our mind’s eye we started seeing: this was a dream that could come true, this nightmare and ‘stuff’ – meaning the feelings and horrid emotions that went with loss, grief, anguish, loneliness – and this staring-you-in-the-face despair that no matter what you do you will flounder in loss.

And yet our inner child held onto that dream – still does; I can see it in his shining face with his memories of sunshine and running into the wind across the white sand, the cloud puffed sky blue, the sun warm on his back, and the excited calling of his friends ahead; bare feet pounding on the road . . .

He had hoped and hoped that when ‘we’ came back and he came back he could get rid of this thing: all of these ‘false feelings’ and things which did not belong in the ‘hood. That he could shed those parts; shed those feelings – go back.

But as the old saying goes: There is no going back home. It’s never the same as you left it. It always has changed – gotten smaller, or more dismal, or even more depressing. Or it may be that it’s been built up so that you can hardly recognize the thing – all the old houses may even be gone, or so built up and altered you can’t tell a thing: you have to find your address by the number, and not the appearance of the yard and house.

The house may even be gone, and you find yourself staring at an empty field – one that’s soon to become a parking lot and a shopping outlet . . .

We’ve faced those kinds of things. All too many times in our lives. Moving is good: it changes your experiences, expands your mind, develops different outlooks, understanding, and tolerance. You make new friends (but you also might lose old ones), you find new jobs, new hobbies, new occupations . . .

But meanwhile a part of you in the heart of you keeps on calling for his forgotten childhood.

The one you left behind.


Some notes here; things ‘I’ (my adult sides) find interesting.

(Part 1 of what you could call a ‘Dream Journal’. 

I know my nightmares started early with the 2nd dream I ever remember having.  I couldn’t have been more than four years old.  That’s assuming my 1st dream was a dream not a religious experience.

This dream did come true, by the way.  When we got back ALL my best friends were gone.  There remained only the four kids from ‘next door’ across the road, and one was a very young daughter who, with three rough boys around, was a tiny terror to begin with.  (She’s still quite high spirited.)  The road had been paved. No longer the sand ditches to stand in and wade during the middle of summer, pumping our legs up and down in the cool sand until we sank, knee deep in the stuff. Parents and kids would get a laugh driving by – there’d be four or five us ‘standing’ in the sand like dwarfs, smiling and waving.

All that was gone.  The PEOPLE were gone.  Our friends, the Smiths, were still overseas – and wouldn’t be back for years.  People no longer leisurely drove by and waved.  “Our House” was ‘gone‘, my parents having sold it while we were overseas – and so we moved into my molester’s house – where the septic tank had to be drained before they could use it.  When they pulled the lid it was full of pink condoms, a thick skin, so much that the sewer men were laughing and pointing and giving knowing winks to my parents.  My parents were embarrassed, and I stared out the window (to avoid the stink), also embarrassed, because I had learned about this thing, ‘condoms’, while we’d been gone, and what they were used for – and thinking about ‘him’ and what he did . . . that love, that betrayal.  And where he had gone, my best friend, his younger brother . . . the all of them.  Gone.

And the future to be was dim at best.  At times I could see it turning dark as hell.  A thunderstorm was approaching, approaching in my mind. . . .

And yes, I did see my friend – and it was almost exactly as my mind had said.  Almost down to the last detail.  Except the sky was cloudy, gray.  And he drove off . . . sputtering away, then roaring on that old dirt bike of his, engine roaring . . . I never saw him again until much, much later.

Somehow a part of my mind – I don’t know. Was it trying to prepare me for this? Warning me – or trying to warn – the inner child? (again, I am “13”, or at least a part of me is; part of the adults are doing the typing; though I’ve learned since 7th grade . . . sighing).  We had just lost our best friend; gotta girlfriend, knowing we were going to dump her in a while, within a period of a few months (overseas).  She knew it and so did I.  The relationship was formed because we were bored, I guess . . . just a last something to do, and try to assuage the hurting in my heart . . .

Yeah, I’m depressed. I (“13”) am still sorta ‘stuck’ on this thing – and “the Teen” I built with the alternate personality “The Machine” (tough armor) around him. But it kept him “too much inside” shielded against his own emotions . . .

However, that changed the day The Machine Broke Down.

I’ll save that story for another day.


Workin’ For A Living: 12 Years Old

That’s ME – Workin’ For A Livin’ for the USMC –
About Ten Years Down the Line

It wasn’t my first job; that was different, but it was the first one I got paid to go to other people’s houses to do. My first job, as my parents were fond of reminding me, was doing my chores. Those chores ‘paid’ for my education, my life, my rent – the food on my plate and the clothes on my back.

“We don’t have to feed you nothing,” my mom and dad were quite fond of warning me, “but water and bread and enough vitamins to survive.” Their way of showing love was giving beyond the basic essentials. You were rewarded when you did something good. You were punished by taking things away – including your liberty and freedom to go outside, venture beyond your room. You learned to take care of things by doing without if they got lost, missing, stolen, broken or anything. There was no second chance with toys.

We learned to do without – on a lot of things. Doing without TV for three years. Doing without any radio station except a foreign one. Doing without your toys – those had been left back Stateside to await your return, they were too expensive – too redundant to take along. Doing without friends.  Do without love.  Do without Stateside.  Do without America.  And make it on your own.  While the US Military might have been there for the adults and all their problems – for us kids?  You were on your own to solve your own issues, your own ‘things’; deal with the daily concerns of life and death and the overhanging threat of a nuclear war . . . with your enemies but a few stones throws to a few hours away, them  knowing your weapons are pointed at them, and you know theirs at aimed at you – a small child of twelve or thirteen.

“Make do, do without, or build your own.”

That was a rule I learned – and took that one to heart. I began to build my own toys, starting with models, and then later (when we got back Stateside) my own stuffed animals. But those things took money – money I had to earn. I could get fifteen cents for taking out the trash – my mom would grant me that, for use on the German roach coach that would come through the apartment complex at about noon to drop off soft drinks at everyone’s house (no one drank the water, or at least not unboiled – the German water treatment system left something to be desired, and an unwary traveler would learn). But you could only take the trash out every three or four days or so – when the can would start piling up. They lined it with a paper grocery bag – that’s all they had back then; everyone used them – and God forbid it got wet. The bottom would simply tear out and you would be left holding an empty paper sleeve, wet and dripping on the ragged bottom – and then you’d have to reach in, get whatever trash had fallen in, and stuff it in a new bag – over and over again. Sometimes we’d use two or three bags to line the can, but it didn’t much matter. My dad wouldn’t think twice about dumping some soggy coffee grounds in, or a mess that would make that bag soggy. My mom, poor thing, was considerate of me to sometimes wrap such things in paper – newspaper, “The Stars and Stripes”, the only publication we were allowed. (There were comic books, but those were almost forbidden things – like they were naughty or something – plus they were expensive at the store.)

We got a bit of allowance off and on, depending on how our father was feeling and how generous our mother felt at the time. Usually it was seventy-five cents a week, sometimes only fifty. That’s a lot of money to a little boy, but not so much to one of twelve in 1970. And I had to work hard for my fifty, seventy-five cents – making my bed, moping the floors, cleaning the bathroom, taking the trash out again – sweeping the bedroom (if it needed it) – sometimes dusting. But at least we didn’t have to clean the light bulbs, ha-ha! That would come much later.

And then somewhere – somehow – I got the idea of hauling trash for a living. I think it was my parents who suggested it to me, but maybe I had come up with it on my own. It might have been I wasn’t the very first kid doing it – it seems to me there were several doing it before I was done, and there was a bit of competition among us to find customers – one staking out one stairwell, another another and so on.

And it was hard work, too! Sometimes you had to run up to the fifth floor. All that way up – and then back down, clutching this bag of trash in your arms – you all along hoping they didn’t just stuff another wet and soggy bag into a new one because it would leak out and wreck the new one before you could get to where you were going, which was the huge dumpster at the end of the row of apartment buildings – four buildings in all, sometimes six, and one time eight – going all that distance to drop off some trash, for these buildings were long! They were the German base apartments, built for them in the past – pre-WWII. They were big buildings, hulking and ‘square’ – not that they were square – they were long, thick, huge rectangles, like slabs of meat with windows cut in. But everything about them was squarish in a way – squared windows with little squares within them in their metal frames – set in a bit so they looked even more cube-ish. The balconies on some – long slots cut into the rectangles, stacked like cord wood one over another. And the long roofs go marching on and on with their rows of dormer windows peering out over them like so many square frog’s eyes.

So I set about setting up business, going from door to door – knocking at each one, making my offers. If you lived on the first floor, it was fifteen cents; twenty-five cents for the second, thirty on the third, forty on the fourth and two quarters for the highest points in the building. I would come by every two or three days a week, depending upon my customer’s preferences. I didn’t keep any notes, any track of them. Once the deal was set, it was my job to remember them – where they lived and what time to come in. Since all the buildings looked the same, it wasn’t always hard – but it wasn’t easy, either. Sometimes I’d knock at the door to find my customer gone – swept away by some Army order – and another potential customer staring me in the face, wondering what was going on with this young kid in his jacket and boots standing there. And I’d make my offer again. I would point out how far away the dumpster is; what a bother it is in the morning. Or I’d come by later, taking off my hat (I often wore a stocking cap) – and making my offer another time, if they were were still in the process of moving in or out. I used to get ten cents a box for hauling them down to the trash – that was quite a boon! – finding someone who had just moved in, secreting their boxes somewhere, and then notifying some kids I wanted to play with, or selling them to some other – either way, making money hand-over-fist as best I could.

Not that it was a lot of money. Funny how money goes out of your hand as quick as you take it in. I became a firm follower of the German roach coach, buying candy for me and some kids. Or I would go down to the base theater and take a movie in. Often you could find me at the E-Club, playing pinball games or ordering a soda, a float – anything to take my mind off my loneliness and pain. And quite often I would go over to the PX to buy some model, usually a plane. I was quite fond of the ones from World War Two, buying endless bottles of various Testor’s paints and painting them up in ever increasing detail as my skills got better and better at this thing. I remember long hours sniffing model glue – not intentionally, I hadn’t a clue that it could get you high – I didn’t even know what ‘high’ is. That all would come later – much later – into my teenagehood.

I also would ‘go to town’ once and awhile, exchanging my dollars for marks and phennings. There I could buy something worth a dollar, and it would only cost one-hundred cents. Later, when the dollar plunged (another trip later on) I found my dollar was worth a quarter, and us Americans were considered poor.

There in town I would buy me candies and walk around; spending my marks on bus fares and stuff, touring, taking the trains. Often I would ride my bike into town to save the fare, and simply walk around. There the Germans would often greet me as one of their own – they always said I would make a good German! Some were kindly, some were cold – all of them strict in a way. A very German way of being: following the rules (some), not getting too wild, obeying all the laws (normally), and behaving in an orderly, logical fashion – and they were quite proud of their heritage, minus World War Two. That they seemed very embarrassed with, as if Hitler had let a fart and a bomb had gone off. Which they should be. It was a very shameful period and part of their history.

But that job ran out when we switched bases; after a couple times, I just got sort of heartsick about going on. The run of new faces, me pitching my pitch – how easy it would be for them, no more forgotten garbage sitting by the door, no more running through howling snowstorm or blizzard or thundering rain – I just felt sick at heart.

There’s a big difference between being ‘sick at heart’ and ‘sick of something’. ‘Sick of something’ implies you just don’t want to do it; that you may even feel some nausea at the idea of doing it again. But sick at heart? That implies a whole other level. That’s when you look down that row of apartment buildings, knowing what you have to do – and instead of just feeling nauseous, you feel down and depressed. Where it’s more than not just wanting to do it, or facing the same old task time and time again. I find myself hard put to put my finger on it – that pulse of emotion, that dread and sinking feeling I started to get each time I’d stare down a new street, trying to prepare for a new beginning. One that seemed to never come.

After awhile it seemed the apartment complexes began blending – each one different, but so much the same as the one we’d left behind that it did not matter. All the buildings were the same, the streets were the same – the endless blend of faces, all of them unknown – the same. And facing facts, I was getting quite tired of banging on doors and finding a new face staring out at me, wondering what was going on.

Eventually I gave up my job as garbage hauler, leaving it for the younger (and more ambitious, I presume) boys to employ. Instead I got me a job during the summer (at one place) mowing the center courtyard – the ‘big yard’ that stood between the building’s backs. Each row would face a street; behind them would be another row, facing another street beyond. Inbetween there might be a thin strip of land, varying (depending on where we were) – from one hundred to two hundred foot wide, and about as long as a football field. These were hard jobs to find, because they were in most demand, and we didn’t own a lawn mower – and essential tool for the job. Instead each community had one – just one – to do the job. And it was a tight position – always jostling with the other kids, making deals with the grownups – the grownups making deals among themselves, so that you never knew whether you got the job or not until the last minute. And then there was the mowing to be done. It was about thirty dollars a ‘whack’ or session – pushing that mower around and around all afternoon, pacing through the summer’s heat while the other children got to play. And it was one I didn’t get very often – no one did. It was sort of shared among the grownups and the kids (which meant just that much more competition) – although the grownups didn’t get paid (I think). They just did it for the enjoyment of mowing the ‘quad’ – something that would remind them of their time overseas and what they had left behind. So it really wasn’t a very good job.

I bought my first bike – though it wasn’t really the first one – using that money I made. I got it for ten buck off a G.I. who was going overseas – back Stateside – and needed to get rid of it. It had straight handlebars and was of foreign design, unlike the Schwinn I’d owned and that my parents had given me.

But that’s for another story – how I lost my bike not just once but twice – once to myself, and once to a thief over in a German town.

Flying Lessons


Flying Lessons

The Mohawk came in, hanging on a wing, one engine running. It hung vertical in the sky, that single engine not humming, but howling as its turboprop fan beat the air. Above the sky was cloudy and overcast, and a long long strip of black tarmac striped the emerald green grass below. We stood on the edge of the airport by the domed hangers, watching it come in. It was part of the air show.

The only thing is: every day was an air show of some kind. Living next to a military airfield guaranteed it. There were hangers on the ground and craft in the air. Gliders and hangers. Helicopters – all kinds, the fat round Huey UH-1’s, and the lean mean Cobra attack machines with their narrow head’s on profile. The “banana” chopper with its massive twin blade rotors on each end, bent in the middle just like a banana would be. They were Chinooks, I later learned when I got my nomenclature right. Everything is in the nomenclature in the military culture, from the language to the slang. “Fubar” comes from a military source, so does “C.O.” – another word for God, or a demigod if I’ve ever seen one. Add to that “crispy critter” – and know you never want to see one (or smell one, too).

Living on an Army airbase as a kid – especially on a “spy base” where certain planes were kept – offered opportunities not available to every kid – not even the military ones. I know I often wandered the tarmac and hangers along – me and my straight handle barred bike (for it was a German one) touring the facilities and talking to the men who were working on one project or another.

There were benches piled with electronics junk, and I rapidly learned to tell the difference between an oscilloscope and an airplane radar dome. I learned what the electronics looked like, and peered at optical lenses – and the photos scattered about. Often they were photos from our enemy’s land, and the G.I.’s would peer at them and whisper excitedly, showing me tanks, bunkers, and guns. There was a lot of emphasis put on ‘learning the land’ and learning all about them – what they ate, where they fed, where the mess halls were as opposed to those other things: armed emplacement, ‘hidden’ hills nestled in some farmer’s garden. Areas near the border were pointed out and marked as ‘mined’. Huge anti-tank emplacements studded certain areas of the border – huge ‘crosses’ shaped like jacks jinks and balls. Concrete trenches wide enough to swallow a tank whole. Lots of things – over and over again.

I remember staring at contour maps – maps of the land – and hearing that I should learn about them. “Topo” was what they were called. I have a ‘very scary’ memory – why it scares me? I don’t know. All I know is I don’t know how I got there or when I left – it was just a dark room, and from the feel, a cement one. There were some officers standing about; in the center, lit by a single overhead light, a table. On the table stood a map. Later on it would become a model – or perhaps I got so good at visualizing those topos that I could ‘see’ it as one. Mountains and hills rising, valleys, rivers, and the direction of the sun was indicated by the North arrows . . . it seems to me there were some other children there; just two or three, part of a ‘crowd’ I may (or may not) have been in. And the officers were instructing us on how to ‘read’ the maps, know our way around – and what to look for. Gun emplacements in the hills – those were always hard to spot – the paths and cobblestone roads. I place this memory in my ‘recovered’ pile, because I am not certain about what was going on. Just that single ‘snapshot’ and feelings of being . . . I don’t know.

The Mohawk flew past, its trailing wing nearly scraping on the tarmac as the pilot showed off his skills. I was used to seeing gliders pulled up into the sky, but I hadn’t seen much ‘trick flying’. This guy was illustrating how his plane would stay up with one engine gone. How he could fly it “on its side”. As though that might be a useful skill. Given that the belly cams were there – I suppose it was. He could whip through an enemy area and given his cameras, take a picture of everyone and everything there. There was also the electronics “pod” or package which eternally hung off some of the aircraft – for snooping through the airwaves, looking for enemy messages and eavesdropping on some.

Next came the jato rockets. They had strapped some to a Mohawk’s side – four of them if I recall; making for eight of them assisting in takeoff. That bulky old plane seemed to simply lift off the tarmac – jumping forward with a flash and a roar. I don’t think the wheels ever really rolled on the ground. The jato rockets were for short takeoff assists – and this was the shortest one I saw. I don’t think that airplane made more than a hair’s length before it jumped into the sky, jato rockets thundering in a cloud of smoke and flame. That one they made us back off from – standing way off the tarmac, watching it take off. Even then you could feel the heat from the flame. And those powerful turbofans running; the sound the props made – it was awesome. But nothing like the jet planes.

Those were the Phantoms, which rarely came in, for our airfield was too short for them (for the most part). They would swoop down low, thundering over the airport and base – so close you could feel the heat of their engine’s blast as they would sweep past, only a stone’s throw – and a child’s one at that – above the emerald land. Then a moment would pass and you would feel the ‘whoosh!’ of them – the air running behind them, pulling you along. And the sound was so awe-full, so loud – it would leave my young ears ringing for minutes, sometimes hours if there were a lot of them.

Then there were the helicopters, the most common of the crowd. The UH-1 – the ubiquitous “Huey” – which was the mainstay of the Army’s air force, not counting the DC-10’s, C-130’s, et all – most of which could not land our our air base – again, due to their size. However, occasionally one would see one – parachutes out and deploying, or taking off again – using those jato rockets to make it. I remember standing next to the Hueys as they would land or take off. Nothing else sounds like a Huey, that’s for sure! The deep “whomp-whomp” of those blades; the downblast showering you with dirt and pebbles – it’s a sound which still draws me outside when I hear it, though that has become more rare. The Army dumped its Hueys in favor of Apaches, America’s “newest” helicopter – though I saw one fly before I left there. And that was back in 1973 – long before the world had heard word of them. It was a “trial” flight and a demonstration of the machine’s abilities. To me it looked too large, sounded too wrong, and the fact that it could fly upside down failed to impress me – even as a child. I fell more in love with the Huey Cobras – a fast and lean machine built for war.

Living on those bases – it didn’t matter. I felt at home on them in some ways – especially around the hangers, with the smell of oil and grease and exhaust fumes, the constant rattles and roar – the G.I.’s loafing around or working on this or that; the pilots, heavy in their jump suits and gear, those big white helmets with drop down visors on their heads – a place that was always busy – and yet eternally slow paced. They were waiting as I was waiting as America was waiting as the Russians were waiting as everyone was waiting . . . for war. A time that (thankfully) never came.

And I’ll never forget that roar – those thundering machines taking off; landing – standing right there next to a helicopter as it came down; the G.I.’s taking me if not by the hand then by curiosities nose and showing me how things worked, what they were for, and where I would fit in to them should it come down to it, the arts and crafts of war.

Kneebread


Kneebread

It was a holiday – a holiday for the Germans in the local town, but not for us kids. We still had to attend school. Arriving at our warm class and shaking off the cold, we settled into our desks – boots and mittens piled against the back wall, coats hung in disorderly rows.

 

A woman was there – a LARGE woman. Almost as wide as she was tall, she beamed at us as the teacher stood a little ways behind, eyeing us nervously.

 

“Gute mor-gun!” the large woman said. I noticed a pile of strange cup-like things piled on the desk behind her. “I’s ist cumin’ to tell you a-boot our holidaze!” She smiled, her cheeks like round, wide apples. Reaching behind her, she lifted the pile of things from the desk and started going around, handing us each one. Taking mine, I looked at it carefully – and cautiously. It was a thick piece of what appeared to be dough, flaky baked and covered with powder. Shaped like a bowl, it was bigger than my fist – almost big enough to be called a hat. Looking up, I could see all the other kids turning them over and over, looking at them curiously. Finishing her distribution, the lady drifted like a large cloud, primly dressed in a flowing print dress, to the front of the room. The teacher smiled nervously, undoubtedly approving of our wary silence.

 

“Dis ist der ‘knee-bread’,” the overly large woman explained, holding up one of the ‘cups’. “Ve make it on – vit? – der knees.”

 

We looked down at the formed pieces of bread. It didn’t take much of a stretch of imagination to see where it had been formed over a knee – especially one as big as hers.

 

“Der ist a legend mit our history fear (for) dis bread,” the woman said, sitting down on the corner of the teacher’s desk. You could practically hear the desk groaning underneath her weight. “It goes back hunrets of years, to der year six huntredt.” She looked around at the class, her smiled starting to sag, then picking back up.

 

“Go ahead! Eat! Eat! It ist fear de celebration! Try it!”

 

We nibbled at the bread – slowly at first, and then more rapidly as the sweetness hit us.

 

“In dis legend,” the woman explained, leaning back, her smile once again regaining it’s former glory as she watched our reaction to the sweetbread, “Der village vas unter seige. Many bad men had surrounded it, and there was no food in, no food out. Der people were starving. De enemy, he knows. He is waiting until the people are too starved to fight. So dey wait many many months.”

 

She smiles again as we picture the quaint little village surrounded by snow and bad men lurking outside – the hungry villagers waiting their doom within.

 

“De prince’s wife – she is fat, no?” She beams at us as if we should know this fact. We are too busy munching on the bread to pay much attention. I try to ignore the strange name: knee bread – and how it was made.

 

“She vaits – vaits until at last the men of the village, they are ready to give up. Der people ist hongrey. Dey ist starvin. But . . . “ Here she leans forward with a conspiratorial tone, her smile turning into a smirk of satisfaction.

 

“Der fat princess, she goes to the wall. She turns around and bares her butt to the troops outside. And do you know what they zee?”

 

We have all stopped eating our bread, finally caught up in this bizarre turn of events. I can picture it: a big wide butt poking out over a castle wall. A chill goes down my spine. A sight like that would’ve probably scared me.

 

“Dey see a FACE. Dey say – dey think: dee’s people, dey are not starving! Look at de fat face! Dere people ist FAT and well fed! Despite the long wait! And so dey give up and go home.”

 

Settling back on the desk, she beams at us again.

 

“And THAT is how a fat lady saved our town. Ve make der knee bread to – celebrate? – comismerate? Dat time. Ve make it by forming it over our knees. Ve bake it und powder it mit der sugar – and now you eat it! Do you want some more!”

 

And we do. We eat that bread and think about this strange tale, this strange foreign land – and all the while I’m thinking about how it was formed; the event it commemorates – and how strange and unusual this place is.

 

Welcome to Germany.

 

Land of the strange and weird, legend and tales going back through the mists of time.

 

So much unlike the land I had come from: the land of pine and wood, humidity and rain.

 

I nibble my bread and wonder.

Swimming Lessons


Swimming Lessons

Like most kids, I loved water in all its forms – whether garden hoses, sprinklers, or just falling from the sky. I couldn’t resist it – if there was a mud puddle, you’d find me there (much to my mother’s consternation). I even recall deliberately “falling” off the school bus’s step into a mud puddle one afternoon – because it was there – and then faking dismay when I arrived home in my wet, dripping clothes and shoes.

I think this love of water comes from my mom’s side, because she’s always loved water too – and like a smart mom, she decided when I was about seven, and my brother eight, that we should learn to swim – for our own protection, if anything. So she signs us up to take swimming lessons at a local Army institution.

I’ll never forget the place – a big building with tall glass windows set among the pines; a dirt parking lot, and a ‘basement’ at one end that hummed continuously, emanating the strong stench of chlorine. It was a monster of an indoor pool – easily two stories tall with a balcony running around the upper level, stiff wooden benches along the sides, and wonder of wonders: a towering highdive. My mother pulls in, the car’s tires grating against the gravel, and we go in to meet our instructor.

We were the only two kids in our ‘class’, and I’ll never forget our introduction. Our ‘instructor’ was an Army Sargent who worked at the indoor pool. It seems to me that he was an older man – I see him with white hair – thick and gruff as well, and I’m pretty sure he worked there. My brother is scared of the huge blue lake before us, but I’m all too ready to jump in. This guy looks us over, shakes hands with my mother, and the lessons begin.

It was easy, because it was ‘old-school’. First he takes me to the lower diving board – has me walk out along its bouncing length, him tailing right behind – and tells me “jump in.”

I look. It’s the deep end – and this wasn’t one of these modern pools with an eight foot depth – no this monster went down an easy fifteen feet, if not more (which, considering it had a high dive, makes good sense!) It looks a LONG way to the far end – not quite so far to the side – and I glance back at this guy for confirmation. No smiles, no nothing. Just the firm Sargent’s command again: “Jump in.”

Okay, I haven’t swum a lick in my whole life – but I’m bold, daring, and sorta dumb – and he’s told me to do this. Adults MUST be obeyed – ALWAYS. So I jump in.

Ka-splash! I felt like I sank forever, and then the old instincts kick in, and I start dog-paddling upwards – up and up until I breath air – and then I thrash my way to the side – somewhat surprised I made it, and my mom is smiling, so I know I’ve done well. The Sargent comes around to the side, helps me out, sets me down next to my mom, and gets my brother. I’m shaking, I’m so thrilled – plus its cold standing in the air – as the Sargent goes to get my brother.

Now my brother – he’s seen me jump in. He saw me sink like a stone – and then come up and gasping and thrashing, make my way to the edge of the pool. And he wants NOTHING to do with this! He starts pulling at the Sergeant’s arm as soon as the Sargent grabs him – and his feet squeaking across the floor like a set of bad brakes, gets dragged all the way to the board. He doesn’t climb up – the Sargent has to carry him, setting him on the board like a sack of trembling flesh. Me – I’m grinning. After all – it was fun! And now it promises to become even funnier, at least for me. I get to watch terrified Bro’ do something that didn’t bother me at all.

The Sargent mounts the board behind my brother, who finds there’s only one way off the thing – off the deep end, because Sargent is keeping him from beating a quick retreat to dry land. And it really reminds me of an old pirate movie now, with the pirate forcing his hapless victim to the end of the plank. The Sargent takes a step; my brother takes two back. The Sargent takes a step – my brother takes two back. Before he knows it, he’s at the end of the board, and the Sargent is still coming.

My brother is having none of this. He begins to scream. And how that place echoed! Even the smallest sound of the waves on the water; a wet towel dropped on the floor – it all makes noise that seems to echo endlessly around the concrete walls and high glass windows. So the Sargent takes a step – and my brother stands frozen, glancing all around like a trapped cat.

“Jump in,” the Sargent sternly commands.

My brother looks around again. Panic. He looks at the Sargent. More panic. My brother starts spinning in place, looking for an escape route. There is none.

“Jump in,” the Sargent says again. “Look, your brother did it. He ain’t drowned. I ain’t gonna let you drown. Now jump in.”

I watch. I’m amused. It’s good to see big Bro doing the old knee-knocker shake. My brother, like the cat, tries to dart around the Sargent. It ain’t no use. Sarge grabs him up like an old flour sack, turns him around facing the water, sets him back down.

“Jump in!” Sarge is getting a little tired of the game.

Bro won’t have nothing to do with this. More screams. I’m getting restless. I want to jump in. But Bro (as would be the case so often) is holding up the show. And the Sargent is feeling it to: he has swimming lessons to give – ours – and this is how he starts kids to get them over their fear of the water.

So he picks Bro up. Bro now realizes he’s gonna go in whether he likes it or not. Sarge dangles him over the water. The screams are just rocketing around the arena like . . . screams! I’m holding my ears; this place is like an amplifier. Sarge holds Bro by the foot for a moment – a dangling fish – and lets go.

Bro goes in the water.

I watch. He sinks like a stone. I can see him down there squirming around like a cat in a bathtub. After a moment he pops back up. And the boy is still screaming! And screaming all the way to the side, where the Sargent has come around to the edge to help him out. Lifting the boy from the water, he places him on the concrete to one side and tells him:

“Now see? There was nothing to be scared of!”

Yeah. Right. I can see my brother’s wide eyes roll towards the water. He knows what I know: we’re gonna have to go in again. And while I’m looking forward to it, he’s not.

And thus began our swimming lessons. Long hours of holding onto the sides, kicking; then kicking with the kick-paddles – back and forth across the pool. The clean bleach-like smell of chlorine. The echoes of splashing water, whistles, and shouting voices in that building; the large colorful swim-based murals on the tall walls – and I think there was even a running track overhead, sloped for speed. It was my kind of place: military, cool, well maintained and open – plus it had that pool. I was always ready to go there; could hardly wait to get out when we’d pull into pine dominated parking lot. I’d always rush across the gravel – I can still see the basement doors (they were forbidden; that was where they stored the chlorine) – and the huge locker room (which I was so embarrassed to be seen in – I didn’t like anyone to see me naked; especially the older men).

 

I went on to be a pretty good swimmer; still am. Got my Red Cross Advanced Lifeguard Certification; did the one-mile swims for my Boy Scout awards. Learned the Trojan crawl and the survival float. Learned to dive off the high dive – head first! – cracking my skull on the water a few times. And yeah, I’ve come close to drowning a couple times (more stories to tell) – but never lost my love for water.

But my brother? Not so much.

I guess it must be the cat in him.

Hot Stuff


Hot Stuff

Popcorn Parties

When I was a little kid living in the ‘Hood we used to have some fun. Sometimes in the evening a show would come on, and my parents, like many folks of the day, used to make popcorn.

Now this was in the day before microwave popcorn, and the only “air popped” popcorn you got might have been at the show. (And those were rarer than hen’s teeth, they were – sometimes we’d go to an outdoor drive-in show – somewhere out on the South side of Augusta . . . but that’s getting into another story, so let’s move on).

They’d break out the old electric skillet – a big one, with a huge squared domed lid. The lid had a little vent you could close – a star-shaped thing with a little tab sticking up – nothing you’d want to touch while the darned thing was cooking unless you wanted to get burned.

Now this old skillet – big and silver, with that silver hood – had an equally big thermostat “thingie” on it – a big black thing made out of bakelite, with a round silver knob mounted on it. That was where the temperature was supposed to go, but cooking with it – especially in it’s later years when all the numbers had worn off – was more a measure of trial and error than accurately making an adjustment to the thing. The thing also had a long cord (black, as I remember, rubbery item, too!) – and a big sinister looking ‘probe’ that stuck out of it – which you were supposed to stick into the skillet. It had a little boxed opening for it, too.

Now we’d set that old skillet up on the counter – my mom and dad would put the oil in; then waiting for a few minutes as us kids looked on (we were too small for this thing – or so we were told. But we were growing! Every day. I often had ‘growing pains’ in my legs.) After the oil would get hot enough (they’d test it by throwing a few kernels in) – my parents would get down to cooking. Mostly my mother, but my father got into this thing sometimes. Shaking that ol’ skillet back and forth on the counter – it’s a wonder we didn’t wear holes into the thing! – for you’d be scooting it back and forth (as rapidly as you can) listening to those kernels to stop popping . . . never knowing when it was the right time to end.

And the smell and steam of popcorn would fill the house; there’d be butter on the stove – melting with golden intensity – and we’d all be smiling all around with anticipation over this thing . . .

And then! The lid would come off and the house would fill with this smell – growing more intense as time went on – and there’d always be the odd kernel popping, throwing popcorn everywhere. And us kids would go scrambling around, snatching the still hot kernels – trying to grab them in the air.

Then my mom would put the popcorn in a bowl and there’d be plenty to go around. She’d dribble on the butter; shaking the salt – we’d all go into the living room and watch TV, the lights way down low.

It was a good thing.

Then one day it happened.

I was allowed to cook the corn this time.

I had been arguing and advocating that the time had come – that I was big enough to do this thing. I’m reckoning I was about eight years old; I don’t know for certain. It might have happened when I was ten. Either way it was in the Oklahoma Hills region; that much I know for certain!

My parents had set it up for popcorn the way they always did – high up on the counter, in the corner of the kitchen. I had to reach up to hold this thing.

Because, you see, you had to hold the lid on. As the popcorn was popping you’d be sliding it around by the “thing” (the black ‘handle’ or electrode looking ‘thingie’) – and holding onto the little black bakelite knob on the top to keep the lid from sliding off. The lid barely fit down in this thing – about like your standard pot lid – just a quarter of an inch; maybe even less.

So there we are, sliding this thing all around – and you’ve got to move it rather quickly, or else the popcorn will burn. I’m busily (and quite happily!) – sliding this thing around, listening to the popcorn pop, wondering when it will be done – and if I’ve waited too long already or not, but depending on my mom and pop to tell me when this thing is done . . . when it happens.

I am shaking-shaking-shaking the skillet and when the skillet moves – I lower my arm (the left one, the one holding the lid on) – and the corner of the skillet lid’s dome touches the skin just below my elbow, on the inside. Yeah: the tender meat; not the tougher skin.

Instantly my arm flares with pain! I scream – the lid goes flying, popcorn going everywhere – I’m all upset at this thing . . .

and I look at my arm and a big red blister is forming – a huge one this time, not a little one like the other burns I’ve had . . .

and my parents immediately take me to the Fort Gordon hospital emergency room – which at this time is a little like a cordoned off barracks area, connected by a series of long hallways to another one (this one for miles) that led to some rooms and the wards . . .

Where the doctor tells me (and my parents) that I’m gonna have to leave this blister alone. They put some compresses and bandages on me . . .

And I thought I was going to be scarred for the rest of my life.

That blister held on for a few days – and then it gave in. Then it became encrusted; then it turned into a sore. That held on for a little while, and then the scar set in.

It was a round great big old red one – one about the size of a silver dollar I suppose. I kept it on my arm for a long, long time. I haven’t noticed if it shows up anymore (I’ve noticed my booster shot scar doesn’t) – it seems to have gone away by the time I was – oh, seventeen or so? I kept it on my arm for a long, long time.

Funny thing is: the skillet lasted longer than that scar did. It might even still be in the barn. And I’d be willing to bet: wherever that ol’ silver devil has gone to (it did quite a good job!) – it’s still burning, still working . . .

and if I was using it?

I’d be careful about my arm.


Hot Tea & Me

You’d think by that title that I’d be writing about getting burned by some tea – but you’d be half-wrong. In a way I did – and in a way I did not.

My mom used to make tea in a little teapot of hers. It was white and it was ceramic, and it had plain fluted curves – an attractive thing to me at the time. She’d boil some water (not in that pot; in the regular kind) – and then putting some teabags in this pot, she’d pour the water and put the lid on.

Well curious me, I’ve got this tale to tell. One that didn’t turn out so badly – because I learned something this time.

I had always watched her making tea – the delicate aroma filling the air – and I always wanted some, but whenever I tasted it (talking about the hot kind here: pure and unsweetened; unsavory to a child) – I didn’t want none. But that was okay with me. I was more interested in something else that was going on.

I’d noticed one day that her teapot had a spout – and from this spout steam would come. Now I’d used a vaporizer before; I knew a little about steam. However this one intrigued me. If the tea she made tasted so good (and it did when it was sweetened) – then how would steam be? It seemed to me (I can remember looking at this pot so clearly – it was sitting right there next to the edge of the counter.) Silver snakes of steam coiled from the spout – not many, not so hot looking . . .

And looking at it I could see it had a little hole in the lid which would let the air in – which meant I wouldn’t be sucking up hot tea or nothing . . . and the steam wouldn’t be that warm . . .

so pressing my lips to the warm spout (I was just standing there; it tells you how high I was; my chin was just above the counter) – I sucked in on this thing.

And for a second I was right. The steam was just warm.

And then the hot tea entered my mouth

and I was screaming and spitting.

For little did I know (poor little one!) – that the tea had been poured until it was higher than the bottom of the spout – it was that graceful curve which had done me in (betraying me!) – for it functioned more as a straw than a vent – so when I thought I was just sucking some steam in, I was getting a dose of the real thing –

a boiling hot mouth of tea.

They took me to the hospital again (gee – that hospital – that was a world of it’s own! And I imagine they might have gotten used to seeing me there . . . but Army doctors on rotation; you never know.)

The doctor applied some ice – and more ice when I got home – and I couldn’t keep enough ice in my mouth all night long, and it hurt all the next day.

I had blisters on the roof of my mouth and my tongue. I reckon I eventually got around to eating, though.

Because I’m still around today. 🙂

“Jesus Loves Me”


“Jesus Loves Me”

Whack!

The small child steps forward, dressed in his Sunday best.  His shoes scuff across the black asphalt; gray apartment buildings are all around in narrow alleys. They tower over him; vast grey plains shot through with windows and balcony apartments.

“Sing! I told you! Sing now!  ‘Jesus loves me’,” the man holding the whip – a stick, actually, tugs him and yanks him forward.  “Now sing!”

The child stumbles forward, and one word escapes his frozen lips.

“Jeee . . . zzuuss.”  It sounds more like a plaintive cry than part of a song.  His lips are blue and he is shivering in his thin ‘church-going’ coat.  There is winter in the air; they are in Germany, and it is cold as hell.  His smooth soled shoes offer no traction and there are ice spots on the road.

“I told you – sing!”  The rod comes down, spoiling the child’s next step and he stumbles.  The hand instantly yanks him up – hard and so painfully his shoulder joint hurts.  They are on their way to church like they always do on Sunday. It is right on down the road.  It’s probably less than a mile down the road, but it feels like two. It is hard to judge distance when you are being beaten and a small child.

“Come on now,” the harsh voice above his head says as the hand tugs again, pulling him forward.  “We’re gonna be late because of you.”

WHACK!  The stick comes down again.  The parent has the child by one hand, urging him forward with stick and voice.  His mother and brother stumble on behind; their heads down, they aren’t into witnessing this thing.  They’ve seen enough to know. It’s business as usual – family business, between father and son.  Nobody sticks their nose in. Not unless they want it cut off.

The stick whistles again, biting through the boy’s linen pants.  He’s glad he has long underwear on.  They pad the blows some.  ‘Long Johns’, he calls them, though he doesn’t know why.  That’s simply what they are.  He wishes he’d brought his coat.  His father, mother, and brother have one on.  His brother and mother have their hands shoved into the pockets of theirs.  His hands are cold.   He must have simply forgotten it, he thinks as he remembers seeing it hanging off the back of a chair by the door in the front room, within those massive beige walls.

“You wanna go to church, don’t you?”  The voice asks a dangerous question.  This morning he already gotten it wrong once.  He had said ‘no’, believing their lie that it did not matter if he went or whether not.  He didn’t like this thing: this constant going to and fro from a place he’d already been.  He wanted to do something else – sit down and play in his room.  Anything but go to church with them.  It was boring.  And it was old.  And he hated this church. It was so plain.  It was not the church he remembered from back home.

But all that had changed when his father had got home – from Thailand, that is.  His father had come home a changed man, a ‘born again Christian’ determined to raise his children with born again values now that his whoring was done.  He wanted to his children to know something better; he wanted them to accept god – and accept him as an adequate substitute for Him.  Anything which would give him some power.

And now his son had beaten him – beaten him at his own game.  By simply denying that there was one – by merely refusing to go along with his religion.  It was an affront to his face.  He’d already had the child reading the religious books – of all religions – comparing them to his own, showing ‘them’ (his own family) his was superior – and thus HE a superior being for believing all those words.  And they’d better go along with him or else.  His eyes narrowed, taking in his angry, out-of-breath wife.  She was one he couldn’t control . . . his eyes swung wide, then down to his hand.  However, these others . . .

“Sing the phrases, damn you!” he said, swinging the rod wide albeit a bit wildly.  It came down across the child’s cheek, striking him with the end.  The child burst out in tears, crying, his hand flying up to grasp his cheek, stinging in the cold.

“Oh! I’m sorry!” the father said most sincerely, dropping to one knee.  He stopped the small shuffling procession of family out there in the cold, and drawing the child’s hand away from his face, looked at him in concern.

Little Mikie looked up at him.  In his eyes was a hard golden light.  His lips pouted.  He could see his father’s eyes dancing behind the smile; see there was no pain within.  This man delighted in hurting him sometimes; carrying him to the edge of terror – and yet he could bear no pain. Not himself.  And Michael smiled with bittersweet knowledge. This man was a wimp before him.  And yet he held the power.

The man suddenly stood straight back up, his back arrow straight, and looked on down the road.  He tugged on Mikie’s hand – so hard he again threw him off balance, and Mikie’s foot slipped on the ice.

“Come on – we gotta go.  We’re gonna be late.”  He frowned and scowled and looked down.  “It’s because of him.  If he hadn’t given us so much trouble this morning . . .”

Ahead of them the church was looming.  It was a plain square white building with a plain white steeple tacked on.  It looked a lot like the endless barracks Mikie had seen – the same long white plank siding, the same white noneness of color – there are numbers stenciled on one corner – the right one, about four inches high, and there are five numbers, black. 30___ something or other . . .

From the church comes the sound of worship – singing.  Daddy dragging Mikie forward – the whip applied a final few times – Mikie hears:

“Jesus loves you, yes he does . . . .”

and wonders: Is it true?  For (as the hand drags him forward with an even greater urgancy; the stick is thrown away as his family nears the church – no one wants to see them getting beaten – and his father wants to hide this thing – it is normal to hide) . . . if Jesus loves me why doesn’t he save me from HIM?

If Jesus loves me does this mean . . . (thoughts turning towards the beatings; this went on a time or two . . . or three or four or five) . . . this is what love is supposed to BE like?  This constant beating and nagging and praying for something that will not come from a cruel god that does not love you . . . but says He does?

Is that what Love and God is?

And dragging up the stairs . . . those endless stairs to heaven, Mike finds . . .

he hates himself once more.