WILEY'S BOX

Discussion in 'Vietnam Stories: By John H. Wilborn' started by Guest, Feb 26, 2003.

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    high2fly
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    (8/17/01 6:08:15 am)
    Reply WILEY'S BOX
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    WILEY’S BOX
    The very last time I saw it, that small box, it still possessed the mystique for me that it always had....I
    saw the box through the eyes of an 8 year old boy. For me the box was almost a spritual entity, a
    Holy Grail, and for my age and wild imiagination, perhaps there was a Genie inside---to be
    loosed into my life if only I knew the magic words to say or deeds to perform. I can’t recall seeing
    it the first time for it was always seemed to be there. Sometimes up in the old attic wrapped in a
    scrap of linen cloth, sometimes under our Mother’s bed, or even up high in a place where the
    little Wilborn hands could not reach it.
    A childs perception changes, in fact very radically so, as that child grows and ages. For me
    the box may have been so much different than I visualize it now, these long years later.. Perhaps
    my brothers and sisters would remember it differently ----even if they would remember it at all----it
    has been so long and now as I set down to tell this story. I hope these recollections will sharpen
    and clarify for me as the box is no longer around to look at.
    Just like any story there must be a beginning and an end---an Alpha and an Omega. In your
    childhood can’t you just recall the magic of the words of ‘Once Upon a Time’, and then to
    partake of a story being read or told to you---a story that you may have heard many times
    before but to listen once again....times the reader or teller would have to ‘shush’ you up for you’d
    know the story by heart and you’d get so excited that you would just have to participate...eyes
    wide, heart pounding, so excited that you would sometimes forget to visit the bathroom on
    time--sure you do---sure you remember, and don’t you recall as you were being ‘shushed’-- it was
    never like you were being scolded......I think it was expected by the story person----now they call
    it group participation.
    The name was WILEY. Yes, it is spelled right and it is pronounced just like it looks...It is a males
    name---usually a surname with Irish roots that is quite common but very seldom used as a first
    name such as our Mother used it for her first born child. She named him Wiley----Wiley
    Bloodworth. If he had a middle name, I don’t know it, but his Father was named Claude
    Bloodworth. Wiley was born in Iowa, probably during the 1st World War, as near as I can surmise.
    Around 1938 or 9, Wiley was killed in a horrible train accident---I recall my Grandfather, Dave
    Hankins, telling and retelling us children about what happened. Grandpa Hankins had raised
    Wiley from a baby----Wiley was like his own child, and I recall so well the tears and the sobs and
    the terrible grief in that kind and gentle old storyteller. Wiley was probably spoiled---recalling now
    years later everyone told of his wild and carefree ways...a wanderer...a vagabond and how
    much his Grandpa cared for him and how the old mans spirit died when Wiley died.
    The story goes that Wiley was heading home---home to Wiley was a sharecroppers farm in
    northeastern Iowa where his Grandpa Hankins lived. Wiley had been over in Illinois and he was
    ‘riding the rails’ home, atop of a boxcar on the Illinois Central Railway. Less that 20 miles from
    home, at a place called Delhi Iowa, Wiley was knocked or thrown off the top of the train and run
    over by the grinding wheels. The story was that his remains were recovered in bushel corn
    baskets from along the railroads right-of-way. Wiley’s Mother Osa, our Mother, had to be taken
    to Manchester, Iowa, the Delaware County seat, to identify her sons remains. Years later as I
    write these lines, my supposition is that the box may have contained things related to or effected
    by Wiley’s passing. Before leaving my Iowa roots in l951, every Decoration Day, gravesites would
    be visited and decorated with flowers---to see the grave marker with Wiley Bloodworth etched
    into the black granite surface would always recall for me the stories of him---almost as if he were
    idolized---why do you suppose I felt like that --- did the old farmers, the tillers and toilers of the soil
    covet Wiley’s lifestyle and his vagabond ways----who will ever know, or I can add philosophically,
    who will ever care. For so short of a life, Wiley made an impression on those who cared for him---I
    had the dream and here I am more than sixty five years old.
    The box we all called WILEY’S BOX. As descriptions go it was just that, a box. To conjure up
    something else, one could say Aladdin’s Lamp and Wiley’s Box or the Hope Diamond and Wiley’s
    Box. It had that much of an impact on my memories. The material today called plastic would
    not come onto the scene for decades---Wiley’s box had a covering which today would be
    plastic but then it looked like Mother of Pearl---marblized looking Mother of Pearl. The box was
    about the size of the wooden cheese boxes, the 3 pound Land ‘o’ Lakes cheese boxes sold then
    in the grocery stores. The box was split in two; in other words the top was the same size as the
    bottom when it was opened. There was no lock on Wiley’s Box---it had a brass colored snap
    device in the middle of the front and two brass hinges on the back. The inside top had a white
    satin lining and a mirror glued to that lining. The bottom part of Wiley’s Box probably at one time
    had a lining but not any longer--only the age-yellowed remnants of the glue that may have
    held the lining in place, remained. The wood under the visages of glue appeared bone white
    and irregular in texture, maybe made from pine or maple.
    The Wilborn family lived in Dundee, Iowa. The small house in which the large family resided
    could be described as ramshackle---rundown---unkempt. An unfinished basement with a dirt
    floor and limestone rock retaining walls was a favorite place for the younger Wilborn children to
    play---there and the attic where the steep angled roof allowed plenty of playroom and it was
    usually warm. The rowdy young children always knew of the severe consequences to be cought
    molesting Wiley’s Box---they just knew their Mother voiced it the only way they would
    comprehend---’I’ll blister your little butts so hard you can’t sit down for a week’---a threat not to
    be taken lightly for messing with Wiley’s Box. Sometimes when their Mother would be over at the
    telephone exchange visiting with Mrs. Amers or Old Floy Autterback, or even down by the ash pile
    visiting with the town constables wife, Mrs. Everett, were times that provided the opportunity to
    explore the contents of the box---Wiley’s Box---again.
    The vibrant excitment would start as the box was sought out---the sheer anticipation and even
    the fear of getting cought stirred the young participants in their deviltry to a frenzy. Faces flushed,
    hearts pounding, sounds of feet scurrying about and then---the declaration of ‘I found Wiley’s
    Box’ reverbrated throughout the house. Off to the attic or the cellar ---to once again paw
    through and marvel about the magic box---Wiley’s Box--the stuff and the things and the
    do-dads...and the magic.
    I was the oldest and the largest of the three younger Wilborn children so the opening of the
    box and the doleing out of the contents was my right and honor---I took the shiny harmonica out
    first of all and would hold onto it while I’d pass out the endible pencil to Pauline and maybe the
    little square peice of yellow cellophane to Loren---then I’d close the box and threaten them not
    to bother it until I was ready. Sister Pauline would wet the point of the endible pencil--- just a
    pencil stub in fact---- in her mouth and then paint purple figures on her hands and arms---she had
    to keep wetting the point so her mouth and lips would get purple also---talk about clues when
    we claimed later to our angry Mother that we had’nt been in Wiley’s Box. Brother Loren would
    look at the sunshine through the yellow transparent cellophane and drool baby spit onto his
    face, and I would be blowing tuneless sounds into the shiny old HONER mouth organ. That
    musical device would begin to sound like a boiling pan of water as I’d fill it with spit--never had
    any musical inclinations anyway but I sure liked to blow that old harmonica from Wiley’s Box.
    We knew our Mother talked long---we were too young to tell time so we had to hurry and
    scurry---sometimes purple smudges and smears from the endible pencil would mess up the pretty
    covering on the box so more spit had to go to its cleaning---usually the gross amounts I had
    blown into the old harmonica sufficed for the cleanup. We seemed to handle every item from
    the box---there was the little triangular thing us kids called a fingernail (later I learned it was a
    guitar pick), and a pair of leather shoe laces that smelled like new shoes---as we grubbed
    through Wiley’s Box we would always be astounded when we’d look into the mirror that was in
    the top half of the box . It would seem to distort and twist our little faces all out of shape and we
    would laugh. And oh yes, though it seemed we were reluctant to handle it and seldom ever did,
    inside of Wiley’s Box was a picture of Wiley. He was dressed in bibb overalls, standing in front of
    an old fashioned car by the windmill on Grandpa Hankins farm. Wiley was short and stocky, a
    thatch of very blond hair and a large open face with a square jaw. Years later when I’d see the
    movie actor Brian Keath it would remind me of the picture of Wiley Bloodworth.
    As with anything, stories included, there is the ending--- the fini---the Omega. Sure, like all the
    other times, we’d put the box away again, denying ever having had it out. Again we would
    survive our Mother’s swift and sure measure of authority. We would clean the endible ink off our
    hands and mouths and even resort to the decision that we would’nt ever do it again. Oh, but
    the magic was there---we knew down deep that we would go back to the box---perhaps we felt
    that it was the only magic in our young lives, for go back we did---over and over---drawn like the
    moth to a flame....
    I saw Wiley’s Box the last time when our family broke up---probably about May 1942. All of us
    Wilborn children were sent to live with relatives----the family belongings, including Wiley’s Box, I
    know not where it went...
    Now as I look back on these lines that I’ve written I must ask myself ‘why’ and for the life of me I
    do not know why. Last night as I slept, I dreamed and when I woke very early I seemed driven to
    record those long ago remembrances---to what end, I just don’nt know.
    On closing, I wish I knew where the box was---if it still exists someplace would some young child
    paw through the contents and wonder who---what---why---how. Would the childs laughter
    seem uninhibited when they’d look into that distorted mirror and make silly faces like we used to
    do. Maybe in the years after I saw it last, someone named Billy found the magic box and to that
    family, it was called BILLY’S BOX.---the box the Wilborn kids knew as WILEY’S BOX.

    I sent this story to my older sister Faye who still resides in Iowa. A few days later I received a
    letter from Faye and in the letter she had enclosed a photo. The picture was incredibly
    preserved for being more than sixty years old. There, standing in front of a vintage automobile
    was a tow-headed young man dressed in bibb-overalls. Remarkably, the only thing that did not
    show in the photo that was in my dream was the old windmill. I turned the photo over and there
    written on the back was WILEY BLOODWORTH GREELEY, IOWA born Nov. 26 1916 died July 17 1937
    age-20 yr 7 mo 21da. Although the writing had the appearance of ball point pen ink, those had
    not yet been invented. On closer examination however, I could not help but conclude that the
    big bold handwritten scrawl had been done with an indelible pencil--probably the same pencil
    that used to make the inky lookings smears on our mouths and hands when we were carefree
    children.