Discussion in 'Vietnam Stories: By John H. Wilborn' started by Guest, Feb 25, 2003.

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    J. Wilborn
    Posts: 39
    (2/8/01 4:55:46 pm)
    The old tractor was parked on a grassy hillside under the protective spread of a giant
    Lebanon cedar tree. An old FARMALL F-12, that probably had been manufactured in the
    1930’s, and had originally been red in color, was now a faded and grease smeared pink.
    Attached to the old tractors drawbar hitch was an equally ancient rubber-tired trailer. It
    was easy to determine that the trailer had been constructed from the back half of a vintage
    pickup truck. The old pickup truck fenders, though dented and badly scratched, showed as
    some color of green paint.
    The capacity of the trailers cargo compartment had been increased by adding upright
    sheets of plywood to the old pickups sides. It must have been done long ago for the
    plywood was faded bone-gray and weatherbeaten with the upper edges of the wooden
    sheets , gouged and splintered.
    Over time, names and other graffiti had been written on the plywood surfaces---nothing
    offensive ---just names and things that had made sense to someone when they had written
    or marked it there. Showing over the tops and all around the perimeter of the damaged
    plywood sides were garden rakes, long handled shovels, and other parphanelia that usually
    adorns the vehicles of grounds-keepers and gardeners. Inside the trailer bed were power
    lawn mowers, red gasoline cans, and piles of grass clippings that smelled lush and fragrant
    as fresh mown grass always does.
    The four men appeared to be on their noon lunch hour and were lounging in the area
    of the tractor and trailer. Two of the men had their shirts off and were leaning up against the
    side of the old trailers fenders. A two liter bottle of DIET COKE sat atop the old truck fender
    between the two young men. Each man was eating from his own bag of FRITO CORN
    CHIPS but they were sharing swigs of the warm soda from the large plastic bottle. The
    slimness of their torsos and the bronzed, suntanned texture of their skin bespoke of youth
    who toiled out in the summer sun. Sun bleached knots of curly hair atop their heads gave
    the young men the visages of Greek gods. They were not twins, just brothers---both in their
    early twenties and looking remarkably like ‘twin-clones’---even their parents had trouble
    telling them apart.
    The other youthful looking worker was sprawled on the freshly cut lawn. The knees of his
    faded Levi blue jeans were tattered and the skin that was visible through the rents and tears
    of the trousers knees was much more white than his bare back and shoulders. He wore a
    white baseball style cap that had PURINA embroideried across the front. Bushy red hair that
    was in dire need of cutting and probably washing, sprang from around the dirty caps
    edges. There had been an attempt by the young red-head to fashion a braid to his overly
    long and shaggy hair but that ‘braid’ turned out to be a tuft of kinky hair that looked like a
    cottony ball of red lint that was circled with a green rubber band.
    As the reclining person lay on the damp green grass, he listened to the conversation of
    the others. If he were able to close his mouth, he never seemed to do so. The pointed
    looking chin appeared overly close to his protruding ‘adams apple’ and the appearance of
    his dirty and stained teeth would have caused a dental hygienist to faint. His mouth actually
    hung open as if he were waiting for an oral examination. Wispy red whiskers showed on his
    face, especially the pointed chin. His fellow workers teased him that they would smear whip
    cream on his face and let a cat lick the whiskers off. He never remarked one way or the
    other to the good natured bantering---he probably did’nt think they were teasing him.
    The fourth man, actually the supervisor who they called Doc, and who appeared older
    than the others, sat up on the old tractor seat eating his lunch from a brown paper bag. The
    entire tractor seat was made to swivil and he had it positioned toward the rear of the old
    tractor so as to be looking toward the other workers. A red bandana was loosely tied
    around his forehead and tousled tufts of unkempt hair showed around his temple and
    neck. Although the hair was darkened with perspiration, one could see that it was flecked
    generously with gray.
    The lunch bag on his lap looked as if it had been used numerous times for other lunches
    because it was so wrinkled and grease spotted. With lip-smacking gusto Doc finished the last
    of a wilted looking sandwich and reached into the scrufty looking brown bag for more
    ‘Damn it, I told the Old Lady that I could’nt knaw these friggin apples--that they’ll break
    my false teeth and we’ll wind up with another lousy bill’! He stared at the rosy red fruit with
    apparent disgust, like he had just observed a giant worm exiting.
    ‘Hey Screech, I’ll swap’ya this apple for that HOSTESS TWINKEY that I saw in your
    bag---even up, don’t need no ‘boot’--even up’ the older man repeated. If the lad named
    Screech was having any of this swap thing, he did’nt let on, as he continued to selectively
    pick the golden corn chips from his bag, munching contentedly, totally ignoring the offer.
    Finally, Screech made a statement of fact to the waiting ‘apple-owner’. Through his
    half-filled mouth he declared, ‘I et that Twink first thing aday---et that little sucker afore it got
    all melty and squishy--sure awished I’da had a gulp’a milk to wash her down with, but hell,
    Twinks are good with just spit’!
    The older man with the apple just listened, astounded at Screech’s long winded
    diatribe---like he coud’nt grasp in his mind what was being said. ‘Well I’m still hungrier than
    hell---why cound’nt she remember about me and apples’, he continued to whine, ‘here ya
    go Red’, he called out to the slack-mouthed fellow laying on the grass, ‘an apple for ya if
    you can shut your teeth tight ‘nuf to chaw her off’, and with that remark he flipped the
    apple to his work companion laying on the ground. In a seemingly blurred motion of his
    hand, so quick that a casual observer could never have seen the action, the fellow called
    Red cought the fruit in midair and gouged out a generous bite with his foul looking cuspids.
    Red’s pale green eyes seemed to dart furitively from person to person, as if he suspected
    someone was going to steal the apple he had been given. Juice from the fruit coarsed
    down Red’s chin and clung there like drops of morning dew on his scraggly facial hair. It
    appeared as if he never took the apple away from his mouth for in a mechanical type
    motion Red continued to chew and rotate the apple simultaneously. The chewing sounds
    made by Red were attention grabbing for everyone else stopped their eating and stared in
    wide-eyed disbelief at the way Red was eating.
    ‘Holy hell Red, you remind me of a damn alligator the way you chaw’, exclaimed Boxer,
    Screech’s older brother. Boxer, apparently feeling sick and disgusted, closed his bag of
    corn chips by rolling the top down and clamping it with a pair of VICE GRIP pliers. It was as if
    to say, ‘I was hungry, but I just can’t stomach watching you eat like that’! Screech
    continued to munch his corn chips but he was’nt looking Red’s way. Boxer took a final swig
    from the soda bottle and handed it over to his brother. Screech upended the container
    and finished it with a loud gulp, then belched loudly. He then tossed the empty container
    up into the trailer on the pile of grass clippings.
    ‘Hey Doc, how often does your wife give you apples when you tell her not to’? All eyes
    and attention was directed to the older man, still slouching up on the tractor seat. The
    young men were always hearing the gripeing and whining of Doc about his wife. If it was’nt
    about lunch and apples, it was the way she fixed his shirt collars or folded his socks, or
    starched his underwear. Although Doc complained much of the time, it was always good
    natured gripeing; just something to get a laugh from the others or to turn a joke on
    someone. Doc was the only one of the crew who was married. Screech and Boxer saw
    the same type behavior between their own parents. Although the the brothers were both
    past twenty-one, they still lived at home.
    ‘Well I can tell ya this, when I get home tonight the Old Lady is going to hear about it--she
    was probably just feelin onery this morning when she did my vittles--she knows damn well I
    can’t knaw them old John apples---she’s gotta cook ‘em and make sauce outt’vm fer
    me---and I’m still starved---hell, I could eat the north end out’va an old fat hog runnin’ south
    and not even have a bone leftover’, Doc spouted to his spellbound audience.
    The brothers grinned at Doc’s outburst--- Red’s pointed chin seemed to be bouncing
    atop his generous ‘adams apple’--one could’nt tell if Red laughed or even grinned for that
    matter, with his trap door looking mouth and all---but there was a hint of a ‘puffing’ sound.
    Very little was known about Red---his roots were not in this small Iowa community. Since
    showing up in the summer of 1988 with a traveling carnival, he lived in the old maintenance
    shack out on the abandoned railroad spur west of town. Red did’nt talk much about himself
    or anything else. He came from some where in the south. His voice was not the pleasant
    southern accent of the deep south but more of a flat and toneless twang of Kentucky.
    Actually, it seemed folks just were’nt that interested in where Red come from---if he’d ever
    told them they would have promptly forgot---Red just never made or left a big impression.
    It was a well accepted conclusion by all who knew him, that Red was simple minded---at
    some things but just downright brilliant at others.
    One time when Red had applied for the schools janitor job, the high school principal had
    administered Red a series of tests. One question on the test was what year was the Battle of
    Hastings fought and bigger than hell Red scrawled in 1066 and even added the AD to his
    answer---amazing thing--- it had’nt been a multiple choice question either so no hints or
    guesses applied. Another thing that amazed folks was that Red could tell you what day of
    the week a certain date occurred on even if that date was fifty years before. It was
    impossible to assign Red any type IQ status for so many other things he was definately short
    on. Doc, who happened to be a Navy veteran, used to say that ‘Red had a full seabag, it
    just was’nt all stenciled’!
    Even in the sweltering heat of Iowa summers, Doc always wore long sleeved shirts and full
    trousers. He would keep his shirt collar buttoned all the way up to the neck. Doc’s front
    torso, buttocks, and both legs were horroribly scarred and ravaged from a jet fuel and
    ammunition fire that almost took his life during the Viet Nam war. Doc would only talk about
    it when he’d get a beer of two in him and that was’nt very frequent---Doc would say ‘drunks
    are’nt squared-away’.
    Sometimes Doc would tell sea stories to the younger men and it would inevitabily be
    ‘when I was on the Old Bird Farm, this or that had happened’. That’s what Doc called the
    aircraft carrier he had served on --- and that terrible fire---it had made a hero out of Doc for
    having saved a number of lives before sustaining his own life threating injuries. Interestingly,
    the pilot who had been involved in that terrible conflagration that had cost the lives of
    more than one hundred sailors, had been Senator John McCain from Arizona. He had been
    flying combat missions from that carrier, the USS FORRESTAL and sometime on a later ‘sortie’,
    his fighter-bomber had been shot down over North Viet Nam where he was a
    prisoner-of-war for the remaining years of that long and drawn out war.
    Doc acknowledged that he had been awarded some naval medal for heroism but
    contended in a humble manner that he was only doing what any other hospital corpsman
    would have done--he never did show the actual medal to anyone who knew him---he had
    given the impressive looking award to his girl friend when he was recovering at the Naval
    Hospital in San Francisco and now, years later, that girl friend was Doc’s ‘old lady’---.
    Suddenly, Red wailed a blood-curdling bellow that the men would say later sounded like
    Tarzan of the Jungle and bounded to his feet. Like a berserk street fighter, he was beating
    his back and arms with the dirty white baseball cap with the PURINA advertising. The crew,
    thinking that Red was being attacked by bees, all bolted off in different directions, and
    when they got to what they thought was a reasonably safe distance, turned to gather their
    wits. Even at the distance they now were they could hear Red screaming
    ‘PISS-ANTS---PISS-ANTS---PISS-ANTS’ as he continued to whirl around and round and flail with
    his cap at the offending and biting insects.
    Seeing that a bee threat was not the problem, Doc rushed back, grabbed the leaping
    and bounding Red by the arm so he could help him and commenced brushing off the
    hoard of ravenous pests. Screech and Boxer did not approach to help but continued to
    stare from a distance at Doc and Red with shocked disbelief.
    Doc was to tease them both later when he told them Red had scared them so badly with
    his screaming that it had taken the ‘curly-locks’ out of their hair---Doc sure had a way of
    telling things the way they were.
    It just happened that the tractor and trailer was parked near a water spigot with a
    garden hose attached so Doc led a now much calmer Red over and commenced to douse
    him with the hose. Red did’nt raise any objections and in a few moments Red was soaking
    wet and seemingly much relieved.
    ‘Dammit Red, it’s too bad those hungry little bastards chowed down on ya the way they
    did, but I’ll bet ya a dollar to a doughnut you got that sweet apple juice all over ya and
    that’s what they wanted and went after ---they were’nt after you, you ugly turd, ya ain’t
    sweet ‘nuf fer even a piss-ant to wanna chaw on’.
    Red slouched forelornly, holding his PURINA ballcap while Doc continued to let the water
    spray over his head and bare back. The ball of red fuzz with its green rubber band that was
    supposed to look like a ‘braid’ but instead looked like a ball of red lint, grew saturated with
    the water and took on the appearance of a drowned rodent. Red may have been
    attempting to talk or yell but no sound come out, instead with the flow off water over his
    face, the open mouth and sagging jaw, moving as it did, looked like a fish out of water
    gulping in great quantities of air.
    Finally Doc turned off the spigot and recoiled the hose. Red had’nt moved---he stood
    there like a water soaked old dog. Doc, as well as the brothers who had returned and were
    watching the goings-on, drew back from Red like they expected him to shake like an old
    dog will shake themselves when they are soaked. But there was no shaking from Red to rid
    himself of the water---Red just stood there and continued to drip and look pathetic, still
    making the movements with his mouth like the fish out of water thing.
    ‘Well Red, its just real lucky you ain’t allergic to ant toxin or Screech and Boxer may have
    had to give you mouth-to-mouth breathing---would’nt that’a been a real kick in the family
    jewels’! Doc guffawed loudly--- laughing at his own remark--- he sounded like a mule
    braying. Screech and Boxer suddenly looked kind of green through their bronze
    suntans---they also looked like they wanted to vomit.
    ‘Good thing its hot out today Red---you’ll dry off real quick but we need to check those
    ant bites after awhile---never know--there may be some delayed reaction’ Doc continued,
    sounding very medically informed to his crew.
    The brothers were probably praying from their hearts, ‘just anything, but for sweet God’s
    sake, don’t let old Red’s breathing falter--no way in hell could I ever breathe into his ugly
    Doc went over to the back of the old tractor and commenced to dig around in the
    toolbox. ‘Here ya go Red, I knew we had some paper towels around some place---use
    what ya need to dry your face and fer God’s sake Red, do somethin with yer hair---looks like
    a dead squirril’, Doc exclaimed. Screech and Boxer were nodding their heads affirmatively
    nearby-----they both thought of something more gruesome that Red’s hair looked like.
    ‘And now we gotta get back to work boys---gotta lott’a diggin to do this afternoon---me
    and Red will get the ditcher around up on the Catholic side while you two go dump the
    trash and clippings --- when you get done , Boxer you drop off and take the ditcher over to
    the Protestant side and do that hole---Screech you go on over and clip off that dead limb
    from the old pin-oak---cut it small so it don’t take the whole trailer, and then come back and
    help us square up the holes’.
    Doc was now their boss--laughing time was over --- they all listened respectfully as he laid
    out their tasks. They all knew Doc, and even with all his scars and his gripeing, would always
    do more than his share---some other boss would have sit and watched them work and then
    have taken all the credit---yea, but not Doc---he was’nt that way.
    Screech went over to the old tractor--- prepared the magneto advance switch and
    started to hand crank the ancient old FARMALL. On the second twist of the crank, the old
    tractor fired off and the unmuffled engine noises made any conversation impossible.
    Boxer climbed upon the hitch behind his brother who was going to drive and the old
    tractor and trailer went meandering off ---wending its way between headstones and
    monuments and tombstones of the Springdale Cemetary.
    Doc looked up at the sky toward the sun as if he were calculating the time and
    remarked to Red who stood silently nearby ‘its a hell’va life my friend---- but I’m damn
    glad to be doing ‘er----just really glad’.
    Red, who had’nt uttered a solitary word since his Tarzan like bellows when being
    attacked by the forageing ants, looked over in Doc’s direction and stated in a soft but
    sincere sounding voice, ‘I ‘im much obliged to yer----and thanks a lot fer the apple Doc’.