The Old Man

The old man sat on the top step of the porch and watched the movement of children as they played tag. His vision was bad and he squinted attempting to see. The cataracts had thickened, reducing the children to ghostly apparitions. Too much time spent in the blazing sun. He could still see their blurry forms and could discern the gaily clad little girls in their summer dresses from the little boys in their shorts and long pants. Thank God! My hearing is still good.

Someone wanted to take a picture with their new-fangled camera. Something called a Brownie. He sat a bit slumped, his hands resting on his thighs. An eighty-year-old…today. His once red hair was now white as the cotton bolls bursting in the fall. His beard, years ago red and sparse had thickened like his cataracts. White and long, it spread to the middle of his vest. Tobacco juice from years of chewing, stained the sides of his mouth.

His gaze shifted to the distant horizon. His once blazing, blue-green eyes had faded but his vision was still sharp…with the visions of the past. He smiled at his thoughts. He couldn’t remember what day it was, but his memories of times now past were as sharp as the old boning knife he once carried. He spent most of his time gazing back at the past. Mostly he spent his time with the memory of Lucretia, now dead nearly fifty years.

He had been lucky. He had loved three times. Three fine women had warmed his bed and brought him comfort and joy. Lucretia, Genevieve and Josephine. He had loved them with all his heart. The old man had been unlucky too, he had outlived all three. He cherished the memories of them all, but Lucretia was special. She had been his first…. He liked to remember her in the emerald green ball dress. High waisted, it bared her shoulders and dipped low showing her décolletage. An emerald ribbon held her mother’s cameo and brought attention to her long slender neck. He remembered slowly taking her out of the dress…Damn I almost felt something stir.

Timmy, Tyler James’s youngest, sat down beside him. A chap of six,  he recognized the boy’s voice when he asked, “Whatcha’ thinking about Grampy?” He was John William’s youngest grandchild. John William was not the old man’s grandson but his grandnephew, Arlo and Stella’s boy. He had sired no children but had been adopted by John William and his brood.

“Timmy, I was thinking about Grammy Lucretia. I wish you had the chance to meet her. She was a special woman.”

“As special as Grammy Josey?” He asked as if he might be worried about my answer.

“Oh yes, oh yes she was…and Josephine loved you very much.”

“I miss her…’specially her molasses cookies.”

“I miss her too…and her molasses cookies.”
He missed his friends too. All were gone. Sean, Arlo and Stella, Alexandre’ and Shailene, James. All had been gone for ages. “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust,” from the book Momma Edwards had taught him to read from. He had been here too long. It was time to move on.

“Tell me a story Grampy.”

Well, maybe it’s not quite time to move on quite yet.

Finis

I’ve always wondered about the picture I used to illustrate this fictional piece that may or may not become a novel. It is a picture of my great, great-grandfather, Marion DeKalb Rodgers, who was born in 1842. I have no idea when the picture was made…and it really doesn’t matter. It’s his tanned and weathered face, along with the squint, that captivated my thoughts. I wondered what he was thinking and what his life was like, the sights he saw. I understand he was a farmer and a carpenter. I know as a seventeen-year-old he went off with his father to fight in the Civil War and was one of the lucky ones who returned. Again, I just wonder.

Don Miller is a multi-genre, Indie author. He has just released his second work of fiction, South From Sutherland’s Station. It along with his other works may be purchased or downloaded at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM.

Advertisements

SOUTH FROM SUTHERLAND’S STATION

Excerpt from Don Miller’s soon to be released historical novel, South From Sutherland’s Station.

As he traveled down the Ohio to the Mississippi, the side-wheeler made stops along the way: Cincinnati, Memphis, Greenville, Vicksburg, Natchez, and finally New Orleans.  Over and over, it loaded and unloaded cargo, livestock, and people.  Vicksburg, Tennessee, and the flanking Delta, Louisiana, were the worst.  Despite having been out of the fight for nearly two years, the people who met them on the wharves still bore scars from the war.  Few young men met them, just older men, colored and white, stooped from both age and abuse.  Underweight and hollow-eyed children begged and faded Southern Belles twirled their parasols, all dreaming of a time now past.  Any joy of being near his home soil was offset by the gloom covering the landscape like the thick fogs off the river.

The easiest way home would be to disembark at Vicksburg, cross the river to Delta and then catch a stage overland the seventy miles to Edwards’ Crossroads.  Going on to New Orleans meant having to catch a riverboat traveling back up to the Red River and onto the Ouachita but his promise to Wyatt ate at him worse than a case of the quickstep.  Allen Kell knew if he did not make the trip to Wyatt’s mother and sister, his promise would continue to gnaw at him.  Maybe he could find some work to get enough money to get home.  Anytime offered work to load or unload the side-wheeler, he had volunteered.  Despite his efforts, he had less than five dollars of army script in his pocket.

Allen Kell sat on the barge and brooded.  He wanted to be happy the war was over.  Memories of the killing and disease seemed to sap his resolve.  He was empty inside, a shell.  Allen Kell knew but refused to admit, he missed the killing.  He had been most alive making the charges against Federal lines, looking down barrels of death pointed in his direction.  The vicious hand to hand fighting sent adrenaline pulsing through his body, leaving him spent and at peace when it was over.  Allen Kell’s ruminations were interrupted as the side-wheeler’s steam whistle went off.  Moments later, just around the next bend, the New Orleans’s wharves came into view.

Allen Kell agreed to trade more labor for meals, a piece of deck to sleep on and passage back to Vicksburg later in the week.  He would end up with more army script to go with what he had.  After spending part of his script on some new clothes-a union suit, one pair of tough canvas pants, two shirts, one flannel for work and a muslin to visit Wyatt’s family in-Allen Kell went to the community baths to bathe and shave.  He kept the officer’s slouch hat he had picked up off the battlefield at Gettysburg, the red Garibaldi shirt he had been issued in Baton Rouge, his braces and his boots, and trashed the rest.  When he looked at his reflection while shaving, Allen Kell was shocked at the gauntness of his face and realized he had the same hollow-eyed stare he had noticed on the faces of the people of Vicksburg.  It had been the first time he had seen his face in over a year.

South From Sutherland’s Station is a novel of the chaotic days following the Civil War and ex-Confederate soldier, Allen Kell Edwards.  It will be available for purchase in early December.  Until then you may go to Don Miller’s author’s page at http://amazon.com/author/cigarman501

 

NATE

We served over a hundred and fifty souls, the homeless and poor along with the people who ran the soup kitchen every week and their families. There were smiles, laughs, and expressions of true thankfulness. I believe the smiles made it all worthwhile. As the line trickled to a stop we joined the diners, “breaking bread” and sharing their stories and their experiences.
Aja was unusually quiet. We sat across the table from a thin black man named Nate. A Vietnam War veteran, Nate never got his life together despite the war being over for nearly forty-five years. He had been an eighteen-year-old tunnel rat and by his own admission, “hadn’t amounted to much.” After returning home, Nate had worked at low paying jobs to support his alcoholism until he “had just worn out.” Despite being surrounded by friends this Thanksgiving morning, his glances were furtive, as if someone or life might be sneaking up on him.
“Holy John,” the Methodist minister, disclosed to me Nate lived on family land in a fifty-year-old Airstream resting on flat tires and cement blocks. A cast iron stove “liberated” from someone’s trash heap and vented through a window, both warmed the old travel trailer and provided enough heat to prepare whatever food Nate had available. Like many troubled vets, he sometimes forgot to eat or chose instead to drink his way through the day.
Nate augmented his monthly social security checks with odd jobs done for understanding church members or by selling, for scrap, the aluminum cans he collected walking the country roads around the Airstream. Local folks dropped off bags of aluminum cans under a hand-painted sign whose down-pointing arrow instructed them to “drop cans here.” With no running water or indoor plumbing, he filled recycled milk jugs from a neighbor’s outdoor spigot and took his weekly shower and washed his clothes in the facilities provided in the church’s fellowship hall. Despite his plight, he seemed almost happy with his existence and was more open than many Vietnam veterans I had met.
A gaunt, mahogany face peered out from under an old Detroit Tigers’ baseball cap. Wisps of wiry, gray hair peeked out from under it. He had an ancient face, made older by his predicament. It was cut by deep crevasses that became deeper when he smiled. Nate seemed anything but sad with his self-imposed hardships. In a soft voice, he said, “I do okay. I don’t need much and since I’m drawin’ my social I live like a king.” Pausing to look back somewhere in the past he quoted, “I try to keep my heart open to dreams. As long as there’s a dream I have a life.” With our present military involvements, I wondered how many more of these damaged souls we would produce.
Nate paused, his rheumy eyes gazing intently at Aja before asking, “Little girl…somethin’ is troublin’ you?” Before she could answer he went on, “You young and beautiful. Out here on a Thanksgiving mornin’, you got to have a good heart. People gonna tell you this is the best time of your life. It ain’t. Wonder mo young folk don’t commit suicide hearing that shit. Life always gonna be hard but gets better if you let it. I didn’t and now my time be growin’ short. Nothin’ I can do about it, but you can if you wants to. ‘scuse my language but you need to take life by the balls and twist ‘em if you need to.”
Aja smiled her heart melting smile and said, “Thank you, Nate. I’ll try to remember to twist them just for you.”

This is a fictional composite of many former Vietnam Vets I have known…too many that I have known.  It is also written for Steve, my brother, and Hawk, my friend, who saw a need and acted on it.

Don Miller is a multi-genre writer who, in addition to maintaining a blog, has self-published six books.   His most recent release is the romantic adventure OLIVIA.  Don’s author’s page may be accessed at  http://amazon.com/author/cigarman501.

Thank you for stopping by.

FROM A CHILDHOOD LONG AGO

 

We camped on a low bluff overlooking the river a mile or two from our homes.  The “three amigos” were eleven or twelve and the outing was our first time camping alone.  The leashes were off.  We had been hard at work.  Our canvas-covered lean-to was in place held steady with freshly cut green saplings. Bedrolls were laid out, rocks placed in a circle for the campfire later and the wood to feed it gathered and stacked.  Our intentions were to catch fish then clean and roast them over our campfire.  Just in case we were well provisioned with Vienna sausages, Deviled Ham, and soda crackers.  Danny had snuck out a pack of his daddy’s Viceroys from its carton and Charlie a deck of his mother’s canasta cards.

We fished with our cane poles until the sun dipped behind the tall water oaks on the western side of the river before giving up our culinary ideas.  Instead, we would dine on cold Vienna’s and warm soft drinks.  As darkness fell we lit off our campfire, lit up our after-dinner Viceroys and toasted our first step toward adulthood with bottles of Orange Crush.  With the dark surrounding our campfire, our talk involved girls and the ones we would most like to sleep with as if we knew what “sleeping with a girl” entailed.  Later we would combine poker with our girl talk.

As late night turned to early morning and the full moon rose above our heads, our conversation turned to ghost stories and tales of particularly graphic murder scenes until one by one we nodded off.

I thought I was awake, opening my eyes to the shadows cast by the bright full moon now chasing the unseen sun to our west.  Swirls of fog rose from the ground and began to take on the shapes of men, clad in animal skins, with spears and warclubs facing off against each other.  Somehow, I knew I was safe, these ghostly forms were not here for me.  I began to hear their yells and the grunts of their effort, some of the yells turning into howls of pain as a spear point or clubhead found it’s mark.  The battle was close in and personal.  Blood stained both the victor and vanquished.

I turned to see if Charlie and Danny were seeing the battle and instead found myself awake and my vision blinded by the rising sun.  As quickly as the warriors had come, they had disappeared.  I never told Charlie and Danny what I had seen.  I feared their ridicule.  I did tell my Native American grandmother, someone who would never ridicule me.

I told Nannie my story and asked, “Nannie, what did it all mean?  It was so real.  I could hear their screams and smell the blood being spilled onto the ground.”

“It means nothing, yet means everything Jethro.  Your forefathers fought for control of the land and the trading routes along the river.  In some cases, they fought each other.  Deaths were violent and released great energy.  Sometimes the spirits come back attempting to find their way to the ‘light.’  You are not the first one to see the great battles but only those with the ‘sight’ can see it.  Your great, great grandfather was a great medicine man.  He controlled great magic, you may follow in his footsteps.”

Thirty years would pass before I thought about my dream and the conversation with my grandmother.  I would not think about it until Olivia began to sit at the foot of my bed.

Excerpt from the adventure romance with ghostly overtones, OLIVIA by Don Miller.  Please visit his author’s page at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

Olivia

An excerpt from the contemporary romance Olivia by Don MIller

I had the odd thought as we drove down Edessa’s tree lined streets.  This was the first time I had enjoyed the company of a woman in five years.  A real estate agent, she was attempting to sell a parcel of Florida landscape sitting on a quiet river for more money than I wanted to spend.  A very attractive redhead in her late twenties or early-thirties, her good looks would be an asset in her line of work I mused.  She had a glowing, coppery complexion with more than a dash of cinnamon tinted freckles to go with her large, brown eyes and dark red hair.  Smartly and professionally dressed in a dark blue pants suit and white shirt, the jacket did little to hide impressive attributes.  Tall, with a firm handshake and a husky voice, I startled myself as it dawned upon me I was evaluating her as a potential partner.  My evaluation garnered her an A plus.

She didn’t realize I had died a little over five years ago and only been recently resurrected.  I still walked the earth, I inhaled the sea air, bodily processes continued but I had been dead none the less.  I had been dead until the dreams began.

Olivia came to me in my dreams.  The original dream was codeine fueled after coming down with walking pneumonia this past winter.  She sat on the foot of my bed…our bed, all blond and bright.  She was the Olivia I had met and fallen in love with my freshman year in college and married three years later.  She wore the same bell bottoms and calico peasant’s blouse as when we first met.  Olivia smiled her sky-blue eyes twinkling.

“You’re looking a bit rough Big Boy.”  I was tall, she was not.  She was petite and slender.  I was built like the outside linebacker I had once been.  She was blond and pale, I was dark on top of dark with hair going gray since I found myself on the wrong side of thirty-five.

“You need a haircut.  You look like a hippy.   Jethro, you must begin to start to live again.  You’ve lost too much weight.  Shouldn’t you back off your running at least until you get rid of that damn cough?”

“Nag much?  Some people drink or do drugs to avoid the pain.  I run.  I’m alive ‘Lovey’ but I do need a haircut.”

“Jethro…you walk, you talk, you even breathe… but you are not alive.  You have all the money from the settlement and from selling the place squirreled away.  It’s not blood money you know.  You let the house and land go too cheaply.  You could have held out for more.  Just to rid yourself of memories you can’t get rid of.  Memories you don’t want to let go of.  You could retire and move to another state.  You’ve got twenty-five years in.  Your dream was to be on the water and to write.  Why don’t you move?  They are not making any more shoreline.  There are plenty of teaching jobs in other states.  You could coach…or not.  And Sweetie, you don’t need to be spending all of your time alone…especially in the bedroom.”

I smiled.  Olivia was the progressive one in our union…especially in the bedroom, inventing new and wonderful ways to…she noticed my reaction and smiled.

“See, you still think about it.  You should date.  I’m dead and that’s not going to change.  You are still a young man.”

“I’m forty-six and I’m not sure how young that is.”

Olivia may be downloaded on Kindle at https://goo.gl/yc6FyC