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Revenge Of The Poisonous Ones
So you thought you got rid of us..
Since the last PO hub is getting slower by the comment, I’ve decided to rerun one the tales I deleted when HP was idling anything and everything. It would have been featured again along with others I removed from the site I believe.
I like this tale as it seemed perfect for the time of year for being thankful for what we have. Some of you have read it already and the others who haven't may feel free to skip the tale and continue gabbing as usual.
This one should hold us awhile until I finish a new one. Carry on fellow officially unofficial clicquers. You know who you are!
A Life Of Bitter Sweetness
A Drink In The Bar
It’s funny how one’s mind can jump instantly back into the past by the mere sound of a familiar voice. This is what happened when I answered the phone one Friday evening after arriving home late from work. “Simon? Simon Griffin?” the voice asked. “Yes,” I answered “this is Simon Griffin, what can I do for you?”
A gentle laugh came over the phone and I suddenly remembered the face belonging to the voice, remembered the person owning each. “Joey Butler,” I exclaimed “You ole son-of-a-gun, so good to hear your voice again.”
But I was quite sure the face I now pictured was not as fresh as when it was last imprinted upon my brain. That last impression was made over 40 years ago. Yes, a long time for it to fade into a bit of an ideal picture of youth. But then, all memories tend to do this as I discovered in my later years, all of them. But Joey’s voice was still talking when I snapped back to the present, something about Aunt Jessie. She was very ill, Joey was saying.
“Anyway, she’s asking to see us all one last time,” he said. “Can you come down this Sunday, maybe for the day?” There was but one answer of course. I had to go, but still my mind threw up a few excuses before I forced them away. After all, this was Aunt Jessie who was asking for me.
There was nothing more important in the world for me to do at this point. Some things cannot be ignored in this life and Aunt Jessie was one of them. So of course I told Joey I would be there, would call him back to tell him exactly when. The memories returned then. But it was because I wanted them to.
There’s nothing quite so tragic in a child’s life than to lose one’s parents, especially when the child is very young. I can attest to this personally, can avow as to how frightened this makes a child feel. I was only 10 years old when we had the wreck on US 41. My father tried to swerve and miss the stalled semi truck and trailer when we rounded the curve. “He tried real hard,” I told the first policeman to arrive on the scene.
I didn’t remember much afterwards for a couple of weeks, not much at all. I just knew I was all alone then, knew I didn’t have anybody else who loved me. I cannot describe the feeling of aloneness at that time. I almost wanted to die myself, to join mamma and daddy in heaven.
But instead, I got to go stay at Aunt Jessie’s and Uncle Bob’s house. Of course, they weren’t my real uncle and aunt. Nope, no relation at all. Just a couple of good lonely people who took in homeless children and raised them as best they could.
Family Of Strangers
I was terribly frightened when I first arrived, but Uncle Bob and Aunt Jessie fussed over me so much I felt like I already knew them. But I wasn’t the only foster child there, not by any means. Joey Butler was there too, and had been for over a year. There were also three girls who stayed upstairs in the old farmhouse.
Shortly after I arrived another boy, Jimmy Waites was his name, came to stay with us too. The girls, Amy Sellers, Marcy Regan, and Jill Brown, were the same age as we boys were at the time. A sort of a Brady Bunch of the day we were.
I cannot imagine more of a stable lifestyle as a kid, even if my parents hadn’t been killed in the wreck. Both Uncle Bob and Aunt Jessie were both saints to us kids. They were never able to have children of their own, never had anyone to lavish their excess love upon, at least this is what Aunt Jessie always told us.
“The good Lord brought you children to us,” she said “I prayed for children and here you are. Things always work out for the best, even if it don’t seem like it at the time. Always for the best.” I suppose she was right about that. But then, she was right about things most of the time, Aunt Jessie was.
Bob And Jessie
I realize there were horror stories told about kids in foster homes back in the 60’s, but they weren’t about people like Uncle Bob and Aunt Jessie. They raised us as if we were indeed entrusted to them by a supreme being. But they didn’t need to be afraid of not doing a good job, as they knew exactly what to do. They loved us completely, entirely and unselfishly so. And we loved them back even harder. We had no choice in the matter.
Uncle Bob’s little farm furnished us all a good living. No high-class lodgings for us, but still better than some folks had. We all worked the small tobacco patch for all it was worth. We kids also worked for other local farmers, helping gather their tobacco and peanut crops, making some extra cash for ourselves and learning the benefits of honest labor.
We tried to give Uncle Bob and Aunt Jessie some of our earnings, but they always refused saying, “No, we get paid for your room and board by the state, you know. And y’all more than make up for it just by your working here on the place, so you see, we all come out pretty good.“
That always made us kids feel good because we wanted to help repay them for having us there, for loving us too, as we knew they did. But even then we didn’t know how much they really cared for us. As I said, we were all the same age when we lived there, so we all graduated at the same time from the same high school.
We had all sat around discussing what we would do after we finished high school many nights in the months leading up to our graduation. Whether to try to find a job, try getting into the local college and work too, or there was another option for us boys, joining the military.
For Joey, Jimmy, and myself, this latter option was almost out of the question. We had heard about Viet Nam from some of the older boys who had been there. And Uncle Bob had spoke about his service in World War II. Not that we weren’t patriotic, no not at all.
But the Korean war had caused us to rethink the honor of battle a few decades ago, and we knew what politics could do in such a case. So no, the military was out of the question. Yes, we almost-adults had talked it over amongst ourselves, but we'd reached no sure decisions, Not until graduation night, that is.
When the ceremony was over and everyone started home, Uncle Bob decided he wanted to stop at the Clear Springs Dairy Queen for a celebratory ice cream treat. This really wasn’t so unusual as he often celebrated some obscure holiday if he got the urge for a “nanner split.” So while we all were sitting in the station wagon, cramming our mouths full of ice cream, Aunt Jessie dropped the bomb.
“Younguns,” as she always referred to us and always would “y’all can go to college if you want to, whether you work part time or not. Bob and me has saved a little money over the years, in fact, we saved what the state paid us for keeping you all these years and added some from the farm too. You always more’n earned your keep,” she said with her eyes shimmering with tears ready to overrun them at any moment.
“So you each have a savings account with enough money in it to help pay for a college education. Enough to study what you want to do and be in life. I know y’all will do well, you’re the best kids we coulda ever hoped for and we’re so proud of you.” Of course, not only Aunt Jessie’s tears cascaded, they seemed to be contagious on the inside of the station wagon. Again, we loved them so.
Have you helped your fellow man this year?
Life Goes On
After graduation we boys scattered to the winds, while the girls married local boys--we said it was because they didn’t want to leave Uncle Bob and Aunt Jessie--and had wonderful families and lives. Us boys finally married too with families of our own. But I still checked in with Aunt Jessie every so often. No, never often enough I’m sorry to say, but she knew how I felt about her and Uncle Bob. They were more than family to me, after all.
So now it was time to go see Aunt Jessie. Uncle Bob had died only ten years after that graduation night. “Died in his sleep,” Aunt Jessie said. “ Died happy, happy as a man could die.” Nothing more was needed to be said by her about it. We all understood. Uncle Bob had enjoyed his life to the fullest and taught us to do the same.
And now Aunt Jessie’s time was near. Yes, life is bittersweet at best. Aunt Jessie had a saying about such things. “Swallow the bitter and savor the sweet.” She would pronounce this at opportune and especially sad times in our young lives. More times than you may think.
Last Visit Home
That was a few weeks ago and I did go home to see Aunt Jessie one more time. I got to see the other kids again too--even though we all have grandkids ourselves now--and we relived old times just like you’re supposed to, with everyone enjoying the reunion and seeing Aunt Jessie. “All of you “younguns” turned out so well,” she said “Bob was always bragging about y’all every time we went to town."
"Them is the best kids a man could ever hope to have, he always told folks, like y’all were his own flesh and blood. And y’all were IN his blood, if nothing else. I’d never seen him so happy before you younguns came to stay with us. There was just something missing around the place. Y’all brought this old farmhouse to life with your laughter, and even with your tears too. But y’all know how much we love you. I know you do.”
Sweetness To Atone For
Yes we did. We’d known from the time we first stepped inside the old farmhouse, had sensed it when we walked through the door. So we had our last visit with Aunt Jessie before scattering to the four winds once again. But we “younguns” knew we would see each other again soon, but not too soon we all hoped.
Aunt Jessie didn’t last long after the visit, though. She’d seen her “younguns’ one last time and this was enough for her, I suppose. She died early yesterday morning. A truly full and fruitful life she’d led, with no waste of precious time for her at all. I got to tell her goodbye and that’s what was most important. To say goodbye.
But I’ve got to leave now. A funeral to attend to, you know. I’ve got a lot of bitter to swallow for the next few days. Got a lifetime of savory sweetness to make up for. But thanks for listening to me while I drowned my sorrows. I appreciate the ear you’ve so kindly lent me stranger so I told the bartender to put your drinks on my tab. But always remember, “Savor the sweetness while you can.”