- 10/15/2007 9:37 AM ET
Wonderful story and beautifully written. Thanks!
I was about ten years old. My cousin Sonny was nine. We were full of fire and vinegar and were always up to something. Across the back yard was a barbed wire fence which held their black angus bull, Blackie, inside. Or rather it protected us from Blackie. He was mean as a sack full of wet snakes and protected his pasture with a passion.
You could stand outside the barbed wire fence for as long as you want, but set one foot inside and Blackie could sense it from half a mile off. Don't venture too far inside that fence, we were always told. We never did. We were world known for taking chances, but messing with Blackie wasn't a chance either one of us wanted to take. We were foolish, not stupid.
Sonny was my cousin, son of mamma's sister and as close to me as a brother. Most of the time if I thought it, he was thinking it at the same time.
On that August day it was muggy and hot. It was one of those hot days where you couldn't catch your breath. It seemed the heat sapped the oxygen out of the air, leaving you sweating and gasping for breath. Combined with the heat was our boredom. We didn't have one thing to do, and as usual, we were sent outside to play till suppertime.
"Get outside and play," seemed to be the main thing our parents told us. We decided on that day we would focus our energy on doing good for somebody. This was unusual, considering most things we did either got us a whipping or sent to separate rooms for an hour. Whippings we could take. Being separated we dreaded.
There was an old man named Lawson that lived there in a rundown shack on the far side of Blackie's pasture. I never knew his real name, just the name Lawson. He was the caretaker of the place, mending fences, stringing barbed wire, rounding up any cows that broke out of the pasture, or just about anything else that needed taking care of.
Lawson was always glad to see us, and most times he'd looked the other way when we decided to steal a fresh watermelon out of the patch.
He didn't have much down in that shack as far as furniture so Sonny and I decided we would make him some topnotch furniture to decorate the place.
We rounded up a couple of boards, got a hammer out of the barn, pried some rusty nails out of the siding on the barn and set to work making Lawson a stool to sit on. After twenty minutes of hammering, we had completed the task. A bit lopsided and somewhat wobbly, the stool was finished.
Off we went to take our present to Lawson. Halfway to the pasture one leg of the stool fell of, so we had to stop and hammer it back on again. Once inside the fence, we stayed right on the edge so we could sprint through the strands of barbed wire if we were threatened. Blackie was way down at the far side of the pasture and perked his head up when he saw us but for some reason decided to leave us alone that day. Maybe the heat was getting to him, too, and he had just decided to stay down in the shade.
We tippie-toed as fast as we could, keeping one eye on the bull, and finally made it to Lawson's house. If you can call a one room, weatherbeaten shack a house. Lawson was outside piddling around and saw us headed his way. He smiled like he always did when he saw us, and when we presented our gift to him he acted like he had just been handed the holy grail.
We had to caution him about sitting down too hard on it, and he put it right beside the front door, saying he would use it to sit outside and watch the sunset.
Sonny and I dedided it was time to go so we started off back up to the house. Lawson said he had some things to take care of that way so he joined us. When we got back he headed off to the mailbox down by the dirt road so we followed him to watch whatever it was he was going to do. We were that bored.
While he worked on the mailbox Sonny and I wandered off down the dirt road looking for treasures discarded in the ditch. After a few minutes we found some maypop vines growing in the sand that were slap full of maypops. Some people know them as passion flowers. They have some sort of religious meaning attached to them, something about the 12 deciples represented by the 12 pretty petals on their blooms. They are shaped like tiny footballs, green, and are great for throwing at each other.
We grabbed up a handful and started firing them off at each other. They don't hurt when they hit you, but they do kinda splatter, which was fine with us.
Lawson heard the commotion and decided to join in. He grabbed up a handful of the tiny bombs and fired them off at the both of us. Soon Sonny and I joined forces and had the world championship maypop battle with us against Lawson. He was a better shot than us and connected a direct hit with just about every one he threw. Most of our missles went wild. The three of us played like that for thirty minutes, grabbing up maypops, firing them off, dodging the incoming bombs, and laughing our heads off.
I think it was the first time I had ever actually saw Lawson laugh in all the time I had known him. He was having the time of his life and so were we. Once Sonny turned his back to Lawson and bent over to pick another maypop and Lawson took the opportunity to launch a direct hit right between his shoulder blades. That maypop splattered gunk and seeds all over his back and I sat on the ground I was laughing so hard. Lawson threw his head back and laughed, too, a deep laugh like the sound of a giant.
Of couse Sonny wasn't hurt, and he just threw his hands up and said he surrendered. Looking at the three of us, me with seeds covering most of my back and chest, Sonny almost totally covered, and Lawson clean as a whistle, it was a unanimous decision that Lawson had won the battle, hands down.
We were all three still laughing at each other by the time we got back to the house, and as Lawson headed back down across the pasture we could still hear him chuckling.
About an hour later daddy came outside and asked if either of us knew where the hammer was. He needed it for some reason and said he couldn't find it and he wanted it now. Right now. We both realized we had left it down at Lawson's shack when we took the stool down to him. I told daddy I'd go get it and then took off towards the pasture.
I sneaked a look at Blackie when I crawled through the fence, but didn't see him anywhere. I still kept to the side, ready to leap underneath the strands of wire in case he decided to challenge me. The sun was starting to set as I got nearer to Lawson's place and I knew I didn't want to be caught out in the pasture after dark.
I walked around the corner of Lawson's shack and saw him sitting there on the stool we had made for him. I could tell he had put some extra nails in it to keep it from falling apart when he sat on it, and it seemed to be holding up pretty good.
I was about to speak to him when something caught my eye. It was the look on his face. He hadn't seen me yet, and as I stood there watching him I saw his eyes staring up into the sky towards the sunset. It was a look of longing and emptiness. That's the only way to describe it. His eyes looked out towards the sinking sun and if an expression could make someone old, his did it. He looked old, worn out, and sad. All in one.
I didn't know what to say, and after an awkward moment he looked around and saw me. His face instantly broke out in a smile, and I pretended I hadn't seen him with that look in his eyes only moments before.
He patted the stool we had given him, said he would use it every day, and shooed me off with my hammer, cautioning me to keep and eye out for Blackie on the way back.
My skinny legs pumped as I ran back to the house, the sun casting dark shadows that were lengthening by the minute. Once back, I gave the hammer to daddy and went inside to eat. The moment with Lawson had passed, gone quickly like so many other moments in a young boy's mind.
When we were teenagers, I had a GTO and Sonny and I would cruise the Shoney's parking lot, circling it while hoping some girls would wave at us and ask us to join them. They never did, but we never gave up. It was our Saturday afternoon ritual. Later we both found girlfriends and he and I drifted apart and moved on with our lives, sometimes running into each other and keeping each other up on how everything was going.
Sonny is no longer around. He had his own demons in his mind to battle , whatever they were. His defense against them was a bottle and he took to hiding in there almost every day. Years later it seems the demons won. His spirit broken by the bottle and a wife who had left him because of that bottle, he went into a liquor store and got into a fight with the owner. Sonny pulled a gun on the owner and they struggled for a few minutes. The gun went off and Sonny lay dead, his own gun the cause.
At Sonny's funeral we all sat around talking about the good times, ignoring the bad. I was the center of attention being as how Sonny and I were usually like Siamese twins back then. I asked about Lawson, wondering what had ever happened to him.
Nobody really knew the answer to that, and someone said they heard he had died quite some time back. It was then I found out about his past. He had a son, Timothy, who was his pride and joy. Lawson's wife had died when Timothy was just a baby, leaving him to be both mamma and daddy to little Timmy.
Timmy was a good kid, from what I was told, and always tried to make his daddy proud of him. Lawson had hopes of Timmy becoming a lawyer or doctor or something to take him away from the poverty of his one room shack at the far end of a pasture.
Timmy might have done just that, except a military action called the Korean Conflict broke out and Timmy wanted to join the Army and serve his country. Lawson tried to talk him out of it, but he saw the determination in young Timmy's eyes and finally gave in.
One day Lawson hitched a ride with Timmy to the bus station where Timmy went off to the Atlanta induction center to be processed and turned into an official soldier. Off to war he went.
About four months later someone showed up at Lawson's shack holding a telegram. Lawson stood there reading it, and as he did the light went out in his eyes.
"We are sorry to inform you that your son.... " the telegram began. Words like proud, unfortunate, regret, and honor failed to ease the harshness of what the paper was telling him. Little Timmy had died in action in a war that was never really a war.
As I sat there at Sonny's funeral hearing for the first time about Lawson having a son, and hearing how his son had died in Korea, the incident with the maypops came to my mind. Now I knew what that look on his face had been about. Sonny and I had made him laugh, yet we had also brought back memories of him and his son having those same maypop battles years before. For a fleeting moment in time, we had been his son. I was glad we were able to do that for him, even though at the time I had no idea.
There have been a few times in my own life when I've stood with that same look in my eyes, as I am sure most of us have at one point or another. It's times like those that friends are the best medicine in the world.
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