the little voice I used to call, the one who cares about me
I took the swashbuckling photo during a divine appointment this evening, once I’d realized what it was all about.
My four wheeler’d been down and I’d just spent the afternoon cussing my way through shredding my knuckles replacing a solenoid. I was surprised, at one point, that Polaris hadn’t strapped a bomb to the damn thing — it was clear they were treating it as prize ground to be surrendered only if able to exact a heavy, heavy toll on the enemy – that being the bleeding fella with the wrench.
At last fair Polaris yielded access – I said nice words, dropped her belt guard, pushed away a little stray bush and reached right up under her rear fender and finally could get my fingers to work, if you know what I mean. Swapped out the solenoid and she was ramblin and scramblin.
I figured it’d be good to run the engine a while and let the battery charge, and I hadn’t seen Dad all day so I invited him on a ride. He agreed. His buggy was out of the garage; all he had to do was grab his keys.
This is where it gets groovy.
Strapping my nine, ready for adventure in the big woods, I’m standing outside at my four wheeler and see – barely make out between the branches and leaves — this car going waaaaaaay too slow approaching the driveway. I glance skyward quick – hair on end – shrink at the shoulders and almost hear the sound of government blackhawks (I’ve been speaking my mind on the internet, dontyaknow)…
But it’s Jerry, my uncle. He’s 83 and when I was growing up, he was the cool uncle with the best stories, the most reckless life, the most wives, kids, money, disaster, misfortune, and after that, winding up living at a nursing home as the recipient of Marine Corps honor, looking after one of their own, with no money save his social security.
He’s had some health concerns, visible enough through his clothes. I suspect he’s savoring every minute, and I feel for him.
Almost every year when I was between 2 and 30 he’d come back to PA, where he grew up, from CA, where he lived. Those of you who grew up country before the internet age are going to understand this exactly: your extended family extended your physical world. Country life is great, but shit. All I’ll say is for me, at age ten, my wild uncle from California was as fascinating as an entire internet and a crap ton safer.
Imagine being a kid and having the internet one week a year.
Jerry’d brought about 4 wives back, over the years, and four of my cousins, (half his yield). He was growing up with my father when some (minor/background) things happened that wound up in Cold Quiet Country, and I modeled the skeleton of Angus Hardgrave’s country life — his hard work on an oil rig and long drive back to the family farm, worked by two sons, but not his evil ways, on their father, my grandfather, Edward Clayton Lindemuth.
Jerry: big life, big stories. Curly silver hair since his forties. He talked to me like I was a man when I was a boy: Told me the joke about the two bulls on the side hill, looking at all the cows down there in the shade.
The young bull says to the old, let’s each run down there and fuck one.
The old bull snorts. Let’s walk, and fuck them all.
I loved all my uncles and they could all tell a giant story, but Jerry’s had a swagger. When a guy who’s kicked another’s guy’s ass tells a tale about it, that’s a different telling than what you’d get from a guy who was having drinks with his old lady three tables away, behind the railing.
When he came back to PA all those years I was growing up, it was always around Thanksgiving because — while telling tales to me and my cousins was worth his serious attention, he also enjoyed getting out in the woods for the first week of buck season. I hunted with him every chance I got.
Today when he pulled up in his car and got out, it was at the exact moment my Dad was coming out of the house with the keys to his side by side atv. Jerry had come to hand deliver a birthday card to my Dad, who is his junior by five years, with a sister between, and two after my Dad.
Jerry showed us on the card envelope how he’d tried to remember the address. All he’d written was the town.
We invited him along on our ride as Dad’s passenger and after about 3 miles of dirt roads (legal for atvs in Jefferson County) we arrived at a 700 acre wooded paradise owned by a big company and leased to a veterans’ organization so people who’ve served can have a place to breathe soul filling air. Most, however, come so they can hunt. Our 700 acres abuts another block of significant size, which is also posted. The place grows monster animals and few hunters are aware. MVO can always use the donations, if they’re a cause you can get behind.
And if you’re a vet and are near Western PA, they’re worth looking up: Military Veterans Outdoors.
Back to the story.
I’ve been trying to do a better job listening to the quiet voice I started thinking of as the one who cares about me — until just earlier today when I finally recognized him – and since then I’ve been calling him by name.
That small voice urged me to urge Dad to take the lead driving on the trails (he prefers me to lead, though he knows the trails as well as I do) so Jerry would have a better chance to see any wildlife that happened to be around.
When we arrived at the bottom of a two mile trail through the woods, Jerry walked back and forth at the grass by Mill Creek, saying, “I could run up and down here all day. Wow. This so cool.”
This is the Mill Creek that has been my generic name for a stream in about six novels, I think. I always figured every county in the US probably has a Mill Creek, if they have a creek at all.
“I could run up and down here all day. Wow.”
Jerry said those words at least five times, and as Dad and I were leading back toward the atvs, Jerry wandered toward a fire circle and pile of logs enchantingly partly hidden by a curtain of hemlock branches.
The location on Mill Creek was my favorite, and when we’d set out I’d figured Jerry would enjoy it.
Every time he got close to the water I kept a hand close enough to grab him.
“I could run up and down here all day. Wow. Look at that. What’s up around that bend? You see up there? Oh. I thought you were… what’ya suppose is up there?”
Like a ten year old boy.
I eventually reached my mosquito bite tolerance and then, about twenty minutes after that, as the sun was hid not only by the trees, but by the hill, we rambled up and out of the bottom, and home.
I asked Jerry, “See any game?”
“Did you see the bear?”
“He was in that clearing there, where it was grassy coming up.”
(That’s nine places.)
“Then there was another in the trees – but only real quick.”
“I didn’t see them.”
“Yeah, hell, that was neat!”
After the stories I counted 2 bear, 8 deer (1 stunner of a buck), 11 turkey, a rabbit, too many squirrel to count, and I saw half of them.
Jerry saw all of them.
That made my night. My month, probably. Maybe the memory will in time be revealed as even more precious. As I said, he seemed to be savoring every moment.
His time with the animals in the woods happened and I got to witness them – my part as co-creator of something beautiful is mine forever — because I listened to the little voice I used to call, the one who cares about me.
That little voice has never, ever let me down. I’ve ignored him a lot, as best I could in some places, but he never left me. Still keeps whispering what I should do to live righter, longer, better, and fuller.
I bet I keep ignoring him a while. Hope I don’t, but I know me.
Jesus am I glad I listened today.