So the Dead Don't Die in Vain
At this moment, I am sitting outside in my undershirt and a clean pair of jeans and white socks. I'm sitting in a chair on the front porch sipping on a cold Hamm's beer. I know that I'm coming to the end of the story that I been telling about me and Thurman's adventures since leaving Oklahoma. Truth be told, it's been a strange journey. Maybe not the strangest ever told but strange enough for me.
Jeannie just told me at dinner that she was pregnant again with our third child. Not knowing what else to say, I kissed her, rubbed her belly, and told her, "We got us a three bedroom, might as well fill 'er up. If it's girl, them boys can double up. Didn't do Thurman and me no harm."
She was beaming, "I really hope it's a girl. You boys outnumber me already."
The boys are asleep in their beds and dreaming of God only knows. I went into the back rooms to check on them before I came out here and caught Danny in Glen's room talking to his brother just like Thurman and I used to do.
Jeannie is curled up in a chair reading another damn romance book. For someone who claimed she never read before, she took to that shit like a duck takes to water. I had to build a bookcase to put in the living room to accomodate all our books.
I put the ones Mr. Jenks left me on the bottom, not because I didn't value them but because I did. I figured no one will bother them there until the boys get old enough to want to learn about that stuff. I'm gonna tell them stories about them Greeks the way that Mr. Jenks told Thurman and me where it made sense in the way that we are supposed to look at our own lives.
I think, though, that I'm going to have to quit reading so much about them things and take the advice Thurman gave me on that trip out to the place where all them men got shot down by the side of the river. Driving back into town that day, he told me, "Junior, some folks only read about them myths, but all folks live them. If you just sit on your ass out on a porch with some dusty ass book in your hand, you gonna miss the whole fucking point of all this shit."
I only laughed because I thought he was getting a little too fond of moralizing, "That's good shit coming from someone who once spent three days in motel in Sacramento to see a room where Mark Twain broke bread with General Grant."
He started to get mad and say something smart back to me, but he stopped and chuckled instead, "Don't forget about that trip to go see where Billy the Kid died."
I guess some folks might wonder why I ain't said a whole lot about them religious stories from the Christian Bible. I mean I started out telling about Thurman getting dragged in front of the altar and all, and Jenks told me that them were myths too. He said to be careful who I said that around because a Baptist, or some like 'em, might punch me in the eye for saying it.
When I asked him if that wouldn't go against what Jesus said about turning the other cheek. He just at looked at me, raised his eyebrows, and put his hands up into the air.
I think that maybe the reason why my Bible learning don't figure as much into this story was because Mr. Jenks liked talking about the Greeks, and maybe because of how I learned about the Bible. Back in Oklahoma, we spent an hour before every church service learning all the Bible stories.
Our first Sunday school teacher was a four hundred pound pig farmer and moonshiner who told us kids that we were going to burn in hell for all our sins. Our second teacher was his wife and she not only was as large as her husband, she had warts and whiskers to boot.
She kept saying over and over about us being washed in the blood. She tried to explain to us youngins that we didn't have to bathe in real blood that it was what she called 'figurtive' blood. Even then, at that young age, I could see that the blood was 'figurtive' but they didn't seem to be able to see that maybe some of the other stuff they were going on about was too. Seem they were kinda selective in their choice of what was 'figurtive' or not. Mr. Jenks, on the other hand, was happy as hell letting us know that ever little thing was.
Besides, the only sins I could think of that I was committing on a regular basis was being afraid of my daddy, which I came by honestly, and feeling that thing I felt in my belly ever time Sersie Miller walked through them church doors. I never told about Thurman that part. I didn't think that either one of them sins qualified me for any eternal roasting. Only thing was, I couldn't bring them up without admitting that I was guilty of them.
Before he got religion, Daddy would come and park outside the church, and when we got out of Sunday school, he would pick us up and drive us home, so we didn't have to listen to the sermon. I think it was the only time that Thurman and I were glad to see him. We got so used to it, that one day when he didn't show up on time, Thurm and me decided to take out anyway and hoof the five miles home. We got there just about the time and Daddy was getting ready to drive down to the church and pick mama and us up after the sermon.
When he saw us walking down the lane, he pulled his truck over and opened up the side door. When we crawled up in there, his eyes were at first full of suspicion, but after we closed the door, he chuckled. To this day, I believe it was the closest I ever come to hearing my daddy laugh.
The last week before Mr. Jenks got married, he came over and cooked a big breakfast for us, bigger than usual. He cut some tomatoes some cantaloupe, and made the orange juice fresh. He was all excited and going on about his future, and also about the fact that he had been reading these two Russian story tellers. He was bursting at the seams to tell someone what they wrote about.
Thurman liked the first one because he mentioned Napoleon, some Russian general, some battles, and the king of the Russians. The one I liked was the second. Jenks told us that that writer almost got executed by the king and was put in prison instead where he lived with some of the biggest killers, rogues and rascals in all of Russia.
Mr. Jenks got all excited and almost burned the eggs when he said that writer had come to love all them rascals and on the night before he was freed from prison had said something like, "And how much youth lay uselessly buried here within these walls, what mighty powers were wasted here in vain."
He had to explain to me and Thurman what the word "vain" meant, and he did so by comparing it to the way that Abraham Lincoln used it in one of his famous speeches. What struck me most of all was that Mr. Jenks, of all the things he had ever told us, had only taken the time to write down this one statement.
He actually had to put his wire-rimmed glasses on when he read it, and right after he sat staring off into nothing till Thurman yelled at him, "You're burning the eggs, Jenks!"
That there piece of paper was still in his pocket the day he got ran over.
He got them eggs under control and sat back down. I nibbled on some bacon, took a swig of orange juice, and said, "Damn it, Jenksie, if that don't sound like this whole dumb ass world."
He looked at me and Thurman and chuckled and that made us all laugh.