Carolina Boy

He was born in 1924. America was very different from today’s world. Today we have flying cars, laboratory-grown chicken, and a computer program called ChatGPT that will write your essay, term paper, novel, or newspaper column for you.

But in 1924, people in the country were still using corn cobs to wipe their most cherished body parts. The world moved much slower.

Calvin Coolidge was president. The White House still occasionally used horses and buggies. The Model T was still a teenager. The hit song was by George Gershwin.

The boy was born on a cold, frosty morning in the mountains of the Carolinas. He was delivered in a clapboard shack. By firelight. His mother developed maternal sepsis two weeks after he was born. She died.

He was raised by a nearby elderly farmer, and the farmer’s wife. The farmer had already raised several children, he was supposed to be retired. But sometimes God has other plans.

The boy wanted to be a writer. That was where his talents were. Words. He was good with sentences. But writers weren’t needed in such an era. A Great Depression was on. People were starving. A farming family was doing good just to stay alive. Who needs words and sentences?

America did not need words. Politicians gave the world plenty of words. Soon, America was at war, and what Uncle Sam needed was soldiers with strong lumbar muscles. So that’s what he did with his life.

He was tall for his age, so he enlisted. He told the recruiters he was 18, although he was 16. They knew he was lying, of course. Namely, because he was so skinny he would have had to stand up ten times just to make a shadow. But this was war.

He was in basic training when he met a woman at a USO dance. She was beautiful and young. He asked her to dance, but she was unable because she was blind drunk at the time. Someone had spiked her punch.

It was her first time being drunk. And probably her last. He carried her home that evening. And when she vomited in the ditch, he held her hair behind her head.

“You look real nice in your uniform,” said the intoxicated young lovely, slurring her words.

“Thank you,” replied our hero.

“Sorry I got puke all over your nice uniform.”

“I’m not.”

He delivered her to her father’s house. They became lovers. The boy and girl. And before he left for war, they married. Her parents were against the union.

But sometimes God has other plans.

He was good with his hands. He became an Army mechanic. He worked on M4 Tanks, on M3A1s, Dodge WC-54s, BRC-40, Ford GPs, M3 half tracks. You name it.

One day, he was in Italy, working on a fleet of GPs, when a letter came through. “I’m pregnant” the letter began.

He remembered exactly where he was at the time his child was born. He was under enemy fire. Shells were exploding around him. People were dying. And he had been convinced he would die, too. That’s where he was.

And when he got home, the young man held his baby for the very first time and he wept.

He led a pretty sedate life after that. He had two more kids. He coached Little League. He took the family on Sunday drives. He changed his own oil and polished the engines of his Chevys. He became a mechanic. And a lay preacher at a mountain Baptist church.

It was the kind of church with a few pews and piano that hadn’t played in tune since Oriville Wright was still building airplanes. It was only a side gig.

He preached his sermons with axel grease beneath his fingernails. He wore the same crumpled suit every Sunday.

When he died, his funeral was well attended. Mostly, by family members of the ones he had married and buried. His stone sits in a nondescript North Carolinian cemetery.

I saw an elderly woman standing before a gravemarker while i was touring the graveyard. She was placing flowers on the stone.

“Was he someone you knew?” I asked.

“He was my father,” she said with a pained smile. Then she told me all about him. “He always wanted to be a writer,” she explained.

But, as I say, sometimes God has other plans.


1 comment

  1. Richard Owen - June 24, 2023 5:32 pm

    Sad and uplifting at the same time. Nicely done, Sean.


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