THE JOURNEY

Mid-August in Alabama is about as hot as hell’s back kitchen, or at least that’s what folks like to say. It was just me and ma making do as best we could since my pa got himself killed in some place called Vietnam. I don’t recall much about the day we got the news. Couple of soldiers in fancy uniforms came to the door and mama started wailing like she was being skinned alive. Ma never really got over that. Some folks said she went plum crazy that day. She’d sit on the porch in that rickety old rocking chair staring straight ahead, just mumbling to herself and fidgeting with pa’s dog tags like they was rosary beads.

I sorta became invisible to ma so I started spending my time down by the watering hole mostly swimming and fishing so we’d have something to eat. I went hunting one day, surprising ma with a rabbit and we cooked it up for dinner. Ma hugged me tight and put pa’s dog tags around my head. Next morning I found her hanging in the barn and started screaming till the neighbors came running. That’s when I began living with the Jenkins Family. I was six years old. 

The Jenkins’ was good hard-working farm folk and they treated me real fine. They had a truckload of kids – six boys and two girls but they didn’t think twice about taking me in. Ma Jenkins always said “What’s one more mouth to feed?”

At first the days moved slow as molasses in February. I knew right quick that farming wasn’t for me but I did my share every day. When I was about fifteen or so Ma Jenkins said I sprouted into a handsome devil, the spitting image of my pa. Right about the same time I started taking up with Nell Jenkins. Two years older than me, she was all legs, boobs and big sky blue eyes. We made love every night and she taught me stuff I didn’t think was possible. Somehow we never got caught. We was crazy for each other but I wasn’t looking to get hitched. I knew if I didn’t get off that Alabama farm I’d die there. One night while Nell slept I placed my pa’s dog tags on her pillow and slipped out. I was 19 years old.  

I got me a job as a long distance trucker; hard as it was it beat the hell outta farming. Shit! I been trucking for 16 years. I’m 35 years old and dog tired. I been thinking a lot about Alabama lately, maybe getting a job in a hardware store. A few days later I quit and went back to where it all began.

Wiley’s Diner was still there. I went in and sat at the counter. A girl appeared from the kitchen and asked what I’d like. “Coffee, please” I said and found myself staring into big sky blue eyes. She was a pretty little thing and my heart skipped a beat. Around her neck hung dog tags and I knew. Lord Jesus! This is my baby girl! I asked if her ma’s name was Nell and she smiled, saying “Yes. Do you know her?” I said I did a long time ago. I don’t know what possessed me but I scribbled down my name and number, asking her to kindly give it to her ma. She said she surely would.  Choking up a bit I said goodbye to my daughter.

Dear God – after so many years and thousands of miles Nell just might forgive me.

NAR © 2019

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