April 29, 2015
The Great Depression. We lived on a farm outside Brighton. We had zero money. My mom, she growed a huge garden and we et off that and we canned stuff for the winters. And we butchered hogs and cattle.
There was a colored family lived in a shack across the road from us. We was poor, they was destitute. And my dad, he said we got to take care of folks in need. So we’d take vegetables and meat to that family—Joe Clark was the colored man’s name, how in the hell do I remember that—and Joe, he worked with my dad. And Dad give him gas for his tractor.
I don’t get the racism I read about and see firsthand. You treat a fella like you’d like to be treated—period. Ferguson—the riots after that black kid got shot. What does the world expect? Instead of offerin’ support, them towns, white people, hire cops to keep the poor people caged. You reap what you sow.
When I was sixteen, I and another guy would drive a flatbed truck up to Chicago, load it with liquor and cigarettes from one place and cases of Budweiser from another. In them days, early fifties, you just put a tarp over the load and drove back.
And gangs on the lookout along Route 66 would know you was haulin’ booze, and they’d hijack trucks. My partner kept a shotgun between his knees. We didn’t ever need it. And we’d deliver the load to a liquor store across from Wedge Bank. I can’t remember the name.
That fall, my dad walked into our barn, sat on a hay bale and shot hisself dead with a .12 gauge. I was the one found him. And a decade later, his oldest brother done the same thing—took his life with a shotgun. I got Dad’s shotgun in my closet. I don’t know.
I served in the army, in Korea. I saw things. I was in a foxhole, hunkered down while them Korean rockets came flyin’. Three guys in the next hole, they were joking around when this rocket—they made strange, kinda wobbly sounds—took the standin’ guy’s head off and blew up, and that foxhole was blood and flesh. I see it ever’ night I lay in bed.
Yeah, I got a bunch medals, a Bronze Star for valor and some other stuff. I never in my life showed valor. I put the medals—they was attached to my uniform—in the basement and never talked about it. My daughter found them a few months ago: “Dad, you were a hero!” Shit.
I ain’t never kowtowed to nobody. It’s got me in trouble. My dad’s baby brother Uncle Bing, he had money; he also had attitude. You bowed to him for any little thing. He’s hold court in a diner and hand out bills if you kissed his fat ass. Me and my brother, we weren’t suited for bowing. So ol’ Bing, he hated us.
When that son of a bitch died, both me and my brother got a letter from his lawyer. “Dear Mr. Grayson, your uncle specifically requested that I contact you. He states that you and your brother were ungrateful, bad men and are therefore not mentioned in his will.” So Bing, that asshole, he got off a shot from the grave. The lawyer, he called me and said he was sorry, but he had to follow my uncle’s instructions.
The wife, she lives in a nursin’ home. She could be with me, but she stopped livin’. She sat in the living room and waited. Stopped usin’ the toilet, cleanin’. I couldn’t take care of her. She sits in her room at the home, don’t read, don’t watch TV, don’t talk to people.
What I can’t remember now out outweighs what I can. I am eighty-seven, had several strokes and a heart attack and colon cancer, got diabetes. My doctor tells me I am a miracle. I sure as hell don’t feel like no goddamn miracle.
I have done bad things in my life. I may have caroused and cut up once upon a time, may have been a fightin’ son of a bitch. I ain’t confessing, I’m just bein’ honest.
But I was a good man, I’d say.