Monday, March 21, 2011

And we're back....

Today's post has two parts: 1. A riddle--first the rule--no using the internet to look up answers, and please post when you figure it out.

There's something special about the names of these nine states: Maine, Vermont, New York, Iowa, Florida, Texas, Utah, Idaho and Wyoming. What do they have in common?

2. Below is an old history (no fiction in it) that I started writing several years ago in Culpeper. I wasn't too pleased with the result and forgot about it. Still not my favorite piece of work, but here it is anyway...

love you all,



I camped out in a hurricane once. Since it was in Korea, I guess it was a typhoon, or almost a typhoon. Winds have to reach 74 miles an hour to be considered a typhoon. According to the Osan Air Force weatherman, Irving and Janis hitting one after the other topped out at a reported wind speed of 72 mph. One week of battering winds and rain--I don't think I could tell the difference in two miles an hour of speed.

My one year job as third grade teacher in Georgetown Idaho had come to an end and I was looking for employment. The Idaho National Guard sent me to Korea as part of Foal Eagle. I was excited since I loved the country, would get to speak the language again, see people, and come back home in only two weeks. The second night sleeping in the rusted tin shack we called home, it began to rain--sideways. The huts leaked everywhere. Wind whipped through and tin rattled, but it kept the worst of the storm off of us. Briefings, interrogations, and guard duty continued as if the weather was normal. Word that a second tropical storm--much worse--was going to hit us changed as Janis passed us to the south and hit China. Keep the exercise running.

During my guard duty at night rain began whipping with an intensity that stung and penetrated completely through even the rubber suit I was wearing. I leaned into the wind to stay standing and made my way forward till I was able to wrap my arms around a small tree. The only thing my M16 was good for was counterweight. I was afraid to let go of it for even an instant. I could barley see my hands. Power lines snapped and whipped in the wind. Trees fell. Guard duty seemed to last forever.

Afterward make your way back in, change clothes, eat, sleep, try to interrogate someone who looks as wet and miserable as you are--Try a soft approach: otoke towadurilsu issumnikka? …Anything I can do to help you? "Apparently not. You're as @#&$'n wet as I am."

So much for the Sergeant Santa Claus method. At least he gets to be locked up in a hut when he isn't talking to me, I think as I fight my way back out to stand guard by hugging trees next to the road. Guard against what? Anyone who is crazy enough to be out in this weather deserves to be able to do whatever he wants. You never really got dry in between shifts. It's pretty bad when you start envying prisoners.

Interrogation was an exercise in keeping paper dry enough to use--never mind yourself or the prisoner. Magic markers on plastic protective sheets turned out to be the answer to that one. Forget the paper--that was in there just to provide a wet white background to the plastic. Nothing was getting reported right away either. Phones were down; radio didn't work. There were no communications with command. We didn't know it, but Janis had turned north east after hitting China and come straight back at us.

Days later the storm cleared. Dead power lines, downed branches, tin, and trees lay scattered everywhere. A nearby diesel tank had leaked five hundred gallons of fuel. No one was injured. Radio signal picked up again. We received orders to clear out and report to a shelter since field conditions were no longer safe. We spent the rest of the week on R and R: sleeping in an auditorium full of hundreds of soldiers and free to roam the country during the day. Typical isn't it? Weather the storm in the rough, and then come in for shelter once the sun comes shining through.

I came back from Korea with a family storm left for us to deal with. I still had no job to support our five children. Jeanne had been staying at home to care for them and was often in bed sick herself. We packed and used the money from the Korea trip to rent a Ryder Truck. We were moving in with my parents in West Virginia. Fortunately my parents had a big house--not fancy, just big. I began applying for jobs and ended up as a long term substitute teacher for middle and high school students with behavioral disabilities.

The kids were delinquents. Still, you had to like them. They had storms in their lives and passed them on to everyone they came in contact with. Mike’s storms were particularly violent—and interesting. The kid was brilliant. Mike was no longer allowed to even get his own food from the cafeteria even with escort, after seeing the principal in a new suit and coating him head to toe with a tray of spaghetti. “It was worth it.” Mike says with a malicious smile.

One Monday, Mike pulled out two 30 06 shells and began banging them together with the one of the ends pointed at himself and the other at his best friend Jason. “I just wanted to see what would happen.” he said as I snatched the shells and sent him off to solitary detention.

Four days later Mike had done none of his assignments, but cussed everyone who opened the door and had picked the locks on all the cabinets in the room as well as taking apart the copier. He’d also spent time face down on the floor with a teacher laying on him after he started swinging. On Friday, Mike decided he wanted to get out. He changed to all smiles and niceness. Between 8:30 and 11:00, he completed all of his required work for the week—Algebra, History, Health, English, Social Skills. Lowest grade—an A.

Later that year, we went on a field trip to the maximum security penitentiary in Moundsville. I don’t see any real benefit in scared straight experiences, but know others do. Mike was the only kid who was assigned his own personal bodyguard while in prison.

We were all warned about the penalties for taking sharp objects, pins, knives, ear rings, fire arms, cash, chewing gum, drugs, or alcohol into the prison. You can see it coming can’t you? We put our hands on a brick wall and spread our legs for a pat down. Everyone came up clean.

Just wait…

Two minutes after entering the gates, Mike, a short skinny white kid, leans over to Jason and shows him the twenty he palmed up against the wall to get through the search. A big black man, one of the prisoners walking with our group, snatched his hand out and grabbed the folded up bill handing it straight to an officer. Mike hardly blinked.

Gary, the prisoner who had taken Mike’s bill, stepped up next to Mike, put his arm around him and said in a very quite voice, “I killed seven people with a knife.”

Mike became respectfully silent for the first time in anyone’s memory.

Gary stayed with Mike for the next two hours—never left his side. He told him that he hadn’t killed them all at once—it had been one or two at a time over a number of years and most of it had been over drugs. He said Mike reminded him a lot of himself when he was young. He had found God in prison, but would never get out. Gary didn’t want Mike to end up like him. Mike’s subdued seriousness lasted until the school bus pulled out of the prison. Then he was right back to the same old Mike.

I have no idea what happened to Mike as he grew up. I’ve often wondered. I’m glad I don’t have storms like Mike and Gary’s, but that doesn’t mean I always like the ones I have.

Another storm struck our family in October that year. My sister Roxanna was hit by a truck crossing the street in New York. Like the storm in Korea, it was unexpected, painful, and it helped to have each other to hang on to. If we’d still been in Idaho, we wouldn’t have had that comfort. Sometimes the experiences one storm are preparation to help you endure the next one better.

1 comment:

  1. Hmm... why does the blog think this was posted on Monday rather than Weds afternoon????