Old white men

Two days after Christmas I drove my Dad’s aging pickup out south of town and turned down a gravel back road, hoping I would catch the old man home. His given name was Ezekial, a veteran of World War I. But it seemed as if half of my old friends from back in the pool hall were called by something other than their real names. Everyone called him Satch, a name he gained in the army.

It is unusual I suppose for a 17-year-old kid to have mostly friends that were three or four times his age. It’s the way I grew up though, in that pool hall, when I was 12 or 13 years old. Satch was one of them, and as long as I can remember he had let dad drive down through his gate and across his farm to the banks of the Piney to put in our boat and fish and hunt.

For six months or so I had been away to School of the Ozarks College, and it wouldn’t have taken much to get me to quit and come home. I missed the river. But that day it was sunny and warming, and the wind was calm, so I decided I would go hunting down in the bottoms. Satch was home and he came limping out of his house to greet me with a big smile. He wanted to know how I liked going to college and I told him that it was too much work and too much pressure for a free spirit like me. I told him I might never catch a bass or catfish or goggle-eye, ever again, because all they had down there was trout. He said he knew about trout, he’d caught them before.

“Never did catch a big un though,” he said. “If punkinseeds just growed a few inches longer and was skinnier, I reckon they’d pretty much be the same fish except fer the eatin’. I’d druther eat a hog-molly than a trout.”

“I thought about goin’ down to the river to see if there’s any ducks to sneak up on,” I told my old friend. “Or I might shoot a squirrel if I see one.”

“Shore enough,” he said, “and if you would clean one and skin it, I’d shore be tickled to have a young fox-squirrel – but don’t cut off his head like you kids is prone to do.”

“Did you have a good Christmas dinner, Satch?” I asked.

“Oh my yes,” he grinned, “Et so much I couldn’t hardly walk home! Went to Nellie Elkins place on Indian Creek, down the road apiece. Her kids fixed it all up. They’s all home from the city an’ that ol’ lady was as happy an’ proud as a white duck.”

Then I asked him if his daughter had come back from California and his face fell a little.

“No sir,” he said, “but she sent me a bunch of presents and such. An’ your pop came by and give me the best lookin’ pipe you ever have seen. What a surprise that was.”

He reached in his over-all pocket just below his chin and pulled it out for me to see.

Dad never had much money to spend, but he never forgot several of the old guys we knew who had done special favors for our family or Grandpa and Grandma, at Christmas time.

“My daughter sent me a blanket, I reckon you’d call it,” he declared. “In the evenin’ I build up a good fire in the stove an’ lay down on the couch an’ cover up with it whilst I watch television a mite. It says Californy on it an’ has pretty pitchers painted on it. Wanna see it?”

Satch didn’t wait for my answer, he just headed for the door asking as he went if I would come in for coffee. Well I had hunting to do, but I went in for coffee, and watched him retrieve a brightly colored beach towel and hold it up high enough that it stretched from his boots to the bill of his cap. The coffee was old and lukewarm and awful tasting. The beach towel was beginning to get a little wrinkled.

“That’s no blanket, Satch,” I told him, wishing I could poor that coffee through a crack in the floor, “It’s what them folks around the ocean call a beach towel. But I reckon it can be used as a blanket too.”

Satch looked puzzled.

“I don’t much need a towel this big,” he said, “little as I’ve gotten as I get older. ‘Sides that I won’t be takin’ another bath ’til near about the middle of March.

“Well it is a mighty fine and pretty Christmas gift, Satch,” I said, wanting to see him happy with something sent by his daughter, “and don’t forget that when you do take a bath you can use it as a towel, too.”

He looked puzzled for a minute, then lifted it high above his head again to gaze at it, big and brightly colored.

“You know something boy,” he said to me. “I’d druther use it fer a blanket, ’cause when I take a bath, I don’t hardly never get that wet!”

I brought Satch two fox squirrels that evening just after Christmas, many years ago, with the heads left on so he could crack open the skull and eat the brains. I never saw him again after that memorable day. But his grave is up not far from grandma and grandpa’s final resting place at the old cemetery close to Simmons, where the Piney still flows a little ways to the west. In a short time, before I even finished college, most of those old-timers that were my childhood friends were gone. But I thought about them, just the other day when some moron posted something on that facebook thingamajig, saying that this latest election shows the effects of “fearful old white men.” That made my blood boil. I answered her.

“I wonder what old white men you are talking about, the old white men who defeated Hitler, the ones who were at Pearl Harbor, the ones who fought the Koreans and Chinese. Are you thinking of those who flew aircraft from flat-decked ships, those who drove the tanks, those who took the Pacific islands yard by yard? Maybe you are talking about old men who gave the best of their youth to a struggle in Viet Nam. Fearful old white men!!! What is fearful about them? And as for you and your friends, disgruntled liberals who have done so little with your lives, I hope you and your kind aren’t allowed in the cemeteries where Satch and old men like him lie. You would dishonor sacred ground.”

To all you “fearful old white men” and all others who still keep our nation great with old-fashioned convictions and beliefs, God bless you. And Merry Christmas!

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