They picked up a depressed and homesick Joe upon an Alabama Highway.. Their names, Robert and Gail Blount: A God loving family whom lived above Bainbridge, Georgia; they were down to earth, third generation farming people who lived with the land–along side nature.
Joe soon began to act like he was a grown man, telling them of his travels and such, but they saw the truth with their hearts: a young boy who thought he was a man and decided to offer their love. They did not ask questions–just provided something which could not be bought nor traded for…
“Listen, you look like you could use some home cooking and some sleep. We’re on our way to Tallahasse, Florida, we’ll be gone for two days. We’ll drive you to town and you can stay with a friend till we get back. Your welcome to stay with us until you get on your feet. Here is our address.
It was an offer Joe could not refuse…
The house stood crooked within a pocket of green pines: a weathered shack, built upon four red squares of crumbling brick, with rusty metal sheathing for a roof, and an awkward brick chimney protruding through it at several angles—it brought to mind a picture combining The Cat In The House, Daniel Boone, and a mountain cabin in West Tennessee.
‘Could this be the right place?” He thought as he cautiously mounted two moaning stairs onto a crooked porch and grasped an empty screen door. Ripped and torn metal screen, remnants of the one that had once been placed to bar the horde of flies which buzzed around like so many miniature sawmills, rasped against his hand as he opened it to knock on the front door. Through cracks in the door’s hand hewn boards, he could see Gail Blount as she hurried about straightening the front room. He was looking down at himself, tucking in his shirt, when the door opened.
“You found the place!” She said with a smile that made the place seem a mansion.
“Yes ma’am, it wasn’t any problem.” He answered her as he shuffled his way inside.
She closed the door and asked him to take a seat. He sat down and looked around as they talked.
Just four rooms divided by simple, flimsy walls of weathered boards nailed to rough two by fours made up it’s interior. You could jump and grab onto any wall, pull your self up, and view the next room. There was no interior ceiling; only the bright metal of a tin roof rested above their heads. The “living room”, with it’s quilt covered bed, rocking chair, old dresser draws, shot guns, deer antlers, various animal pelts —squirrel, rabbit and possum— lining the walls, and a large cross brought to mind the main room of a wilderness cabin rather then a family room. The entrance to the kitchen revealed a wood stove, shelves lined with preservatives, and a hand made table. Two off setting rooms were primitive bedrooms for four young children. There was no out house, and water was drawn from a “dry well” that collected rain water! He was amazed to say the least…
“Are you hungry?” Gail interrupted.
Before he could reply, she arose from the squeaking wood rocker and walked into the kitchen to prepare a sandwich of homemade bread and venison..
After several days stay, he realized it was a tremendous love and belief in God that motivated these simple folk—it was awesome: they blessed God every day for their lives and were joyous even though their lives required so much sacrifice. They were not caught up in a world of greed or denial, on the contrary, they found joy in the family, and lived for it! He new he had been rescued through God. He knew he would enjoy this brief interlude from the harsh life he had been born to— he also realized this was to be a learning experience .
Gail’s husband, Robert, worked at a local dairy where the pay was small and the work hard. With six mouths to feed, he also grew vegetables on a small plot of the rich, black soil that bordered the house and hunted when ever he could. On his days off, Robert began taking Joe with him to hunt the small game that dressed their dining table. As they stalked rabbits and squirrels among the pine forests and hay fields of the surrounding land, he would tell stories of the Big Hunt “that was right around the corner”.
“It is a time for all woodsmen of the county to assemble deep in the timberlands and celebrate manhood. It don’t make no difference no how whether your rich, poor, a gas station attendant or business owner, everyone shares in the chores and joys of the
hunt; pretense and boast are lost among facts of courage and tests of will.”
As Robert told the tale of the hunt, visions of a blazing camp fire, crackling with sound and light, reflecting men seated ’round, bedecked in fringed buck-skin with coon-skin caps, gleaming long barreled rifles and long, sharp, bowie knives tucked deep in belts of woven rawhide, shot through his mind, eclipsing all other thoughts and matters. If only he could…
After several weeks, Robert secured Joe a part time job cleaning the milking stalls at the dairy. Joe then purchased a .410 shotgun with his first two pay-checks and Robert taught him how use, take care, and respect it. The first squirrel he shot, skinned–preparing his own brew to rid it’s gaminess–and cooked, made him feel manly proud. As the big weekend approached, he began to boast of his hunting prowess more and more in his intention to be invited. A fatherless boy in the company of down home fathers, he desperately wanted to be part of the experience. He also wanted to be a man… but Robert acted aloof and unaware.
The night before Robert was to set out he called him on the porch. Expecting an apology from Robert, and a promise of next time, he was astonished when in stoic candor, Robert informed him he was invited along!
Wow, was all he could say when they arrived at the camp site their first evening. Several three sided, open front, log structures faced a cleared, clay earth patch. Hunters with their dogs milled about, some attending to various chores, others cleaning and preparing a large buck strung from a tree. Everywhere he looked there was movement and preparation.
Robert parked the car and he jumped out and began unloading their stock of supplies—canned goods, dry clothing, bed rolls, fire arms, ammunition, and dog food. A bearded, red capped, old sage of the woodlands suddenly appeared and began assisting him with a “Welcome Little Man! I’ll show you where you’ll bunk!” greeting. After they stored the supplies, he assigned to him the camp chore of gathering firewood.
He was in awe as he tramped through the dense and sweet foliage of a brushed and muted forest, splashed with reds, browns, and the deep, golden colors of falling Autumn leaves, gathering old, caste off branches. On his way back to camp, with pieces of dried, moss specked timber crowding his arms, he stopped to gaze at the pink and purple setting sky–a part of the canvass of life.
By the time he had reached the camp, a fire was snapping and cracking to life and a sliver of moon was poking a gentle path through a sea of jet black. Owl hoots, rustling branches, and departing whip-o-will soon joined in chorus with the soft, soothing, sound of a harmonica’s persuasive language.
The old sage sat upon a sun-bleached stump of oak, a brown jug at his feet, his whole being immersed, as he brought to life the small, metallic object he held with reverence. His eyes caught his, he stopped, winked, took a shot of the jug, then set his lips dancing with glee, scurrying back and forth across his instrument with foot stomping, hand clapping, robust energy. His wailing, rustic tempo was soon accompanied by loud and boisterous whooping and clapping which drownied all other sounds in a sea of electrified, foot stomping men.
After expending enough energy to light up New York City for several days, everyone snatched a dented, silvery plate and shoveled upon them huge amounts of lip-smacking butter beans, crunchy hard drop biscuits, and delicious venison stew. Grabbing a cup of steaming, strong black coffee, each person found a place to enjoy their meal in peace.
When everyone had had as many servings as a body could hold, the clean up was shared by all. Robert and he took care of the dogs and the camp buzzed with activity. When all was clean, fresh coffee was set on a grate over the fire, and they retired in a circle around the camp fire.
A mingling of dressed game, coon dogs, and hickory smoke swept the nights crisp air; blanketing the men arrayed around the roaring camp fire. With laced, leathered boots, tan khaki pants, red and black plaid shirts, and an armory of trusty, long barreled rifles by their sides, the seasoned hunters began exchanging stories of the kill.
From large, enraged moose, to rancid, snorting, wild boar, the stories of the hunt were as varied as the cracks and creases which swept across fire redden faces like dry, washed out stream beds of ageless lands. Enthralled, he sat with in this circle of male bonding, on the rich, Georgia, red clay, sharing in each man’s turn of historical oration as the hound dog’s bay cried for attention to fact and detail; for the dog vowed to the hunter his eyes, ears and very heart, and as such, vied for a spot as each masters voice was heard.
The old sage nudged Robert, pointed to a man–who had been described as the camp jester–and winked at him before he spoke: “Hey Jack! You remember’ that there twelve pointer ya got last year,” he rambled off, as he made a point of taking a long swig from a brown, ceramic jug.
“Ya’ll mighty sure hogging that there stuff. Give me that jug an’ I’ll tell ya the story.” Jack replied, tobacco juice streaming from his mouth with the quickness of a rattlers bite to explode in the fire with a loud swish.
Splashing loudly, the jug was handed to Jack. He grabbed it with one finger, deftly flipped the container into the crook of his bent arm, and, in one motion, drained a fourth of the contents. With a loud belch, he once again began his tale:
“There I was, that there 30/06 six cradled in…”
“What gun was that?” A voice pleaded.
Jack took another swig, roughly wiped his mouth with a red rag, then continued.
“That there 30/06 cradled in this here arm.” He said pointing to the stock polished, gleaming, blued black barreled rifle resting on his knees. “Hiddn’ in a stan’ of oak…”
“Where were you hiding?” Another voice chirped.
Jack gulped another large, hearty swig, and transferred the jug to his other callused hand before resuming his story.
“There I was, “Hiddn’ in a stand of oak with Ol’ Red resting in the grass…” “Waoo. Woof, Woof, Woof. Waoo.” A dog barked like he treed a forest of game.
“Giv’ me another sip o’ that stuff.” He demanded, squinting through red, bloodshot eyes for the jug he held tightly in his own hand! “Giv’ me…” Pop! He hit his mouth against the jug. Taking another swallow he continued, “so…ike I was sayin…th…were stanin in…the lake…with’ Ol’ Re …” “Waoo. Woof, woof, woof. Waoo.” The dog joined in again interrupting Jack.
“Heh, gim… anothe…of……..dat………..” And Jack teetered over on his side as his dog bayed and howled into the night.
Everyone was rolling on the ground, sewing stitches of laughter as Jack snored in musical tune to Ol’ Red’s deafening cadence.
As Jack ripped his logs— drowned in two hundred proof moonshine— the circle of fables, tales, and truths rounded to him.
“What do you hunt in New York?” A voice asked him.
Not wanting to be the party pooper, he wracked his brain for an animal that lived in New York and hadn’t been discussed by these genuine hunters of lore.
‘A deer! No. Joe, the old fellow with the white beard and Budwiser cap said he “bagged” a large one last year.’
‘A bear? No, Henry, a small, squat football coach—the only one with overalls— spoke of the grizzly he skinned in Alaska.’
‘A moose? No, John, the Deacon wearing the waterproof boots, told the story of the dangerous animal he had stalked for three days.’
He was running out of animals and the group was waiting for his answer.
Bing! A light went off. He had it. Why no one even mentioned it…..
“We hunt veal!” He shouted with glee as he sat with his chest puffed out.
“You hunt what?” Robert asked, scratching his head like he wasn’t sure what he heard.
“Veal.” He said again. “You know veal, the kind you bread and fry!”
The guys looked at one another in confusion.
Wow, he thought to himself. They don’t know what veal is!
“Hey, you know veal is cow?” The old sage cut.
“Uh..Yea! I know… I know what veal is.” He stuttered as a glowing, warm feeling traveled from his toes to his head. “We hunt cow!”
Joe wasn’t pressed for details. Either they did not want to know how an Italian hunted cows on someone’s farm or they knew that he was fibbing and accorded him great honor and dignity by glassing over what had obviously been apprehension and desire to be a man among men. Joe would say emphatically it was the latter, for over the next three days, he was taught lessons of stealth, tracking, emergency survival, and how to interact with men. He learned that the killing of animals was not for sport alone; that every animal bagged was utilized. He learned that drinking caused one to become a clown: laughed at by all. He learned that one does not have to boast of accomplishment to belong–for when it was discovered he was a green horn, the entire group pushed and shoved each other in their haste to show him the ropes. Those men were proud of their knowledge and gained joy in sharing it. Yes, Joe learned much that summer and fall in the redlands of South Georgia: how to laugh, how to see, how to hear, how to feel, but most of all, his first true lesson of being a man…
Harry, one of the after effects of this sudden experience with love and care was that Joe became was confused by his feelings. It was difficult. Not what he had been used to! Had he found a permanent father figure? He was caught up in a triangle of feelings: self-deception; revenge; love. Robert was like a father. Gail was like a mother. What of his mother? What of his father? What of all of those wise guys he swore to get revenge on? “What is love?” He plead one night as he gazed at stars blooming in a glorious burst of twinkling…
That is when he met Ginny…
Harry, Joe met Ginny at Fords Dairy where Robert had secured his job. A modern Romeo and Juliet, she was a Protestant, English-American daughter of a well to do family — employed by her uncle as a part-time cow-girl herding cattle for their daily milking– and he, a 13 year old runaway, Catholic, Italian-American pauper of a deceased gangste– employed cleaning the walls of the milking stalls. They were complete opposites attracted by the same GOD. Unchecked by the words racism, bigotry or class, they remained entranced with one another for several weeks as they explored through their clear, unfettered eyes, and uncompromising hearts, GOD’S realm of beauty. Their ignorance became their wall of confidence, held firmly in place by a mortar of innocence–though only until rudely breached and demolished by a storm of prejudice.
A few years older than he, Ginny and he hit it off together immediately. As he told her his sad stories, she listened with understanding. As he shouted with the fury of a lonely, fatherless boy, abused, embarrassed, left to journey the land in search of answers, she provided faith in GOD. When he spouted anger at his perceived torment, she returned love to his heart. He had expected shock and horror at the revelations concerning the degradation of his family and his past… instead, he received compassion. His fears of discovery–which caused his own secrecy and denial–were vanquished by truth! Through her compassion he was cleansed of all grievances, he had peace, and his heart became open once more to the possibilities of life.
Soon, he was riding with her every day. She became his resource to what was but a trickle of happiness and normalcy thus far in his life. His greatest thoughts were thoughts of the moment. No father had played ball with him. No mother had quelled his despair and raging bitterness. He did not have friends with which to hash out life’s differences. So… Those tranquil moments in time became the essence of what he deemed to be but a fragment of TRUE reality waiting to thrust itself upon him. He therefore cherished each romp through the still, green pastures, sparkling with dew. Those resplendent, tiny, delicate mirrors, that brought forth each mornings dawn bursting into view; illuminating their days like none other before. Lost for hours in the cool, rich breeze of that falls ageless beauty, he knew that God was there upon a great, white, magnificent stallion, guiding them through His beauty of nature: serene and quite, yet loud and imposing–boasting with colors, fragrances and life.
‘Was it love of her…or was it His nature, brimming to overflow with truly magnificent powers of healing, that made him feel this way?’ He would soon conclude that it was God, and God’s love, multiplied through Ginny and His nature. Yes, he was learning truth; he was feeling HIS power every day: He that created this abundance of beauty in nature held the supreme powers of cure.
After a short three weeks, it seemed the Curse took effect–again. Ginny’s parents were informed of their innocent relationship; with speed of recoil upon touching a bare hand on a hot stove, Ginny was sent to a boarding school—his job was at an end. He never saw her again. He was never afforded the opportunity to thank her for her gifts of Faith and GOD.
But, Harry, it was not a disaster; for among the tattered remnants of their journey, sifted through untold ages of uncompromise, fear, and misunderstanding, memories of that brief moment in time, when the joy of innocence and compassion were discovered in the presence of GOD’S peace and love, would remain etched indelibly, forever, into his very being. It’s seeds would begin to bloom, with out interruption–most often during his most trying times when the world convulsed with hate and denial–into fundamental feelings of understanding, love and faith. Yes, Harry, it was thoughts of her that would bring back those feelings of love. He would often wonder if Ginny continued to carry as her badge of courage or had secreted it in a compartment in her heart, the same goodness and understanding she had when he met her. He wondered if she would forever roam this earth in quest of that time, when two innocent youths met upon a minute portion of the Lords magnificent creation of earth, and discovered through HIM, the meaning of love– or would she remain satisfied, as he, that their brief meeting and ending was a planned encounter that became in essence, their beginnings….
Harry, those beginnings were a wealth of future vision of his predicament: He was sure his mother loved him, even if he had opposing thoughts running amuck within his subconscious mind–And there was nothing wrong with finding others whom would provide cure and care in times of need. A relationship–innocent he would admit–of young love, had swept him along a journey filled with compassion and joy. The truth of Aggie, waiting patiently for him in New York, overcame his emotions. Soon, he was prepared to journey once more back to his roots. All thoughts of revenge were vanquished by his new understanding of GOD. And then–as which happens when ever Satan sees the power of GOD at work and decides to throw a monkey wrench into the cogs of the wheel–an event occurred which would temporarily end his vision…
Robert was transferred to the night shift and Gail, sadly viewing the ending of Joe’s joyful relationship, stepped in to offer her sympathy. The next thing he knew, her sympathy turned to emotion, she called Ginny’s parents! That night, Robert came home early and he and Gail got into an argument about the posibility of her costing him his job if Ginny’s parents got involved further. The next thing Joe knew, Robert was smacking her around. This turn of events brought back memories of the abuse prevalent in Joe’s home. The memory of such an episode flashed before his eyes…
Joe’s father had arrived home from one of his “business” trips. It was about five A.M. and he was awakened by a fierce argument that reverberated through out the house. A slap led to a slap, and then all heck broke loose. He could hear the moaning of his mother and the angry voice of father as he hit her. “Don’t you ever lay a hand on me,” he shouted as he smacked her around. The next day, his mother was bruised and in a terrible temper. She asked him to throw the garbage out before he went to school. He hesitated for a moment because he wanted to ask her if she was all right. She turned around and demanded if he had heard her. He was in the process of answering when she grabbed him and hit him so hard, he was violently thrust into the window sill–head first. The blow resulted in a a huge, black and blue eye. He was in terrible physical pain, but the emotional pain far exceeded it. She started to scream… “Oh my God, what will your father say… you gotto tell him it was an accident…”
Jeanettes fear of Joe-Pep was greater than her fear of the consequences to Joe’s feelings and emotions. He knew she was sorry, but her fear and anxiety of his father’s repercussions to her actions overruled any other thought. He never understood the violence; though he would cring at the thought, he believed all men did it… that it was a part of a relationship… All through that next week, he made excuse upon excuse as to the origins of his bruise… until it became fact!.
…Joe jumped out of his bed and grabbed the unloaded .410 of the wall, rushed into the front room, and pulled the hammer back…
“You leave her alone or I’ll blow your brains out.” He screamed before he in fact realized what he had done…
He stood there, feet spread apart, sighting down the barrel of the shotgun. Robert had dropped to his knees and was begging for mercy. He did not know what to do. He just stood there asking himself in his thought … ‘Oh my God, what am I doing!’
The damage had been done. What reason, excuse or fact could he give him? His thoughts were once again thrust into reality. He looked up to Robert. Robert in fact invited Joe to live with him. Robert had in fact done so with charity. He felt he had repaid him with transgression upon his hospitality. He felt the burden of fault heavy upon his heart.
…Clicking the hammer loudly back into it’s neutral position, he showed him it was empty. He then began yelling with emotion…”You shouldn’t be hitting her. She is like my mother!”
Handing the gun to Robert, he began apologizing profusely. Robert was on his feet in a moment. Snatching the gun from his hands, he smashed the stock against the fireplace as he screamed at him. But his explanation had achieved it’s purpose–if only for the moment. He knew he would have to leave.
The following day the air was charged with uncertainty. Gail had called him to the side and informed him that all was well, but he knew that it was time. He believed he had been the cause of a disaster which had ruined these great peoples happiness.
While Robert was at work several days later, and Gail busy shopping, he wrote a note thanking them and departed once more…
He arrived at the bus depot busy with travelers lining the ticket counter. “What is your next departure?” He asked the agent.
The agent looked in his ledger and informed Joe he had several destinations available. After quoting ticket prices, Joe checked his resources. A seat available on a bus headed to Miami in ten minutes sounded right. Miami, the place Old Man Bianco said Shorty lived in! He counted out the funds and ran to catch the bus just as it was ready to pull out of the station…
Harry, Joe was both relieved and sorry he had to leave, but he knew the dose of love and compassion had re-energized his soul and gave him a gift he could give to his family. Yes, the experiences he had gone through had brought to his soul many pieces of God’s puzzle; the greatest was that nature was in fact his place for more than refuge from life’s hard knocks–It was a M.A.G.I.C. place where powers of truth lay ready for the taking. He was in awe he had known all along, even since the days of his childhood, that God’s clear signs could be found in the peace of a pasture, a forest, or upon a shores rhythm of tides. But, it would be a long time before he placed those jagged edges of reality together to spell M.A.G.I.C. in bold, clear strokes, and feast upon it’s message. He yearned to return to the city and his family with this new and awesome gift of God. But, he wanted to make sure that his feelings were real; the experience was one of fact. He had heard Miami was a lush tropical wonderland–he would journey there… and take care of some personel business! For the entire bus ride he slept soundly… He did not care. He just wanted to rediscover the love and fun he had had in Georgia…and meet Shorty!