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Frank Turrentine
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I live on fifteen acres with river frontage on the Brazos just west of Weatherford, Texas in Parker County near the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. I inherited it from my dad when he passed away in November 2013. He bought the place in 1985, and I've been on it or around it ever since.

Over the two plus years since dad died I've acquired debt I hadn't intended and had my pay cut in half suddenly this year, until I don't even think I can come up with the property taxes to hold on to the place this year ($2500). I've got twenty grand in unsecured debt and another seven or so on my truck. I'm now pondering whether or not it might be best to just sell the farm and pay off my debts and move away and never come back. I feel like a real failure. I'm fifty-two, turning fifty-three in September. When dad left, I had great dreams of creating a food forest here on the river that would feed me in my dotage. I made a stab at getting a PDC from Lawton and did it, though I'm too embarrassed to show anyone my work and not happy with my efforts. None of my friends either care much about or live close enough to join in or are too involved with their own lives and families. Aside from that, the notion of inviting a bunch of people to live on my place seems jarring as well. I don't think I would do it well, since I'm a little too damn precious about everything on this farm. Anyway, the farm is appraised by the county tax assessor at a little over 200K, so even if I only get a third of that, it'll be enough to get me outta debt and outta Texas for good with hopefully enough jingle in my pocket to give me an illusion of security and an impetus to indolence for at least a few months.

I woke up this morning thinking about intentional communities and whether or not I should look into it. I told myself I was going to call a real estate agent today and see about listing the farm and moving away. My vision of myself in an intentional community, however, looks a lot like Dustin Hoffman in the end of Papillon living on the prison island tending his garden. So I think I'm way off. Having said that, that image actually appeals to me a bit at the moment. I reckon that's just a measure of how beat down I feel by all this.

I'm in my fifties. I'm queer. I'm a stoner and on any given night I'm bound to burst into tears over a book or a piece of music while in my cups. I'm a felon who thinks everyone should vote with molotov cocktails. I have no skills, but I love to plant trees and work in my garden and read. I write really bad poetry, and I'm awkwardly unashamed about it. In other words, I don't think most normal people would really want to live around me and my two dogs and five buff geese and a few dozen chickens and one Harlequin duck for very long before they asked me to leave or I got butthurt and lonely. At the same time, I'm not really fit or functional enough to live on my own, and that's only going to get worse as the years progress.

There are a lot of trees on this place. Any of them that weren't planted in 1927 were likely planted by me, and I can now stand in their shade. It will break my heart to walk away from this, but it's looking more and more as if I've painted myself into that corner.

My question is... well, I'm not sure what my question is. I wish I knew. Maybe I'm asking if anyone can point me toward communities that might be welcoming, or at least not meet me at the gates by torchlight. I suspect I'm throwing up a bit in everyone's lap when I should be spending hours poring over threads in these fora searching for my own answers and forming more coherent questions as well. I'll give that a shot as well, but I could use some direction. I'm feeling pretty lost and sad this morning.
 
Frank Turrentine
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I've been looking at real estate around Montrose, CO or Missoula, Montrose, cuz my family had a cabin in Rico when I was a child and it's my favorite area of the planet, and Missoula, cuz I figure there are a lot of permie people around and I could learn things. But I'm open to anywhere on the planet, and I mean that, as long as Otis and Buddy are with me.
 
Frank Turrentine
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I may be limiting myself. I could also simply sell everything I own and go volunteer somewhere. It's not like I've got a lot of really viable years left to have decent adventures.
 
Judith Browning
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Welcome back Frank...I remember your posts about your farm...so sorry that it has been frustrating.
I've got a number of years on you, at 65, but I think at some point we all need some 'community' close by. We just moved to a small rural town from back woods living because of that very thing. We chose a place where there was already an eccentric local community (so we slipped right in) and found a quiet edge of town. The transition was pretty painless wishing you lots of luck...and I expect you'll get something helpful from a group discussion here.....

 
Frank Turrentine
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gracias, Judith. I'm cryin a lot lately, and I feel pretty foolish and defeated. I think I'll feel a lot better if I can see some path toward a better outcome ahead.
 
Troy Rhodes
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Hey, you don't need my permission or approval to live your life however you see fit. Period, full stop.

However, as a total stranger with a little perspective, I'm going to give you some permission and approval anyway.

Go ahead and solve your problems however you see fit, and I will cheer you on, regardless of the outcome. Have some unconditional approval. We could all use that sometimes.

Having been in some tight spots and made some stupid financial moves, here is one way to think about this.

Rather than looking at the totality of the mess, which can get overwhelming, let's just think about one immediate problem, taxes.

I went through an ugly divorce when I was in school and I ended up almost a quarter of a million dollars in debt. I was a hot sticky mess for a while.

Eventually, I ran into this crazy redneck guy on the radio who gave money advice, Dave Ramsey. It turns out, there are strategies that you could use to not lose the family property. That looks like your biggest and most immediate fear.

3 or 4 grand would rock your world at the moment wouldn't it?

Send the nice tax man a check for a few hundred dollars just to show your heart is in the right place, along with a letter stating your intent to pay the rest, and would they work out a short term (like 4 months) payment plan?

You could deliver pizzas in the evenings, and/or deliver newspapers at 5:30 in the morning, and make an extra thousand bucks a month. 90 days from now, you have the tax man off your back and you can relax about 27 notches. Yes, it will suck working all those extra hours. You could think of it as penance for letting things slide into this unhappy place. Contrition and penance actually feel good in your soul.

Once you get past that immediate problem, then you can make better decisions about keeping the land or not. If you're more or less forced to sell now, you'll always wonder if you made a bad decision, and probably feel guilty about it. Yuck. If you get the taxes paid off and -then- decide the land is a burden, not a blessing, you can sell it and feel good about it. It will also not be an emergency sale and you will undoubtedly get more money. Or decide you really do want to keep it, and now that's a real option.

Several of my family members have struggled with depression over the years, so I have become something of an expert. I have also studied neurology as part of my professional work, so this is not just some random guy giving you quack medical advice on the internet. Most depression does not make you feel weepy and sad as depicted on TV. Instead (far more commonly) it kills your drive and motivation to get shit done. It's subtle in the beginning. This lack of motivation almost always causes your life to slide into a financial mess much like you describe. And, here I'm just completely guessing, but that may be what affected your job and ultimately, your pay check.

Once that shit happens financially, the classic sad feelings and guilt pile on top and make it all worse, but that's the end result, not the primary cause.

It's very possible you could talk to your family physician and discuss your lack of motivation and joy, and try Zoloft or one of the other anti-depressants and get your drive and momentum back. That's not an instant solution, and perhaps not a long term solution, but it would likely change your trajectory in the short term, which is what we want. I don't even know with certainty that you're depressed. But that's what it looks like from your brief description.

If you want more specifics about how to deal with the total financial issues, we could talk about that too--if you want, publicly or privately.

Lots of folks in the LGBT community also struggle with self image/self worth problems because of society's general disapproval. We could have a whole other conversation about that, publicly or privately. I guarantee you I would give you a new perspective on that.


Finest regards,

troy
 
Donna Kolaetis
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Hello, Frank. Sounds like you are in a tight spot, no doubt. But not impossible. You don't get to 50+ years with no skills. Give yourself some credit. For example, if trees that you planted are big enough to make shade, you have had success in planting and growing trees. Some of us, even on following all the instructions, still seem to be as good at killing trees as growing them.
You didn't say whether your cut in pay also came with a cut in hours. I have often been under-employed, and find that there are many things that take more time than money, so you may be able to cut expenses. Also, can part or all of your property be rented out? I would think that being near a metro area, there would be someone who wants some space and can pay, maybe enough to cover your taxes? Are you close enough to the cities for a market garden? Is it possible for the property to be subdivided and part sold? I realize that will bring on other expenses, like getting a perc test to prove a parcel's salability, and having it redeeded. Just trying to brainstorm ideas for how you might manage through this rough patch.
I know about feeling inadequate and out of step with others. I also know about feeling desperate and hopeless. A depression support group was very valuable for getting me through those times. You can survive this. Good luck.
 
Steven Kovacs
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Frank,

I'm sorry to hear of your troubles. The one thing that springs to mind is that if you do decide to sell and leave, look into the intentional queer community that Sandor Katz (of Wild Fermentation fame) is associated with (in South Carolina, I think).
 
Frank Turrentine
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Thanks, Troy.

couple of things: I'm way out in the country. My truck not only has no brakes now, but will be out of inspection/registration in another few days with no way financially for me to get that done any time soon. I'm miles from town where there is no available work. I work from home for my old company over in Dallas selling heavy-duty hand cleaner to printers and mechanics. I sell those lovely microbead scrubbers that are thankfully being phased out of production in the next two years. My pay was cut, because my boss is selling the company (sold 1 April, actually), and she cut my commission in half to pad her retirement for the next year, until she finally retires and the new owner takes over. I telecommute for that job. It's the only way I could make a living out here. It is what I was doing since 98. For years I drove 75 miles each way every day with dad's Shell card in my pocket so I could keep him company out here. That was about $1200/month in fuel expense and a hefty footprint to boot. Until 1 January, I was bringing home 900-1300/week peddlin soap over the phone a few hours each day, and I was overextended on credit at that rate. I was told the week before the new year that my commission would be halved. She said it was the only way she could keep the doors open on the company. She once told me she couldn't fire me or she'd have to close those doors, as I am essentially the entire sales department at Mean Green Power Hand Scrub.

But I dislike selling this stuff anyway, even though it's good relief for poison oak and ivy.

I used to dream about owning a bookstore in Ketchikan that never showed a profit but allowed me to sit and read with a nice view.

Dad built this house himself. I'm proud as hell of him for that, but it means it ain't worth much on the market. It's also had water ankle-deep three times since dad died, due to degradation of the earthworks uphill. So whoever buys this place is buying it for the land alone, I'd think. It's got river frontage though.

I just had a long talk with my dad's old principle staff assistant from Boeing, and she got me lined out on what my next steps are. I feel much better. She told me to call a realtor this morning, and she gave me permission to take this step.

Vanessa
 
Frank Turrentine
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early this year, I leased out the front five acres here to my neighbor to plant wheat and graze the cattle for his roping arena. IN exchange, my property there is grazed and off my plate, and he periodically gives me a couple of big boxes of 4H meat that his dad brings down from Pennsylvania.

I'm not looking for ways to keep the farm. It's time to bury my dad once and for all and start my own life. I made a living of being his pet all my adult life, and he returned the favor by always paying my bail and watching me garden and being nice to my boyfriends.
 
Tyler Ludens
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Frank Turrentine wrote:

I'm in my fifties. I'm queer. I'm a stoner and on any given night I'm bound to burst into tears over a book or a piece of music while in my cups. I'm a felon who thinks everyone should vote with molotov cocktails. I have no skills, but I love to plant trees and work in my garden and read. I write really bad poetry, and I'm awkwardly unashamed about it. In other words, I don't think most normal people would really want to live around me and my two dogs and five buff geese and a few dozen chickens and one Harlequin duck for very long before they asked me to leave or I got butthurt and lonely. At the same time, I'm not really fit or functional enough to live on my own, and that's only going to get worse as the years progress.


I relate. I wish I had some advice. I wish I were brave enough to invite all the weirdos to come live with us here. But I don't do the people thing much at all.

I just want you to know, in spirit at least, you aren't alone. Like that helps.

 
Frank Turrentine
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actually, Tyler, it does a great deal. I really just needed to step outside my skull for a bit this morning.

I just called a real estate agent and set up an appointment. I reckon I'm doing this.
 
Anne Miller
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Just a couple of thoughts ... do you have a homestead exemption on your property to make the taxes cheaper? Talk to your County Appraisal District about what you might do to make the taxes cheaper, give them a call as it can't hurt to ask. What were the taxes when your Dad had the property?



 
Frank Turrentine
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Anne, I have an agricultural exemption. My taxes jumped from 632 to 2500 over the last year, because I don't qualify for the homestead exemption my father had on the place. Without the ag exemption my taxes would be more than double what they are.

But that would just solve one bill anyway. It wouldn't fundamentally change the fact that I can't afford it here.

Let's take for granted that I'm leaving the farm, folks. I've agonized over this for a long time and tortured every detail to death, and I WANT to leave the farm. It is a paralytic.
 
Frank Turrentine
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the homestead exemption only covers the acre surrounding the house for some reason anyway. My taxes on the other fourteen acres are just $32/annum.
 
Frank Turrentine
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Dad's taxes the last year he was alive, with the homestead exemption but without the ag exemption that I got afterward, were $3100 and going way up the following year. For some reason, my first year with the ag exemption also carried his homestead exemption, because the deed wasn't actually in my name until a week after the deadline. So they awarded me the ag and let me take the homestead that one year. Not sure how that worked.
 
Judith Browning
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Let's take for granted that I'm leaving the farm, folks. I've agonized over this for a long time and tortured every detail to death, and I WANT to leave the farm. It is a paralytic.


That's great...then you can get on to the exciting part...selling, getting out of debt and using what's left to begin a new adventure. Don't get stuck thinking you 'failed'...I'm sure that you learned plenty from this experience and can use that when planning the next step.

Permies love problem solving so beware of lot's of advice
 
Frank Turrentine
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and I love attention. I don't mind the advice. I welcome it. But I fear my question came with lots of melodrama baked in and the flavor was lost. What I'm asking is are there intentional communities anyone is aware of in, say, southwest Colorado or around Missoula (I realize that one is perhaps silly) that might be a good fit for someone like me?

I understand that I'm throwing everything at the wall with that and seeing what sticks, but that was my intention early this morning. This was just casting my net, running it up the flagpole, and whatever other cliches I can think of.
 
Anne Miller
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I am sorry that you don't qualify for the homestead exemption but why? I know it has to be filed in January and it would be only on the 1 acre, but unless you have the exemption on other property you should be able to file for it. My thought was that you might have trouble selling a property with such high taxes.

From time to time there are other folks on the forum that are looking for someone to live on their place to help with the work, have you thought of giving that a try?
 
Frank Turrentine
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I put the farm on the market today for 195K. It'll sell for that, but I don't know how quickly. I'll get a pop-up camper-trailer and take the dogs on the road and do my job from whatever natl park or campground I feel like staying at until I figure out where I want to go. I have a lot of friends to visit before the job plays out, and the job will defray the cost of that, and then I'll figure out where I want to buy a place and make a new home.
 
wayne fajkus
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A frugal person can have have great stability with that kind of money banked up, but can get in the same predicament again if careless with it.
 
Judith Browning
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Frank Turrentine wrote:I put the farm on the market today for 195K. It'll sell for that, but I don't know how quickly. I'll get a pop-up camper-trailer and take the dogs on the road and do my job from whatever natl park or campground I feel like staying at until I figure out where I want to go. I have a lot of friends to visit before the job plays out, and the job will defray the cost of that, and then I'll figure out where I want to buy a place and make a new home.


Now I'm jealous, nothing better than a road trip for clearing our heads.....best of luck and enjoy your visits with your friends and all of the new ones you'll meet on your journey .
 
Frank Turrentine
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wayne fajkus wrote:A frugal person can have have great stability with that kind of money banked up, but can get in the same predicament again if careless with it.


that was always my fear about selling the farm. I could go through that pretty quickly without realizing it. That's another reason I thought about maybe looking into intentional community living.

it's either that or start some kinda weird cult
 
Frank Turrentine
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my real estate lady just left after bringing me a contract to sign. The farm sold for full price after four days on the market, and the guy's payin cash, so I'm on the road by the end of this month after being here for thirty years. It's a really weird feeling. I'm kinda numb. I reckon I'm going on the road.
 
Su Ba
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You are beginning the next chapter in your book of your life. Congratulations. I don't know about you, but it always a bit scary and a bit exciting whenever I started on a new chapter in my own life. At the time when I made a big change, I always thought that it might be a big mistake, but years later I understood that the change was just what I needed.

Here's wishing you the best for your new journey.
 
Frank Turrentine
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I've been here since 1985. I suppose this should be a big deal. I feel like a huge weight is coming off my shoulders for some reason.

I'll miss this place bad. I know that. But I have no regrets about doing this. It's been coming quite a while. I live in a mausoleum. I'm going to get a pod delivered here and fill it up with whatever I don't want to sell or whatever I want to wait and sort through later. I'll have that shipped to wherever I end up. I'll get the truck fixed up nice and new and put a topper on it and perhaps get a pop-up trailer to pull behind it, but those are spendy and still on probation in my head.

I'm keeping what books I have left and my crockery and my tools and garden tools and probably little else. Maybe my bed. I'm not sure why. It's a cheap Ikea bed. I just like it.

Odd as it sounds I have this image of living in a small cob house in an intentional community where I have company but not too much intrusion, and I can just write and read and play with my dogs. I don't think I have another ten years, so I'm good with that outcome. But there are a lot of other possibilities. I can work for the next year, so I can offset some of my expenses until I have to make an absolute decision.

Anyway, I'm on the road soon. I want to take KC with me, but he needs to start a career here with his dad. I may take him to Colorado with me for a week or two and then fly him back with some cash to get started. Nobody else is gonna look out for him. It ain't my job, but it is. I'll take it, anyway. I love that kid. I was gonna leave everything to Chris and his dad anyway. His dad gets it in the end. I love his dad. So I'll give KC two grand and take off. I feel bad leaving him that way, but nobody else is gonna do that for him.

I have no idea where I'm going to end up. My family has been in Texas since 1835. My ancestor preached the first Protestant sermon here. I don't think I want to ever come back. I certainly don't want to drive down Lazy Bend Rd ever again.
 
Frank Turrentine
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I'd like to stop in Missoula this summer and meet Paul Wheaton. Can I do that?
 
Frank Turrentine
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I'll bring my broadfork and my scythe. I'm not selling those.
 
Frank Turrentine
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I'm so incredibly sad this evening, and so relieved at the same time. My life is such a bifurcation.
 
Frank Turrentine
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I've been here since 1985. I suppose this should be a big deal. I feel like a huge weight is coming off my shoulders for some reason.

I'll miss this place bad. I know that. But I have no regrets about doing this. It's been coming quite a while. I live in a mausoleum. I'm going to get a pod delivered here and fill it up with whatever I don't want to sell or whatever I want to wait and sort through later. I'll have that shipped to wherever I end up. I'll get the truck fixed up nice and new and put a topper on it and perhaps get a pop-up trailer to pull behind it, but those are spendy and still on probation in my head.

I'm keeping what books I have left and my crockery and my tools and garden tools and probably little else. Maybe my bed. I'm not sure why. It's a cheap Ikea bed. I just like it.

Odd as it sounds I have this image of living in a small cob house in an intentional community where I have company but not too much intrusion, and I can just write and read and play with my dogs. I don't think I have another ten years, so I'm good with that outcome. But there are a lot of other possibilities. I can work for the next year, so I can offset some of my expenses until I have to make an absolute decision.

Anyway, I'm on the road soon. I want to take KC with me, but he needs to start a career here with his dad. I may take him to Colorado with me for a week or two and then fly him back with some cash to get started. Nobody else is gonna look out for him. It ain't my job, but it is. I'll take it, anyway. I love that kid. I was gonna leave everything to Chris and his dad anyway. His dad gets it in the end. I love his dad. So I'll give KC two grand and take off. I feel bad leaving him that way, but nobody else is gonna do that for him.

I have no idea where I'm going to end up. My family has been in Texas since 1835. My ancestor preached the first Protestant sermon here. I don't think I want to ever come back. I certainly don't want to drive down Lazy Bend Rd ever again.
 
Frank Turrentine
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I'm pretty sure my mom's gonna die before I leave Texas. She started refusing her meds the other day, because she thinks they're poisoning her. To be honest, I probably share that sentiment, but she's far gone. And with her terror of death, this is a significant milestone, I guess.

I have this sacred grove of trees, and they're massive, and they're all falling over in these last two or three years and dying. It's a weird time. I was never very functional to begin with, and dad was my rock. Mom was so entangled with me for so long that we never quite got over our issues, but we're good enough now that I'm not gutted by what's happening to her now.

But it's incredibly sad anyway. She did the NYT crossword in pen throughout my childhood, and she composed crosswords for my dad in Latin and German just for kicks. And now she doesn't really recognize me, her baby boy, most of the time.

She still loves Otis though. He gets right up in her face, and she hollers, but she loves him so much. Months back, I used to have him get up on the bed with her, and she loved it even though he felt awkward. Otis doesn't like getting on the furniture. He thinks it's wrong.

People think I'm cold to my mother, but they don't know. They don't know how gutted I am right now. They just don't deserve my grief. I don't owe it to anyone. I know my mother as a scared little girl who thinks everyone is out to get her. That's the woman I know. I feel so helpless for her tonight. She is terrified of death, and I live with it every day. I want so much for her to be okay, and I can't get over there, and she's just eighty miles away. I just want to hang out with her again. And she doesn't know who I really am.

I've been through this before already. Dad woke up right before the end, and we talked. Danny will have that with mom, and he should. I need to detach a bit right now. I've been nicer to my brother in the last few weeks than at any other time in my life. Mom will be however she'll be, but once she's gone Danny will have nothing. Dad left me the farm, but mom's house is in reverse mortgage. I know she changed her will not long ago, and I hope she can take care of Danny somehow. I ended up with more than I deserved, but it's all I have, and I earned it.

I love my family a great deal tonight. There was never a time in my life that I did not feel absolutely loved by every one of them. I know intuitively how fortunate I am to know that.
 
Frank Turrentine
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I"m sorry to play this all out in front of strangers this way. Most of the people I care about are dead now. I have a host of friends, but they're all much younger than I am. I suddenly find myself in the unenviable position of having no old friends why aren't dead or incapacitated.
 
Frank Turrentine
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Life is unpleasant tonight. I am joyfully participating in the sorrow of life, and it hurts a lot. I trust that tomorrow will be more pleasant.
 
Frank Turrentine
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I have all of these pictures of my mother when she was a little girl. Her father was a drunk, a merchant marine who abandoned her when she was four.

She traveled the Mediterranean searching for a non-patriarchal belief system she could base a novel on, and she did it.

I want so badly to go back and make her feel okay those years ago. I want her to be lucid now. I want my brother to not have to endure all this. He still lives in that matrix of family and old responses we share. He and I talk outside of that, but we meet in that place anyway. I get that. He gets that. It's still 1967. For my sister that's emphatically real when we talk. For my brother and I, it's just this feeling between us. He sounds so resigned on the phone. We're so fatally enmeshed, but I just want to hug my brother.
 
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Life is unpleasant tonight. I am joyfully participating in the sorrow of life, and it hurts a lot. I trust that tomorrow will be more pleasant.
 
Frank Turrentine
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Sweet brother, if I do not sleep

My eyes are flowers for your tomb;

And if I cannot eat my bread,

My fasts shall live like willows where you died.

If in the heat I find no water for my thirst,

My thirst shall turn to springs for you, poor traveller.



Where, in what desolate and smokey country,

Lies your poor body, lost and dead?

And in what landscape of disaster

Has your unhappy spirit lost its road?



Come, in my labor find a resting place

And in my sorrows lay your head,

Or rather take my life and blood

And buy yourself a better bed



-Or take my breath and take my death

And buy yourself a better rest.



When all the men of war are shot

And flags have fallen into dust,

Your cross and mine shall tell men still

Christ died on each, for both of us.



For in the wreckage of your April Christ lies slain,

And Christ weeps in the ruins of my spring:

The money of Whose tears shall fall

Into your weak and friendless hand,

And buy you back to your own land:



The silence of Whose tears shall fall

Like bells upon your alien tomb.

Hear them and come: they call you home.







Thomas Merton
 
Frank Turrentine
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I'm an absolute atheist, but Merton wrecks me for some reason. I read The Ascent to Truth years ago. But I read this, and I just weep, because I want to take the place of anyone who I see suffering. I want to give them my grave, my hurt, whatever I have. And I wonder why God doesn't love me.
 
Frank Turrentine
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you can delete this if you like, but it's a true story dad wrote some years back. I stuck a date on it when I originally posted it in 2000, but he wrote it about his father way back when.

Jamie was too young to hate. He was only eight years old. As he sat on the worn porch of the unpainted farmhouse and watched the wagon creak down the dusty lane, he hurt deeply; but he did not hate. He didn.t even hate Rupert. He kept his eyes glued to the wagon as it rattled between the walls of Jimson weed which lined the rutted lane. There was his Granpa Wilson sitting ramrod straight on the spring seat. His galluses made a distinct cross on his back and the dust was already beginning to turn his black Sunday felt hat into a furry dusty brown thing. Jamie could not see his face but knew that if he could he would see a stubby pipe strongly clinched between his teeth, The pipe was always there. It didn't seem to make much difference to Granpa Wilson whether it had tobacco in it or not. Jamie never just called him "Granpa" but was careful to always call him "Granpa Wilson" to remind himself that he was not a Wilson. He was Jamie Balfour. Jamie was not afraid of him any more; not even when he had to look into the cold grey eyes above the full mustache and knew he was going to get a licking with the harness strap which hung behind the kitchen door.

Beside Grandpa Wilson on the spring seat was the squat grey figure of his grandmother which he could only see though the dust when the weeds along the road were thin or short. As he watched through the stationary haze of dust Jamie realized that he never called his grandmother anything. She was referred to by Granpa Wilson as"your grandmother" or by Rupert as "my mother" with a lot of stress on the first word.She always looked at him with sad and almost tearful eyes that seemed to say that there was little , if any, hope for either of them. Jamie's grandmother never used the harness strap. She preferred instead to recite Jamie's endless faults in detail to Granpa Wilson, who would then remove the strap from the nail in the wall behind the kitchen door and silently punish the offender. Worse even than the beatings or the recountings of his sins were the things she said about him. They drummed inside him as he watched the wagon:

"Its easy to see the Balfour in him. He'll probably die drunk".

"If only our Nora hadn't been blinded by the Devil maybe she wouldn't have married Frank Balfour. Now she's dead and gone--and him buried beside her".

"There is no hope for the boy, Fred. I can see Frank Balfour all over him. Rupert says he broke a limb climbing in the biggest peach tree this morning"

It had been his grandmother who had told him how his parents had died. Jamie had remembered the fire , of course, It was only a year and a half ago. He remembered waking in his bed choking on smoke--too dazed and hurt to scream. He remembered his father groping through the strange glow with a cloth over his face He remembered the feel of his father's hands picking him up and carrying him to the window. There was one moment of hesitation before his father kicked the glass out of the window and threw the boy into the muddy garden below. All that he remembered. His grandmother rold him never to tell such fancy tales again; that Frank Balfour had dried drunk in bed as everyone in the county with any sense had known he would---and that he had taken her daughter with him. Jamie never told the story again, but he remembered.

The wagon had grown much smaller down the lane and he could no longer hear the harness clink or the rattle of the wheels, but he could still make out the dim figure of Rupert sitting at the back of the wagon watching him, Rupert was fourteen. He was the youngest of Fred and Ruby Wilson's seven children, and the only one left at home with them. It was Rupert for whom his grandmother made apple pies.She didn't do it often though for sugar was dear. It was Rupert who had a feather bed while Jamie slept on a mattress filled with corn shucks. It was Rupert who went to school every day while Jamie just went when he could be spared from work. Best of all, Rupert had a bicycle.

Jamie's toes plowed small furrows in the soft dust beneath where he sat on the porch as he swung his legs to and fro. It was Saturday morning and hot already despite the early hour. Saturdays had become his favorite time. On Saturdays his grandparents would hitch the mules to the wagon and go to Lancaster , six miles away. They would not be back until nearly sundown. Until then he could be alone. The first Saturday after he came to the farm he also had climbed on the wagon. They said nothing, just looked at him with disapproval until he climbed down off the wagon with tears running down his cheeks and sat on the porch. Then they drove away without a backward glance. Jamie had cried then for a long time. In only a week he had learned that he was not wanted. It was another month before he refused to cry about that or anything else.

Jamie learned to avoid most of the lickings. He learned the limits and learned to stay in them. He avoided Rupert and his extensive possessions at all costs. While he could not talk to his grandparents and had learned to expect no warmth from either of them, he could at least avoid their anger most of the time. When he did trespass either knowingly or by error he took his licking dry-eyed and in silence. He had resolved that no Wilson would ever see him cry again.

He saw that the wagon had reached the end of the long lane and was turning into the road that lead to the ford on Ten Mile Creek. He knew that as soon as the wagon turned he would be hidden from its occupants not only by the high weeds but also by the descent of the road to the creek. The wagon disappeared from view and Jamie jumped off the porch and ran across the dusty yard to the smokehouse. Beside the shacklike structure of the smokehouse which housed the Wilsons smoked meats and sausage was a great round oak stump with an anvil mounted on its flat surface. Leaning against this stump was Ruperts bicycle. It was fastened to the stump with a rather long piece of heavy rope and tied to the anvil with a complex knot. Rupert's bicycle was a thing of awesome beauty. It was red and gold.

Jaimie of course was forbidden to touch it. It belonged to Rupert. He had ridden it the first week that he had been left alone on Saturday and had been given a beating for it, but it had been worth it. Now. Rupert always inspected the bicycle as soon as he returned from town to see if it had been disturbed.

Jamie now approached the problem of the bicycle with professional care, He took a stick and marked the exact location of each tire and studied exactly where the bicycle leaned against the stump, Using a nail he had found he made a tiny scratch on the stump just where the bar of the bicycle leaned against it. Rupert must have been in a hurry this morning, the bicycle tying would be simple to duplicate.

He rode the bicycle all around the yard and even down the lane amost to the road. In the few places where the lane was smooth he could even ride for a short distance without holding the handlebars.

Jamie might have ridden longer had he not heard a faint sound of music which promised more excitement than even the fabulous bicycle. He was even more sure when he saw a thin wisp of smoke coming from the creek bottom. The Gypsies! He had heard Granpa Wilson tell his grandmother of them the night before. They were camped on Stovall land which adjoined the Wilson farm at the creek. Granpa Wilson remarked that George Stovall never did have much sense and must have lost what he had to let Gypsies camp on his land.

"There won"t be a fryin' chicken or a roastin' shoat that's safe around here till they move out. They're not Christian, Ruby, I won't have them around my farm. I'll see Stovall in town tomorrow and tell him he has to move them out"

Jamie knew that he had to see the Gypsies. But first he had to erase all trace of his having used the bicycle and tie it back to the stump. This took nearly an hour including removal of all the tire tracks. At last he was free to go. The music had stopped; or at least he couldn't hear it anymore as he ran across the cotton field toward the distant line of trees. The thin column of smoke was gone too, but he remembered where he had seen it. Jamie was careful to run down the furrow so that he wouldn't disturb the cotton plants. Clouds of small insects and some large grasshoppers rose before him as he ran, marking his progress through the field. He was breathless when he reached the three-stranded barbed wire fence which seperated the Wilson farm from their neighbors, the Stovalls. He paused there a moment to try to get his breathing slowed down. He was less than fifty yards from the creek bed. The woods along the creek had always seemed a little ominous, and seemed no less so because he could here an occasional shout from the Gypsy camp.

Ten Mile Creek cut sharply into the chalky white llimestone which underlay the black "cotton land"as it made this bend. Jamie knew from where he had seen the smoke and by where the shouts were coming from that the Gypsies were camped on the big gravel bar at the inside bend of the creek. He decided that he would creep up through the trees and brush and vines until he could peek through the bushes right on the edge of the bluff and see the Gypsy camp without being detected. On this side he knew that the creek bank dropped steeply off for about fifteen feet to the water and that trees and vines grew to the very edge of the drop.

The sounds of the Gypsy camp came plainly to Jamie as he forced his way through the tangle of vines. Not until he had reached the very edge of the little limestone cliff and slowly parted the last bushes could he see the camp. It was there before him in the shady little meadow across the creek. There were four wagons such as Jamie had never seen before. They were mostly white, but were trimmed in red and gold bands and swirls. Except for the hearse at Redford, Jamie didn't remember ever seing a painted wagon before. These wagons looked a little like the hearse but with the decorated cabin on their beds they looked taller and bigger--and they were painted so gaily.

They Gypsies were there too.Jamie didn't actually count them but there must have been close to twenty there. They were dark like Mexicans; some even darker. They didn't dress like people Jamie knew either. The women were slim-waisted and wore great swinging skirts with brightly colored trim. They walked free-striding like a man and they laughed and talked like men. What caught Jamie's eye most was the jewelry. Every arm wore a load of gold or silver bracelets and many of the women wore rings. One boy about Jamie's age wore a gold earring. After careful study Jamie came to the conclusion that the ear had a hole punched through it and he winced at the thought. It was obvious that the Gypsies were breaking camp. Some of them were busy packing things away in the bright wagons.

It happened so quickly that Jamie could not tell how he fell into the creek.Perhaps he leaned too far out to see better. There was a sharp snap that may have been a rock falling or a branch breaking and then he was falling through the air with shreds of vines and briers on his clothes. Even though he fell into the water it was not deep enough to cushion his fall very much It was almost like falling on a table. It was not until the man came splashing through the water and scooped him up that Jamie knew the Gypsies had seen him fall. The man was big and strong and dark.He had a great black mustache and coal-black hair tied at the nape of his neck into a short pony tail. His arms were bare and he wore a wide black leather belt with with a huge silver buckle.The man tossed him in the air and caught him again as he fell toward the creek,
"Ho! Nagreb has caught a fish. Make ready the pot. Nagreb has caught a fish,"

Jamie felt icy fear. Could it be true? Granpa Wilson had said that the Gypsies were not Christian---and he was being carried toward the campfire which was still burning in a water worn pot hole on the great flat rock across the creek. As Nagreb splashed out of the creek and onto the rock Jamie felt sure that he would be cast into the glowing coals that came ever nearer. Nagreb set him down against the elm log which had been toppled by last springs floods and stepped back a pace to look at him. Jamie wondered if perhaps there were Gypsie rites or ceremonies that had to be said.

The Gypsies had gathered about him in a loose circle. Escape was impossible. They were talking among themselves in a language Jamie could not understand. Some of them were smiling and laughing too, but Jamie put no great stock of hope in it. He permitted his eyes to move enough to see if any of them were preparing a pot Nagreb squatted down until his face was near Jamie's and raised his hand. The talking ceased.

"What is your name, boy?", Nagreb roared. To Jamie his voice sounded like the sound of a hammer on an anvil.

Jamie willed his voice to answer but no sound came from his throat. He might have struggled to answer again , but just then the dog came. The dog was maybe ten weeks old. It was of indeterminent breed and at that big-footed , tail wagging, awkward stage common to most large dog breeds. It burst from the ring of silent Gypsies and bound across the white rock into Jamie's lap---all energy and joy. It's outsized tail thumped happily against his wet cotton pants as it licked his face, mouth and his eyes. The dog was happiness, friendship and allegiance. Then Jamie realized that Nagreb had retreated and his place before Jamie had been taken by an old woman. Her voice was thick with accent but there was no doubt about the kindness in it.

"Do not be afraid. That Nagreb is fool--we will not hurt you. Nagreb, he made a bad joke. You not a fish. You good boy. You big boy. Here, now , you no cry. You, Nagreb! You get this boy cup milk. Hey, boy, this dog he like you. How is your name?"

Jamie found that he could answer, "J--J--James Harris Balfour."

"You good boy, James. We Gypsies, you know? We live here four day--fix wagons--graze horses. We leave today. Soon. You good boy. Where you live?"

James managed despite the wriggling puppy to point up toward the Wilson farmhouse.
"So you live there. You good boy, James? Sure you hungry. All boys hungry all time. Here you have a bowl of good stew. Good stew--three squirrel, two rabbit maybe. Very good stew. Here all you go way. Here, you play music."

Jamie suddenly knew that he wasn"t going to be eaten. It had all been a bad dream. The dog was curled against him. The woman had brought him a metal plate heaped with stew and a cool stone mug of good, but very strange milk. Jamie had never tasted goat's milk. The circle of Gypsies had drifted away at the old ladies command and busied themselves with packing their wagons and harnessing the horses and oxen that pulled them. A few goats and one big cow were haltered to lead ropes tied to the wagons Two boys about Jamie's age watched him without expression while he ate. The dog pressed against his side as he ate, thumping the rock with his tail when Jamie looked down at him. Jamie thought it was the prettiest dog he had ever seen.

When the old lady came to get the cup and plate Jamie saw that the Gypsies were ready to leave. All of them except Nagreb and one other man had mounted the wagons and all were obviously waiting for the old lady to come join them.

"Hey, James, you eat good. See all gone. Why you say you not hungry?"

"It was good." Jamie dodged the question.

"Sure good. Good Gypsy stew. Good squirrel. Hey, James, you got dog?"

Jamie looked down at the dog beside him and shook his head. "How you like this black dog?"

"He's a beautiful dog, ma'am, and he's a smart dog too."

"OK. He is your dog now. You take good care this dog. He is your dog. We go now! Very late. Far to go. Goodby James."

The old woman climbed the wheel of the lead wagon onto the high front seat. Jamie watched as the wagons groaned up the sharp rise out of the creek bed and almost instantly disappeared in the surrounding woodlands. He placed a restraining hand on the puppy to keep it from following the wagons , but it did not try to follow them. The dog seemed happy to lie beside him in the sun.

As Jamie ran back across the cotton field toward the Wilson farmhouse he was happier than ever before. Gone were all the hurts. He had a friend! The dog gamboled and jumped excitedly at his heels as he ran. Once in a burst of speed the dog tripped over his own great paws and rolled happily in the soft black earth between the rows of cotton. Jamie laughed and stopped to rub the soft fur behind the dog's ears.

As he reached the yard he realized he had not asked the dog's name. He dropped to his knees and cupped the dog's face in his hands.

"I'll call you 'Gypsy'. The Gypsies gave you to me and I will name you after them. Gypsy! You learn that name. You are my friend! and I'll take care of you and feed you. We can be together all the time and I'll have someone with me when everyone goes away on Saturdays." He hugged the dog to him.

The Wilsons came home earlier than usual that Saturday. As the wagon turned into the lane from the road Jamie glanced around to be sure that he had not missed any bicycle tracks.As the wagon neared the yard he was sitting on the porch as if he had not moved since the wagon left. Gypsy lay beside him with his chin resting on Jamie's leg. Grandpa Wilson stopped the team in the yard and strode directly to Jamie, "Where'd you get that dog?"

"The Gypsies gave him to me, sir." Jamie instantly knew that he should have lied. The Old man's face was set and hard.

"You been havin' truck with them Gypsies , boy? They're heathens--and thieves. I talked to George Stovall this morning and he is going to throw them off that land."

"They are gone . sir" They left about noon."

"Probably took half my chickens off with them while you were off down there at their camp. Rupert you go look at the chickens ."

Rupert made no move to go as he helped his mother down off the wagon seat. He stared at the dog fascinated. Grandma Wilson made her way over to Jamie and stood before him with her hands on her hips.

"Gypsies indeed! Look at you! Your clothes are all muddy and it"ll take a dear amount of soap to get them clean. Soap makin's two months off anyhow. Gypsies! Just like your father. It's coming out in you too. He always flirted with the Devil. Some say he spoke French, too. You'll come to no good end , James Harris. Frank Balfour's sins are being visited on his son and will be visited on his son's son even to the third generation. It says that in The Book, James Harris. You will not escape it! Do you hear me?"

"Yes'um'

"Well you just remember it. I'll not have that dog in my house nor eaten my cookin'. It's a heathen dog. Do you hear me?"

"Yes'um. I'll feed him out o' my food--outside of course."

"Your food? Where you get any food? James Harris , you don't have anything you didn't come into this world with. It is only through the goodness of me and your grandpa that you ever put a bite in your mouth and you remember it."

"Yes'um".

Jamies Grandmother stomped scowling into the house to see if she could find a trace of the dog having already been there. Fred Wilson and Rupert returned from the chicken house and the barn where they had surveyed the livestock. Rupert ran up and addressed Jamie.
Rupert said, "Pa says we can take the shotgun and take him down to the woods to see if we think he'll make a hunter. He'll be more apt to let you keep him if he looks like he might make a hunter."

"Oh he will, Rupert. You'll see. The old Gypsy woman said that he would make a great hunter."

Rupert vanished into the house and returned with Fred Wilson"s long double-barrelled shotgun and three shells. He broke the shotgun and put a shell in each chamber and put the third shell in his pocket. He left the shotgun broken and strode off toward the creek. Jamie and Gypsy followed.

About halfway across the cotton field Rupert stopped and said to Jamie,"You go on ahead - you and the dog. You know the best places. I'll stay back so's not to make quite as much noise."

Jamie pushed past his uncle and strode on toward the Stovall's fence . He thought Gypsy was really too young for a hunter, but he just had to hunt. He had to prove to Wilson that Gypsy was a good dog. Gypsy was chasing grasshoppers two rows over. Jamie wondered about the Bible and if Gypsy really was "heathen"--and what did "heathen" really mean. He heard the shotgun snap closed and suddenly knew what was happening before he ever heard the roar of the old gun. Jamie screamed in concert with the blast. Rupert had shot the dog when it was about ten feet from Jamie where it had stopped to try to find a lizard that had darted out of the cotton stalk forest.

Like any farm boy Jamie had seen death before and when he dropped and gathered the limp body of the puppy into his arms he knew the dog was dead already. He had never made a sound.l He was on his knees with the dog clutched to him when he looked up to see Rupert . Rupert stood with his feet apart and the shotgun held across his body silhouetted against the cloudless sky. He grinned.

"Pa said I could shoot him. He ain't got no right here".

It was only after Rupert turned back toward the house that Jamie cried. He sat cross-legged between the cotton rows and hugged the dead dog oblivious of the blood that streaked his clothes , his face even his hair.

It might have been an hour or even only half an hour that Jamie sat there before he moved. The tears had stopped ,but still he cried. As he walked he carried the dog clutched to his chest. Jamie didn't know where he was going; he just walked. He walked away from the house, away from Rupert and the gun, away from his grandmother, away from the Bible and his father's sins. He crossed the creek and up the road the Gypsies had taken that morning. He walked slowly as people do when they are not going anywhere.
There is no way to know where Jamie might have gone or what he might have done if he had not met Nate Stone. Really Jamie didn't meet Nate as much as Nate met Jamie. Nate was stopped by the road just a few yards beyond the ford of the creek. The wagon that he had bought just that morning was already showing the wisdom of its sale and the folly of its purchase.The tongue pin had worked loose in the five mile trip and Nate had spent an hour fixing it. He was a big man with the huge arms and shoulders that a lifetime of blacksmithing will give to a man. He dripped sweat in big splatters on the inch thick carpet of loose dust on the road as he turned to see the boy walking up the sope from the creek toward him.

Jamie did not see Nate Stone nor hear the swish of the horses' tails as they tried to discourage the flies. He was not even aware of Nate's presence until an iron grip descended on his shoulders and he found himself face to face with the big red faced dripping blacksmith.

" I say boy, I be talkin" to you. What ails you?"

Jamie did not answer but stared at the smith in terror and clutched the dead Gypsy to his chest.

"You do look a sight . boy. You got blood on you from head to foot. What ain't covered with blood is covered with dirt. Yes siree,boy, you sure do look like you got problems. Come on over here in this shade and let's see what can be done about this. Who's boy you be?"

Jamie found that he could talk. "I'm James Harris Balfour."

Nate"s brow wrinkled up as he pondered this information. "Then most likely you'd be Frank and Nora Balfour's boy.I don't know of no others by that name in these parts. Frank was from Tennessee and had no other people in this country. And I guess that you'd be comin' from Fred Wilson's farm 'bout now; him being Nora's pa. I knew your pa real well, son. He was one of the finest men I ever knew".

Jamie's head jerked up as he looked at the blacksmith. "You knew my father? Was he-----I mean---was he a sinner?"

Nate frowned. "I expect he was, son. I guess all men are. What is it the book says, 'We all sin and fall short of the glory of God', suthin' like that anyway. But he sinned no more than any other man, son, and there is many an orphan and widow in this county has ate his bread. I be debtor to him for sure. Now let me take that dog for a minute, son. I got a gunny sack here in the wagon as can be used to shroud him with and there is a mattock in the wagon that we can use to dig him a grave--ground bein' soft here. Some people don't hold with saying words over animals, but I never saw no harm in it. Sure an' God's got enough mercy to go round an' if he don't the words we say over people ain't gonna do much good anyhow."

Nate had spoken softly and had gently taken the dog from Jamie's arms and had wrapped it with great care in the big sack from under the wagon seat. Nate then dug an adequate grave with a very few strokes of the mattock and laid the bundle in the bottom of the grave. He looked at Jamie sitting under the tree with his head in his hands.
"Stand up, Jamie. It ain't fittin' to say words when your sittin' down." Nate waited for Jamie to stand and bow his head then continued, "Lord, this here grave holds James Balfour's dog. From the look of him he was a good dog and I think he was killed by a shotgun.We all know you work in mysterious ways Lord, an' it ain't up to us to understand. But Lord, it is hard on a boy to lose his dog and we are hoping you'll give James the strength to accept this work of thy hand. And Lord, we ain't too sure what happens to critters, but dogs is somewhat different from other critters and we're hopin' you'll find a place up there for this one."

Nate raised his head and Jamie knew the ceremony was over.

"I didn't rightly know what to say, son. Seein' as how I never said words for a dog before, and how as I never really knew this dog. You never told me his name, but thats all right I said he was your dog. Now lets walk down there to the creek and you take off all the clothes you got on and wash the blood and dirt off you and tell me what has happened to you. You do look a sight"

Jamie had never found it so easy to talk. This man who prayed for his dog, who knew his father and said good things about him seemed to pull two years of pent up misery out of Jamie. He talked about the fire, about the lickings, about his grandmother's predictions, about Rupert and about Rupert's bicycle. The smith's brow furrowed ever deeper as Jamie talked. After Jamie had dressed again they walked hand in hand back up to the wagon.
Then Nate said, "Jamie I want to go talk to your Granpa .. Now don't fret about it This here's a nervous team and I can't leave it alone so I want you to sit with them here till I come back. Now don't go off cause this team would bolt for sure and I'd be out a brace of horses and a no-good wagon I got beat on today. I'll be back shortly."

Before Jamie could protest Nate had turned and was walking briskly toward the Wilson house. It seemed like a long time before Nate came back. Jamie had time to think about all that had happened.That morning he had been too young to hate--it was different now. Rupert had changed all that in the cottonfield. It wasn't just hurt now. He had grown used to being hurt.It was a new emotion that filled him as he pictured Rupert standing above him with the black shotgun outlined against the sky. And Rupert had said, "Pa said I could shoot him". He could never forget that. And all those things his grandmother had said about his father.

The man who owned this wagon didn't believe them--so why did Jamie have to believe them now? Jamie didn't know what to do , but he knew he could never go back to the Wilson farm. He was still thinking of these things when Nate Stone came walking up the road. The blacksmith was red-faced and hot.

"I tell you , Jamie, this place is not fit for man nor beast in August."

"No,sir."

"Well, Jamie, here's what happened., I went to see your Grandpa. I won't say we see eye to eye, your Grandpa and me. Fact is I'd say we differed considerable. But just to show you that you can do business with people you don't agree with we came to some agreements. Course all this depends on you ,Jamie, on what you want to do."

He paused to mop his head then went on, "Your Grandpa was some ired at you. Before it was over I was some ired at him. Soon as he found out I was a friend of Frank Balfour he was even more ired at me , so I guess we was all mad. Now when people get mad they seldom come to agreements so I consider it passin' strange that we did. He first of all wanted you to come straight back right then. He said that you were due a lickin' and he was goin' to see that you got it. Now I ain't agin boys getting a lickin' when its due and there never was a boy who didn't need one sometime. But what with Rupert chimin' in frequent about what all bad you did and how his Pa said he could shoot your dog and what with your Grandma sayin' this was all Frank Balfour's fault, I just plain got ired. Now,Jamie, here is the part you need to listen close. I be a blacksmith with my forge in Red Elm on yonder side of the county--good four hour wagon ride from here. I need a 'prentice real bad. Now don't answer straight off--let me tell you about it. While I was talkin to your Grandpa and Rupert puttin' in and Ruby Wilson sayin' Frank killed her daughter it came to me in a flash that you might want to come be my 'prentice blacksmith. Now i know you are only eight and that you'd have to feed out at my house for a few years before you could work in the shop. And seein' as how you'd need to reckon pay and things like that I guess we'd just have to put you at school there at Red Elm, which is a considerable walk from where we live. And I don't hold with idleness .Jamie, so there would be chores to do after school and on Saturdays. Now we didn't come to 'greement right off but finally we did. I agreed to pay your Grandpa one dollar a month till your twelfth birthday for your service. So if you come, we between us got to shoe two more horses a month or beat four more plow shares to make things come out---I guess we can do that. Now you think on that while I get this team ready. It is a good long ride to Red Elm."

Jamie didn't need to think. He knew what he wanted to do before Nate had told half of his story about what had gone on at the Wilson farm. He looked at Nate.

"I want to go with you--please take me with you"

"I thought you might seein' what you told me so I brought what they said was your things. Now you look at it careful and you tell me if anything of yours is missing--if it is I'll go right back in there and get it for you. "

There was something else. Jamie knew that the picture of his mother which sat on the Wilson's mantle was rightly his, but he instantly resolved to not risk his new wonderful future by having Nate go back.

"No, sir, that's all."

"All right, Jamie Balfour, let's shake hands on it. You're a might young for it but not too young to learn that when you 'gree on somethin' you shake hands on it and that's the way it is--you do it. And Jamie don't forget I said you'd have chores to do."

Jamie agreed that he remembered the chores and they shook hands. It was a long long way to Red Elm. At first Jamie reveled in every yard the journey put between himself and the Wilson Farm. Nate told him things about Frank Balfour--things he'd never heard; how Frank had broken the meanest horse in Wilford County,how he had made Fanny Stone a big skillet of plain metal to prove he was as good a smith as Nate Stone. how he was the first man in the county who knew how to graft pecan trees and how no man was more generous to the widow and orphan than Frank Balfour.

It was balm to Jamie's soul, but long before they turned into the lane of the Stone farm and its blacksmith shop he was sound asleep--jostling gently against the great mass of the blacksmith. He was only half awake when Nate led him to the lamp lit kitchen door and told his wife, "Fanny, I brought home Jamie Balfour. He is Frank and Nora Balfour's boy. He is 'prenticed to me now and we need to feed him and put him to bed as soon as he does a chore for me."

"Nate Stone are you out of your mind? Look at all that blood on his clothes. You talk chores to somebody else, I'll take care of this boy"

"You let him be, Fanny. Me and him has an agreement solemn made 'bout this chore. Don't fret about the blood either--taint his."

Nate shook the boy roughly awake. "Jaimie you remember 'bout that chore I had for you to do?"

"Yes. sir"

"Well, you take this bucket and go to that door on the barn right there, thats the corn crib. Take this lantern with you and this bucket--don't spill it now. You feed the critters in that corn crib you hear--every day".

Jamie stumbled off toward the corn crib. Nate told Fanny they would go see about him after he unharnessed and fed the team. A half hour later Nate and Fanny went to the crib and softly opened the crib door. There was Jamie in the circle of lantern light with a squirming puppy clutched to his breast. Meg, the Stone's old dog, watched tolerantly as Jamie stroked its fur. Three more very similar puppies were busy between Meg and Jamie licking spilled milk off the crib floor.

Nate closed the crib door quietly and told Fanny as they walked away "I'll come get him in a little while. There are things a boy needs worse than he needs food and sleep--that's for certain sure."

Epilogue

I realize that this story drips with sentiment and is not the type of thing which is in vogue today, but I had a reason for writing it. The story up to a point is true. My father was Jamie. When my father was six his father disappeared on his way to the Panama Canal. The ship he was on burned and sank at sea. My father was put to live with his mother's parents who also had a son still remaining at home who was fourteen. The Gypsies were true and they did give my father a dog which my Uncle shot at his fathers bidding. From the point where Jamie meets Nate Stone the whole remainder is fiction. Why didn't I tell the rest like it really was--how my Dad dug a little grave in the cotton field, buried the dog, went back to the house on the hill and took his licking and lived under Ruperts eye until he left home at sixteen to go to Tennesee and one year of college? Because it was too drab, too pointless, too devoid of hope. Up to the point where Rupert shot the dog it all happened.

I have met all these people. Grandpa and Grandma Wilson were much as I have shown them. Rupert grew up to become a crooked bail bondsman and lawyer in Dallas who preyed on the young women he got out of jail.

Dad never forgot the bicycle. I had a bicycle all my life even though we had to tie it on the bumper of the Model A Ford we moved in. I always had a horse. And never one time in my life did I ever doubt that my parents loved me.








© Charles Turrentine 2000





 
Frank Turrentine
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sorry. I was really blue tonight, and I think I flooded permies with it.
 
Frank Turrentine
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I miss the smell of cow manure
And fresh-cut hay, or even lawn,
That mixes with my line-dried clothes
And cleanses me of dumpster smells
Like sour-liquored memories
And barroom carpets soaked in piss
With cigarettes that linger on
The lips, indicting covert shades
Of manic nights spent speculating
In the place where love is sold
In orange neon glaring light
That advertises incremental
Death served from a spout
That calls in still small voices
Beckoning with siren-song
False hopes made real
In fleeting moments, snapshots
Of the night before
That ended in the cold despair
Of mornings spent in silent shame
And unforgiving clocks that moved
Too slow
To cover my iniquities
With Grace of Time
My fickle ally.

Leaving time I turn to space
And plot a new geography
To cover tracks that otherwise
Would seem so glaring
Of my infidelities.

The tractor on my father’s farm
Provides a momentary comfort
Diesel smell and throaty rumble
Offer solace; cover wounds
All self-inflicted
As I mow in straight lines
Geometric order out of chaos
With my father’s periodic
Waving, coaxing in my struggles
With the demons that have taken
Other loved ones in his family
While he looked on always coaxing
Offering in loyalty
All that he had to push the river
Back behind the levee crumbling
All around his youngest son
Who surfaces and then goes under.

I can only smile and wave
And wish that I could find redemption
From the galling black obsession
Driving me to find the secret
Why the grass, the sacrifice,
In heat, oppressive, swirling
Thick like Karo syrup hot
Like blood that’s leeched of poison
Pure like nature for a moment
I’m suspended; time is frozen
All the voices sudden silence
Harmony is on that tractor
In the heat down by the river
With my father gently waving
On that sea of grass no drowning
No repulsive smells to haunt me
With the memories my sins die
God is Good, but I can’t see Him
Like I see my father waving
From the porch with his forgiveness

Now I’m on the bus commuting
With a book to serve as bandage
On a wound like vivisection
In my gut, but no one sees me,
Hoping that next time the damage
Won’t be so severe that mowing
Can’t repair or stop the bleeding
Or that line-dried clothes won’t mask
The smell of spirit putrefying
Or a walk into the River
With the dogs as my companions
Substitutes, my Dad by proxy
Worrying that they cannot
Perform the function God assigns them
Watching as this Erring Child
Who coaxes them to deeper water
Hoping that their God won’t leave them
Drowning while he seeks his answers
In this stream so aptly named.
 
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