Ever Met A Ghost From Your Past?

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I’m about to share with you a story. It’s not about me but about someone else. It’s about two lives intersecting for less than a minute under the most dramatic circumstances imaginable. I understand that’s quite the lead in so let me tell it to you the way it was told to me.

My grandpaw and maw-maw were traveling through Texas sometime back in the 1980s. If I remember the details of the story, the town was called Sweet Water. They were in their RV and stopped at a gas station. My grandmother sat behind in the RV,  likely enjoying the air conditioner, while my grandfather went in to pay. When he returned, he sat there speechless. My grandmother noticed the look on his face, her exact words, “Honey, what is wrong with you? Are you sick? You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.” To which my grandfather replied that he had in fact.

My grandmother now confused asked him what he was talking about. My grandfather explained, “There’s a man in that store. I’m certain I saved his life back in ’45.”

“H__, ’45? What are you talking about?”

He told her, “Just outside of Bastogne in 1945. That’s him, I remember.”

Pawpaw was referring to the Battle of the Bulge. He was in Patton’s Third Army that marched in dead of winter, traveling more than 100 wintery miles to relieve the 101 Airborne Division in the Belgian town of Bastogne.

Pawpaw had seen his share of bodies pulverized by tanks, Germans and Americans, while marching across France into Germany. This trip was turning out no different than any of the rest. However, this time after spotting a body sprawled in the middle of the road, he decided then and there to see one less pulverized body. He grabbed the dead soldier under the arms and dragged him into a ditch out of the way of the tanks there were rumbling up behind.

For whatever reason, he studied his face and got a good luck at him. Probably out of pity, I assume. Then again, maybe it was for another reason he couldn’t explain. The moment was brief, as there was more fighting and dying ahead.

Fast forward 40 years later and here this man stood in the same gas station as my grandfather in Sweet Water, Texas. He told this, just as I have told you, to my grandmother sitting there in that RV in the parking lot of a gas station. Mawmaw implored him to go back in there and see if that was him. He was unsure and felt too bashful to try. Forty years is a long time to pass to be sure about much of anything, much less about a boy you think you remember pulling off a Belgium road.

The man by now was walking out of the store and grand paw’s curiosity got the best of him. He got out of his RV and introduced himself. Grandpaw swore that the man had a certain instant familiarity toward him, even an affection almost immediately after looking him in the eyes. My grandpaw asked him if was in the army back in WWII.

“Yes, I was.”

“Were you shot outside of Bastogne in 1945?”

“Yes. How did you know?”

“Because I apparently saved your life. I pulled you off that road and placed you in a ditch.”

The man dropped what he had in his hands, grabbed my grandfather and sobbed in his chest. “I knew it was you when I saw you,” he told him. He’d always known someone had pulled him off that road. He just never knew who.

My grandfather replied, “So did I.”

He insisted that he come and meet his family, his home being just a few miles away.

The story goes on a few more years. The man’s wife secretly invited my grandfather and grandmother to a family reunion a few years later. And the scene was just as dramatic. The man’s kids and grandkids were present this time, you see. So when he saw my grandfather standing there in his yard just a few years later, he dropped a case of beer he was carrying and ran to my grandfather and cried again just as he did the first time. He took him around to each and every family member there and paraded my grandfather around as if he were a legendary knight, a hero from some storied era in the past.

Grandpaw outlived the man by a few years, but the man’s wife and kids came to my grandfather’s funeral.

A debt and honor returned.

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Fending Off Snakes

In my hometown there was this family and once a year they’d host a big family reunion. They’d also invite the whole town. Anyone was invited and it didn’t matter who. They loved you anyway you came. The patriarch of the family hosted it at his place, which was more than suitable considering he owned at least 80 acres.

They’d cook huge amounts of food, slaughter a cow, a few hogs, and one year I remember, a few goats. Now, they did this out of their own generosity. That’s just how they were.

We’d play horseshoes, softball, and various other games. I bet my name that at any given time 50 to 75 people were there. One year, at least a hundred souls could be counted. In a town where there wasn’t but few hundred of us to start, you’d be inclined to call it quite the turnout.

All the men in the family tended to be large, now that I think about it, so did their women. Their kids, and there were a tribe of them, tended to be dirty and rough. Put it to you like this: Country people called them country.

But they were the nicest, simplest, God-fearing folks you could ever meet. They’d greet men with death grip handshakes and ladies got bone crunching bear hugs. Always happy to see a friend, even happier to meet a stranger. They were the quintessential example of small town country folks.

During one of those reunions that tribe of rough and dirty kids decided to swim and wrestle in the catfish pond. I’d could see them down there splashing, rolling, and dunking each other. I didn’t want any part of that muddy, murky hole. I know the men around me had to have seen them. The pond not being any further than 200 yards away.

At any rate, one of the wives came as fast as she could, which was not terribly, to where the men were sitting. Panting and panicking she exclaimed, “James y’all got to get them kids out of there! Daddy killed 28 water moccasins with his .22 while bush-hoging around that pond yesterday. He told me last night he counted at least that many he didn’t kill!”

To which James replied, “Well momma, I’m sorry but those snakes gonna have to fend for themselves. Those kids done claimed that pond.”

A brother added, “If I’s those snakes, I’d be looking for some where else to live.”

And that was it. The tribe survived and as far a I know, no snakes were harmed that day.

I cannot lie to you, friends. It all happened as written.

The Battle on Billy Goat Hill

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When I was a boy, I wanted a goat. I know from where this interest came. I will do my best to explain to you the story.

When I was little, I would sometimes go with my dad to work. My dad was self-employed and so worked at the homes of his customers. Since I was too young to work, and far too interested in the new surroundings to be of much use, I was free to roam.

At one particular home, I remember, the owner had several goats. I had never seen one in person. There were a half-dozen or so. The ladies, as most ladies are, were kind and welcoming. They allowed me to pet them and would dance around me. I examined their eyes, and their strange square-shaped pupils. I gave their beards a tug and this they didn’t mind. However, one drew the line when I tried to ride her.

Then I met him — the brown and white patriarch of the herd. He stood a distance away observing the activity. He was a magnificently arrogant fellow, with a long beard, and one could tell immediately he cherished his position as the head. I’m not sure if he was jealous or if curiosity got the better of him, but he strolled toward the fun and was serious about ending it.

Here he was — a Billy-goat, with a pair of foot-long horns. These he showed me. So I did what I was supposed to do. I grabbed them with both hands. In the absence of a well thought out idea, I reckoned this was a good one at the time. I pushed him back a few steps, and then I twisted his head side to side. I was having a blast. He barely offered a protest. I continued with the fun – pushing, twisting, and turning him. Then he stopped. His neck stiffened, and his legs locked.

He said, “Young man, I know not who you are nor from where you came, but this is my hill and none of my ladies take a liking to anyone, not even a boy, without my permission. And now you are daring me in front of my lovely concubines. This is a dare, I am afraid for you, I have to take.”

He reared up his front legs, and lunged with his spare ones. On my butt I tumbled, and over the top of me he stepped. Even as a boy, I could see that things were serious.

My pride was hurt. I was embarrassed, outdone, and on my butt in front of a group of nice ladies. The Billy-goat stood there proud, half turned, and eying me with the left one. I’m sure I heard him laugh. I spat, flashed my teeth, stood and gave him a shove in the ribs. He straightened and we stood face to face. He showed me his horns. I grabbed them. The tussle began again.

We were locked in combat. Both of us were keenly aware the ladies were watching. This time I leaned in hard and walked him back several feet and when he lunged, I let go, moved out of the way, gave him a passing shove, then grabbed his horns again, and twisted and turned his head some more. This we repeated for some time — neither side winning, neither side losing but tearing up all of God’s creation. The ladies cheered, gasped, one fainted.  Then he quit. I tried to entice him for more combat, feeling robbed of a proper victory, a chance to settle it for good. It was of no use, he’d met his match.

I did what any victor would do. I returned to the company of the nice ladies and danced with all of them. I should have been wiser. Though I won our contest, the Billy-goat was far from defeated. He did not appreciate me adding insult to injury by dancing with his women. I did not see the horned devil coming. I just felt an incredible thud on my right side. He sent my little body flying and tumbling end over end over the ground. (It is a record distance in that town to this day by any goat in a boy throwing contest).

The Billy-goat and I’m afraid to say, even the ladies, thought I cried. That is a lie. During my fall, I got dirt in my eyes, which made my eyes water profusely. I would like to state that clearly and end the matter. I did not cry.

I faced my foe.

“You do not fight fair, sir!” I protested.

“I am a Billy-goat.” He responded.

There is not room here for me to explain the reaction of my father. He was not pleased and I had to stay by his side the rest of the day. Before we left, I pleaded and begged for him to buy me that Billy-goat. He told me no that I would have it so mean in a week’s time  “it wouldn’t be worth shoot’n!”

I’ve never owned a goat but neither have I forgotten that day, and neither have I stopped wanting to own one since.

A Cautionary Tale About Deer Hunting on the Sabbath

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I could tell you about two gentlemen I once worked for, but I would already be guilty of telling a lie. For neither of them were ever guilty of being gentlemanly. Both of them were older than me. I would estimate by about 15 years. They were carpenters, the two of them, and went into business building homes. Now these two were an unruly bunch, full of lies and mischief, but, otherwise, good as gold. On the job site they would take turns cursing the other on account the other one was lazy and too slow.

“I’m getting awfully tired of carrying you on account of your loafing around. You can’t expect me to do my end of the job and yours too, can you!”

“I was considering the same about you! Figures to me, I could make more money on my own. At least I would finally get paid for doing the work of two men!”

Back and forth it went between them. When they got tired of ripping on one another, they would gang up on me. Since I was barely 21 at the time, I made a pretty easy target.

Of course, neither of which were lazy or incompetent. But they were equally outlaws each in their own right. V— was the biggest outlaw of the two. There were times when he would stop by Lowes to pick up lumber and would find reason to slap an employee in the lumber yard. According to V— the employee was always at fault. P—, the more diplomatic of the two, would go and make amends with the manager on V—‘s behalf.

I witnessed with my own eyes V— accidentally shoot himself with a nail gun through his thigh. To my amazement he ran as fast as a gazelle afterward because P— was trying to chase him down with his claw hammer. He told V—, “Hold still, will you! I’ll yank it out for you.”

However, once V— reached his truck where he kept his Ruger .44, P— wisely dropped the idea.

A famous story around my town was the time when V— skipped church on one particular Sunday morning. Instead of sharing in the Gospel with the rest of the Baptist town folk, he decided to run his hunting dogs in the deer woods to see if he could kick up a few deer.

Now P— had a domineering wife given over heavily to the rules of the Sabbath. So it wasn’t as if he could just skip church without suffering a divorce. V— had already been divorced three times, so the threat of another one didn’t exactly scare him straight.

P— sat there with the righteous but the thought of his buddy running wild through the woods shooting up God’s creation was too much for his piety to cover. So he tapped his dear wife on her arm and asked to be excused so that he could accommodate the necessities of nature. However, instead of going to the men’s room, he headed out to his truck to see if he could call up V— on his CB radio.

Unfortunately for P— the church’s sound system picked up their conversation — actually it was the main auditorium speakers to be precise. P—‘s CB radio, being in close proximity to the church building, bled over to the speakers. If you are familiar with sound systems and radios, the idea of how a matter could happen isn’t so hard to imagine.

Here’s how the conversation took place.

P—: Hey dick, where you at?

V—: Oh, up here at the lease tearing up the woods, dick. We just kicked up a big fat b—-. I let her go, though. I’m gonna see if I can pop that big mother f—- that’s been f—- with us all season.

The preacher was at first confused then shocked at the type of conversation being transmitted to the entire congregation. So he began to shout in order to drown out the vulgarities but on queue P— and V—‘s laughter would pick up as if the Devil himself had a hand in tormenting the pious on that Sabbath Day.

Before the sound man killed the power to the speakers, the entire congregation had become privy to the conversation taking place out in the parking lot. Some were praying down brimstone and fire, others thinking the world was coming to an end, dropped then and there in fervent prayer. The rest simply covered their children’s ears.

Certainly P—‘s wife recognized her husband’s voice and promptly dispatched the oldest son out to fetch him away from his blasphemous actions that surely already sent his soul to eternal damnation.

As I understand it, P— told his son that he loved him. He said he would take his chances in the afterlife when God called to finally set things straight. The thought of eternal fire and damnation was still aways off but the wrath of his wife was immediate, and she was likely to be less forgiving than the Almighty.

*I hear he is still hiding out somewhere in Mexico.

*I took some liberty with the ending. Everything up to that point is the honest truth. It’s not like you can make up something like that.

A Very Good Memory

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I’ll share with you a story from my childhood that to this day occupies a place in my mind. If I were to sit down and write a story of my life, this particular part I would dedicate an entire chapter.

I was twelve years old and we were in the Little League Baseball (11 and 12 year olds) regional championship game. We win this game and we were headed to the state championship series. Throughout this tournament I was really seeing and hitting the baseball very well. The team I was on, (people referred to us as “the squad”) was a very talented group of kids. A few of these kids would later go on to play at the collegiate level and one played semi-pro ball. There were a lot of kids on that team who could hit the ball a long distance, even as 12 year old kids. I was not one of those kids. But I could hit. I rarely struck out and always put the ball in play. Preferring to hit line-drives into the outfield, knock in some runs and jack up my batting average. This was my style even in high school. After which my career ended like 99 percent of all aspiring athletes.

At any rate, the game took place on a July night. I preferred to play at night. The lights give off the perfect illumination. I always found the ball easier to hit at night. It sort of glowed at night under the artificial lights, making it appear bigger than it actually was.

It was the top of the 6th in a 6 inning game with one out. Our two teams were tied one to one. I remember the kid who was pitching was very good. He threw hard for a 12 year old. But he was getting tired by this point and his fastball lost some of its zip. I mentioned I was hitting the ball very well during this tournament, and I was feeling supremely confident going to the plate. I planned to jump on the first pitch that was hittable. Unfortunately, the first pitch was wide and out of the strike zone.

I stepped out of the box, looked at my third base coach as we were instructed to do after every pitch. He patted his head, which signaled to me he was giving me freedom to swing a way. In other words, “I have nothing for you. There’s one out and we need you on base. Swing a way, young man.”

I liked that. I waited for the pitcher to set; I dug in, and let the bat dance delicately, slightly above and behind my head. I had rhythmic energy that started in my knees, through my hips, up to my hands that kept my bat live. It helped to keep it quick, like a snake coiled to strike. When the ball left the pitcher’s hand, I swear to you it appeared to stop in midair at some point out in front of the plate. I recall actually seeing the “horseshoe” on the ball during that moment of suspension.

I turned my hips, let my hands go and met the ball out in front of the plate. I still remember the sound of the bat, that aluminum “ping” on contact that is like music. The ball launched from my bat like a rocket high into the air. Way above the lights but I could see it traveling deep, deep, deeper still. The left fielder turned and gave it chase. I glanced at the fence. I glanced at the ball; I glanced at him, trying to do a quick estimation if I had gotten enough of it to clear the fence. I knew I had hit it hard. I knew I got every ounce of it.

Then I saw the ball falling, almost straight down after it did all the climbing and traveling from the force my 12 year old body sent into it. The left fielder gave up. He ran out of real estate. He watched it fly over head, his neck craning. That told me all I needed to know. I saw the same thing. I watched the ball traveling up and away from the first base line.

It cleared the fence easily and landed on an asphalt track that circled the baseball fields. The ball bounced over a concession stand that was parked on the other side. I immediately went into my home run trot. It was the slowest trot in the history of home run trots. I basked in the crowd’s cheers. I could hear my name being shouted. My feet floated around the bases. As I rounded second base, the shortstop told me, “Good hit, man.” I still had enough control over myself to say thank you. It was only when I rounded and saw my third base coach that I picked up my step anticipating him giving me a high-five and a pat on the backside.

When I rounded third base, my teammates were waiting for me at home plate, ready to pummel me, and take turns slapping my helmet. When I was about three feet or so from home plate, I leaped and landed with both feet on it. I remember feeling instantly a tinge of disappointment. As wonderful as it was, as happy as I was to be able to emulate my baseball idols, it was over. I felt like I could have stayed there repeating it over and over forever.

After the game was finished, which we won 2-1, my dad told me he was proud of me. He had tears in his eyes, which is saying a lot about the old man. He rubbed my head, played with my hair and held me close to him with one arm draped over my chest. I was happy that he was happy. I was happy everyone was happy. I was happy that everyone got to witness what I did. I was happy everyone had to notice me. I was happy that some little kids brought me the ball after they found it. I still have it, with the date and the score. It’s safe with me as a memento of mine, representing a very good memory.

Now this may or may not have happened quite like I explained. Depending on your opinion of physics you may doubt seriously the ball stopped in mid air, even if I said it did for only a split second, and you may doubt my eyes actually picked up the horseshoe stitching on the baseball. I was told by my older brother later that the ball didn’t travel quite as high or as far as I remembered, and that the whole event — from pitch to home run — lasted about two seconds. So it may seem to contradict the story how so much detail can be crammed into a few seconds. Though he did acknowledge my home run trot was very slow and it was more like a home run strut. There he agreed with my recollection at least.

But who are you going to believe, a 12 year old that lived it or a trained physicist and an eye witness?

Besides, I still have the newspaper clipping explaining it all. Though, I was a little disappointed that the writer left out so much detail.

A Guy Walks Into a Bar And Orders A Shot of Revenge

The bar was actually more like a cut-and-shoot. The kind of place where they checked you for weapons and if you didn’t have one on you, they would issue you one. Okay maybe I’ve stretched the truth a little but you get the picture. It was a rowdy place, which was probably why it was so popular. It was a place for fighting and romance for a bunch of roughnecks.

At any rate, I hesitated a little when I was deciding if I wanted to share this story. I’m not sure if some people will agree with it. Keep in mind, the details of this story happened years ago. I’m talking 12 or 13 years ago, when I was practically a kid full of pee and vinegar.

I once dated this pretty little girl. I guess I was about 19 at the time. She was a year younger than me. She was pretty, knew she was pretty, and enjoyed the attention because of it. You know the story. Anyway, I was working offshore on an oilrig in the Gulf of Mexico at the time. I operated on a schedule to where I was gone for two weeks and home for two weeks. During my two weeks out, I found out my pretty little girlfriend was seen locking face with another guy at this bar, I mentioned earlier. This guy’s name was Brian.

Brian was a few years older than me. He drove a very nice truck and liked to show it off. He’d roll through town with its windows down so everyone had a chance to see his muscles and rugged good looks. He was the kind of guy you learned to hate, and I especially more after what he did to me.

The problem that was surrounding the circumstances is that in the area I grew up, you were bound to cross paths with almost everyone. For probably close to two years, I would see Brian on the weekends. I would sometimes see him with my ex-girlfriend. I was forced to breathe the same air when he was standing no more than 5 feet from me. The whole time, he knew that I knew, and could not have cared less. His arrogant behavior was a grievous insult to me.

At some point during all of this, I vowed to myself I would confront him. But he intimidated me. He was older, broad shouldered, full of energy and was always surrounded by people. Like I said, you learn to hate a guy like that.

On one particular night in this bar, the same bar he made-out with my pretty little girlfriend, he and I squared off. It started by accident. A confrontation between groups of people he knew and I knew broke out. Being that he knew his bunch and I knew mine, we both headed over to the donnybrook to break it up. However, in the process Brian and me ended up in a little standoff. That’s when I told him about my problem. He let me know he didn’t care at all about my problem. Like I said, you learn to hate a guy like that.

The crowd dispersed; disaster averted but I was fuming. There was my chance. All those smug smiles I had to deal with over the last year or more. All of the times he could have apologized to me but didn’t. I told myself to man up and to remember the promise I made to myself. I may never get this kind of chance again.

I asked a friend of mine standing next to me, “Hey Charlie, you think I’ll go to jail if walk over there and knock Brian out?”

Charlie being the great friend that he was responded, “Hell no, man! Go over there kick his a**!”

That’s all I needed to hear at that moment. I walked over to where Brian and his friends were standing. Brian saw me walking up and gave me a wary glance. As I got closer, I said, “Hey Brian.”

He may or may not have responded fully with “what’s up” before I punched him in his face. The punch sent him flying backwards into some tables. It was like a scene out of a movie. For a very long time afterward, I considered it my finest moment.

You may consider this cowardly, that I sucker punched him. But remember I told you people always surrounded Brian. I knew that after I gave Brian his due, I would quickly get mine by his friends in return.  The consequences didn’t matter to me though. The only thing that mattered was that I restored my honor. I decided the tradeoff was worth it.

I saw Brian several years ago when I was in the military and home on leave. This time it was in a nicer place. I had my wife with me; we were probably just married at the time. It was crowded and my wife was leading us through the thicket (men will move for a woman much faster than they will for a man).

Out of my buried past came Brian moving through the crowd headed in our direction. Do you know that rascal used it as an opportunity to move up against my wife, smile at her and say hi?

I’ll never forget the look on his face when he glanced up and recognized me. He gave me a nod and passed by. I took that as an apology.

I thought to myself, old Brian still hasn’t changed much.

Like I said, you learn to hate a guy like that.

Now with a little age and experience under my belt, I’ve learned to avoid a guy like that.

Ex’s in Texas

Years ago in the town I grew up, I came home from work and saw my friend’s truck in the driveway. He was there sitting on the front porch. He was waiting for me. The significance of this is, I barely saw or heard from him for probably two months. He had recently married a girl he met in a shoe store, in another state to boot.

I guess you could call it a hot and heavy romance because they were married two months later. I didn’t want to rain on his happy parade but I did try to caution him about moving too fast. I don’t think we were any older than 20, the two of us. The girl was about 18, if I recall.

At any rate, I knew when I saw him something probably wasn’t right. I walked up to the porch and asked him how he was doing.

“Long time no see. What’s going on, man?”

“Marriage problems, son.”

“Oh yeah, what kind?”

“The worse kind. She’s gone. Left this morning.”

Personally, I can think of worst ways to have marriage problems. She burns your house down, cleans out your bank account, runs off with your best friend, etc., but I guess the circumstances were bad enough for him as they were.

“Where to?” I asked.

“Back to Texas. To her mom’s house.” Came his reply.

I asked him if there was a particular reason. He said no only that they had been fighting. Not knockout, drag out fighting. It sounded like typical roommate-type squabbles.

Some others were telling him this was her way of blowing off steam. “Give her a few days,” they were telling him, “she’ll come back.”

That was nonsense. I’m not saying that all marriages fail when you only know the person for 8 weeks, but you certainly aren’t giving yourself good odds either. The fact that she left, with little theater or emotion and with no real reason, back to her mom’s house in another state, the place she was living only 4 months earlier, told me she realized she had made a mistake. In other words, she regretted her choice to marry my friend. She was gone for good in my opinion.

I let him do most the talking and I waited for the inevitable question.

“Do you think she’s coming back?” he asked me while looking down at his shoes.

I told him no as quickly as the words could come out of my mouth. There was no use in lying to him and I wasn’t in the mood to lie. He needed to hear the truth. Fantasy and reality cannot occupy the same space at the same time. And most times people want affirmation, not advise.

I can’t remember what exactly was discussed after that. I do remember he tried for several weeks afterward to get her back. During that time, I wouldn’t say he resented me but he definitely avoided me, or at least the conversation about her when he was around me. Then he found out she began dating her ex-boyfriend. Even a heartbroken man has his pride.

It was a carless choice made by both of them. They should have never married but life has its own way of sorting out the details. As long as you live, you’ll make mistakes and do things you regret. But the longer you live; you learn from those mistakes and discover second chances.

Did you know he saw that girl again last year? In the same little town in Texas, very close to the shoe store they met for the first time. They recognized each other and struck up a conversation. He learned that she remarried and has two kids. She even showed him pictures. She seemed happy and well, he told me.

My friend, too, remarried and has two kids.  Both of them have moved on with the life they were intended to live.

I guess that is the way it should be.  The only way it is supposed to be really.