I Believe in America
If Hope is the Question...
In a departure from his normal Western novels, Cherokee Parks has created three short stories based on real life occurrences of people across the US. Taken from unwritten oral histories, he provides us with a glimpse into how these people coped with adversity, and made the changes necessary to survive and succeed as individuals, and as communities. In "Life's Lessons Learned Last", he shows that using sound business practices learned from an older generation are still valid and deserve to be passed on. "The Old Man and The Kid" is a study in believing in the people, using resources to save a dying community, and passing on that attitude to the next generation. "The Whistler" covers the desire of some to remain low key, until they are called to do more by stepping up when they are needed, and knowing when to step back again.
Life's Lessons Learned Last
It had been kind of a slow morning at the store, and I was taking care of some minor business details when he came walking in. Well, it was more of a slow, measured shuffle aided slightly by an odd-looking cane. I didn't get many of the older, retired crowd like him, and I couldn't help but wonder why he came in. Most of my business came from the middle-aged to the young adults of our community. I grew up in this area and knew almost everyone around, but he was a stranger. I gave him a few minutes to browse, then walked over to where he was and asked, "Anything I can help you with today?"
"Naw, I'm just lookin' around, killin' time. Thanks for askin', though."
I answered, "Sure, just let me know if I can help you, okay?"
He nodded, and I walked away, back to what I had been doing. About twenty minutes went by as I looked up at him every so often. He was getting on in years and was bent and worn looking, like he had carried the weight of the world for too long. Straightened up, he was probably just over six feet tall, but as he walked past my height marker on the door, I could see the five-foot ten-inch mark. He had a paunch and looked to be about two hundred and twenty pounds, but that particular description could have just as easily fit me. He still had a full head of hair, but it was silvering, and his face was lined with wrinkles from what looked to be too many years of sleepless nights and worry. I was just getting ready to approach him again when he turned and then walked straight up to me.
"You the owner?"
"Yes, I am," I answered.
"Good, I hate dealing with lackeys that act like they're the boss."
I chuckled, "Yeah, they kind of annoy me, too. What can I do for you?"
"I don't suppose you've got any little jobs an old man like me could do for ya, do you?"
The answer he expected was obvious. He'd probably been told no a thousand times already. But I didn't feel like alienating the parent or grandparent of a possible customer, so I gave it a few minutes' thought before I answered. I was rubbing my chin while I thought it over and could see he was starting to get impatient. I asked, "You ever do any security guard work?"
He gave me a wry smile and then answered. "Nope, but for quite a few years I shared the responsibility of this nation's security, so I suppose I could handle a small place like this. What ya got in mind?"
"Well, I just fired another security company, the third one in the last two years. I close at ten at night and open at eight in the morning, six days a week. They always want to charge me to send a split shift out with two different guards since their people can only work eight hours a day and need two breaks and an hour lunch, on my time, during that eight hours. I can't afford that, so I have always settled for having them show up at eleven and leave by seven, that way I only pay for one shift instead of two splits."
"Makes sense. Go on."
"Anyway, would you be interested in something like that?" I should have known better, but at this point, it was just small talk. I could almost hear his wheels turning.
"Yes, I would," he replied after a few moments. "I could be here just before you close and stay until you show up to reopen. Except for Sundays, that is. There you're on your own."
The Old Man and The Kid
The Kid woke to the phone ringing early that morning but simply turned over and went back to sleep when he heard his mother answer it. It was the first week of the summer, so there was no school. He planned on sleeping in as a reward for working so hard all throughout the school year, but it wasn't to be. It seemed like he had just closed his eyes when he heard his mother's voice urging him to get up and come to the kitchen right away.
He washed up, dressed, and then headed for their suburban kitchen, stopping to look out the picture window for just a moment to see it was going to be a very nice day. The sun was already bright, and there was a slight breeze rustling through the trees. As he entered the kitchen, he saw his father dabbing at his reddened eyes and knew that the man had been crying. This was something he'd never seen before, so he instantly knew there was something very serious going on.
His mother turned from the stove with a plate of food, placing it in his regular spot at the table. She had tears running down her cheek, and he could hear her soft sobbing under her breath. He was afraid to ask what was wrong, but he knew it must be much worse than he could imagine. After a few minutes, his older sister and brother came to the table, both looking at their parents with the same question he had - what was wrong? They were soon to find out.
His father cleared his voice, wiped his eyes again, and then began speaking softly, his voice cracking while he tried to get the words out. "Kids, grandpa, my dad, passed away this morning. We're leaving as soon as we can get ready. It's a long drive back home, and we need to get started within the next hour or so. I need you to get yourselves ready, pack your clothes, and make sure you take your Sunday best for the funeral."
They were stunned. His sister started crying as soon as he has issued those words, "passed away", but his brother just sat there staring. The Kid had no idea how to react. At eight, he certainly knew the meaning of death, but had no clue how he was supposed to act at a time like this. He barely knew his grandfather, having only seen him twice that he could remember. So he hustled up in devouring his food, and then slipped off to his room to fulfill his father's wishes.
It was less than an hour later that they were loaded up and leaving the driveway. They stopped for gas at the edge of town then hit the Interstate prepared for the long drive ahead. It wasn't ten minutes into the trip that The Kid was sound asleep, and he stayed that way until they stopped for gas and some fast food around one that afternoon. After that he stayed awake, looking at all the strange trees and plants and animals passing by his line of sight.
They stopped again just before dark, more gas and more fast food. He hadn't heard more than a few words spoken the whole trip so far, and those were in soft, hushed tones he couldn't hear. His older siblings were occupied with their own thoughts, and with constantly playing games on their electronic gadgets, but he was only interested in how much longer his butt was going to be glued to this seat. He felt bad as soon as that though raced through his mind, so he put it out of his mind and started watching all the lights of the trucks and cars of the oncoming traffic. It wasn't long until he was asleep again.
He was aware of one more stop for gas, but he didn't care to get up and move around like the others, so they let him sleep. Then, before he knew it, they were there. It was sometime in the middle of the night, that much he knew, but he had no idea of the time. There were lots of people there, even at the late hour, and all seemed concerned with getting the car unloaded and finding the best place for these newcomers to sleep.
It was the early spring of my ninth year when The Whistler came into our lives, but the things we all learned from him are still with me today. We had just started coming out of a pretty tough time in this country, and money was still kind of tight in spite of what the government was telling us. Two wars in a decade had taken its toll on many people and their families, and, while the economy was doing fairly well, that toll trickled down to every level of our nation.
The man my father had worked for over the last few years decided to retire and move into town. He had no family left, having lost two of his sons in World War II and the remaining two in Korea, all unmarried at the time of their deaths. "He blamed having had no daughters combined with the heartbreak of losing their sons for taking his wife of forty-five years," my father said. "He simply gave up now that there was no one left he could pass the farm on to.
That worked out well for my father, since the grieving and broken man he worked for decided to sell the farm and all the equipment to my father and carry the note at a very reasonable interest rate. My father almost turned the deal down, not wanting to take advantage of another's loss and grief, but the man told him my father was like a son to him, and it was only right that he continued to work that ground. My father finally agreed, the price was set, the small down payment changed hands, and we owned a nice, one hundred eighty acre farm and all the equipment that went with it. Or we would own it once it was paid for anyway.
My father had worked in town at the local blacksmith's shop during the winter months for as long as I could remember, returning to the farm when it came time to get started in the spring, and staying until the last bit of work was done in the fall. The last winter had been no different, except that my father took a day or two off to attend some local farm equipment sales looking for some equipment he felt he would need to properly farm the place. He found what he wanted and spent some long nights in the barn and shop, repairing all the equipment in preparation for a busy spring.
When it came time to kick off the ground work and prepare the fields for planting, my father decided to spend a few of his hard earned dollars on hiring some help to get everything done on time, knowing that he couldn't do it alone. He drove around through four towns before he finally found three men to help, all saying they had farming experience. One fellow quickly proved that he was a liar, and didn't know the difference between a plow and a disc. My father hauled him back to where he came from on the third day, leaving us with just two, including The Whistler, who was the only one of the three our English Shepherd and three coonhounds liked. That was a mark in his favor to my father, who prized his dogs.
The Whistler was a quiet man who went about his work without having to be told every move to make, and the only time he stopped whistling was to eat or take a drink of water, or on the rare occasion when he would say something. The third fellow, on the other hand, did nothing but talk and ask questions, unable to remember from one hour to the next what he was supposed to be doing. My father finally handed him a shovel and told him to cut weeds along the fence lines. Sadly, he didn't even do that very well, and by Saturday of the second week, he was loaded up and hauled off as well.
Fortunately, The Whistler did more than his share, actually doing three times as much work as "Chatterbox" in spite of walking kind of awkwardly. He understood equipment, livestock, and every other element of the job, and did it all without complaint or much direction. He was always up and working by the time my father stepped outside, and had to be told when it was quitting time nearly every day. And he was every bit as good as my father at operating a tractor, including making nice, straight planting rows.
ALL PHOTOS, GRAPHICS, CLIPART AND LOGOS USED ON THIS SITE ARE THE PROPERTY OF THEIR SPECIFIC OWNERS AND ARE USED WITH FULL PERMISSION OF THOSE OWNERS. A NUMBER OF PHOTOS USED AS BACKGROUNDS AND CLIPART BELONG TO THE OWNER OF THE CHEROKEE PARKS SITE AND MAY NOT BE COPIED OR USED IN ANY WAY WITHOUT SPECIFIC WRITTEN PERMISSION. PLEASE CLICK THE EMAIL BUTTON ON THE HOME PAGE TO REQUEST PERMISSION FOR USAGE OF PHOTOS, GRAPHICS AND CLIPART DISPLAYED ON THIS SITE, OR GO TO THE LINKS PAGE FOR USAGE REQUESTS REGARDING LOGOS, CLIPART, PHOTOS AND GRAPHICS FROM THEIR RESPECTIVE OWNERS.
Copyright © 2011-2021