I don’t know if my dad, Ed Partin Junior, saw his father portrayed by Brian Dennehey in “Blood Feud,” the 1983 film about Jimmy Hoffa and Bobby Kennedy, but if he did he never mentioned it to me.
It’s not a coincidence that Brian looked a lot like Big Daddy. The producers of Blood Feud sought actors who physically resembled the real characters, and money wasn’t hard to come by for Hollywood films. Cotter Smith looked a lot like Bobby Kennedy, Robert Blake looked like Jimmy Hoffa, and Brian Dennehy looked remarkably like Big Daddy, Edward Partin Senior. Brian Dennehy was already a famous actor known for portraying big, handsome, charismatic men, and a sensible choice for the producers of Blood Feud. It was a long film, 3 1/2 hours, but it was good and reasonably accurate and it was nominated for a few academy awards. Robert Blake won one for “channeling Hoffa’s rage” on film. He, like Hoffa, was short in stature, only 5’6”, and he mimicked Hoffa’s slicked back hair and fierce countenance. Hoffa had surrounded himself with big, intimidating Teamsters; former soldiers, boxers, or mafia hitmen ostensibly loyal to Hoffa and a powerful presence in closed door corporate negotiations, and the producers of Blood Feud found actors similarly large and powerful. The film advertised itself as “how Bobby Kennnedy brought Jimmy Hoffa to justice,” and FBI agent Walter Sheridan was shown to be more tough and shrewd than he was. One scene showed him slapping Big Daddy to get him to focus, and we all knew that noone would slap Big Daddy and live; no one who spoke badly about him had lived. But Big Daddy was portrayed as an American hero, a self made man who risked his life and family’s well being to help Kennedy bring Jimmy Hoffa to justice; the image stuck.
Hoffa’s 1975 disappearance was still daily conversation in a lot of America when Blood Feud was released, especially among the working class and anyone in a union. I was asked by every teacher, babysitter, or neighborhood kid’s parents to talk about Big Daddy and Hoffa; and I became reticent, not shy but quiet and unsure what I could or couldn’t say, therefore reticent because that was easier than envisioning falsehoods every day just because adults lived vicariously through TV and movies.
Coincidentally, the same year Biran Dennehy portrayed Big Daddy in Blood Feud, he also portrayed a small town sherif in Rambo, First Blood. It was a hugely popular film and was released in theaters all over the world, and my dad took me to see him after he picked me up from Louisiana in the summer of 1984, and I still remember Rocky First Blood Feud Part One perfectly, albeit from young boy’s perspective.
“Did you see the way he shot up that town?” My dad asked me as we walked out of the two-screen theater in downtown Clinton, Arkansas. “Just him and a knife and a bunch of asshole deputies.”
Ed Partin Junior was young then, only 26 years old. I was only eleven, but I remember First Blood well, though I kept calling Rambo Rocky because Sylvester Stalone portrayed both of them in both movies, Rocky and Rambo, in 1983. You saw Sly’s face everywhere, and I was young and easily confused by someone having different names in different films, especially because Sylvester Stalone was unequivocally himself in all the films I saw him in; and, like I said, Brian Dennedy looked remarkably like Big Daddy and I hadn’t seen my grandfather in person since he went to prison in 1980. But, Big Daddy had been speaking on the news frequently, and his photo had been in the newspaper once a week or so, and Brian Dennedy had even researched and perfected Big Daddy’s charming southern drawl, so when I saw Big Daddy and Sylvester Stalone on the screen in Clinton’s theater I naturally assumed it was Big Daddy and Rocky Rambo. And, because my dad lived remotely, in a cabin without running water or electricity or TV and only a table saw and a gas powered generator and a battery powered AM radio, it’s not unlikely that he hadn’t watched the two part movie on NBC, one of only three national stations and broadcast widely and advertised heavily; Hoffa’s disappearance was still daily speculation and chatter. Almost the entire country had seen it, but I doubted my dad had. It’s unlikely he knew Robert Blake had won an academy award for portraying Hoffa’s rage so well; and I doubt he saw Walter Sheridan slap Big Daddy, because he would have surely said something about how fake that scene was.
Sylvester Stallone wom an academy award for Rocky, and he was also Rambo, John Rambo. An ex special forces green beret and Vietnam War veteran who wandered America after the war and cried and said he had been a war hero in charge of million dollar equipment but couldn’t get a job driving a truck now. He couldn’t be a Teamster on his own movie set. Rambo wandered, homeless, seeking his army buddies that were dying from Agent Orange and suffering silently. Big Daddy – Brian Dennehey – stopped arrested him for not having a job, but Rocky Rambo escaped into the woods surrounding town with his survival knife – a big fancy of knife with a sawtooth back and hollow handle with fishing line and sewing needles – and the sheriff’s deputies chased him into the woods, but Rocky killed them and a wild pig with just his knife because he was better in the woods than they were. He had been hurt, though, and he had to make stitches from his fishing string and use his sewing needle to thread them. Big Daddy called in the army and national guard and the fight escalated, and Rambo returned to town and tore off his sleeves and flexed his muscles – he was almost as big and strong and angry as my dad – and he reached into a national guard truck and picked up a giant M60 machine gun using only one hand and wrapped a belt of ammo around his other arm.
Today, according to a 2021 Wikipedia article about the M60, “The gunner carries the weapon and, depending on his strength and stamina, anywhere from 200 to 1,000 rounds of ammunition,” and I don’t know how many rounds Rocky carried on his left arm, but it was a lot and he yelled bloody murder as he riddled the town with 7.62x51mm bullets at 650 rounds per minute and destroyed their national guard armory and the sheriff’s jail and the strip of bullets wrapped around his arm didn’t run out during the several minutes of Sylvester shooting and yelling.
I liked that Rambo looked like my dad, big and strong and with long black hair and a loud booming voice, though my dad also had a big bushy black beard that hid most of his face so that only his dark brown eyes – my eyes – shown through. He still never smiled in public, and probably seemed more menacing than anything a small town sheriff had faced.
After he showed enthusiasm for Rambo shooting up Big Daddy’s sheriff’s office, my dad knelt down between me and his new truck and peered at me with eyes like mine from behind his mane of black hair and thick bushy beard, and he pointed into my face to ensure I was listening and talked about how it was wrong to kill people and even Mamma Jean’s bible told her that, and that Rambo had shell shock like Audie Murphy and that the Vietnam War was bullshit and Agent Orange had hurt a lot of people and that was that asshole Johnson’s fault and that big Dick was no better. I listened attentively and didn’t interrupt even though I didn’t know who Audie Murphy or Peaty Esdy or the big Dick or Secret Agent Orange were; I had heard enough about former President Johnson and what happened after Kennedy died to understand that he was an asshole, just like Richard Nixon, the big Dick. I remained silent and smiled, just like Big Daddy taught me long, long ago; three years before, when I was just a kid, only seven years old. It was Brian Dennehy’s smile.
My dad, satisfied at having shared a life lesson with his son and pleased at how what he said had made me smile, hugged me and told me he loved me and helped me crawl into our new truck. He showed me our new cassette player enthusiastically, almost giddy, giggling and talking quickly like a kid with a new toy sharing with a friend. He showed me how to push in the tape sideways, not straight in like an 8-track, and which button to push to make it play and how to adjust the volume. The new truck had much better speakers than older jeeps and cars, and without the jeep cover flapping in the wind we could hear every song clearly and we listened to Fleetwood Mac’s newest album and sang with Miss Nicks, and my dad asked if I remembered how how fine she was and I said yes, and he lit a joint and cracked his window just enough to let smoke out but not drown out the music with wind noise and we drove along the winding hilly two lane highway, Arkansas State Highway Star Route 1 connecting Clinton to Morilton, singing along to Fleetwood Mac’s Gold album. It’s good, but it’s not Rumors and Miss Nicks singing Dreams to me in person; only few things outside of heaven are that enjoyable.
My dad was always honest with me, but had forgotten to mention that the Clinton sheriff had arrested him twice while I had been with Wendy in Baton Rouge. He had been stopped for some minor traffic infarction – I don’t remember what it was – and the sheriff noticed a roach sticking out of his new truck’s ashtray; a roach was the butt of a joint, and my dad always saved roaches until he had enough to roll a new joint, saying that the resins accumulated in the roaches and gave him a better buzz the second time around. I don’t know if he explained that the the Clinton sheriff, but no matter what he said I’m sure it wasn’t wasn’t well received by the sheriff, and he had handcuffed my dad and placed him in the jail cell in downtown Clinton, a few blocks from the movie theater. But, it was such a minor amount, even in 1983 when marijuana was still illegal in every state, and bail was negligible and my dad’s friends paid for his freedom and the judge charged him a few hundred dollars as a fine and put him on probation and let him keep his truck, and my dad drove his new truck to Baton Rouge to pick me up after school and drove me all the way back to Clinton – a three joint drive along big highways – to see Big Daddy in First Blood, and then we drove along Star Route 1 – a one joint drive that abruptly ended with a huge roach – and turned down the dirt road and my dad showed off how his new truck could switch into four wheel drive with the push of a button from inside, not like the older jeeps where we had to get out and lock each wheel, and we bounced along five miles of boulders and washouts and crossed two creeks – actually forks of the same creek – and my dad focused on driving and didn’t smoke any joints, but the last five miles of that drive seemed longer than the ride from Clinton because we drove so slowly around the boulders. We arrived, and it felt good to be home.
The rains had been good and manure had been plentiful for two summers, and the summer before he had acquired two horses, a tan quarter horse he named Daisy and a white opelusus dotted with maroon red that I named Indian. When I wasn’t there, he rode Daisy and used Indian has a packhorse to carry their manure to near his hidden gardens, and then he backpacked the final mile along different routes each time so that no trail would form, and he mixed manure into the dirt around his plants with his bare hands, carefully, and waited patiently to seperate the male plants from the female plants, and when the days grew shorter and the female plants triggered reproduction, their big buds did not contain seeds and my dad harvested premium, coveted sensamillia pot. Sans = without, and semillia = seeds, and sensamillia was easier to roll and packed more potency per ounce because no energy had been wasted on growing seeds, and the ounces contained pure sensamillia. The price per ounce was much higher than skunk weed or shag, and my dad was becoming financially independent, even without access to Big Daddy’s houses or the federal checks that had stopped coming to our family after Jimmy Hoffa had disappeared. I’m not sure if the federal marshalls still followed us, but I never saw them, and my dad had stopped talking about Big Daddy ever since he went to the Big House in Texas in 1980, and I stopped asking. Besides, I was anxious to ride Indian, and when I was in Arkansas she was my horse and I carried a backpack full of her and Daisy’s manure and went to work with my dad, just like other kids back in Baton Rouge; during show-and-tell, they had talked about going to work with their dads and what their dad’s did, but I had learned that my time with my dad was our secret, a special time, quality time, that few other kids experienced. I was lucky, and keeping secrets was a simple thing for me to do, and every school year I sat silently and listened to other kids and dreamed of being free in Arkansas all summer.
With our new truck, we could drive all the way down to the cabin despite the already rough and rocky road being partially washed out from heavy rains. It was so big and elevated that we could slowly roll over big boulders and drive through the two stream crossings, though I’d later learn that my dad had worked for a few weeks adding big rocks to where the wheels would go; in a way, that was just as impressive to me, because I couldn’t lift even one of the rocks, much less heave it into deep water accurately, in two rows that matched the truck wheel path. My dad was strong and had the best truck on Earth and I had a horse named Indian and I could watch movies in Clinton only a joint away now that we didn’t have to hike out of our valley.
And I had new guns and we had lots of food, and I fished and hunted and rode on horses and helped move manure and swung my machete and built things and practiced magic and played cards and chess and guitar with my dad by kerosene lantern every evening. No one bothered us, and life was a lot of fun. At the end of summer, I begrudgingly returned to Baton Rouge for school and the sadness that came with it. I returned for a week of Thanksgiving, duck season, and we did well. I returned for Christmas, deer season, but I didn’t see one that year and even my dad didn’t see a deer and was only able to shoot a wild goat. It was always rabbit season, and I had gotten really good at shooting them from a far distance, and we ate a lot of grilled and smoothered rabbit covered in the best ketchup money could buy.
My dad had even bought so much ammunition that I was able to practice shooting targets farther and farther away. My shot groupings were always precise, but I noticed that accuracy changed. Of course I didn’t phrase it that way: I was a good shot, and could cluster bullet holes into a group the size of my fist, but my fist sized group seemed to get lower the farther away I shot, and, rarely but confusingly, the group spread out sideways when I shot from cliffs across windy valleys. I had asked why my shots were moving, and he had looked at my pattern and said the side to side was “Kentucky windage” and taught me how to sense the wind and adapt, and he said that the drop was “gravity” and taught me how to relate drop to distance and defy gravity. He had a new rifle, big and heavy and loud – I don’t recall the caliber – and he could shoot it and hit the wild goats across the valley by adjusting for Kentucky windage and gravity; they weren’t really wild, he said, but had become ferrel after escaping someone’s farm and becoming wild and free, like they were meant to be. I wasn’t good enough to shoot the ferrel goats – I could barely lift his rifle – but I was the best shot I knew other than my dad or Uncle Kieth with .22’s and .308’s and shotguns and even bows and arrows, just like Sylvester would used in Rambo: First Blood Parts II, III, IV, and V; Big Daddy wasn’t in any of those, and of course by then I’d know who Brian Dennehy was and the difference between the two. As a kid even younger, I thought John Wayne was my grandfather, because Mamma Jean had photos of her and John everwhere; he had stares in a few films filmed around Baton Rouge and Big Daddy had the Teamster contract in Louisiana. So, it’s not unusual for me to have seen the news and Blood Feud and First Blood and be a little confused.
My dad and I agree that in the evenings, after dinner, we’d put our dishes in the Little Archie Creek in front of our cabin for the crawfish to clean and light a kerosene lamp when the sun went behind the mountain and our valley darkened earlier than the rest of the world, and we’d play poker or chess or music and he’d smoke joints and we’d eat canned peaches. He loved music, and we sometimes listened to AM country music on a small battery powered radio – FM waves didn’t reach into our valley because the wavelengths are short and easily deflected, but AM waves are longer and bounce between atmosphere layers and somehow drifted down into our valley, and we could listen to a country music station from Little Rock, a big city two hours away. It came in mono, but my dad sometimes added stereo by playing along with his big Martin acoustic dreadnaught guitar. He had built it from a kit and was proud of it, and he would sing along to country songs and try to teach me. I played along as best I could with a small Melody mandolin he had bought me. I was careful that year, because I had already broken the mandolin the summer before, after I became angry at it because I was not able to play as good as my dad. In my frustration, I slammed it against my mattress like an 80’s rock star crashing his guitar after a show and the neck seperated from the body at the glue joint. My dad was always patient when I lost my temper, and he had calmed me down and showed me that it broke at the glue seam and barely ripped off any wood, and he showed me how to apply new glue and use clamps to hold the neck tightly while it healed. I was more careful in 1983, I still wasn’t good, but at least I stopped getting angry at it and had something to practice by keroseen light when my dad had smoked too many joints to play chess with me and the only sound was unnamed country singers from Little Rock’s AM radio.
Sometimes, late at night after some really good weed or an abundance of roaches, he’d take me outside and show me the stars and tell me stories about them. I can recall all of his stories now, each and every one of them that he had told me over and over again on many summer nights, even though I didn’t understand them then. They’re the same stories a lot of dads tell their kids. Native Americans may have said stars were campfires of their ancestors; Greeks may have seen them as heroes from their myths; some people said they were holes to heaven; and Bill, our neighbor up the mountain the mountain, told his kids stars they were big balls of gas boiling billions of miles away. I was never good at identifying the Greek astrology signs, except for the three stars of Orion’s belt and the Big Dipper that pointed to the north star, and of course the big long cloud was called the Milky Way. But I wasn’t very interested in the stars. There were a lot of different stories about them, and the details were less important to me than the feeling of sitting quietly with my dad staring at them without being judged, tested, or pressured to do anything by a teacher other than stare at the stars and be happy. My dad said that was freedom.
I had a lot of freedom the summer of First Blood. I even had my own machete, and my dad taught me how to sharpen it swing it to trim branches and remove new growth from tree stumps we had cut down years before but stubbornly clung loop to life and persistently grew new shoots every year. We were clearing a ten acre field for the horses, attacking tree stumps with machetes until they yielded and stopped sending up shoots each spring, and cutting back bushes and planting grass that would feed the horses in summer and attract deer in deer season. When I inevitably sliced my finger open, exposing the bone along the length of my left forefinger, my dad rushed to my side and doused it with whiskey and poured super glue on it and wrapped it in a mostly clean rag and put a stick along my straightened finger and wrist and duct tapped everything motionless, and reminded me to be more careful next time. The scar’s still noticable. But, I learned first aid and how to run with a machete more safely, and a few weeks later I was even able to hold a deck of cards in my left hand again and play poker with my dad and show card tricks to our neighbor’s kids up the mountain.
Despite lots of food and freedom, something had been bothering me that summer. I told my dad about it several times, late at night when he’d stop playing the guitar and I’d say I heard something outside and he’d tell me I was imagining things. To be sure, I’d put on a headlamp and pick out a gun and step outside and walk around. I never saw anything, and I never heard anything, but I would have sworn that I had heard something, and it seemed to happen often.
I had even found strange footprints a mile up the creek, by an old abandoned shack that I liked to rummage around as if I were Indiana Jones, another 1983 film we saw, exploring ruins in a jungle somewhere. I’d hike there with my machete, clearing paths and fighting pirates and ninjas that jumped out at me in the form of creekside weeds or reached down for me in the form of dangling tree branches. It was only a few footprints, but I knew the shack well – we stored our canoe there and crossed the big swimming hole with it during floods – and though I hadn’t been there since the previous summer I knew there had never been any footprints other than ours, and these were not ours. They were smaller than my dad’s and bigger than mine, and they obviously came from a 160 pound man who was more used to walking on concrete sidewalks than soft natural ground; the heals dug into the dirt more deeply because of his heel-strike, the overconfidence of being in a hurry and walking quickly on sidewalks or flat office building grounds. I had learned about heel strike and the biomechanics of walking in last year’s book, “Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Wilderness Survival.” I guessed 160 pounds; somewhere between me, about 70 pounds when wet, and my dad, who someone had told me was 200 pounds, and Tom Brown used a 160 pound man to describe what city footprints would look like.
Our footprints were more flat, natural, used to walking in the woods and sneaking up on animals and scoping out the area surrounding a garden before creeping in silently. I was curious who had been in our woods. I tried to track them but couldn’t. The trail was old. I felt nearby broken branches, feeling for fresh sap from someone having broken it before it could heal, a sign of recent passing. I had seen talking apes do that when hunting Batman and Robin on Saturday morning cartoons, in the episode where they had lost their utility belts and didn’t have a machete between them and were being pursued by talking apes with guns. But the prints were few and the branches had healed so long ago that new leaves had grown, and soon I grew hungry and returned home and didn’t bother telling my dad anything else, especially because that was the first night I beat him in chess, and he was so proud of me that we celebrated with an extra can of peaches and he smoked his best weed and we played music all night long. That’s freedom.
I returned the next summer with two books, one on how to be a detective – I don’t recall the name – and Henning Nelms Magic and Magicians. I had two backpacks that year. I was finally big enough to carry a second one to Arkansas, and I had filled one with things to help me become a better detective and magician, like chalk I had stolen from a teacher’s chalk board and rubbed into a small plastic bag to use as finger printing dust, a small makeup brush I had acquired from Wendy’s bathroom to dust the chalk onto doorknobs and whatnot, clear plastic tape I had taken from Wendy’s boyfriend’s office supplies, along with a few notecards to stick the finger prints onto and record where and when you found them; and a small collection of playing cards, coins, and magic props. Deep inside that bag was a small, concealable .22 magnum derringer pistol a friend and I had accidentally stolen; I hadn’t even fired it yet because we didn’t have magnum rounds and couldn’t buy them at 12 years old, even in the Sportsmans Paradise of Louisiana and its remarkably lax concealed gun laws.
It had been an accident that began innocently enough. A friend and I would sneak out of our houses at night and roam through our subdivision and look for unlocked cars parked in driveways. We did it mostly for fun and left evidence of our visit to humorously, to us at least, tell people to be careful what they leave in their cars, or to play a joke and make them believe in ghosts. We’d change the preset radio station buttons on their stereo, rearrange their cassette tapes – sometimes we’d take a tape, if it was good 1980’s heavy metal – and other foolishness common for young kids who sneak out and roam streets in middle class neighborhoods. Sometimes we’d find porn, Playboy or Hustler or, if we were really lucky, one of the smutty ones with funny names like Jugs and Big ‘Uns. We kept all of those; we were 12, beginning pueberty, and to us porn magazines were worth their weight in sansamillia.
Shortly before school ended and summer began, we found an unlocked car with a loaded .22 magnum derringer in the glove compartment. Surprised and excited about our find, we began playing with it. We thought were were safe – carport lights create shadows that are easy to hide in – and we lost track of time and must have laughed loudly enough to be heard, and the derringer’s owner threw open his front door and rushed at us with a shotgun. We exited his car so fast that my friend still held the derringer in his hand, and I don’t know if the owner saw that or not but he fired at us with his shotgun and pellets splattered against his open door and we ran into the shadows and he fired again and we were pretty sure it was just a .410 shotgun that would injure us but not kill us; or, better yet, rock salt from a bigger gun that would hurt like hell but allow us to keep running.
We ran and ran and he tried to follow, but, like most middle class, middle aged men he wan’t in as good of shape as he could be and he soon tired and stopped running, cursing us at us in the darkness between gasps for breath, and we escaped into the shadows with his derringer. My friend fired the two rounds for fun in the woods near our home – the subdivision was under construction, and had woods between us and where we roamed at night, and I don’t know if the bullets traveled and hit anything or anyone – and he explained to me that couldn’t take it home because his dad would find it and know we had stolen it and call the police we’d be in trouble. I said I was going to Arkansas to see my dad and that he let me have lots of guns and wasn’t afraid of the police, and I took the concealable derringer home and wrapped it in a handkerchief and placed it in my second backpack with my detective kit and magic stuff and two books.
I arrived in Arkansas and, for some reason, knew my dad wouldn’t condone stealing. He was an angry drug dealer but a considerate and honest one, and though he hated Mamma Jean’s bible he had values and convictions, and he believed in never stealing or killing or lying, even to the police; I’m sure he would have told the Clinton sheriff exactly what he thought every time he had been arrested. But he lived what he believed in, and I had never seen him dishonor or disparage Big Daddy or lie or steal or anything except a few shrimp for me from an all-you-can-eat seafood buffet; but, in fairness, like he told the restaurant manager when we were caught, a buffet cost $9.99 and I’d only eat a few shrimp, so it was goddamn silly to pay for two buffets. My dad always made sense to me, if no one else, and stealing was wrong so I hid the derringer in the abandoned shack under a floorboard that I had discovered when playing Indiana Jones the year before.
Back at our cabin, we were turning the cabin into a mansion with real doors and flat boards and insulation instead of round logs and mud and straw packed between them. My dad had bought a big stand-up table saw that was as loud as the generator that powered it, and when I returned from hiding my derringer he asked me to help him rip some boards to trim the windows. Most of the house was light red cedar that smelled delightfully like the cedar chips people put in closets to ward off moths, and he had a stack of black walnut to trim the cedar windows. The ones we had installed looked nice, rustic yet modern, and I definitely looked forward to insulation that would keep out the cold wind in winter and the swarms of bugs in summer, and I enjoyed woodworking. I helped, standing on one side of the table saw and receiving the ripped boards, still not wearing eye or ear protection like my boring shop teachers at school. My dad pushed the fresh boards into the saw blade, reminding me that it was so dangerous that I couldn’t use it yet, and emphasizing that he was “not pushing, letting the blade do the work,” though I could barely hear him over the buzz of the table saw and roar of the generator. His shirt was off, and black walnut wood chips mixed with red cedar on his black chest hair and mangly mane of hair and thick beard and mustache, and we were working for about half an hour when he thought he heard something outside. He stopped, turned off the table saw, and we listened and heard what sounded like a football coach’s bullhorn. We walked out through the new fancy real door and saw that we were surrounded by a possee of armed deputies and the Clinton sheriff shouting at us through a bullhorn.
He was shouting for us to come out with our hands up. My dad didn’t raise his hands, but he walked over and spoke with the sheriff, came back and put on a shirt and turned off the generator and told me to stand by his side beside the sheriff. They had a warrant, and there was nothing we could do; at least twenty armed men surrounded us.
They had come down the mountain in four 4×4 trucks. Only one had police lights, a big Ford Bronco that was the sheriff’s; it had lights and a sheriff’s badge on the doors. He brought two deputies in uniform, and the rest of the men were local hillbillies who had driven their work and farm trucks down the mountain behind the sheriff’s Bronco. I was impressed they had made it in such puny trucks compared to my dad’s new Ford F150.
I thought it was funny at first. The whole thing. They looked like hillbillies I may have laughed about the day before, and now they looked like those hillbillies in a sheriff’s possee from the TV show The Dukes of Hazard, about two good ol’ boys never meaning no harm who beat all you ever saw gettin’ in trouble with the law since the day they were born. The sheriff was always trying to get them, and every now and then, for comedic relief, they were chased by a possee of deputized hillbillies, and that’s what I first saw when I walked out of our cabin, covered in sweat and sawdust and my ears ringing from the roar of a table saw and generator. I saw a bunch of deputized hillbillies there for comedic effect, and I smiled.
The hillbillies didn’t smile back. They raised their guns and a few of the lesser trained hillbillies even switched the safeties off their rifles. One had his shotgun cocked; only foolish people did that, I knew, somehow and from someone. It was just like the Dukes of Hazard, and we were just a couple of good old boys having trouble with the law, and I kept smiling even though they didn’t.
I stopped smiling when my dad lowered his head. He didn’t say anything, but I had never seen him lower his head or be quiet around police, especially foolish ones. He was like a deflated Stretch Armstrong, instantly weak and flabby and unable to unstretch and therefore uninteresting. I felt it more than saw it, and I stopped smiling and began paying attention.
My dad asked permission to put a shirt on. Asked permission! The uniformed sheriff said yes and my dad put on his shirt and pulled me closely in front of him and wrapped his arms around me as if to protect me from any yahoo with an itchy trigger finger and cocked hammer or disengaged safety. But he felt deflated. We stood beside the search warrant and watched the sheriff’s possee divide into groups, one for each of the two deputies and one with us and the sheriff, and search our cabin and barn and even the empty chicken coup.
I had never asked why the coup was empty; usually it had 15 to 20 chickens. That’s a funny thing to notice when you’re standing beside a search warrant with your dad protecting you from being shot, but as I listened to the possee shout out what they were finding I noticed for the first time that summer that I couldn’t hear chickens cooing, and I wondered how I hadn’t noticed that in the week I’d been in Arkansas.
The hillbillies shouted from the empty chicken coup that it was empty. They walked back towards the cabin and one peered in the outhouse but quickly shut the door and made a face and uttered an explicative about how bad it smelled. The US Census indicated that in the early 80’s there were still 600,000 waterless outhouses being used in America; I don’t know if they counted ours because we hadn’t used it in years, but I know that we had stopped using ours because snakes kept nesting in the hole, and I began to hope the hillbilly would try to take a dump and get bit on the ass by a copperhead. I began to dislike the posse, and my smile had turned upside down and I watched everything they did. I had even forgotten about my hidden, stolen gun. My dad and I were just a couple of good ol’ boys, never meaning no harm, and I was learning that life wasn’t like TV and that men with guns weren’t funny, and for some reason I wished them ill will. My dad stood behind me without saying a word, and I felt his body move to follow the deputies with the same scrutiny that I did. I don’t know if he also wished the yahoo would get bit on the butt by a copperhead, but I doubt it because he felt so deflated that I can’t imagine him putting up a fight, even in his imagination.
The hillbillies inside our cabin shouted that they found something, and the sheriff snapped to attention and we all watched the deputy and his team carry my backpacks outside and dump the contents onto the picnic table, beside the search warrant. 12 to 15 armed men gathered around us and watched the sheriff inspect what they found. He laid out the contents of my bag of hobbies. A few items attracted their attention:
- A rolled plastic sandwich bag full of fine white powder
- A rolled plastic sandwich bag full of dried, dark green herb
- Body parts: two hollow rubber thumb tips, one hollow metal thumb tip, and a long hollow rubber sixth finger, capable of hiding much larger silk handkerchiefs than the thumb tips
They ignored the decks of cards, coins, ropes, and silk handkerchiefs; and they ignored the clear Scotch tape and paper index cards and assortment of pens and pencils and drawing pad.
“What’s this?” the sheriff asked my dad, probably not knowing it was my backpack. He had opened the plastic baggies and sniffed them and pushed the fake fingers around a few times, and his countenance showed confusion rather than arrogance. I felt that his question was sincere, and my dad had always told me to be honest about everything other than what he did for a living, so I began explaining, and in explaining I relaxed and began to have fun and smile again, and that’s probably why the 15 armed men surrounding us lowered their rifles and engaged their safeties and uncocked the shotgun and listened to me.
I started with the white powder, because I thought that was the most relevant to them. I picked up one of my books off the picnic table and showed them the “how to be a detective” book, and said that the powder was classroom chalk from a chalkboard – I dind’t say I had stollen it – and that it was for taking finger prints. I held up the makeup brush and asked for the bag to show them, but the sheriff kept it and wouldn’t let me have it, and I realized just how pathetic this possee was. Not only did they not have fingerprint powder, they probably didn’t know how to use it, and I doubted any one of them had read anything about how to be a detective,” so I began explaining how to use the makeup brush to lightly dust fingerprint powder onto doornobs and outhouse handles, and to use the Scotch tape to pick up the dusted prints and put them on an index card and to write the location, time, and date… The sheriff stopped me and said he believed me, and I picked up another book, “Magic and the Art of Showmanship” by Henning Nelms, and I began to explain the fake fingers but the sheriff stopped me and asked one of the hillbillies to put down my sixth finger. The only thing left was the bag of oregeno, and I had left the cookbook Granny had given me at home – there was only so much room in my backpack – and even though I said it was for cooking, the sheriff kept the baggie of oregano and fingerprint powder and let me put the rest of my hobbies back in my backpack. My dad stood silently the entire time, obviously proud of his son for standing up to the sheriff and telling him how to do his job.
“We got something!” a deputy shouted from the barn door, and everyone stopped looked up from watching me pack away my thumb tips and stared up the hill to the barn. The deputy held a bag up and began walking towards us and his third of the posse followed. I couldn’t see if their safeties were on or off.
The deputy walked up to the sheriff and handed him a burlap bag I didn’t recognize and said, “We scraped this from the barn floor.” The sheriff placed the bag beside my baggies and opened it and, sure enough, it was full of weed, sort of. I recognized it. The deputies had done a better job of cleaning out the cracks between floorboards in our barn, and had scraped up a few big handfuls of shag that we hand’t put forth the effort to clean after last summer’s harvest. It stank, and was full of dead bugs and rat turds. It had so many rat turds that even my dad wouldn’t have smoked that shag. But, it was weed, and the sheriff knew it, and he told us that we were under arrest and read us our Miranda Rights and handcuffed my dad. I wasn’t handcuffed, and realized that I wasn’t being arrested, my dad was, and I simply didn’t know what to say or do and I had stopped smiling again.
The sheriff asked my dad what to do with me, and he said to drop me off at his neighbor’s up the mountain, and the sheriff said I could take my backpacks but he had to keep my fingerprint powder and oregano; just in case I had lied, I figured. I collected my things and sat on my dad’s lap in the sheriff’s Ford Bronco; they let him sit in the front seat because of me, and we rode five miles up the mountain with my backpacks at our feet and my dad’s handcuffed arms wrapped around me, keeping me safe. The posse followed us in their jeeps and trucks.
We pulled into Bill’s house and he came outside, calm but obviously curious, and the sheriff got out and opened our door and we untangled ourselves and stepped out, and in a surprisingly brief exchange my dad said he had been arrested and that he had to leave me there and that he’d be in the Clinton jail. Bill, who was always unflappable, nodded and said in a calm voice that I’d be fine and that he’d go to town and see about bail in the morning. The deputies got out of the back of the Bronco and one got in front and the other put my dad in back and got into one of the hillbilly’s trucks and they took off too fast and kicked up dust that settled on Bill and me as we watched them drive away towards the blacktop and Clinton jailhouse next to the movie theater. I don’t know if there was a national guard armory nearby, or an M60 machine gun, but I knew no one and nothing would hold my dad, and that I’d see him soon and get my fingerprint powder and oregano back.
Bill’s wife, Jean, came out. Their two daughters and son stayed inside. She put her arm around me and I let her. She gently brushed dust off my head and shoulders, and Bill brushed his Bill smiled and looked at me and, in a remarkable display of restraint, didn’t say anything adult-like. He just smiled the smile I had learned was useful and waited for me to process enough of what was happening to be receptive to what he had to say. I spoke first.
“My dad was arrested.”
“They took my detective kit but didn’t know how to use it.”
He didn’t say anything. We stood silently. Jean’s hands around me felt good. A few moments passed, and Jean asked if I was hungry. I said no. If she had asked if I’d like a cookie I would have said yes; adults don’t ask the right questions.
We turned around and walked towards the house. Their kids were peering out the window, waiting patiently. They told me “hi” when I walked in, and rushed to Bill and Jean and gave them hugs. They had been scared by all of the men even though their guns were hidden by then, and asked why Uncle Ed left with them. Bill told them Mr. Ed had been arrested again, and he was going to see about getting him out tomorrow. They seemed satisfied with that and returned to whatever they had been doing before we arrived. I sat by the table and asked for a cookie that was always offered every time my dad and I visited, and Jean said of course and pushed the jar closer to me. She made cookies that were stereotypical of what a lot of people called “granola-crunching hippies,” and they were delicious despite being healthy, a mix of oats and raisins and honey from their bee hives, with just a touch of cinamon. Chewy, not crunchy, and I never understood why people called hippies “crunchy.”
Bill and Jean spoke about the situation with me there; they always spoke openly around me and their kids. I didn’t understand most of the words they used, bail and lawyer and probation, and I began to feel uncomfortable being there. I said I wanted to leave. Bill said I was free to come and go, and welcome to stay. Jean said she’d have dinner soon, if I’d like to stay. I said no, I wanted to go to my cabin. They sat silently for a moment and then Jean told me what was for dinner. It was one of my favorite things she made, but I wasn’t hungry and had cans of peaches at the cabin, and I was mentally uncomfortable and wanting that feeling to stop and my mind locked onto getting home, and I said I was leaving. Bill said he couldn’t stop me. I put on my backpack, the one with clothes, and asked if I could leave my books and magic stuff there. Jean said she’d put it in the kids’ room and make a bed for me, in case I changed my mind. I told them thank you, and walked back down the mountain.
I took the short cut, and tumbled down the steep sections on a thin, barely noticeable trail my dad had inadvertently made by walking to and from Bill and Jean’s for dinners. The cabin was only two or three miles away as a bird flies, but the shortcut was too steep for cars or even horses. My dad hand’t used it much since buying a new 4X4 truck, and the trail was hard to follow and covered in a layer of slick leaves that would slide, carrying me with them for ten or twenty feet before I’d regain my footing by grabbing a branch or hitting a tree. But it was faster than the five mile road, and the added danger of slipping or running into a bear or razorback hog distracted me from thinking too much, thankfully, and I made it to the cabin in record time.
The first thing I did was look for a knife in case I ran into a bear or razorback or hillbilly. I knew they had taken all of my dad’s guns, but mine was still hidden in the abandoned shack. I’d get it later. I wanted a knife.
I went to the picnic table and rummaged through boxes left by the posse. They had taken a lot of things besides the bag of shag and guns, like my dad’s big mechanical scale – like the Libra sign, my birthday, he had alway said – and a few other things that didn’t make sense, expecially because they had left his knives.
My dad had two knives, a big Buck hunting knife he used for gutting dear and cutting food for dinner. It was big and heavy and had a metal handle that was slick and not fun to hold, and it wasn’t as sharp as the other knife. That one had been Big Daddy’s. It wasn’t his big folding knife, it was one I had never seen him use but my dad had told me it was a nice one and had been his father’s and would be mine one day, and I figured that was the day. I don’t remember the brand, but it was a Bowie style knife, the type named after the famous wild west knife fighter and mountain man, David Bowie. More of a tool than a knife. Big and wide where it needed to be, and the point curved down and met the upcurved belly so that the point was in line with the handle and therefore your forearm when thrusting. It was dangerous to thrust it, and that was the point. It also skinned deer well because of the long, sharp, curved blade; but you had to be careful gutting the deer with a Bowie knife because the point carried the force of your hand well and could pierce an intestine and spill poop all over the meat and spoil it. The handle was wrapped in leather and felt good to hold; it was big, even for my dad, and looked like a sword in my hand. I bet it would have fit Big Daddy perfectly. I bet even Rambo would have liked it.
The Bowie knife was sharp. I held it carefully, mindfully, like my PawPaw had taught me. I practiced wielding it in air, quickly dispersing with a ninja and a pirate. It was a good knife and I could handle it like an expert swordsman. I sheathed it and carried it inside and found one of my dad’s belts and threaded the sheath onto the belt and wore it like a sword.
I practiced fending off a pirate or two, and realized that the sheath’s metal snap was too stiff for my little fingers to open quickly, so I kept the snap open and practiced drawing Big Daddy’s knife – my knife now – as quickly as I could. I killed a couple of ninjas, and, satisfied, left the cabin and walked upstream to find my Derringer pistol. It was hidden well, under a floorboard and in a small hole I had dug into the dirt. My family always hid things in homes, never in the one where we lived, but homes rented under aliases or that had been abandoned and no one could trace you to it. Big Daddy had kept his explosives in a few and loads of cash in many, usually in the walls and hidden with new drywall and paint, and my dad had jars of marijuana seeds buried here and there and hermetically sealed with bees wax. He had showed me where they were, just in case something happened to him and I needed a way to earn my living, just like his father had showed him. I retried the derringer, replaced the floorboard, and found one of the smaller jar of marijuana seeds and carried that with me, too. But I didn’t have ammunition because the posse had taken all of our it with our hunting rifles. I put the derringer in my pocket, anyway, because I occasionally found 22 shells lying around; magnums were rare, but 22 long rifles were ubiquitous in the hills and I often discovered a few left by careless hunters, or, more likely, me on one of my adventures. It was a kid’s round, not as powerful as a magnum. The guy who had shot Reagan the year before used a 22 long rifle revolver and even a man as old as Reagan had lived; it was. child’s round, but the sheriff had taken our .308 and 12 gauge shotguns and I only had the Derringer. It would have to do, assuming I atumed upon some ammunition. I became more alert as I walked back to the cabin, keeping an eye out for 22 long rifle bullets, bears and razorbacks, deputies, pirates and ninjas. I didn’t see any more ninjas and stopped looking for them; I would remember that day as the last day my mind played hero against pirates and ninjas, and my new imaginary enemies became sheriffs and deputies and unemployed hillbillies with guns and no safeties.
I walked away from the shack looking for 22 long rifle rounds and footprints of 160 pound deputies who wore street shoes and walked with a heel strike. I didn’t see any, and I didn’t find any bullets, and soon I was far away and not sure where I was going.
I moved through the woods quickly but silently. When I came to a fork in the road, I took it and soon broke through the brush gently and crept through briars and over tiny streams and uphill to one of my dad’s gardens. I was careful to not leave evidence of having been there, and by no means would I go the same way we had gone before. We went a new way each time so that we wouldn’t leave a trail, no matter how small.
I approached the garden, a favorite spot of mine because of the small stream; I didn’t have to carry water as far as the other gardens. The stream gurgled as it trickled over rocks, camoflauging any sound I’d make, but I still tread carefully. Out of habit, I kept an eye out for trebble fishhooks hanging from invisible fishing lines at eye level, something the bad drug dealers placed around their gardens and, sometimes, rarely, around other people’s gardens when the bad drug dealers wanted to steal the crops. I didn’t see any fishooks, but that was they point: they were hard to see. I crept slowly, carefully, grateful that my eye level was so much lower than my dad’s.
I stopped as I got closer to the garden and knelt down behind a tree, silent, listening. I watched my breath and heartbeat calm down. They prevented me from listening when I was exerting myself on uphill hunts, and without realizing it I had adapted the habit to my new profession: deputy hunter. A few minutes later my breath was silent and my heartbeat just a murmor in my ears, and I listened for people talking, walking, coughing, or breathing. I heard nothing. I sniffed deeply but quietly. Many hunters don’t realize that you can smell the smell of cigarette smoke on their jackets from dozens of feet away, even if they hadn’t smoked in hours. Sometimes, you could smell what they had for breakfast, or even a fart they probably tried to make silently, not knowing the smell drifts downhill. I smelled nothing out of the ordinary, and I proceeded uphill even slower than before. I could see sunlight around the clearing, and didn’t know if someone smart was waiting, someone smart enough to have put their clothes outside for a few days and not be around anyone smoking and eaten lightly that morning. Farts happen, but I’d have to be lucky to smell one, so I crept uphill silent but deadly, alert, trusting my ears and olfactory senses more than my eyes. If the deputies had been smart enough to avoid detection so far they would probably be camouflaged like a skilled hunter, invisible and motionless. They’d be like a ninja or a pirate, but real. I’d have to sense them without relying on my eyes.
I reached the edge of the garden and stopped, stealthy and mindful. I saw, heard, smelled, felt, and sensed nothing unusual. I looked up through the clearing, searching for one of Ronald Reagans airplanes that could see me and the plants with magic cameras. I didn’t see any. I knew I couldn’t see Reagan’s Star Wars satellites that could also see me, just like the planes. They were like Wonder Woman’s invisible jet, flying high above me. My dad had pointed them out at night, when even invisible jets blink and shimmy and move across the sky even when stars are motionless. It was daytime, so I knew I could ‘t see the Star Wars satellites, but I decided to risk stepping into the clearing, anyway. I stood up, placed my hand on the leather grip of Big Daddy’s knife – my knife, I told myself again, though now more confidentially – and I stepped into the clearing and into a small field of six foot tall marijuana plants.
The plants were untouched. I walked around, treading gently and watching every step to ensure I stepped on rocks, not dirt, and looking for footprints. I stood still for a moment and scanned the woods surrounding the plants, listened, and breathed. Nothing. I did this again and again until I had circled the garden and ensured there were no footprints or fishhooks or deputies. The plants looked healthy. They were taller than I was by then. Out of habit, I checked and saw a few were males and should be removed, but I didn’t dare because I heard an airplane approaching, and I knew Ronald Regan was coming to get me and I wanted to get away from the garden as quickly as I could. I turned and hopped across rocks, less careful about leaving footprints now, and lunged into the woodline and began running between the trees and through the briars and bushes.
I flew downhill, slowing my decent by grabbing tree branches and bending them and leaving my energy behind. But it was steep and I had big clumsy feet and I stumbled and almost fell head first forward, but I ran faster and somehow my feet caught up with my head and I kept running, faster and faster. It was the fastest I had ever run through the woods. My breath was rapid and my heart beat loudly in my ears. I was close to the fork in the road when I was jolted to a halt by a string of barbed wire at chest level. My feet slipped under me and my body weight was held by the barbed wire. My right arm was over the wire, my left was under. The barbs had snagged deep inside my right bicep and that arm was locked in place. My chest was ripped by barbs but they had pulled free and were tangled in my shirt, trapping me. I stopped moving and used my left hand to hold the wire and come up to my knees and unhook my right bicep and untangle my shirt. I sat down, panting quickly but shallowly, watching blood drip from my arm onto the leaves beneath the barbed wire. I looked at the blood streaks across the front of my shirt and my breath began to slow down and deepen, and I knew I had to act soon to stop the bleeding.
I looked around for a spider web. A book I had read two years before taught me that spider webs stopped bleeding; in the book, an Indian girl a bit older than I was had cut herself hiding from white settlers, and she had remembered her grandmother telling her to pack a clean spider web into cuts to stop them from bleeding. Also in the book she talked about how her grandmother taught her to apply honey to cuts, so they wouldn’t become infected, but I already knew there weren’t honeybees in our valley. We had lots of spiders, though, and I found a few webs. They had bits of dirt and leaves stuck in them, but no bugs or spiders, so I packed the not too dirty of spider webs into the slash on my bicep and lifted my shirt and rubbed what was left into the scratches across my chest. In hindsight, I probably could have just used a piece of my torn shirt, but it had been a long day and I wasn’t thinking clearly. The bleeding subsided, my breath calmed, and I stood up and walked out of the woods and turned at the fork in the road and walked back home less alert than I had earlier.
I was tired and thirsty and hungry. I stopped at a creek crossing and plunged my face into the clear, cool, gurgling water and slurped deeply. My eyes were immersed and open and I saw a small crawfish crawl under a pile of rounded rocks, and another scoot off backwards, away from me and my enormous slurping face, and a few minnows dart away, and tiny water bugs skate by on rings of surface tension above my eyes, and I drank deeply until I was satiated. I looked up and drops of clear water dripped from my chin and onto my blood stained shirt, and I took a deep breath of air and plunged my lips back into the stream and drank a little bit more, just in case I didn’t walk across another stream soon.
I moved on. The walk home seemed longer than the walk there, and by the time I arrived I was famished. I thought about fishing or finding a can of peaches and I thought about Jean’s dinner; it sounded better than peaches right then, but Bill and Jean were five miles uphill and I was tired and hungry right then, and peaches were there with me. I found a can inside, near the wood burning stove, and reached for my knife to open it. A can opener would have been easier, but I was in an adventurous state of mind. My hand grasped air: Big Daddy’s knife was gone. It must have slipped out when I tumbled down the mountain or when I bent over to drink water. I felt instant disappointment, deep and troubling, judging myself and my carelessness and angry at the universe for tripping me and making me thirsty. Suddenly, instinctively, I reached for the Derringer. It was gone, too. I felt deflated. Saddened, disappointed, tired, and hungry, I took a clean t-shirt from my backpack and put it on, leaving the blood stained one on the picnic table, and began walking back up the mountain to Bill and Jean’s house.
I arrived after dark and they welcomed me with the same open arms and unforced smiles they always had. The kids had gone to bed. I ate my fill and drank their well water that came from a tap that Bill had designed and built, and talked with them under a soft, warm electric lamp from the single power line that stretched from the blacktop to their home on top of the mountain. I don’t recall what we talked about, but I remember feeling calmed and welcomed and unrushed and unpressured. They even had an indoor shower with water warmed by a heating system Bill had designed and built, and Jean had baked a pie from berries they grew and honey they harvested. I was safe, satiated, and clean. No one could ask for more that day. I slept well in the bed Jean had waiting for me.
Over the next few weeks, I helped Bill and Jean and the kids on their farm, and bill would drive back and forth to Clinton and come back with news. They had a telephone, but some things are better in person, and I appreciated hearing news from Bill’s calming voice while seeing his smile. He and Jean would sit beside each other, holding hands, and he’d use the same words to tell both of us that the marijuana found in our barn weighed two pounds, a felony, and that bail was high and it would take time to find that much. I don’t recall the bail amount, nor do I know if the two pounds of shag included the weight of dead bugs and rat turds, but I remember trusting Bill that everything would be fine, and I spent my days picking berries, milking goats, learning to cook crunchy hippie food, and reading books with the kid and talking about them with Jean; she home schooled her kids, even though by then the road to their house was in good enough condition for a school bus to pick them up. I had known them a little bit before, showing up for dinners with my dad and playing with their oldest daughter, who was my age, but this was the first time I had spent the night and stayed with them for so long. I had never seen a family like them. They liked being around each other.
Bill called one day and said he was coming home with my dad that afternoon. I perked up, even though I hadn’t been down. I was having fun, actually, and when I perked up it was the type of perk up you’d experience on a good day when you learned the day would get even better. I helped Jean make a pie with berries I had collected and honey that they had shown me how to collect, but because they didn’t have a bee suit my size I only watched. I cooked with Jean and we set the pie on a windowsill to cool so it would be ready when Bill and my dad came home, and I helped clean up and put on my best clean shirt and waited extremely patiently, for me at least. I was full and clean, rare for me in Arkansas, and that probably helped. I felt good.
Bill’s old car pulled up slowly, not kicking up dust, and he parked near the house and he and my dad got out. I was already running towards them, and my dad dropped to a knee beside Bills car and opened his arms for me to leap in. He hugged me more tightly than I had ever been hugged before, wept and told me he loved me, put his hands on my shoulders and shoved me forward and looked at me without seeing me and cried and told me how it had been in jail, worse than ever, and that he was sorry I had to see that. He had seen his daddy arrested before, and he knew how hard it was to see. I didn’t understand what he meant, but I felt I should say something to cheer him up.
“Dad,” I said, “I don’t care if you blew up the world, I love you.”
“I’m not that kind of man!” he boomed, and began sobbing again. “I’m a good person…” he trailed off into sobs.
I didn’t know what to say. Of course he was a good person. He was one of the most honorable men I knew; he still is. I was trying to say that I loved him no matter what, and that he could do no wrong, and that I’d still love him the way he still loved Big Daddy. But he didn’t hear that, he heard that his son thought he was a bad man, and he sobbed more deeply than I had ever seen a man sob before. He pulled me in tightly and hugged me and bawled some things I couldn’t understand, and an unusual feeling came over me.
I wasn’t sure what I was feeling at first. I was uncomfortable. I wanted to talk about picking berries and milking goats, and to tell him that Jean and I had made a pie for him and Bill and it was cooling on the windowsill. But he wasn’t listening. He kept mumbling things I couldn’t understand, and he was squeezing me too tightly. I could feel my shoulder getting wet from his tears. He felt afraid. He was being everything he had always boomed at me not to be, and I was feeling judgemental. It was a new feeling for me, and I didn’t know the word for it. I wanted him to man-up, like he had told me every time I had cried around him. I wanted my dad, not this deflated thing dripping tears onto my clean shirt. I felt a twinge of disgust, though I didn’t know that feeling, either.
We went inside and he talked loudly and quickly to Bill while the kids and I ate the pie in another room. I couldn’t hear what Bill and Jean said in response, but every time he took his turn, which was disproportionately more frequent than them, I heard him begin to regain his old self, booming explicative phrases and offering creative ways the sheriff and Ronald Regan could shove things up their asses. After a bit of quiet discussion from Bill and Jean, they came outside and said that my dad would drive me to Baton Rouge in Bill’s car; the sheriff had confiscated his truck because they found another roach in it and could claim it had been used to transport all the pot and rat turds they had confiscated. We stayed at Bill and Jean’s that night. I slept in my bed and he slept on the floor. We woke up early and Jean made breakfast and I brushed my teeth with the unnecessary fluoride laden toothpaste that Jean had given me, and my dad and I drove Bill’s old car to Baton Rouge. My dad didn’t smoke any joints. It was a long drive.
He dropped me off at Wendy’s. Mike, her boyfriend at the time, was there. Technically, it was his house and Wendy lived with him. Me, too, during school. He and my dad had never talked, and they didn’t begin then. My dad told him he had to leave me there early that summer, and that he’d call Wendy. He never did, and I didn’t know what to tell her. I said he was arrested, but I couldn’t explain why or tell her all the details he had explained to me on the drive home.
He had been arrested on felony drug trafficing charges. The term was “cultivating a controlled substance with intent to distribute.” Two pounds of marijuana was a serious crime back then, and he faced two to four years in prison. The sheriff had been investigating him ever since his first two arrests the year before, collecting evidence to present to the district prosecuting attorney and local judge to justify a search warrant. They had affadavits from people in Clinton, ostensibly our neighbors, who claimed that they always suspected the long haired bushy bearded angry man had been up to something, but that wasn’t enough. The Ford dealership had provided the strongest evidence. Apparently, my dad had paid in cash, handing them a brown paper bag full of $14,100 in relatively small bills and offering that instead of the sticker price for his new Ford F150. I’m sure he bellowed a few commands at them and said something incriminating, and they had called the sheriff and let him know what happened as soon as he drove off in his new truck and they deposited his paper bag full of $14,100 in cash. They had searched the woods around our cabin for a year, but had never found our gardens or our invisible trails, and had decided to risk exposing their investigation by rounding up a posse and driving down during harvest season – they probably didn’t realize they were almost two months too early – and had gotten lucky with last season’s shag in the cracks of the barn floor.
The local newspaper celebrated their success and told the fine citizens of Clinton that they captured a local drug dealer threatening their community. They confiscated two pounds of premium marijuana, mistakenly thinking sansemillia meant simply without seeds rather than a plant that never had seeds and was more potent, with a “street value” of over $10,000; such an extreme exaggeration that I scoffed at it even then. Even if it had been good weed it was only worth $1,000 on all streets I knew. The article emphasized that President Reagan was winning the war on drugs, and they thanked the sheriff and his deputies and the brave citizens of Clinton who helped capture the dangerous drug dealer; they said they had even confiscated his arsenal of guns, no doubt used for nefarious drug dealing duties.
What they didn’t say was that Reagan’s war on drugs had been funded by dubious practices that were likely illegal, but few nefarious drug dealers knew nuances of the law or phrases such as “conflict of interests.” The posse had been paid by a special budget that could be reimbursed with whatever they confiscated from someone arrested and convicted; the money would be split three ways between the sheriff’s office and whatever he needed to assemble posses, the local district attorney who created the search warrant and would prosecute my dad, and the local judge who agreed to the search warrant and oversaw my dad’s trial. Even though they were state level, they had special prosecution powers under Reagan’s policies, and they knew the public defense attorney who represented my dad. He lost, and Reagan won.
I wouldn’t see my dad for a couple of years, and would have to adapt to a new life in Louisiana beginning the fall of 1985, my eighth grade year. And that’s one of the descrepancies in my memor: the timing of Blood Feud and First Blood and returning to school in 1985. Years later, I’d notice that Clinton’s small movie theater played older movies, probably avoiding the expensive royalties of new ones, so it’s likely that they showed Big Daddy and Rambo in 1984 and maybe even in 1985, or that perhaps we had seen Rambo Part II or II and my memories became jumbled and coalesced into a narrative that made sense to me. Regardless of that level of detail, court records show that my dad stood trial quickly and, like most cultivators of conntrolled substances who intended to distribute during Reagan’s war on drugs, was rushed through the appeal process, unlike Big Daddy’s and Jimmy Hoffa’s three year long appeals to the Supreme Court. He sat in a local jail for six months because and then federal prison for almost another year and a half because of year-old shag trapped in the cracks of our barn with dead bugs and rat turds, and I’ve always thought that was remarkable.
A few years later, I would see the sheriff driving my dad’s truck for personal reasons. I never said anything, and he never returned my fingerprint powder or oregano, and I never admitted that I had stolen the Derringer he eventually found.
Go to The Table of Contents