I was born in the south. I live in the south and will die in the south. This is only a small part of the memories I share.
His name was Lowell. He was a striking, tall and lanky young man and probably would have struck me if my classmates had not been visible. I was 10. Lowell might have been 13. He looked as if he had been kept back a grade because he acted and talked like a grown man. Able to plant a cotton field as good as anyone. You may love Lowell when you read this narrative. Then again, you might feel the same resentment and hatred for him as I still do. You will understand by and by.
I will never forget that one obscure moment when I was standing directly in the sun at the east side of our huge, wooden, two-room school house: New Home. Not a joke or prank on Norman Rockwell fans or surviving family members. This is or was, a real place. It was a Monday after Christmas, Dec. 30, 1963 (exactly) and from being out of school for our week-long Christmas vacation, I was admiring a pretty pocket watch that my dad and brother-in-law pawned their resources and gave me this watch for a Christmas gift. It must have set them back all of $4.50. That was huge in 1963. But pocket watch prices notwithstanding, I loved my pocket watch--and the thing was, I did not know how to tell time until 1964 when I, along with other rural farming community students were bussed (literally) to Hamilton, Ala., to be thrown like cattle and receive a Culture Shock from the teachers and students of Hamilton Grammar School. Stupid name. Hardly any of the teachers and some of the students knew what "grammar" really meant.
But cattle and Culture Shock notwithstanding, I remember the very obscure moment in time when this Lowell character sidled up to me and said: "Nice watch, kid. Did ye' git it for ChristMUS?" I said yes. And I was quick to inform him that my pocket watch was a Christmas gift. He nodded. Looked away (I later found out he was checking for the two teachers, Mr. and Mrs. L.J. Ballard, who did not put up with theft or extortion). Lowell, you have to admit, was a Slick Operator for 13.
Why I looked like something was about to happen to me is still a great mystery from the Abyss. Such things still bother me. I guess when I cross over, I will face these needling questions face-to-face. Lowell, much like a professional riverboat gambler, said, "Hey, I'll show ye' what I got fer ChristMUS." I nodded and right away, my eye caught the glimpse of a slick, new silver bracelet he wore proudly on his left wrist. I loved it. Lowell knew it. And with the speed of Peagsus, I was now the proud owner of Lowell's bracelet. He told me, "Ken, you made one whale of a deal. Nice bracelet," in order to blow away any after-trading remorse affecting the sucker who was living inside of me.
My repetition of Lowell being a Slick Operator bears another paragraph. I give him credit just in case he might be staring down from Heaven and knowing that I am now 63 and do hold (some) resentment toward him for snookering me out of my pretty watch, but not enough to get him sent to Hell when we are all standing at the White Throne of Judgment--Revelation, Chapter 20, verses 11-15. Read it. I ain't making this stuff up.
After Lowell walked away, I continued admiring my bracelet, but I did not want to come off being a show-off, so I hid it the best I could. My bracelet. Not my love for it. The school day dragged by similar to an old, worn-out hunting dog. The one school bus driven by Mr. Linlon Cox, (who might be looking at Lowell from Heaven), who made the daily trek of picking the students up and taking us back home rolled up. Cox, usually a talkative gentleman, said very little as we rode to where we lived and stepped off the bus--then I was still admiring the silver bracelet and I was really praying that God would intervene and ward off any sharp outbursts from my dad when he saw that I had traded my pocket watch for this pretty bracelet once owned by Lowell.
God did not intervene, for those who might be wondering. My mom cried tears of sadness because she said very loudly, "that Lowell's a thief and he took my baby's shirt off," (this was rural slang for someone stealing something in daylight). My dad, that was another story. He threw an half-smoked Camel cigarette into the fireplace and began a fiery tirade: "Why? Can you tell me why you did such a stupid thing? Trading your nice pocket watch for that thing--what did that cost the Lowell character, 30 cents? Huh?" Oh, he was upset comparable to the bulls in that yearly tradition: The Running of The Bulls and now I wish I had been born, "Pedro Avery," and be 10 years of age so I could be far away from my dad and do some running of my own.
A day or so went by.
(This in writer's circles is known as a Dramatic Pause.)
My brother-in-law and sister drove up. And it was not five minutes until he started doing a Jack "Sgt. Joe Friday" Webb impression, but not with a low bass voice as Webb had. My brother-in-law's voice was not a Tenor. I guess it was Baritone. I wasn't a singer. All I knew is it was harsh and when my dad joined in, I was tag-teamed and going down for the count all while my mom and sister both shedding tears of pity for me--being so gullible for falling for such a scam as the Lowell character--building up his bracelet, a cheap item to potential trade client, as being more expensive as my $4.50 pocket watch. But that is how those Shady Operators in the Rural Area of Alabama worked in December, 1963.
My dad and brother-in-law snagged my bracelet and off the rode as if they had mounted two steeds headed to do business with Lowell and his dad, I forget his name--all of this trading trauma gave me gaps in my 10-year-old memory. Truth is truth. I sat near the fireplace with nothing on my left wrist but some greenish-looking stuff that my mom swore was from the bracelet that Lowell palmed off on me as being "hot," which meant stolen. I never asked Lowell in weeks to come. I figured that I was in enough trouble.
The deal with my dad and brother-in-law went down like this: When dad and my brother-in-law drove up in Lowell's dad's yard, Lowell's dad opened the front screen door and yelled, "Get out, neighbors. Come on in!" He was a jovial, stocky man who my mom said later reminded her of the Incredible Hulk, the Marvel Comics icon she had seen on one of my comic books. All I knew is that Lowell's dad, I was told, was very upset with Lowell and demanded justice. He yelled back into his home for his "butt (not what he really said) to get outta here! This man needs to see you!"
Lowell was literally "thrown to the wolves" by his dad who stood with his arms crossed and watched the undoing of what was a slick deal go on. My dad and brother-in-law gave Lowell back his bracelet and then it hit the fan: "what kind of fool are you, son, taking something from this man's sickly son who he gave a nice pocket watch? I didn't raise you to no thieving. We'll settle up later, Lowell. Good day, Mr. Avery," Lowell's dad said very sternly. And Lowell's dad embarrassed Lowell even more by demanding that he apologize to my dad and brother-in-law.
I got my watch back and held onto it for many months. But . . .I never wore it to New Home or Hamilton Grammar School ever again. I had learned a hard lesson. It is hard to be wise when you are gullible and when you are smaller, there is that ever-present fear that Lowell, a taller student did have the ability to whip my butt with no problem. But I never forgot how Lowell had take me for a ride. (another rural term for someone being ripped off).
In my adult years, I did meet Lowell's brother, Leonard again. He too studied at New Home with me, Lowell and other rural farming kids. Leonard was working at a plant in our hometown and making great money. No mention of that "Trade Debacle" engineered by Lowell was ever mentioned.
Then I heard news that sent my heart to the floor of the Pizza Hut where I was talking to Leonard. He told me that Lowell had been sent home by his doctor and only had three months to live because of cancer. I told Leonard to give him my thoughts and prayers--and I really meant that too.
I later heard from his daughter, Amy, whom attends church with my wife and me, that her dad had passed away and did not suffer in the end. I breathed a silent sigh of relief. Not because Lowell passed away. Not because of that Trade Debacle long ago at a two-room school house that was now non-existent.
All I felt was sadness that I never spoke to Lowell since the day that my dad and brother-in-law had exchanged my pocket watch back for his bracelet. There are those times when I am sleeping the deepest REM Sleep that I relive those days with Lowell and Leonard and our times at New Home School and how all of that trade went down.
The main thing is: Memories are good for two things--remembering or forgetting. And you can guess which one I chose.
Note: in the above piece, you will see the dialogue from Lowell's dad asking Lowell why he took the watch from "this man's" (my dad) sickly son? This was sadly a true fact. At age five through twelve, I was plagued with Asthma, Allergies, along with other childhood sicknesses--Mumps, Red Measles, and Chicken Pox. But even with Lowell knowing before he conned me out of my pocket watch that I was sickly, did not enter into the trade. He could have given me a buck or two as "boot" because my watch was more expensive.
© 2017 Kenneth Avery