Not Long Tales … January 21st, 2020

Jonathots Daily Blog

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24.

Turn Left on Oak Meadows

by Jonathan Richard Cring

Eddie Sparrow committed adultery, if that’s what they still call it.

An affair. A slip-up. A bungle in the jungle. A close encounter of the lustful kind.

Perhaps the strangest part of the whole experience was that he had this tryst with a young lady he was competing with for a promotion. In the process of trying to gain the new position, they were thrown together by the corporation—with tests and projects—so they could prove themselves worthy and literally “win” the position. Eddie became obsessed with her.

Her name was Lorraine.

Eddie already had a beautiful wife. He often heard unfaithful husbands explain that they “still loved their wife”—they just couldn’t help themselves with their new partner. He used to scoff at such a notion, insisting that self-control could win the day.

But when he ran across Lorraine, and she was just as willing as he was to break some rules, his body lit up with fire and he had no desire except to melt over her like hot wax.

A torrid affair it was. Sneaking, lying, not willing to trust anyone, because if the wife found out there would be trouble. But if the company found out there would be equally dire straits, since there was a non-fraternization policy written into the rules.

Right in the middle of this crazy-ass experience, it was decided that Lorraine would get the bump-up. She became his boss.

Eddie didn’t care—he wanted to continue. So intense was his drive to stay with Lorraine that he informed his wife, Cheryl, that he was greatly saddened, but he had lost his enduring love for her and wanted a divorce.

Then insanity gained the room.

Lorraine, who had been so involved in their social experiment, lost interest. Once she acquired the job and realized she was his boss, the thrill of the pursuit, the danger of the escapade and the excitement over Eddie disappeared.

She broke off connection with him. When she did, he begged and he pleaded, knowing that he had no wife to go back to and that his life was meaningless without her devotion.

Lorraine didn’t care. When Eddie persisted, she filed a sexual harassment suit against him with the company.

When the two of them gave their depositions—hers being his unwanted attention and constant haranguing through email (she provided evidence)—and his being that the two of them had been involved in a far-reaching romance for weeks—well, when both stories were shared, the board decided to accept hers.

Realizing he was on probation with the company, rejected by his lover and unwanted by his wife, a crazed Eddie stole the keys to a company car (one of those with a German name, a Japanese engine, a French paint job and a California interior) and took off.

Eddie figured he had about twenty-four hours until the authorities would be called. He decided to make the best of his time.

He drove south for about three hours, listening to music and opening the windows to let in fresh air to keep him awake. He mused over his plight.

Hungry, Eddie pulled over at a diner called “Our First Stand.” Walking in the door and seeing all the empty chairs and booths, he felt sorry for the place, wondering if this was also going to be their last stand. He was greeted by a waitress named Nesla and he sat down, making a crack about George Armstrong Custer being beaten by the Indians, and how he felt much like the old general himself. Nesla stared at him with that look young people often give when they don’t understand a word of what an older person has said—and therefore assume they’re crazy.

But privately, Eddie had decided to order, in honor of the Little Big Horn, a cheeseburger and a big piece of custard pie. He laughed to himself, surprised he was still able to find humor in anything.

Waiting for his meal to arrive, he went back to considering his dilemma.

Certainly he couldn’t continue to run in a stolen car. Eventually he would have to go back, just to have the ability to go forward. He tried to tap his feelings, only to discover that he wasn’t sure whether he loved any woman, or if he ever wanted to work a job again in his entire life.

Somewhere between the cheeseburger and the custard pie, fatigue set in. It had been quite a day. Rejected by two women and dishonored by his company, he was ready for sleep—or at least to roll around in a bed until insomnia subsided. He asked Nesla to give him directions to the nearest motel.

“Well, that would have to be Wycliffe,” she answered. “Thirty miles down that road. They got four motels. Most of them are pretty ratty, but I haven’t heard of anybody gettin’ killed.”

With this, she turned on her heel and headed back to retrieve food (not needed, because nobody was there).

Then all at once, somebody was there. Eddie turned, looked up, and standing next to him was a dude in his late twenties or so—pretty down on his luck, by the cheapness of his clothing and the smell emanating from his body. He was standing so close that Eddie was a bit unnerved.

“Can I help you, my dear friend?” Eddie asked at length.

In rapid fire, the man responded, as if the material had been memorized for a high school play. “If you go down three miles and turn left on Oak Meadows, there’s a place you can stay.”

The monotone and speed of his voice was almost comical, but Eddie, resisting laughter, inquired, “Is it a motel?”

“No,” said the young man, “just a place you can stay.”

With this, he turned away, walked toward the front door, opened it and disappeared. Eddie took a moment to look around for Nesla, to see if she was aware of this other location. She was nowhere to be found. He called out for service. No response. She didn’t even come out when he was standing at the checkout, ready to pay for his bill.

Giving up on waiting, Eddie left the price of the meal and a nice tip sitting next to the register, headed out to his over-stated sedan, climbed in and drove the three miles south.

Apparently, the first time he missed it. So at the six-mile mark on the odometer, he turned around and drove back. This time, off to the right (which would have been to the left) he saw the road sign. “Oak Meadows.”

He turned right and immediately found himself driving on a gravel road. He smiled. He loved gravel roads. As a boy, whenever their family car turned onto the gravel road that went to his grandparents’, he would giggle. To him it sounded like the tires were chomping on peanut brittle.

This one was narrow and covered on both sides with trees, with a deep ditch in between. About a mile-and-a-half up, Eddie saw a man standing, staring off into the distance. He pulled over, rolled down his window and said, “Excuse me, fine sir. I was wondering if you could tell me…well, I was told there was a place down this road where you could rent a room for the night. Like a motel?”

The man slowly turned around, held out his hand and said, “My name is Clancy Johns, and I have such a place, about two miles ahead. Now, I must tell you, it is not a motel but a room in my house that I let out to strangers who don’t want to drive all the way to Wycliffe.”

Eddie listened very carefully. The man had a presence to him—maybe it was his aged face. Or his simple demeanor. But Eddie immediately was drawn to him. It was a visceral connection he didn’t really understand, but the man seemed solid. Truthful. Reliable.

He shook his head. Foolish to draw such a quick conclusion about a total stranger. While he was still parsing his thoughts, Clancy spoke again. “Now, I also must warn you, it is a very simple home. But for fifty dollars for the night—no more and no tips—you get a room, a bathroom, it includes supper and breakfast.”

Eddie searched his mind for something clever to say, or even profound. “My needs are simple,” he said quietly.

Clancy laughed. “Then you would be the only one, my brother. Yes—you and you, alone.”

Clancy started walking in the direction of his house. Eddie shouted after him, “Mr.—Johns, is it? Clancy?” But the old man did not turn. Eddie pulled up next to him. “Would you like to ride in the car with me?”

Clancy bent down to look into the car, then right into the eyeballs of Eddie Sparrow. “Then I would miss my nightly walk, now, wouldn’t I?”

With this he stood upright and began walking again.

“I’ll meet you there, then,” said Eddie. He drove on ahead, and in less than a minute-and-a-half he was at an old farmhouse. He parked his car, got out and turned around like a little kid’s top, to see what he could see.

It was rustic, mostly gray and much in need of a coat of paint. But Eddie liked it. He wondered how long it would take the man to make it up the path. Suddenly, Clancy appeared at the front door of his home and called to him. “What’s keepin’ you, traveler? I already got supper goin’.”

Eddie stared. How was it possible for the old man to have made the journey quicker than his speedy car? But shrugging his shoulders, he grabbed his overnight case, headed up the path, opened the door and entered.

The interior looked like it had been decorated in the 1930’s by a family more intent on saving money than impressing guests. Still, it had all the elements one would need to survive, and even included a well-kept, dark-brown horsehair couch.

Clancy walked into the room behind him. “I warned you,” he said. “We aren’t the Holiday Inn.” He glanced around and laughed. “I guess we ain’t even an inn.”

Eddie smiled, scooted into the living room and plopped down on the horsehair couch. “It looks like home to me,” he said.

“Speaking of that,” said Clancy, “where would be your home?”

“Now, there’s a good question,” said Eddie. “If you’d have asked me yesterday, I would have said my home was in Hartford, Connecticut, and I was married to a beautiful woman and had one teenage son.”

“And if I was to ask you today…?” inquired Clancy.

Eddie took a deep breath. “Well, I’d tell you that the home still exists. It’s just not mine anymore.”

“Trouble with a woman?” Clancy asked, walking toward the kitchen.

“How did you know, my brother?” questioned Eddie.

Clancy stepped back into the room to make his point. “Well, it’s not that women are a problem, but when they get with us men, they don’t always show their best side.”

“I don’t know, Clancy,” Eddie said, lifting his eyebrows. “This girl showed a lot of good sides.”

Eddie went on to explain his situation in great detail as Clancy ducked in and out of the kitchen to make sure all the “eatin’s” were being prepared. Eddie told him about the affair, his decision to leave his wife, and ended up ‘fessing up to being reprimanded and how he illegally “borrowed” a car from the company.

He stopped, waiting for Clancy to comment. Instead, he stepped back into the kitchen, then returned with a big smile on his face. “Well, here we go! We’re gonna have fried chicken. We’re gonna have corn on the cob—and I’m talkin’ about those long cobs with a little sugar sprinkled. And we’re gonna have butter potatoes. I call ’em butter potatoes because I put so much butter in them that they’re about as yellow as a lemon meringue pie.”

Eddie was astounded. Clancy had just described the meal Eddie had asked his mother to prepare for his sixteenth birthday—complete with the butter potatoes and the sweetener on the cobs.

“That happens to be my favorite meal,” said Eddie.

Clancy laughed. “I’m glad to hear that, but honestly, I can’t imagine anybody being disfavorable to it. It’ll just be a few more minutes. Just keep doin’ what you’re doin’.”

Eddie sat still, breathing in the air of contentment. Looking over at the coffee table, he saw a large book with a leather cover on it—cowhide.

He reached over, picked it up and held it on his lap. He opened it, turned a page, then another page. On page three, there was a very small Polaroid—with a picture of his wife, Cheryl, when she was about twelve years old. She was with two other girls he couldn’t identify. He leaned over and peered closely at the picture. He was startled when Clancy spoke.

“Do you like my photo album?”

Eddie looked up. “Yes. I hope you don’t mind. It’s beautiful. Where did you get the cover?”

Clancy smiled and sat down next to him. “Well, let me just say that was a gift from a friend.”

Eddie paused, allowing time for a story to follow. Clancy eyeballed him carefully as if wondering whether to continue. “Yes…” shared Clancy, “she was a friend. I had her for fifteen years. She listened to me grumble about problems on the farm. And the only time she ever complained was when I spent too much time on her teats.”

Eddie smiled. He really enjoyed this old man. Clancy continued, completing his joke. “Oh, you do know I’m talking about a cow, don’t you?”

Eddie nodded. Clancy went on, “Because of her complaints I called her Bossy, but she really wasn’t. She was the best kind of friend you could ever have. She listened carefully, never judged, didn’t offer too much advice, and then, at the end of the experience, she offered you the milk of human kindness.”

Eddie chuckled. “What happened to Bossy?”

Clancy rubbed his knee. “Oh, she died. All things do, you know. But I didn’t want her to just be gone. So I took her hide, cleaned it, tanned it and put it on the cover of that photo album I love so dearly, knowing I would look at it frequently, and whenever I did, I would run my hands over the cover—just like I used to pet her in the barn.”

Some tears stood in Clancy’s eyes. Eddie was moved, too—not so much at the thought of the cow, but because a man could be so devoted. Changing the subject, Eddie asked, “I saw a picture of my wife in your photo album.”

“N-a-w-w-w,” drawled Clancy. “How could that be?”

Eddie opened to the Polaroid and pointed it out. “Is that your wife?” asked Clancy, incredulously.

“Yes,” said Eddie. “Cheryl.”

Clancy shook his head. “Her daddy was an old war buddy. We called that little dear Cee-Cee. She was such a beautiful little girl. So full of joy. And if you ever got discouraged, she’d whip up a quick batch of hope.”

Eddie paused, lost in thought. He could remember Cheryl that way, but it had been many years since he had seen the brightness in her eyes.

“Then,” said Clancy, “there must be a picture of her brother, Thomas.”

Eddie sat up and blurted, “Where? Where? Show me where.”

Clancy reached over, turned a couple of pages and pointed. “There he is. My goodness gracious. Such a small world, huh?”

Eddie stared at the picture of Cheryl’s brother, Thomas, as tears came to his eyes. Thomas was two years older, and Eddie’s hero. He had drowned in a boating accident. Eddie had been traumatized—never able to replace the deep hole left behind from Thomas’s absence.

Clancy excused himself, explaining that he was going to finish up dinner, and that it would be on the table in about five minutes.

Eddie sat, turning pages. There was a photo of his Uncle Barney, the jokester of the family. There was even an old shot of his grandfather. Eddie had only seen the man twice in his life.

Clancy called him to dinner, and they sat down at the table. Clancy looked up to heaven and said, “Not many thoughts on my mind, sir. Just glad to have the company. Amen.”

The chicken was the best Eddie had ever eaten. The butter in the mashed potatoes dominated—dribbling down his chin—and the corn was sweeter than molasses.

He would have eaten more, but the cheeseburger and custard pie weighed down underneath, threatening to rebel. After dinner, Clancy told him to just leave the dishes on the table, that he’d take care of them later.

They took cups of coffee into the other room and sat down as Eddie continued to look through the photo album with Bossy’s cover.

About ten pages in, Eddie saw a picture of his lover. Lorraine. At least it looked like her. She was a young girl in the photo, and she was with her family.

Eddie turned to Clancy. “Who’s the girl in this picture?”

Clancy squinted and said, “Another war buddy’s daughter. I believe…” He paused. “Yes. We called her Lori, but her name was Lorraine. And that’s her mom. I can’t remember her name. And her Dad, Michael.”

Eddie asked, “Who is the girl with her—in the wheelchair?”

Clancy grew quiet. “Well, that’s her crippled sister. She fell off her horse, severely damaged her body and never walked again.”

A breath of silence. Clancy broke it by standing up and saying, “Well, if you don’t mind, I’m gonna do me some dishes—my form of therapy. Then I’ll be headin’ off to bed. Breakfast will be promptly served at seven. Or who knows? Maybe eight.”

Eddie laughed. He reached up to shake hands, but it suddenly seemed inadequate, so he stood up and hugged the old man.

Clancy grinned. “Well, thank you for that. Everybody needs to feel one of those wrapped around him every once in a while.”

An hour passed. Then two.

Eddie was so engrossed in the photo album that he didn’t even hear Clancy finish the dishes or slip up the stairs. The deeper and deeper he went into the album, the more people he saw that he thought he knew—mostly in their younger days, in older times.

He looked across a room that had more memories than future. He cried. It was the last thing he remembered.

With the morning light coming in through the window and into his eyes, he realized he’d never made it up the stairs to his room. He had just laid down and cuddled up on the horsehair couch.

He felt good.

Matter of fact, he couldn’t remember a time he had ever felt better. He looked at his watch. It was 8:15 A. M.

He called out, “Clancy! I’m so sorry to have overslept!”

There was no answer.

Eddie took a deep breath and could swear he smelled homemade maple syrup. He stood up, walked through the house and up the stairs. Clancy was nowhere to be found.

He stepped out the door into the morning chill. The old man had disappeared.

Eddie came back in and walked over to the breakfast table. It was all set—for one. French toast, corn beef hash and maple syrup. All of his favorites. He ate his fill, thinking that at any moment, Clancy would come walking in.

He never did.

Soon it became obvious that he needed to go, so he wrote a note expressing his appreciation. In the note, he told Clancy that he was taking that picture of his wife as a young girl and would return it as soon as he could get a copy made.

He left a hundred-dollar bill on the table for services rendered, walked out, got into his car, drove down the gravel road to the highway—content.

He turned left, drove about three or four miles and suddenly realized he’d forgotten his phone. He found a wide space in the road, turned around and drove back. At about the four-mile mark, he began looking for the sign to Oak Meadows. He’d done that the first time, too. So he turned around and drove back. Missed it again.

The third go-around, he inched his way to make sure he didn’t miss the sign. He still didn’t see it.

He drove the few miles back to the “Our First Stand Diner,” and saw Nesla, who was there for another shift. He asked her if she knew about the Oak Meadows “bed and breakfast,” as he called it.

She didn’t. He explained to her that a gentleman had told him about it when he was there, eating, the night before. She looked at him confused, because there hadn’t been an additional customer when he was there.

He thanked her, climbed into the car, and made the decision to make his way home.

There was nothing positive waiting there. When he arrived, he was rebuked for taking the car and fired.

He went to see his wife, but she was too hurt—and rejected any possibility of reconciliation.

He did not call Lorraine. He was afraid of “three strikes and you’re out.”

He drove about thirty miles down the road to an exit for a little town called “Oak Meadows.” Reading the exit sign, he laughed, but still pulled off. He found an Oak Meadows Inn, and made arrangements with the manager, a fellow named Garrett, for a weekly rate. He paid for a month.

Eddie’s plan was to make no plans until plans came his way.

Trying to make conversation, Eddie said to Garrett, “This is really interesting, because just last night I stayed at an old man’s house on Oak Meadows Road.”

Garrett, a little aged himself, deadpanned, “Well…there are a lot of oaks and a good number of meadows.”

Eddie parked his car and found his room—104—and opened his door. He turned on the lights and looked over at the bed. Pinned to one of the pillows was a fifty-dollar bill.

The note read, “Your change.”

 

“My God-given American right…” July 3, 2012

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I read it off a bumper sticker on the back of a puke-green, mud-splattered pick-up truck. So you know it has to be true. Yes, I am back in Dixie, where all chicken is fried, all biscuits are covered with gravy and all truths are simple.

I love the south–at least, many things about it. There is a quiet hospitality available at the root of its motivation. But I’ve always been uncomfortable with any group of people who too closely mingle God and country. Historically, it’s proven to be a nasty mixture–whether it was the Roman Empire trying to make Caesar divine, or Hitler manifesting a super-race. Whenever nationalism and spirituality tango, the result is a tangled mess.

But the bumper sticker did get me thinking. Are there any “God-given, American rights?” Are there any standards, beliefs and guarantees granted to each of us simply because we were created by God and born in the United States?

I came up with a list of seven. I believe that if you listen to them carefully and follow them fervently, you will discover that a universal unction of benefit will be provided your way. They don’t really have much to do with our Bill of Rights, which tends to create more debate than progress, but rather, are the careful blending of the heart of God with the will of our nation.

1. You have the God-given American right to get as much liberty as you’re willing to give. Liberty is a slippery slope. You are completely free to seek it–as long as you’re willing to grant it to others. The minute you limit the possibility of another citizen, that measure will be measured back to you.

2. You have the God-given American right to prosper as you work and multiply your talents. There is no reason to believe that laziness or a sense of entitlement will provide for your common needs. There is also no scenario where continuing to do the same things repetitively will increase your coffers. You must work, keeping an eye on ways to expand.

3. You have a God-given American right to be loved exactly at the level with which you love. The minute we begin to believe that certain people are attractive, colorized correctly or financially solvent enough to receive more attention, our whole system of government and belief fall apart.

4. You have the God-given American right to be given to–at the rate you give. One of the “rules of the jungle” in human behavior is the precept that selfish people eventually get starved out. We tend to give to people who give. At first it may not seem that way. There may be the deceptive appearance that greedy people actually achieve success more quickly. But that’s only because those who are plotting revenge against them need time to perfect their plan.

5. You have the God-given American right to receive blessing if you’re willing to survive hassle. Blessing is not a portion provided for those who whine, complain or pout. Blessing is built into the natural order, to be the prize given to those individuals who stop resisting change, find a way to conquer the hassles that come along and introduce inventive ideas.

6. You have the God-given American right to be included as long as you believe that “NoOne is better than anyone else.” Even though the principle is a bit simplistic, and I suppose, deemed arguable by disagreeable people, any other approach creates too many prejudices that shut the door to others–thus eventually shutting the door to ourselves.

7. And finally, you have the God-given American right to respect your heavenly Father, honor Mother Earth, and live at peace with your sisters and brothers. Fussy children spend most of their available hours in “time out.” Yes, life has time out. When you’re not willing to give place to God, honor to Mother Earth and respect to your brothers and sisters, you will spend a lot of your earth journey missing out on opportunity, eating your peas and carrots without dessert.

So there you go. On this day before the 236th birthday of our country, you have my particular list of our God-given American rights. Forgive me if I left out some favorites–like brattiness, indifference, provincialism, regionalism, nationalism, political parties or religious intolerance. The truth is, certain trends may be given a podium and an ear for a season, but history tells us that they eventually will be snuffed out by the desire of the people and the intelligent will of God.

So take heart. Receiving our God-given American rights takes a little more than dropping a buck on the desk at a convenience store and picking up a bumper sticker and slapping it on the back of your favorite ride. It means being prepared to give everybody else what you want.

It means being human … and allowing others to do the same.

   

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