Kriegspiel

IT WAS PROBABLY SOMETIME LATE February, early March, not warm but not especially cold either. Southeastern coastal Georgia in in the 1960s had its fair share of cold snaps. There were several years when our outdoor spigot burst, giving our side yard the illustrious appearance of an Ice Capades float, or a few days’ glory beholding God’s own rippling ice sculpture as they water sprayed out during the night unbeknownst to the tiny sleepers all huddled together inside in sleeping bags around a stinky kerosene heater. Eventually, Pops installed a huge gas heater in one room that did a decent job of heating the house in the dead of winter, as long as he could afford to keep the 500-lb natural gas tank filled. The Clyde Nix imperative of “keeping them coming” at the Crow’s Nest, the Pool Hall, two of his favorite local drinking holes, and anywhere else on the road he could find a stool, frequently interfered with his ability to keep in line with monthly payments and IOUs of many kinds. Six kids and a wife weren’t so much a burden to the man as a stone cold distraction. Some would say Clyde Nix was a natural born alcoholic. Put another way, something he might say himself, he was just a man who was simply born to drink when he wasn’t on the high seas.

Mother drove me out to the Ridge. A hearty Aunt Ruth greeted me at the door, and in her usual loud but always welcoming way, she took my thin windbreaker, and offered me a glass of iced tea which I accepted. Fortunately it wasn’t supersaturated with sugar crystals like so much Southern iced tea used to be fixed. I drink my tea unsweetened to this day as a result of those early bouts with sugar-tanked home sweet home red clay iced teas.

the-ridge-edit

THEY WERE DIZYGOTIC OR FRATERNAL TWINS. They were my cousins, just three months older than me. But to a sheltered townboy like myself, they were giants. Their names were Bob and Kenan. It seemed to me their names were always said together, and it was always Bob and Kenan, never Kenan and Bob, although I am not sure who was born first, and had always figured Bob and Kenan just sounded better and rolled easier off the tongue than Kenan and Bob. Together their names rolled off my tongue as if they were a single ent ity like peanut butter and jelly, cops and robbers, life and death. Not that they were ever anything close to being identicals—they weren’t, but brothers they were, and brothers they are. Uncle Robert was my grandfather’s brother, Uncle Robert their father. I think this made them my second cousins, as they were easily understood as my mother’s first cousins although she obviously was much older than them. I never could keep all that “once removed” second, third, and fourth cousin stuff straight in my head, so I prefer to leave that to the genealogy purists. Bob and Kenan did have a sister, Robin, a couple of years older and another named Ethel, closer to my Aunt Maude’s age, who is my mother’s youngest sister, twelve years her junior, and nine years my senior, but I barely knew the rather smart and attractive Ethel (as I recall) or the eldest, a half-brother whose name I cannot remember, although it might be Conrad, yes, I think his name was Conrad. Second cousins or not, I admired Bob and Kenan as entities of strength and daring, replete with skills and aptitudes I’d never have, and I still admire them, but growing up, things were sometimes a bit awesome and sometimes a bit awkward.

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THINGS WERE CHANGING RAPIDLY. The year was 1964. Kennedy had been assassinated the year before. Of course I remember where I was when I first heard. I was, after all, in the third grade, a big boy, smart, and well-informed beyond my years. It was Friday at 3:15. The school bell had just signaled that school was over for that week; the weekend had begun. By 3:16 PM EST the Darien schoolyard was buzzing with news that the president had been shot. A diligent kid, I made a beeline on my bicycle straight to Darwin Gale’s house. Darwin was a kid my same age whom I had been hanging with after school playing army in his mostly dirt yard across the street from the Post Office in the large wood-planked boarding house with peeling paint common to that era. Darwin had lots of green plastic soldiers, and I brought my few, gave them to him, and we drafted armies several days a week for a season. That’s how kids rolled back then. But there was no army in the dirt that day. I needed a TV. Fortunately Mrs. Gale had hers already tuned to the news when I arrived. This was teh first time I had ever been inside the Gale home. The front room was small, cozy, warm, but otherwise comfortable. I saw little of Darwin that afternoon.

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ATHLETES ARRIVE SPORTING MANY SIZES. This one was a scrawny six foot one hundred fifty pound two-sport athlete in highschool. Almost. The heartbreaking fact is I was both the thirteenth and the sixteenth candidate cut from the 1972-73 Fernandina Beach Highschool Pirates tryouts, first in basketball and then in baseball. The significance of the numbers thirteen and sixteen were heartbreaking, meaning I was the very last player cut on the very last day of tryouts. Each time it was an equally scrawny six foot one hundred fifty pound kid, sporting the additional flavor of being bespectacled mind you, who beat me out for the final slot on the fall and spring rosters—a kid from the Yulee sticks named David Haney. It was a small school in a small town. We were best friends most of that year. I got to travel with both teams, sit on the benches, and keep score and statistics. Mostly I was thrilled just to contribute mad skills where I was needed and well-trained.
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THERE ARE TIMES OF CELEBRATION and there are times of pensive sadness. This is a sad moment for me as I contemplate selling my candy apple red 2005 Triumph America (pictures to follow), several months shy of a year after I bought it from a fellow up the road in Lovettsville who had parked it in front of the automotive service on the grass. It was next door to his own house just inside the town limits. Berlin Turnpike is like that. True to form, I guess that would apply to most of small town America still living on the outskirts of picket fences, polymorphous charms, or the many inscutible persuasions of location, location, location…

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