In the 14th century the Italian poet and philosopher Dante Alighieri wrote his epic poem The Divine Comedy. In it Dante describes his journey through the 9 circles of hell while being guided by his fellow poet Virgil. The nine stages or "circles" Dante encounters lead deeper into the realm of sins and punishments until finally arriving at the last two circles, #8 and #9 which are the stages reserved for those that practiced fraud and treachery. I his view fraud and treachery were punished more severly than wrath, lust, greed, heresy, gluttony or anger. In the view of Dante, most of the other sins spring from these two. Fraud and treachery began with the serpent in the garden, continued right on to the betrayal by Judas and has never slowed until the present day. Dante broke down the different types of fraud and treachery practices as the panderers, the seducers, the flatterers, sorcerers, imposters, sowers of discord, those that practice simony (selling that which belongs to God) and the falsifiers. Do any of these describe someone you might have encountered lately? We face treachery and fraud every minute of every day. You don't have to look for it- it finds you. We have become numb to lies, We don't even notice them any more, we just accept it. We are lied to all the time. People attempt to deceive us throughout the day. We expect dishonesty, and we get it. The farther away it originates from our personal space the less we care. Dishonesty does something to us and we don't realize what it it or how to describe it but it causes you to look both ways before you cross a one way street. It causes you to distrust folks you don't even know. In the more personal cases of treachery or dishonesty such as that performed by a family member or loved one you lose chunks of your life. Suddenly you realize what you thought was true today isn't and now the past you thought you had didn't really happen and so now the future isn't so certain either. You lived life thinking you married the farmers' daughter until one day you look at her and think "You're not really from the farm", and so it's easy to see how the final and lowest circles of damnation lead to the other deadly sins - the anger, violence, greed, ect. It leads to gaslighting, future faking, and a host of other mental injuries. And it leads to another more modern day situation - the grand deception where someone tells you a lie and you know it's a lie, and you are certain that they know that you know it's a lie but yet they continue on with it and you contine to listen and you both walk away like nothing happened. Maybe we need Dante or even Virgil to guide us through that situation. Maybe we are digging a tunnel to a ninth circle Dante could not have imagined. Maybe we should stop giving dishonesty a free pass. Food for thought.
I grew up on a gravel road. It's not something I was proud of at the time but I've noticed lately that it's become a way of growing up somewhat glamourized by country music lyrics and by storytellers that want to sound "folksy". It's sort of a badge of honor now in the same way that people used to be ashamed of having some Indian blood in their family but now could not be more proud of it. The truth is that it really sucked to a great extent to live on a gravel road. When a car passed during the hot, dry, months of summer you would get a cloud of dust in it's wake that floated up into the yard and if you were doing something that required focus, cleanliness, or breathing you might wait for a minute for the dust to settle before you resumed. And...it was 24/7, all the time. I don't think I will ever brag on it, at least not unless I get rich enough to want to invent a poverty story like the singers and storytellers.
Our house was far enough off the road for the dust to not be too much of a bother but I remember my daddy had a shop where he worked on cars and trucks and basically just did any type of mechanic work that came along and that shop building was closer to the road and it always had it's rolling garage doors open when he worked in there. That was all twelve months of the year. Everything stayed covered in dust. Daddy never bragged about the gravel road either. He didn't write songs about it. If he penned his biography the gravel road would not be in it. I guess it's not really the gravel road that got me to thinkin' and rememberin' about thinking about daddy working all those years in the dust. I guess sometimes we use one thought as an excuse to get to another thought. The other thought has to do with me, but it has a backdrop of daddy and the shop and the gravel road. My daddy didn't often call me by my name. I don't think it's because he didn't like like it. I think it was just his way of funnin' with me. He had a lot of nicknames for me and the more I think about it there were a lot of nicknames that had to do with my feet. Lead foot, slew footed boy, tumble foot, big foot, hook worm ,"'ole crow foot over there" and the like - each used as a term of endearment, albeit weird. So all of this connect-the-dots type memory lead me to remember something he said to me a couple of weeks before he died in the shop when a jack stand slipped and a car fell on him. I was hanging around the shop on a Sunday morning wearing a white shirt and he told me to go on before I got my clothes dirty out there. I was fixin' to go to church with my grandmother that morning. I had said "Good, then if I'm dirty enough I can just stay here with you". He said to me " You need to go to church. I don't want a boy of mine heading out into the world on feet of clay". I had no idea what he meant at the time but I figured it out this week. I was 14 then. I'm 45 now. Sometimes it takes the gravel and the dust and the turkey-leg nicknames to help remember. Sometimes they lead to a breakthrough. Sometimes it takes a long time. I try not to live on feet of clay now. Daddy, I finally heard you.
I saw the sign the man was holding as I slowed for the red light. I take note when the signs say something other than just "Will work for food" or "Trying to get home". This fellow held one that simply said "JUST PLAIN SCREWED" Plain, brief bold, it communicated his thoughts perfectly. I wanted to hand him a couple of bucks and tell him that I knew just how he felt. We are all "just plain screwed " in one way or another. I could not follow through on that. He had picked a place to stand that made it almost impossible to interact with him. He was outside a turn lane at the bottom of a ramp. Automobiles seldom stop moving at this intersection, not the ones in the turn lane. It might have been his last bad decision in a series of bad decisions. I'll never know. He didn't have the look of the dedicated panhandler. His clothes were not very dirty and they still fit. His shirt tail was in. He carried a back pack, but it was not a large one. I thought maybe he was a hitchhiker that just got put out or maybe one of those people that starts out driving from Raleigh to Phoenix with only enough money for gas and a little food and then the car breaks down and the nearest person you know is 500 miles away. I'll never know. You will never know. His day on the corner may have been a preemptive strike of sorts against permanent despair. I do hope he's far away now and hopefully somewhere he wants to be.
We will seldom admit it but I think we take some comfort in knowing that some people have it worse than us. Those people are easier to find now. When the traffic comes to a halt and the supply line is disrupted it becomes the worst that can happen if that's what you depend on to get through the day. We might hate having to be home all day but there is worse. Worse is wanting to be home and you can't be.
How do you think you would feel if you were sitting on the couch one afternoon eating pizza and watching Leave it to Beaver reruns and 30 minutes you found yourself in the basement of a police station answering questions from investigators in a grisly triple homicide case? Well I can tell you. Here's how it happened.
This memory popped into my mind when I was scanning some news archives and came across this; Ronald Ward dies in prison hospital at age 37.
On April 12, 1985 Ronald Ward was a 14 year old child in the mid-term of repeating the 7th grade for the 3rd time in a West Memphis Arkansas Jr. High School. After school on that day he went over to the home of his best friend to play. After that things went haywire. Ronald stabbed to death his 12 year old friend and the two great-aunts that his friend lived with. They were ages 72 and 76. Multiple stab wounds on each. A butcher knife was the weapon either of choice or opportunity. Soon afterwards it would take a jury only 2 hours of deliberation to make Ronald Ward the youngest death row inmate in the nation at that time. His sentence was changed to life without parole later on appeal. He died of a medical condition 21 years later.
That provides the background information of how that connects to me. I was living in West Memphis at that time and on the couch watching Leave it to Beaver when the police knocked on my door and asked me to come down to the station. I was managing a store in West Memphis at that time and figured it was something to door with an employee or a business related incident of some sort. Anything is possible in West Memphis, so who knows what it could be? I was directed to the basement where investigators asked me a series of questions. Many concerned my mother. What kind of car does my mother drive? Where was she at a certain time and date? Where was I? Do I know this person and that person? I answered the questions calmly and politely. My mother lives in Mississippi. She has no car. She does not drive. I was at work. At least 100 people can verify that. I am on camera all day long.
It became evident very quickly that I had no idea what they were talking about. At the end of this event I did get them to explain to me what was going on. It seems that they had picked up a suspect and in his explanation of where he was at that time had randomly pointed at my apartment as they were riding in the police car. I have no idea why he did this. He didn't commit the crime. He must have been doing something else at the time that he didn't want the police to know about. Go figure. As it turned out there was no harm done. I didn't get mad at the police. They have a serious job to do and must do it thoroughly and systematically. That is how justice is found. The thing that you have always been told is usually true. "You don't have to worry if you have not done anything". Respect authority.
This crime would soon be overshadowed by some even bigger news that would happen in the same general neighborhood: The Robin Hood Hills Murders. Another triple homicide. Ronald Ward, the family in the 4-room house, the young inmate on death row, all would be pushed to the pack pages of relative news.
I missed Leave it to Beaver. In case you wonder about it Beaver skipped school and went to the fair with his friend Lumpy. They ate too much candy and got sick. Ward came down hard on The Beaver, but his mother intervened. Beaver missed dinner. I missed dinner. Ronald Ward probably missed dinner too. A lot of dinners are missed in West Memphis. A lot of dinners for a lot of reasons.
been There are colors we don't see. Colors are visible wavelengths that pass thru the atmosphere. The near infrared and medium infrared wavelengths lie outside of human vision although they may been seen by some other animals. There are colors that some animals see but humans can't.
Have you ever thought about how hard it would be to describe a color that no one has ever seen? It would be impossible really. It would be like trying to describe how the number 39 smells. There is no point of reference.
I have a theory on colors and on the question of whether our futures are predetermined from birth or are just the random results of happenstance. I think the answer is both. Here's how it works: (I'm using an analogy of course) When we are born we come into life with a bucket of paint. The bucket of pain determines the path we set out on. Mine may be blue. Yours may be green. We will more through life in a predetermined direction. That direction will not change unless we do something to change it. This is what is called "free will". When we take actions that send us off our path even slightly or become involved in the affairs of others their paint and our paint mixes, sometimes just a little, but sometimes in a big way. We know that the mixing of paint changes the colors. If your red paint becomes all mixed up and stirred together with someone else's blue paint it becomes purple and so on. You are now purple and might take on an even different hue if you add another color. We are now off the path of the red paint you started out with and the trajectory of your life will never be the same. Some might explain this as fate or karma or reaping what you sow.
Now I wonder what the color of the paint that I was given might have been originally been and I think about what other colors might be out there that I cannot see and probably couldn't describe even if I could see them. And I think long and hard about the paint can that I came across in my path and stared at for years thinking it was red, convinced it was red, because I was told it was red and I believed that it was, I had faith that it was because of that belief even though I had heard whisperings and mutterings and careless words that I thought said" yellow" or sometimes "mustard" or "canary and I was sure it couldn't be, shouldn't be until there came a day when I awoke and looked at the can and saw that it was yellow. It had always been yellow. So maybe now it's mixed with my paint and I can't be sure of just what that color is anymore. I can only hope that the color is a color that people can see. Sunsets are different for me now. When I look at the orange sun setting I wonder how the orange got there and why. It's a mixture of red and yellow you know.
I have this habit of sometimes not really listening to people when they are talking to me. Someone might be telling me about their serious medical problem and I'm looking at them and thinking about how would life be different if Eve had told the snake to just "Shove Off!" or if the first natives Columbus encountered had been cannibals. When I hear a key work or phrase that draws my attention I ask them to repeat the story. I call it "speed listening" and it works much like "speed reading". My wife hates it.
Sometimes I happen upon a real gem. Such was the case when I overheard an employee mutter something about "getting his ass chewed by Bozo the Clown" Wait a minute. Stop the presses! What did you say? THE Bozo the Clown? Tell me more.
Well it turns out that this employee (Gary) a guy that was in his sixties and someone I would describe as having that matter-of-fact dry sense of humor and attitude that I associate with most people from "up north" had been a little kid of six years of age or so when his mom scored tickets to the live Saturday morning taping of "The Bozo Show" at the old WGN-TV studio in Chicago in the early sixties. A man named Bob Bell had made the clown somewhat famous at that time even though Bozo the Clown was actually a franchise character and there were Bozos all over the country in various T.V. shows, but the Bob Bell Bozo was the one I saw on live T.V., he was the one most associated with the name. Bozo would dazzle and entertain the little kids with his antics and prizes while they sat attentively, dressed in their Sunday best, many of the young boys in ties, the girls in church clothes. they hung on every word the clown uttered......except for Gary. Gary had completely blown off the pre-taping instructions and only cared about ransacking Bozos' "Chest of Toys" during the taping. His single-minded focus on this had apparently kept Bob Bell (aka Bozo) distracted and concerned during the first half of the show (after all, it was live T.V.) and so at the first opportunity, which occurred at the mid-taping break ran over and chewed Gary a new ass hole.
I had to know: Do you have lingering effects from this? Are you scared of clowns now? Have you tried to look Bob Bell up and tell him what you think? Come on, there has to be a follow-up story to this. Maybe you went to see him in a nursing home and put a pillow over his face? Maybe you winked and said "Hey clown, remember me?" as you entered the room and reached for the pillow. Come on, tell me more. You have my attention!
Turns out that there was nothing like that. Gary just responded with that same dry detached humor: "Nah, it knew it was just some dude in a clown suit. Screw what he thought. I just wanted to play with the toys"
And as Bozo would say "Wowie-Kasowey! Remember kids "Keep laughing!"
Josh and I sat on the old weathered dock that extended a little ways out into the small lake that rested at the back of the woods about half a mile behind granddads old home place. When I felt Joshs' hand jab into my side I turned and when I turned I followed his gaze because I too then saw what he was looking at. Two round, clear, spheres; soap bubbles as best I can describe them that floated out of the pines, crossed the lake and stopped motionless, still, taking a stationary position probably no more than ten feet in front of us hovering a mans' height above the water as we sat paralyzed in our place.
The spheres communicated to us although no sounds were exchanged, it was all telepathic. The first things they said was "Why are you afraid?" Why do you think about escaping, running away, why are you thinking about the dangers that you imagine?" "Understand this: We had the same creator. We started on the same course. You rebelled. We didn't. You now live in fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of what you call death. In the beginning you wanted and you took the apple. We did not. You tied yourselves to the earth. Now for you everything has weight. Now your gravity, that is , the earth, pulls on you all your days like hands from the grave. To deal with this you invented things but still they were the wrong things. You created time and now you life is measured by it. You took random worthless things, just rocks and coal and dirt and assigned value to them. Why? Just to fight over. To create jealously. So some can have and some can not. To long for, to covet. Strive for a diamond. Kill for gold. I have My rocks! You can't have MY dirt! And later you become dirt and dust yourself. You become someone elses' coal, another persons forest floor. You invented hate. Because we did not rebell we spent our time thinking, being, not doing. We evolved into spirit. We do not rank. We do not assign value. WE know everything created has value. That is enough. You are afraid because you know these things. You know these things are true. Your first reaction is to run, to hide. Like the two in the garden. You learned all to well to hate and fear the snake, but you still want that apple. You still want that apple. Think about that."
With this, the spheres assured us that there was no particular reason why they were here. They were in essence just visiting. Now they would leave. There was no good-bye. The spheres or soap bubbles as best I can describe them just floated away.
Me and Josh never spoke of this. I've kept it to myself all these years. Nobody believes things like this anyhow. I guess I'm old enough now that I just don't care anymore.
I still fish there. Josh never returned to that place.
A couple of summers ago I came across by chance an old Bible that had survived through time and remained in one piece while tucked away in an old rail travel bag in the attic of my fathers house. Inside the back cover of this relic I discovered an old and faded passage, a crude warning of sorts written in pencil so long ago that I had to tilt the page to gain better light in order to read it. The words bore on my mind greatly for some time before I submerged myself into the research necessary to discover their meaning. This passage was apparently written by my great grandmother shortly before her death in 1939. She was 82. I suppose it was directed towards her immediate family. My fathers family was descended from a line of people that had been deeply embedded in the mountain areas of Kentucky over and around where the boarders of Kentucky and Virginia and West Virginia intersect. It was a community called Macklinsville. It no longer exists. Here is what I read:
Dec. 28, 1938
"A skift of snow fell this morning and Bud prepared the balm from the balm-a-gully buds and the Jerusalem oil poltice and let all holds go. He cut a big figure hisself for a while but this neumony fever will not break and I think I'm headed for the shuck bin. Acrost the water they argy all day and all night . I fear darlins thut it will come over har and we'll hat to go back to the castin of lots and the sicklethrones. More chilrin will perish. Not jest yourn."
Well I hardly knew what to make of this but I was determined to learn something about it. First off, there was hardly anyone left to speak of it from first-hand knowledge and those who might have, wouldn't speak of it. I did eventually claw my way to some truth, and in this case the truth didn't set me free. It was actually a sad and grizzly tale. You see after the War for Southern Independence , there was a noticeable shortage of men not just here, but every where, and the effect on every day life in these mountains was especially devastating. This was a brutal country even in the best of times. In order to survive the harsh and barren winters the locals arrived at the solution that at a certain time of each year lots would be cast to reduce the population, ease the burden so to speak. Included would be all those under six years of age and all those over sixty. In effect, the sacrifice would be taken from those too young to have a life or those that had already lived one. The number involved would depend on how many had been born that year and how many had died. This took on sort of a noble connotation in the community, a necessary part of life. It was even sanctioned in the local pulpits. The word "Cyclethrone" referred to the time each year that the event was to take place thus "cycle" referring to the time of year (fall) and "throne" referring to going to your heavenly throne. In writings from that era and place one will sometimes see "cyclethrones" used as a time marker such as "it happened right after the cyclethrones" or "my youngest was born just a few years after the last cyclethrone". In the dialect of that time and place it might come across as sounding more like "sickle-thrones".
There is not really more to add to this story. I stumbled across it, I wondered about it, and now I know. Does it effect me? Not really. My family broke the links to that time and place a long time ago. I guess really it could have been anyones ancesters. I hope that's true. Anyway I'm just going top go on thinking it. That's all I can do.
I looked at my hand. It was swollen like a baseball glove. This glove was black and purple and looked like it could just bust right open at any time. It was not at all like the one I had stolen at Wal-Mart. I wish now that I had neither of them. My head pounded. My arm and my shoulder were red and sore. They hurt. I hated to feel this way but it was my own fault. The serpent had smelled the lies in me and he struck out at the lies and the fear and the guilt. It was just like paw-paw had said it could be. I was not only the snake-bitten, I was also the wicked. That hurt just as much, even more probably.
Paw had went back to his house, By now he had returned the serpents to their hutch. This trial by fire was ended, at least for the time being. I knew we would build our strength, strengthen our faith, battle Satan in a test of our faith and his resolve all over again, when the time was right, when the signs of the times said it needed to be.
Doctor Hinkle was in the room. He looked me over. He told me what to expect in the coming weeks. He told me how to care for the wound and when to come back. He was kind. He wasn't all excited and throbbing like I was. I looked at his shoes. They were clean. For a minute I wished I was his boy. I wondered where I would be and what I would be doing right now, right this very minute. I thought that maybe I'd be sittin' somewhere eatin' spaghetti and playing video games, maybe on a porch overlooking a pond. Funny how your mind wanders, and me sitting here with a swole-up hand just allowin' these thoughts to go on.
The doctor said something to me before he left the room. He said " I've known your granddad for over 50 years. He's a good man. You are a young man. You can have a good life if you pay attention to the things you do". "See if your paw might get interested in something else. Maybe you could get him interested in baseball or wresting or something. Something you can do together to take your mind off things"
I still think about that a lot.
I carried the 6 2-gallon jars to paw-paw. 3 for the deacons, 2 for the elders, one for paw. He had me to bring them out to the hutch that sat elevated on concrete blocks under a pecan tree a ways back off from the yard. Paw opened the top of the hutch and using a metal rod bent crooked on the far end, hooked the snakes one by one and dropped them down into the jars. Hooking onto a seventh snake he deposited this serpent into a large-sized playmate cooler and after carefully closing the lid, he handed it to me.
Paw had told me a lot of things over the years. He told me the difference between snakes and serpents. "The ones with venom in em' are serpents boy." "Man and snakes never got along, but a serpent, well a serpent is in close relations with the Devil." "These serpents hide from the light. They live under rocks, in holes, in creeks. They hate the light of day. They fear the light of the Lord. Today we're exposing em' to the light of the Lord. Today we're bringing em' to the house of the righteous. Watch how they act. Just watch how they act. And I tell you son, Satan has given powers over to the serpent . A serpent will spent his whole life just waitin' for a chance to strike at the heel of man. It's their wicked nature. A serpent can smell a lie. To him it smells just like a fresh apple pie. He can see the truth and the truth hurts his eye bones. A serpent always squints. It hurts his eyes like black smoke from a burning log. Always remember that boy."
Well I did remember that and I was remembering it more and more often lately. I hadn't done anything really bad but I had done a lot of little bad things in my time. Would that ole' serpent, that ole' slithering demon smell the lies on me? Would he strike at me to reveal my wickedness? To expose my shame? Should I be the one down a hole somewhere, or layin' out warming on a rock somewhere squintin' when the sun strikes my brow?
Paw-paw said it's time. I walk to the car resolute. It's too late to take back what I said to that girl on the school bus. It's too late to put back that wrench I stole, or that ball glove I stole at Wal-Mart. I can't take it back. I can't say "un-fuck you" and turn around the cussin' I gave the girl in the parking lot two weeks ago.
Nobody should have to be scared to tote a play mate cooler to Sunday school. It just ain't right, but paw says it is. He's almost never wrong.
I am a Mississippi native and now live in Jackson,Tennessee. I write about everyday life and events from the perspective of how they effect my own thoughts and feelings.