Steven was young, but smart. On the heels of graduating from High School with honors, he was already enrolled in the Criminal Justice program at the Community College across the street for summer. Not really being sure of what the next step was, like every kid growing up around here, he had the presence of mind to listen to others and “test the waters” in Community College before blowing the money on a four year school, if in case he turned out like many and forgo the studies for women and beer.
9am, already hot, humid, and pouring sweat. Nothing like getting up hay in a Carolina summer.
“You see that riot last night?” Steven asked, straining under throwing a bale up on the trailer. They were packed tight today, a little bit wet, and heavy as a bag of concrete. What my football coach used to call “the summertime Linebacker program.”
“Yeah, hard not to. Like a dumpster fire, everyone wants to see just how high the flames go I guess.” Looks like there’s no avoiding this topic. So much for talk about loose women and huntin while I sweat my ass off.
“Man, those people are crazy. What the hell are they so upset about, anyway? I mean that guy the cops shot, he probably had it coming…”
“Yeah he did. But it’s an excuse to get free stuff other people worked for I reckon.”
“I say the hell with em, all of em, they wanna riot over anything and everything these days, cut their asses down and get it over with.” George shouted down from the top of the haystack on the trailer. “Funny thing is nobody tries that shit around here.”
“That’s cause people work for their money around here.” I calmly replied, before tossing another bale up to him.
“Yeah, I reckon.” George was a mountain of a man, at only 17 years old. Six foot three and 230lbs of muscle, meeting every stereotype of a jock; safe to say he was not a scholar. A standout outside Linebacker, he probably would’ve really went somewhere had he been at a bigger high school, had better trainers, or just the right people to cultivate that talent. But then, had he had all that, he wouldn’t be here, catching bales, helping us and the old man put up hay.
It’s funny too, I watched these kids grow up, while I was growing up myself. They were just little guys a decade ago, when I was in their shoes, working my butt off in the summer fields, enamored with bad women, bad beer, and bad grades in college, and wanting that action in life that all men want at that age. I got my chance and then some. They want theirs. Not unlike the handful of young men I had under my charge, not that long ago.
“Shit, the way some folks look at you downtown you’d think they’re ready around here now.” He added, straining to place the bale in line.The trailer was nearly topped off.
“Yeah, that’s why I stay outta town as much as I can these days. Either poor gutter trash or rich gutter trash, still running in the same sewer.”
“Like my old hippie teacher at school the other day, talkin bout how they’ve always been put down and they deserve to riot…”
“Well Steven, you’ll learn, a commie will justify anything their side does as long as it satisfies the end goal. Funny he left out all the protesters trucked in, huh.”
“That makes sense. It’s a cold day in hell before you’d see his goofy ass fighting though. Let other folks do it for him so he don’t get his hands dirty. Sounds about right. If he ever got in a real fight he’d probably kill over and die.”
“President don’t help matters…sonofabitch…” Steven said, trailing off.
“Lenny, I think we’re about full.” I shouted into the cab of the truck. Lenny damn near had a heatstroke yesterday, doing more than his ability. William told him to drive today.
“Hop in boys, let’s go to the shed.”
William Anderson was waiting, just up the hill outside the hay shed, sitting on his tractor after wrapping up the last of the baling. A bon-a-fide badass in my mind, William had been a Long Range Patrol Platoon Leader in Vietnam. An UNC grad, he could’ve went far in a career, but like many, myself even, an Army at war proves to be quite different from an Army in garrison, and soldiers accustomed to one style usually develop little patience for the other. He quit as a Captain, disillusioned from poor decisions in a war out of his hands. God, did I know the feeling. Since then, he spent his life as a farmer, intermittently having run-ins with the law, having to learn the consequences of booze and pent up anger that only warriors having wars lost for them can render. I spent my early to teenage years hunting with him; all of us out here had, as part of a much larger hunting club. And I was out here helping him today because he needed the help, and I respected him enough to give it. At 70 years old he was still working- the only way to be. Maybe I’ll look that hard and mean at his age, if I make it that far.
“Y’all take a little break” he said once we pulled up. “It’s hot today…whew…sounds like it might get hotter…” He said, looking down at the steering wheel of the tractor.
“Sounds like?” I asked, a little puzzled. Of course it’s hot. But William is a master of cryptic thought.
“I was listening to the radio just a minute ago…strange stuff going on these days. And I lived through the 60s.”
“You talking about those riots last night?”
“Nah, that’s not exactly odd. They seem more violent and quick to get violent these days…but the President, wanting to work with Cuba and those other communists in Venezuela and Argentina calling it the “new special relationship”…strange. Real strange.” William knew them when he saw them.
“I don’t disagree.”
“Might be time to clean your rifles. Hate to talk like that at home, but its startin to look that way.”
“That’s why I bought a AR15…I’m ready…” Steven jumped in, a little over eager, but characteristically like a young Joe.
“I had enough of that thing in Vietnam…get a ayy kay forty seven if you want a real gun…” William cut him off, more serious than when he started. “Look around, you ain’t got more than a couple hundred yards shots at best with all the hills and trees. AK is a whole lot like a 30-30, and that puts people and deer down pretty easy. Plus the only time you should be shooting is when you know you got ’em…it ain’t exactly hunting deer…in Vietnam I only ambushed right on top of em.”
“Caleb here used both.” He added, pointing at me. I had kept quiet…firearms debates are not something I get into much. They’re kinda pointless, like talking about hammers. “Which one you like?” asking with a bit of humor in his voice.
“Yeah, I like the AK, it works. Punches through brush pretty good. Accurate enough for around here.”
“I saw that one you got, with the red dot on it…” George cut in. He had been waiting to give his input. George likes guns as much as he does girls. All the boys were looking at me and William with a curious gaze, with glossy stares seeming to be frozen in time.
“It’s fast, I set it up for three gun matches, just to be a little different.”
“Caleb, we need to go to the range sometime soon. Huntin season might come early.”
“We will. I hate to think like that, but it might be.”
William glanced at me and added, “I bet. Took me a long time just to be able to deal with people after Vietnam. As bad as it was then, I couldn’t imagine three years of war.”
“It wasn’t that bad, William.”
“I hear a whole lotta boys say that. I probably said that too at the time.” He said, snaking a grin. He always seemed to do that.
“Y’all get the hay off here, and we’ll call it a day. I think it’s gonna storm later.”