The Byrds of Victory, страница 1
THE BYRDS OF VICTORY
James Robert Campbell
This book is a work of fiction. The names, characters and events in this book are the products of the author’s imagination. Any similarity to real persons living or dead is coincidental and not intended by the author.
Published by Price World Publishing
3971 Hoover Rd. Suite 77
Columbus, OH 43123-2839
Copyright © 2014 by James Robert Campbell
Cover design by Russell Marleau
Editing by Takako Sakai
All rights reserved. Neither this book, nor any parts within it may be sold or reproduced in any form without permission.
For Ular Johnson and Charlie Murrell Sawyer
Table of Contents
Part One: I am a Freight Train
Chapter One - Football and Hand Grenades
Chapter Two - Hard Labor
Part Two: The Fields are Ripe for Harvest
Chapter One - Cutting
Chapter Two - Race against the Rain
Chapter Three - Oklahoma
Chapter Four - Johnny’s Will
Chapter Five - Harvesters
Chapter Six - Fire!
Chapter Seven - Alexander
Chapter Eight - Freedom!
Chapter Nine - North from Texas
Chapter Ten - Deepening Ditches
Chapter Eleven - Rain
Chapter Twelve - An Interlude
Chapter Thirteen - North Again
Chapter Fourteen - Montana
Chapter Fifteen - D.W.
Chapter Sixteen - Quinton’s Fire
Chapter Seventeen - The Wind
About the Author
Part One: I am a Freight Train
Chapter One - Football and Hand Grenades
My name is Preacher Byrd. It’s not the name I was born with, but it seems more natural to me now than the others. I don’t like them well enough to tell you what they are. I want to tell you about my life and some of the things that happened to me. I don’t know who is going to read this or even if anybody will read it. But I have the natural desire of any man to tell my story so I won’t just live and die like a coyote in a canyon.
I was born at Lodge Pole, Texas, in 1922. My daddy, Papa, was Raymond Byrd who was trying to make it as a tenant farmer. My earliest memory is of a hailstorm on the tin roof of the house we lived in. I don’t remember how old I was, but as anybody who has lived in a tin-roofed house will tell you, a hailstorm on one would drive anybody to gibbering if it went on long enough. When I was a kid, an old woman was found stark, staring crazy in a house like that after a storm that rained golf ball stones for almost a day.
Our family fortunes improved after Papa took up blacksmithing. I learned the trade and have followed it most of my life except since I started a union for farm hands. I have made money but probably will go out of the world the same way I came in. Adrianne, my wife, and I have a house. We paid for that and a car and pickup. I worked all my life and I am still just barely better off than poor.
When I first thought of telling my life story, I thought a lot of it was unusual. I’m not sure now, but I want to go ahead and tell it because it seems to me that every man’s life is important. I will try to tell the interesting parts along with the things that are important to me but probably not to anyone else. The main thing I have done all my life, it seems like, is fight. It has not been because I’m braver than most men. I just got started when I was little, and one thing or another kept me doing it until finally nobody wanted to pick on me anymore and I didn’t especially want them to, either.
One thing I learned early was never to make the other guy scared if you can help it. A scared man will kill you when you could whip him all day if he wasn’t scared. This is what I learned in one of my early scraps around Lodge Pole. Me and this other boy were going at it. I was having an easy time with him.
Some older boys were egging me on, and one of them saw where some chickens had been by and said, “You got him. Stick his face in the chicken shit.”
I grabbed him by the head and made like I was going to do it, and he came up and gave me the worst whipping I ever got. Do you know how boys usually push-hit and wrestle and don’t fight like men? He was knocking me down with his fists.
The most fights I ever had in a day was seven. That was when we moved from Lodge Pole, in Marble County near Oklahoma, to Victory in the southwestern Texas Panhandle. That was the first day I was there. I was ten years old and weighed sixty-five pounds. I still won or at least drew them all.
The closest I ever came to getting whipped after I was grown was in San Diego, California, when I was in the Marine Corps. It was near the end of the war and right after a bunch of us got back from overseas. A fellow named Bruiser Breune jumped a table of Army boys, and one of them was an extra good boxer. He must have hit me fifteen times and kicked me in the belly before I landed that one good lick. I grabbed his hair and brought my knee into his face, his body popped back like a spring and he hit the deck. Bruiser Breune was about six foot four and broad as a door, and he had the rest of them scattered. I was twenty-two years old and weighed about two-o-five at five foot ten without much fat on me. I was never a real good boxer, but when I caught somebody solid, they went down.
My Papa was a big man, too, before he got sugar diabetes and wasted away. He was almost six feet tall and at one time weighed three hundred pounds. Papa thought fighting and things like that were stupid. I was working with him in the shop after the war, and some guy bet me a Coke I couldn’t pick up a hundred and sixty-pound tractor weight over my head.
Papa said, “You’re stupid if you do it.” But I wanted to show the guy and did it with one hand.
Back in the Thirties, there was a big old boy around Victory named Red Johnson. He boxed every Saturday when they pushed the ring out into the street. He was in the shop one day and wanted to bet Papa a dollar he could pick up the front end of a tractor higher than Papa could.
“There ain’t no point in it, Red,” Papa told him.
Tractors weren’t as heavy as they are now. But Red wouldn’t have anything but that and kept raising the bet until he reached ten dollars and Papa had to do it.
“You go first, Red,” Papa said. “Raise it as high as you can. We’ll mark it on this yardstick, and I’ll raise it just a little bit higher.” He raised it as high as he could, and Papa raised it a little higher.
There have been a lot of hard things about my life but also some funny things. One thing I still get a kick out of has to do with an anvil. There was a little garage next door to the shop, part of the same building, and I got to thinking about a Model A in there. It was noon time. I took a roll of thin wire off the wall and went in the garage by the car and stuffed the wire through a hole in the wall. I went back in and ran the wire along the dirt floor and wrapped it around a bolt at the base of the anvil. You couldn’t see the wire on the floor unless you looked for it. Then I went back to the garage and hooked the wire to the coil in the car. All it needed then was to be grounded for that electricity to bite like an alligator because those old coils really packed a charge.
I would have pulled the wire if it had been Papa, but it was what I expected. A guy named Ben Dodds was working for Papa. He came in to sharpen some plow points, fired up the forge, got the plow points hot, took one to the triphammer and hammered it out, took it in his tongs, picked up his hammer and laid the plow point on the anvil. The electricity bit him good. He hollered, “Whoo!” and threw the hammer, tongs and plow point all over the shop. “Raymond, this anvil has a short in it! Don’t ask me how, but it does!”
I was busting a gut to keep from laughing wh
A man tells his life in the little stories he tells different people over the years. But I need to stop that here and come to scratch before I run out of room. I almost killed myself by accidentally drinking a Coke bottle full of gasoline when I was a little kid. I guess they pumped my stomach out. One Christmas, I didn’t get anything. I don’t mean just a little wooden soldier or an orange or something. I mean absolutely nothing. We didn’t have much, and there were seven kids. Christmas came and went, and we never knew it except by not getting anything. I take it back. My little sister Judy got a doll with red hair. It was just a rag doll with mop hair, and I thought they could have at least made me something, too. I never did really understand that and still don’t. This is not to knock Papa. He kept us off the government handouts.
I remember one time when we were sitting around the shop with nothing to do, and he said, “If something doesn’t come in today, we’ll have to take it.”
A little bit later, some hands from the Bull Wagon Ranch came in with a wagonload of plow points to sharpen. They stayed in town, and we worked all night. They paid in cash the next morning, ten cents a point and we stayed off welfare.
I knew Papa was concerned about me because he made me go to school. I once told him I was going to quit school and start to work. He said okay, I could work, and he had me spend the whole day fixing the clutch of an old Model T pickup. It was oily and hot and miserable. I never spent such a long day. The next day, I went back to school. I never cared about school until I got to high school and played football. I liked football, but we had to buy our own shoes. A pair of football shoes cost seven dollars. Papa didn’t want me to play. He thought it was pointless and wouldn’t give me any money for shoes. During the Depression in Victory, they’d roll a boxing ring into the street and have bouts. Everybody pitched in, and the winner got five dollars and the loser two-fifty. This was 1938.
The next Saturday, I got a match-up with a guy who was about twenty-five years old and kind of a pug. He thought he was a good boxer. His name was Danny Ellis. I told him, “Why don’t we just fight winner take all?”
He laughed and said, “Don’t you want the two-fifty?”
And I said, “No, I want the seven-fifty.”
He said, “Suits me, I’m gonna bust you on that big chin of yours and set you on your ass.”
I was nervous. He was older and knew how to fight. I was a kid. That’s why I hit him so hard. The bell rang, and he was still in his corner doing knee bends and loosening up, showing off to scare me. That’s what I mean about scaring somebody. I came up just as he turned around and caught him with a right cross and cold cocked him. He went down and out, and I got my football shoes. Some of his friends said I was dirty and hit him when he wasn’t ready. But the bell rang. He should have been ready because I wanted those shoes. When I went to my first game, Papa stopped me at the door and said I couldn’t go. I said I would. He shoved me in the corner, but I fought my way out. Then the coach wasn’t going to let me play. I told him I was going in whether he put me in or not. He put me in at linebacker, and I hit them with everything I had. I caused about four fumbles and played every game after that for four years. I was good even though neither Mama nor Papa every saw me play. I have not been good at everything, but I was good at that. You could say I loved it. I always felt good after a game or even after practice.
After my freshman year, I played fullback and linebacker. I was not very fast, but Coach Rudd always told the quarterback, “If you need a yard, give it to Byrd.”
When I was going to get the ball, I always told myself I was a freight train. I never said it out loud, but I did it all the time, starting when I would take a tractor out of gear and push it for conditioning. I came in with my head low and my knees high, and funny as it may seem, saying “I am a freight train” over and over made me feel like I couldn’t be stopped. And I couldn’t be, not before I knocked fire from their ass, at least. I have talked about my football days all my life but won’t dwell on them now. Like war stories, they get a little tiresome. I have some war stories, too, but they will be part of my story of the war. I was also a pretty fair baseball pitcher, which helped me during the war. I threw straight overhand with a big windup and used the high fastball as my out pitch. I have not been a big shot in anything, but I don’t owe an apology for that. The important thing is not the big events but just the course of life itself. The real things are ordinary. Or however you want to say it.
There is only one more thing I want to say about my days as an athlete. We won district and bi-district when I was a junior and senior. It was as far as you could go then in Class B, and it was never done after that by Victory until 30 years later when my son Benny was a junior. The unusual thing about my senior year was that we played nine games and were never scored on. We gave up a touchdown in the bi-district game but still won. I’ve always been proud of going the whole regular season and not giving up a touchdown, field goal or safety.
I had two brothers and four sisters and was the only athletic one. All of us were born before we left Marble County except Judy. Mama was carrying her when we moved, and she was born at Victory in the early winter of 1932. The rest of us were Annabelle, 1921; Noona, 1920; Hilbert and Gilbert, 1919; and Johnette, 1918. Mama had another little girl, Melody, who died of sugar diabetes, we think. I remember her wetting the bed and being sick. She was born the year after me and died unexpectedly when I was six years old. Johnette was the oldest, and she was dating when I was a kid. She used to laugh about when I met one of her boyfriends at the door with a shotgun. I answered the door and said, “What do you want?”
He said, “I’m goin’ out with Johnette.”
“No, you’re not,” I said and opened the door to show him the shotgun. “You better get out of here.”
He ran out of the yard and got into his old car and beat it. They thought I was being brotherly, but I had a reason I never told. I heard him talking to some other boys at school about Johnette. He said he was going to take her out and get her drunk; so I wasn’t so babyish after all. I was only protecting her.
Hilbert and Gilbert were twins. They often made life miserable, and I returned the favor when I got the chance. They liked to come at me from two sides and get me down and throw dirt all over me. I’d bring them glasses of ice water when they were working outside in the summer and spit real big in the glasses and stir it up so they couldn’t see it. Noona and I never fought much. Mama named her that because of the time of day she was born. I think it’s a dumb name, but she seemed happy with it. Really, Noona was rarely unhappy about anything. She got married before Johnette to Rayno, an old boy that drove trucks. He was a pretty good hand, too. But he wasn’t watching what he was doing one day and got hit by a train, crossing the tracks two miles southeast of town. He had a load of cantaloupes on a bobtail truck, and the train hit behind the cab and scattered cantaloupes a mile. People were out there picking them up for two or three days. Rayno, Noona’s husband, was in the hospital for five weeks with broken arms and ribs and bandages all over his head. She never faltered. She said all along he would get better. Finally, he did. Rayno was a good old boy and a hard worker but different after his wreck. He got mad when you would least expect it. We were out fishing together, and I had to whip him because of an argument over who cleaned how many fish. He said he would only clean the ones he caught, and I said he ought to pitch in and clean them and not worry about who caught which ones.
Of all my brothers and sisters, I was closest to Annabelle. She had dark hair like me but had blue eyes and was real pretty. Annabelle and I played all the time. We played tricks on Hilbert and Gilbert and made places to play in the trees and vines against the house and on the quarter-lot between the house and street in Lodge Pole. We had a place by the house that was dark and kind of cool in the summer. Nobody could go in there but us. I would fight out, even Hilbert and Gilb
“Why did you have to hit him with that?” she said, calling me a name that I’m not going to tell you.
“They’re too big to fight with my fists,” I said.
“Well, it’s better to let them in than do that,” she told me.
Papa wore me out for that one because Gilbert’s nose was puffed up to beat the band. They got a whipping, too, for laughing and carrying on too much while he laid it on me. He used a big, broad belt he had made out of an ox harness. It was enough to make a man cry, much less a kid, but I never cried out loud. I took it regardless of how much it hurt.
Annabelle was my soulmate. I told her things I never told anyone else. I think about her now, and she is as real to me as then. I remember how she sounded and smelled and looked when she talked to me. She put her arms around my neck after we had been talking beside the house and said, “I will always love you, Bliss, no matter what.”
It may sound funny, but I can’t stand to dwell on that. And yet I will remember it if I forget everything else. I even had to use my real name rather than change her words. It was the only time anyone ever said that to me and meant it. Anyway, she died when I was eight and she was nine, and that was that.
Judy was too little for me to mind that she was Mama’s and Papa’s favorite. They had her, I think, to make up for Annabelle. Judy had red or auburn hair, and they dressed her up pretty and got her hair long and curled it. I think Mama put in so much time on Judy when she hadn’t on the rest of us because we had all been little at once.
I was going to tell about Annabelle, the rest of it like a story, but I can’t. She got sick… I don’t know why…in the late winter. She got sicker and sicker and then died. There was none of this leaving the room for doctors and nurses. She stayed right in the house, and we were there through everything. She talked to me and told me to be good and said she would be watching me. Unlike me, she was religious. I held her hand and stayed with her. After Annabelle died, things always seemed meaner and harder to take. I have had fun and been thought of as a joker, but that is how I really looked at things.