Wednesday, August 20, 2003

life of buddy don, chaptur 32:
eli's transformayshun

daddy always bleeved that folks is born with thar persunalty purty much set. that dint mean they dint need instruckshun n discplin n a spankin now n then, but how a person cums out of the womb is purty much how that person is a'gone be.

fer instunts, whenever we wuz lil, daddy lacked to play this game called 'fall back.' he wood take one of us whenever we wuz jes barely able to walk n he wood hold us up in his arms n tell us to 'fall back.' bein the oldest, i wuz furst to play, n i threw myself back as soon as he sed it n twuz all he could do to keep me frum a'hitting the floor. brew wuz the thurd son, but he wuz the only other'n that wood 'fall back.' thang wuz, he wood lean back real keerful lack n whenever he wuz sartin that daddy wuz a gone catch him, he wood fall back, only twuz more lack leanin than fallin. n corse eli had to be differnt frum us bof. whenever daddy wood say 'fall back' to eli, he wood grab daddy round the neck n squeeze fer all he wuz wurth.

ye might could say eli wuz a keerful chile, but that dint keep him frum a'gittin hurt time n agin. thay wuz the time daddy tuck him up on the obed river. daddy had dun tuck me on a counta me bein oldest. he tuck each one of us boys up to the obed river system whenever he figgered we wuz big a nuff to make it.

whenever twuz eli's turn, thangs dint go so well. fer one thang, eli dint much care fer fishin. fer a nuther, he tole daddy rite away that thar wuznt no fish in the stream on a counta ye could see to the bottom of it n thay wuz no fish innywhar. eli wuz rong bout that on a counta them fish dont make it easy to see em, but ye kin catch em, witch daddy proovd that bout as quick as he could git his line wet. eli refused to fish, but he tuck the stranger with that fish n pulled it round after daddy up n down daddy's creek, witch daddy woodnt take us to the ackshul obed river till we wuz bigger.

n purty soon they cum to this old sand bar, n the fishin wuz good, so daddy stuck with that place fer a while, fishin n smokin n jes enjoyin the outdoors. eli found him a lil hole in the ground whar sum yella jackets had dun made thar nest, n he had to start a messin with it. he tride to cover it up with the fish, but purty soon them yella jackets wuz all over that fish n all over eli too. twuz a murkle daddy gut him out without him a dyin, witch daddy only gut stung once n that wuz frum a wasper that had got into the car. eli gut stung so many times that they quit countin once they gut up to a hunnert. they put him in a cold bath with bakin soda, n he cum thru it ok.

but twoodnt be the last time he had a acksident. thay wuz a nuther time down at the bowlin alley whar the two of us wuz playin tag n he turnt to git away n crashed thru a plate glass winder. they give him over a hunnert stitches, n tho he had him a scab lace over his arms n neck n back, he cum thru it ok.

he wuz the only one to git newmonia, n they tuck him to the hospital n kep him thar fer near two weeks. mama sed he nearly died on em n thay wuz momints when he wuz out of his hed n talkin to the angels. at the time twuz thought he wuz so close to dyin that they cum to git him. corse later on, folks wood change thar pinions bout that kinda thang.

he cum thru a lot all right, n the wurst had to be the bike acksident. here's how it happened.

whenever we wuz a'growin up, eli n me went everwhar n did everthang together. he wuz a crackjack shortstop on a counta we wood git up ever mornin n play sumthin we called 'double play.' way twurked wuz i wood throw a hard grounder to eli n he wood scoop it up n peg the ball to me lack i wuz the second baseman n i wood chuck it rite back at him as if he wuz furst baseman. then he wood throw me a hard grounder n i wood grab it n pitch him the ball n then catch it whenever he threw it back, n then we wood start all over. he might coulda played in the majurs ceptn he had such bad luck.

he wuz bettern me at fieldin the ball, speshly grounders, n thay wuznt no shortstop lack him innywhar around. thay wuz times when he wood take care of the hole lef hand side of the infield, frum third base to tuther side of second. nuthin could ever git by him, n ole men gut to talkin bout him n callin him 'shure thang.'

then one evenin we wuz ridin our bikes down to the field n he hit a rock n cum down teeth first on the curb. knocked out three front permanunt teeth, n that wuz the end of his baseball career. he could still git innythang hit on the ground, could still throw as hard n strate as innybidy frum innywhar, but when it cum to battin, he wuz a strike out ever time. no matter whar the ball wuz thrown, he wood lean back n flail at it till he wuz struck out n then he wood throw the bat n sumtimes say thangs that wood make mama blush n go find a switch.

fer years after that, he woodnt say a wurd without holdin his hand over his mouth.

but the acksidents dont half cover it. truth be tole, eli wuz always a lil differnt. he wuz quickest to make ye laff, n quickest to say sumthin smart back to daddy. he could make mama laff whenever she wuz so mad at daddy she could spit, n once she wuz laffin, thay wuz no way fer the fuss n fite to continue.

n he wuz smart, much smartern folks let on till they had em these egspurts cum to the skool to test everbidys iq. mama n daddy wuz called down to the skool to discuss the results on a counta thar kids had the highest two scores. n the sprize wuz that eli's wuz the highest in the skool by a hole lot. mine wuz second, n the shock thar wuz that i gut better grades than he dun. turnt out he wuz bored. they tride to put him forward a grade, but he woodnt have it.

eli gut out of high skool in 1971 n tuck a job as busboy down at shoneys big boy restrunt. he wuz good at it, n purty soon, they wood let him bus tables n then wash the dishes, n he had this way of keepin a rhythm so ye couldnt hardly git him to fall behind.

then thar cum a evenin when he had jes gut off n thay wuz sum boys a'waitin to jump him n take his money n his bag of theevil weed. thay wuz three of em, but twuz only one who tride to push him round, n eli let him doot. but afterds, he wuz mighty sore, mainly at his ownself.

n that led to him a'joinin the army, witch he joined it on a counta he bleevd he woodnt be fraid no more once he larned how to fite n kill. he tuck his basic trainin at fort knox n lack ye might magine, he dun well on ever test they give him till he wuz in ait in indianapolis a larnin jurnalism. n that gut him into truble n out of the army befor a year had passed.

whut happened wuz the class wuz made to innerview a genrul, witch he wuz about to retire n wonted to see whut folks wood make of his career. so eli rote a piece that the teechur called the best piece of unpublishbull jurnalism he had ever seen. we puzzled over that'n bout 'unpublishable jurnalism' on a counta that dint seem to make much sense. i reckon thars a kind of censorship they need even in a democracy with free speech, tho tiz hard to splain.

n smart as he wuz, eli dint unnerstand it inny bettern we did, so he tuck the story n put it up on the bulltin bords. n that made the genrul mad on a counta the story showed whar the genrul wuznt intrested in much besides golf n money n the two homes he had dun bilt fer him n his wife.

they say a hit dog hollers, n that genrul followed the rule n tride to git eli punished fer whut he had writ. thang wuz, whenever eli joined the army, he gut him a promiss frum the recrooter that he woodnt have to go to veet nam. lack a lot of smart folks, eli had truble maginin that folks mite lie to him to git sumthin, so he missed the lie that recrooter tole him n he only gut wind of it when he gut orders a'sendin him to veet nam.

n eli attacked rite back. twuz 1972 n thay wuz boys cumin hom in body bags near everday, so eli cum up with sum stories bout a guy called 'stubby,' witch twuz a soldjer frum veet nam who had dun had his hands blown off n the stories wuz bout his advenchurs a trine to git a ride by holdin up his stumps to hitchhike or trine to git a job, showin how he could use his stubs to wipe tables n thangs lack that. eli wood rite up a story n make copies of it n put it on them bulltin bords.

n befor ye could say jimmy crack corn, they sent eli to walter reed n give him lecktrick shock treatmints. n purty soon, he cum out with a honorbull discharge on medicull grounds on a counta they sed he wuz 10 per cent disabled on a counta of havin chronic skizofrenia. later on they bumped it up to 30 per cent n added the wurd paranoid.

that wuz good fer bout $100 a munth n sum pills he could trade fer all kinda other drugs. so he n brew n brew's bes friend oscar clowder moved over to skyland north carolina n gut em jobs on a assembly line makin car seats n other accessries fer cars. i member visitin them. they wuz livin in a trailer n twuz filthy as ye might speck frum three boys. they wuz jonesin fer sum of theevil weed n i brung em a lil n we tuck a walk sos we could enjoy the beauty of the place, witch twuz amazin n a good place fer sumbidy lack eli to have a transformayshun.

mayhap he wood never have had it ifn oscar hadnt had to go home to give his mama a nuff money to pay thar morgage, n ifn oscar wuz a'goin, then brew wuz too, so eli wuz left alone in that filthy trailer in them beautiful mountains. n that's whar it happened.

his transformayshun is a legend in the fambly now. the way eli tells it, he wuz spoke to by god fer two days n nites n he dint have to eat or drank or sleep or even take a piss durin the hole time. god cum to him in the form of letters that wuz a'burnin in the air, n they tole eli whut wuz true n whut he wood have to do. sum of the thangs he wuz tole wuz sprizin. fer instunts, he wuz tole that god had dun put thangs in the worl lack theevil weed n tubacka n likker n coffee n tea n poppys n mushrooms n all tuther thangs that folks gits a high frum. n he dun it to help folks wake up. corse, twernt as simpla as ye might could hope. thang wuz, the verr thangs god put here to wake folks up could put em back to sleep ifn they tuck too much or tuck em fer too long. n god dint wont folks to be eatin meat or hordin money or bein cruel or even killin in wars. n most of all, god dint wont folks to be a'trine to git em more n more material thangs.

eli wuznt never the same agin. he give up everthang he had n walked all the way home frum skyland, witch that wuz quite a feat n he woodnt let innybidy give him a ride on a counta he wuz sartin walkin home wuz whut god wonted him to do. n he tride to help folks ever chants he gut.

but twernt easy. he purty soon had to git wurk, n that mint shoneys big boy restrunt. but dint nobidy wont to hear him. they had dun seen folks 'git the call,' as twuz put, n they wuznt all that imprest by it. fer one, everbidy could member the way they carrd jimmy lomax out of the restrunt whenever he gut the call. he wuz a twitchin n screamin n a carryin on lack he wuz crazy, n next thang ye know, he wuz preechin down to the pentacostals or the church of christ or the baptists or sumbidy. so dint nobidy wont to hear innythang eli wonted to preech to em.

so purty soon eli went back to the vetruns adminstrayshun n tole em he wuz havin truble with the label they dun give him. eethur it had to be 0 per cent or 100 per cent on a counta nobidy wonted to take a chants on sumbidy that wuz even part crazy. n then he commenced to tellin how he had dun had his transformayshun, n he ast them did they thank twuz possbull that god had quit a'talkin to folks n doin mirkles n all. n did they bleev whar god talked bout demons n angels n how they could possess folks n talk to em. n he ast did they thank twuz possbull that a man could git a relijun a'goin in this day n age ifn he sed he had to sacrifice his first born son? or wood they say he wuz crazy n lock him up? or whut about if a man sed he had talked to a burnin bush that claimed to be god?

they wonted to put him in murfreesboro but eli ast em did they ever read the bibl. n sum kinda way, he shamed em into givin him 100 per cent n not makin him go to the va hospital. so he gut the 100 per cent n the extry money that cum with it, witch twuz easy to talk bout how awful material thangs wuz once he had a nuff gummint money ever munth to pay his rent n groceries n light bill n all. but thats whut he dun.

n he tuck to ritin pomes n to preechin to innybidy that wood listen. n he wuz a changed man.

but he wernt changed much. since he had a nuff money, he dint have to wurk or be respecktabull, so he egspearminted with ever drug he could find. n he wood waste his money till he had to borrow frum me n brew. n he wood even take wurk lack house sittin fer ant sary. one evenin brew n me tuck him by ant sary's. twuz round midnight n the house wuz dark. he woodnt git out of the car till we sed we wood go turn on the lites. so we did n then he lef. brew wuz drivin n he started laffin. i ast whut wuz so funny, n he sed nuthin wuz. 'but face it, bud. our bruther is a dud.'

daddy lacked to say he wuz lazy, but twuz maisie, the baby of the fambly, who caught that lie. whut a shock twuz whenever she spoke up n contradickted daddy!

'he aint lazy, daddy. he's scared.'

darlene n me wuz over to the house fer dinner n to talk bout whut should we do bout eli whenever maisie sed that. n we all got quite n kindly hunched fer the slap we thought wuz a cumin to maisie. n daddy lifted his hand, but he dint slap her. he stroked her hed n sed she wuz rite. she wuz sprized, almost lack she had made a lucky guess on a quiz or sumthin. but twernt that.

'yer rite, maze. he wuz born thataway.'

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