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Read Another Story From Dr More!


By: Dr. Don Noyes - More Ph.D.

(Some names and place names have been changed)

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(L) MICHAEL (R) SCOTT


      Being in the Navy was exciting and an adventure for Michael, the year was 1962. He was only 18 and alone for the first time.

Michael was from the tough mean streets of Chicago. We was a tall, blond, and lanky German-Irish boy, always with a half smile on his face. He knew how to make friends and money easily and being a good poker player helped.

In the Navy one of his closest friends was a young man 19 from West Virginia, Scott Douglas. Scott was a black haired, blue-eyed boy, short and thin. He always looked like a hurt puppy, willing to please, and when he smiled it was as though he had been caught doing something naughty. Scott was not well liked by the other sailors but was tolerated because he was Michael’s friend. Scott was a quiet sort, rarely talking about his family. He would get a sheepish smile on his face when he was the butt of many “hillbilly” jokes. Each payday Scott would send most of his money back home to his “Mama.”

It was his friend Michael who bought the beers, food, and motel room when they’d get a 3-day pass.

Scott lost his father when he was 17. Scott’s father got the flu in 1959 and died in bed; there were no near hospitals and there was no money for one anyway; no money for medicine. There were six brothers and without a father to bring in money, things were tight, Scott had to go to work, he chose to go into the Navy. 

In the Navy Scott would do odd chores for the other sailors to make additional money and was always figuring out how to make an extra dollar to send back to the family.

When Scott was not making extra money he was found at Michael’s elbow. Michael was a year younger than Scott but Scott thought of him as his hip, cool, Big City, big brother.

One morning after an all night drunken poker party, Michael gave his winnings, $200, a lot of money in 1962, to Scott to send to his mother. Scott sat on his cot holding the money and cried. Michael reached over and pulled Scott towards him, gave him a hug, and said, “I understand,” and stumbled off drunk to bed. It was not unlike Michael to be generous to those in need. He had grown up poor with a single mother. There were those, who at times helped his mom and him when in need.  Michael called the people that helped as,  The Cookie People.” Michael was a Cookie Person too. 

It was Christmas of 1963; everyone was planning their leave time. Scott was going home to West Virginia. Michael was not planning on going home to Chicago that Christmas, a difficult choice but he needed to be away; he had started a new life. His mother was doing well and had just married a jazz musician.  He planned on a Christmas alone or maybe with a Mexican prostitute who became his friend in the dangerous “Boys Town” of Nuevo Lerado. 

Over some beers Scott said to Michael, “I got a letter from Mama, she said to bring you for Christmas, so I think you better come along or she’ll be mighty disappointed.” Michael grinned and said, “Well I don’t want to disappoint Mama!” It was settled Scott and Michael would spend Christmas in West Virginia. 

It is said when the poor leave West Virginia for work in the big city that they leave their souls behind. And indeed there have been, over the years, many people that left the hollers of West Virginia. These are mainly Scot-Irish people that have struggled and toiled over many decades in the mines, mills, and on an unforgiving, and unyielding land. But it is also said every person who leaves the mountains wants to return home. There is almost a mystical connection to the mountains for these people. There is also a clan identity, who you are, and where you came from is well known. It is a mountain Celtic matriarchy.  It is into these mountains, up a holler, to an old patchwork house set above a slow running creek, Scott brought Michael home for Christmas, a Christmas in Gully’s Ridge. 

Scott and Michael walked with large duffel bags in hand from the paved county road up a muddy pathway along a shallow creek bed. There was a cold wind flying up the holler at their backs so they pulled up the collars of their Navy P-coats.  Looking up from the pathway they could see blue smoke coming from the chimneys of homes doting the hillside. Children who were playing began running towards Scott and Michael yelling, “Scott’s home! Scott’s home!” Their voices echoed up the holler. Now older people were coming down the hillside. “Boy, you’re back, thank God,” said a man looking much older than his years. An old lady waved at Scott and Michael as they passed close to her porch. “Blessing to you Scott Boy, welcome home, how long ya here ‘fer?” Scott waved and yelled out, “only here for Christmas.” Scott was smiling broadly, with a distinctly different smile than Michael had seen before.  Children started following, laughing, and hanging on Scott. A son of the mountains was returning home once again to take possession of his soul.

Scott and Michael finally came to a small rickety footbridge over a small creek and crossed it. Looking up the hill they could see a woman standing on the porch waving at them. Then a number of boys came running towards them, they were Scott’s brothers. The five boys came up to Scott laughing and hugging him, each trying to be the one to carry his large green bag. The youngest boy just held on to Scott saying, “love you Scott boy, love you.” By now Scott and Michael were surrounded by a number of adults and children escorting them up to the house. Mama stayed on the porch, she was a small thin woman with gray hair pulled back tightly on her head. Scott ran the next few feet, up the stairs onto the porch into Mama’s arms. They were both crying. Mama then grabbed Michael by the arm and pulled him into her arms as well saying, “Welcome home son.” Years later Michael was to recount how never in his life did he feel so welcome anyplace. Michael was a stranger and yet he oddly felt he had come home. 

Mama and the brother’s almost pushed Scott and Michael through door of the house. Inside the house there was not much more than old paint peeling on the walls, third hand furniture and four rooms. There were three beds in one room for the boys, a very small bedroom for Mama, a living room which tilted a bit, and a kitchen with a hand pump to the well. The toilet was out back. Baths were weekly in a real bathtub without running water. There was a small kerosene hot water heater that was used, but there was never enough hot water for all the boys to have a really hot bath. It was two at a time in the bathtub, then wash, rinse, and get out. You did not want to be the last in the tub. 

A cacophony of voices, everyone was talking at once. 

Christmas presents that were filled the duffel bags, to be handed out to all. The house had not been filled with so much cheer in a long time. The boys, 17, 15, 13, 11, and 9 years of age stayed as close to their brother as possible, asking one question after the other. The talking continued into the night even in the tightly cramped beds. Michael listened as the boys asked their endless questions of Scott. Michael looked at the frosted window of the bedroom and watched the silver moonlight shinning through into the small bedroom. 

Morning was cold and damp. Mama was at the coal stove early and started breakfast. The boys were looking forward to the day. The plan was for all the boys to hunt for a Christmas tree. After breakfast Scott, Michael, and the boys headed out into the cold to find their Christmas tree. After about an hour’s walk through the trees they came upon a small grove of oak trees. But in the middle of all these trees there were a few evergreens and one in particular stood out. It was about 7 feet tall and had a beautiful shape. Scott proceeded to take his hatchet and deftly cut the tree down. Everyone wanted to help carry home the tree. As they walked home tree in hand, everyone started singing Christmas songs. A light snow started to fall, it whirled around them and the flakes danced in the magical frosty blue tinted air. 

When the boys returned home Mama had already popped the corn to make tree braids and there was an assortment of colored construction paper and odds and ends to make decorations. Mama was lighting the lamps as darkness came. All the boys were on the living room floor making decorations with cups of hot soup and biscuits Mama had made for supper. There was laughter and play. Michael was trying to remember any such joyful Christmas in his life, and he could not. This was Christmas with family. 

The tree was slowly decorated as the night wore on. About 9pm there was a knock at the door. Mama went to the door and opened it. There standing on the porch was a thin, blond boy, 14. “Billy what you doing here boy?” Mama said loudly. “Come on in out of that cold or you’ll catch a death of…” she said pulling the boy through the door, holding his arm.  Once in the door the boy began to cry, “Daddy run us all off again, he’s drunk, Mama left with the two girls to go to Aunt Kate’s home in Selbyville but I was to stay with daddy and make sure he be alright, he don’t be none good. Daddy kicked me out and I can’t get to Aunt Kate’s house.” It was Christmas Eve. “That no good son of a bitch Franklin, he never was any good,” Mama said out loud for all to hear, “And boy you looks like you have not had a bite to eat.”  Michael watched all this carefully, thinking back to hard days with his Mom, with little food and with her drunk, he would be scared with no place to turn for help, rarely was there a safe place for him to escape to.

The oldest boy, Jamie, took Billy by the hand and sat him down, “You start making some decorations with us,” he said to the boy smiling. Mama went to the stove and got the boy a large metal cup of soup and a number of biscuits in a napkin and brought it to him.  Billy ate it all and Mama refilled the cup two more times for him.  “You be staying with us for a spell boy, “ Mama said smiling, “We always have room for one more, you’d be like family.” And there was always room for one more, there always is with mountain people. 

The next morning everyone was up early to open the Christmas presents Scott and Michael had brought. Mama was smiling; she opened her present first. It was a store bought blue dress with tiny yellow flowers on it. The dress was finer than she had ever owned. Mama began to cry, “You should not have put so much money into something for me boy, bless you.” She then opened Michael’s gift; it was a picture of Scott in a fine silver frame. The boys all opened their presents next. Each boy got a pair of pants and a shirt along with a small toy airplane. Mama had made her special nut candy for everyone, wrapping it in wax paper and little ribbons around each package. Billy sat watching with a sad face holding his candy. Michael saw the look on Billy’s face, he knew it all too well, the look of the lost and confused. Michael went into the bedroom for a few minutes. When Michael came out from the bedroom he said, “Billy come here I have a present for you.” Michael was holding a grocery store paper sack with a small yellow ribbon on the top. He put the bag into Billy’s hands. A smile came to the boy’s face, “For me?” Billy said softly. “For you.” Michael said. The boy stood up and hugged Michael whispering in his ear, “I’m a stranger to you, I’m not your kin,” Billy said to Michael, “No you’re one of God’s special Angels, Merry Christmas.” All in the room were smiling and talking, curious as to what was in the package Michael had put together for Billy. Billy opened the package. He pulled out a Navy knife, and a Navy cap. “These for me, really?” Billy said loudly and with a big smile. “For you, but there is one thing more,” Michael said smiling broadly. Michael took from his pocket his golden air crewman’s wings that had been on his uniform. He pinned them on Billy’s torn shirt, “now you’re a Naval Airman,” Michael said.  Billy put the cap on, put the knife in his pocket and stood up and saluted Michael with one hand and with his other hand touching the wings. Michael returned the salute. 

That special Christmas in Gully’s Ridge came and went as so many did. Michael and Scott’s lives moved on after the Navy. Scott returned to the mountains of West Virginia. Michael went home to Chicago and then moved to California. It was a few years later that Scott sent a short note to Michael at his old Chicago address where his Mother was still living. She in turn sent it to him in California. The note was short. All was “well.” Scott was a foreman in a battery factory. Mama was still healthy; the boys were doing well. The two oldest boys joined the Navy. But it was the last line that caught Michael’s attention. “Remember Billy, the boy you gave your wings to? He stayed on with us. He’s turned into a good person. He joined the Navy two days before Christmas, he wants to be in Naval Air.”  Michael smiled. 

Michael half remembered a Bible verse, and looked it up in his Bible. “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers for thereby some have entertained Angels unawares,” Hebrews, Thirteen Two.

This is a true story from the life of my life-partner of 32 years that passed away May 25 of 1999.

 



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MICHAEL


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