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    MCVT
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This story is not intended to reflect the practices of all individuals, or groups.  I ask that you not judge the past by current values/standards but to remember that we will never be able to calculate the true losses of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.  Instead, appreciate the perseverance and creativity people practiced to survive and succeed.

There are brief allusions to violence and sexual activities described. 

Tender Loins - 1. Chapter 1/6

May, 11, 1931

 

Dear Mother,

 

Jonathan and I left yesterday – Guymon is deserted, only three families left. Dust still heavy in the air, glad I won’t be spitting mud much longer. Heading south to the boom towns, then the west to the fields. Tell Dad and all I miss them. Love, David

 

Dropped the postcard at the Pampa, Texas post office.

I was born on October 29. The very day I was thirteen years old, the US stock market crashed. Didn’t think it would affect us – the only stock we had were farm animals - livestock. Tenant farmers like us were doing well until drought hit the next year – then the dust storms came more often, lasted longer.

Dad said that money was like water, it had to keep moving around in its cycles of rain and rivers, clouds else things get out of whack. Rains stopped, money stopped and life became a struggle for people who raised their food where we lived. Banks were depleted of cash and farmers were left broke, unable to pay their loans and bills – they abandoned their dusty farms to begin migrating for work. The Oklahoma panhandle along with much of the central US farmlands vacated leaving bare, dry prairies with only a few holding out for the drought to break.

Through the next few seasons, me, Mom, Dad, and Caroline sat at the table talking late into the nights reading and rereading letters from Pennsylvania, composing our replies. A few of my great grandfather’s family still lived there in Amish country. They would take all six of us, describing a cramped situation. Residing in Mount Joy, they weren’t in drought. Hours we talked about leaving and decided to increase our odds of finding work by splitting the family on two coasts. Taking my two younger brothers with them, Mom and Dad would go to Pennsylvania. My older sister Caroline and I would head west to pick fields along the way then look for solid work in California or move along with the pickers to Oregon. Caroline and I worked together since we were kids, she was strong and matched my work in the fields.

Mom fretted about Caroline and me being on the road. More letters were exchanged between Mount Joy and Guymon; an unexpected offer came. A distant cousin, Jonathan would accompany me instead of Caroline. Three adults could surely support the family in Pennsylvania, my dad figured. Jonathan was older than Caroline and me. Mom felt I’d be safer with him.

Jonathan was twenty-three; they touted him as a mechanic. He would earn our way by repairing vehicles if we couldn’t find steady work. Sounded like a good idea. The decision was made – our families would split to look for work. The economic situation couldn’t last forever.

Sold the last of our livestock and started shutting our farm down. Sorrowful, silent days as we put our dreams away.

Long before I was born, my great grandparents moved to Oklahoma to lease land, like many. Tenant farmers hoping to save and buy their own place. My father’s family was a little different than the others – we were wheelwrights. Great grandfather and grandfather were wheelwrights and had all the tools and a shed to work in. Dad wasn’t so patient with mechanical things but I was.

Stayed with my grandfather often learning to build, true and repair wheels for wagons and carts. Had to work the old wagon and cart wheels as well as the wheels on cars and trucks. Grandfather and I began working tires. Learned about axles, joints, bent frames and all that related to moving a vehicle, but mostly it was the bad roads that needed fixing. Repaired tires with a Michelin kit – best on the market, he said. After the economic crash, wasn’t so much about the innertubes as it was about thin tread worn through. Couldn’t fix that, but we mended and patched what we could. The old man taught me that I had a trade, hold my head up proud, I was a smart young man with a valuable skill.

Grandpa practiced my reading on the cans of grease, oil, the old newspapers and flyers. Then, he made me use my numbers, showed how to write a bill, just like he did. Had to learn bartering, too; lots of farmers didn’t have cash.

Dad had the four of us kids with an Osage woman. I was dark like Mom, only me and Caroline carried clear, light brown skin, straight black hair and her ebony eyes. Dad and my brothers had light hair with freckles and we looked like a lot of the farming families out on the prairie. It was Mom that made life great. She made us into a loving family on a big farm with lots of food when I was young, plenty of time to play between school and chores. We learned to love our freedom on our place - wide blue skies of Oklahoma, even fierce blizzards and hard rains were welcomed when Mom explained that’s how nature kept all in a great order, larger than humans can imagine.

Mom was a wise woman. Taught me and my sis that we’d be treated differently as we appeared more Osage than white, “Stand tall and stay away from trouble and the bottle: “A drunk Indian is killed in the worst ways – some folks are just waiting for a chance to exercise their evil.”

After the big crash we heard that shantytowns sprung up all over the US; houses scrapped from anything that would make a roof and walls – Mom said that way of living would make people sick. In one last attempt to keep all of us together, she tried to convince Dad to take us to the reservation with her people, but they were living in the same drought, dust storms and poverty as us.

The day of parting came. Dad handed me the keys to the old pickup, an old map and three dollars and sixteen cents. “You’ll have to scrap for what else you need – Jonathan will help. Keep the truck running, it’s your home till you’re working.”

Later that night, Mom came to me, sitting close, “Of all my children, you’re the one I’ve loved the most because of your nature – not like the others. If we lived on the reservation, it would be easier, but you’ve got to go make your way the best you can. Write me when you find work.” Her expression was odd. I knew she loved me more than the other kids. I didn’t know she knew my heart so well.

Letters from Philly in hand, they left in our sedan, oilcloth over a bundle on the roof. The house felt as empty as our fields looked after they left. Nailed the outbuildings shut and packed my tools carefully. Cleaned and checked he old pickup truck. Had to wait a few days for cousin Jonathan, he was on his way.

I stayed in the old house living on the bits of food Mom left for me, waiting. Took him several extra days to arrive, I was almost out of food, but caught a few skinny jackrabbits and stewed them, stretching out the little meat as long as I could and began cooking nopales.

Saw Jonathan walking up the road in the morning and started the truck to pick him up and leave. He was tired after days on the rails. Threw his bag in the bed of the pickup and got in, slamming the door hard. I headed south west to get on the highway to the oil fields. He gathered some energy and woke around Amarillo, “How the hell you rubes live on this god-forsaken desert? You half reptile or somethin’?”

So much for pleasantries. “We’re stopping in Lubbock, be there by nightfall.”

“Oughta drive at night and find shade to sleep days. Damn, must be over a hundred.”

“Been that way for over a year, that’s why we’re heading west, remember?” He bitched and moaned for the next several hours, then asked me to stop for a pop. “Drink th’ water.”

“You got money. I heard they left you some cash.”

“Any cash I got is for getting out of a bind – got to keep this truck runnin’. Don’t wanna be stuck in the middle of the dessert. Don’t you have any cash?” I was sleeping with my wallet in my pocket around this cousin.

“Heh. Burned it up on fire-water.”

Eyes on the road, I ignored him as he prattled on about the scams he’d seen; snake oil sales, phony preachers with prayer rugs and healing holy water. “Flimflam men.” That’s what Dad called people who made their money that way – nothing but con men. Had to wonder why he thought he had to impress me but he did; impressed me enough to know I’d never trust him if he thought scams were the way to live.

Through the heatwaves and mirages, I saw something on the side of the road. As we approached, I slowed. Another traveler, truck bed full of furniture and several sunburned kids.

Nearing his truck, I stopped, “Need me to send someone out to help?”

“Gotta wait till it cools off again - been overheating ‘bout every hour.” He lifted the hood of his truck.

“Cracked belt, hose, maybe a radiator leak.” I offered and shook his hand, “David McCann – used to farm outside Guymon, Oklahoma. Where you headin’?”

“Toddy Stein from outside Little Rock. Heading to Torrance – Los Angeles. You?” He shook my hand and we talked about the roads while I got a water jug from the truck to fill the radiator for him. Jonathan got out of the truck, pissed and approached the man’s truck, inspecting the kids, then neared the passenger side of the cab and began a line of talk with the woman. She kept her eyes forward and her mouth shut.

“Heading to work near the coast – not sure yet…” That’s when I heard Jonathan telling Mrs. Stein she was a “pretty little filly.” Mr. Stein’s eyes flashed as he watched Jonathan. I cut things off, grabbed Jonathan’s arm and took him back to the truck, put him on the seat and shot him a hard look. Went back for my jug, filled Stein’s radiator for a few coins and left.

“Jon – gotta be careful on the road. Leave the women alone. Until we get to California, we’re probably going to see the same people along the way – don’t want to get a bad reputation. You get in trouble - I ain’t backing you up.”

After a few miles, “Jealous, aren’t ya, rube?” He laughed.

October 1, 1931

 

Dear Mother,

 

No work in the oil towns, too many had the same idea. We’re in New Mexico now after six tire patches and minor fixes. Going to the Irish International Grand Prix in Phoenix.

 

Jonathan has a troubled spirit - patience is all I have to deal with him. Love, DM

 

Just a postcard from Carrizozo. Glad to get through New Mexico – hot, bare land.

Picked up some work outside Phoenix, not on the race cars, but along the way. So many people on the highway, and more than I expected on the shoulders of the roads. Three more repairs and had enough to buy another Michelin repair kit - running low on adhesive. My pockets weren’t empty – not full though. Kept my last few dollars rolled and stuffed inside the lapel of my old wool coat; safety-pinned under the thick folds that buttoned the coat up the front. While I drove, it occurred to me that I might have to get Jonathan’s face fixed up by a doctor along the way, that’d cost plenty.

More trucks and cars filled the road as we headed into Phoenix, traffic slowed in the heat. Didn’t need a sign, everybody was parking and walking toward the race track – heard engines revving and a band. Hundreds and hundreds of people there, mostly divided into two crowds. An area was roped off for the people who had money, sponsors and drivers. They were dressed well, standing under awnings.

Jonathan and I walked around the crowd of people who were dressed like us; travelers, farmers, working men. For those few hours people forgot about their woes - everyone was curious about a race and all the goings-on. Like the county fairs, it attracted everyone from all over.

Heard a guy taking bets, touting the features of the different cars and the drivers. He drew men wanting to double their few dollars. Another man in a dusty suit stood to the side of the group, talking about his ailing mother – such a dear, sweet woman. Listened to his sad tale. Selling the deed to the land for a hundred dollars to go take care of her. Ten acres near Clarkdale, Arizona on the edge of the mountains, “Plenty of water from the Verde River…” He showed a map. Women were clucking their tongues at his hardships, nudging their husbands. Buying land, sight unseen seemed more than chancy.

I wandered to the pits where men worked on the engines. They had big tool boxes with all manner of fancy equipment, I watched. Saw a lot of sleek, low-slung cars that I never saw before – English and European cars. Pit crews had coveralls and the cars were painted with numbers and covered with insignias.

Lost my cousin for a while until I spied a group of men selling ‘shine away from the crowd. There was Jonathan, slugging along with the best of them – damn, he hadn’t bought a drop of gas, wouldn’t even check the oil or offer to buy a new can but he had the funds for booze? Kept myself in the crowd, watching to see what he was up to.

Jonathan sauntered away from the drinkers after his bottle was empty.

The races started, engines screaming, everyone craning their necks or finding a better spot to watch from. He scooted behind the crowd by the rail, not watching the race at all. Silently, he slipped close to a woman holding the hand of a small child, I think he put his fingers into the woman’s purse. Not sure if he took anything or not. Then he sneaked his hand into a man’s pocket as the cars rounded the curve and made a racket leaving the dust roiling behind them. The man turned, almost caught him but Jonathan smiled and pointed at an MG that was flying past, then he wandered off.

The last thing I needed was to questioned by the police about a drunk pickpocket who claimed me as family. Pulled him away and took him bodily to the truck. Wanted to see who won the race but felt police presence too near. Races mean gambling and gambling means cash. Along with the alcohol, there were going to be misunderstandings, fights and trouble. It was a cloudy day, and I took it as a sign to get on the road.

Jonathan had enough money to buy himself a soda in the next town westward when we stopped for gas. Young girl behind the register took his money and smiled. Her presence kicked my admonitions out of Jonathan’s pea-sized brain. He began a line of patter telling her she was too beautiful to work in a dusty, backwater town, “Why you could be a beauty queen with your looks, come out from behind that counter and let me see…” Grabbed him away again when I saw the girl’s father in the backdoor watching Jonathan with steely eyes and his teeth clenched.

Back on the road he regaled me with his sexual exploits, hookers and all the fun he’d had with women, some as young as twelve. I was appalled and wondered if that was true. But more than wondering, I wanted to shove him out the door and leave him in the ditch. “Got any children, Romeo?”

“Two. Look just like me.” Grabbed his junk and squeezed. “Quality work.”

“You’re married?”

“Marry that slut? The kids live with her parents now.”

This man had bastard children raised by someone else? Damn, he was a cold-hearted snake even if he was lying about it. In that moment I decided I had to get away from him, looked on the map the next time we stopped. As I drove, I decided to leave him at more than a gas station with a general store – I’d leave him in a town where he’d have a good chance for getting a ride. Gila Bend looked right.

Crossing miles of desert was hard, my eyes burned and I tired but stayed quiet and drove day and night until we hit Gila Bend. Jonathan wandered off to row of small stores and went inside the first one. Quickly, I threw the filled water jug in the passenger side floorboard, and drove straight south to a reservation, feeling lighter and cleaner without him. I was not my cousin’s keeper. Odds were working against him – he’d eventually get caught, he just wasn’t careful enough to be a professional crook, maybe he’d already been caught in a mess. Could be why he was sent out west.

Turned off the highway onto a dirt road south of Gila Bend, slowed to dodge the holes and rocks. Didn’t stop till I found a box canyon with a few trees.

Next morning, I heard a familiar clanking. Sat up to see a goat looking back at me – he had a cow bell around his neck. Following him was a small herd of sheep. I jumped up and reached out to touch the goat. He was curious, sniffed my fingers. Off in the distance I saw a figure on horseback. I waved and he came toward the truck, hesitantly.

The closer he got, the more quickly he rode toward me. Young shepherd told me how to get to their settlement, pointing further south. I left to speak with their leaders, ask for permission to stay a few days. Had to let myself calm from being around Jonathan. He wasn’t looking for work, he was no help at all. Whatever he did was no longer my worry, I had to stay on task finding employment and a place for my family.

The tribe were holding their own through the drought. Sheep, a few horses, small plots of corn and beans. Their settlement was only a few adobe huts and a several wooden shacks. Had a well with good, cold water. We sat together and ate in one of the adobe huts as they told me about their lives. Different from the Osage and alike in some ways. Offered me a small corn cake and bowl of mutton stew. Never ate sheep meat before – it was rich. Stayed several days working on their old trucks and fixing a few parts. It was incredibly hot during the days, but the skies were open and clear, the red and yellows of the mesas looked like they were painted from the colors of the sunsets.

On the second night I was on their reservation, we listened to the radio. Communists were still touted as the next threat to our nation along with organized crime; organized crime had ties with unions. One of their elders told me that these were distraction tactics, thinking less of other humans that was the problem. “It’s the things that the powerful fear that hurt so many. They fear poverty, loneliness – those men lack strength and sense. They shun the poor, and dismiss the stranger. Yet staying together through struggles builds courage and resources. Lonely, desperate people are dangerous - they have nothing to lose.” He took a broad view over many peoples, many centuries, stories of their ancient ways and their long history of surviving on the plains and now the desert.

These people were as generous as they were poor, I’d say rich in spirit, but the bodies holding their spirits to the earth were puny and wondered how long they’d last in that oven of a reservation. They had the earth and each other. They had more courage than anything else.

The next morning, I cleaned up and hauled several baskets and bags along with a few members of the tribe into town. Didn’t see Jonathan but I didn’t check the jail. Filled the tank, and readied to cross into California. Heard there was nothing but tilled land full of crops as far as one could see. Didn’t mind working the fields if I could earn.

Slowly the land changed from desert to tilled earth. Mile after mile I passed fields of melons, tomatoes, all kinds of vegetables and heard there were orchards further north. Farmworkers dotted the rows and big trucks sat to the side to carry them back and forth to the camps. Stopped at the camps near the wide fields of produce.

Camps run by the government were basic, but well-organized for being filled with ragtag families. Heard that these camps weren’t so much for the comfort of the people but to quell the union organizing – and a backhanded way to keep people from revolt. Some of the pickers roused the others to put a squeeze on the producers – when a crop is ripe, there’s only a few days to get it boxed and on the road. Those days were the time when a strike would force higher wages. The government countered by saying that would raise the price of food. Both sides had good arguments and I didn’t know enough of large-scale actions and the economy to have an opinion; hunger and poverty I knew well.

Spoke to the supervisors of the government camps and usually got work, a few mechanical fixes, tire work. They paid, not much, and I had a place to park and sleep without bother. Asked about work in the fields – but there were so many already, any more workers would cut their meager pay.

Still, the camp showers felt good after the desert. Able to get a bowl of soup and read a newspaper. Seems the government was always a day late and a dollar short – new programs were coming, “in the pipeline” they said. My hunger wouldn’t wait for legislation. Still had a few bucks, and kept pushing toward the coast. Hope and warm slugs of water kept me between meals of cornmeal mush and nopales.

August was steaming in the Imperial Valley, and the fields were full – more produce trucks on the roads. It was slow going, lots of broken-down cars on the sides of the roads, but these folks were out of money having spent most of it on their way. I followed a caravan of several empty trucks going into a ramshackle camp. Driving through the makeshift camp, I saw the inhabitants’ faces. These were a miserable-looking lot, mean expressions and flinty eyes. Hotheads wanting better pay; labor was so cheap with so many people coming, these men were stuck between holding out for more pay and starvation. Union fellas – first I’d seen and decided to stay to the side of their struggle. Cautiously, I pulled through their camp by a stream, trees. It was filled with all manner of tents and lean-tos, wet wash hanging through the area. Pulled aside a woman walking on the path, asked directions to the person operating the place.

As I spoke with the woman, I noticed the few people standing around were leery and skittish. Something peculiar about this place - almost silent but for the sounds of pots being washed and a few curses. Went to the leader of the camp. He was housed in a big, white tent erected on a rise away from the others. Outside the opening to the tent was a girl tied to an old metal chair wearing a dress with her dark hair shorn short. I nodded as I passed. She looked away.

Inside I met a man chewing a cigar - short, fat man who’d obviously never worked the fields – his hands were soft, white and smooth. Tent was heavy with the smell of tobacco and a sharp, pungent cologne. Strange, him living aside the pickers and their families who were thin as rails and smelling like their pine-wood campfires and soured sweat. This man in pleated pants, tie and dress shirt was packing papers in a leather briefcase. Another grip stood by the tent flap.

“Looking for work, repairing tires - got experience with engines. Need any work done?” We talked for a while and agreed on a price to check the tires on his sedan, look into the fluid levels. Before I left, I asked why the child was tied to the chair outside. “Is she teched?”

“Clearing his mind of nonsense.”

“His?” I wondered. “What’s wrong? Why is he tied?”

“Sissy-boy, pansy, you know... Got to shame that out of him if he’s going to make anything out of himself.” He said, chewing the stump of the cigar, and stacking more papers.

As I left, I slowed by the boy in a dress and whispered, “Gotta keep some secrets to y’self.” I stopped to stretch for a moment glancing at him. He nodded once, then looked back to the side as other men came and went into the tent. Went on with my work about twenty yards away and kept glancing at the boy or maybe I was keeping an eye on him. He was dark, like me, but had pale eyes, wavy hair. A few times I saw him watching me work.

“Shame it out of him?” Damn mean practice.

 

Evening came, I packed my tools, but made sure I could watch the boy from the bed of my truck. He was untied and taken inside at dusk. Settling in for sleep, I heard noises from the men down in the camp. Got a funny feeling – the campers stayed up late, loud discussions around the fires. Men raised their voices often, but I couldn’t decipher their words. Seemed odd if they were picking and hoeing all day - why weren’t they sleeping? Heard a few cars coming and going; sunset usually brought quiet in the camps. Not here, not tonight.

Had a half-moon that night, I was tired, but having a hard time sleeping. I felt the bed of the truck sway, someone beside me. It was the boy in the dress, “Dogs coming tonight. Get out.”

“Are you sure?”

“My uncle already left.”

“Didn’t take you?”

“He said I’d probably get dropped at a mission by one of the ranks. The nuns, they’ll take the rest of the fag out of me.”

Hearing the distant hum of large motors, “Get in the cab – going up the coast for work.” He stared at me. “You can get out where you want.” For the first time in my life I said it out loud. Foreign words to my ears, but true: “I’m like you are. Don’t want a woman, I want a man beside me, else I’ll live alone.”

We heard voices in the camp alerting everyone and jumped in the cab of the truck. The kid showed me how to leave by the back route and we hit the highway passing a number of cars and trucks screaming past us to raid the camp. My pickup truck never ran so fast and hard as that night.

The boy fell asleep on the seat beside me, still in his dress. Slender boy and his shoulders were just beginning to widen. Looked like he’d been fed – his skin was smooth. He’d shucked his work boots and lay in a tight curl on the seat with the cool, night air swirling around us. Reaching behind the seat, I grabbed my old coat and threw it over him and continued until the first rays of sun hit the rearview mirror.

Later, I pulled off for gas and woke my young companion. “Get over there behind the bushes to pee and tell anyone who asks that you’re my sister until we find you some pants.” Those words made me realize I suddenly responsible for two. Needed some new strategies for more work, twice as much food for as long as he stayed.

Usually I cooked in two tin cans. Built a fire, boiled cactus paddles after I’d singed off all the thorns; nopales. If I was lucky, they held their red the fruits along the top of the paddles, they made enough for a meal. Better with egg cooked along with the cactus – that’s how Mom fixed them.

Watching closely along the roadside, I pulled into a farm where I saw several sheds behind the house. Walked up to the door and knocked. Took a while but a woman answered the door, eyeing me, then she glanced at the truck to see the boy-girl smiling.

“Need an egg or two, I’ll pay. Got any to spare?”

Took her a while, sizing up the situation. “That girl, she’s hungry?” Two children stood behind their mother’s skirt peeking around at me.

“Yes ma’am, that’s my sis. I know you’ve probably met with hustlers from the road – not looking to make trouble. Just enough for us...”

“Wait here.” She glanced again at the truck. “Poor child – how long has it been since you’ all eaten?”

“Been a while.” I was bony enough to make a hard impression. Waited patiently listening to the mother order her children about making larded bread and packing left-overs for us. Boiled potato sandwiches, dried apples wrapped in newspaper, half a jar of apple butter, a few soda crackers, bits of what she had. She came back to the door with an old flour sack heavy with food. I offered her several coins along with my thanks. She wouldn’t accept my money. “God be with you. By the way, where’re you headed?”

“San Diego, then Los Angeles. I fix cars, tires especially. Need any work done?”

“Pa does all that.” She looked closer at me, my unshaven face and ragged clothes. “Up north of Los Angeles is a city called Santa Barbara. I was born there. Not as busy as Los Angeles, but not as many problems. Ask around there…” She smiled remembering Santa Barbara. We spoke for a while about the towns along the coast, she knew them well. Her children came out from behind her skirts to stare at me while the mother told me of a younger sister she’d loved deeply, “Consumption took her, we had no money for the medicine. We asked Sister for help...” Then she told me of a place called “Angelis,” something like that where I could find food and clothes, said it was in Los Angeles.

Nodding, I stuck my hand out to shake her hand, she leaned forward, wrapped her arm half-way around my neck and patted my back. “I’ll pray for you and your sister.” She glanced at the truck again and lifted the corner of her apron to wipe her eyes. Tears came to my eyes as well, considering the loss of a girl due to a few coins and bits of paper. A whole precious life gone forever.

While I was waiting on the porch and the woman was busy putting together food for us, that boy sneaked out the driver’s side of the cab and ran to the fence where the woman hung her wash. He stole several things then sneaked back in the driver’s side with dungarees and two shirts and a pair of socks. On the road, the boy looked in the bag to find the food, handed me a sandwich and told me what he did. He pulled the clean, but damp clothes from under the seat, grinning.

“Don’t steal. We’ll depend on the bounty of the earth and the kindness of people who have enough to share,” repeating my mother’s philosophy. Ate as I drove, drinking from the gallon jug lifted to my lips. He seemed like a new boy after he ate.

“What’s your name, barefoot boy?”

“Romero Dolcevita, they called me Romy.”

“Dolcevita? What kind of name is that?”

“Means ‘sweet life.’ My family’s Italian.”

“Name’s David McCann, from Guymon, Oklahoma. Osage and Irish.”

We drove along for a while; I became curious. “You got family out here?”

“Only my uncle at the camp. He probably went to another camp to organize.” The boy was alone now and didn’t seem upset about it. Maybe he didn’t realize how vulnerable he was. Confident or naive, wasn’t sure which and decided to be more of an older brother to him till he found his place; I missed my brothers.

“Till we find a place for you, stay close.” With a full stomach, he curled on the seat and slept while I considered where I’d take him. Not any place would be welcoming if they found out his leanings – might be punished again and it could be worse.

A while later, he woke. We stopped beside an empty field, rinsed our hands and faces. “Heard it gets better when we get to the coast – more people, more business and more work. Have you ever seen the Pacific Mr. Dolcevita?”

“No. Are you going to the ocean?” He asked, eyes excited.

“Yep. We’ll see it together, if ya’ like.”

Good day, full stomachs. About a week, we’d be in San Diego. In the distance I saw a line of trees – water ahead. Stopped beside a river, washed our dirty clothes and ourselves in the cool water. Naked, we lay under the trees and let our clothes dry. Felt good to be out of the cab of the truck, I looked up at the sky in the afternoon sun through the leaves of the cottonwoods.

As Romy used his finger to wipe the last of the apple butter out of the Kerr jar, “Being tied to that chair didn’t change me at all. Coulda stayed there a year – can’t change what’s inside me.” Romy said matter-of-factly, “Born this way.”

“Until I met you, I never said it before – I mean where I could hear my own voice admit it, but yeah, can’t change that part of me – I think about men, dream about them the way other men think of women.” The roar of the cicadas built and waned above us. “Think about being loved by a man and loving him. Only heard it in whispers a few times, but there are lots of men like us in the big cities – New York, Paris, London… San Francisco, Los Angeles.”

Romy’s hand toyed with his package till his short rod was stiff. “Romy, you got to be careful – men like us can be hurt – maybe killed. The white guys get tossed in jail, but they’re harder on the darker ones. There’s always people looking for a place to exercise their evil.”

He rolled over and took a blade of grass, ran it along my dick till I was hard. Slapped his hand away, “You’re not old enough. Stop it.”

“When will I be old enough – in two minutes?” He laughed.

“When I’m around seventy.” I chuckled. Dad always said that when I wanted to do something reserved for adults. Romy’s tender body was at the age it was needy for touch, affection and so was mine. Set all that aside and excused myself to the river for a while.

Romy’s stolen dungarees were too big. We found a way to hitch them around his slender waist with strips from the flour sack and rolled the cuffs up. The shirts were baggy, I took them and let him have my worn, but smaller shirt. Still Romy had no shoes that fit so, we cut the leather along the toes of his old boots and patched them with my tire repair kit.

Crossed the heat of the desert at night and through the hills east of San Diego. I stopped and got directions when we got gas. Repaired three tires for the gas station owner and we left for the ocean with a few coins in hand. Empty cars and broken-down vehicles along the highways here and there. Didn’t see any kids, so I didn’t stop – felt the ocean pulled me closer.

Crossing the hills into El Cajon – still hot, but the changes started happening. I knew it’d be so - San Diego was filled with unemployed men and their families. The further along, more encampments and families. Heartbreaking to see so many kids so poor, runny noses, dirty and dull-eyed.

The further west we drove, the cooler the breezes became. Romy was excited, reading all the billboards we passed. The boy asked a million questions and I had no idea what he wanted to know; knew there were oceans and seas, but not much more about them than fish and whales, sharks and tides changing with the moon.

Wasn’t so dusty as we neared the coast. Very different place, odd trees planted everywhere that had the strangest odor. Smelled like the medicine Mom used to rub on our chests when we got the grippe.

We followed the signs of businesses to the beach. Then, the air changed – a new smell swirled around us. Suddenly, with the hills so far behind us I couldn’t even see them, we stopped and stared at the ocean – so wide! Abrupt change from the asphalt and narrow roads I’d stared at for so long. So blue against a turquoise sky. At our feet was sand sprinkled with sparks of gold. The water shushed us, waves, in rolls came toward us. We dropped on the sand, rolled our pants legs up, tossed our shoes to the side to feel the cold Pacific tugging at our feet. Small holes in the sand bubbled from their inhabitants, seabirds screamed and the wind was strong and cool on our faces.

Wonderful, mysterious place, the beach. The smell of the beach wasn’t foreign but it was strong - in some ways smelled like mating. It smelled like all life and the liquids it made in joinings. I remember that smell from my parent’s bedroom – their bed, their sheets.

The sea whispered its abundance in its breadth and my spirit fell into the rhythm of the waves – they washed a new hope inside me. Life couldn’t stay hard forever – I was sure it would change like the tides; always turning, bringing the new. I grabbed Romy and hugged him right there in the open. Then we took off running down the damp sand to a pier. People were fishing, we looked in their buckets – a few mullets, and a lobster. Looked like a big, ugly bug and I wondered how they were going to eat it, or why.

Romy pointed to the west, “Ships!” Sure enough, ships so large we could see them from miles away. He flitted up and down the sand examining bits of shells and seaweed. I breathed deeply the cool, moist air like it was a remedy for all the sorrows I’d lived the past months. Seemed to heal a lot of worries inside me – the sharp sorrows of parting, the mean heat of the road, the slow going, filthy tires and engines needing a fix, and the hard-hearted folks I’d met; even faded the memory of Jonathan and all his troubles. The enormity of the horizon tore all that raspy hurting from inside me and blew it away as if it were nothing. The greatness of a sky that hovered over me, hovered over my family and all those on the roads. That greatness brought me into a comfortable, solid rightness I’d never felt before. “What’s that man doin’?” I looked down the beach to a man with a cart under an umbrella, wrapping my arm around Romy’s shoulders.

We raced off to see, laughing till we got to the man at the small, wheeled metal box. Older Latino man was selling raspas – snow cones. Flavors were red, green and yella’. “What’s the best flavor?” Romy asked.

“Mango’s my favorite.” The old man chuckled and pointed to the thick, orangish-yellow syrup.

“We’ll take two gold raspas.” This was a day to celebrate. I gave him a few cents for the shaved ice with sweet mango syrup. Were they ever good – never tasted mango before and I was in love with life as the ice melted on my tongue and I watched Romy digging his tongue into the ice shavings. “Little brother, this is terrific.” He only nodded, smiling from his spirit.

Romy and I walked along the sand. We’d passed several large missions built centuries ago, “Romy, the church can help you get in touch with your family… Don’t you miss them?”

“I’m old enough to work.” He grabbed my arm. “Don’t leave me, I don’t have anyone in Chicago anymore.”

Looking at him I figured his family was separated the way mine was – off to different relatives. He could work? I saw a few dark hairs on his upper lip, several more across his chin. “How old are you now? Don’t lie.”

“Fifteen in few months. Don’t send me away to strangers. I’ll work hard.”

“What can you do?”

“I’ll do anything – anything. Just don’t leave me in the church – they don’t know me…”

That was true – not sure about how he was raised, but I knew enough that most religious folk didn’t like men like us. Leaving him in a church would just force him back to the road. He was too young to be on his own. “We’ll find a way, but life’s gonna be hard.”

Slender arms held me, “You won’t be sorry; I’ll work and we’ll make it. I know we will.”

Odd to hear a boy say that to me, “We’ll make it, I know we will.” But there was a rightness around us, and all felt in order between us.

Had to wonder how we’d make it, or if we’d only keep scrapping till we were gray and bent.

End of Tender Loins, Part 1 of 6.

Copyright © 2020 MCVT; All Rights Reserved.

As always, your comments on improvements are welcomed.  I hope you enjoy this saga as much as I enjoyed writing it. 

Thank you.

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Chapter Comments

A very pithy first chapter.  Very well done and thank you for sharing this tale. I am looking forward to reading the following chapters.

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Thank you.  This piece takes some odd twists, hope you enjoy the next parts as well. 

v

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I love good history based stories. It's clear you did some research on the period and have the stark desperation of the time right. I'm enjoying this so far and look forward to more.

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Thank you.  Yes, I researched many parts of this work.  More to come.  Fortunately, there was a lot of documentation, though the personal impact was more devastating than we can imagine.  Life with little hope took many too soon.  By the way, I had a great time on the Smithsonian Institute's website as well as the US Natural History Museum.  Their photos are available for use in non-commercial ventures.

v

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Excellent! I'm looking forward to the remaining parts to this story.

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Thank you and it gets twistier and better, or worse - that's a subjective matter.  Just posted part 2 and awaiting approval. 

v

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Your feel for images and descriptions made this a very strong first chapter. I am looking forward to what is coming.

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Thank you, glad you enjoyed that.  Second chapter is in the queue.

v

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You have the atmosphere of the times down perfectly according to movies and readings I've done.

I can relate to this in a way because my family had farmed in north central Ohio since 1855, and some cousins still own farms, though my father gave it up to move to Columbus during WWII to make armor plate.  He was born in 1918, and graduated high school in 1936, but Ohio farmers didn't have the Dust Bowl to deal with.  His older sister had a house packed to the rafters with everything she possessed, including old newspapers--she never threw anything away if it could be used some day.  My father had a similar philosophy, though he didn't hoard things, just worked into his 70s when he was forced to retire.

Like our hero, my father had many skills: farming, semi truck driving, mechanical repairs and construction...he even built a couple houses.  He could never sit idle if he could think of something that could be done.

Eager for more--oh, why does it say 'Complete' if the next chapter is coming?  Are they going to be listed as separate stories? 

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I believe it says complete because the chapter is complete, I've the second chapter waiting in the queue. 

As a big history buff, I'm intrigued about the houses people could order from Sears and build them on their lots - they had a nice style to them.  Different times, and more freedom in many ways though few conveniences.  My family were farmers in the Ozarks, and throughout the deep south. I clearly recall many of their comments from the thirties.  Like your family, mine recycled everything they could.  (Tiny carbon footprints.)  We still have people around who are skilled at many tasks.  I've met one or two at Home Depot. 

Thank you for a great message, and hope you enjoy the rest of the story, it gets strange, and tense - that's all I'll allow for now.

v

 

 

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This is really well written. I could "feel" the bygone era from the style of writing alone. Looking forward for the next chapter!

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