I remember highway 70 East, the town of Lockesburg, my parents divorced when I was 6, my brother 11. I’d stay all summer there and go home to the suburbs of a medium large town called Texarkana where i would sit in the AC and plot new crimes against myself to fit in with my classmates who had I known it then, were odder than myself, were odd for not wanting to know, and odd for embracing the hate of their forebears so quickly.
But enough about Texarkana, the smoke surrounded city i speak of, of the cloverleafs and shopping centers, the hardware emporiums, furniture warehouses and abandoned strips of road far from the interstate where the homeless hide from the police in growing numbers as the rich grow less and the poor grow more. Let us return to idyllic Lockesburg of the Peaches picked with itching fuzz on your skin, mostly the neck, the wet rag always ready to wipe it away.
The road there leads from the center of the Old City, Texarkana and through the small town of Ashdown , defined by its large factory which i always mistook for the largest ocean liner yet built, even imagined the ocean was near. It did me only good to think these things and my father didn’t deter me in my thoughts or delusions on the subject.
There was a strange missionary church on the right side of the road, where men were swindled by sword swallowing , snake charming Ministers with hair like soldiers heading to Vietnam, and the thousand yard stare of the same soldier returning, hair askew with sweat on unlined brow.
We pass it in a blur, and The American Trailer Park, where RVs line the power units and create an itinerant neighborhood of shabbiness but of ultimate interest to a young boy, who just wants to get away, go on an adventure has no concept of progress or false notions of necessity, only an urge to do what God compels of him, to wander the earth always telling good news.
The rest of the town was just sprawl of rural poverty, which dots much of Arkansas, old homes, times of prosperousness and abject loss, side by side like datum of archeologist in the nature of each buildings construction. Downtown as so many of the downtowns of the south is an eroded thing, Yankee tourist either enjoy out of adventurousness or are repelled by because of their incomprehension, but their land never was razed in a war so vast, and we never recovered. You’ll see Confederate flags and it is merely as it is. Do I understand Flags or needing them? No, but their (those of the flags) sense of whats right and wrong is only as important as how far they will go, and a flag hung secretly in a window is as far as they will go, their bigotry shrinks in the light of day.
The rest of the trip was a road of two opposing lanes, many curves and gravel drives, barely seen through thick pine and oak and cedar and sweetgum which swelled like a lover seeking a kiss toward the road , enclosing it, tunnel like it was, almost a canopied jungle, through the wired fence and trees an occasional hole, a sight of a field and a group of Holstein munching lazily with joy in the verdure.
A town called Wilton, a fallen down building and a four way, a playground on the right with masterful oaks growing through it all, as if fairies dabbled there, or sprite children, no man like works seemed apparent. Passed all this there is nothing, a Diner resolute in remaining, with tarred roof, closed, but once Elvis ate there, his famous banana and peanut butter sandwich.
Soon after, you pass a large field on your left with a corral and many cows milling about. Behind it land owned by Lumber companies,( I imagine them waiting in offices, slavering over pines un-yet mature to be ripped and torn by them for lord knows what purpose considering all of our talk of wisdom).
As modern as I utter myself aloud to be, at night when the lights go out , i use an alphabet to express ideas stretched on pieces of whiteness, to simply be logical i must assume this isn’t my highest evolution, if it is, God help us. Modern only ever meant right now.
My great aunt Evelyn’s home, was 1960s brick red, the inside shag, black naugahyde couches, cigarettes smoked and ashes, cooking foods in seasoned iron pots and pans, her hair I always compared to Marge Simpson, and I loved her, as she used to say, she would learn me one day. Im still waiting on that day , to be learned but I never forget her promise that it would occur. My great Uncle Mutt had passed away slowly and painfully from some disease of wasting cancer, or some such, selling his land a bit at a time to Weyerhaeuser, thousands of acres of the most beautiful pine ever reaped from slumbering seed by God. I never met him, at least not cognizantly, i hear he wasn’t a bad guy, in the hallway of the house a picture of him in a khaki suit buttoned brazenly, with stetson on, and a 22 rifle bolt action held in one arm upon a horse. I like to think of him this way, I feel we are allowed to keep what images we choose, and there are those who would say freedom is a thing they can take away from us.
I spoke of divorce, yet i was unaffected, or too blissful in mind and or so mentally unprepared for change that change didn’t even effect me. I also suffered from a mental malaise which has yet to cease, and finds surcease in the depth of study. Subsistence farming out my life on subjects variegated and unlimited. In another world i would have identified species, my likes encouraged, but I live now, and fear is what people feel of knowledge and vagabond and flagrant fool is what i seem to those who use only three sentences to define their life. I don’t live in the first age where men have chosen to ignore reality, merely one in a long line of generations of such.
Of the remaining land , 88 acres in an knights L move shape on a chessboard , were all that were left, open pasturage with tree breaks, a pond, low lying swampy regions filled with the bleached bones of cattle, and deep creeks which elves swam, spirits moved in, i walked knee deep glistening , heedless of snakes, fear something i needed to be sold real hard to truly embrace.
And glades, with moss as the floor, as if some conference room of elder native gods, speaking in whispers a language i heard when i closed my eyes beneath their boughs, my head on a duffle filled with clothing , my stomach full from cheese and crackers and a literjon of absconded peach wine.
Across the street a dive gas station run by a disreputable red faced gypsy of a man who i never knew. Jo Pauls. My father had a charge account there, id cross the street and on credit unbeknownst to my father purchase items i felt needed to be in my stomach, candy or otherwise. And since they knew he sent me to pick up his cigarettes, i would grab myself a pack on occasion, to inhale as an indian would, or break open the cigarette and fill Mutts pipe with , thinking of his lips smoking what i smoked, each of us inhaling and having the same last name. His blood dry and gone. Turned to Rain, which has hit my face perhaps. A bath I’ve taken, or the rust taste I’ve lapped up in my well water.
The word Bradshaw: an brown green etched on my eyelids, I ponder what is in an appellation. Powerful sound maybe? Some subconscious sense of the strength of a name. My moniker has a rumor to it. I blame my forebears, and thank them. It is gaelic, the name Bradshaw, I share it with the Judge who passed judgement on Charles the Second, and was friends with Cromwell. I also share it with a sports commentator who was a football player. Football is a game where men toss an angled ball of skin toward one another, we pay them millions of dollars, if we could we’d watch them tear the limbs from one another, thats the kind if memoir this is. I share the Stoics distaste for public display.
The woods were depths, deer sniffed in them, legends of Uncles who killed them with little if any art but their own wit and patience abounded and were backed up by the heads of buck lining the walls, the well oiled rifles kept in good use, always, their smell a part of my childhood. I slept in a twin bed, trucks shaking the house on the highway, enveloped in quilts, gun rack above my head, id dream of painting my face in wode blue, and running Pictishly through the woods, and one day I did, 50 degrees and shirtless barefoot smothered in mud my face smeared blue, my father unsurprised, knowing I was who I was.
There was a chicken house , Pilgrims Pride a company bent on forcing its own economy of meat manufacture and many other of its ilk upon the world used us to grow their chickens, often they fluttered about half retarded, fat. We had a building where we burned the excess. I have trouble with eating meat to this day. Steroid inundated blubber was pandered by us to a group of Pilgrim claimants, life is funny , god said as much or didn’t, which is even funnier.