Gabriel García Moreno was born in Ecuador on Christmas Eve in 1821 to wealthy aristocratic parents from Spain. In addition to Gabriel’s most notable achievement of serving two terms as Ecuador’s president, and subsequently being assassinated, he was also my fourth great uncle on my maternal grandfather’s side.
Following is what information I found online about this controversial statesman.
Gabriel García Moreno (1821-1875) was an Ecuadorian lawyer and politician who served as President of Ecuador from 1860 to 1865 and again from 1869 to 1875. In between, he ruled through puppet administrations. He was a staunch conservative and Catholic who believed that Ecuador would only prosper when it had strong and direct ties to the Vatican. He was assassinated in Quito during his second term.
García was born in Guayaquil but moved to Quito at a young age, studying law and theology at Quito’s Central University. By the 1840’s he was making a name for himself as an intelligent, eloquent conservative who railed against the liberalism that was sweeping South America. He almost entered the priesthood, but was talked out of it by his friends. He took a trip to Europe in the late 1840’s, which served to further convince him that Ecuador needed to resist all liberal ideas in order to prosper. He returned to Ecuador in 1850 and attacked the ruling liberals with more invective than ever.
Early Political Career:
By then, he was a well known speaker and writer for the conservative cause. He was exiled to Europe, but returned and was elected Mayor of Quito and appointed Rector of the Central University. He also served in the senate, where he became the leading conservative in the nation. In 1860, with the help of Independence veteran Juan José Flores, García Moreno seized the presidency. This was ironic, as he had been a supporter of Flores’ political enemy Vicente Rocafuerte. García Moreno quickly pushed through a new constitution in 1861 which legitimized his rule and allowed him to start working on his pro-Catholic agenda.
García Moreno’s Unflagging Catholicism:
García Moreno believed that only by establishing very close ties to the church and the Vatican would Ecuador progress. Since the collapse of the Spanish colonial system, liberal politicians in Ecuador and elsewhere in South America had severely curtailed church power, taking away land and buildings, making the state responsible for education and in some cases evicting priests. García Moreno set out to reverse all of it: he invited Jesuits to Ecuador, put the church in charge of all education and restored ecclesiastical courts. Naturally, the 1861 constitution declared Roman Catholicism the official state religion.
A Step Too Far:
Had García Moreno stopped with a few reforms, his legacy may have been different. His religious fervor knew no bounds, however, and he did not stop there. His goal was a near-theocratic state ruled indirectly by the Vatican. He declared that only Roman Catholics were full citizens: everyone else had their rights stripped away. In 1873, he had the congress dedicate the Republic of Ecuador to “The Sacred Heart of Jesus.” He convinced Congress to send state money to the Vatican. He felt that there was a direct link between civilization and Catholicism and intended to enforce that link in his home nation.
García Moreno was certainly a dictator, although one whose type had been unknown in Latin America before. He severely limited free speech and the press and wrote his constitutions to suit his agenda (and he ignored their restrictions when he wished). Congress was there only to approve his edicts. His staunchest critics left the country. Still, he was atypical in that he felt that he was acting for the best of his people and taking his cues from a higher power. Is personal life was austere and he was a great foe of corruption.
García Moreno’s many accomplishments are often overshadowed by his religious fervor. He stabilized the economy by establishing an efficient treasury, introducing a new currency and improving Ecuador’s international credit. Foreign investment was encouraged. He provided good, low cost education by bringing in Jesuits. He modernized agriculture and built roads, including a decent wagon track from Quito to Guayaquil. He also added universities and increased student enrollment in higher education.
García Moreno was famous for meddling in the affairs of neighboring nations, with the goal of bringing them back to the church just as he had done with Ecuador. He twice went to war with neighboring Colombia, where President Tomás Cipriano de Mosquera had been curtailing church privileges. Both interventions ended in failure. He was outspoken in his support of Austrian transplant Emperor Maximilian of Mexico.
Death and Legacy of Gabriel García Moreno:
In spite of his accomplishments, the liberals (most of them in exile) loathed García Moreno with a passion. From safety in Colombia, his harshest critic, Juan Montalvo, wrote his famous tract “The Perpetual Dictatorship” attacking García Moreno. When García Moreno declared that he would not relinquish his office after his term expired in 1875, he began to get serious death threats. Among his enemies were the Freemasons, dedicated to ending any connection between church and state.
On August 6, 1875, President Gabriel García Moreno went to the Cathedral in Quito to adore the Blessed Sacrament as he did often. Leaving the Cathedral, his assassins sprang into action. Faustino Rayo, the leader of the band, suddenly attacked the President with a machete while his comrades opened fire with revolvers. Recalling his previous words, García Moreno shouted “Dios no muere” (’God does not die’). Still concious, he was brought back into the Cathedral and was laid before the altar of Our Lady of Sorrows. There he received the Last Rites and finally expired.
On his person at the time of his death were found a relic of the Cross, a Scapular, and his copy of The Imitation of Christ, which he read from every day. His body lay in state for three days to accomodate the crowds of mourners wishing to pay their respects to their fallen leader. A draft was found of an upcoming address to Congress which was read out to that body a number of days after his funeral. In it, he proclaimed:
“If I have committed faults I beg your pardon a thousand and a thousand times, and this forgiveness I beg of all my countrymen with very sincere tears, begging them to believe that my desire has ever been for their good.. If on the contrary, you think I have succeeded in anything, attribute it in the first instance to Almighty God, and to the Immaculate Dispensatrice of the treasure of His Mercy, and then to yourselves, to the people, the army and to all those who in the various branches of government have helped me with so much intelligence and fidelity to fulfill my difficult duties.”
Upon learning the news, Pope Pius IX ordered a mass said in his memory.
García Moreno did not have an heir who could match his intelligence, skill and fervent conservative beliefs, and the government of Ecuador fell apart for a while as a series of short-lived dictators took charge. The people of Ecuador didn’t really want to live in a religious theocracy and in the chaotic years that followed García Moreno’s death all of his favors to the church were taken away once again. When liberal firebrand Eloy Alfaro took office in 1895, he made sure to remove any and all vestiges of García Moreno’s administration.
Modern Ecuadorians consider García Moreno a fascinating and important historical figure. The religious man who accepted assassination as martyrdom today continues to be a popular topic for biographers and novelists: the latest literary work on his life is Sé que vienen a matarme (“I know they are coming to kill me”) a work that is half-biography and half-fiction written by acclaimed Ecuadorian writer Alicia Yañez Cossio.
Herring, Hubert. A History of Latin America From the Beginnings to the Present. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1962.
- Gabriel Garcia Moreno
- The assassination of Gabriel Garcia Moreno
- The painting Moreno had commissioned upon consecrating the republic. It still hangs in Quito.
- This sanctuary was inaugurated and blessed by the Pope John Paul II in his visit to Ecuador the 18 of January of 1985. It was built to recall the consecration of the Ecuadorian state to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, during the presidency of Gabriel Garcia Moreno in 1873. It is 115 meters of height and it has 24 internal chapels that represent the provinces of the country.
My grandfather celebrated his 96th birthday this year. The man is sharp as a tack, does not take medications for any ailments and still drives around Brooklyn dividing up his grocery shopping between several stores to frugally take advantage of their respective discounts and sales.
I learned many things from my grandfather throughout my life, much of which was simply through observing him. He exemplifies fairness, diplomacy, respectfulness and a keen awareness of what it means to do what’s right – to the best of your ability.
He always seemed on a mission to teach us kids something… anything. I am keenly aware that I acquired this trait from him. Even while he was teaching me and my brother to play card games, or chess he was subtly teaching larger lessons, like respect, patience, honor, to use reason and logic… oh, and to not be a cry baby if you lose.
My grandfather missed his calling as a school teacher, for he would pose questions to us as if there would be a quiz in the offing – and there usually was. Some were bluntly scholastic: “If a train leaves New York at 6am, travelling at 120 MPH…” (you get the idea). Others were fun tongue twisters or riddles: “The daughter of pharaoh’s son is the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. How can that be?”
Every December 7th – literally every single one – he would approach us asking, “Do you know what day it is?”
“I dunno” was the typical response, knowing full well what would follow our feigned ignorance.
“Ya don’t know?! Ya don’t know?! Today is the day that will live in infamy!” Grandpa would say authoritatively, yet playfully before detailing the events of December 7th, 1941 at Pearl Harbor that brought the U.S. into World War II.
One of the richest lessons came in an innocuous and routine question from Grandpa. “What’dya do today?”
“Nothing? Well, then consider that day lost.” Grandpa would reply. To this day, I ask myself what have I done that was of value each day, and I do admit that there are days that I can genuinely count as lost, but thanks to my grandfather those days are few.
While I was away at art school in Atlanta my sister was attending junior high back in South Carolina. My mother would update me on how things were going back home from time to time. On one occasion, there was an account about a school project my sister had that required here to bring a potato with eyes to class.
“Jennifer, do you have everything ready for school tomorrow?” my mother asked one Sunday. “Did you get the potato you needed?”
“I took care of that yesterday. It’s in my room drying,” my sister replied raising a curious look from my mother.
On the school bus a classmate asked Jennifer, “Did you remember to bring your potato with eyes?”
“Yeah. I used white-out and a magic marker. What did you use?”
The classmate looked puzzled, laughed it off and moved on to other school related topics.
In class Jennifer had the brown paper lunch bag that concealed her project clutched in her hand. Then, as the other students began producing their potatoes and resting them on their desks in preparation Jennifer got a sinking feeling. She observed all of the other potatoes had what looked like light colored protuberances, almost like the formation of roots. Peeking into her bag Jennifer saw what looked like Mrs. Potato Head peering back. The bright white-out ovals she had painted on the potato and black drawn on pupils and eyelashes gave the potato an expression of being eager for the big reveal.
Calmly, discreetly, Jennifer made her way to the corner of the room – brown paper bag in hand – and quietly tossed it into the trash can. Upon sitting at her desk again her neighbor at the next desk asked, “Hey, where’s your potato with eyes?”
“I didn’t bring one,” was all Jennifer could reply.
When I heard this story I asked my sister (through my laughter), “What did you think the teacher meant when she asked for a potato with eyes? Didn’t you know those things sprouting from the potato were called eyes?”
“I didn’t know that,” she responded. “I thought those were called spuds.”
“Well, I’d hate to see what you’d have done if she asked for an ear of corn!”
- Alas, the original potato was never seen again, but this is my attempt at an artist’s rendering of what it must have looked like.
I was inspired by a dear friend’s blog that got me wondering of other personal accounts of how the truth about Santa was revealed. Here’s mine.
My brother and I would relish the holidays because there would be a perpetual sense of glee at the thought of some benevolent mythical stranger creeping into our house and leaving us gifts.
Although, thinking about it now, it was odd that we weren’t allowed to catch these figures in our own home, yet we would be inconveniently carted down to the mall to stand in line to sit on the lap of the Easter Bunny or Santa.
As youths we would hear from other kids in school about how they discovered that Santa was really their mom and dad, but they didn’t know how to confront their folks about this revelation. Others simply played along because to reveal their discovery often meant receiving fewer gifts at Christmas if Santa was out of the picture.
One Easter when I was eight years old, and my brother Ray was seven, we woke to find the familiar bunny trail of jelly beans leading from our room, down the hall, then splitting off into a web of trails to various hiding spots where presents could be found. Groggy and puffy eyed, Ray and I raced each other to the next treasure location, eating random jelly beans from the trail when the temptation struck. Once all the loot was gathered we regrouped at the kitchen table where the Easter Bunny had deposited a colorful basket for each of us filled with chocolate eggs, hollow milk chocolate bunnies, various other candy and small toys.
As we sifted through our goodies, mom and dad suddenly appeared. They had been shadowing us the entire morning, but it was only now, after the excitement, that our selfish tunnel vision had expanded to include them in our view.
“Mom! Dad!” Ray shouted. “I saw the Easter Bunny last night!”
“You did?” Our parents smirked.
“Yeah, I woke up a little and saw a huge rabbit’s foot in our bedroom doorway.”
“Me, too!” I mumbled through a mouth full of chocolate, instinctively corroborated the account. I had actually convinced myself in that instant that I also witnessed the Easter Bunny’s foot protruding into our bedroom doorway. We continued to elaborate on the details – as best as our combined imaginations could remember them – and we often referred to the movie Harvey with Jimmy Stewart.
Mom and dad listened intently, sharing knowing smiles. By the time we were done my dad’s checks were as big and red as apples as he tried to control a broad grin that was about to explode into laughter at any moment. My mom raised an eyebrow and looked at dad for confirmation. They were in unspoken agreement that the time was right.
“Okay.” Mom said. “I want you boys to go into our bathroom and look in the trash can.” You didn’t have to tell us twice. We beat feet down the hall assuming that we were about to find yet another hidden Easter treasure. Fumbling in the tiny trash can we only found a tissue, an empty toilet paper tube, and an empty jelly bean bag. A bit dejected, and confused, we returned to the kitchen.
“Well, what did you see?” Dad asked.
We described the generic trash and the empty jelly bean bag that the Easter Bunny threw out. Ray and I obviously missed the point that our folks were spilling the beans about the beans. They would have preferred that we pieced together the puzzle ourselves relieving them of the task of breaking the news to us directly. “Nooooooo. We put that bag in there. Now do you get it? You boys couldn’t have seen the Easter Bunny’s foot.”
“Then you…? So, that means…? And the Easter Bunny at the mall isn’t…?” Our denial tried to hang on for dear life, but in the end the truth won out. That was the first time in my life I had ever felt the comfort and security of disillusionment melt away to reveal a cold harsh reality.
Ray and I laughed with our parents at the thought of a giant, almost human-like bunny hopping around and delivering baskets. Come to think of it, the thought was a bit silly. With our parents satisfied that the deed was done, and us boys still processing the information, Ray and I summed up our level of understanding with a single comment.
“Well, at least Santa is still real.”
After a sigh and an eye roll – and the disbelief that their boys could be such numbskulls – our parents proceeded to dispel the Santa myth and alike in one fell swoop. We were stymied to say the least.
Looking back it almost seems like that childhood loss of security prepared us, albeit mildly, for the following year when our father died from a work related accident. It was devastating to us and sadly, our dad never got to see his daughter that was born two months later. My brother and I grew up fast for our mother’s sake, helping to take care of our sister, and were proud to lend mom a hand being Santa, the Easter Bunny and even the Tooth Fairy.
Seeing the delight on my kid sister’s face on Christmas morning was as big of a thrill for me as when I was on the receiving end of a gift from Santa. When I was in my thirties I was also blessed to have had the opportunity as a father to experience that same childlike innocence through my son’s eyes.
Perhaps perpetuating the belief in these mythical figures isn’t so much for the sake of the children as it is for the adults.
Enduring friendships are a hard to come by; at least in my experience.
In 1995 I had a job interview for a graphic artist position with the largest lighting manufacturer in North America. This was my first foray into the corporate job world, and as with most job interviews – most successful job interviews – I was called back for a second time and passed around to various department heads so they could size me up. It was then that I met a quite unassuming man with a calming demeanor who was the head honcho for the copywriting department.
“Rocky Smith,” the gentleman said, introducing himself with a customary handshake. Up to that point the only Rockys I had heard of where Graziano, Balboa and Bullwinkle’s squirrel sidekick. The man I was facing had none of the typical characteristics one would expect for someone with that moniker. Not so much as a sloping brow, cauliflower ear, or even a bushy tail and odd leather pilot’s helmet. This Rocky was about my mom’s age, wore wire rimmed glasses, sported a close cropped graying beard and matching hair that was noticeably sparse on top. He spoke softly yet confidently, wore a white button down shirt with the sleeves rolled up at three quarter length and kaki pants with comfortable business casual shoes – this attire I would come to identify as his preferred work uniform.
Upon sitting across from me he clasped his hands together in mock excitement asking, “So, is this it? Are you hired?”
“Well, this is a callback interview, so we’ll see how it goes… unless you know something I don’t,” I quipped. When Rocky chuckled I knew we were off to a good start. As he filled me in on the day to day goings on and how each cog of this corporate machine worked together I posed my own questions putting my best foot forward. I was thrilled for the opportunity to be part of a full fledged marketing communications department complete with its own copywriters!
Mr. Smith may have indeed known something I didn’t because it wasn’t long before I was notified that I got the job. Feeling quite comfortable with Rocky from the start I would confer with him often and gained great insights, both professional and personal. He would expound on the virtues of effective copywriting, roll his eyes at nonsensical corporate mandates and relate stories of mandates from years gone by as well as historical tomfoolery. He’s the type of guy that smiles slyly at a carefully crafted joke or prank and has been instrumental in many a good one, but I’ll leave him to tell the tales.
As he spoke to me he would lend his undivided attention save for the moments he would tend to the tea bag steeping in his mug. I always found him to be astute and aeriodite, content in his domain surrounded by an accumulation of artifacts acquired over time. From the obtrusive blow up vinyl bull’s head (bearing the sign “no bull”) mounted on the wall above his computer, to the “Nuclear, no merci” sticker and menagerie of miniature plastic critter figures adorning the top of his large computer monitor, Rocky is a very complex yet simple individual.
To characterize the man quite simply I would say he is an amalgam of Willie Nelson and his laid back, screw the establishment personality combined with Mark Twain’s wit and wisdom. Also, the fact that he is a George Carlin fan speaks volumes.
Getting to know this man, whose real given name is Walter; I was surprised to discover that there is another side to Mr. Smith. Standing near the wildlife conservation calendar on his office wall, he told me tales of his multiple trips to the Grand Canyon. I’ve lost track of exactly how many times he’s been, but it’s more than the average person, I’m sure. Hiking back trails, river rafting over treacherous rapids, kayaking, riding a mule to the base of the canyon, camping under the stars…the only thing missing from his adventures is a treasure map to some lost centuries old artifact, a bullwhip and a fedora (queue the Indiana Jones theme).
I am privileged to call Rocky my friend for the past 15 years, and in that time we have been on a few rafting trips together and a kayak trip. If we still lived in the same state I dare say there would have been many more trips. His two sons are fine young men cut from the same cloth and to this day I am always honored when Rocky includes me in informational or quipping emails dispatched to his sons.
Now a doting grandfather, Rocky’s penchant for photography is showcased proudly and his grand daughters will come to know how lucky they are.
For years I have suggested to my friend that he write down his recollections and not long ago I guided him to the blogosphere. Rocky Smith has been quite prolific there and I encourage all to travel along with him down the Rocky road at http://rockysmith.wordpress.com/
In 1993 I was in Peru adopting my son (another story altogether) and finalizing things forced my protracted stay. I rose one morning, prepared my baby boy for his breakfast, and walking across the patio to the kitchen of the hostel I was living in I caught the distinct fragrance of my grandmother’s perfume. It lingered for a few minutes recalling so many memories in my mind of growing up in Brooklyn and spending Sunday dinners across the street with my grandparents.
About a half an hour later my mother called, distressed and sobbing, informing me that my grandmother had passed away that morning.
My grandmother had been in poor health, suffered a heart attack and hospitalized for a while, but had been allowed to come home to recuperate, but passed away in her sleep after a few weeks.
I can’t help but feel that my grandmother was somehow saying goodbye to me since I was unable to see her for so long, and subsequently unable to attend the funeral because I had obligations in Peru.
Ghost of Christmas Past
It was the second Christmas after our newly adopted son had been home with us, back in the good ol’ U.S. of A. (Georgia to be precise), when we travelled to see my mother for the holiday in South Carolina. My grandfather, aunt and uncle would also fly down from New York – their first opportunity to see the new addition to the family.
We all converged on my mom’s house in typically fashion – talking and laughing as if no lapse of time between visits had occurred at all. My grandfather was noticeably somber at times without my grandmother by his side, but he has always been very accepting of what life did without permission.
My aunt was video taping me and my son as we were going through some of his gifts. After a few moments my son purposefully ambled down the hallway, stopping in front of the opened door to the bathroom. He stood facing the dark room and simply said, “Hi”. My aunt was still video taping and wondered aloud, “Who’s Andrew talking to? Everyone is in the kitchen”.
I looked down the hall and asked, “Who are you talking to?”
Andrew pointed into the dark bathroom and said, “Mee Ma.” That is what he used to call both my mother-in-law and my mom (and grandmotherly figures). A chill ran down my spine and I bolted to his side in the hallway hoping to catch a glimpse of whatever – or whoever – he had seen. Nothing was there.
Later, when I viewed the video it seemed that Andrew was so deliberate in his actions (stopping what he was doing to specifically walk to the bathroom, raise his gaze a bit to look in and say hello to “Mee Ma”) that it was as if my grandmother’s ghost had come with my grandfather and share in seeing their first great grandson together. I can almost hear her voice in my head introducing herself to Andrew as his great grandma, which would prompt him to identify her as Mee ma.
To this day, looking at that video gives me chills.
My family and I were having dinner at Outback Steak House a few years ago. Their booths are quite comfortable and the single light fixture above each table hangs low enough to provide a modicum of intimacy.
My son Andrew and I were talking about generic topics and somehow we began talking about family members who had passed away and how they are still with us – watching over us. I commented that someone could possibly be with us as we ate. As the last word left my mouth the light bulb in the fixture above our heads flickered erratically for about three seconds. Looking around us we observed that no one else was having issues with their light. We all joked that some ghostly entity was letting us know it was present.
This past year Andrew and were sitting in the living room and reminisced about that creepy incident of the light flickering at Outback as we spoke of ghosts, and wondered if it really was someone trying to make contact. As the question mark completed that thought the lamp on the end table next to Andrew flickered just as the light did at Outback. That lamp had not flickered before or since. Very strange stuff.
There never seems to be a shortage of mysteries in everyday life, provided that you care to notice them.
Many times throughout my life there have been odd occurrences that cannot be explained other than to ascribe them to mere coincidence, yet they are still written in my mental notepad with question marks scribbled in the margin.
Some are quite innocuous enough like having a certain episode of a favorite show pop into my head and reside there, playing and rewinding, all day only to switch on the TV that evening and find that very episode being broadcast. I can’t tell you how many times this has happened. The same is true with songs on the radio. Could be coincidence… could be errant TV signals and radio waves bouncing through space that my brain picks up… could be good old fashion ESP.
Another instance occurred as I was mindlessly folding clothes and a word seeped up from my mental vocabulary. Patrician. Patrician? I know I’ve heard that word…perhaps even learned that work in school, but did I really know what its definition was? I let the word dance around in my head until my chore was done and carried through the rest of the night as usual. At bedtime, with the television on the National Geographic channel to help me sleep… I HEARD IT!
“The Ancient Romans were known for their patrician families of aristocrats, which were of a higher order than the general free population known as the plebeians…”
Any other time the monotone narrator’s words would have simply lulled me to sleep, but the mention of the word “patrician” shook me awake causing me to ponder the coincidence as to why such an obscure word would stick in my head hours before I had actually heard it. At least I finally knew its definition.
It also seems that these “ESP events” go in cycles. A month of freaky activity and then long dry spells. Three weeks ago I was brushing my teeth and I caught my mind wandering unrestrained by concentration. A memory entered in taking the form of a word. The word “noggin” popped into my head as it was used in a TV promo for a children’s television station my son used to watch some years ago before he outgrew such juvenile entertainment. The audio memory of my son playfully repeating the catch phrase “Get your noggin now! Get your Noggin now!” made me smile to recall such fond moments of his childhood. It flowed in and out like a wave at sunset until my last rinse and spit of toothpaste.
Four hours later I was off-site for my job talking to our contractor at our tradeshow space. Lots of decisions to make, notes to take – both mental and written. I was headed back to my car afterwards, making my way through the loading dock, and noticed one of our contractor’s hired hands outside taking a smoke break and talking on his cell phone. He was in the middle of an animated personal call from what I could tell, so I tried not to make eye contact to afford him some semblance of privacy as I scooted by. As I passed him he blurted into the phone to his wife or girlfriend, “Well, your kid was watchin’ that damned Noggin channel or whatever.” I almost missed a step as the eeriness of hearing him mention, of all things… and today of all days… “Noggin”. Coincidence? Or did the word come to me this morning as an extra sensory perception as if my mind was scanning the terrain of the day before me and sending back reconnaissance? And if so, why this? It certainly serves no more usefulness that thoughts of a TV show during the day being broadcast at night.
Perhaps, in the vein of bio-science meets the X-files, the human brain is flexing its muscles. Much in the way that a lesser used leg muscle twitches just so you know it’s there, that is has a purpose. They say that we only use a small percentage of our brain’s full capacity and science can only imagine what abilities we are truly capable of – mentally speaking. Someone like me rarely casts these incidents off as mere coincidence hoping that one day theories will be proved out.
Who’ll Stop The Rain?
Along the lines of the freakish and unexplained, I am reminded of a series of events from about four years ago. My family and I frequented the large chain book stores from time to time and on one occasion, as we were about to leave, we noticed that a rain storm was underway. I could see our car in the parking lot and decided to make a break for it and bring the car around for curb-side pick up of my wife and son. Opening the glass door of the book store and standing beneath the awning I questioned my decision, for a second. “Do I really want to get soaking wet?” Already committed to the task, I proceeded to defiantly step off the curb, not in a sprint to the car, but in defiant strides. On my first step I raised a hand to the sky and said “STOP!” Just goofing around and knowing full well that the joke would be on me. But, to my amazement the downpour rain abated immediately. I turned to my wife who simply shrugged her shoulders urging me to hurry to the car. My steps were quick, not as defiant as originally planned, but down right anxious. Once I made it to the car, unlocked it and got in I looked up at the sky through the windshield. My hand deftly reached to close the driver’s side door and as soon as it slammed shut the rain began to pour once more. I sat in the car in utter amazement.
Shaking off the chill that was from more than a wet day, I picked up my family from the front of the bookstore and nothing more was said about what had happened even though they were wet from scrambling into the car while I was noticeable dry as a bone.
A few months later my son Andrew and I were in the garage cleaning up a bit when a spring sun shower started up. We stood looking out at the shower, hearing it ping off the rain gutter, before I commented that the rain looked like a curtain in front of the opened garage. My son agreed and watched as I playfully mimed pulling opened the curtain. To both our astonished eyed the rain was receding along with my hand motion as if it actually were a curtain I was moving. My son’s eyes were glued to me as if he had witnessed some secret power that he shouldn’t have seen. Of course, I also thought it was pretty cool, but speculated to him that the rain cloud happened to be moving in the same direction and it was just good timing on my part.
The next weekend we all went to a local pizza place for a leisurely lunch. We were all looking at the menus when my wife excused herself to use the restroom. As she passed by me I shook off a static chill from my neck and looked across the table to my son and said, “Hey, I’ll bet your mom goes into the wrong restroom.” My son giggled as a little boy would at hearing such speculation. I paused and then felt compelled to continue. “And what’s more… she’ll not only go into the men’s room… she’ll actually use it before she realizes she’s in the wrong place.” The giggle of my son turned to a chortle at this.
After a few minutes my wife returned to the table. “Oh, my God! I’m so embarrassed. You’ll never guess what I just did.”
Andrew and I just looked at each other, eyes wide with anticipation at this surreal moment. Could it be true? Could she actually have done what I had predicted?
“You went into the men’s room,” I said hoping for speedy validation.
“Yeah,” she grinned in red faced embarrassment. “But, that’s not all.” My son grabbed my arm in delight at what he was certain would come next. “I went into the stall and used the bathroom! Then I heard a man come in and use the urinal. I didn’t even see a urinal because it was hidden behind the door as went into the rest room. I had to wait for him to leave before I could get out of there, hoping no one else would come in.”
“Mom! Dad said that would happen. He really did.”
“No way. How could you know? Did you see me go in there? Have you been in those rest rooms before or something?” She looked at me in laughing disbelief.
“No. My back is to the restrooms, so how could I see where you went? I can’t explain it. I just had a… a feeling as you got up from the table and was compelled to tell Andrew, I guess.”
“That’s creepy, dad. Cool, but creepy.”
Could it just be that my mind jumped ahead a few moments in each of these situations? Would the rain at the bookstore have stopped and started again even if I wasn’t there and had my mind experienced some ESP to let me know when that window of opportunity would be?
Did my mind leap ahead a few seconds to know the rain cloud over my garage would be moving at a certain moment so I could act as if I were moving the rain like a curtain?
And, was it my mind that flexed its unused portion again and jumped ahead to know the story my wife would tell about using the men’s bathroom? By what rationale can any of this be explained? To call it coincidence would be to simply dismiss it. Okay… the rain stuff could be called coincidence – I’ll give you that. An eerie coincidence. But, the bit about telling my son about his mother using the wrong bathroom? That’s one that will haunt me for years.
I’ve lived in Rabun County all my life and one things is for sure – it’s beautiful country. I remember my childhood trekking through the woods along the Chattooga River with my pa and Uncle Marvin.
“Cletus,” pa would call to me, “You mind your step and make sure you and your baby cousin, Daryl, don’t wander off now, ya hear?”
Every time he’d take me and Daryl into the woods it would be by a different route yet we’d always seem to end up at the same spot – at the same small clearing with the sound of the river to our right and Pa’s imposing moonshine still to our right. Whenever pa would sample a fresh batch he’d declare after wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, “Finest in six counties”. Those trips to the still gave me and my cousin an abiding appreciation for our folks’ determination and the spirit they had to live free of the government.
That land had always been good to us and although as adults Daryl and I didn’t share our daddies’ fondness for moonshine we did manage to carve out a nice spot for growin’ marijuana. Finest in six counties.
Being tucked away has its advantages, but every now and then you get a trespasser that needs a little nudge in the right direction. I remember one time in particular back in 2002, I believe it was, Daryl and I were making a routine check of our trails when we came across some old codger and his dog nosin’ their way down one of our trails heading east. His license plate indicated he was from Walton County – not just out for a neighborhood stroll. We took off down another trail to follow makin’ damn sure we weren’t spotted. Never know… if someone’s gonna stumble across our weed and turn into some sort of do-gooder or somethin’, so it’s best to watch and size ‘em up. Sure enough the old dude came across our crop.
“Cletus,” Daryl said in a whisper, sweat beading on his bald head, “What do you reckon we should do?” I scratched my beard and thought about it when I noticed something I didn’t expect. The man knelt down to scratch his dog’s head with one hand and the other hand was pickin’ some of our weed and putting it in his pocket! I knew exactly what to do.
“Nice lookin’ dog y’all got there,” I said to the man as we emerged from behind the trees.
Startled, the man replied, “Oh, thanks. Old Kelly here’s been my hiking companion for many years now. Getting so I can’t go anywhere without her”. There was an awkward silence.
“Is that what I think it is? Looks like some good weed to me? What do you think, mister?” Daryl spoke up.
“Is that what that is?” the man replied. “I would never have known, but I… I suppose it could be.” He studied it for effect. “Yep. I do believe you are right.”
“Finest in six counties,” I said and produced a ziplock bag from my pocket with some of our product ready for consumption. The man’s eyes widened a bit, seemingly well aware of the proposition. The three of us smoked the entire bag in about an hour’s time, but we made sure our guest had the biggest hits to ensure that he would be so wasted that any recollection of his hike today would be wiped from his memory forever. Our pot was special that way.
He was a kindly old gentleman – said his name was Ricky or Rocky, or some such and told stories of his many hikes and remarked about the beautiful countryside he’d been privileges to witness. His dog lay close and quiet by his side the entire time never payin’ me or Daryl no mind. She sure was a good dog. Just about when we’d expected it, the old man turned sideways on the fallen tree he’d been sitting on and laid down with his back flat against it. The right amount of our finest home grown had done its job and the smile on the man’s face verified it.
Daryl and I carried the man away from our crop and closer to the trailhead he’d come from and his dog seemed to remember the way ambling ahead of us by a good ten yards. I took the weed he’d stuffed in his pocket and we left the kind gentleman leaning against a large pine facing in the direction of where is car was, just through the trees.
Daryl and I waited patiently by our truck which we parked right behind the man’s Geo Tracker. Daryl was whittling on a stick.
“Hi, guys,” the old man said a bit groggily, but trying to sound chipper.
“Howdy.” I said, leaning against his car. “Been hikin‘ today?”
“Yeah, me and the dog went down to the river. Beautiful country,” the man said.
“You came all the way out here to see the river? There’s easier places to see the river.” I said.
From the look of things our plan had worked and the codger didn’t remember a thing. We could have left him for dead and I’d love to have taken his dog home to my kids but he seemed harmless enough. We just wanted to make sure he didn’t remember the location of our weed. We can’t have anyone nosin’ around up here.
“Yeah, this is my first time here,” the man said. “It looked interesting on the map, but it was a lot of trouble to get back in here. I ain’t likely to do it again.”
Daryl quit whittling and threw away the stick. He put his knife away and walked toward the truck.
“Beautiful country up here,” I said, clearing away from the man’s car. “Lived here all my life.”
Once Daryl and I were in our truck, I cranked the engine and gave the man one last look to make sure he’d gotten the message. “Beautiful country,” I said again. “But like I say, there’s easier places to see the river.”
“Well, I’ve seen this part of the river now,” he told me. “No need to do it again.”
Before driving off I told him to mind the rut in the road goin’ out. I’d have hated for the old gentleman to have any trouble. He kinda reminded me of my pa.
Disclaimer: Any similarities between real persons and the fictional people in this story is purely coincidental.
There is one thing that makes a community, connects a family and turns boys into men: tradition.
The first footfall into the woods, with its snap of a frosty twig, was Pappy’s as he led the men folk to search for their prize. This chilly morning hung heavy with fog and a trace of darkness was still left for the men folk to use as cover for a time. For as October comes but once a year, so does the hog killin’.
Pappy was followed by his son Donald and his two boys as well as Pappy’s nephew Lester. Donald’s teenage son Charles was still scrawny enough that he positioned himself, shivering from the morning cold behind a skinny pine. Charles’s little brother James and second cousin Lester, who were the same age, found themselves crouching by a stump resting their rifles against it, breathing into cupped hands to keep them warm. Pappy and Donald each took positions by twin thick, mossy oaks. Now that the group had formed a loose semi-circle around a small clearing Pappy stood firm against the cold air, his back to the clearing cradling his rifle in one arm, his other hand aside his mouth grunting hog calls ‘til they finally cut the fog, penetrating the denser thicket of brush.
There began a rustling sound in the brush at the moment sunlight streaked through the pines, but it soon quieted. Pappy snorted and grunted once more until the brush began to stir again. Presently, the rustling sound grew nearer. Pappy stepped backward to join the semi-circle, one hand raised as a signal the others to get ready. Cousin Lester snatched up his rifle, though it was icy to the touch, and steadied it against his shoulder with one elbow on the stump. Though this was James’s second hog killin’ and Charles’s fourth, a nod from their daddy was all the confidence they needed to steady their rifles to the cold.
Pappy’s calls continued, drawing the hog closer, but stopping just shy of the clearing as if smelling danger. None of the men folk could quite make out the exact position of the hog, but another grunt from Pappy solved that. The hog’s head was finally seen poking through the thicket and Cousin Lester caught the glint of its eye and fired on that ol’ boar striking it in the side of the head. The hog let out a loud squeal before dropping to the frosty ground.
All the men folk gathered ‘round the large, hairy beast as congratulations went to Cousin Lester who was tugging one of the boar’s protruding tusk-like teeth in amazement that is year he was the one who felled the hog. Every year before the honor had gone to one of the other men folk, but this year the glory was all his. Pappy could not be prouder, and only wished the boy’s daddy were alive to see this day.
“Wait ‘til yo mamma sees what you done brought home!” Pappy said gleefully as Lester grinned from ear to ear.
Back at Pappy’s house the women folk were well underway with the preparations for when the men folk returned.
As I was about to leave Borders book store today there was a blind man, about my age – late thirties, give or take – black, with his hair in stylish short dreadlocks entering and making his way to the front counter. I assumed he was either purchasing a book on tape or perhaps Braille, and that whatever it was had been held and waiting for him at the counter. As I went outside, tossed my book in the passenger seat of my car, I spotted the man again as he exited the building.
The winter had been average for North Carolina. That is sixty-four degrees on Monday and thirty-two by Friday. But, this particular day had succeeded a few days that produced a layer of ice beneath an inch of snow. I observed the blind man negotiating his first few steps on the sidewalk, his dark glasses angled up at dark clouds, white stick poking down at white snow. The sight of the man compelled me to warn him, “Be careful. It’s slippery right where you are.” The man’s head tilted in my general direction and spoke a general “Thank you” and he proceeded with his same natural care, if only a bit more deliberate. I stood there feeling like I should do more.
“Would you like me to help you across that patch of ice?” I called to him. “There’s about thirty yards or so if it.” The man offered me his arm and appreciation and we moved together. Midway across I commented that there wasn’t much farther to go. When we reached the end of the ice patch we graciously parted ways and I watched as he continued on, observing a much smaller patch of ice farther down that he managed slowly and successfully on his own. Soon he was around the corner and out of sight. Although I let the man go his way I felt as if I should have done more – perhaps given him a ride home.
Several hours into the evening I still thought of the man. He was vulnerable, yet capable. Uncertain, yet exuded confidence. Reserved, yet gracious. I wondered why this man should linger in my memory from such an seemingly innocuous encounter.
It was soon after that I recalled earlier, ironically similar encounters in my life that stand out above so many others.
The first recollection is from when I was about fourteen and living in Brooklyn, New York. I was, on occasion, the target of junior high school kids that took sport in taunting in packs. While walking home from school alone one day, a pack of kids loomed behind me. They called to me, testing the waters of provocation until they felt confident. I was wearing a coat that was once my fathers, hanging noticeably large on my frame. This was the focus of their teasing inasmuch as if I had been wearing high-waters. The laughs and jeers continued behind me and my few latent sarcastic comments only heightened their enthusiasm. A deliberate splash of a curbside puddle with a carefully angled trajectory reached the back of my father’s coat raising hardy laughter. After a moment’s pause I trudged on. A moment later I heard another voice, calm and matter-of-fact that halted the noise of the pack. “Why don’t you leave him alone?” The question was more of a command from a college age black man whose eyes met each of my taunters’ eyes while his stride never broke. As he passed I looked to see who had spoken on my behalf yet he never looked at me. Not even so much as a side glance as if to say, “It’s okay kid.” Did I somehow need him to say that to me? Why didn’t I say thank you to him, for it was certainly in my heart?
The pack hung back a bit as I continued on and they soon quietly crossed the street. I marveled at how my unknown savior’s subtle authority had quieted the storm. I still marvel at it and in retrospect I also know that had he not appeared my actions would have remained the same. It was always the right thing to do.
The second recollection is of a time when my family moved from New York to South Carolina for my last year of high school. I don’t think that this incident would be of any significance to anyone else outside of my own experience, and perhaps that is the very reason it didn’t happen to anyone else.
It was day soggy from a previous day’s rain. And bounding across the campus I was trying to look as appealing as I could for any girls that might be glancing my way. Sporting my blue, shirt, black jacket and white corduroy pants I jogged across the grass into the school building with a quick pit stop to check my hair in the boys’ bathroom mirror. Looking down I noticed mud on my sneakers (tennis shoes if you’re from the south) and began to wipe it off with the rough paper towels only found in public rest rooms.
There were other guys in the bathroom about to head to class who were taken aback by the scene before them. The school’s janitor, an elderly black gentleman appeared from the shadows of a stall he was cleaning and without a word stooped down and began wiping little spots of mud from the back of my white pants. In my attempt to look cool while jaunting across the campus, I not only got mud on my sneakers but had also kicked some up onto the back of my legs.
“Hold still, boy while I get this mud off yo britches,” the man finally said in a soft fatherly tone, wetting his rag in the sink. The other guys chuckled as they made their way past us. I heard one of them mutter something that let me know that they were laughing at the janitor for wiping my pants. At that moment I wished they had been laughing at me for getting the mud on myself in the first place.
I thanked the man sincerely and for the rest of that day I searched again for that janitor – and for the rest of that semester in fact, but he never materialized again. Only imposters pushing mops and brooms. As I said, this incident would not be of any significance to anyone but me. The janitor made me recall the college guy who silenced the bullies. And now I recall the blind man and the other two with great reverence as if there is something I am to connect, learn and remember.
These three black men, each different, each fleeting, yet the same in their endurance in my memory. There must be something that touched my soul to remember these brief incidents with such poignancy. I have thought about it over the years and it is only now that I dare to express what connection they have, for I believe they must be connected.
The first man, young, confident and authoritative showed compassion for a person in my situation, yet did not require any action from me. The second man attended to needs I didn’t even know I had and paid no mind to the chuckling of those other boys who were surly laughing at him. He knew he was doing what needed to be done. The other boys saw me as just another guy, but this man saw me specifically and with detail the others did not. The third man – the blind man – could not see but allowed me to see him and act – as if it were my turn to do so.
For me, these three events, when strung together, were designed to continually teach me. These three fine black gentlemen must have been angels because they strike me as such. They remind me of my humanness and that sometimes the simplest choices are difficult to see. Even when a good choice is made sometimes we feel there is more that could have been done. Even when you are right you are made to feel wrong sometimes. Ultimately, the spirit is judged by its introspection rather than outward displays. Perhaps there are more layers here that I will uncover as time goes on, and I hope there is another angel waiting in the wings.