Author Topic: Tales from Near the Middle of Nowhere - On Heroes  (Read 900 times)

Brother Mythos

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Tales from Near the Middle of Nowhere - On Heroes
« on: August 03, 2016, 01:46:11 pm »
Contrary to my wife’s claim, I did not grow up in the middle of Nowhere. But, to be perfectly honest, the middle of Nowhere is within walking distance of my parent’s house. Even now, when I go there for a visit, I lose cell phone coverage before I can get within five miles of the place. So, all of those colorful cell phone coverage maps they show you on TV? Lies! They’re all lies, I tell you!

Anyway, a couple of days ago, I had begun to compose a long rant about the dumbass Republicans who were outraged that Bradley Cooper, the star of the movie American Sniper (2014), had had the audacity to attend the recent Democratic National Convention. However, as I was mentally composing my rant about the dumbasses who couldn’t tell the difference between an actor and the hero he portrayed in a movie, something was bothering me. I eventually realized I had seen that same behavior before, but I couldn’t recall where and when. Then, later that evening, it all came back to me.

The previous “actor is a real hero” incident had happened in an American Legion post back in the early ‘80s. My wife and I had driven up to “the old neighborhood” to attending the wedding and reception of one of my cousins. The church was located somewhere out near the middle of Nowhere, but the reception was held at “the Legion” in an old coal-mining town with an American Indian name. The coal-mining town is about a dozen miles from the middle of Nowhere, but my father had grown up there, and we still had plenty of relatives living in the town.

As a lot of my cousins were had gotten married in the early ‘80s, I can’t remember exactly whose wedding reception we had attended. I do, however, clearly remember the veneration of the “hero” I had seen before the wedding reception had gotten underway.

Anyway, as none of my immediate family were in the wedding party, we had arrived at the Legion’s banquet hall well ahead of the bride and groom. (The wedding party was off somewhere getting photographed.) That particular American Legion post, like most Legion posts, had the flagpoles out front, right behind the bronze and granite memorials to the men from that coal-mining town who had died in the service of our country.

I’m a Vietnam Era veteran, and I emphasize the word “Era”, because I didn’t serve my sentence hitch anywhere near Nam. And, the case was that I hadn’t personally known any of the men whose names were on the Legion’s Nam memorial. A cousin who had been killed in Nam hadn’t lived nearby, so his name wasn’t there. And another cousin, who did live in that coal-mining town, hadn’t yet died from a rare cancer caused by exposure to Agent Orange in the jungles of Nam. But my father, having been a very young WWII vet, had known several of the men who had died in WWII and Korea. And so, as we stood there reading the memorials, he told us a little bit about them.

(Part of the background to this story is that the people of this particular coal-mining town were very patriotic. Coal miners from all over the area had been heavily recruited during WWII, because they needed only minimal training to be turned into demolition experts. (Some of those young coal miners became UDT men, the predecessors to the Navy Seals.) And, many of those coal miners had eagerly and proudly enlisted right after Pearl Harbor was attacked. So, as a consequence, the men who had survived the war were very proud of their service, and had passed their patriotic attitudes on to their children. I mention this because such was not the case closer to the middle of Nowhere, where I grew up. Now, my father, my family, and the families of my father’s coal miner friends were what I still consider to be genuine patriots. But, the vast majority of the farmers who lived near the middle of Nowhere were not. Oh, the men, women, and children of the farming families waved the flag, cheered the parades, and talked the talk. But, very goddamned few of them ever took it upon themselves to actually walk the walk. To tell it short and sweet, the local farm boys were 99 and 44/100% pure, diehard draft dodgers. Patriotism to them meant, and still means today, the Proles fight our wars AND pay the taxes to fund their sacred farm subsidies.)   

Anyway, after paying our respects to the fallen, we went inside the Legion post. We dropped our wedding gifts off in the designated place, and my wife and my mother went off to find our table. As we had time to kill before the wedding party arrived, my father and I strolled into the member’s bar to sample a locally brewed draft beer, or two. In those days, there were still a few fairly large, independent breweries in operation in the area. And one of those old, independent breweries made a truly outstanding beer. As I had left home about fifteen years prior, I was looking forward to another taste of the best brewski “the old neighborhood” had to offer. (That old brewery is now long defunct. Another bilge water brewery now owns the old brand.)

There were only a few regulars in the member’s bar that afternoon, so we had no trouble finding empty stools near the middle of the long bar, right next to the beer taps. As I turned my attention to the labels to see if the Legion had my old favorite on tap, a life-size picture of a guy in a cowboy suit, and with a six gun in his hand no less, caught my eye. Startled to see something like that is a bar located, at least, two thousand miles and seventy years away from the wild west, I looked up to behold the scowling face of none other than John Draft Dodging Wayne.

My first thought was, “What the … Are you fucking kidding me?!”

Eventually turning to my father, I asked, “Don’t you have to be a veteran to belong to the Legion?”

(Another bit of background to this story is that, back in the day, there was no shortage of bars in those coal-mining towns. Believe it or not, when I was learning to count, I did as children often do, and began counting things from the backseat of the car as my father drove along Main Street in another, nearby coal-mining town. During that particular drive, I had decided to count the bars, as it was late evening, the neon signs were on, and the bars were very easy to spot. Now granted, Main Street of that particular riverside town was well over two miles long, but I remember counting something like 326 bars. (On a later occasion I had counted the funeral parlors along that same street. I remember there were something like fifty-eight of those, as coal mining is, after all, hazardous to one’s health.) Anyway, on the earlier drive, after I had proudly announced the final total, my father had laughed and wondered aloud if I could count high enough to add all of the bars on the side streets, and the streets that ran parallel to Main Street. My point being, I had absolutely no reason to believe that any of the regulars in that Legion member’s bar were anything other than military veterans. There were more than enough bars around the town with the American Indian name where the non-veterans could go to drink!)       
So, getting back to the story, my father had been watching my reaction to the John Wayne poster. With the faintest of smiles he answered, “Yes. To join the Legion you have had to have served at least one day in the military.”

“One day. One day, that’s it?” I said.

“Yes, one day. That’s it,” my father confirmed.

I think I said something religious at that point, but I don’t remember for sure.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the bartender standing nearby. He was staring at me with no discernable expression on his face. With the typical bar background noises of clinking glasses, a television, and customer small talk, no one was paying any attention to my father and I, other than the bartender. And so, it was not out of any sense of bravado, or being a still relatively young, cocky martial artist, that I asked my next question.

(The last of the background to this story is that bar fights, and fights in general, were extremely rare in those coal-mining towns. This may seem a bit odd given the vast amounts of alcohol being regularly consumed by the hard drinking customers. But, bar fights were so rare that I had never seen one, or even knew anyone who had personally seen one. (Being “efficiently” escorted off the premises was a different thing altogether.) And, by fights, I’m not talking about silly, children’s schoolyard pushy-shoveys. I’m talking about serious fights. As you might guess, mining coal for a living is not for the physically weak, or the faint of heart. Those coal miners may not have been trained martial artists, but they were strong, and they were as tough as nails. The few fights we had heard stories about had always ended with someone being very late for supper. And anyway, as per “The Unwritten Code of Behavior of the Coal Region,” the long odds were that the worst thing that would have happened to us in that Legion post bar would have been that we would have been asked to leave the member’s area. That’s it. And, as my father and I would have respected such a request from fellow veterans in their own bar, another article in “The Unwritten Code of Behavior of the Coal Region,” we would have simply paid for our drinks, got up, and left. And I admit, this thing about an “unwritten code of behavior” may sound like nonsense I made up for this story, but it’s true. After moving away and finding myself moving from place to place, and culture to culture, and subculture to subculture, I realized that “the old neighborhood” did, in fact, have its own “unwritten code of behavior.”)             
And so, with the expressionless bartender watching and listening, in my normal conversational voice, I said to my father, “I can’t believe that veterans, even if they’ve only served one day, would put a life-size poster of that draft dodger in a place of honor in their own bar. I mean, what the hell … there’s a guy who fought with Merrill’s Marauders living up on the mountain, if he’s still alive today after the hell that poor son-of-a-bitch went through. His picture, or the picture of a guy like him, should be hanging there, not John Wayne’s.”

My father took a sip of beer and calmly answered, “I know. If I were a member here, I would do something about it.”

And, as there was nothing more for either of us to say about the life-size poster of that Legion post’s “hero,” my father and I drank our beer. After a while, we started talking about the excellence of that local beer, and I realized the bartender had long since walked off to serve another customer.
I wish there was some high-minded moral to be learned from this story, I really do. But if there is one, I don’t know what it is.
« Last Edit: August 03, 2016, 02:37:42 pm by Brother Mythos »