1. the part of the wreckage of a ship and its cargo found floating on the water. Compare jetsam, lagan.
2. material or refuse floating on water.
3. useless or unimportant items; odds and ends.
goods cast overboard deliberately, as to lighten a vessel or improve its stability in an emergency, which sink where jettisoned or are washed ashore.
It has been a busy day. Sometimes it seems that busy is too short a word for all that is going on, but I suppose I haven’t the time to search for a longer synonym for busy.
I was talking with a friend, chatting about theological issues of truth, biblical authorism, cultural norms, societal paradigm shifts, science, and the dual testament of God’s truth as expressed in scripture and nature. You know, the usual sort of conversation between teachers when one doesn’t feel like talking about pedagogy.
We took a short walk and suddenly I blurted out a few bits and pieces of something that has been bothering me lately. I should have been more cautious. A pained look appeared in my friend’s eyes.
Where did all that come from? Why am I suddenly reliving memories of a trip that happened over 35 years ago? What do I do with these memories?
So here I sit, listening to The Decemberists. I am tapping an accompanyment on my keyboard, the intersection between my body and the digital window my iMac provides into the electronic sea where my blog sails.
So dear reader... if you are seeking pithy words of wisdom from the pompous author you know as Curious Servant, today isn’t the day.
This evening I am steering this carrack out from safe seas into a stormy ocean without chart or compass. I am steering headlong into this strange little storm brewing within my breast, to map it out, and when I am done I'll decide if it should be stuffed into the bottle of another post and heave it out into the blogosphere, or simply dragged into the trash.
So, if ye be not of stout heart and mind, abandon ship before we pass beyond the sight of friendly shores...
Dad was going through a tough time. He was approaching the conclusion of his second marriage and we were all going on a deer hunting trip to northern California. My two brothers and I were along for the ride, as well as a few other men:
Chuck C, a buddy of my dad’s. Junior, Dad’s soon to be ex-father-in-law.
Chuck K, a neighbor, and ignorant of the affair my dad was having with his wife.
Steve, a Vietnam vet who was just coming out of his shell; a nervous man who seemed to look at everything a little too intensely and couldn’t seem to relax.
My two brothers (younger) were along as well.
I was sixteen or seventeen.
I had moved in with my dad just a few months before. I missed my friends, but I simply couldn’t live with my stepfather any longer. I wasn’t attending church anymore, and the spiritual void I was feeling I filled with reading Hindu mythology and strange books of astral projection and mystical thought.
Those are the players...
A strange mix of men, young and old... So it follows that the trip would also be strange.
The trip rests in my mind as some sort of whole, an odd collection of memories, some of which may not be accurate after so many years, but there it is... I pick up the memory of that trip and it seems like a strange object which doesn’t have an up or down, no proper way of placing it on a shelf or holding it in my hands.
It’s like the large stone tool I have of the lost Anasazi people... A beautiful stone tool that seems to have been used for a variety of purposes. A new tool seems to appear as one turns it over.
I turn the events over in my mind... There is the killing of the deer... the beer can... the salad... the stew... the house of ill repute... the man running away in flames... Strange facets to this tale from my youth.
How do I approach such a story? It doesn’t lend itself to a chronological telling. There are events which loom large in my memory, other events which fill in odd spaces, nonsensical bits which don’t seem to fit anywhere at all...
We were headed home from the trip, and the engine block on Dad’s GMC pickup had cracked. Steam and water was leaking out of the side of the overheated motor and the older men were saying that if they shut it off it would not start again. We would go for a ways, and find a garden hose and spray the radiator enough until we were able to open the cap and refill it. Someone suggested we put eggs in. They would cook within the water jacket of the engine and find their way to the crack and seal it from within. We bought a dozen eggs and put them in. It worked. The smell of cooked eggs filled the cab the rest of the long drive home.
Dad was drunk almost the whole trip. On the way to the camp we stopped in a grocery store for supplies. The men were loud, and staggered about the aisles tossing items into the cart. One was stuffing bottles of liquor into his clothes and smuggling them out to the pickup truck. Dad made a huge salad in the produce section. I think the patrons and the store management were afraid to say anything.
Chuck K admired my dad and was always saying inane things as a way of buddying up with him. It was embarrassing since everyone else knew my dad was sleeping with his wife. Additionally, most of what Chuck K had to say was nonsense. My dad's contempt was obvious.
When we got to camp near Victorville, California there was the usual setting up to do, but most of the men were so drunk that my two younger brothers and I did most of the work. We all went up the hillside to find the spring for water and found the wooden box with a very old hairless chipmunk floating in it. We tossed the little carcass aside and filled our buckets. The stew it made we affectionately called “Chipmunk Stew” as if it was something pretty special, which it may have been, I don’t know. I do remember that the stick we used to stir that pot got shorter and sorter through the evening and no one seemed to mind the little bits of wood it left. It was the fuel for the noxious game we played through the night.
While the pot was being filled with bits of potatoes and and meat and assorted vegetables Chuck C had his accident. He was checking over the gas camp stove. He unscrewed the cap on the fuel tank, which ws pressurized and a spray went up from it to arc high in the air and settle in the campfire. The flames raced back up the arch of fuel and came back down to land lightly on the toe of his right boot. He reached down and tried to brush the flame off. But he was doused with fuel and the flames leapt up his body. He stood up and his wide eyes scanned over all of us as he wondered what to do. Fear overtook him and he ran out of the camp in flames. Someone yelled “Get him!” We raced to him, tackled him and patted the flames out. Someone made a joke about how Chuck K seemed to keep smacking him after the flames were all out. I think it was my brother Mike, who was going out with Chuck's daughter.
The morning hunting season opened found us making a plan to drive some deer into the open. We had driven a few miles out from the camp. My rifle had kept hitting Chuck C’s burned hand as we rode in the back of the jostling Jeep. I was mortified about the pain I kept causing him, everyone else just laughed each time at my clumsiness.
Several of the group went over a hill to walk just within view of each other, pushing hidden deer toward a meadow. Junior, my dad’s soon to be ex-father-in-law, and I went on ahead. We paused to have a few pulls from the bottle of peach brandy, which I had tasted for the first time the night before. We were a little late in getting to our position. Just as we got to where the dirt road rose over the spine of the tapering hill, shots rang out from two hunters we didn’t know. They had shot a buck emerging from the woods ahead of the drive of our hunters.
The animal was hit twice. Once in the belly. The second shot took off its lower jaw. It ran off into the woods.
My dad was mad, he felt it was our deer. He got madder when the guy who shot it refused to go into the woods to look for it saying he wouldn’t be able to find it. We suspected he had decided it wasn’t large enough.
We passed the bottle, went in after it.
The search was a real mess. We lost each other in the woods. I was alone, wondering where everyone had gone... looking at the borrowed rifle in my sweaty hands. I came across a small meadow, stepped into the clearing. I couldn’t see sign of anyone.
A noise in the woods directly ahead of me drew my attention and the poor animal stumbled out. Its eyes were wide, its tongue hung straight from its throat since it had no jaw. Blood ran from its side. It stared for a moment at me, lowered its head, and charged.
I was petrified. I had never killed anything. I had fired the rifle only a few times. I swung it up and sighted along the barrel. Antlers pointed at me, it was racing toward me... it tongue... the blood... the terror in its eyes...
I froze. My finger was on the trigger but I couldn’t seem to move.
A shot rang out. Startled I jerked my finger and the rifle jumped and hit my shoulder unnoticed (later I found bruises), the shell grazed its rump as it tumbled from the clean shot my brother had placed in its neck. It somersaulted a couple of times and flopped dead about seven feet from me.
Mike was horrified at the sight. He refused to clean the animal. My dad swore and cursed, but Mike wouldn’t pick up the knife so Junior cleaned it. To please my father I ate a little of the raw liver. We cooked the rest of it for lunch.
The deer carcasses were strung up in the camp and were out looking to fill everyone’s deer tags. We were out with Steve and a couple of the others. The Vietnam vet reached for his beer on the edge of the pickup. For laughs my dad shot it. It exploded. Steve’s eyes went wide, his skin went pale. A triangular piece of the beer can was embedded in the stock of the rifle he carried. He grew very quiet the rest of the trip. He checked himself into a veteran’s mental hospital a couple of months later.
We were on the way home. The tensions which rose and fell during the trip lay beneath our conversations as we drove through Nevada. Dad said something about a surprise he had in store for us. My brothers and I had ridden the whole way in the back of the pickup. When the truck stopped we peered out from the sleeping bags. We had pulled up and parked in a dirt lot across from a large black gate. We were at the Mustang Ranch, a famous Nevada brothel. Dad announced he was treating all of us to what lay within.
I didn’t want to go in. Dad yelled, cussed, called me names. I refused to get out of the truck. Everyone else got out. I refused. Dad said it was all of us or none of us. I still refused. They all got back in. We drove on.
Near Mammoth on route 395 we stopped at a cafe... the pickup truck was left running because of the cracked engine block. The men were rude to the waitress. Their crude jokes met with a cold response the left no tip. Later learned they didn’t pay the bill either.
There it is. I dredged it up, tossed it onto this glowing screen, and I don’t know if it has done me any good.
I know that on that trip I felt embarrassment, shame, guilt... I tried new things and learned a little of human nature.
Now what do I do with this? It doesn’t feel complete.
Shall I copy and paste this onto my blog? Will sharing it free me in some sense? What will people think who read such a post?
I wrote another post yesterday, one I think I will post immediately after this one so this bit of ugliness is buried a little deeper...
Lord... I am Your servant. I offer myself to You, the good and the bad. Take this piece of me as well... --Amen.