By Don Gardner
How often this tale is told – The background changes and the names of the characters (but not the characters themselves) change. This is the confession of a man who went full circle who is telling this story for the benefit of hundreds of us who traveled along this same path.
Most kids don't know what they want to be when they are grown up. For kids, anticipating life as an adult is uncertain, oftentimes frightening and mysterious to contemplate. We often dreamed of what we would like to do as adults. How many people do you know who grew up to enjoy a career they dreamed of or planned as kids? How many girls did not become nurses, musicians, singers, or teachers, or boys who did not become firemen, baseball players, doctors, or writers.
I often wished I could become a firefighter. I had a vision in my mind of rushing into a burning building and rescuing a baby from certain death. My picture would be on the front page of the High Point Enterprise. Sometimes the baby was replaced by a young woman who the photographers caught exactly at the right moment looking worshipfully up at me as I held her in my heroic arms. After reflecting on the matter carefully, I decided that in spite of rescuing beautiful, young, and adoring women, rushing into a burning building was not my cup of tea.
Should I become a doctor? But doctors have to go to school for many years, and I was spending my classroom time daydreaming of Tahiti or Alaska and wasn't making grades. Do the women there really walk around topless! This was puberty, big time.
Most often after we reach adulthood, or close to it, we seem to stumble into a profession without serious planning and remain in a job we do not enjoy. There are, happily, exceptions.
Frank Hicks, my best boyhood buddy, always wanted to be a truck driver. His only ambition when he grew up was to drive to California and back in command of a huge 18-wheeler, double-clutching up and down hills while he smoothly shifted through about 30 different gears.
To demonstrate his skills, he used an old tricycle tire and showed us neighborhood kids his steering ability. But we didn't get too close to him because he would make powerful engine noises with his mouth and would spray slobber about three feet.
Frank explained double-clutching to me but I could never get the hang of it. My old ’52 Morris Minor in Bermuda apparently didn't understand American techniques either when I tried it ten years later. The engine wheezed and complained when I pressed down on the gas between gear shifts and would shift gears only when it got it's breath back. When I rotated back to the States, I bought a car with an automatic transmission.
My brother, Roy, got caught in the revolving doors at Wachovia Bank once and had to be rescued by the fire department. Whenever our large family gets together, we like to tell stories on each other, and this is one of our favorites.
Then there was Jerry Pryor who liked to preach. He would stand on the back steps of his house across the street from our house and exhort everyone to come to hear him preach and get saved. His voice carried for a block and we didn’t need to get any closer.
My brother-in-law, Richard, was living with us and worked the night shift. Whenever Jerry set to preaching, exhorting, and waving his arms, the shouting would wake Richard up. He would ask one of us to tell Jerry to keep quiet. Jerry would oblige for a while and go inside his house, but soon the spirit would overtake him and he would come back out and start preaching and exhorting and waving again. My sister, Margie, and brothers Roy, Johnny, and Jimmy were "saved" by Jerry a hundred times.
While Frank was driving around the neighborhood in his big truck made out of a tricycle tire, and Jerry was saving the kids, I was busy reading every book in school or the public library about Indians and frontiersmen. I could name the major Indian tribes, whether they lived in teepees or mud huts, how they stole horses from their enemies, how they hunted buffalo, and how they often ate their dogs in winter when game animals were scarce.
Did you know that the Cheyenne Indians got their name because of a corruption of the word the French called them—chienes? Chiene is the French word for dog. And did you know the English version of the mountains the French called the Grand Tetons is Big Tits? (I learned that one in adult life.)
When I was in the fourth grade, I had read so many books about Indians and woodsmen and frontiersmen that I wanted to write a story. It seemed only natural that anyone who likes to read should also want to write. My main character would be a boy my age whose family is killed by the Indian and he is taken to live with them. But I didn't know how to write in the fourth grade and the book died.
Frank Hicks became a long-distance driver after his tour of duty in the Air Force. He drove an 18-wheeler to California and back, dropping off fruit at our house at Christmas and visited with mom and dad.
The Reverend Jerry Pryor died of a massive heart attack several years ago. He was an effective and well-loved minister whose family, congregation, and all who had the pleasure of knowing him will miss him.
My brother, Roy, became a Commander in the High Point Fire Department. Whenever a kid gets stuck in a revolving door anywhere in High Point, they send for him.
As for me, after dropping out of school, I drifted through several jobs and was unemployed when I read in the High Point Enterprise that Coast Guard Recruiters were coming to town on the following Wednesday to recruit. I announced to mom and dad that I wanted to join. Mom began packing a suitcase for me.
When the end of my three-year enlistment was near, I spent many long hours wondering whether I should return home to hearth and family, but work in this town for someone who does not have a high school education is limited.
On the other hand, I was enjoying my Coast Guard service and was getting by on about $86.00 a month as an unmarried man; I enjoyed being involved in rescuing people in trouble and developed a swagger wearing those bell bottoms that was a wonder to see.
Serving almost twenty-one years, I retired from the Coast Guard as a Senior Chief Radioman and worked in communications for the federal government for another 18 years before retiring again. My career in the Coast Guard had been unplanned; but with the luck of the psuedo-Irish, I luckily stumbled into a career that I enjoyed and which enabled me to continue with a good pay scale in civilian life.
I haven't written the long overdue adventure story about Indians as yet, and my creative writing teacher has not used several of my short stories for toilet paper yet.