She was always something special and she was my father’s, mother. My biological, paternal, grandmother to be exact. I met her only a few times in my life and each left a very lasting impression, to say the least. She was the first person I ever wrote about that got me a fantastic grade. Every time I wrote about Jane, I had mixed emotions. How Jane would be perceived. In my youth, was brutal about my feelings towards her and her harsh abuse perpetrated on my dad.
This chain of sequence happened a long time ago, were today couldn’t fathom “those days”, ways, philosophies (i.e., beliefs) and atrocities. “Those” days were not that as long ago, as one would hope. Intentional or otherwise, heavily misguided or mental illness, her “love” for her son was expressed through what we would say today, unadulterated abuse. Physical, mental, spiritual, and religious abuse were inflicted, knowingly or unknowingly occurred.
In the late 1930’s in Idabel Oklahoma USA, or on the hot, treacherous, dusty, desolate, plains of West Texas; there were not establishments, yet, that were concerned with the health and welfare of children, or their families. There was absolutely no concept of healthcare, or financial means, or grocery stores that supplied three nutritionally sound meals and two snacks for proper growth and development. There was, however, a one room shack, with floral wallpapering (I’m sure lead based everything) that everyone shared except my dad. He and the dog, Shadow, were allowed to sleep under the tin roof porch.
Nothing screams “homey” than an electric fence, and a cellar that was just a hole in the ground with a wooden hinged door contraption to keep a person or up to three humans safe during a sandstorm. Yes, you read sandstorm correctly and it’s scary what a person can conjure them to be. They were known as dirt storms, sandstorms, black blizzards, and “dusters.” Waves of dust and sand sweeping everything in its path like a tornado. Instead, Mother Earth herself, dusting, exfoliating, and shedding off her “dead skin”.
These could last up to 17 days and did one particular “Black Sunday” April 14th, 1935; that is said, “caused the afternoon to turn as dark as darkest possible night.” Tornado alarms or any warning system hadn’t been thought of or implemented until the late 40’s and probably created because of “Tornado alley”. So, a person had their, quick wits about you, instincts and their eyeballs to see what was coming down the road.
The term “Tornado Alley” wasn’t even termed until 1952 as the title of a research project about severe weather in the US. Another irony not lost upon me, referring to today’s climate. Today we have the Caldor fire in Northern California raging and burning everything in its path, filling our beautiful blue skies; grey. Hurricane Ida just hit New Orleans yesterday, flooding the historical streets of N’awlins with fierce winds and a high velocity of water. Oh, how do I count the ironies?
To escape or flee a disaster such as mother earth’s angry wrath, one would use an underground bunker or cellar. Those times, the entire family which consisted of my father, his mother (Jane) and stepfather (Ted), and three little half-sisters’ (Dyna, Jean Anne, and Emmy) would have to scramble for safety and “hunker” down till the waves of black dirt furled relentlessly overhead. Hitting and banging against the small wooden hinged trap door held down for dear life, by a boy, for what I’m sure seemed like eternity.
I can’t imagine the fear my grandmother would have had, holding her babies underground and I’m sure she felt God was angry and taking vengeance for the sin she had endured. Mainly that cellar functioned as a rattle snake den of horrors and a place of punishment for the child who crossed Jane. Punishments in that time, consisted of “beatings”, banishments, assault, “whippings” with “switches” (use of a tree branch), “paddling”, scalding with boiling water, thrown into a body of water, washing one’s mouth out with soap (happened to me), condemnation, and the confiscating and breaking of one’s possessions or will. Eventually, all paths lead to exile, ostracism, PTSD, and being orphaned.
Oh, and most importantly and should also be duly noted; no electricity, no plumbing, and no tv! How did humans even have the will “to be” is beyond me. Kids didn’t have shoes to wear to school. They did walk and walked through the extreme elements to reach what was usually a one room wooden church, with a kind-hearted, love for children and Jesus, Bible totin’, “school” teacher.
Accreditations for teaching were in most states, by 1867, requiring teachers to pass a locally administered test to get a state certificate. Usually included not only the basic skills, but also U.S. history, geography, spelling, and grammar. That’s where we’ll unpack our heavy luggage and sit on the porch and swing for a bit, chew on the past and drink up the memories with sweet tea or lemonade; if you’re fancy.
Diamond shining bright in the rain and Jane did shine! Jane was born the youngest to the Brenshaw’s; Mawmaw and Pawpaw. They were farmers; mostly cotton, and my dad helped pick cotton with his grandfather during the summers for what was told less than a dime a day. Mawmaw raised chickens and taught her Grandson everything she knew. They had to run the farm and even built their own home. Sadly, burned to the ground.
These peoples were strong physically and spiritually, holding the good Lord to their hearts. When there wasn’t enough food to go around, Pawpaw would take the gristle. Stating it was his favorite; only to ensure the rest had enough. What a gentleman, and honorable human being to care for the underprivileged. Pawpaw was the breadwinner and the patriarch of the family, rightfully so. He wanted my dad to live a simple life (not nearly close to what he became) and become a barber.
My great grandfather also raised horses and, in his day, considered a “horse whisperer”. Pawpaw was the epitome of a “Southern Gentlemen” and when he would ride into town for feed and seed, he would have his “son” accompany him. On one particular Sunday, and for a sweet treat; he rewarded with a large sugary stick of pure sugarcane-colored swirls and fused to make a yardstick long (good couple inches wide) of pure enjoyment.
A lollipop of mass proportions! As the little, smaller than his boy, looked longingly at this giant sucker; he asked his son to share with his neighbor. My dad looked upon this kid and clearly could see him salivating over his prize and said to his grandfather, “He don’t want none, Pawpaw.” Then and there, Pawpaw took out a small hatchet (later named Molly) and chopped the thick stick over a log, not in half! Pawpaw gave the larger piece to the neighbor boy!
Slowly wishes turn to sadness; dad loved his upbringing with his grandparents and reminisced about the farm life and having a loving home. He would be later ripped from their safety to embark on a quest to the west. Only to return once more, sum thirty years or so later, three kids, a wife, a massive career, a chow chow named Mingling and black cat named Zeus, vast knowledge, new news, and a whole lot of nostalgia. His grandparents pleaded with their daughter, Jane, to have him remain with them on the farm, but his “worth” was needed onward and they packed up a truck and dad headed for Arizona in the back of the bed with a pig.
Jane was a beauty and very loved by her family. She wore her long dark hair much like Vivian Lee in Gone with the Wind, curled up on both sides, clipped with bobby pins to keep in perfect place. She was an avid reader and reading was her preferred past-time, along with caring for her birds. Another oddity to the family; birds like us and it’s not uncommon for us to captivate a bird with one of our shoulders. Although, they have landed their excrement right on top of my head before.
Birds have a funny sense of humor and each species hold different characteristics akin to their own. An ornithologist is that particular study. Male birds have elaborate courtship rituals and even dance to attract their better half. Typically, the more colorful and tuft plumages belong to the boys, so to attract the female into engagement for what could be a lifetime or a one-night stand.
I’m not sure how Jane exactly met or was introduced to Borris, my dad’s biological father, but the events that unfolded after their encounter turned relationship, linger even till today. My father carried “his” name, never knowing the man, his lineage, or inheritance. All that was left after Pawpaw ran Borris (Borris the cat) off with a shotgun, were unanswered questions, and an insidious mothers’ hatred and void for “his” offspring. Please understand that bigamy was “outlawed”, but who was going to “checks and balances”, Borris, especially in that time period, and when there is a woman who could be blamed (*sarcastic sigh*)?
Dad attended school with others who inexplicably carried the same last name. Rumors circulated that Jane was a “homewrecker” and that Borris was a “cool” cat who roamed Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and later Mexico straying and spraying that DNA wherever he shall please. See, “those” “other” people were half siblings, and they did share a commonality; “Borris”, got a glitch in his get-a-long.
Dad was thought to be the youngest of Borris’s scandalous tribe (later revealed Borris also the youngest of 9 from “Granny Durham”). To the best of my memory, started with Dottie and Biff, Billy and Vena, Gen (served in 5 wars because he lied to get into the military); spliced in between and finally capping off with my father at the tail end, that we “know” of. Que the dramatic orchestra; anything Silvestri!
You were always on my mind and in my opinion after finally getting to put faces to the names, met and learned so much about these magnanimous people. Dottie was tall, black haired, and elegantly regal; Biff epitomized a true “cowboy”; Billy had the heart of a lion and lovingly cared for his quadriplegic wife, Norma Jean, till the day she passed on; Vena (I remember to be), strong like an ox, and a hearty laugh with kind eyes. A special place in my heart for Gen, who faithfully married his high school sweetheart Fayenell. As I eluded too earlier was only 15 years old, opting for the military because he saw that as his only option. Gen was a highly decorated veteran of the US Military.
Each one of them carried a scar placed upon them by their “entrance” into the world and managed to overcome obstacles that would leave most unattended wounds, gaping and festering. When the “family” reunion concluded that fateful year in 1988, dad felt on cloud 9. He had found his family once again and the correspondence afterwards has led us to this day; 2021, his birthday and would have been his 82nd.
Gone with the wind were the roaring 20’s and hello to the Grapes of Wrath, all in the same year. Idabel is this town’s name and lies between the Little River and the Red River; West of the Oklahoma-Arkansas state line. In the 1930’s the population was a slim 2500, give or take a few and thanks to the Great Depression, declined again till the hustle and the bustle of the forties stirred.
I have thoroughly enjoyed how historical terms are referenced, declared and propagated throughout society., culturally, and time space continuum. Terms, like Terrible, or Terrific are so intriguing with their ever-evolving definitions and meanings over time and talk. Great depression versus catastrophic economic times.
Believe it or not, linguistics can change the judicatory of life. Just an fyi, linguistics is the scientific study of language and its structure, including the study of morphology, syntax, phonetics, and semantics. Specific branches of linguistics include sociolinguistics, dialectology, psycholinguistics, computational linguistics, historical-comparative linguistics, and applied linguistics.
That’s allot of studying and restudying and not half bad for the half deaf. Hidden away in each field, layered upon layers, are gems of gleaming “fortune” that hold the most precious of jewels; knowledge and history and maybe a map to aid in guiding our future’s “golden” road. The pursuit of happiness was like a candle that flickered quietly in every home and silently prayed upon to oneself, even in the darkest of times.
The Great Depression was reported to be the most severe worldwide economic depression that took place mostly during the 1930s, beginning in the United States. It has been documented as the longest, deepest, and most widespread depression of the 20th century. To this day, it’s highly debated that World War II was the causation in which attributed to that of the United States economic relief or the coming “out” of said depression.
It began with the stock market crashing in October of 1929 and by 1933, when the Great Depression reached its lowest point, some 15 million Americans were unemployed and nearly half the country’s banks had failed. Franklin D. Roosevelt became President in March 1933. He promised a ‘New Deal for the American People’. The Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the Golden Gate Bridge were all built as a part of depression era worker relief program.
Last little tidbit to tell; Walt Disney’s adaptation of The Three Little Pigs; the symbol for the Great Depression for using their wit, and “piggy” know-how to thwart the big bad wolf’s plans of demise, destruction, and eventually; pork chops. Today we only reference the big bad wolf and the three little piggies with inhaler commercials, showing that the wolf has COPD and can no longer huff and puff and blow your house down. My, have things changed, or have they?
Surprisingly, Idabel’s population today is around 7000 peoples, but I digress and have assumed, the only reason anyone, in there “right-mind”, was “out-there” “fiddling” around in Idabel (I’m sure of it!), especially in 1902 was mainly due to the Arkansas and Choctaw Railway (later part of the St. Louis and San Francisco Railway (Frisco).
Originally, the post office was named Bokhoma (a Choctaw word meaning Red River), and then after rejecting Purnell, (after Isaac Purnell a railroad official), and after changing from Mitchell (in honor of another railroad company officer). I see a trend. By 1902 these ever-changing, indecisive minds, decided on a combination of Isaac Purnell’s two daughters: Ida, and Bell. At the time of its founding in the early 1900’s, Idabel was located in Bok Tuklo County, a part of the Apukshunubbee District of the Choctaw Nation. Try saying that ten times?
The Choctaw Nation (sounds exactly as spelled, in my opinion, phonetically speaking) is the third largest federally recognized tribe in the United States and the second-largest Indian reservation in that area after the Navajo. The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma are Indians who were “removed” from territory that was theirs too territory that was also theirs, but against their will (of course), and brutally.
This “process” of “removal” by the federal government is now called, The Trail of Tears. U.S. President Andrew Jackson felt this was “progress” to make the Choctaw project a model of removal. Included is a letter from George Harkins in 1832 (then 22) wrote The Farewell Letter to the American People: We go forth sorrowful, knowing that wrong has been done. Will you extend to us your sympathizing regards until all traces of disagreeable oppositions are obliterated, and we again shall have confidence in the professions of our white brethren. Here is the land of our progenitors, and here are their bones; they left them as a sacred deposit, and we have been compelled to venerate its trust; it dear to us, yet we cannot stay, my people is dear to me, with them I must go. Could I stay and forget them and leave them to struggle alone, unaided, unfriended, and forgotten, by our great father? I should then be unworthy the name of a Choctaw, and be a disgrace to my blood. I must go with them; my destiny is cast among the Choctaw people. If they suffer, so will I; if they prosper, then will I rejoice. Let me again ask you to regard us with feelings of kindness.
Time don’t heal a broken gun and the aftermath was no exception; estimated roughly and with all the barbarity, racism, death, and destruction; 15,000 Choctaws together with 1000 slaves made the move to what would be called Indian Territory and then later Oklahoma. Also estimates of 2,500 died along the trail of tears.
Ironically, “This land is your land” song came out in 1940; lyrics were written by American folk singer Woody Guthrie in 1940, based on an existing melody, a Carter Family tune called “When the World’s on Fire.” Also, to compete with God Bless America, by Irvin Berlin; revised in 1938 as a prayer for God’s blessing and peace for the nation. In regard to “This Land”, included are two “said”, debated versus:
Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.
In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;
By the relief office, I’d seen my people.
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,
Is this land made for you and me?
Things ain’t always what they seem and my use of the word ain’t, Jane wouldn’t appreciate or would perhaps “not care for”, or consider, “not-good English”. Jane would prefer proper English, if you please. To “understand” Jane, you would have to “understand” her religion and beliefs. They, Jehovah Witnesses, believe that the “destruction of the present world system (Armageddon) is imminent, and that the establishment of God’s kingdom over the earth is the only solution for all the problems faced by humanity”.
There were no celebrations like birthdays or holidays. Medical treatments like blood transfusions were not permissible and mightily opposed. Being in the military was also not “allowed”. Basically, Jane’s response would be, nothing comes in the way or before God. Some Jehovah’s Witnesses have been persecuted and their activities are banned in some countries, not to mention heinous abuse allegations that linger in legal forums today.
There’s also a rule not to associate with non-members and this is where I feel Jane has redeemed herself in my eyes. She always maintained contact with my father over the years and that took bravery. Mostly, to plead with my father’s soul and for my father to have some type of relationship with his mother.
What a shame, what a shame and now, we are at the “nail-biting” part of the story; that I first got to meet my “grandma”. I was a whopping four years young when she came to Sacramento, California circa 1979 home for a “visit”. We were playing on our bikes, for me a tricycle (Trike), since I still can’t ride a bike that isn’t stationary; but that’s a whole other ball game for another date and time.
We had the extraordinary “privilege” of getting to take turns and wear Jane’s fancy, dark glasses. Sidenote, back in the day, believers felt afflictions such as, disabilities or infirmness were the “works of the devil” and forbade medical “improvements” along those lines. No alcohol (booze), swearing (cussing), medication (drug usage or pills of any kind or any reason) or meditation (yoga), voodoo, and especially no hoodoo. No adultery, fraternizing, dancing, or gossiping allowed.
Definitely no “shacking it up” with your best-friends wife or “shagging” a same sex partner. No stealing, conjuring, or coveting another or a brother. Also forbidden was the use of make-up or nail polish; anything that would “alter” your appearance to entice or tantalize someone “unsuitable” and “unsavory” or charm a demon. Even way before that, sneezing was also considered a sign from Satan. The heart stops for just a split second, and hence it’s always a good gesture to respond with a “God Bless you!”
It goes without saying, I was the least of Jane’s favorites among the black sheep; a badge I wore honorably for quite some time. My sister was an obvious choice for favoritism, since she “looked” just like a doll and my brother was a “golden” boy. My turn was skipped by Jane telling me to give Coco the glasses, and my sister jumped on the chance to ignore me and my opportunity to wear said glasses.
Coco, reached to grab the dark glasses from me and place it upon her “perfect” face and started taunting me. Circling me with her bike riding skills. I became frustrated by the unfairness that was demonstrated before me and like a child, I threw her glasses down on the ground instead of handing them over to Coco and ran inside.
Thankfully, they didn’t break! Ironically, my father had saved his money an entire summer working for his grandfather, picking cotton, for a pair of “seeing” glasses. I too inherited the astigmatisms, and near sightedness, but dad was also red/green colorblind and in dire need of glasses. Jane broke his glasses then and that had to have been devastating for my father.
So, when I ran into the house, my grandmother hot on my trail; I screeched to a halt when my father swung opened the front door for his usual greeting, after working all day. Ritualistically, and out of sheer happiness, I would run to his side for big hugs after what seemed like a long day of his absence. Just then, I heard Jane, coming from behind me say, “are you going to spank her?”
My dad looked down at me and saw the terror that shown in my eyes, and I felt and said calmly, “No”! Even at 5, I was no stranger to the “belt”, and it scared me to think I would be punished for my bad behavior, but in that moment, I was so relieved that dad took my side. Hallelujah!
Shinin bright in the sky and it was blindingly bright the day my family retraced the “scene of the crime”; the long dirt road to the shack that held my father’s memories like a time capsule. My eyes actually hurt from how bright the ground appeared and my father did another famous “lecture” whist on the walk up the dirt mound to the rusted out, dilapidated dwelling they called “home”; and it all became true.
Almost felt like an otherworldly place on Mars, for the red rock and miles and miles of oil rigs on barren land, ravaged by the sun. I was 13 and completely out of my “element”, but anxiously awaited this journey. I “freaked” my brother out on the plane, because during the extreme elevation drop (one of them), I exclaimed in my normal sarcastic way; “I was too young to die!”
If the three hours of turbulence on the plane getting there wasn’t bad enough; we travelled another days’ worth in a van with velour interior, because hell isn’t hot enough. For I had heard the stories of isolation, abandonment, and desperation. Dad was saying, “watch for rattle snakes, they blend right into the ground and are really hard to see.”
I walked up to the shack and obviously time had left openings to peer through, because let’s face it, I wasn’t doing a grand “tour” inside. I could see what was left of my grandmother’s floral wallpaper, bits still apparent in the crevices. Still there! I often think about that shack and if it stands for another thirty years. Would I even know my way back or if I slipped out of time for that moment in time?
I still hear her voice in the wind and as I left the one-foot porch that held my father and his dog, Shadow, while they slept in that God forsaken land, I tried to locate the cellar. My dad was filming with at the time (1988) a massive VCR recording camera, like the tv broadcasters use today.
My brother was searching the ground for artifacts, when I stepped on the biggest snake, not only did I ever see, but anywhere else in all my years since. Needless to say, it was humongous! Stepped right on him, because guess what, snakes blend right into the ground!
They are like camouflage to the scenery and what a backdrop this naturally rugged landscaping ordained the ground. There was no time between stepping on this snake and this snake attacking back. All I can remember is it’s opened fanged mouth instantaneously coming right at my face!
Now I’m 5 foot 4 inches tall (usually fib and say 5 foot 5) and it reached less than a couple of inches before I felt the largest jolt go through my entire body and lifted me back a couple feet from the King snake; python looking, dragon! I screamed for my dad and I’m not a screamer. Usually, I clam right up when introduced to fear, but to my defense, this was a first. Priorly, rattle snakes, but not this size!
Shine like a Summer Day in the sun and my awesome brother was the first responder and appeared instantly to fend off my attacker. He picked up a metal object, which happened to have a perfectly intact cows skull adorned with its’ longhorns attached. Baffling to me that people today use skulls and skins as some kind of morbid ornamentation to hang on the walls and how “death decor” is expensive and considered rustic chic’.
The bell was blazing hot, and my brother shrieked as his hand burned! This would not be a useable or suitable weapon and dropped the hunk of molded, molten, metal exactly at the location of this longhorn steer who succumbed to death. The three of us watched this King snake slither off into the distance, pissed as hell that I disturbed its scheduled day of gorging on field mice, rabbits, and teenagers.
And everybody dreams of angels, and I am no exception. I believe, I “encountered” one this summer sizzling day of “reckoning”. My dad has it filmed and there this footage remains in a box and now here in writing for the world if so inclined to read. This mammoth was a good 6 feet long and a couple inches thick. Just good info: a king snake mainly eats other snakes and is said to be harmless to humans.
Harmless is subjective since as pointed out to me by a half-brother on my father’s, fathers’ side (Uncle Gen); there were no hospitals or medical care for miles and that it was “miraculous” I was not harmed. Whelp, that incident sealed the excursions right then and there, and we (the three “black sheep”) most hurriedly ran all the way back to the rental van for safe habitat and keep.
I knew then and now that divine intervention was real, and that God was watching us and watching over me while we traipsed through Hell down memory lane. I so wished, I could relieve or release my father’s pain and hoped that seeing in person would help connect me to the people who had shunned and “out-casted” us all in the name of God.
Now it all seems funny, kinda like a dream but, it’s different and I am far older and wiser (*chuckle* almost a scoff to myself). Oklahoma as a child looked right out of a storybook fairytale, when I arrived in the real early days of the 80’s. There were fruit trees and every shrub and bush bloomed magnificent blossoms of pinks, blues, and purples hues. The grass was greener on this side and the people were so friendly and nice.
Like I said before, even in my young years, I could see the difference between the West and the mid-west. I could see a difference between Jane and Jane’s sister too. Aunt Cecil was 4 foot little and wore a beautiful floral dress for the occasion of brunch with past, present, and future family. Her husband uncle Lawrence: she had established a respected and prominent “upstanding”, family together in Oklahoma. Gave us all a huge “country” family spread of everything sweet you could think of under the blistering glorious sun.
Jams, jelly, and preserves all garnished waffles, pancakes, bagels, muffins, and scones. There were mounds of sugar (willy wonka style) as far as this eye could see and I actually went searching for something salty like a fried potato, chips to be specific (I was like 5 or 6). What I was used too and still prefer. I found a stunningly attractive lady in the kitchen named, Mozelle. She had long blonde hair, and a smile the size of Texas.
Mozelle was apparently “helping” her mother (Aunt Cecil; Jane’s sister) giving her a “diabetes shot” in this so frail and small woman’s upper thigh. I didn’t comprehend everything, but instinctually knew things weren’t as they should be, but it was one day in time that still sticks out to me; like a swollen, bloated, and gout filled, sore thumb.
Diabetes left with us that fateful trip and just as memory serves; I too was “helping” to give my dad a “shot” of insulin years later. It’s ironic, because my father’s nickname for me was, “Sugar”. Should have been nicknamed Salty, for my winning personality. He never called me by my “given” name, till the very last spoken words we shared, quietly together. Blessed to have those last moments with him in March 2008. Forever aware; the Ides of March!
Now the tall man who came in from town and took his hat off before coming through the screen door was none other than Uncle Lawrence. See, manners dictate that you “greet” your guests with respect for women and God. Children were to be seen and not heard was also a southern viewpoint, but not in Oklahoma and not to me.
He bent down on one knee, and said, “hello, it’s so nice to meet ya. I’m glad ya’ll are here for the blessings we are about to receive.” Fun fact: Uncle Lawrence’s brother (related by marriage to me), was named Rufus McCain and he found himself in a heap of trouble or as they say, “hot water” with the Oklahoma National Bank.
Probably, because he was going to be the get-away driver for a heist that involved robbing a federal institution. The plans of mice and men did occur, and a robbery did take place, but the get-away driver (Rufus), while trying to speed off, locked bumpers to the vehicle parked directly behind them. His nightmare just coming true or fate dealing a massive blow; were completely trapped and captured, unable to escape with their freedom or the stolen loot.
Just like that, Rufus, was sentenced to Alcatraz. Yup, Alcatraz for the most dangerous and vile criminals, or the troublemakers of the other prisons in the United States. During the 29 years, Alcatraz, was in “use”, the prison held some of the most infamous and notorious criminals in American history. Included were gangsters such as Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud (the “Birdman of Alcatraz”), George “Machine Gun” Kelly, and yours truly, Rufus McCain.
Rufus made his mark on history though and didn’t stop his pursuit for freedom. While a prisoner at Alcatraz, he attempted an escape (maybe the first unsuccessful attempt) with two or three other men; two of which are named Henri Young and Arthur Barker in 1939, the year my father was born.
During his short stay, the attempted escape from the Rock resulted in bullets’ reigning down from the guard’s shots above and killing Arthur Barker and perhaps another, nameless soul. Rufus McCain and Henri Young were sentenced to almost an unheard and unprecedented, and likely illegal 22 months or 3 years said, each in solitary confinement, putting the penal system on trial by 1948.
After returning to “normal” (nothing normal) population, Henri Young, waited for Rufus McCain and “ran up” to him stabbing Rufus in the abdomen (I was told originally the neck) with a sharpened spoon. Rufus McCain fell quickly into shock and died five hours later. His family “translated” to my father, that his likely death was due to “snitching” on a planned escape.
I don’t know if we’ll ever know the truth, but his death eventually shed light on the federal penitentiary system and its savage treatment of prisoners. Personally, I think, Rufus was a “lost” misguided soul, desperately seeking his freedom. I don’t see “where” he had the time to “snitch”, since he too was thrown in the “hole”, and why would he, since his very life and objective was “on the line”.
No, I believe, the “hole” changed the already paranoid, tortured, and demented, Henri Young. It was reported that he had displayed violent tendencies prior to Alcatraz and took hostages during his crime sprees. Rufus McCain was another of his victims and my hope is to be a voice for the voiceless, i.e., the ghosts of my past. He deserves his’ side of the story, and since we all know there’s, their side, our side, and somewhere in between lies the truth; left to the side.
I did get to tour Alcatraz and had Rufus on my mind the entire time. The family actually had photos of his death provided by the federal penitentiary, I’m sure. I sat on the grounds outside, that looked like a massive courtyard, paid for by, none other, Al Capone. It was beautiful and the views from that island were hauntingly exquisite.
I had one objective that day, to see “the hole”: the solitary confinement dungeon. No words can paint that picture or do “justice”. Roped off, stating unsafe for public viewing, displayed before me the most haunting, terrifying, set of concrete slab stairs, I have ever witnessed.
The Rock is cold and getting there is no easy feat. The wind blew through me, and I was wearing a white, puffy (Michelin man style) jacket over my sweater and jeans. Never wore that unflattering jacket again nor have I returned to Alcatraz. The movie, Murder in the First (1995), with Kevin Bacon was an overall excellent depiction, a good “thinker” for me and an entertaining one at that.
Many a time, dad and I, would revisit the story and the “black cloud” that hung above Rufus McCain’s head. In real life, Henri Young was later transferred to Walla Walla (Washington State Penitentiary) to begin a life sentence for the murder conviction and “jumped” parole in 1972, never to be heard from again.
During his trial, he spoke of the “hole” that it, “was like stepping into sewer” and that “the harsh system of Alcatraz had brutalized and dehumanized him”. At least he left with his life. Over the years and through the light of day, I see Rufus differently.
No one will ever know, and no one will ever be able to locate and find that abandoned hideaway shack out on the plains of “no man’s land” either. It exists, I’m sure and will outstand the people who once dwelled there, except for me. That shack remains and I am still here to tell the tale, so not to allow “sleeping dogs” to lie, but let the truth heal and speak for itself.
My last “visit” with Jane entails a trail to Oregon. I was 15 and set in my disgruntled ways, already. Coos Bay Oregon is strangely familiar and beautiful; the coincidences to Oklahoma and the south, uncanny, besides being on the edge of the Northern Hemisphere, and not to overshadow the great, blue, gorgeous, white waves of the Pacific Ocean. Instead of dirt and rock, for as long and as far as the eye can see.
First time getting to drive from California to Oregon while my brother lent me the only cassette tape for the long ride through countless miles and ancient trees (today, much of which, is on fire) was Alice in Chains, Facelift. Not as uplifting as one would hope, but something to “listen” too and drown out the rhythmic call of the open asphalt and the mesmerizing, hypnotic trance of the whipping trees going by.
I cannot say how Jane decided upon Coos Bay Oregon, but what a long way away from the south as she could get. I never saw her “in person” after that day and neither did my father. I answered a few calls in between the years, but mainly would just retrieve my father for his obligatory phone conversations. In fact, after my dad passed away, there was not even a curtesy call delivered to his mother. Jane was a devout Jehovah Witness and took her watchtower with her till the day she was laid to rest. Jane passed not even a year after my dad.
The song, What Happened to Jane, by LA Guns reminds me of her. I will play the song ever so often and like a day as significant as today, I think of them and pray they are “both” in Heaven. I pray that God has poetically placed them together “whole” once more. I pray that all of their relatives are together and at peace with the extraordinary lives they led, helped inspire, and most assuredly influenced and created.
I have to apologize to Jane for my lack of emotional understanding and maturity and for my complete lack and utter ignorance. How could I love her son and not her? How can I think of him and not her? I can’t and I won’t. Thank you above and beyond, Grandma Jane, for providing “life” to my father! I will love her and honor her for that till forever is through.
This concludes, “what happened to Jane”; as the electric guitar wanes off in the dimly lit distance, slowly out of decibel range. Much like the Wizard of Oz; emerald, green, satin curtains close this theatrical stage from exposing the “backdrop” of an “out West”, country, “down-home”, American family’s humble, God loving beginnings and roots, trials and tribulations.
Those who want to learn will seek and search for answers, solutions, and God’s grace. For those continuing their quest for a family; I implore you to keep your heart open with compassion and empathy in your travels, and your “carry-on” luggage accessible and “light”! For what’s beyond that journey through an enormous and vast forest of uncertainty and vulnerability, is unfathomable love and an angelic union that will “stay” with you for all times; and hopefully thereafter, time. Like me, for those still searching for “home”; God be with you. “There’s no place like home!”
*** Thank you for reading my American quilt of family origins, stories, beliefs, and journey’s. *** This is a disclaimer for anyone who needs one; this story is a work of fiction. *** *** Hope You Enjoyed & God Be With You !!! ***