Chocolate Can Kill (Emily Harris Mysteries) by Annie Acorn
These days, no self-respecting southern male would be caught dead on Friday or Saturday evening without his pickup. Complete with a fresh bale of hay, a cooler of chilled beer, guns on a rack, and bait sloshing in a bucket, a man and his pickup are prepared to meet the challenge of any and all opportunities that might present themselves during a warm southern weekend, be it daytime or night, but this wasn’t always the case.
I spent the later years of my childhood growing up in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, which is often referred to as the Atomic City. At the time very isolated, placed as it was in its own valley, we moved there just after you no longer needed a badge to enter the city, due to the security aspects of the scientific government research that was being done there.
Way more homogenous than most American small towns, it was a wonderful, safe, happy-go-lucky environment in which to grow up. It was also a poor place for learning and understanding the realities of a very different world that existed beyond our protected valley.
As the oldest of my siblings, I was occasionally required to walk to the neighborhood mom and pop grocery for a bottle of milk or a loaf of bread. This errand was always embedded in a large warning.
I was to walk past the somewhat run-down house on the corner across from the grocery quickly, Mother would caution with a hint of fear in her voice. By no means was I to stop and talk with the boy who spent most of his days sitting on the front porch steps of this home.
To this day, I have no idea what this boy’s actual name was. To us, he was Junior, and he had been adopted by an older couple, who sported gray hair and, also unlike most of the parents, had come from a farm in the surrounding area as opposed to the graduate program of a major university.
By the time I reached my freshman year in high school, Junior had become what was referred to as a “hood” - an early precursor and much milder version of what we would now think of as a gang member. Junior was the ringleader of his group.
He now smoked while sitting on his home’s front porch and somehow managed in a dry five county area to spend much of his time drinking alcoholic beverages. His hair was worn longer than the shaved and shorn style, and he sported a black leather jacket. It was whispered that he was a juvenile delinquent. His grin, though, held a certain charm that bespoke a hint of danger and enhanced a come hither look.
He was also the only person I knew at the time who did two things. He rode a motorcycle, and he drove a dusty pickup.
How his adopted parents had managed to pay for the former I have no idea, but I have no doubt that they loved and cared for their single child. The pickup was the family vehicle, unheard of in our small isolated town.
I, too, was now spending more time away from our family’s house, immersed in a busy schedule of school and various social events. Occasionally, I would spot Junior on his porch steps or filling up the pickup’s gas tank at one of our town’s service stations. I still was careful to keep my distance.
Time passed. I left for college and gave the likes of Junior and his dusty pickup nary a thought, as Lyndon Johnson held the office of President and the nightly news filled with reports of the Vietnam War. Then I went home for a visit, and one evening before dinner, I picked up the latest edition of our town’s newspaper, The Oak Ridger.
On the front page, Junior’s picture stared back at me from within a wide black frame, although I didn’t at first recognize him. The government had removed his long, greasy locks and black leather jacket, before replacing them with a burr cut and a uniform. Gone was his grin.
The boy I had been raised, perhaps rightly, to fear had grown into a man and had voluntarily joined the military. One day on patrol with other Special Forces troops in a Vietnamese jungle, his unit had been attacked by the Vietcong.
Junior had fought bravely and was credited with having saved the lives of several others before a grenade had been tossed a foot or so from him. In a moment of extreme sacrifice, he had not turned away, but had instead fallen on the grenade, thus cushioning the blast as it related to others. The young juvenile delinquent had redeemed himself in an act of amazing bravery.
This holiday week, as I prepare to attend our family’s 4th of July cookout, I will pause for a moment and remember Junior, as I do every military/freedom based holiday. For some reason, it is in the old dusty pickup that I see him, the signature grin on his face.
Unlike the rest of us in so many ways, his final act was to choose a path that few of us would’ve taken and to die, so that the freedom our forefathers fought for would be protected. Heaven, I’m sure, has at least one motorcycle and one pickup in it.
So, this 4th of July put on your baseball cap and a grin, find a dust-covered pickup, and come along for a ride in memory of Junior and all the other brave men like him!
Murder With My Darling (Bonnie Lou Mysteries) by Annie Acorn
A Tired Older Woman: Loses Weight and Keeps It Off! by Annie Acorn
When to Remain Silent (Annie Acorn’s Kindle Short Mysteries) by Annie Acorn