My eyes were racing across the winter scorched pasture lands, racing towards the west when loose gravel at the side of the road, grabbed at my tires.
“Sorry,” I said and focused again on the twisted indigo road. I slowed this time before looking back towards the west. My eyes craved what was there, for my eyes burned and my soul felt scorched. A brush with family, where love and loyalty should have been certain, had ended with only a wounded heart. Across the last brown field to the timberline and up ...there at last, the fading shades of blue and gray mountains, fading into mist and distance. My eyes slid across them like a polished stone beneath finger tips. They cooled the eyes and promised to sooth the soul… but could not. The burning was too great. I looked back to the road, disappointed.
“I don’t get it”, I said quietly. “How can they be that way? They won’t stand up to what they know is wrong.”
My mother rode beside me. I had just been speaking out loud to myself, but she answered.
“It is very clear to me,” she said. She was looking towards the mountains as well, her white hair blended into the wisp of clouds that capped the mountains. “There is right and there is wrong! And if you believe in it, then you need to be there- completely,” she stated.
“Be there completely’, I had never heard those exact words from my mother, but I knew instantly of what she spoke. Something my father had told me. There was something deep and powerful that lived inside her that few knew of, for she was a quiet one. So quiet, that many did not notice her in a crowded room, for her words were few. But in her, was this thing, powerful, quiet thing, like granite beneath soft earth. This thing made me smile when nothing else could. I heard my father’s laughter from long ago.
“You should have seen her,” he laughed. “Nobody better tell that West Virginia girl how she should think. Not even a U.S Marine Corp F-ing sergeant” I was laughing now as I remembered, a day very long before I was even born.
When my parents had been living in South Carolina. My father was a drill instructor in the marine corp., my mother, just that, a young mother in a strange home, both of them just about 19 years old.
“I was a junior sergeant and I needed to stay in the good graces of my superiors. It was how things worked, you know”, he had told me. “I had invited one of my seniors sergeants home for dinner. You were expected to socialize with them.”
There were 2 senior drill instructors and a junior with every platoon. The seniors gave the orders, set the way things were to be done; the juniors did as they were told. The seniors would make or break a new soldier, even more so for a junior D.I. The seniors were usually combat veterans of the toughest sort. ‘Salty’ as they said, which meant they were almost too tough and arrogant to even take orders from an officer. Most defiantly not going to take orders from someone they thought of as lesser soul.
So there they are, my mother had cooked dinner. A baby, my oldest sister played on the floor at their feet. The senior makes a huge mistake, he starts using the “N” word. I can only imagine that at this time in rural South Carolina, the senior D.I never thought he would meet objection to the use of this word. It flowed from his lips as easily as his exhaled breath. He should have thought twice!
This is a word absolutely forbidden in our house. Even for the important telling of this story, it will not be used other then as the “N” word for it is considered a word truly evil to my mother and all that are part of her. Even to use it as the “N” word has only been done carefully, too educate our children of a word, that it represents that is not to ever cross their lips. A word they are not too tolerating from those around them, for it carries so much hate.
The senior starts using this word. He starts telling nasty stories, my father says. “I looked at Bev and I think Oh God! I know I am in trouble! He’s my senior for God’s sake; he can destroy me, my father states. “Do you understand? He can destroy me when I go back to work on the base. I have seen it done. If I make him angry I will be marched into the ground. I will be undermined in front of the troops till they have no respect for me and orders will no longer be followed. I will be run out of the marine corp. And I am looking at Bev’s face and she is already angry.
“It’s OK Bev,” I whisper to her. ”Just let it go,” but I know it is too late.
“We don’t use that word here,” my mother tells him clearly. The senior looks surprised.
“What” he asks? “All I said was …” and he says it again.
“That word,” my mother is now livid. “You will not use that word around my children,” she tells him. Now she didn’t mind cussing, that came with the Corp. But this talk of bigotry and hate was of another thing altogether.
“Well Jesus all I said was...” and he uses it again.
My mother is on her feet now.
“Get him out of the house Barclay,” she orders. She is just glaring at him across the table.
“I can’t kick him out Bev, he’s my senior”, he whispers. Whispers, even though the man is sitting right there.
“Get him out of my house,” my mother orders again.
“Jesus Christ, Bondurant, what the hell’s wrong with her all I said was…” and he says it again.
“Out of my house”, my mother orders. She is on her feet and squared off to the senior and points for the door. “You will not speak that way under my roof, in front of my children.
“Jesus, Bondurant, can’t you control her?” the senior asks in astonishment.
“Control her”, my father had laughed and his eyes sparkled as he told me this story.
“Get the Hell out of my house,’ my mother ordered again. The man was on his feet now and not going. So she pushed the man for the door. He looked so surprised, my father recalled. No one had ever gotten away with talking to him this way.
“Out’ she shouted and shoved him out the door.
Now at this point of the story my father paused and leaned closer to me, his eyes sparkled with pride and a smile turned beneath his mustache. He tells me, “Do you understand? This is a senior drill instructor for the best armed forces in the whole world! This is one of the men that make the toughest, best fighting warriors in the whole of earth and salty as hell. These seniors had just come back from combat and simply were not afraid of anything. Your mother kicked him out of the house! She was only 19 years old and tiny, and he is stumbling backwards into the yard in disbelief and he keeps saying to me “what the hells the matter with her Bondurant? Can’t you control her?’ My father laughs and shakes his head every time he repeats the part “Control her? “
“She’s standing on the porch pissed as hell and pointing at this man,” my father says.
“I wasn’t raised around talk like that and I am sure as hell not going to let you speak that way under my roof, around my babies, now you get the hell out of my yard and don’t come back”, she shouts at him.
“What did you do daddy,” I had asked?
I told him, “You better leave. You don’t talk like that around her and you should know better than to piss off a West Virginia girl.”
“Well Jesus Christ, I can see that Bondurant,” he said and he left, shaking his head and mumbling to himself.
“Did you get in trouble,” I asked. My father laughed and clapped his hands in joy, when he spoke his words dripped with pride.
“He didn’t dare! What the hell was he going to do? Tell all the other D.I.s how a 110 pound, little West Virginia Girl kicked his Marine Corp. ass out of her house and off the property?”
“I was so worried at the time, thinking Christ, what kind of trouble is she getting me into! I didn’t like how he was talking anymore than she did, but I didn’t think I could do anything to stop it. She was absolutely right in what she did!”
“How was she so brave,” I had asked? I tried to imagine myself in her shoes, when I was only 18 and the courage did not fit me. I remember how my father got quiet then, and a faraway look came to his eyes.
“She knew it was wrong. She just knew it was so wrong and that she had to stand up to it. That is how her daddy had raised her. Some things are just that important; that you have to be there whether you want to or not and do all you can to stop it.”
“Did you know she was like that, I mean before it happened?” I asked.
“I knew I had married a beautiful girl, I knew I had married a strong, smart girl, I did not know till that night that I had married a girl of uncommon courage”, he told me and laughed. “She taught me that if you believed in something you had to be there for it, no matter who you had to stand up to.”