I think, therefor I am.
Yea? What do you think about?
Doesn’t matter. I think.
Well, I think it does matter. What we think about does matters, it defines us. Guy you pass on the street, what’s he thinking about as he walks along? Politicians up on a national stage posturing for the cameras, people doing rote jobs in factories, Chinese, Israelis. People without an education… people with degrees up the yin yang. In the morning, late in the day when you’re tired. When you sleep. When you’re in a good mood, a bad mood. When you are just killing time… waiting. And if we’re not really watching that commercial on TV, what prompts our other thoughts? And what part of our thinking is judgmental? Stereotyped? Freelance? Productive? Entertaining? Stressed? Relaxed?
Thoughts people idly think probably changes from culture to culture. And age.
What was I thinking during adolescence? Probably my mind was a white canvass onto which I painted in my surroundings. I think my receive button was on, more than my transmit, though to hear Mother tell it, I was a loud child. And a fearless rambler. I think I picked up on my place in the family pretty fast. There was, for me, Mother above all else. Then Dad, who was the boss, but I thought, really, that he was entirely too familiar with Mother… who I had taken more or less for my own. I had to share her with my sisters, of course, to keep up appearances… but Mom and I had an unspoken special bond…the core alliance in my particular family.
There were times as a young kid I’d go out with Dad and, coming back in for lunch, we’d wash our hands in the sink off the back porch. More than once coming in the house behind me Dad would yell at me, “HEY, HEY, HEY, son… you didn’t wash good, there’s more dirt on that towel than in the sink.”
Dad was a large man, and his anger could spike into something fearful at time. It’d be like I had committed some great sin. My sisters would be looking at me like I was a dog for getting Dad upset, Dad would be scowling, and then I’d look at Mother and she would have the wonderful smirk on her face that told me she loved me and that it was OK. She was the one who’d wash the towel, and I must be hungry, so sit down. I love you. In that firestorm Dad was creating, there in the middle would be Mom and I sharing that loving look.
Dad had had a hard upbringing and was very protective of his relationship with Mother, and he sense that I was competition… or he caught the look Mom and I shared or something. I don’t know. But early on there was competition. I think sometimes he had me go with him to work just so I won’t have one on one time with Mom. Tough guy, but on some levels my equal.
I don’t know if I thought about that all that much though, I just came to understand this family interaction was the world as I knew it, the center of my universe. I got my big ally and my big bossman.
In a separate universe was John Stanley Boyett, who lived beside us in the small southern town of Aberdeen. He and I used to fight off Indians and monsters from space most every afternoon when I was pre-school, and occasionally had to deal with Sonny Smith who lived on the other side of our house. Sonny was the son of the Aberdeen Police chief, and a pre-school bully. There was an incident with a screw driver that in my little boy hands would instantly transform to be a magic wand and battle weapon. It was a giant screw driver. And Sonny Smith just took it, because he needed a special wand and battle weapon… and since he was bigger and older than me, that made some sense…. Only later there was a problem. Because actually that was my father’s thing that he kept in his tool box, and there came time when he needed it… and he didn’t understand why I let the neighbor kid take it. And I think as the story went, I turned to John Stanley Boyett who shrugged.
Thus my introduction into the difficulties of living a good and just life with prevailing forces of evil bearing down at every turn.
But I don’t know. Much later in my adolescence, the wonder of the boy-girl thing took up a lot of my thinking. I think peer pressure and the need to be accepted was a strong influence and took up thinking time. Plus my imagination took me places and put me in position to deal with those Indians and monsters from space that continued to threaten. There wasn’t a minute during my waking hours that I wasn’t thinking.
Some thoughts were pure fantasy. Being a movie star or game winning athlete or a home town hero. Day dreaming. Nights of course this continued in a more clandestine, shadowy fashion. Self-contained thinking… imagining.
But I must have also spent time taking on information. In a very literal nouns and verbs kind of way, and also more chunky ideas and concepts – tie my shoes, reading, how to hit a soft ball. Generally gaining factoids and body skills that were helpful in growing up.
And I spent brain time idly listening, watching, absorbing life going on around me, coming to some conclusions about what I were seeing.
Developing unanswered questions and concepts. Coming up with wants.
Dealing with things like the truth… “always tell the Truth…” my mother and maternal grandmother said, time and time again. And somewhere along the line I found that Truth was somehow related to building Trust and part of a good life required Trusting relationships.
Though… the unquestionable good of Truth and Trust got confusing in my life early on due an incident at Dad’s work.
Like I said he had it tough growing up. But he did go from the hard scrabble 40 acre family farm with only about $5 in his pocket to college because his sister, my Aunt Wilma, had gotten him a job on campus that paid room and board and tuition. And his college degree led to a good job. He eventually met the woman who would be my Mom, who sold her business so as to raise a family and fund Dad’s purchase of what we called the “plant” in Aberdeen, NC.
Business sold ice in the summer and coal in the winter, and eventually other stuff including heating and tobacco-curing fuel oil. He hired a group of black men over the years to work the ice and coal – Slim, Marvin and my favorite – silent, hardworking Joe Petty.
Then he hired this white high school kid one summer – Randall – who worked alongside the others delivering ice and shoveling coal out in the stock yard, getting ready for winter.
Randall loved Dad like a father, and Dad thought Randall was just the perfect young boy… I remember once out behind the plant office in a field where we had some sheep – it was before I started school – I had a stick and was jumping around fighting those Indians and monsters from space, when Dad appeared and called out…. He had an expression on his face that said as clearly as could be, “That boy ain’t right.” Surprised and embarrassed I walked back into the plant where Dad was talking with Randall about some piece of business and there was great warmth in their voices. He apparently hadn’t been calling me back in because he didn’t look at me when I came up. Just him and Randall talking about stuff. Maybe he didn’t want me thrusting and leaping around here at his serious place of business.
But you gotta understand this didn’t particularly bother me, this attitude Dad had with Randall, and with me. I did not seek out his favor necessarily… although I can remember him telling me for as long as Mother told me to tell the truth… Dad would say, “Hey, make something of yourself.”
When Dad got the dealership from Esso to deliver fuel oil, he bought a couple of big tanks and then some oil delivery trucks. Randall was just graduating high school, and he passed on doing anything else to come back to work for Dad who had promised him that he could drive the newest of the delivery trucks.
Randall was one proud young man behind the wheel of that truck. He would be the first to work in the morning and would be delivering oil past sundown. Dad eventually let him take the truck home at night and start his deliveries in the mornings out in the country where he lived.
We eventually moved from Aberdeen into a big house in the neighboring town of Southern Pines. Randall had gotten married in the meantime and Daddy helped him and his new wife buy the house John Stanley Boyett had lived in next to our old home. Don’t know what happened to John Stanly Boyett… gone from my life pretty much, except the memory I had of him shrugging his shoulders that day when the subject of that giant screw driver came up.
Don’t remember Dad saying anything bad about Randall during those days. He was the golden boy, compared to Dad’s biological tow headed son… and that would be me. Who was, I must admit, not a particular prize winning child.
Dad and Mom liked to go on cruises and they went often – every year or every other year or something. Dad had no problems leaving the running of the plant to Randall, until he had expanded his business to include a dozen different enterprises in Aberdeen… a jewelry store, appliance store, hardware store, rental property, a working farm. He finally hired a general manager, Mr. Short, to oversee things and keep the fleet of beat up old trucks running, take in the orders, make the deposit every night. But Randall headed up the fuel oil side of things, and did a mighty fine job of getting farmers oil to cure their tobacco and bringing on new customers.
Dad and Mom also liked to go to the Carolina Oil Jobbers Association annual meetings. There would be afternoon seminars that discussed new products and regulations and ways to do the business better and at night there would be a formal banquet and Mom loved to dress up for those affairs. This was in the 50s, and the annual Oil Jobbers Association banquet was one of Mom’s high lights. She treasured the pictures.
At one of these meeting a man who owned a security firm sat at Mom and Dad’s table and over the course of the two day convention, they struck up a friendship. In a conversation Dad related later, the man said all men steal, if given the opportunity. And Dad said, “Well maybe no.” And the security man asked Dad to name one person – sons, daughters, workers – who he was sure wouldn’t steal. And Dad said, of course, “Randall.” Security man asked how much money Randall made for the family that included a wife and by this time a kid. And Dad told him. And the man asked if Randall handled any cash sales, and Dad yes. And man said Randall steals.
So it was left sort of in a gentleman’s dare. That the man would offer Randall money for oil and the bet was… would Randall report the cash sale, or not. I don’t know what money was involved in the bet between the security man and Dad, but it wasn’t a lot. Both were sure they had a winner.
I remember the man when he came by early one evening some weeks later. Had a hard mean look to him. Wore work clothes. He pulled up behind our house driving a pickup and in the back of the pickup, were two 55 gallon drums. Empty. He got directions to Randall’s house and left.
Back in 45 minutes with the two 55 gallon drums full of fuel oil. He said he pulled up to Randall’s house, told him he was with a carnival passing through the area and they needed some oil. Randall was quick to help pump the oil from the delivery truck he had brought in full from work and took something nominal for the 110 gallons. $30 or $40, something like that.
The question now was Randall going to report that the next day when he came in from delivering his oil.
He did not. Not that next day or the day later… and within a year he was gone from working for Dad.
This is what I learned from this, Truth and Trust can be mean ol’ possums. Providing for a young family may be a stronger option than moral principle.
I went on to work as a spy handler in the CIA… and what I took from this experience back when I was a kid, was… that I didn’t trust the spies who worked for me to always be honest. And I have specific memories of talking with a young foreign fellow who would go on to do good work for the CIA, as he was expanding his contacts for me. I knew that what he was doing would tempt him in passing off these contacts and their expenses in such a way that he would make some money from the deal. I knew it was going to be a temptation, so in a realities brief early on I told him about the temptations he was going to face.. and that I was going to try to help him avoid stealing.
I don’t know if I was altogether successful. But that’s the nature of the business sometimes.
Sort of brings to mind something one of my all-time favorite individuals – Ronny Reagan – had to say… “Trust but verify.”
Don’t expect everyone always to tell the Truth.
Don’t always take people - especial strangers - at their word