12 December 2009

The Indian Chief - Part I

Dad in 1966
Me in 1966

The smell of pine trees and their fallen needles baked in the hot sun always makes me a little sick.

When I was running with a ruck sack, a rifle and sucking in red dust four platoons back, that burnt pine needle smell took me past the point of being, 'a little sick' to an anger bordering on satanic. I would kill Jesus to stop the stabbing pain in my lungs wrapped tight in that Pine Sol smell.  I knew the chest pain was really from smoking cigarettes and drinking too much on Hay Street the night before. But  I blamed the pine trees -- A useless fucking tree if ever there was one.

Eleven years prior, when I was eight, I played in the same woods the army was trying to kill me in. Just behind the duplex quarters of Hammond Hills which my mother thought were made of wax paper and toad shit.  And that's from a woman who grew up dirt poor.

As kids, we took pine tree branches and placed them in a semi-circle, shoveled dead pine needles with our hands covering  the branch skeleton in a rust colored wall. One semi-circle of dead pine needles stood against another and we fought our battles with pine cone projectiles. Meanwhile, my father baked in a record breaking heat wave in the Central Highlands with his SF camp about to be pounced on by an NVA regiment.

He would tell me, when I was home on leave, that he survived with the absolute firm knowledge no harm would come to him because, "I'm the kind of guy who never won anything." He suggested I think the same way. To do otherwise - - To think you could win the contest meant certain death. And as confusing as that was to me, at 19, something clicked and I understood.

A book was out about WW III and it explained how someone like me, a paratrooper in the infantry, would die before I ever saw the door of a C 130 somewhere over Western Germany. And while I thought of what my last moments alive would be like in a burning C-130 nose diving into the German countryside - - I never thought I would die in those peaceful woods behind the village of wax paper and toad shit. But I came close.