Back to the World
by James Shaffer
Table of Contents|
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10,
11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18,
19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25
Johnnie Rae Piper is born in a tarpaper house outside Amarillo, in the Texas Panhandle, in 1950. His mom raises and home-schools Johnnie while his father, Tom, is off fighting in the Korean War. When Tom comes home, he’s changed: he has drinking and gambling addictions.
In 1969, an unlucky number in the draft lottery sends Johnnie to Vietnam. When he returns home, a year and half later, he finds he has exchanged one set of problems for another. A local loan shark is putting the muscle on Tom, and the criminal organization is widespread. Johnnie tries to help his father, with the aid of three cowgirls: Darlene, Jamie Sue and Kelly Jo. All of them are in for a wild ride.
At the end of 1969, the Selective Service System conducted a lottery to determine who would be called for military service during the Vietnam War. It took the place of the draft. On December 1, my mama and I watched my future unfold together on our black and white television. It was an evening my daddy didn’t come home. It was an event, so I figured he was watching it from whatever bar stool was propping him up that night.
There were 366 dates for each day of the year hidden inside capsules placed in a glass jar. They were drawn out one at a time. Every number represented a birth date. Low numbers were sure to be called for induction. My birth date, April 24, was drawn second. My number was 2. Without a word, Mama got up from her chair and mounted the stairs to her bedroom. I knew she went there to pray, to make an appeal on my behalf. Watch and pray.
I joined up the next day. I didn’t see any sense in waiting for a letter from Selective Service. I told Mama when I got home.
“Well, boy, you’ve rendered to Caesar,” she said, “Now you’re in God’s hands.” She’d raised me, educated me and cared for me almost on her own her whole life, my whole life. She saw my decision as a threat to both of us, a threat she could do nothing about.
“Hope, Mama,” I said, “Hope and pray. You taught me well. Time to see what I’ve learned.”
The day I left to catch the bus for the induction center, we stood together in the kitchen, side by side, finishing up the dishes, prolonging the moment. I dried my hands on the dish towel and hung it on the rack to dry. “All finished,” I said.
“Finished but not over,” she answered. “I think I know a little about what Abraham felt when he placed his son Isaac on the altar,” she added.
“Don’t fret, Mama. I’ll be back.” We embraced one last time.
“I’ll pray for you, son.”
“I know. Watch and pray. I remember,” I answered. I headed for the hallway where my bag leaned against the wall. At that moment, my daddy strode through the door. I didn’t know if his timing was good or bad. Maybe he thought I’d already be gone.
“Getting ready to leave?” he asked.
“Just about out the door,” I answered. He extended his hand.
“Shoot straight, son.” I grabbed his hand, and our eyes met. For a moment I thought I saw a glimmer of pain in his but, like all his feelings, it quickly passed as he dropped my hand and walked on into the kitchen. Vietnam was my next stop.
Copyright © 2015 by James Shaffer