The July sun blazed in the clear blue sky as the recruits formed up under the raised building overlooking the athletic fields… Matty stood at attention like the rest of his classmates, his newly shaved head covered with the dark blue ‘baseball’ cap that made many of the cadets look like clones, at least from the rear. Matty looked straight ahead, furtively using his peripheral vision as he had  learned in the past week, in order not to attract undue attention, as ‘gazing’ was a mortal sin in this strange cauldron. For the first 4 days of training, he still hadn’t seen the Rocky  Mountains, even though the Academy was nestled in the ‘Rampart Range’, nearly a mile high in elevation.

                           Between the heavy fog that had socked the place in for those four days and the constant harassment of the upperclass cadets, nary a new arrival had made that ‘discovery’ until this very morning, as the fog lifted, literally during the morning meal formation, and for some reason, the black bereted overseers actually allowed a ‘legal gaze’ upwards. And upwards it was, as the towering mountains drew a gasp from ‘Gut Squadron’, the sheer magnitude of nature’s impossible creation stunning in the morning light. These were ‘real’ mountains, the blond boy  thought. Magnificent.

                          But just as quickly, the tormentors brought the squadron’s focus back to earth, predictably picking on some obscure violation that was really just an excuse to surround the hapless ‘squat’ with 3 screaming trainers, one for each side. Front, back, and top. Matty was getting accustomed to this tactic, and had already mastered all the appropriate answers… ‘No sir, yes sir… no excuse sir…’ Any others were explanations of the three and had no place in this world, at least not for the first 6 and a half weeks of existence. After that, things got more complicated.

                              Still, the training was designed to stress the new trainees in ways they had never encountered with direct and at times, brutal confrontation… Of course, ‘hazing’ per se, had been officially banned, but somehow, when the time came, there seemed to be a sudden lack of sufficient witnesses to it anyways, and besides, discretion demanded that the incident be overlooked as merely alternative training… That was apparent after only a few days.

                                    And so each day begin, as they formed up in squadrons  that were named alphabetically, Matty’s being ‘Gut’ for the letter ‘G’. The next, forming up behind and to the left was ‘Hellcat Squadron’, or Squadron ‘H’, and on and on. By the time ‘Beast’ or ‘BCT’ (basic cadet training) was over, the squadrons would decrease in size, unnervingly, as some  young men who had fought so hard for each appointment, gave in to the intense rigors of the training and ‘broke’. One moment they were basic cadets, and the next, they were civilians again.

                                   The tall blond boy had decided from the very beginning that no matter what happened, he would survive through basic training, unless he was struck by injury or illness. He would NOT be broken. He would NOT return home having left something unanswered. What amazed him was that others had not deployed the same strategy…. It was to be a very long summer, and as they marched, at the double- time, to the athletic fields that morning, Matty lost himself in the cadence… ‘Cadet, cadet, don’t be blue… We’ve got a little something for you… SOUND OFF!!….’  His thoughts drifted back… to a moment only a few weeks before…

June 30th, 1972

       Churchill Park was quiet and the sun was starting to set, as Matty turned the sporty Corvair into the gravel- covered parking lot and drove down the winding road near the still pond. A cool evening breeze  caressed his tanned face and  tossled his longish blond hair as he rounded the pond in the convertible… Ahead, the shadows of the tall timbers lengthened as the summer sun settled into the hill behind the red clay tennis courts.

        Matty pulled the white car with the red interior up to the bottom of the hill and stopped near the big log that blocked all traffic from proceeding further into the recreation area. He shifted the gears into neutral, engaged the emergency brake, and then killed the engine.

       About 50 yards away, he could make out the figure of a young man who was dressed in a white t- shirt and shorts, slowly swinging on the taller of the park swing sets that Matty had  cherished as a little boy. Little had changed in the park all these years. The same swings and jungle gyms sat idle along with the low- rider carousel that squeaked as it turned, sometimes with 6 or 8 kids propelling it, and shrieking their joy as it spun and spun in the shadows of the great elms that forested the gentle hills.

         But now, the only thing left of the little boy was hidden deep inside, in a special place that very few would ever know… The boy on the swing was one of those. So Matty got out of the car and gently closed the door. He took off the dark sunglasses and placed them on the dashboard. The parking area was empty and only a few stragglers  scurried about in the distance, so the young man shrugged and walked up the dirt path, unworried about his car or its contents.

       He was deep in thought as his feet crunched on the scattered twigs and acorn husks that littered the path from the previous fall. How many times had he walked this same path over the years? He glanced to the right, and made out the large heart carved in the bark of the huge red maple and the two names that had been there… forever. ‘Jim loves Beth’…  The bark had healed over and the heart was a darker color than the light grey bark of the rest of the tree. He had often wondered what became of the two lovers.

      His Adidas tennis shoes reached the leveled area of the playground. It was a kind of terrace, carved into the hill, on which the two sets of swings were located. Massive steel structures, galvanized grey to resist the New England climate, the uprights buried in concrete footings. Immovable as the stoutest trees behind them.

       Matty stopped and the boy on the swing did too. He felt the warm rush of gentle love flow through every part of his body, the same way it had for nearly 5 years now. There was no mistaking the feeling or the beautiful boy in front of him. Their eyes met and Matty smiled the same smile he had so many hundreds of times. It was a smile he had never used unless he was in the company of this one human being, because it was and always would be, only for him.

        “Bubba…”

        “Bobby… Been here long?”

        “Naw… well, kind of…”

        “I came as soon as dinner was over.”

        “Yeah, I know… Just seems longer is all. Guess I missed you, especially in the past few days…You’ve been so busy with all the last minute stuff…”

     Matty fidgeted and glanced down at the ground. He stood there, in front of Bobby with his hands in his pockets,  deep in thought. A mosquito buzzed near his face and he swatted at it suddenly. “Damn… been mauled today, especially after the sun started to go down.”

      “Yeah, me too…” Bobby reached up and rubbed something from his right eye quickly and looked away towards the setting sun. The glow washed his tanned face and for the first time, Matty noticed that he had been crying. He moved closer to the boy until he was standing directly in front of him, inches away, and he reached down and put his hands lovingly on the boy’s slumping shoulders.

      Bobby inhaled deeply and leaned foward until his head rested on the blond boy’s chest, and then he wrapped his arms around  his young lover’s waist, and lost control. He sobbed quietly, and the tears that fell came from both boys, for it was clear that there was no turning back for either, and after 5 secret years the things that had made them like one, were stronger than ever . Not even the sharpest of swords could sever that bond or ever would, even when time itself had stolen from them that which was always meant to be…

       They stayed there alone, but together, as the lightening bugs found their way from the upper branches of the elms and settled all around them, blinking magically as the shadows became dusk and night finally fell on the silent scape. Only the erie cadence of the crickets broke the mystical quiet. Neither boy really noticed.

       For the tall, blond 17- year- old, the arms around him, the head that he gently cradled, and the scent of his lover, brought the memories  back to him in a rush, and like a tunnel through time, he was suddenly transported  to a summer 2 years before, and a happier time, when this moment was just a distant thought. Far away, and impossible to foresee. It was a happy time, and he pulled Bobby closer to him as he remembered….

July, 1969

        “Hey Bubba!  What the heck do we do now? That’s REALLY stuck! So much for the shortcut!”

       Matty grimaced. Bobby was right. This had been a real bad idea. He looked at the old, Ford tractor, buried up to the rear axle in the sucking mud. Loaded with the burlap bags of sweet corn and now in definite danger of becoming a permanent fixture in the low lying area that both boys had thought was outside the boundaries of the spring- fed marsh.

      It had seemed like a great idea at first blush- To cut the five or ten minutes off of the trip by proceeding through the thorny thicket , trampling a new road into the lower pasture in a more or less direct route to the roadside cornstands. After all, if the resident holsteins could navigate through this stuff, what could stop a powerful tractor with big, nobby tires?

         “Man… It seemed so dry when we scouted it! Where in the heck did all this mud come from?”

        Bobby shrugged, perplexed. “Uh… I guess that’s why Mr. Eddy told us to steer clear of here last year… Only, it was raining a lot then. It hasn’t rained in like two weeks!  It must be that spring he warned you about!”

         “Yeah… What a bonehead I am! I never should have listened to you…”

      “HUH?  Listened to me? You ain’t blaming this on me are you? I mean, just because I tell you to jump off a cliff, doesn’t mean you’ll jump, does it?”

         “Naw… I never liked cliffs.”

         ” Well, so I come up with this idea… I mean, you’re the boss here… Why’re you listenin’ to me… Koles?”

         “Because  you’re so freakin’ smart when it comes to these shortcuts, like you said… bonehead…”

         “Bonehead?  Now I’m the bonehead? “

       “No, you’re the great- idea guy who’s going to go up to the woods and grab a big bunch of thick branches while I unload the corn from the back lift… Maybe with less weight on the back end and some branches under the tires, we can back out of there a little at a time.”

       “Hey, that’s not a bad idea! But, if we can get her going, why don’t we just keep going foward? We ain’t THAT far from the real dry part!”

       “Yeah, that’s what you said, just before we got completely buried… DUH!! Come on! Drag your butt… We gotta get this figured out or we’re never goin’ to get the corn delivered! It getting close to 8:15 already! “

         Bobby sighed and scratched his naked belly. “Man. it’s getting hot already!  I hope the snakes are all still asleep!”

         “Serve you right if a rattler bit you on the butt!”

       The muscular teen giggled and raised his eyebrows. “Yeah, but promise me that if I do get bit on the butt, you’ll suck the venom out, bad boy!”

          Matty grinned and looked around…They were alone.  “I’ll do more than that, if you show me first, you sex maniac!”

       Bobby laughed heartily and turned to head for the woods up the hill. He started walking but stopped and spun to look at Matty, who was furtively checking out his buddy in the snug fitting chinos. “Caught you! Perv!!”

         “Get outta here, you maniac! You’re not my type…I just looked… Oh, never mind! Just get those branches!”

        Matty reddened as his best friend cackled and slapped his knees, and then grinning broadly, turned to retrieve what branches he could find in the nearby woods, strutting like a rooster the whole way.

        The 14- year -old boy just couldn’t help it. Bobby was the most perfect boy he had ever known, and dressed in the white chinos and shirtless as he often was, well… he was a sight that a young and healthy gay boy would think about every night as he slowly drifted off to sleep…

        It only took Matty a few minutes to unload the 30 bags of sweet corn from the lift behind the old tractor. The lift was connected to the tractor’s PTO, a mechanism that transfered the power of the diesel engine to the rear of the tractor. It did this via some gears and a spinning shaft, that when engaged, would raise the wooden- framed contraption and its contents, whether it was bags of corn or teenaged boys, off the ground to a preset height. High enough so that with the tractor in gear and moving, the lift was generally clear of ground obstructions like rocks, stumps or even large puddles that the tractor could negotiate because of its rugged construction.

       The lift was a blessing for the boys in that it carried enough weight, and because it only protruded about 4 feet from the back of the blue Ford, it was easier to negotiate the narrower roads and trails that interlaced the farm than the trailers that were also used to carry heavier loads. Thirty burlap bags of sweet corn weighed quite a bit, depending on the variety of corn that was packed into the bags, so that with this ‘full’ load, the back of the tractor became quite heavy, perhaps an additional ton heavier. That was mostly academic, until the ground was soft underfoot or even worse, the devious, water-laden clay soil that was prevalent on the edges of the various pastures on many a New England farm. Hidden springs and innocent looking grasslands could swallow a piece of farm equipment or even an unsuspecting ‘heifer’ in sometimes comical fashion, at least in the eyes of 14- year- old boys, who found amusement in the strangest of  situations.

      Bobby returned from his scavenging in the nearby woods just about the time that his tall blond friend dragged the last of the musty bags of corn to safety, near the base of a nearby willow tree. He giggled as he surveyed the scene, and then quickly stopped as Matty scowled. The tall boy was now a little aggravated and his once fairly clean sneakers were like giant mud boots. But worse than that, the tractor appeared to be sinking further into the saturated soil even with the extra weight removed.

       “Damn, Bubba! What the heck …”

      Matty just shook his head and stomped his feet, trying to unburden himself of the huge clods of New England clay. “Never mind, you maniac… Whatever you found, you’d better start jamming under the back wheels before we lose the whole rig! It’s like that quicksand we saw in that  movie last summer… You can’t even see it until you step on it!”

     Bobby noticed the anxiety in his buddy’s voice, and dragged the plank and the branches he had found to the back of the  muddy mess and stood there, surveying his options. He shrugged and reaching down, unlaced his sneakers and kicked them off in the direction of the pile of corn under the tree. Then, he waded into the muck while Matty boarded the tractor. He tried to jam the branches under the front of the mud- covered tires until Matty reminded him that the only way out was behind them… So, he waited until the tractor roared to life, and Matty engaged the PTO, and raised the empty lift. There was now a place to insert the branches under the nobby tires.

     Which he did, one after the other, as Matty manipulated the clutch, and rocked the tractor , inching it back in tortuous increments, and sending mud spraying up in large ‘roostertails’, coating everything in sight, including the two teenagers.

      It took nearly a half  hour to finally reverse out of the horrid mess. By that time, both boys were unrecognizable and howling with laughter at the insanity of it all. Neither boy noticed the green truck that was now parked some 50 yards away, on the edge of the woods, or the man who had made his way through the thicket and stood near the pile of picked corn, puffing on his favorite pipe. It was at that moment that Bobby made the unfortunate declaration.

     “Damn, Matty!! I thought we were fucked! But now, the old geezer will never know what happened! All we gotta do is get the tractor washed down before he gets back from Suffield, and we’re smelling like roses!”

       The deep voice from the other side of the willow startled both boys out of their jovial moods.

       “Might I suggest that you deliver the corn first?”

      Bobby spun around and spotted the gentleman farmer. Matty didn’t even turn to look. He just put his head down on the steering wheel and replied. “We’ll do that, Mr. Eddy.”

     It was a morning to remember and a lesson learned. About wisdom and serendipity. Timing and arrogance. But, in typical fashion, life went on, without even a mention of the bumbling miscalculation, or the unkind words. That was the nature of things on the little farm. Actions spoke louder than words and boys grew to manhood, forgiven their mistakes as long as they didn’t repeat them.

         The mud on the boys was washed away in the little farm pond and forgotten, like Bobby’s words. Only the memories remain. As clear as if they were made yesterday…

Continued in Part 3…

Advertisements