How often do you use the word, ‘Soul?’ How often do you think about your ‘Soul?’
Mirriam-Webster defines ‘Soul’ as:
1. the immaterial essence, animating principle, or actuating cause of an individual life
2. a: the spiritual principle embodied in human beings, all rational and spiritual beings, or the universe
So, that’s enough, right? The two definitions pretty much say it all, and there are more definitions there in the dictionary if you want more.
‘Soul’ seems to me, though, such a huge word to be so small. Writers likely get the most use out of the word than the people who really work for a living — no anger, please, just adding a little levity here. Really, it seems to me that ‘Soul’ is not in too many mundane conversations. ‘Soul’ is usually saved for the philosophers, poets, preachers, Romantics, sentimentalists, and writers.
You can almost envision the literary expatriates who gathered in Paris between the period of World War One and the onset of World War Two…wtiters like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemmingway, Sherwood Anderson, James Joyce, Ezra Pound, John Dos Passos, Samuel Beckett, Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Lawrence Durrell, Gertrude Stein to name a few — okay, okay, I’m name-dropping — but these were the people I read and studied in college and their lives got somehow interwoven with my own, with my ‘Soul.’ I can see them sitting at the sidewalk cafes talking in the afternoon about their writings, about how the devastation of war had impacted their lives. I can see them drinking the Bacchus liquids and debauching in the evenings, pausing in their fun and frivolity for serious and sober moments to discuss the condition of the ‘Soul.’ These were the people Gertrude Stein referred to as ‘the lost generation.’ Certainly, why not Paris? Why not gather in the great city of lights with so much art and beauty? It was the place to be if you were disillusioned by a world intent on war and destruction. It was the perfect place and time to discuss matters of the ‘Soul,’ and these great writers held those discussions in the finest style and with some of the most celebrated erudition prevalent in those days.
So, why do I post about ‘Soul?’
Guess it’s easy for me, an oldtimer looking back on his life, how he’s lived, somewhat of an anachronism in today’s fast moving digital world. ‘Soul’ is such an all-encompassing word. It holds such a fascination for me in these sunset years, but it has always held that fascination for me — guess ‘Soul’ for me is what writing is all about. We live, we pay taxes, and we die, but the ‘Soul’ offers us so many delectable scenarios of which to consider and ponder.
‘Soul’ is that defining part of us that we can’t pinpoint, can’t know exactly where it is, but we have to know that it is there. ‘Soul’ is everything Mirriam-Webster says it is, but so very much more. There are times when the directions we take as a world concerns me greatly. It is my hope that we can still take time, Paris or not, to discuss the implications of such an enigmatic and beautiful word.
What molecular miracle could have made me more than I am? Less lonely and lethargic? Less maudlin and ‘poor me’?
By BR Chitwood
Would a chromosome here or there have made a difference? A genetic anomaly? A stronger voice? A calm persona? Magnetic personality? An indefatigable nature?
What molecular miracle could have made me more than I am? Less lonely and lethargic? Less maudlin and ‘poor me’?
Oh, I know how to assess my beginning and all that came with my life’s rural entry… That is where much of the ‘poor me’ was introduced, forming in me for the rest of my life, frustration, loves, anxieties, and adventures…
Among the days, weeks, months, and years, I have not been denied the gifts of life or the vagaries. There has been the beauty of love, college, wonderful job opportunities, some fun film and television acting, friendships, novel writing…and the awful squandering of time and essence.
‘So, what, my man?’ I hear the old annoying voice of my alter-ego. ‘There are billions of people in the world – grow some balls’!
Hey, I’m writing here, ‘mute’ your nasty mouth and leave my head… I’m writing this for me and those who have felt similar emotions. Your rude attendance is not mandatory, nor, wanted…this session is for the sad and weak of heart, the Romantics, the dreary of character, the great mass of ‘unwashed’ of the world.
For the most part, it all began after my escape from the emotional rural abyss, after a tour of duty in the US Navy in one of its mentally depressive duty stations on the small, snowy, and bleak island of Adak in the Aleutian Chain. Russia was relatively close…on a clear day from our neighbor island, Attu, the coast-line of Vladivostok could be seen.
We were one hundred fifty especially trained men, some who would spend 18 months or longer on a snowy, remote, tundra-carpeted piece of the island – that is, when you could see it through patches of snow.
We 150 sailors were three units, each working our special jobs for three shifts before a break. Each unit was responsible for operating the various amenities available to the hardy group of sailors, those being: library, photography, crafts of all kinds, and Beer Bar. In fact, all 150 sailors lived and played in this huge concrete and steel one-level ‘C’ structure – it was quite a building sitting on a huge hill of tundra above the Bering Sea. There were other operations buildings where we did our jobs.
It is not my intent to make this post about the island of Adak. The ancient Aleuts who lived here had nothing better to do but hunt their cows (their meat source) and how best to keep from freezing. They need not have worried about bears taking their steaks (there were none). Eagles did give them a bit of trouble.
Adak was a place of harsh cold winds, snow, and rain where ‘warmth’ was in constant demand. Adak was simply a place where loneliness dwelt, where buddies sat, drank, told their stories of home, the girls they loved, and their sports moments of glory. There were times when group tears were shared as well. All in all, our jobs on the island were important to our country and that established importance got us through the tough spots.
Many of us lived on that hill or in our Ops buildings for our full tours – eighteen months, although the ‘tour was supposed to be for twelve months.
It was on Adak when I discovered further dimensions of myself, my insecurities, my mobile youth, fears, confusion, and my intense longing for home, hearth, and love.
In short, I discovered a ‘me’ that carried a lot of emotional baggage. I was a destined ‘romantic’ nomad. I was an untrained lotus eater.
There’s an old ‘Anon’ saying which I could have easily written: “Life is really simple! People insist on making it complicated.” Old ‘Anon’ had to be thinking of me when he, or, she wrote that.
In that Appalachian portion of my life – that ‘Poor Me’, among the bad parts, I would mimic ballad singers. Maybe I could be a famous singer. But, wait, I also wrote poetry and fumbled around with words. Maybe I could be a writer…well, I have done both, even done some film work and TV commercials, taught school, but the very best talent I have is, wait for it! Procrastination.
What I really wanted to do with this post, for you, the reader, and me, was to merge the two events in my life that have likely made me who I am, not a ‘nobody’, but an ‘anybody’. I have written here about two events in my thinking that were ‘me-shapers’ and will not write about some of the I’s and Q’s I am likely missing.
One thing I am reasonably sure about is my writing, twenty books so far, most of them taken from true crimes. I write mystery, suspense, romance, memoir, thriller, Sci-Fi. I have written over 370 blog posts from various parts of the globe.
So, take a look at my Website/Blog, click the menu icon and read some book synopses. See if my writing might team up with your reading.
BR Chitwood – 3/15/21
Author’s Website and Blog: Books and Writings by BR Chitwood
This is a story of abuse, anger, love, and redemption!
Wesley Walton is a star-quarterback for the Grand View University Grinders. His former junior high school girlfriend, Wilma, now a cheerleader for Grand View is Wesley’s forever love, with no doubts about their lifetime commitment.
Wesley not only battles his gridiron foes but an angry father’s Appalachian heritage. His father abuses Wes’ mother and sister on his frequent visits until a fateful hotel room altercation alters the lives of the family.
Wesley will meet a man ravaged by war and lost love, a man who has found peace within himself and accepts his spirituality. Fate dictates this man will become Wesley’s friend, mentor, and a most caring father-substitute.
If you like football, love stories, family relationships, and Christian values, you will find this novel a tribute to Faith, a sad refrain on the frequent frailty of ‘Man’!
The author enjoyed the writing of this book as he was able to go back in time and pick up some memories to build his characters and plot-line. The result of his efforts will hopefully resonate with readers of all genres.
Whatever you’re reading, enjoy, and, leave an Amazon, Goodreads, and Book Bub book review. A book review for an author is solid motivation for more writing.
The darkness and fog are palpable viscid sweat things crawling all over my flesh! A gentle wind stir comes and my skin does shiver dances. I swallow and it’s like I’m somewhere between passing out and regaining my breath. My eyes cannot be trusted. I rub my eyes and they project things that are not really there. My mind questions the logic that brought me to that decision. My concentration is drawn to these vague flashing images that keep popping up in spaces to the front, sides, and back of me… I figure it’s the mind doing its reckoning! I’m likely trying too hard to see and my brain is trying to accommodate me.
Okay, I admit it. I’m a big boy, scared. I mean, there is no way this world can be this dark and foggy. “Why?” Someone might ask, “are you so stupid to be standing where you’re standing?” The reason is really simple, but I’m going to make it complicated for you…not out of a warped and evil sense, but because this is a story I need to tell and it has some crazy turns and twists. Call it a weird psychological need if you want! That’s as good a description as any, but please understand, I have not lost all my marbles. Then, again, maybe my bio here is not so unusual a tale after all. Maybe you readers have experienced some of the same events in your life – only, framed differently.
So, this little journey on which I’m taking you, please stay with me. An Epic? Probably not, but it might have some stuff that’ll stay with you for a while after I’m finished with the narrative – up to the point when I run out of words.
When I was a little boy, my crippled cousin had to have the light on during his dark bedtime hours. Now, I didn’t tease him about that but if I just forgot and mentioned it he chased me up one country road and down another. If I didn’t have a pretty good lead, he’d catch me. Then, we would end up wrestling until one of us said ‘Uncle’ – usually me!
We were best pals and I loved my club-footed cousin-buddy, but he would get madder than a frigging copperhead on LSD if anyone brought up sleeping with lights on. That’s not part of this rather complicated story, at least, not in a major way. This darkness and fog just has me thinking of JB – JB Hill, that’s his name. He’s the son of my Dad’s sister, Norma Hill. I don’t want you to think JB is so crippled everyone has to be sorry for him. He turns out later on to be a top scratch golfer. He’s gone now, died too darned early in his life because of some darned rare breathing illness. His sisters and brother were with him when he left us.
His wife should have been there with him when he died, but, earlier, JB caught her screwing the next-door neighbor, and my cousin beat the shit out of the neighbor and threw all her clothes – and her – out of the house. Sure, he was club-footed but he was no chicken yellow-belly. Nobody gave him any crap, that’s for sure.
Well, again, that’s not part of the complicated story either – but I won’t lead you on any further. It all starts with my sister, Sarah Lou. She’s sixteen going on twenty-four, if you get my drift, built like a brick shithouse, big boobs, long silky brown hair, great figure, pretty, and she reckons she’s the ‘cat’s meow’. It seems she knows early on she wants to taste some parts of life she is no way ready to taste.
I’m convinced Sarah Lou is the genuine product of her – and, my – dad. No question about it! He gets madder than hell and beats up on her and my Mom. Well, he did when he was coming around more. Dad has this fiery temper, and it’s his way or the highway, so to speak. This is when he’s visiting us. He and Mom are divorced, and Dad seems to have these demons inside him that make for crazy flip-outs at any moment. I’ve noticed his behavior changes when Mom mentions her side of the family – they don’t like Dad and he doesn’t like them.
Of course, that gut-searing corn whiskey could have something to do with it. He likes his hooch! He’s also tall, good-looking in a George Clooney kind of way (sort of!) and has a thing for the ladies.
How can I know that?
Well, that’s a whole different story, and it’s doubtful I’ll ever tell it! Well, anyhow, the genes running loose through Sarah Lou must be near-identical to Dad’s. Moving the story along, Sarah Lou turns sixteen and elopes with an army corporal, runs off to another state when the corporal gets transferred. Mom is heart-sick and scared because she knows she’s got to tell Dad the news. And, me, well, I’m scared right along with her.
You see, it’s just Mom and me since Sarah Lou eloped, and I sure have sleepless nights worrying about my dear sweet mother. She works so hard to make ends meet, has no time for socializing and being with her friends. It’s part of her nature to worry and fret about things. Did I fail to mention? My Mom is a beautiful lady, big brown eyes that sparkle and brown hair to go with them. She looks like a famous old-time movie star by the name of Claudette Colbert, famous actress during that golden era of Hollywood. Mom and I are fans of ‘old movies’.
Through some rough times, Mom has done her best to shelter my sister and me from all those emotional ills of divorce and the economic crises that rise from working sometimes two jobs. She has done well by Sarah Lou and me despite the troubles she’s had to bear. Dad’s visits end up most of the time in bad arguments and fights. As a young kid, I saw him too often physically abuse Mom and, somehow, I still love the man. That’s enough ugly truth for a few sentences. Suffice it, Mom worked hard and got me through high school where I played quarterback for the football team and got a scholarship to Garden View University. Garden View is part of the greater metro area of Knoxville, Tennessee, and the university sets on a lovely and lush campus of about one hundred acres. It is a university that dates back to the 1940s and has academic achievement awards that any higher institution would covet.
Well, as implied above, here is more ugly truth. Mom and I, my now older club-footed cousin, JB, and Lulu, his big sister on my Dad’s side of the family, go to the Hooper Hotel in Knoxville where my Dad is living to tell him about Sarah Lou’s elopement.
In Dad’s hotel room, my Cousin and his sister take the two chairs in the room and I sit under a window on an old radiator…you know, those ugly heavy metal gray vertically elongated rods connected all in a row as one unit. Now, the heat isn’t on during this visit, but those units are particularly awful and uncomfortable to sit on. And, you’re right, those heating units were not built to be sat on. I just keep changing my sitting ‘this way and that’, dictated by my butt cheeks.
Now, Dad knows right away that something is up, and, he knows it isn’t good news – guess our sad faces and body language let him know that. When Dad hears the news about Sarah Lou, he stomps around the room in a fury, the anger and prelude to eruption showing on his face.
Abruptly, he stops in front of Mom who is sitting on the bed. My sweet hard-working, lovely Mom sits there very still with her hands clasped on her lap with a blanched and pitiful look on her face, puffy from crying and the awful dread of telling Dad news of Sarah Lou’s rash elopement. My ‘tainted-gene’ Dad hovers over Mom, his face distorted with fury like a dragon breathing fire, gritting his teeth, and says, “Damn you, Maureen.” Suddenly, he gives Mom a hard looping open-hand slap to the face with so much force it knocks her over. My immediate fear is that he’s knocked something loose in her brain or upper body…and he’s getting ready to do more hitting.
I’m petrified and watching it all from this hotel room radiator and l reckon something snaps inside me. I’ve watched this kind of madness too many times before as a young kid. I’m a lot bigger now and I rush him and tackle him onto the bed, crying and mumbling something stupid, like, ‘I’ve seen you do that to my Mom too many times’. I’ll never forget – he’s got this look on his face like a slight smile and surprise all at the same time. Multiple times I hit him with my fists, lost in my own anger, my tears dropping down on his face.
Mom moves from the bed and stands crying in the corner of the hotel room. Soon, Dad is not moving. I must have connected with a vulnerable spot on his head. It’s like he just turns his head over to the side and goes to sleep.
Seconds pass and I realize what has happened. I’ve attacked my own father and knocked him out. His pulse is okay, and I feel a bit better. After several anxious minutes of trying to revive him, I tell our little group that Dad will be crazy mad when he comes around so we likely should leave. We hustle out of Dad’s room and loudly close the door.
I feel bad leaving him unconscious on the bed, but more afraid of what he might do when he comes out of it and we’re still there. Mom cries all the way down in the elevator, and we go unnoticed out a side entrance of the lobby. I drive my Cousin and his sister home, and, except for the sound of the car engine, no one makes a sound. Tears flow down our faces, and the only sounds in the car are from our sniffing.
We all hug and kiss each other when they get out of the car at their place. Next, I drive Mom to her folks’ place some forty miles away. We give Grandma and Grandpa all the news about our fateful visit with Dad, and they’re madder than hornets in a whirl-wind. ‘Is he dead?’ ‘Is he alive?’ They want to know.
I ask Mom to promise me she’ll stay with the grandparents until she hears from me. There’s no way Dad, assuming I didn’t kill him, would want to go around Grandpa because of a fight they had some years back. Grandpa gave Dad quite a whipping.
After a few more tears are shed, I take off. Mom pleads with me to stay but she can’t talk me out of leaving. I’m worried about my dad and want to go back to the Hooper Hotel and check on him.
Beneath my tousled blond hair, my head inside is churning with thoughts as I drive back to the hotel. The closer I get, the more I become anxious and fearful of what I’ll find. There’s this grim need to know about my Dad, whether he’s okay or dead. I’m a sturdy 6’2” young man now, 185 pounds, playing quarterback as a Sophomore at Garden View University.
It’s difficult to calculate how hard I hit my Dad – I feel like a part of me was holding back. There is just no way to forget what I did in that hotel room. Now, after a few hours, I’m making a return visit to the Hooper Hotel. I need to know, one way or another, about my Dad. Is he alive? Is he dead? Despite losing it and hitting him, I still love my Dad. Guess I should hate him, but I don’t. Seeing Mom so fearful and frozen in place I denied my own fear and went after my Dad.
I park Mom’s car fifty feet down the street from the Hooper Hotel and walk to the side entrance into the lobby. The elevator is on the lobby level as if waiting for me. On Dad’s floor, the elevator comes to a stop, doors open, and my heart jumps into my mouth as I reflexively take a step forward!
My Dad is standing in front of me, his eyes blinking like he is trying to clear his head. “You coming off of the elevator, young fellow?” Dad asks in an impatient and impersonal tone. He wrinkles his brow as he notices the apparent surprise on my face.
“You all right, boy?”
“Dad, it’s me!”
He did a fast look behind him like I was talking to someone else. Dad blinks some more.
“You’re mixed up, boy, I don’t have a son. Now, stay in the elevator or get out. I fell and cracked my head…have to get it taken care of.”
“But, Dad, I hit you when you hurt Mom. You slapped her so hard I was worried for her. I must have given you a concussion. I just couldn’t stand by and watch you hurt her. Please let me help you!” Dad grabs my arm and pulls me out of the elevator onto the hallway carpeting.
“Told you, boy, I’ve got no son.” He goes into the elevator, pushes the lobby button on the control panel and is gone.
I can’t say how long I stand rooted to that spot in front of the elevator. I’m aware enough to know that there are other people entering and exiting the elevator while I’m standing there. I’m dumbfounded by Dad’s reaction – He seemed so sure about what he was saying.
Finally, worried sick, I take the stairs down seven floors and walk out the hotel’s side lobby entrance. My befuddled mind is on automatic pilot and leads me down the street to Mom’s car. At least, I know he’s alive. Guess that’s something of a relief.
When I pull away from the curb, confused and frightened, I drive around aimlessly, turning left here, turning right there, lost in cascading thoughts, my mind reviewing over and over the events of the day.
I drive for miles not mindful of where I’m going. Tears flow until my eyes get all misty and puffy from rubbing them with my shirt sleeve.
My brain tells me to pull off the road. I’m somewhere out in the ‘boonies’. There is an old rutted country farm road, and I turn onto the dirt and gravel, drive a quarter mile and notice that, suddenly, I can’t see. I’m in an ultra-thick cloud bank of fog, suddenly frightened by the swift change in weather and mad at myself for being so self-absorbed I let this happen.
Yes, I know! I know! How does one get so locked onto something in his mind that he doesn’t know where he is? It’s crazy, but it happened! At this point I’m crawling along, the car barely moving, trying to see, wiping the built-up vapor off the inside windshield, hoping for better vision.
After a few moments, I see the futility in my feeble efforts, utter a not-so-nice but appropriate word for the ugly foggy dilemma. I carefully edge to what I hope is the outer side of the country road, get out of the car, touch the hood metal, holding on to the only reality given to me at the moment.
Standing there, leaning on the car’s hood, my Dad’s face flashes in front of me in the darkness and fog, along with snakes, dinosaurs, crocodiles, and other beasts of the world. I cannot see my hand when I hold it out in front of me. There is a most vivid sense of desperation. With Dad’s face, there comes to my mind some bad recalls of life with my Dad in it, not long after the ugly divorce.
I push those bad thoughts away and force myself to think of the good moments. Much of those times were rough, but there were tender moments as well – farther back in youth, when Dad bought me the little boy’s gray suit with a gray hat, and he called me his little business man. He took many pictures of me with a cigarette dangling from my six-year old lips, pictures on train-rides, car rides while on the way to visit his parents, my grandparents, his nearly-blind grandmother, my great-grandmother.
They lived north of Knoxville some sixty miles, near the Kentucky border. On one visit he drove us off the main US highway into the hills of High Cliff, TN. We stopped not too far from the turnoff in an area of open fields and meadows. The bucolic scene presented to my young mind cows grazing in the meadows among huge oak trees, and there was this lonely looking clapboard house setting alone on this small knoll.
Dad’s sweet old grandmother sat on an old rickety wooden porch that had an excellent chance of falling plank by plank to the ground below. She had a lovely weathered and leathery face, was almost blind and sat in an old wooden rocking chair. She looked so frail behind the horn-rimmed spectacles she wore. She was so beautiful sitting in that home-made rocking chair on that wood-warped porch, like a picture in sepia tone, like a scene in an old-time movie. She sat there with a corn cob pipe in the corner of her mouth. She was in her nineties, and Dad had to get within inches of her face before she knew we were there.
She squinted and finally recognized Dad. She formed a sweet smile on her face, hugged him with shaky thin arms coming out of the gingham dress sleeves. “That you, Thomas? Lawdy, mercy me! you are a sight for these sore eyes.” She had a thin, squeaky voice that seemed a whisper. She used up a lot of breath as she talked and maintained that sweet smile.
She then peripherally noticed me, made over me as well, and I felt an awesome sense of history – the events, all the things she had seen in her long lifetime, things I would one day study.
In the remembrance, it was all so nostalgic, dream-like, and, looking back, it somehow had a time-travel feel for me, so quiet, serene, like pages of history flipping backward. Those time-worn wrinkles on her bony arms and face, the faded gingham dress, her gray-hair in a bun on the back of her head, and the slow steady motion of her rocking chair as her eyes fixed on the parts of her life that were important to her. Her time was almost used up, but she would keep rocking on that graying rough-plank porch, smoking her corn cob pipe, looking out over the blurry land playing back misty memories.
Funny, how wonderfully that memory is so vivid in my mind, so fresh and firmly planted. A country song by Alan Jackson playing on the car radio is all I need to complete my ensemble of fuzzy thoughts and tears. Guess that might say something about my southern genes.
A few happy times flashed by, those times when we played at being a family, without the tempestuous flares of raw emotions: the Saturday movie matinees; Mom and Dad smiling happily when my sister and I danced to the radio; when I attempted to write a poem; the endless questions I asked of them both – the insatiable curiosity that stayed steady on a little boy’s mind. I love them both so much, and, now, my father has no son.
The tears do not stop until my mind reminds me of where I am, in the middle of proverbial nowhere with only those scary image-flashes coming at me from too much eye concentration, and those conjured up memories that are both keepers and throwaways.
So, the world can be dark and foggy, and, maybe, reasons for standing in the darkness and fog are not so simple. Standing at the front of the car, measuring each stride, I take a few steps, pivot, return to the car, do the same strides on each side of the car. Feeling secure enough that the car was far enough off the road, I climb into the back seat, and lock the doors.
Assuming a fetus position on the backseat, I try desperately not to think any more about past events, the present, and the future. I can wait out the darkness and the fog. Tomorrow will come, and the sun will replace the dismal darkness and fog with thoughts of hope. I love my Mom and Dad. Maybe I still have both to love.