Intro to that latest manuscript.
The summer was brand spankin’ new, full of change and promise. It was the first of June that year, the year that was considered “The Dawning of the Age of Aquarius”, at least according to the Fifth Dimension. It was 1969 and the pretend cartoon band, The Archies, was edging them out for the number one spot on the pop charts with a simple little ditty titled “Sugar, Sugar”. They’d both be eclipsed that last year of the decade by the rock concert that went by the name of Woodstock.
That was the same year John Glenn took a stroll on the moon. The New York Jets and Broadway Joe Namath beat the immortal Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts. It was also another year that Vietnam was in full swing. Several of my cousins, that not long before I’d spent summers scuffling with, were over there in the sticky jungles looking for Charlie… and sometimes running from him. They also called it the “Summer of Love”, but to the invisible masses in America, it was the summer of hate. Blacks, whites, Mexicans, and Native Americans were all at odds… and I was one of them.
That was the summer I was heading back to the south, or at least whisker close to it. Closer to a better way of life, one not beset with the violence that threatened to kick the pickle seeds, maybe even your soul, outta you every day. Well, every day except Sundays. That was the day set aside for fire, brimstone, and biting your fingernails with worry and anxiety, before it had a name. All due to the latest broken Commandment that left us straddling the thin line between heaven and hell.
It was picking season pretty much everywhere, including California, but my grandpa’s farm wasn’t in The Golden State, it was in Oklahoma, far, far away from the violence of Southern California in the late sixties. And I wanted as far away from my life as I could get. Plus, I liked hanging out with my grandpa. He treated me as close to a grown up as anyone in my life, and that’s what every fifteen-year-old boy wants. Well, that, and freedom… and a girlfriend.
It was no secret that I was staring up a rugged mountain of hard work, long days too, but I was ready to prove myself a man that summer, even if I didn’t have a hint of facial hair. Heck, I was only a little over a month away from being able to drive legally. And that, by southern blooded family standards, was the rite of passage to manhood. Plus, I knew that Pah-Pah would wrangle up enough help with the pickin’. He always managed somehow, and the best part was listening to him convince the colorful folks why his farm was the best place for them to spill their sweat. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was a natural born salesman. Pah-Pah wasn’t the best reader and math wasn’t his forte, but he could sell sand in the Sahara.