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Billy's train set...
And a mother's love.
Billy lived in the Midwest. Where, you ask? It does not matter. Just understand, there was a lonely and desolate feeling in every direction for miles and miles and miles. He rarely left his room, always laying tracks for his one and only toy.
Well…not the only toy. The only toy he would touch. New Christmas presents, new birthday presents, it did not matter when or why he got them. The other toys his mother bought went untouched piling up on his bedroom floor. They remained there until she put them in his closet but only after he fell asleep.
His Choo-Choo, he called it.
He was around 7 or 8 at the time when he first saw it in the window at the only toy store in town. He knew he had to have it. He would not quit pestering her until she gave in and bought it. It was his, and only his, he would not let anyone touch it, not that anyone ever came over. Nevertheless, if they did, he would jump up and down, screaming and shouting “Mine, mine, MINE!” Even when she brought him flapjacks and molasses that he never ate, he would get furious if she brought them into his room.
He mimicked the sounds with impeccable similarity to the trains that could be heard far off in the distance passing by their tiny simple Midwestern country town carrying the money-hungry gold miners and the courageous cowboys.
Without the train tracks, you were lost.
Let’s pretend there weren’t any tracks, which is not necessary now because they all eventually vanished. On your right, dirt. On your left, dirt. In front and behind, yes, dirt. If you put a blindfold on spun around a few times, and took it off, you would not be able to tell the difference. Even with one of those retractable scopes, a pirate uses in an old-timey black-and-white swashbuckling’ oceanic adventure.
Nothing, absolutely nothing grew on this lonely and dilapidated Earth anymore. For tens of thousands of years, there were miles and miles of grassy plains and the most beautiful, healthy, and mighty trees that could be seen anywhere on the planet. American Basswood, American Elm, Shagbark Hickory, Common Hackberry, species after species for miles and miles. When the Natives “freely” roamed, some were lucky enough to be on horseback thanks to the Spanish conquistadors who brought them over in the late 1400s. If not for those enormous savannas where the Plains Buffalos by the hundreds of thousands as far as the eye or pirate scope could see, their cuisine, and appetite (along with 150 other uses) would have suffered greatly. Chickens, birds, and even prairie dogs occasionally, but 7 days a week? No way.
Courageous Cowboys or Cooky Crackpots?
The eyes of the courageous, fearless, strong, rough, tough you pick the horseshit self-aggrandizing adjective. Nothing scared them, nothing except The Lord. Their god-fearing cowboy eyes were always fixed out on the vast horizon from inside their secure cabins. Muskets pointed out the window as the train went roaring by. Shooting Plains Buffalos by the dozens, usually only wounding them with their feebly calibered muskets resulting in a slow and agonizing death. This territory would later become the flyover states as they headed from the hackneyed poverty-stricken east coast of the United States to the prosperous lands of the California Gold Rush.
Did they eat the meat? Did they make winter coats? Absolutely not, just shot’em and left them to die. Well, I guess Buffalo Bill made a couple of coats or something. You could make an extremely far-fetched argument and call them animal lovers since they were left to rot, making it easier for the scavenging crows, wolves, and hyenas to feed on. As more and more cowboys went west, fewer, and fewer Plains Buffalos and Natives roamed.
Eventually, there were no harmlessly grazing targets for the cowboys to shoot and kill, and fewer Natives to repeatedly be promised land only to have it stolen back. They rode by devouring their hard biscuits and chitterlings and washing them down with the blackest thickest dirtiest coffee you have ever seen. With the sitting targets gone all that was left to do was to gamble their gold away on the consistently crooked poker tables and destroy their innards with bottle after bottle of whiskey.
Then and now.
In the present-day United States, with their massive beer bellies, diabetes, and two or three additional core morbidities, instead of Winchesters and 6-guns, they tote M-16s and 9mms, both with laser-sighted scopes. And extra clips on their Walmart-purchased cross-draw camouflage vests. While their cowboy hats have not changed much, instead of horses and wagons, they drive the largest Ford truck they can find with 20-plus over-indulging haphazardly positioned fog lights affixed to an elevated front bumper. When you are stuck at that agonizingly slow stop light in the middle of nowhere, if you look in your rearview mirror you are instantly blinded for the next couple of hours.
They are still imbibing whiskeys but now they’re washing down 2 or 3 Percocet, shredding their kidneys considerably faster than the whiskey-guzzling gold-rushers. Seven days a week, they eat TV dinners and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Pop-Tarts and slam several liters of “Diet” Pepsi Zero Sugar Wild Cherry back-to-back-to-back.
Instead of on ranches and farms, they live in a 3/1.5 split with large slimy oil stains all over the driveway. Mostly broken windows, some sloppily patched up with duct tape. Their garage door is broken and stuck on the diagonal halfway down.
Their yard, you ask?
There are several spots of uncut grass, mostly dirt, no trees, and a couple of overgrown weeds that I guess can be considered bushes. The mailbox is made of cement, with rust stains all over, and broken-off deer horns sticking out of only one side. There is a large hand-painted sign that reads, “Stay off my grass unless you want my hollow-tips up in your ass!” It does rhyme, maybe they have a sense of humor?
Only hatred and hostility for anyone, friend, or foe who might make the mistake of stepping on their insolvent property. That is enough crappin’ on the contemporary indignant people of the good Ole U.S., of A-holes. Back to Billy.
An evening with Billy.
“Billy, supper.” his mother says pleasantly while carrying the remaining dried fruit to the table. “Billy?” Still nothing. “Billy, it’s your favorite bacon, beans, and corn dodgers.”
Every single day, all day long, this is what he put her through. And yet, somehow, she remained the sweetest mother for miles and miles. This was in a time and place where most children would instantly receive a few clenched fists in their eyes or a thick leather belt across their backside. Do you want to go to the schoolhouse with two black eyes or not sit for the week? Not from her, her patience and kindness were on another level, the highest level.
No matter how many times she asked he would not eat dinner at the table. Halfway through hers she would bring his plate and leave it in front of his closed bedroom door. She would always lightly knock and say, “Billy, I’m leaving your dinner outside your door.” She waited, but he never answered. She pressed her ear to the door, she could hear him mimicking his, Choo-Choo and engineers’ whistles, the only sounds he ever made.
She went back to the table to finish hers.
After washing the dishes and reading her books by candlelight, the books she bought at the only bookstore in town. The toy store and the bookstore were one and the same as there were only a couple of buildings in the entire town, a saloon, a bank, and an Inn with a couple of rooms that no one ever stayed in.
Later in the evening she would go to his room and put her ear to the door making sure she couldn’t hear anything, sometimes even knocking but very gently. Eventually, she would go in, and he was always passed out with a slightly content look on his face, one hand folded under his head and the other squeezing the locomotive of his Choo-Choo. She would lay his blanket over him, tuck it underneath ever so gently, and retire to her room to rest up for tomorrow.
A new day, “with” Billy.