Engaging in the “Archeology of Me”, I find myself searching for when I started doing this. It’s a strange activity – writing. It’s not something most people do. I mean, people write what they need to write, but they don’t generally make things up and put them on paper. I do. And it seems like I – not always have, because there was a time when I didn’t, like when I was six – but I’ve been doing it for quite some time.
In third grade, I wrote “Bugs Bunny and The Banana Factory.” But that was, like, a classroom assignment. Everybody had to write something. Though no one, other than myself, wrote “Bugs Bunny and the Banana Factory.”
I don’t recall what that story was about, though the title offers certain clues. What I do remember is that my teacher, Mrs. Knight, dragged me to other classes, where I stood on a chair, and read “Bugs Bunny and the Banana Factory” to strangers. It was an odd, and not entirely pleasant experience. I don’t enjoy standing on chairs. You never know about the sturdiness of the legs.
The next time I remember writing anything, I was sixteen years old, and I was at camp. This time, though it was still an assignment, that assignment was directed exclusively at me.
The camp director, whose name was Joe, asked me if I’d be willing to write something for the “Visitors’ Day”, I don’t know, program, booklet, newspaper, magazine, something the parents would receive, and then throw away, unless their kid had something in it, in which case they would save it, and then forget where it was.
I said I would do it. Not because I wanted to write anything, but because I was afraid of Joe. Not just Joe. Joe and authority figures. Both of whom, in this case, were Joe. Though I’m sure the assignment gave me a stomachache, on some level, a level that I wouldn’t connect with until considerably later, writing something did not seem like it would be impossible.
So I did it.
As usual, when I’m stuck for a topic, I write about cowboys. It’s what I know the most about. That, and camp. But my camp observations were not the kind of stuff I thought Joe would want the parents reading about on “Visitors’ Day.”
“There are bats in the outhouses.”
Parents read that, and when they leave, their kids are in the back seat.
So I wrote about cowboys. And because I have a certain kind of brain that thinks a certain kind of way, what I wrote about what this.
I thought about the long-running western, Gunsmoke. And how, on Gunsmoke, Marshal Matt Dillon and his sidekick Chester would be riding along, and they’d come upon a dead body, sometimes, in the middle of nowhere. The next thing you know, they pull a shovel out of their saddlebag, climb down from their horses, and proceed to dig a grave for the deceased.
It seemed to me, that, on Gunsmoke, Matt and Chester came up on a considerable number of dead bodies, resulting in their being required to dig a considerable number of graves. Grave digging is no easy talk. You have to make a big hole, drop in the body, fill the hole up, find some kind of a marker, and plant that in the ground. That kind of work can take hours.
I imagined that after continually coming across all these dead bodies that they always had to bury, that one of them, more likely Chester than the upright Marshall Dillon, would become fed up with the whole thing:
Lookee there, Chester. Isn’t that a dead body?
Over yonder. By that sycamore tree.
I don’t see anything.
I’m pretty sure it’s a body.
I think you’re seein’ things, Mister Dillon. Must be the heat.
We better ride over there.
Mister Dillon, our horses are plumb tuckered out. We shouldn’t be makin’ them do the extra work of ridin’ over to see if there’s a body lyin’ someplace. It jain’t fair to the horses.
THEY RIDE CLOSER
It is a body.
That’s a body lyin’ there, all right. But I figure he’s just sleepin’.
We’d better make sure.
Oh, now, Mister Dillon. Supposin’ that man’s just worked himself near to death, pullin’ tree stumps, or plowin’ the field, and he got so exhausted, he just dropped where he stood, and fell asleep right there on the spot. Now how would you feel, if someone woke you up from a desperately needed sleep?
We have to see if he’s dead.
He’s not dead. There, you see that? He’s movin’.
I didn’t see him move.
‘Course he’s movin’. See? His hair is blowin’ all over the place.
Chester, a dead man’s hair can blow around. Especially when it’s windy.
I don’t feel any wind.
Are you kiddin’? Your hat blew off four times since breakfast.
All right, then, I’ll just out and say it. I’m tired of this, Mister Dillon. This is the third dead body we’ve found today. And over the last week, gotta be eleven bodies. It’s ain’t right, Mister Dillon. Our job is to hunt down dangerous outlaws, and we’re spendin’ most of our time diggin’ graves.
It can’t be helped, Chester. A man needs a decent burial. Now, get your shovel.
Oh, all right. (THEN) Oh, now, wouldn’t you know it? I left my shovel at the last buryin’.
Then what’s that wooden handle stickin’ out of your saddlebag?
What, that? It’s a broom.
I like to bring a broom along. To tidy up the campsite.
That handle’s pretty short for a broom.
It’s a child’s broom. That’s all they had at the General Store. Sweeps as good as a regular broom. Just takes longer.
Chester. It’s a shovel.
Oh, all right, it’s a shovel. Guess there’s no gettin’ around it. We’re diggin’ another grave. Doggone it. If I’da wanted to be a gravedigger, I’da gone and become a gravedigger. But here I am, the marshal’s right hand man, and just about all I get to do is dig people’s graves.
Well, it has to be done. So let’s get him six feet under.
Mister Dillon, do you think, just this once, we could bury the fellah four feet under.
We can’t, Chest…
Oh, now, it’s not like anybody’s gonna come out here and check. “Will you look at that! They was supposed to plant the fellah six feet under, and they ‘shorted’ him two feet.” That’s just not gonna happen, Mister Dillon. Nobody’s ever gonna know.
We’ll know, Chester.
All right, then! I guess I’ll just get to diggin’. Again!
You know, I spotted a farmhouse a ways back. Maybe I could ride over there and get us some buttermilk. Would you like that Chester, a cool glass of buttermilk?
A cool glass of buttermilk’d go real good right about now.
Well, you just start breakin’ the ground here, and I’ll be right back.
DISSOLVE TO: A FEW MINUTES LATER.
CHESTER’S MADE SOME HEADWAY ON THE GRAVE, AS THE MARSHALL RETURNS.
You get that buttermilk, Mr. Dillon?
No luck, Chester. There was nobody home.
Well, that’s just too bad. This diggin’ sure makes a man thirsty.
Yeah, well, I’m afraid I got some more bad news for ya too.
Over by the farmhouse?
Don’t tell me.
Yep. I found another body.
I wrote something like that. I don't recall the exact words, 'cause I didn't keep the paper. What's remarkable, to me, is, I could have written the same thing today. I had little trouble filling in the gaps.
Does that mean I'm consistent? Or did I just not get any better?