Editor’s note: this submission contains scenes of gay male sexual content.
A Vietnam vet and his brother transgress
It’s a dive, it’s a dive, it’s a dive…
The teenage townies would sing these lyrics, sarcastically modified from that old J.J. Cale tune “Cocaine” made famous by Eric Clapton in the late seventies. At least according to Brad, they did this maybe ten years after I left Colrain, for good. It was not quite a fair assessment, as the place was certainly provincial, but hardly a dive.
Colrain is a small town in the United States in the state of Massachusetts, hard up against the border with Vermont, population not quite two thousand. It was a decent enough place to grow up, although like many a restless small-town boy, I was glad to leave it when I did.
Pops was one of the remaining dairy farmers in town. Eighty acres, some of which was hilly forestland, but we had sufficient pasturage for forty Jerseys. Brad and I grew up with the normal routine of a farm. From an early age we had a good hour or two of chores before breakfast and leaving for school.
This was 1967, and I was on home-leave for two weeks before returning to Fort Bragg, and then getting shipped off for my second, and I hoped, last tour of duty in Vietnam. Although I didn’t want it to be “that” kind of last, just that it would finish my service obligations to the United States Military, and I could get on with the rest of my life, whatever that might be. There was no way for me to know how badly it would go.
As I drove up our steep driveway to the barn right next to the house that September afternoon, warm air pushing through my truck’s open windows, the memories were keen. How many times had I done this in my life? I had navigated the John Deere 730 tractor up and down this curved, banked driveway, treacherous in winter snow, hundreds of times before I even got my car driver’s license at sixteen.
After the tractor, in comparison, driving a car with a roof, windows, padded seats and windshield wipers, felt coddled, mundane, barely requiring talent, no need to double-clutch transmission shifts, none of that.
The rolling hills and trees behind the old white clapboard house, with its small windows and black storm-shutters, were still green. Another month and they would begin to turn the birch-tree yellow and maple-red shades of autumn.
The original small box-shape of the house with a gabled roof, built in 1805, had received additions over the years, like most New England farmhouses, first an attached shed that turned into the kitchen, then another section off the rear with extra rooms to accommodate a growing family some generations before us.
The first day back home, for anyone who has been away for long, is always powerful.
“He’s here!” I heard Mom yell to the rest of the house, as I pulled up and got out. Although I had started well before dawn, it had been a long, hot drive from North Carolina.
I went up the front steps, crossed the threshold into the house, and set foot into the front room for what was to be my last proper visit home.
“Carl! So good to have you back!” My mom’s arms went around me for way too long, then her looking up at me, happy and warm and pleased.
Pops, short and wiry, his salt-and-pepper hair all askew, clumped in from the kitchen in his work-boots, extending to me the vise-grip handshake offered to anyone, family or otherwise, he held of value.
Brad came in last, not shy, but holding back, unlike Pops giving me a hug rather than a handshake. He was another inch or so taller since when I’d last seen him, he would have to stop this growing business sooner or later.
There was no mistaking Brad and I as brothers. We were both dark-haired and wiry, like Pops, but taller, with longer limbs. We had our mom’s pointed chin. Both of us with the same level eyebrows, my face was leaner, but there was never a teacher upon meeting Brad on the first day of school who didn’t go, “You Carl’s brother? I thought so. Hope you’re a little more studious at least.”
But Brad was edging up towards six feet, and I could only get to five-foot ten by raising up on my toes.
“Hey Possum, how’s it going?”
“Good to see you man,” he said, his eyes looking into mine, his hug was long, longer than either of us expected.
Pops and Mom looked on with pleasure.
“You wanna beer?” bellowed Pops, knowing full well that the legal state drinking age at twenty-one was still a few months off for me.
“Shame you can die for your country at eighteen but the law says you can’t even buy a six-pack,” he drawled.
“Here, let’s all settle in the living room. Oh hell, your bags, you need to pull in your stuff! Brad, don’t just stand there, go get his stuff! He’s been on the road all day, must have been hell getting through New York. They drive crazy down there, you hafta fight for space in your own lane. Always some road work going on somewhere. Hope you weren’t delayed too much.”
And on Şişli Escort and on. It was rare to get Pops going, normally a man economical in his speech, but I didn’t mind this time, my eyes taking in the place.
I looked around the house, mostly pretty much as I’d left it.
“New window curtains in the kitchen, Mom?”
“Yes,” she said shyly. “The place in Greenfield I go to, you know, Maywood’s, had some nice fabric on sale and well, I just had to sew some new ones, the old ones were so ratty.”
She was pleased I noticed.
I was grateful for the beer, felt nice and cold in my hand.
Mom fawned over me, examining me carefully for damage, as pretty much everyone I ran into on this visit would do. Pops gave me appreciative if understated glances, and even Brad, with our uneasy relationship, showed some pleasure that I was home, even if it was just an intermission before I got sent overseas again. My odds of coming back from Vietnam in one piece, or at all, was a topic studiously avoided by everyone the two weeks I was home, including myself.
Pops had been an attentive, if sometimes gruff, parent. He expected a lot from me, and then Brad, growing up. My first farm chores began before I ever went to kindergarten, and had increased over time, as a farm never lacks for things that need doing.
Pops taught me about work, what it meant, how hard it was, that it was important to do things right the first time, since doing them over again took time and energy better spent on the next task. I grew up using machinery, and on a farm you had to know how to split wood, mend a fence, or weld a broken leaf-spring.
That night for dinner Mom had made all my favorite foods, but it was the mashed potatoes, of all things, even outshining the apple pie for dessert, that made my heart warm. Funny, since there were plenty of potatoes in the service, but at home it was all the more remarkable for having the real article, with real fresh butter.
“I’ll bet the food in the army is better now than it was in New Guinea,” Pops ventured.
He had served in the Pacific for World War II, vastly unhappy at the tropics and almost everything about the military. But he had done his duty.
“Depends on where you are, at camp or in the field.” I didn’t want to volunteer more, and he didn’t ask.
He’d been a waist gunner on a B-24, and after training he didn’t even know what things were like “in the field,” as he’d always been on a base, with regular mess. He respected my desire to enlist, but surely would have preferred I had not.
“The farm doing okay, Pops? Anything new in town?” I knew I would get a long answer to both.
Farm was mostly fine, there was a list of stuff that needed doing, and I volunteered for a few projects. Mom looked concerned.
“We don’t want you working your tail off while you’re on leave, dear.”
I waved a hand, told her I’d just work half-days, not overdo anything.
“The damn fools in Boston went and raised the business taxes again,” he grumbled.
“Business license used to be two hundred a year, just to be in operation. Just so you could hang out your shingle! That’s okay, but then they jacked the annual fee to a grand. Rick at the Creamery was grousin’ just the other day. Dairy margins ain’t huge, as you well know, and it puts a dent in a small place like that to hafta cough up the extra, specially when it don’t do anything concrete for you here in town. I can’t afford for him to go outa business, I’d hafta to sell the milk to some middleman in Greenfield or something, who don’t give a rat’s ass about Colrain, and I don’t want to do that.”
I heard a little more, but it didn’t sound any worse than the usual sets of complaints.
Brad kept eyeing me, asking basic questions, trying hard not to look too keenly interested. That was okay.
“So Possum, how’s it going with Stephanie? What with you at UMass and her in Boston? Long distance going okay?”
He and his sweetie had graduated from high school that June, he was living at home and driving every day to UMass in Amherst, but she was off to college in Boston. Big changes for them.
I had been calling him “Possum” for what, ten years now? It all started as a taunt really but had evolved into a term of affection.
Pops had given me a hatchet on my tenth birthday, about the sweetest thing a ten-year old could get. Brad had looked at it with envy, he knew he’d have to wait another two years for his.
Well, after birthday lunch I had to go out to find a way to use it, naturally, and I found Brad tagging along. He was coming whether I wanted it or not.
Up beyond the upper fields, I dispatched a couple maple saplings, harder work than I imagined, their springy wood resisting even the sharp new blade of the hatchet, until I got the hang of it a bit.
Brad looked on hungrily, asking me over and over again if I would let him give a try. “Just once!” he said. Over and over.
I Şişli Escort Bayan finally gave him a chance, with the caution, “But jeez, be careful!”
Well sure enough, once when I was distracted and looking away and before I could stop him, he gave a whack at a fence-post.
“Hey, why’d you do that?”
I was furious. Of all the places to make marks, Pops was going to notice this in no time. I grabbed my hatchet back and feared for the future discovery.
Sure enough, it took maybe four days before the old man brought it up at dinner, looking straight at me.
“Spotted a nasty gouge out of a fence-post past the goat shed, boy,” he said, staring at me. “Fresh mark, about the shape that a new hatchet blade would make. I give you the use and the privilege — the privilege! — of a tool, a man’s tool, and this is how you repay my trust?” He was hot.
Of course I got the blame, lost use of the hatchet for a month, while Brad pretended to look out the window.
I lit into him later.
“You coon hound! You coulda’ owned up at dinner! But no, you kept quiet while I catch the heat! Serves me right for being decent to you. You rat!”
“You played ‘possum!” That was my final taunt. “Played dead! Innocent!”
For over a year that was my insult to him, always worked to rile him up. Until finally it just got to be what I called him.
“Why ‘Possum?'” Pops asked one night at dinner. “How’d you come up with that one?”
I wasn’t going tell the whole story obviously, so I dodged.
“Hey Brad, smile for Pops.”
Brad’s teeth were pretty gap-toothed at that stage, one missing and the rest pretty well spread apart.
“Don’t that mug just remind you of an opossum?”
Pops laughed, “Damn, you’re right.”
Long as Pops thought it was a term of affection it would be okay, and indeed it had become so.
Brad did talk a little about Stephanie. She was the daughter of the town veterinarian, and I knew she was doing her vet studies at Tufts in Boston.
“You miss her?” I asked. “What with being a hundred miles away in Boston and all? You guys doing the long distance thing okay?”
Brad shrugged. “We are both plenty busy with school. Lot harder than either of us thought. She’s been home one weekend last month, I’ll catch her again in two weeks when she’s back here for a visit.”
I had never much liked Stephanie. Colrain is not a big town, but her father, Bernard, more or less regarded himself as royalty, an educated man with a college degree in a place he thought was filled with backwoods hicks. It didn’t help that he wasn’t native, had moved up from Agawam to take over Ralph Crumb’s vet business after the guy retired.
Stephanie had been over at dinner not long after she and Brad had started dating. Pops had asked a question about the business, and Stephanie had responded.
“Daddy always said being a veterinarian isn’t about caring for animals, it’s about making money caring for animals.” She said this smugly, like she had run the place herself for twenty years.
Pops, normally unfazed by almost anything anybody said, let his jaw drop. He would never have talked about his farm that way, even if it was true. Stephanie’s brazenness, among other traits, had not been endearing to any of us but Brad, maybe not even to him. But there weren’t many girls in town, period.
Brad had been an okay brother, nothing special. It wasn’t until high school that it became apparent that he would be bigger than me, taller than me, and, worst of all — what I already suspected — smarter. The last time I gave him a thrashing was when I was thirteen, and even then he put up a fierce enough fight that I knew I wouldn’t be doing that anymore.
He had knocked over my bicycle in the barn when he had parked his. He didn’t think I had seen him, but I had.
I confronted him, telling him he was a good-for-nothing, selfish, inconsiderate beast, and the least he could have done was put my bicycle back up, instead of just leaving it there on the ground.
“You must not have leaned it up very careful then,” he said defiantly, “otherwise it wouldn’t have toppled over with a feather touch. Not my fault you can’t park your bike with a little more attention.”
I was on him in a flash, fists flying, and while I knew enough not to bang him up in his face, since the evidence would look bad for me, I gave him a pretty good beating. But he got in a few good licks to me too, one savage punch to my ribs that hurt for a week, and by then I knew this phase of our relationship was over.
By the time he was fifteen, he was already two inches taller than me. Now at eighteen he had fifteen pounds on me, all solid, and had grades and college-test scores that left mine in the dust. The rat.
But he had grown in other ways too. He was level-headed, kept his word. I knew he more than carried his weight on the farm after I left. He had been in many ways a more dutiful son than I.
My own options after high school hadn’t Escort Şişli been huge. UMass was just down the way, four towns over, and normally that is probably what I would have done, although I wasn’t much college material then.
My choice pretty much got made for me. With the war on and getting bigger by the day, my odds of being drafted were high, so I decided to enlist in the army, figuring I would have a better shot at things that way, maybe have more control over my military life.
I ended up in Transport, mostly driving trucks of one sort or another, mostly supply, sometimes personnel. They would make good use of my skills, and maybe I would not be at absolutely the front lines, at least every day.
I shipped off to Fort Bragg, leaving Pops and Brad in his last year of high school to run the farm. I will grant that he didn’t complain with the extra work that meant, didn’t show anywhere near the same restlessness as me.
After the first couple days of excitement being home that September, I had settled into a routine. I worked around the farm the first part of the day, took a leisurely lunch, Mom pleased to feed me well, and then trooped on long walks along my old haunts, up to the ridgeline, along the old trails that once were used to pull logs out of the forest for lumber.
I didn’t have much connection to town, old friends, none of that. Most evenings, if the weather was fair, I spent outside too, feeling the Indian summer air of a coming autumn, trying hard not to think about the town, family, and what was next. The temperate forest buzz of insects and night-bird callings were soothing compared to the tropic horror night-time of Vietnam with the snakes and fierce biting insects, and the ever-present fear that war brought. I found that the Colrain breezes and incessant cricket background noise did good to my soul.
It was Sunday midday, my last full day at home, when I was along the border of one of the upper fields, within sight of the goat shed Pops had built a few years back. We had had goats for two years, Pops listening to Marty Phelps about how you could make money off of them, that they would eat weeds, clear underbrush, even the poison ivy, which was a nuisance everywhere.
Pops gave them a shot, but it turned out he hated the things. “Smarter than damn cows,” he’d muttered once while trying to track down one that had escaped. He got rid of them, but the shed stayed, a place to store hay and the tools handy to have near the upper fields.
I was fixing one stretch of fence and marking posts that would need replacement, when I spied Brad and Stephanie near the shed. I remembered he said she was visiting this weekend, although I hadn’t seen her. This was interesting, she almost never came around, he was always over at her place when they saw each other.
He was leading her by the hand up the narrow trail from the house, emerging into the clearing.
Brad had a determined look on his face, and I stopped to watch them a bit. They hadn’t noticed me.
Stephanie was fresh-faced, almost handsome, fluffy brown hair past her shoulders, over-confident eyes, smooth cheeks, soft curves for a backwoods girl, a body-type that would almost certainly widen as she aged.
It seemed he was trying to coax her into the shed, but she wasn’t having any of it. There were hay bales inside, and I figured Brad maybe had been hoping for some horizontal action, but she must have either not been in the mood, or didn’t want to be coerced, or whatever.
They stood and talked energetically for a few minutes in front of the shed, the red door wide open, and it looked like things got a bit heated.
To my surprise, at one point, Brad had fished out his penis, hard and stiff, pointing at it for Stephanie’s benefit. He pulled her right hand onto it, and she held it for a few moments, but the look on her face didn’t suggest much enthusiasm, and when she left off, not quite with a look of disgust, but more of dismissal, Brad got a bit angry, and their voices raised a bit, although I still couldn’t hear what they were saying.
They talked a little, Brad stuffed his prick, which had softened some, back into his jeans, and they walked back towards the house, not hand-in-hand this time.
I chuckled to myself and went back to work. Didn’t look all that promising to me.
After dinner that evening, I had packed and gotten ready for my departure the next morning. I took one last long wistful walk up in the hills in the evening darkness, my final proper trot in the forests of home. Mom and Pop’s lights were already out when I got back around 10:30.
I looked in the fridge, decided I didn’t need anything, and ascended our old rickety stairs, the wooden planks creaking in the same places I had remembered from since forever. Brad’s door was closed, but I could see his light was still on. I knocked.
“Come on in.”
He was propped up in bed, reading, no shirt on, a sheet covering his lower half. I can’t remember when each of us stopped wearing pajama tops as kids, but it must have been fairly young, in the summer months at least. Our second story bedrooms could get plenty warm in July and August.
“Spare a moment to talk?” I asked. “I been meaning to, but somehow never got around to it this visit.”