The Soul Captain Chronicles
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The Master of our Destiny,
Captain of our Soul —
With eyes upon the map
Hands on the control —
Will not cut us any slack
Unless that's what
We've come here for.
When the world coalesced again, Captain and I were in a kitchen and there was my mom standing at the sink washing dishes. A little girl in diapers was holding onto her dress. She leaned over and picked her up and put her in a wooden high chair and lowered the tray down in front of her. She opened the small GE refrigerator and took out some food and sat down at the table and began feeding the blond haired girl who looked to be about a year-and-a-half old. I looked around for a calendar and found the latest Our Lady of Prompt Succor religious calendar. Below a colorful image of Jesus pointing to his glowing heart was the month, July, 1951. "Open up, Janet," she said. I watched how this woman named Annette that I come to know as my mother feed her daughter. She opened her own mouth as she raised the spoon to Janet's mouth.
I looked around at the house. This must be the house we had just seen the foundations for moments earlier. We had moved ten years into the future. Bobby must be eleven, and he has a baby sister. Wonder what happened to the baby she was pregnant for. If it has been born, it should be about nine years old. I wondered where Bobby was and began walking out of the back door. There was an construction project out back. The back door led onto a bare concrete foundation for some extension that was being built. That makes sense, I thought. Three children in one small bedroom is too many. Over to one side Buster was showing this son how to drive nails into vertical studs for the framing.
"Okay, Robert, you're going to learn how nail these studs. Hold the nail like this, about an inch from the bottom of the stud, hold the stud with your foot so it won't move till you get the nail started," Buster said, holding the nail at a 45 degree angle, and in one quick slam of the hammer drove the nail halfway into the wood. He had actually held the stud to the side of the mark about a half inch, and, when he drove the first nail into the vertical stud, it slid about a half inch and ended up on the pencil mark. He finished driving the nail the rest of the way in with a couple swift swings, finishing up with a last Bam! that indented the head of the nail into the wood. I watched as Bobby drove his first nail, or tried to. The nail slid down the wood. He tried again and again until finally his hammer had caused the nail to penetrate the wood and support itself. Then he carefully re-positioned the stud slightly to the side of the pencil marks and finished driving the nail all the way. He couldn't manage the indentation of the nail head, and the stud had slid off the mark a bit. Buster, who had been watching silently, said, "Here," and tapped the stud to the side. It was still off the mark about a quarter of an inch. He took another nail and drove it into the opposite side so that when he finished indenting the head of the nail, the stud was magically on the pencil mark again. Obviously there is more for Bobby to learn about framing up a house's stud walls.
"Buster, dinner's ready! The 7-steaks are done," Annette called from the kitchen. I took a deep whiff of the smell coming from the kitchen and it smelled like some kind meat frying. We walked back in and there on the stove in a frying pan was several quarter inch "steaks" with a bone the shape of a "7" through the middle. They were fried all the way through and a nice brown gravy was in the pan. On the stove was another pot full of white rice. And a third pot had some dark green stuff in it which I took a quick sniff of — some kind of green leafy vegetable. Annette went out the front door called out, "Paul!" I looked outside and saw this nine-year-old boy and a slightly younger boy running from across the street. "Where have you and Stevie been?"
The brown haired boy had a small rounded face which was full of freckles. Was this my brother, I thought? He looks a lot like Bobby. His age looks right to be the child she was pregnant with in 1941, but who's the little blond haired boy with the soulful eyes? That must be Stevie. Another brother! That's three boys and a girl.
Annette went to the phone and dialed a number, "Hazel? Send David home, will you?" She listened for a second. "Mustard greens and rice, and No. 7 steaks. What are you and Ed having?" I listened to her talk to a neighbor for a few minutes then saw this beautiful little blond haired boy running through the front door. "Go wash your hands, it's time for dinner. Did you and Judy have fun?" "Yes, Mommy," he said as he ran to the bathroom and got in line behind Bobby, Steve, and Paul. A quick wash of the hands and soon the kids were all lined up at the kitchen table. The small house only had two bedrooms, a bath, a parlor, and a kitchen. After Buster came in to wash up, she closed the doors to the outside and the parlor. The only door open was the one to bedroom. I walked over to see why this door was left open and saw a large window fan directly above the double bed. It was pulling all the air from the shady side of the house through the kitchen windows which were only raised up about 6 inches, apparently to increase the speed of the air coming in from outside. A baby bed, apparently still used by Janet was in one side of the room. Four boys sleeping one double bed!
I walked back to the kitchen and saw Buster and Annette on opposite sides of the kitchen table. Janet was still in her high chair next to Annette. The table had a porcelain top, white with an intricate border design that followed the rectangular shape of the table. The legs were wooden with football-shaped ovals midway in their length. I watched as Buster pulled out a leaf from one side of the table. The extension was cleverly hidden under the table and snapped into place. Each child was given a piece of one of the Seven Steaks and a spoon of rice with a pile of greens on the top. I didn't have to wait long to find out what the greens were. "Stevie! Eat your mustard greens and rice!" Buster barked. Stevie sheepishly toyed with his greens as if he preferred that they'd disappear without having to go into his mouth.
"What were you two doing across the street?" Annette asked Paul and Steve.
"Dale's house," Paul said between bites. "He got a new gun that blows smoke rings when you pull the trigger! It's like Buck Rogers."
"Yeah," said Steve. "He let me shoot it."
"Was it a birthday present?"
"No, he gets toys all the time. I think he has more toys in his room than all of us put together," Bobby said. "I think his mom must be rich. Remember those books she gave me, "Gulliver's Travels, Robin Hood, Treasure Island . . . there must have been ten books in that box. They were the first books I read."
"Yeah," Paul said. "Didn't he give you your first sixteen inch bike?"
"Uh-huh. I was sure glad when I got that new green one for Christmas, though."
Dinner was nearing done, when Annette got up and went in the front room and brought out a cardboard box. "Daddy brought this back from Maman Babin's yesterday when he came back from fishing. Uncle Frank's comic books." Bobby dove for the box and his three brothers followed him into the front room where they each searched through the box for their favorite comics before scattering to read them. Bobby fished out a Blackhawk comic book with WWII propeller planes on the cover in the middle of a dogfight. He also grabbed a couple of new Superman, Batman, and Plastic Man comic books. While Annette cleaned the dishes, she put Janet in her baby bed for a nap, David in the boys' bed for his nap, and Buster went to the bedroom to sleep a couple of hours before his 3 to 11 shift. This apparently was quiet time as the boys talked in hushed tones as soon as Buster left the kitchen for the bedroom. Paul and Stevie sat on the front porch reading their comic books, and Bobby stayed in the parlor guarding the box of comic books, looking through the box each time he finished one book, to find another. While Dale was rich in toys, Bobby and his brothers seemed to be rich in comic books, thanks to this Uncle Frank.
While he read, Captain and I walked around the house and looked at the two skinny threads of concrete alongside the house. "Doesn't look big enough for a car to pass, does it?"
The Captain smiled. "You should hear how he fast he buzzes through the driveway at night after a few beers." I was glad to have Captain with me to answer a few questions, because I had a lot more questions than answers. We walked to the left of the large, barn-like garage and saw the red brick school building across the back lot. As we walked up to the open garage, we saw the framework of a boat, a long skinny boat, in the shape of canoe, but a flat bottom.
"What's that?" I asked.
"That's called a pirogue. Cajuns make them for hunting and fishing. Holds about two people. The sides and bottom had already been screwed into place and it looked like it was ready for painting. I was amazed at the things Buster could do. Built his own house, adding one a room for kids, and building his own pirogue.
We walked back to the kitchen and found Bobby showing an ad in the back of an issue of Captain Marvel comic. I looked closely over Annette's shoulder and it read, "Make 20 Radios! $11.05 Complete Instructions and Parts." Bobby was imploring his mother that this was something he really wanted.
"This is pretty expensive," his mom said, obviously not sure what this thing was her son wanted. But we could see from the expression on Bobby's face and the plaintive tone in his voice that was very important to him.
"Okay, Momma?" Bobby said hopefully.
"We'll see," she replied. "Tell you what, I wanta sit down and rest awhile. How about you and Paul getting us each a nickel cone at the Dairy Queen?"
"Oh boy," Bobby. She gave him a quarter and said, "Get four nickel cones. David and Janet just fell asleep and won't be awake for awhile. And bring me my nickel change."
We walked down the sidewalk with Bobby and Paul. Steve stayed on the front porch reading Little Lulu and Henry comic books, his favorites. The corner was Fourth Street and the two boys looked carefully both ways before crossing. The Dairy Queen had been built in the empty lot in front of the lumberyard. The young man at the counter drew out four vanilla Dairy Queen cones with a flourish of a curl on the top and handed them to Bobby. He gave the first two to Paul, pushed his quarter across the counter and retrieved the nickel. Grabbing his two cones, he and Paul walked briskly back across the street and down the sidewalk to 566 Avenue F. As we got close to the house, we could see the reason for haste: the cones were beginning to drip over the edge of the cake cones and over their fingers. Paul quickly handed Steve the second cone and began licking his in earnest. Bobby walked gingerly through the parlor, so as not to awake his dad, and handed one cone to Annette, and fished out the nickel and gave it to her. "Thanks, Mom!" he said as he quickly gave her a kiss, and scurried to the porch with cone in hand and picked up the Captain Marvel comic book he still hadn't finished reading after he showed his mom the radio kit he wanted. He searched for the dog-eared page to read the ad once more. His eyes were ablaze with wonder. Make a radio receiver, radio transmitter, code generator and many more projects. Two tubes, schematics, and all parts included! Bobby formed his lips around a Wow! as he read over once more all the things he could do with his radio kit.
He walked over to where Paul was sitting reading, "Look, Paul! If I get this kit, no more dinky crystal radios. Look all the stuff I can make! This thing's got two tubes! It runs off house electricity, too!" Paul looked briefly at the ad and went quickly back to his Heckle and Jeckle comic book, leaving Bobby to dream on alone.
The Captain looked at me and motioned that it was time for us to go. "I've seen my life at one year old and now at eleven — what's next?"
"You'll see soon enough," he said and with those words, the front porch of 566 Avenue F began to fade away and a thick mist engulfed the two of us.
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