Tag Archives: violence

A LIFETIME OF CHANGE

As a small child I had wonderful dreams,

Dreams of making the world a better place.

Where those of a different race

Could put on a happy face

And mean it.

But violence was raising its head

Threatening to turn all streets red.

In 1956 the beginning of storms,

Those made by nature

And those produced by human nature

Had caught up with us.

The storms of both kinds

Were carried by winds, sudden and swift.

“Separate but equal” was the slogan

That stirred the fomenting mixture

And pushed the races toward inevitable clashes.

In the summer of 1956 grandpa died,

In a faraway magical land of fruits, nuts, and Hollywood stars.

To pay our respects we packed into cars

Travelling over vast deserts and against the heat

In three days we arrived, dusty and beat.

After the funeral life was reconsidered,

And my parents decided to live in a small town

far from the hot steamy nights

That brought our family to the San Joaquin valley

Away from the green grass and red clay

Away from arguments regarding race and moral decay,

Away from crappie and muddy catfish lakes

Over the Tehachapi mountains

To the arid desert climate of the valley.

I was amused by the bridges that stretched

Over dry stream beds that begged for water

and signs that read, “Dangerous when flooded.”,

“Avoid High Water”, or “Flash Flood Area.”

The concept of dry rivers seemed like an oxymoron.

My pronunciation of words began to change.

The southern drawl was under fire.

‘Pin’, ‘Pen’, ‘Pan” had different meanings

And I was expected to distinguish between them.

Vocabulary was slightly changed also to appease.

‘You all’ or ‘yawl’ became ‘you guys’ to please

The California trend setters.

‘Duck tails’, ‘crew cuts’, ‘flat tops’,

Hair dos and clothing fads,

Taken to the max,

Governor Faubus with his axe,

‘Hot rods’, cars with numbers or letters like GTO,

Movie stars or singers, each had a claim to fame

James Dean, Buddy Holly, Ricky Valens,

Became icons almost overnight

But when tragedies struck i finally learned their names.

Vietnam, the undeclared war,

Became a festering sore,

Splitting our country apart

There were those who said it made no sense

While some claimed, “It was a decision from the heart.”

JFK, Robert, MLK, all gunned down

Leaving holes in the fabric of society

Sports, school, moments when the country stood still

And lost its innocence and beauty,

Along with that it lost some pride

And much of the sense of duty.

‘Woodstock’, weed, hair styles, peace and rage

Marked the dawning of a new age.

The ‘baby boomers’ took front stage.

The dreams of making the world

A better place

Took a different pace.

Now we’re old and not so bold,

Asking questions about our dreams and goals.

Did my generation follow the quest

To make a difference to become the best

Or was it all just hype?

Maybe we’re not the type

To teach the world to sing

Or to bring love to each heart.

Discrimination still exists but I hope inroads

Have been made.

My dreams from youth won’t fade

I will hold the banner high

Cancerous cells will shrivel and die

And love, sweet love, will once again

Rule heavens and earth.

 

April 24, 2016 by Dan Roberson

Sam

Sam

Sometimes life happens.  I found out that some people and events came into my life, changed my perspectives, and then were gone. I often wondered if they were missed opportunities that God had given me, or were they just learning tools to teach me about life?  In either case the time for learning was there, and I did nothing to help the situation.

I did not help Sam, his mother, or his brother.  On the other hand, I survived,  and the memory of Sam will always be there. For that reason I will continue to campaign against abuse against others.

During my senior year of college my roommates moved from our shared apartment one by one, and I was looking for new roommates or looking for somewhere affordable to live.  During that time I often had free time to observe the people around me.  I would idly wonder about their lives, trying to surmise their places in the work place and in the world.

One person that caught my interest was a woman who lived across the hallway.The lady looked older than she was.  She was matronly, had graying hair, and shuffled as she walked.  She lived in an apartment with her 17 year old son.  Often she was dressed up and wore a lot of make-up.  I didn’t realize that make-up covered numerous bumps and bruises.

I thought she might be retired but she wasn’t.  In addition to taking care of her son, she worked full time at Denny‘s. When I was not in class, I saw her scurrying from her apartment and back again. I thought it was peculiar that she left her apartment frequently, especially when she was off work.  I wondered if she went to the store or if she was on some other mission but usually she would return empty handed.  Daily, she left and returned. I was curious about her comings and goings but never asked why. It wasn‘t my business.

I didn’t know much about her or her son, not even their names. But one day during a chance encounter, I mentioned I was looking for another place to live because my roommates were leaving and I had one more year of college.  Her face brightened as she said, “I have a house just a block away.  My other son lives there. You could rent there.  I’d rent a room to you for less than half of what you’re paying for this apartment.”

The offer was tempting and I decided to check it out. The next day, I walked down the street to see what the house looked like.  The house was in terrible condition.  The outside paint was chipped and peeling, the grass was tall and full of weeds, and the windows had torn screens.  But a new heavy duty red pickup sat in the driveway, contrasting with the house.

I knocked and a young man with a crew cut answered the door.     He scowled and then asked, “What do you want?”  I said, “Your mom said I could rent a room here.”  “Come on in,” he said, “and look around.  You can find a room.”

I was left alone to look about the house.  Clothes and newspapers were stacked along the hallway.  Two of the bedrooms were dusty and full of furniture, more clothes and newspapers.  I found another bedroom and chose it.
Despite my misgivings, I decided to take the offer. “After all, I could save money while I go to school,“ I reasoned.“ It’ll only be for six months.”

I didn’t see Sam very often. His work day and my college classes were not conducive for much hanging out together.  But, over the course of time, I began to see different sides of Sam.  He wanted everybody to see him as being special.  He wanted his friends and strangers to notice his physique.

Sam’s upper body was muscular, slim and chiseled, v-shaped, and admired by other body builders.  He worked out regularly, trying to add additional bulk.  In addition to weight-lifting, Sam worked at a job requiring strength and endurance.  Ten to twelve hours a day he worked as a journeyman framer. He had a reputation of being one of the most industrious workers, and he earned top wages.

In spite of all Sam had going for him, Sam was very opinionated, had a quick temper, and had a penchant for violence.  In addition to having an opinion, Sam’s opinion was always right.  People who differed with him were deemed to be on the attack and he shouted them down, cursed, or threatened them with physical violence.  To Sam the opinions of others  were worthless.  That did not mean Sam would not listen to other arguments or viewpoints.  He would sit quietly for a moment, determining if the other person agreed with him.  His eyebrows would raise, his face slowly tightening in disgust or anger.  He was preparing for a battle, a battle of mental or physical power.  But, whether with friends or with his mother, his patience quickly wore thin.

I saw him arguing a few times with his mother.  When things did not go his way he kicked a hole in the wall, then ripped out the phone.  Other times, he cursed at his mother until she fled. Always she came back, apologetic, eager to bring him food, clean his clothes, or do his bidding.

Once, he tried to impress me by stealing a crossbow and arrow set from a nearby department store and even went back to grab a large target.  Later, he used the bow to shoot two cats that had wandered onto the property from nearby apartments.

He spent hours cleaning his hunting rifles, his shotguns, and his Smith & Wesson .38 special revolver. Sam was unusual and I stayed out of his way.  Sometimes I would sit with his friends as he loudly  proclaimed his viewpoints, but I would not argue with him.  However, there came a day when Sam was in a bad mood.

He wanted to engage me in an argument but I tried to avoid it.  He pushed on and finally said, “I want you to get your ass out of this house.”
I calmly looked him in the eyes and said, “If your mother tells me to move, then I’ll move.”
He turned bright red.  “You’ll get out of here right now!”
“If your mother tells me to move, then I’ll move, “ I quietly replied.      Again he repeated his demand and again I stated, “If your mother tells me to move, then I’ll move.”

Previously I had been in the kitchen ironing and now Sam grabbed the ironing board and swung it at my head.  I ducked and moved inside, grabbing him in a wrestler’s hold.  He was bigger and stronger and soon had the advantage.  He tried to throw me to the floor but I countered his actions.  However, I was getting battered as he swung me against the table, the stove, and the refrigerator.  Finally I broke out of his grasp and began fighting as I had been taught long ago.  My fists pummeled his face, particularly targeting his eyes.

After receiving several solid hits, Sam staggered back and towards his room.  Watching him go, I breathed a sigh of relief that the fighting was over.  My joy was short-lived, because through the doorway of his bedroom I saw Sam opening up a drawer and pulling out the .38 special.  As he began shoving shells into the gun, I headed out the front door.

“O.k.,” I shouted.  “You won.  I’m out of here.”
I raced to my car, jumped in, sped out of the driveway, and hurried down the road.  The last time I saw Sam, he was standing in the doorway, gun in hand.

I often wondered what happened to his mom and his brother.  I suspected they were often abused by Sam.  I didn’t think Sam would change and maybe they couldn’t change either.

I never went back to check on any of them.  However, I waited to see if anything concerning Sam would turn up in the local newspaper, the Sacramento Bee.

There were a few stories that I noticed over the next five years.  Several bodies were found in Sam’s favorite hunting areas.  In addition, a double homicide occurred in a nearby suburb which was on Sam’s regular route as he traveled to his go cart races.  The male victim’s name was similar to mine.  There was only one letter difference.  The male victim was my height and weight and approximate age. I was amazed at his resemblance to me.   Perhaps Sam had seen that resemblance too.  When I thought back to Sam and that time of potential violence I shuddered at what could have happened.

But that part of my life was behind me.  With new purpose and direction, I finished college,  determined to make a difference in the world, determined to be a positive force.

I believed there were too many Sams in this world, too many of those Sams hurting the people around them.  God was with me and I was chosen to be a good Samaritan, chosen to touch the hearts of those who were hurt, chosen to teach that which is true and right, and chosen to witness to all.

By Dan Roberson

Sons of Thunder

The Sons of Thunder

 

There were early warning signs that violence was on the way.  The two boys were untamed, unfettered, and usually unsupervised.  Their mother had disappeared mysteriously, leaving her husband alone with three children. The father refused any help from the community, insisting that the family would work out their own problems.  Alicia, the beautiful eldest child, reportedly kept the house running smoothly.  She and the boys, James and John, were always clean, fed, and well dressed. Their father, known to drink a bit but not to excess, paid the bills and saved money. Although the father was gone frequently and sometimes for long periods of time there wasn’t anything specifically anyone could point a finger at, yet we all knew there was danger lurking behind the façade.

Alicia never went on dates, although at sixteen she caught the eye of every eligible male in the surrounding areas.  Frankly, they were afraid to ask her out.  Her dad made it a point to seek out prospective suitors and let them know their lives were in danger around his house or around his daughter.  Alicia meekly followed orders, kept the house immaculate, and maintained her straight A average in high school.

John, the middle child, had an explosive temper that occurred with increasing frequency. Often I would confront him in school about some infraction and his face would become contorted with rage.  His voice would shake and obscenities would pour out. Sometimes I asked him to walk around the schoolyard in an effort to cool his anger.  I would watch him pick up a stick, point it at me, and pretend to shoot.  Since I knew he hunted the fields around the school and around my house it was reason for concern.  I knew he would seethe for hours until his anger finally abated.  John was also very intelligent.  He did well in his school subjects and also stayed informed about world politics. He had great plans for his future but I worried about his bouts of anger and how that anger controlled him at times.

John and James were unwelcome in neighboring homes because of their destructive hunting forays and their penchant for breaking things just for fun.  One day they followed their dog down the road and into the driveway of a neighbor’s house.  The dog chased chickens while the boys whooped their support.  Finally the neighbor stepped out of his house.  “You boys go home. I don’t want anything killing my chickens.”  The boys didn’t listen.  Instead they entered the barn and began breaking windows while the dog continued his relentless pursuit of squawking chickens.  The neighbor stepped out of his house onto his front porch, holding a shot-gun.  “Please take your dog home.  He doesn’t belong here. You go home, too!”  “I don’t want anyone to get hurt.” 

The boys left, only to return a short time later with their dad.  He had two six shooters strapped to his sides, gunfighter style.  He confronted the neighbor.  “If you want to have a shoot-out, then let’s get to it.”  The neighbor backed down, uneasy about an altercation with a crazy man.  And so it went, from that moment the community shied away from any arguments with the dad.

The family business was another strange thing that was rarely discussed.  The dad made caskets.  The boys often bragged about their personal coffins, made from the finest materials and ready to be used. “You should see the polished wood and the blue silk.”  “When I die, dad will make mine even better,” the other replied.

James was known for his antics, his infectious smile, and his sudden angelic appearance.  He could be deeply in trouble and yet somehow escape unscathed.  Once, as a fifth grader, he had been caught peeping over a stall in the girl’s bathroom.  He received no punishment because he was so sorry it had ever happened.

One day in spring, after the fire at Christmas had burned the school totally, and we were in school at the church, a strange thing happened.  On this rare day James was sitting quietly in class trying to decipher the big words.  The teacher,  however, could not focus on the lesson.  “I’m sorry,” she said, “but there’s something that really stinks around here.”  She walked from chair to chair but to no avail.  She eventually walked to the closet.  “I think something died in there,” she announced to the class. She flung open the door and peered in, holding her nose.  The children’s coats were hung on pegs, waiting to be picked up.  The teacher went from coat to coat, sniffing and coughing.  She stopped at James’s coat.  “This coat stinks,” she said.  “What is the problem?”  James laughed.  “I slept with my dog in the bed last night,” he proclaimed.  “A skunk had sprayed it.  My dog was still scared so I hugged it all night.”

James was the center of the universe at times.  He could not read any words with more than four letters.  The principal proudly proclaimed he taught James to read.  Later, when James was discovered memorizing the lessons ahead, the principal was deflated and gave up.  He turned the task over to a young teacher who decided James was a worthy project.  For several weeks she toiled and James struggled onward. The reading project seemed a success until one day after school the woman turned her back on James.  He quickly closed the distance between them, reached around and cupped her breasts.  She was horrified and fled to the principal.  “What are you going to do about it?” she demanded angrily.  “You shouldn’t have been alone with him,” the principal snapped.  The conversation was over.  James and the reading lessons were over, but James continued on, oblivious to the fact that anything was wrong. 

In the eighth grade and in high school James proved to be outstanding in sports.  Grades were overlooked as long as James tried.  There were occasions when those in the stands were pleasantly surprised by his adroit moves and quickness.  There were also occasions when those same people were shocked by his ability to get confused.  When he got turned around he might run the wrong way in football or make the winning basket for the wrong team in basketball.  Yes, James was something of an enigma.

We didn’t hear much about Alicia after she graduated from high school.  The boys said she went to college but we didn’t know where.  And John?  He graduated from high school and drifted northward, working one job after another.  Later we heard he had been arrested in Seattle for armed robbery and would be locked away for awhile.  And James?  I had forgotten about James until one night at eleven o’clock I was awakened by the persistent ring of my phone.  I picked it up and was greeted by a familiar voice.  “Mr. Roberson, remember me?  This is James and I just called to thank you for all you did for me.  You didn’t give up and eventually you got me to reading.  I’m now a lumberjack in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.  I volunteer at a local elementary school when I can.   I just wanted to thank you but I don’t want to keep you up.  Good-bye!”  And with that James was gone, but definitely not forgotten.  He was one of the more difficult students who had learning disabilities and social problems and somehow had managed to rise out of the murky depths. He had taken the next step and was reaching out to others and giving them a chance to succeed.  His persistence also woke me up.

 Sometimes I forgot that school was more than teaching subject matter.  It was about touching human lives.  I slept easier that night and for many nights to follow because I had made a difference in his life. James didn’t give me a chance to tell him, but he also had made a difference in how I perceived things.  I must have done something right, and to this day I still believe I can touch that invisible spirit, and bring it to a higher level.  Thanks, James, wherever you are, for giving me feedback.

 

By Dan Roberson  2/26/09