Wednesday, November 19, 2008

(1) Billy and (2) Big Red

Another mish mash of unrelated items.

  • Toward the end of her life Mom lived with my brother Billy until she reached a point where she needed full time care and entered a nearby nursing home. Being seventy miles away, I saw her only on weekends, but Billy was a saint in this matter and visited her twice a day, seven days a week.

    In southern Maryland the climate is moderate most of the year, and most days when we visited there was an elderly man with no legs sitting in a wheelchair just outside the entrance to the home. This man was known as "Chicken John" because there was an extensive wooded area around the nursing home and he and a wild chicken had befriended each other. At some point during each day the chicken would leave the woods and visit the patient, hopping up in his lap.

    The chicken was not fond of other humans, but permitted John to hold him, pet him, and talk to him. This had gone on for several years and John had somehow acquired a small building, something like a doghouse, that was kept by the side of the entrance and was the exclusive domain of the chicken.

    John and visitors would "hello" each other, and one day my brother had a thought.

    Billy: "You know, I come here every day, and if there's something you would like me to bring for you I could do that."

    Chicken John: "Well, actually I could use a little whiskey once in a while."

    Billy, suspiciously: "Is there any medical reason why you shouldn't have whiskey?"

    Chicken John: "Oh, no, I'm just here 'cause I'm old and I don't have any legs."

    So the deal was done and my brother acquired the habit of presenting John with a pint of whiskey once a week. John would thank him and the pint would disappear under his lap warmer.

    This went on for months and then one day John stopped appearing at his post. Billy made inquiries, and learned that Chicken John had died. He also learned that Chicken John had been a diabetic.

    I suppose there are people who will be horrified by this story, but I've given it some thought and I'm in agreement with Billy - John knew the score and had a choice: he could play the odds and perhaps live a little longer or he could drink the pint a week, perhaps shortening his life a little but making it more endurable. He made his choice, and while those responsible for his medical care would have prohibited it, I think he had the right to make that choice.

  • My outfit in Vietnam had a unique assignment. I won't bore you with that except to say that it was the brainchild of a full colonel, a redhead known to the outfit as "Big Red." We went from Corpus Christi, Texas to Vietnam, and the colonel stayed behind, building another outfit to replace us in thirteen months. Naturally, there was some joking among the guys about this being his idea along with his not making the trip to Vietnam.

    In fact, one GI who had brought his guitar wrote a song about it and in no time he and his guitar were a hit. Eventually, word of it reached our batallion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Davis (R.I.P.), and he summoned the GI to his office for a special performance.

    Some lines from the song:

    We had a old colonel they called Big Red.
    I'll never forget the last words he said.
    He said "This deal's too good for me.
    I'll stay right here in old CC."
    And I ain't seen him since.

    Colonel Davis was delighted by the song, and a few months later, when Big Red visited us in Vietnam, the GI was summoned once again, this time for a performance before the subject of his song.

    I do believe he'd rather have dipped his arm in boiling oil than sing that song in front of Big Red, but he did his duty and the colonel laughed and applauded through the performance.

    As we wound up our tour we heard that Big Red had received his first star, and we were all happy about that.

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