Cornfields, pumpkin pie, trick or treat, ghosts, witches, etc., all come to mind this time of year, it's unavoidable, it's in the air. And that said, let me ask you, ever have one of those moments when you're just sure as hell it was a deceased loved one that intervened in your behalf?
I had one of those ghostly moments, I'd like to tell you about it: It was 1967 and I was in the U.S. Army serving in South Vietnam. I was about to find myself knee deep in the mix soon enough in what could be considered a life threatening situation, when my grandmother's voice woke me from a deep sleep; a sleep that could otherwise have held me forever.
At the risk of sounding a tad long-winded, please allow me to elaborate further. As I was saying, I was a young soldier voluntarily serving in Vietnam on what was then an extended tour of duty of my military assignment in bustling Saigon City. It should be known that leaving the city limits in any direction pretty much placed oneself immediately in the jungle, a more peaceful but contradictory environment for sure. Before I proceed further you need to also know that my dearly beloved grandmother, the fine lady who raised me as a youngster, had died of natural causes two years previous.
There was this one day that I found myself off-duty and in civilian clothing and asleep inside one of the darkest, most comfortable bars that I (or anyone for that matter) could possibly imagine. But when the door opened to the outside, the daylight rushing in came with such blinding flash that it seemed someone had triggered, 'flashed on' a set of high powered industrial lights. Absolutely bright. That must have been what woke me.
I stumbled into the sunlight, and heat of the day, still drowsy; and maybe for that reason, or maybe misjudging my staggered movements as me under the influence of perhaps more than just one too many warm Ba'm-Di- Ba's ('33' a beer competing alongside warm piss in taste), the man, all smiles, and perched there upon his three-wheeled contraption, climbed down and rushed to greet me.
He was a Driver, a chauffeur, of sorts. A skinny, darkly tanned, barefoot old man, with rolled black trousers, in pointed straw sun hat, but no shirt; and, with the few teeth that remained in his smile, matching, black-stained teeth and gums.
He welcomed me aboard his manually operated cycle. Now some of these Drivers can be quite aggressive, as I remember; a very competitive transport business among the many who likewise awaited patiently at street side for customers exiting the bars.
It would probably help if you knew that these tricycle contraptions were open framed, and easily accessible, and equipped with a cushioned but oftentimes hard-packed bench seat, with ragged cloth canopy overhead, all located between two bicycle wheels, up front, for passenger comfort; with the driver pushing hard on pedals from his single seat, behind. I chose mine, or he chose me, however it worked out I'm not sure now, as I asked how much would it cost for transporting me to my downtown hotel? Being satisfactory, I climbed into the open compartment and settled back for the ride.
My Driver, in position, began maneuvering us among the steady stream of traffic. My destination was inside the city, a hotel only a few blocks and normally only a few minutes distant from where it would begin.
It could have been the heat, it could have been the couple beers I had downed earlier, or maybe it was the slow, and deliberate, swaying side to side as the driver pedaled onward, or maybe a combination of all three; whatever, I soon found myself fast asleep again.
I was asleep and moving through city traffic -- when in actuality -- I was asleep and unknowingly being driven straight into the jungle, ahead.
I can't explain it beyond saying my grandmother spoke to me, saying: "Jerry, wake up! Do it NOW!"
Which I did. Startled awake, my head swaying slowly back and forth, I came to realize that something wasn't right -- no traffic, no buildings; only tall trees and dense green brush aligned the long gravel road stretching ahead.
Letting this soak into my skull, wondering why I had just heard my grandmother's voice? Where had it come from? And where in the heck were we going? That's when I saw the man.
The man was a few meters distant, probably 75 - 100 feet ahead, as he came from the trees on the left side of the road, stopped in the center of the road, where he turned his head momentarily in our direction, then continued on, walking to the other side of the road where he disappeared into the trees and brush growing there. Now that was certainly strange, I was thinking, when -- Again my grandmother's voice: "Get up, Jerry. There's danger ahead!"
At this time, I hollered back through the canopy for the Driver to stop, to let me out. This caused him to speed up. I probably should have jumped out without speaking, but it was too late for that now. So I jumped out anyway. Luckily having maintained my balance in the shifting gravel; all the while sliding, holding onto and wrestling with the moving transport.
The Driver stopped. He looked at me, in obvious wonderment, voicing disagreement from his seated position.
It was about this time that the man seen moments ago, resurfaced. But this time, having returned to the middle of the road where he stood and engaged in conversation with my Driver; in a language I didn't understand, but got the gist of anyway. It became obvious when the man motioned repeatedly for us to continue forward towards his location.
I refused to get back inside the transport, my heart beating loudly in my ears. My thoughts began associating my ongoing happening with something I had read earlier concerning recent attacks on U.S. Soldiers, where all were beaten and robbed and some were killed. We were cautioned to avoid such locations where we too might become victims. Well, Bingo!
Continuing to refuse, the Driver urging me otherwise, I turned out my wallet exposing the contents to be only one lonely $10.00 in U.S. Currency, and a few pocketed local coins in loose change. I handed same to my Driver. I then turned all my pockets inside out to show that this money was my only thing of value -- I had no wristwatch or ring or necklace. Nothing other than my Army dog tags around my neck, which I also handed to my Driver. This caused him to smile again, him showing those black, ugly teeth again.
My Driver addressed the man in the road. And without actually understanding his language, I understood him to explain what I had just done. In response, the waiting man spoke, sounding angry, but then turned and continued walking across the road and disappeared into the jungle there.
My Driver, still seated, and me still standing, looked at each other for a few unspoken moments. Finally coming to the realization that each had gotten what the other wanted (and me without my head being bashed in) I shrugged and asked the Driver to kindly take me back to the city. He smiled and nodded his agreement. Good thing too because I had no idea where I was, or where this otherwise quite lonely and isolated gravel road led to. Other than a quick road to perdition, I mean.
He climbed down and repositioned his cycle so it faced now in the opposite direction. That's when I climbed back aboard. The sway of the peddling resumed and the heat remained but this time without me drifting off to sleep. In fact I'm not sure if I managed to get any sleep at all that night.
Spring Branch, TX. 78070