West Otter Lake
Copyright© 2013 – Nicholas Hall
West Otter Lake – Chapter Nine– "It is of no consequence of what parents a man is born, so he be a man of merit." – (Horace)
Clad only in a t-shirt and cutoff sweat pants for sleep wear, Ollie walked towards me, his cloth-encased teenage appendage clearly outlined, snaking down the inside of his right thigh, leaving no doubt to the casual observer that Ollie was most certainly a male of the species. This robust rod of maypole proportion wobbling underneath those pants wasn'tt one of a mere youth, but of a young man on the cusp of adulthood, containing the vigor and vitality of each of those life stages. This sex organ of his wasn't something he was genetically provided for from the Johnson, my side, of the family, so it had to have come from the Thompson genes.
Leandro quickly regained his seat in the easy chair he'd previously occupied and ostensibly began re-reading the Sunday paper, the printed media he'd so wearily dismissed as a lost cause just moments before. He was as curious as I concerning what brought Ollie downstairs after he'd retired to bed a short while before. Joining me on the couch, he sat close to me, resting his head on my shoulder, and allowed me to put my arm around him securing him and warming him with my body.
I was struck by his fragrance; that of a young man, bursting with hormones, but not an unpleasant aroma, more sweet, mild, with a hint of cologne or deodorant, I'm not certain. There was also that fresh smell, clean, washed smell; all comprising his own unique scent, but reminiscent of one I was so familiar with, that of my Grandfather Johnson, bringing me to snug Ollie even closer to me.
"Couldn't sleep?" I queried.
There was no answer as he focused on the glowing, but dying, embers of the wood remaining in the fireplace. Turning his view from the fireplace toward the lake, its snow cover, white, glistening, sparkling, reflecting even in the darkness of a winter night, the stars and quarter moon. With a deep, slowly exhaled sigh, he murmured, "It's so nice here; I hope we can stay."
His remark gave me a bit of a start, wondering if the family had something else in mind that I was unaware of.
"I see no reason why you can't, Ollie. Would there be any reason why you think you should leave?" It was now my turn to seek answers or reassurances.
Ollie looked at me with those dark, warm eyes, capturing my heart; a heart given not as a lover since Leandro had that safely secured with his, but one discovering a brother or brothers of a blood-family not known to exist until two days previously.
"Grandma said when we left Elgin we might be taking a big chance coming here. If Oliver and Mildred Johnson were the same temperament as Wesley or didn't want us, we weren't going to stay, but you're not like him are you Conner?"
Oh, my God no; there's no way in hell I could be like our biological father in temperament! Shocked when Ollie asked, I lifted his face, peered into those beautiful eyes of his and said very softly, "No, Ollie, not now, not ever, could I be the asshole I found him to be when I met him, so don't you worry. I want you, Terell, Treyvon, and your Grandma Thompson to live here with Leandro, Luis, and me. This is your home now and I'm your new brother, and that's a fact, Jack!"
The tension I'd felt earlier when he sat next me, seemed to melt away as he relaxed in my arms against me.
"You know," he commiserated, "he was one mean son-of-a-bitch!"
Leandro slowly lowered the newspaper, eyes scrutinizing first, me and then Ollie, as we both waited patiently, expectantly for Ollie to further explain why "he was one mean son-of-a-bitch."
After a moment, Ollie proceeded, "He used to get drunked up when he and Momma went out and would haul off and beat her about. She'd come home bruised, but she never said anything. He never tried anything at home when Grandma or Uncle Riedel was there; he knew better. I think he was afraid of both of them, especially Uncle Riedel. I found out why after Wesley had Momma knocked up with the twins. Momma and I were alone in the apartment while Grandma was at the store, and Wesley popped in unexpectedly, madder than hell to think Momma was having another baby; his babies and he wasn't happy! I was in the kitchen and I heard him shout at her to "get your ass to a clinic and flush those little turds" and heard a loud "slap" with a scream from Momma. I ran from the kitchen and saw Momma half laying on the floor and couch with Wesley standing beside her. I hollered at him to leave my Momma alone and jumped on him, flaying with at him with my fists and kicking as hard as I could. He grabbed me, slapped me real hard across my face, and threw me on the floor next to Momma, while he screamed he wasn't going to have her pop out any more of those "little black shits" like me."
"Uncle Riedel and a couple of his bros walked in the door about that time and saw what was happening. A couple of punches and a good solid kick to the stomach put dear old daddy on the floor gasping for breath, blood oozing out of his mouth and nose. I remember Uncle Riedel pulled him up by the shirt, slapped him again a couple of times just for good measure and told him if he didn't want to make black babies then don't fuck black girls."
Ollie was contemplative for a couple of moments before a sly smile slipped across his face adding, "I really remember what he told Wesley next; you would've loved it Conner. He spit in his face and said, `If I ever find you around my sister or nephew, I'll come looking for you with my friends; find you, strip you bare-assed naked, tie you up in some alley, spread peanut butter all over your cock and balls as well as stuffing some up your asshole, so the sewer rats can gnaw them off and nibble their way up through your guts to your stomach.'"
"What happened," Leandro interrupted, incredulously concerned and no longer able to feign indifference to our conversation and continue his reading charade.
"Evidently," responded Ollie, "he believed him because we never saw him again."
Ollie gazed up at me, eyes soft, pleading, hopeful, "You're not at all like him Conner. Why was he so damned mean? Why couldn't he be kind and gentle like you guys? I hope I don't grow up like him. Scary ain't it?"
I hugged him, kissed him on the top of his head, voicing my confidence he wouldn't be a bit like our biological father. "Ollie, I don't think you ever need to worry about that. From what I've observed, you're going to be more like your Grandmother Thompson and a great deal like your Grandfather Johnson. Your Grandmother and Grandfather Johnson were both kind and good hearted; soft-spoken such as you are and extremely sensitive to others, so don't fret, O.K.?"
Ollie sat pensively, silent, contemplating what I'd said and finally added, sadly, "I really miss him, you know, - Uncle Riedel. He tried his best to protect us and help out and then some asshole had to go and shoot him."
The room was silent as this almost a man, a little boy, remembered his uncle, the uncle who protected him, gave him strength and resolve, and was no more.
"I'm certain you do," I murmured, "but you're here now and you have all of us to help you."
He sighed again and quietly asked, "Conner, can you tell me what it was like growing up here at the Lake and what kind of people Grandma and Grandpa Johnson were?"
I certainly could and would be more than happy to, but I had an idea that might help make it more meaningful to him.
"Sit here a minute," I advised as I rose from the couch, "and I'll be right back."
Scooting to the office, locating what I wanted, I returned to the couch, sat back next to Ollie, and lay a photo album on my lap so we could each see the pages, I turned them.
"This album," I explained, "holds those photos of me growing up here at the Resort with my grandparents," and opened the first page revealing a photo of me, age six months, right after I was dropped off by Wesley.
Leandro's curiosity was aroused, so he joined us on the couch, sandwiching Ollie between us, wanting to see the pictures of me also, as we perused the album. Additionally, it was a gesture on his part of joining with me in offering our warmth, security, and protection to this stripling brother of mine, the same we were offering to Luis and the twins.
I began our journey through the album, contemplating, explaining, elucidating on each photo as it depicted some aspect of my young life at West Otter Lake Resort and Campground, and growing up living with Grandma and Grandpa Johnson.
The pictures were of a happy little boy; birthday parties, tramping through the campgrounds, while clad only in t-shirt, shorts, tennis shoes, and baseball hat, behind Grandpa Johnson, collecting garbage or fallen tree limbs or riding on his shoulders in front of the Lodge; sitting on the dock in a fading sunset, fishing pole in my hand, chatting with Grandma as we fished for spring crappies together.
She loved to fish for crappies from the dock in the spring. She'd put a couple dozen minnows in our bait bucket and the two of us would go to the end main boat dock, the one in front of the Lodge. The dock had two flood lights that cast their beams out over the water, attracting bugs and fish, once darkness descended. Minnows in the lake, seeking an easy meal as the bugs collided with each other or came too close to the hot lights and fell into the water, fell prey to the waiting little fish. The minnows in turn, were an easy meal for the crappies gathered there, waiting and feasting. We'd cast our fish lines, with a hook impaling one of the bait minnows suspended under a red and white bobber, into the circled reflections of the lights hoping the crappies would launch itself in attack on our offering.
We'd fish until we had a couple dozen slab-sided, twelve to fourteen inch crappies, quit for the evening, and clean our catch in the screened, lighted, fish cleaning house the Resort provided for guests. The fish house, as we referred to it, was constructed by Grandpa early on, when they purchased the resort and, boasted not only screens, lights, and running water, but specially constructed metal tables along two walls where guests could gut, filet, or scale their catches. Large holes at one end of each table sported a large garbage can under it, ready to receive the offal from the fish. Emptying those cans, twice per day, especially in hot weather, became my chore as I grew older.
I'd wrestle those large cans, either partially or quite full of fish guts, into a small trailer hooked behind a garden tractor and haul them to the huge dumpsters out near the county road so the waste disposal truck could be collect it every Monday morning. The heavy metal lids of the dumpsters had to be secured tightly to discourage black bears from marauding, scattering the contents and making a mess. Additionally, if food wasn't available to the bears, they wouldn't linger long near the Resort and campground. We made it a point to caution our guests that we did live in bear country so, unless they wanted their campsites torn up, it'd be wise to keep a clean camp and pick up their garbage; definitely not leave an ice chest out in plain sight, an open invitation for bears to help themselves. Once in a while we'd have a persistent bear around and we'd have to contact the DNR to bring out a live trap (a large metal, round culvert with a trap door on it set to spring when the bear grabbed the bait inside), trap the bear, and relocate it to another part of the state.
It was all part of the resort business, but still didn't stop Ollie from wrinkling his nose at the thought of smelly fish guts under a hot sun, knowing full well he and Luis would be assigned that task.
Flipping the page, Ollie stopped me by holding my hand, placing a finger on a picture of me standing at the end of the dock, dressed in my swim suit, ready to jump in the lake. I was perhaps eight then, about the age of the twins, and my suit, if you could call it that, was a very skimpy string bikini, barely covering my little tush and even smaller little boy parts in the front.
Ollie snickered, "You were really skinny, Conner," and poked me in the ribs.
"And didn't wear much even then," added a laughing Leandro.
"But, cute," Ollie remarked and then blushed. I never thought someday I'd be able to see people of color blush, but I certainly could. I'd been with Leandro and Luis long enough that my perceptions changed in relation to my environment. It's a matter of perspective; when around white people all the time, I tended to see only the changes in their skin color. Now that our household was a rainbow home, my horizons broadened.
"Will you teach me how to swim, Conner," Ollie pleaded, "I don't know how?"
"Certainly, won't we Leandro?" I hesitated before going further. "You can swim, can't you Leandro?"
He nodded, "But Luis can't so we can teach all four boys at once."
"Can I get a swim suit like you wore in the picture?" Ollie queried.
I nodded my approval with the caveat, "Do you think your wanger would fit in something that small or should be buy a bigger suit?"
He grinned, poked me on the shoulder, "You're so funny, Conner."
Now I know where the little boys get that particular phrase!
We continued to look at pictures, of Grandma and Grandpa, the three of us together pictured on Christmas cards we sent out each year, and one of Grandpa and holding a nice stringer filled with fat, firm, brook trout or speckled trout as some folks refer to them. This elicited questions from Ollie concerning the types of trout, how we caught them, where we caught them and could he and Luis go trout fishing with me when the season opened. I assured him when the season opened the first part of May, we'd take some time early some morning and hit one of my favorite streams; a stream few people fished, but always produced nice, big brookies.
Photos of Conner's first day of school each year; boarding the school bus, school programs, and the school pictures taken each year for parents and grandparents and for the class composite. There were few changes from year to year in the kids in each class. Not many people moved in or moved out, but there were some changes and not all of them good.
My freshman year of high school was a difficult year for me, although my picture didn't reveal it. Smiling, eyes sparkling, apparently happy to living at the Resort (and I was), but confused concerning my sexual preferences. Oh, I knew the difference between boys and girls and I knew that I enjoyed the company of boys more than girls, but I was shy and somewhat timid around other boys. My thoughts were not always "just to be friends." There was many a night I pulled my pud fantasizing about some good looking boy. I grew up gay, but not necessarily comfortable with it.
I remember, in maybe seventh grade or eighth grade, I asked Grandpa whether it was alright for a boy to love another boy, like a boy likes a girl. Without hesitation, he said, "Sure it is, Conner; who you love makes no difference, as long as you love with your heart and soul. Grandma and I love each other that way and if you find some nice guy to settle down with someday, that's just fine with us." That helped around the house, but school was just a bit different.
Ollie looked at my freshman picture quite a while before he offered, with certain satisfaction and confidence, "I still think you're cute in this picture too."
I took a deep breath and nodding, responded, "Sometimes Ollie that can be a real problem for boys more than girls. There are other boys who may not see it that way, offering a different definition to the word `cute.'"
Leandro reached over and gave my shoulder a gentle squeeze, encouraging me to continue, if I wished.
Ollie raised his head up from my shoulder, inspecting my face for any signs of dismay, scrutinizing my countenance for disapproval, before asking softly, "Were you unhappy because you knew you were gay, Conner, and the other kids knew it too?"
Before I could answer `no' as I intended, he continued, "Or is that when you really knew you were different, not like the other boys, those who like girls; those who thought it was a being a `real man' by calling someone a faggot or queer," his voice coming to higher level as his emotions began to build.
"Or when you tried really, really hard to stare straight ahead in the boy's toilet when taking a leak so nobody would accuse you of perving on them; when you hurried to take a shower so you wouldn't pop a bone in front of all of the other naked boys in the locker room and then the rest of the boys would shout `queer' at you; or sucker punch you during class, telling the gym teacher it was an accident; or being always the last one chosen for a team sport?"
"Or when other boys knocked your books out of your hands when you rushed down the hallway to class or wrote `cocksucker' on your hall locker in magic marker; or when you left music class some dumb shit would holler `fairy tooter' at you?"
Leandro and I sat quietly while Ollie poured out his anguish, his fears, his loneliness, and inner turbulence, unleashing the well-spring of emotions he felt until he finally shouted, "Or when your Uncle Riedel's dead and buried and you have no one – not one fucking person in the whole world who you can talk to, who would understand what the fuck you're going through because they went through it too?" and he grabbed me in a hug, sobbing his tears into my chest, shaking, shuddering with sorrow!
To be continued
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