I never smoked a day in my life and I've had open heart surgery and two strokes. I take pills to thin my blood, pills to lower my blood pressure, cholesterol, occasional cortizone shots for my hip which hurts me nonetheless. I drink organic apple cider vinegar and blackstrap molasses for general wellbeing. The money I make comes from the government and it is damn little. My wife, my kids have all left home (although I wonder about the kids - two of them have been laid off in the last three months - they may be back home before we know it). I don't blame any of them for leaving; the days get long and slow here and a certain ugliness triumphs as time passes The places of my childhood have changed beyond recall. The woods where my own children roamed are developed without mercy; they are covered with houses where other people's children play. I am tolerated in my own neighborhood- a funny old man who lives all alone, has lived alone forever as far as anyone can tell, abandoned, one foot in the past.
I am reminded of when I was a boy and I had misbehaved, my mother would make me march across the yard to the willow tree by the wild plums and break off my own switch. I'd strip the leaves and walk back across the yard and take my beating. I would whistle while I did it, just to confound her. Later, before she died, when I was a man and had children of my own, my mother would come visit us. We'd stay up late with whiskey and ginger ale and talk about those beatings. She would often chuckle about my whistling, saying that even as she whipped my bare legs, her anger would have already disappeared, replaced by a certain pride in my defiance, my happy confidence in the face of punishment and violence, even in the constant trouble in which I found myself. The gold from the drink, the giggly tinkle of melting ice would reflect in her eyes, and she would say to me, more than once:
Any boy who can't bear his beating isn't worth raising.