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Thread: The killing of Frenchy

  1. #1
    joseph engraver
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    The killing of Frenchy

    Dear Friend, thank you for all these years of writing me. Time here drags by, the days seem to never end and when I finally lie down on my cot, close my eyes and wait for the blackness to take me I cannot sleep. I have never explained to you why I am here .I think now and before the hour is a good time to do so. As you have asked many times, here is my story
    My mother, Ernest, my two half sisters and me moved to a 30-acre wood lot Ernest had purchased in New Hampshire not many miles away from my Aunt Lillian’s farm that I have written you about.. Here on this wooded land I learned the meaning of hard physical work, but I was up to it, as Hercules was my mentor, and he had cleaned the Aegean Stables.
    Ernest was building a home there and it was now fit enough for us to move into. The house was made of logs cut from the property, there was no chainsaw in those days and all the cutting was hard manual labor. I learned how to notch a tree and drive in the wooden wedges that kept the two man saw from binding. Once the tree was felled I cut away the limbs and put the brush into a pile, then helped Ernest to cut the trunk into logs to be sawn at Andy’s lumber mills into boards, 2 x 4’s, and 2 x 6’s.
    When we moved into my home for the next eight years, its walls were covered with tarpaper, with windows a door and a green shingle roof to keep the winter snow out and was heated with a kerosene stove. There no electricity to the property, the open kitchen had a sink, ice chest, makeshift counters, a small eating and cooking area , a combined living room and bedroom and a narrow room with space for a double military- surplus bunk painted olive drab. Water was carried from a spring located a short distance from our outhouse under a pine tree.
    I was given the top bunk and my two sisters slept on the bottom one. My bed wetting became more frequent, my nightmares returned and again.My mothers words echoing in my mind ”I wish I had never had you Joseph” It wasn’t long before the mattress was stained and soaked, the whole house smelled of urine. The mattress was hauled off to the dump, replaced by a blanket. This turned out to be a bad deal for my two half sisters. I can still hear them crying “Daddy, He peed on us again!”
    I would sleep, dream nightmares of white tigers, dead girls and then wet. It would soak through dripping on them.
    Ernest would then swear “Lil you got to do something about that God damned kid!” I knew what God damned meant. I looked it up in a dictionary. “Doomed to endlessly punishment, condemned to eternal hell”. That was me and my destiny, but I did not know it at twelve years old.
    Finally a solution to the problem was found. A rubber sheet was stretched across the springs and a blanket on top of that. The knots of the wires that made up the bedsprings were very uncomfortable, especially on the back of my head. It was on this bed that I finally started sleeping on my stomach and using my arms as a pillow and my sisters Helen and Vivian slept in dry comfort. I was proof the nuns were completely wrong with their “knot in the back” theory.
    I started chewing up the headboard. I would gnaw on it like a red pine squirrel, chew up the pieces and swallow them. Little by little I ate up most of my bed.
    The outhouse was located some distance behind the house. It was much smaller than the one on the farm but it smelled exactly the same, it was a one holer
    There had been a lot of talk about a cougar that had made off with a child up country, and one dark night as I sat on the **** hole I took into my mind that there was a cougar sitting on the roof waiting for me. The more I thought about it, the surer I was he was there. I got my overalls up, opened the door and peeked outside. It was dark as a well and I could see nothing but I thought I could hear it sharpening its claws. I got ready and made my heart-pounding dash to the safety of the house.
    I had read of Hercules and how he diverted a river to clean the stables. I would make believe I was him as I worked at my chores.
    Life on Derry Road was an equal amount of hard work for all of us. Ernest would leave early for his twenty-mile drive to what was called “The Card Shop.” And my mother and I spent the days cleaning up a patch of woods for a garden space. The tools that I would become very familiar with were the axe, sledgehammer, pick, shovel, splitting wedges, bucksaw and the two-man felling saw and a wheelbarrow. I resented the fact that my after school hours were mostly absorbed by digging the septic tank, then the well, then the basement.
    The well was located a hundred yards behind the house at the edge of the fern and skunk cabbage filled logging area. I would dig, Ernest would dig, and eventually we had cement lined well about sixteen feet deep. It was a good well and the water from it was cold and pure. Next to dig was the ditch for the waterline. A ditch had to be dug from the house to the well. Sometimes we would use dynamite, a half stick or a quarter of a stick embedded under the stump and packed with clay would be enough to remove most of the stump and its roots. Then with axes, we would cut away the remaining roots, once the way was cleared, stakes and twine marked the route for the pipeline. Ernest took a shovel and put a wrap of tape around the handle, thirty inches up from the point and showed me how he wanted the ditch dug---as wide as the shovel and down to the tape.
    I dug everyday after school, no exceptions, no time for homework or school activities. Get off the bus, change clothes and go to work until it was time to eat supper. It mattered not what I encountered in the ditch. Rocks, big or small, were removed until the black tape mark was to the correct depth. Areas of ledge were drilled and blasted. Day after day the ditch progressed forward. While I dug, Ernest worked on the house and by the time winter started, we had a bathroom complete with flush toilet and a bathtub.
    A foundation under the house was the next project I was put to work on. The house needed a foundation, and a basement space for a furnace, storage for canned goods, and a freezer for venison, vegetables and also for wood storage. Everyday after school, it was down the ramp, with pick and shovel, wedges and sledgehammer. Dig, break, rock, with the wedges, fill the wheelbarrow, push it up the incline, then out to a knoll behind the house, dump and then start over again.
    If I was not breaking rock, I was cutting firewood, splitting it, then stacking it in piles to dry Oaks, maples, birch, walnut all fell to my axe. Then came the cellar to be dug. Wheelbarrows full of rock and dirt I filled every night after school, for entertainment while working, I would find the seams in the ledge and try to split off bigger and bigger pieces. The nice thing about digging the cellar was that I was away from Ernest.
    Twice I ran away from home and walked to my aunt’s farm. Twice I was returned. By now I had finished the fifth and sixth grade of school. Everyday at school recess I would go off by myself and play a small harmonica. One day the school principal noticed me and complimented me on how nice my music sounded. So I started playing it around the other kids. I made a friend, a boy named Donald who lived down the road from me, a mile or so. Don and I became fast friends and when I had free time we would climb trees, ice-skate, fish, swim and later on in junior high school, talk about girls and go hunting squirrels together.
    School still had its problems. The scent of my urine clung to me like cheap cologne. As a consequence I got into lots of fights. The difference was that now I no longer took it. I dished it out. All the muscle building, digging and chopping, turned me into a boy as hard as a rock I split and the oak I cut. The fat was long gone and I had no fear of being punched. I fought close-fisted and by the end of the sixth grade, no one would fight with me any longer.
    There was one fight. It was with a bully whose name was George. He was big and came from a rough family that lived near the railroad tracks. I never liked him because he would push the smaller kids and rough up the girls. One day at recess, the class was playing dodge ball. George got the ball and threw it intentionally hard into the face of a girl. It knocked her down, she was crying and had a bloody nose. I jumped on George and he swung at me and we went at it, tooth and nail. Down the embankment we rolled. I ended up on top and started pounding away; I kept at it until George said uncle, which was the expression we used when one had had enough. When I got to the top of the hill, all the girls started cheering and chasing after me. I ran away and went and hid in the pines near the school. This was my first defense of womanhood, but definitely not my last.
    At last the ditch was finished. The basement dug. The inside plumbing complete. Tub water and a flush toilet. My daily chores were reduced mainly to cutting wood, doing dishes, hanging laundry and tending to the weeds in our garden.
    There was time for fishing and swimming at Beaver Lake. I hunted there for frogs. I loved frog legs and would cook them myself, flour them, add some salt and pepper, drop them into a skillet of hot oil and watch them twitch as they began to cook. Mother was not really much of a cook, mostly macaroni cheese, chopsuey or pot roast. Once in a while she would fix a pie or a pineapple upside down cake. So in order to satisfy my sweet tooth, I started making my own cookies, walnut cakes, muffins and things.
    For my fourteenth birthday I was given a puppy from my uncle Waldo, I named him Frenchy.
    Frenchy was mostly beagle and had four white feet and white tip on his tail. Frenchy and I were inseparable and when we were unleashed, him from his chain and me from my chores we roamed everywhere. Ernest had a .22 rifle, which was kept loaded and ready for defending the garden from invading woodchucks. Woodchucks were cute brown animals with short tails but for us they were edible pests. In a very short time they could devour our entire garden which was to sustain us through the winter. They were shot on sight. The younger ones were dressed and roasted in the oven. Gray squirrels were also shot and brought to the table. Rabbits, partridges, pheasants, woodcock and deer were also part of my childhood diet.
    My mother’s family was hunters. My great, great grandmother wore buckskin dresses and moccasins. My grandfather Waldo was more Indian than white. He was a carpenter but spent more of his time trapping in the winter, fishing during the summers and hunting in the fall than carpentering.
    As I grew older, I would sometimes go hunting with him. It was only natural that I learned to shoot Ernest’s rifle and I became an excellent shot as it was expected that all animals hunted were to be shot in the head so as not to ruin the meat.
    There arrived a time when I was given access to the rifle and was allowed to roam our property. Squirrels were my favorite sport, and Frenchy and I would hunt for them amongst the walnuts and oaks.
    One day, as I stepped off the school bus, Ernest was waiting near the driveway, holding his rifle in one hand.
    “Here,” he said. “Take this.” I did as he told me. “Your dog! Your God damn dog went up to the neighbor’s farm and killed two of his chickens, and I had to pay him 25 cents apiece. Your dog cost me fifty cents. Do you know how hard I work for fifty cents?” he yelled. “Now you take that damn dog down to the woods and shoot it and bury it.” What could I do? He was adamant and I was sixteen. “Yes, sir,” I said and went to where he had tied up my dog, took the rope off his neck and said, “Come Frenchy, let’s go.”
    Over two decades has passed and can still see Frenchy running along the path, left by the ditch that I had dug, that led to the well and onto the logging road that I had helped cut and cleared the stumps from.
    There was a huge oak that marked one of the boundaries of our property. It was the largest tree on the property and had been on this earth before the stone walls were built. It was so large that its girth extended out beyond the width of the stone wall. It was my favorite place to play. Donald and I had nailed pieces of wood to its trunks so that we could climb up into the huge branches. Frenchy was in front of me busily searching for the scent of a squirrel, his white feet running through the fallen oak leaves. The tip of his tail waving back and forth about twenty feet in front of me. When we reached the oak I called my dog by his name “Frenchy”. He stopped and turned to look at me. I put the cross hairs of the rifle on a spot centered between his trusting eyes and I pulled the trigger. My dog fell to the ground, his legs kicking, his body jerking. I ran to him, tears bursting forth and ever-mounting misery consuming me. He was flopping amongst the autumn leaves, specks of blood flowing from his nose and mouth. I was sure he was suffering but could not shoot him a second time. So I placed my foot on his neck and pressed down until he was still. I picked him up and carried him to the base of God’s oak and buried him there. He was my friend, he trusted me, I loved him and yet I killed him and I learned to hate God even more. When my legs stopped shaking and the tears were dry I went back to the house. He was waiting in the back yard. "Did you bury him?" I nodded my head“Good” he said and turned to the house. At that moment I knew what I was going to do. I took the rifle raised it to my shoulder put the sights on the base of his skull and carefully squeezed the trigger.
    At the testimony of my trial I said that I was happy I killed him and glad he died.
    Please do not write me again
    Last edited by joseph engraver; 07-26-2014 at 04:55 AM.

  2. #2
    Registered User DATo's Avatar
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    I don't know how I missed this when you first posted it back in July but I'm glad I found it this morning.

    Once again I must compliment you on a nice piece of storytelling. The simple manner of narration by the main character adds to the believability of the events he describes. Besides being a good story your writing also serves to paint what I imagine to be an authentic picture of what life must have been like living in a rural area at a time I would estimate to be in the very early part of the preceding century - possibly the Depression era?

    I would compare this piece closely to Steinbeck's style of writing. If I had been told that he wrote it I would never have doubted it. The last line is a simple statement which speaks volumes regarding the narrator's sense of hopelessness.

    Thanks once again for providing me with a very enjoyable read.

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